From Pipi’s Pasture: Memories of wash day
This morning when I was pressing some wrinkles out of a shirt, my mind wandered back to earlier times when I was a kid growing up on the ranch. Pressing a few wrinkles out of a shirt would have been a big deal then, because we would have had to build up a fire to heat an iron. (Why my mind should wander to ironing clothing years ago when there are holidays to think about is a bit odd, but there it is.)
First things first. When I was a young girl, we didn’t have electricity in the house. That meant no washer, no dryer, and no electric irons for pressing clothes. On Mondays, the usual day for doing laundry, we sorted laundry into piles, according to clothing color. Mom built up the fire in the wood/coal kitchen stove, and she heated the water. Sometimes, she even boiled some of the very soiled clothes in water and homemade soap. The tub was brought in, and the clothes were washed on a board. I remember how Mom rubbed soap on the board’s grooves and worked the clothes on it.
Then, the clothes were rinsed, indoors in winter and outdoors in summer. Bluing from a bottle was added to the rinse water for white clothes to make them whiter. Mom made starch by cooking it on the stove until it thickened, then adding it to water. Incredibly, a lot of items were starched, including pillowcases and kitchen towels.
It was my job to rinse the clothes and hang them on the line. Even in winter, unless it was snowing, clothes were hung out to “freeze dry.” I can remember taking Dad’s pants and underwear into the house. They were so frozen that they stood up by themselves.
When the day’s laundry was washed, all the water had to be carried back outdoors. All of that packing water! No wonder my body sometimes aches now that I’m getting older!
I also remember that Grandma Osborn had a separate wash house for doing laundry, with its own cook stove. It always intrigued me that the laundry mess could be kept out of the main house. I was told that, on laundry day, one of the boys stayed out of school to pack water.
Tuesday was the day to iron. The fire was built up again, and heavy metal irons with handles were heated on the stove. The items to be ironed, which was most everything, was “sprinkled” ahead of time, using a soda bottle with a “sprinkler” pushed into its top. The laundry was put in a plastic bag until time to iron.
Once the ironing board was set up, the irons were tested to see if they were hot enough. The handles were so hot we had to use potholders to handle them. Once an iron got too cold, it was put back on the stove to heat and we used another one. We rubbed the irons on waxed paper to make them slick. We had to be careful not to scorch the clothing.
In later years, we felt privileged to have an iron with a handle that hooked onto flat irons. I cannot remember exactly how it worked, but we could hook the handle onto the iron, and the handle remained cool so we didn’t have to use a potholder.
All this has made me feel very fortunate to have a washer, dryer, and electric iron!
Time flies by and high school seniors wind down their time as graduation approaches. I’ve never encountered a graduate of our high school who doesn’t want their life to be better in some way, shape, or fashion. Things haven’t gotten any easier for young people who are surrounded daily by the pressures of an increasingly skill-specific economy and pressure-driven expectations for how their lives should be lived.