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
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,
Well, I should say.
Today is Sunday, Today is Sunday,
Saturday shopping, Friday fish, Thursday baking, Wednesday cleaning,
Tuesday ironing, Monday washday,
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:
- Stop the washer with that HUGE lever on the front.
- 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.
- 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.
- Back to the first load where she would stir them around to remove as much soap as possible.
- Then she would swing the wringer around so it would bridge both sections of the sink.
- 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.
- Once again, the clothes were sloshed around allowed to absorb the “virtues” of the softener.
- By that point, tub #2 would be started up and served as the final rinse for the clothes.
- Then, the wringer would be placed in its final position between the sink and the washing machine.
- Once again, my mother would start up the wringer and transfer the clothes into their final bath.
- 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.
- The clothes would then be dumped into a laundry basket and taken out to be dried.
- 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???”