A Duquesne Monday

This morning as I got ready to go to the office, I decided to dress casually. It was the weekend and I didn’t enjoy having to work on a Saturday, but it was one of those necessary evils. I went to my closet to grab my favorite shirt and was upset when I couldn’t find it, only to remember I had tossed it into the hamper two days earlier. “Not a problem,” I thought. I had given myself enough time this morning to enjoy a cup of coffee and a light breakfast before leaving for work, so I tossed the shirt and a few other items into the washer for a quick wash. By the time I had finished my morning routine or “ablutions” as my Uncle Lou referred to them, I was ready for my breakfast. I tossed the laundry and my shirt into the dryer and then proceeded to sit back and enjoy my breakfast while I surfed the web to learn what had happened in the world since I last checked. By the time that I was done with my news search and a second cup of coffee, it was time for me to leave. I grabbed the now dry and very warm shirt from the dryer, tossed it on and was out the door and heading for the office.

 As I drove to work, I thought about how easily this morning’s “no shirt” problem had been resolved. It certainly was a far cry from what our poor mother’s had to cope with each week when I was a “dirt and grime” attracting kid! I thought about a children’s song that I had heard at one time or another, that really rang true to what was our mother’s typical routine each week. With the internet and Google being the wonderful tool that it is, I was able to find the song’s lyric’s:

Monday’s Wash Day

Today is Monday, Today is Monday,

Monday’s wash day, Everybody happy?

Well, I should say!


Today is Tuesday, Today is Tuesday,

Tuesday Ironing, Monday washday

Everybody happy?

Well, I should say.


Today is Wednesday, Today is Wednesday,

Wednesday Cleaning, Tuesday Ironing, Monday washday,

Everybody happy? Well, I should say.


Today is Thursday, Today is Thursday,

Thursday baking, Wednesday cleaning, Tuesday ironing, Monday washday,

Everybody happy? Well, I should say.


Today is Friday, Today is Friday,

Friday fish, Thursday baking, Wednesday cleaning, Tuesday ironing,   Monday washday,

Everybody happy? Well, I should say.


Today is Saturday, Today is Saturday,

Saturday shopping, Friday fish, Thursday baking, Wednesday cleaning, Tuesday   ironing, Monday washday,

Everybody happy?

Well, I should say.


Today is Sunday, Today is Sunday,

Sunday church,

Saturday shopping, Friday fish, Thursday baking, Wednesday cleaning,

Tuesday ironing, Monday washday,

Everybody happy?

Well,   I— should—say!!!

I remember how, without fail, Mom would always do laundry on Monday’s. It was not a simple task either. She didn’t have the convenience of just popping a load into the washer  and dryer whenever she wanted. Each week, she would pull and tug a behemoth sized wringer washer over to the twin sanitary sinks in our basement and begin her preparations for doing the laundry. She would start by filling one of the twin tubs of the washer with scalding hot water. The other tub would be filled with cold water for rinsing. Once the first tub was filled with the hot water, she would begin adding laundry detergent, bleach, and bluing in perfect proportions to begin the first load, which were always “the whites.” Watching her add the perfect proportions of “stuff” to the hot water reminded me of what it would be like to watch an alchemist preparing to turn metal into gold!

Mom would carefully drop the laundry into the sloshing water after the chemicals were thoroughly mixed and make mental note of how long they should churn away. While that was going on, she would begin to fill each section of the twin sanitary sinks with cold water. Once that was done, she would begin preparing a big ol’ copper laundry tub with an Argo starch concoction. Since the first load was probably not quite ready, she would then haul a huge wicker laundry basket containing a ball of clothesline and clothespins up the basement steps, through the kitchen and out to the back yard where she would begin hanging her labyrinth of line in a pattern as precise as that of a spider constructing a web. She would hook the line from the house, to the garage, back to the house and so on.  By the time she was finished, the once huge ball of clothesline was reduced to a mere few remaining inches. Her final phase of prep was to grab the dozen or so wooden props out of the garage and place them strategically on various spots of the clothesline web to assure that nothing would touch the ground once hung. Of course, her whole routine would change if it happened to be raining or wintertime. I remember her demeanor would change as well, but I’ll get to that later. In the event of inclement weather, Dad had set up a permanent clothesline installation in the basement which served the purpose just as well.

