Saturday, November 28, 2015

Doing Laundry

Yesterday I needed to do some laundry. I know--time for some hard labor. I picked up my super-lightweight mesh hamper from its place on the closet floor and carried it at least 10 feet around the corner to my laundry closet. I started the water in the washer, tossed in a premeasured packet of detergent, pulled clothes out of the hamper, tossed them in the washer, closed the lid, and staggered away to find a chair, wiping the sweat from my brow, totally exhausted from all that hard work.

Okay, that last part isn't true.

What is true is that, this being the season for concentrating on thankfulness, I started thinking about laundry. Not only do I have the conveniences of modern America when my laundry needs done, but I don't even have to cart clothes down to the basement to the laundry room these days. My laundry room is a closet opening off the kitchen, containing a stacked washer and dryer set. It is just a few steps from my bedroom and bathroom, where most of my laundry originates and will be returned to.

I do, however, remember doing laundry in a variety of ways through my life. This is definitely the easiest I have ever had it. I have hand washed all my sweaters in my teens, washed using the old wringer washer and two rinse tubs setup during college and early twenties, and my very first automatic washer was a hand-me-down from my sister Terry when she got a new one. That washer still worked well and was a real blessing for me, but it did have its quirks. I was pregnant with my first child, and it is a wonder that Anne Marie arrived with her brains intact because that machine shook so hard during its spin cycle I had to lean on it or sit on it to keep it from walking across the floor. It was years before we had a dryer, so the clothes dried on the line winter or summer. Winter drying often involved the clothes freezing on the line and gradually giving up their water until a day or two later they were finally ready to bring in. The good side of this was that they smelled wonderful!

There are still places in the world where cleaning clothes involves a river and drying clothes on the bank. If there isn't a river, cleaning clothes is a very difficult problem and the kind of cleanliness we have become accustomed to simply is not possible.

In my mother's brief biographical account of life growing up on a Wyoming homestead she tells about their mother's laundry day:

Monday was the day Mother usually chose to "set bread" (the term used for mixing up and kneading the dough, which was put aside in a warm place to rise), put on a pot of beans, and then do the laundry. This was done with her trusty lye soap and a rub board. The white clothes were then placed in a boiler and boiled for a while--supposedly to keep them white. Everything was then hung out on the clothesline to dry, even in dead of winter. We certainly didn't change clothing as often or as carelessly as is now possible with our modern conveniences. When it was done we could look forward to a delicious meal of hot bread and beans.

Laundry was made even more of a challenge by the fact that, as Mother wrote, "Water was always scarce--all of it had to be carried up from the well over the hill and heated on top of the stove." And this laundry was for a family of nine!

Mother still was doing some laundry with a washboard and the bathtub when I was a small child, and the washboard was still in her possession for many years after. I can even remember using it at the kitchen sink for something I needed to wash when it wasn't laundry day. I was surprised to discover that washboards are still for sale online. Some are used by musicians (!), but there are evidently people still using them for their original purpose.

Every time I do my laundry, I will try to remember to be truly grateful for my wonderful washer and dryer. I am also very thankful I do not have to make my own lye soap!

No comments:

Post a Comment