Laundry Day… by JoAnn

A painting of chickens and quilts hanging on the line.

How many of you grew up with your family’s laundry being hung outside to dry?  I imagine several hands are going up.  It’s a nice memory.  Remember the breeze blowing those cotton sheets in the fresh air, and how those sheets felt and smelled on our beds that night?  Oh, it was wonderful!  An electric dryer has never been invented to duplicate it.

But how many of you remember what happened before the clothesline.  When the laundry was washed, it brought back an entirely distinct memory.  That memory would be filled with some elbow grease, sweat, and tired muscles.  Not to forget the time needed to wash enough laundry for a family of five like mine, or even bigger.     

I remember well my mama washing our laundry in what they called a wringer washing machine.  It was electric but needed a lot of physical help from the user to get the laundry washed.  She was proud to have it though, because without it, she had to wash every piece of laundry by hand in a washtub!  I remember well her excitement when Daddy brought home the used wringer washer.  No longer did she have to deal with bending over that big washtub outside.  She could use the electric wringer on the back porch.  I remember her specifically telling my sister and me to keep our hands away from the wringer part as not to mash our fingers.  But we would help her with the wet clothes.  No matter how much she put items through the wringer part, it never wrung out enough water.  So, the laundry would be dripping wet, which made it heavy to carry outside to the clothesline.  Then it took some muscle to hang everything on the line.  Especially sheets.  It was horrible if something got dropped into the dirt below.  As wet as it was, it would be muddy by the time I picked it up, and it would need to be washed again. 

Most homemakers had specific days of the week that were designated laundry days.  My mama washed on Monday and Thursday.  On laundry days she would push other chores aside to allow the time needed to get all the laundry caught up.  Supper that evening would either be something that could simmer all day, like soup or beans.  Or a quick meal like fried potatoes and cornbread.

One morning, when I was around 4 years old, my mama was hanging laundry on the clothesline as I played nearby.  Suddenly she screamed.  She had stepped on a rusty nail that had been in the ground.  She was only wearing thin flip flops, and that nail had gone all the way through her foot!  As she cried in pain, she made the huge mistake of pulling the rusty nail out of her foot.  Of course, it bled heavily when she did that.  She yelled for me to go in the house and get her a towel.  My legs were like two wet noodles.  I was so nervous for her and didn’t know how to help.  I took her a small hand towel, which of course wasn’t enough, so she sent me back for a bath towel.  She wrapped it around her foot and somehow made it into the house to call for help.  I remember the towel being soaked with blood.  That is my last memory of what happened that day.  I don’t remember who came to help Mama, or who took care of me.  It must have been traumatic, and it has since been locked away somewhere in my brain.  Thank God she did get the help she needed, and a Tetanus shot.  Daddy cleaned thoroughly around the clothes lines.  I remember Mama’s foot being sore and her needing to prop it up on a pillow.

Fast forward about six years, and we are now living in a big city where my daddy had to go to find work.  The old wringer washer was no longer with us.  We now lived in an old 1930s home that was renovated into a duplex for renters.  We had the upstairs apartment.  Unfortunately, Mama had to go back to her old ways of hand washing all the laundry.  She used the old, and deep, claw-foot bathtub.  This had to have been extremely difficult for her.  Not only was she washing our clothes, sheets, and towels, but also Daddy’s greasy and soot covered heavy work clothes.  I remember they seemed to be soaking in the tub all day, every day, in hopes to get them clean enough.  

Sadly, a couple years before we moved to the city, my mama had experienced symptoms of Arthritis.  Hand washing laundry every day in a bathtub, then carrying it down a flight of stairs to hang on the clotheslines in the backyard, quickly took its toll on her hands and knees.  That is when Daddy got Mama her very first automatic washer from Sears.  My mama was in love with that machine!  Never in her life had laundry been so easy to do.  Soon she had a dryer to match.  Many years later, when Daddy retired from that job, he and Mama moved back to our country home.  That Sears washer went with them and continued to work for many years to come.  It must have been over 30 years old before it needed to be replaced. 

I have always been very thankful to have the convenience of a good working washing machine!  I think watching my mama work so hard on laundry was enough for me.  I never had the desire to repeat her plight, but I know how to if it’s needed, and have washed a few things out by hand when necessary.  Just goes to show, you’re never above your raising.