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Washday blues

Posted: June 26, 2012 11:51 a.m.
Updated: June 27, 2012 5:00 a.m.

Dirty clothes -- the constant, consistent chore -- is still one of the most odious banes for women. Jingles for commercial tout the truth that “mama keeps the house clean…,” but what the woman must face every day is soiled linen! Most men’s use of the same temperature for everything and their employment of the “smell test” – if it doesn’t smell too bad, wear it again -- may explain the female’s acceptance of the laundry chore. No matter the cause, the modern woman has no idea how different keeping presentable clothing was in earlier days.

A cast iron wash pot containing boiling water was the first step. Soap did not come from the local store but was a composition containing lye poured into molds yielding bars that removed soil as well as skin. To agitate the clothing in the boiling water, the laundress had to have a battling stick, which was later used to transfer the clothes from the pot to the first galvanized tub. There, any residual stains were removed by scrubbing them on a board somewhat akin to a large cheese grater but not quite as sharp. The clothes then went down the line to other galvanized tubs for further rinsing. Of course, each piece had to be hand wrung. No wonder the washerwoman’s own clothes were drenched with sweat as she did the final chore, hanging the clothes on the line. If a storm brewed, the woman rushed out, endeavoring to save the clothes from an unexpected drenching while being careful not to electrocute herself since the lines were metal and lightening often accompanied the rain.

Ironing was the final step. Most of the clothes had to be sprinkled and placed in the refrigerator. All shirts, dresses, pants, and blouses were starched -- some stiffer than a board -- making them even more difficult to iron. My mother ironed everything, even towels and wash cloths. As a result, her ironing pile never completely disappeared. As a young girl, I had the chore of helping her by ironing dish towels and wash cloths. When I finished my task, I remembered my satin underpants, of which I was inordinately proud. This garment had been missing from my wardrobe for a time, hiding in the ironing pile. I decided I would I iron them. Only if you have stepped on chewing gum and lifted your foot do you have an idea what happened to the satin material when pressed with a HOT iron. I immediately placed the remnant at the bottom of the iron pile and left, feigning ignorance of what could have happened to Mama’s iron.

Yes, today’s woman still faces the laundry chore. However, she puts the dirty clothes to the dryer and sets the time. With the drying completed, she hangs up the various articles or places them in correct receptacles. Almost magically, the wash is done in a relatively short time with hardly a drop of sweat!


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