Once Mom was finished with all of the outdoor prep, she was ready for the first load to come out of the washer. It certainly wasn’t as simple of a task as just tossing damp clothes from the washer to dryer like I did this morning. Her procedure went as follows:

  1. Stop the washer with that HUGE lever on the front.
  2. Swing the wringer around so that as she fished clothes out of the washer with her big ol’ wooden stick, they were fed through the wringer rollers and dumped into the first sanitary sink section of cold water.
  3. Once all of the clothes were out of the washer, she would load in the next pile of dirty laundry into the hot water tub and start the sloshing agitator.
  4. Back to the first load where she would stir them around to remove as much soap as possible.
  5. Then she would swing the wringer around so it would bridge both sections of the sink.
  6. Then she would use the wringer once again and transfer the clothes into the second tub which also contained a bit of fabric softener mixed into the cold water.
  7. Once again, the clothes were sloshed around allowed to absorb the “virtues” of the softener.
  8. By that point, tub #2 would be started up and served as the final rinse for the clothes.
  9. Then, the wringer would be placed in its final position between the sink and the washing machine.
  10. Once again, my mother would start up the wringer and transfer the clothes into their final bath.
  11. Step 11 was a bit more tricky for her, since it called for feeding the laundry back through the wringer and into her waiting hands over the sink.
  12. The clothes would then be dumped into a laundry basket and taken out to be dried.
  13. If the first load contained any shirts, Mom would transfer them to the copper tub of hot water and starch for one last step, and would let them soak for awhile.

The laundry basket full of remaining damp clothes would then be lugged up the basement steps and out the back door. Once outside, Mom would carefully begin hanging the clothing onto the line with the well worn wooden clothespins. The fact that our tighty whities were displayed for the world to see never phased us. After all, we were able to know whether our neighbors wore boxers or briefs by the first load of laundry on any given Monday!!

By this point in the day, the reason why Mom preferred the bright and sunny days for laundry was evident. Yes, the clothes DID smell better if hung outside, but that was only half the reason. The other half was that in between loads, all of the Monday morning laundry neighbors would gather on our back porch to enjoy a cup of freshly perked coffee and the company of each other. Anna Yasko, Gladys Mentzler and whoever else might have been out that morning would sit and “gab” with one another until it came time to process the next load of laundry. At that point, as if by some instinctive internal timepiece, they would all retreat to their homes and laundry duties until another load had made its way to the clothes line. The “wash-hang-talk” cycle would continue to repeat itself until all of the laundry had made its way to the line for drying.

As the clothes were removed after drying, some would merely be folded and stacked into the laundry baskets. Others would be separated out for ironing and make their way to the side of our kitchen table for “further processing.” If they were to be ironed, Mom would carefully lay out each individual piece on our pink and black formica topped kitchen table and be “sprinkled” with water like the Easter Sunday service at Holy Name. Each piece would then be tightly rolled up, stacked and placed in a plastic bag to keep them moist until it was time for ironing.

Considering that just writing about Mom’s Monday laundry day has exhausted me, think of how our mom’s probably felt at the end of the day. Facing basketfuls of ironing for the next day, my mom would head back down stairs to the basement to begin tearing down the whole washday set-up. Emptying the sinks was the easy part, but she would have to hook up the hose from the washing machine and begin pumping out each of the tubs, then rinse them out and finally dry them before they would be stowed back to their home at the beginning of the day. As she would wearily climb the steps for the last time that day, she probably was thinking about the ironing that was awaiting her as well as the evening meal she would now have to prepare. Make’s you appreciate your mom all the more, doesn’t it? And THAT was just one day!

As a side note, one of my favorite things to do was to use the washer for a somewhat different purpose. After my mother died in 1965, I was often left home alone and needed to entertain myself. In 1957, two guys invented bubble wrap. A great packing material, but an even better stress reliever, as you could sit there and pop the individual bubbles. Whenever I was lucky enough to find a piece of bubble wrap, I would delight in feeding it through the wringer mechanism of the washer. It sounded very much like the St. Valentine’s Day massacre as the barrage of pops echoed through the basement. “Thank heaven for little boys???”

