News From Terre Haute, Indiana

June 19, 2012

MS. TAKES: Wash day actually lasted an entire day

Liz Ciancone
Special to the Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Hot weather keeps the washing machine whirling, almost daily. I thought the other day about how only Monday once was wash day and what a production it was.

A large copper boiler was filled with soft water and heated to provide hot water for both the washing machine and the hot rinse tub. My memory does not go back to remember pounding clothes on a rock. The cold rinse tub could be filled with water from the tap to which a slosh of bluing was added. Mom explained that bluing helped to eliminate any yellowing in white sheets and towels.

I liked to help feed clothes through the wringer and watch them drop into the tub of hot water. Soon that tub had almost as many suds as the washing machine. Then, another trip through the wringer and a drop into the cold rinse and, finally, the clothes fell into a basket to be carried outside and hung on the clothes line.

Wash day lasted almost literally all day, so we could count on a cold supper or maybe reheated leftovers. All those hours hovering over tubs of hot water didn’t leave a lot of time or energy to create exciting meals.

My Best Friend talks about how his mom and several of the neighbor ladies had a friendly competition to see who among them could be the first to have clean clothes swinging on the clothes line. He said his mom would get up as early as 4 a.m. to get the water heated and begin the day’s ordeal. I can’t imagine she was not the neighborhood favorite in the clothesline sweepstakes. She was a competitor.

The wonderful fresh-air smell of clean clothes coming into the house after a day of swinging on the clothes line in sunshine and fresh air, or maybe freezing in the dead of winter, still lingers. And then there were the sprints to get the clothes in if a sudden shower threatened to dampen everything.

Of course, there was no clothes dryer other than the line in the back yard. Say what you will about dryer sheets, clothes just don’t smell like fresh air.

Tuesday was ironing day. Clothes had to be dampened and touched up with an electric iron — I don’t go back to irons heated on the stove — but now the steam iron is a welcome innovation. Clothes don’t have to be dampened so there is no risk of having them mildew before I get the iron stoked up.

My life is easier than Mom’s, but I do miss that fresh-air smell of clean clothes.

Liz Ciancone is a retired

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