Pipi’s Pasture: Wash day

Diane Prather
Pipi's Pasture

This morning I loaded towels, shirts, socks and other clothes into the washer, added soap, turned the dial to the correct number of minutes and left the washer to do its thing while I returned to my paperwork.

When I sat back down to write I couldn’t help but think how handy it is to do the laundry in this “modern world” compared to the way we did it when I was a kid growing up on the ranch, and my mind turned to memories of wash day.

Monday was always wash day back then, not only at our household but probably also at every home in the community. I don’t know how it started, but housewives all over the country tended to designate chore by the day: Monday, wash day; Tuesday, day to iron; etc. (Remember dish towels with days of the week embroidered on them?)

As a kid, I didn’t like wash day because there was such a mess in the kitchen, but I always helped with the chore. Whatever needed to be washed was sorted by color and put in piles that covered the kitchen and dining room floors. Water was heated in some kind of a large container and then poured into a big tub that had been placed on a stool. Then a washboard was put into the tub and a bar of homemade soap placed on a narrow shelf at its top.

The clothing was washed clean by rubbing it up and down on the soap-covered ridges of the washboard. Sometimes the extra-dirty clothes were boiled on the stove in a container of soap water. I don’t remember how well this worked.

The clothes (note: for purposes of this column I’m referring to washables as “clothes,” but we also washed towels, sheets and pillowcases, and other stuff) were wrung out and taken outside to a tub of water that was changed when it became too soapy. Housewives prided themselves on white “whites” so white clothes were rinsed in water to which bluing (purchased at the grocery store) was added. It was promised to reduce yellowing. Clothing items, such as shirts, were starched after rinsing.

Once wrung out, the clothing was hung on the clothesline at the back of the house. Housewives were fastidious about the way clothes were hung on the lines, too. Like items: socks, towels, washcloths, shirts, etc. — were hung together.

In later years we got an automatic wringer-type washer that was kept on the front porch. It eliminated the need for the washboard, but there was still the heating of water and carrying water in and out of the house. I helped with it all.

My Grandpa and Grandma Osborn had a washhouse on their ranch at Deer Creek. It was a few steps from the main house. As I remember, there was a stove in the house for heating water. One of their boys stayed home from school each week to carry water from the creek for washing and then carried out again. I remember thinking how nice that would have been to have the mess out of the kitchen.

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