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19 Responses to A Duquesne Monday

  1. My mom told me about this site when we talked this morning – what fun! Two things I remember about the laundry when I was a kid. The first was when the weather was bad, mom and my grandmother hung the clothes on lines in the cellar. Took forever to dry! And the other was the wonderful laundry chute. We lived in a two-story duplex on Friendship, bedrooms on the top floor, laundry in the cellar. We spent endless hours dropping toys and other items from the bedroom all the way down to the laundry room. Fortunately, we were not able to fit through the hole ourselves, although we did take turns sitting at the bottom catching the toys!

  2. Ron Macosko says:

    Colleen……How do you make it up 23 floors with that heavy basket of worsh???

  3. Eileen Phillips says:

    As a small child, I remember a “Children’s Record” with a song with these words; “Thls is the way we wash our clothes, wash our clothes, wash our clothes, so early Monday morning” then “This is the way we iron our clothes ——Tuesday Morning.” and so on. When My Husband was growing up on Pirl Street Duquesne, his mother was in the basement washing with the wringer washer and as a tot, he tried to climb up on to the washing machine, and the washer fell on his head. He still has a dent in his head. I always tell him “so that’s what went wrong”. Thanks for all the memories, and Duquesne Memories. My Grancparents lived right across from the “mill” up all those steps, (Duquesne Blvd) and just a “courtyard” in the back where my Grandma hung her clothes. Then there was a small garden on the hill which faced the next street. (those houses were tore down in about 1970 or before, so then they relocated to Thomas street.

  4. Eileen Phillips says:

    How memorable, there was even a child’s record about it, which start out singing “this is the way we wash our clothes, wash, our clothes, wash our clothes, so early monday morning: then, this is the way we iron our clothes—so early Tuesday morning and on and on. My husband grew up on Pirl Street in Duquesne, across from the Greek Catholic Church (built later) He has a bad memory of the wringer washer, when he was, as a tot, curiously climbing onto it, and it fell on his head. His skull has a dent in it! I always tell him, so that’s what went wrong!

    • Claudia Repko Misage says:

      I have been singing that song over and over to the tune of the Mulberry Bush song. Wednesday was mending cloths, Thursday was sweep the floors, Friday was scrub the floors, Saturday was bake the bread and Sunday was go to church. Ahh the smell of bleach down in the basement as mom did the cloths. Never had that fancy bottle, mom just used her fingers to dampen the cloths and roll them up in a sheet in a wicker basket. Let them sit for about one hour and then iron them. That was usually my job and to this day I can remember mom telling me just how much I loved ironing. Who the heck was she kidding?
      Boy oh boy do I ever miss a basement. Here in Texas NO basements. I know you are asking what do you do with all of your necessary junk—-well you will just have to come and visit and see for yourself.

  5. Jeanne says:

    I remember the wringer washer diapers wrapped around the wringer,If it does, an article of the wash may
    wrap several times around a roller before it is noticed; unwinding such a
    piece is often difficult, sometimes impossible without removing a roller . And I ruined a couple of shirts,
    Its you’re already happened?

  6. Bernadette Lucas says:

    Greetings, Jim! I just discovered your wonderful site today, 6 March 2011, thanks to my cousin, Linda Perhacs. Monday washdays are a Duquesne memory. I still hang out my wash to dry on the “line”. Someone told me that delectable smell comes from ozone. Never heard that one before. My 1st washing machine was actually one of those old wringer tubs someone gave me. Yuck! At least the rollers were ‘electric’ but you had to watch so you didn’t get your fingers pinched, which was frequent. I recall one of my added “jobs” at age 8 was to learn to iron dad’s hankies. The holy water sprinkling is a humerous analogy; then I graduated on to the boxer shorts and bed linens, before learning the intricacies of shirt collars & sleeves. Thank goodness for that new-fangled polyester which makes ironing practically obsolete.

    • Lou Andriko says:

      Hi Bernadette! Remember riding the 61C to the Carnegie Museum on Saturday mornings for ‘Art classes” with a about a million other pupils from Catholic schools from all over the diocese? WOW, 8th grade seems like yesterday.

      • Dennis Ragan says:

        Lou — you were a year ahead of me at Serra. You were also at the Tam-o-shanter classes at the Carnegie Institute with Mr. Fitzpatrick? I went there for 6 years. By the way, those classes were for all schools in the county, not just Catholic schools.

