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Sudsy Monday

My mother was a devoted scheduler. Monday was Wash Day and Tuesday was Ironing Day, without fail. The woman never owned an automatic washer or dryer in her life.

old fashioned wringer washing machine

What we had in our unfinished basement was an old-fashioned wringer washer which got clothes cleaner and whiter than anything around today.

After the dirty clothes were delivered via the convenient laundry chute upstairs, Mom did serious sorting. First the whites, like my dad’s shirts and everyone’s underwear, went into the agitator tub filled with good old hot water. Also in the water was a small, rubber-banded cloth containing two or three balls of bluing.  (Think royal blue chalk the size of fat marbles.)  That was the secret to her white whites. Sometimes, when those balls grew small, she’d give them to me so I could write on the sidewalk with them. She also used a stick to stir the things around a bit as the agitator chewed on them. As she worked, I’d sit on the basement steps and watch her as we chatted.  (I remember one especially in-depth conversation about the existence of Santa Claus.)

After the whites, Mom christened the colored, lighter-weight clothes, while my dad’s work overalls and other heavy items came last. After she deemed each batch clean, she’d put them in the separate rinse tub to get sloshed around a while, then through the wringer to get all the extra water out--the most dangerous part of the job.  According to Mom’s warnings, more than one person had fingers squished in those hungry jaws.

Once the wringers had done their job, it was drying time. During the winter months, she hung the clean things from the clotheslines strung throughout our basement ceilings. She used wooden clothespins, overlapping the edges of the clothes and requiring fewer pins. They all lived in a bag suspended from one of the lines, with a front opening, like a diaper bag. For all jeans and pants, Mother inserted metal, adjustable “frames” to shape the pant legs into long rectangles, creating front creases and helping them dry faster. (As a little kid, I got scared more than once by the “ghosts” dangling in the darkened basement.)

During the summer months, she’d hang everything outside to get plenty of fresh air and sunlight. I still remember the clothes’ wonderful fresh smell—the one many detergents try to copy today.

Okay, so this wasn’t the easiest, nor the fastest method for laundry, but my Old School mother gave us clean garments and kept all her fingers, too. 


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