      • Lou Andriko says:

        Right, right and right, I guess stand corrected, AGAIN. (see comment somewhere else about the five + dime) …. good to hear from another Serra man.

    • Barry Long says:

      How about the” MANGLE”? At least you could sit down to press the clothes when mangles came out after the war. I did my shirts on it.

      • Laurine E. says:

        Oh, man, oh, man, the MANGLE!!! I HATED the mangle my best friend’s mother had. It scared the living daylights out of me. When Judy’s mom started up the mangle, it was time for me to leave – even if I just got there!!! Years later Stephen King wrote a short story about a Mangle (I think they even made it into a movie) and I had to force myself to read it because I just knew it was going to do something bad!! (And it did. I am pretty sure it was in the first collection of short stories King published, if any one wants to check it out – just be warned – all of the people who borrowed my book picked out a different story that “pushed their panic button!” – Sorry for all the “!” but the mangle is firmly embedded in my bad memory files!)

  7. Laurine E. says:

    The only thing different in my family’s Monday routine was that my Grandma and Grandpa did the laundry together as my Mom worked to support us all. And this happened only after Grandma came home from church where the ladies had spent the morning baking bread to be ready for the men coming out of the mill at 3. Some of you might have enjoyed the bread made at the Lutheran Church on 4th Street and Kennedy Avenue. The church ladies baked bread for many years before too many of them got too old and no younger ladies took their place. When clothes dryers became popular, we were only “allowed” to put underwear and towel loads into it. Everything else was still hung out to dry. This happened until my Grandma got sick and Mom and I had to help Grandpa with the laundry. My Mom refused to haul the laundry upstairs to be hung and just threw each load into the dryer. My Grandma was horrified, but she eventually gave up the fight and started using it herself!!! (But we still had a wringer washer – she said that the “new” ones did not get the laundry clean enough for her. After she died, one of the first thing my Mom did was buy a new washer LOL!)

  8. Ken Greenly says:

    My mother-in-law, Ruth Mentzer and her mother Gladys Mentzer live on Thomas Street. Could that be the same Gladys you mentioned in your post? They lived on Thomas Street.

    • Jim says:

      I am sure they are one and the same. Mrs. Mentzer (I thought there was an “L” in the spelling) lived at 210 Thomas Street which at one time was 12 Thomas Street. It was the last home on the right at the end of the street right next to the cemetary fence. I remeber her as being one of the kindest and gentlest ladies around!

  9. Tom Lane says:

    What a grand detailed description that happened exactly that way in my house also. On Monday’s our back yard was at the top of Dell st, and you could look down the whole block of laundry hanging out! And that smell of bleach that permeated the basement. My mom had a bad back, so often my Dad, sister, and later myself, would pitch in to help with the wringer and lugging the wet clothes out of the basement.
    I always loved the fresh smell of that, and years later I put up some clothes lines at my home in the country (not allowed to do that in many cities now) and would hang out sheets. My friend and his young son came by and the son asked why there were ropes strung in my backyard. I told him to hang out clothes to dry, and since he had never seen such a thing, simply asked, “can’t you afford a dryer?” Great example of growing up in different worlds. thanks.

    • Jim says:

      I agree that there is nothing fresher than sun dried sheets. I know I sound like a scene from Ozzie and Harriet with that remark, but it is true. My wife and I haven’t lived in an area where we were allow to hang out clothesline since we were first married in 1978. Our plans are that when we move within the next year, come hell or high water, we will have the option. Besides, with the emphesis on “green” and enviromental consciousness all neighborhoods and subdivisions should allow it. Thanks for your kind words!

      • Colleen Byrne Travis says:

        Regardless of “protective covenants” forbidding “hanging out” in homes where I have lived, I always try to find a way to line dry some things. I live on the 23rd floor of Trimont Condos in Mt. Washington and believe me, I line dry some things on the balcony. Just the smell of those rough towels “brings me back”. Mondays were a tough day for those gals. We always knew what was for dinner. It was something like stew or chile which they could cook early and reheat after their busy day, especially if their husbands were working “second trick”. They would have a good hot dinner to serve him before work and reheat it for the kids that evening. No micro waves to nuc something. and, of course, no sending out for food or stopping for fast food. They were at home washing!!!! or, as they might have said, “doing the worsh”. Then, hanging it on the worsh line.

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