When Grandpa John Was a Kid - Family Wash Day

Saturday was wash day at my house when I was a boy. After breakfast, Daddy would bring the laundry fixture into the kitchen from the back porch. Hinged wooden pieces folded down on each side to form shelves to hold two washtubs. These large round tubs were two feet in diameter and eleven inches deep. In the center of the fixture was a hand turned wringer.

A water hose was slipped onto the kitchen sink faucet to fill the wash tubs. We used powdered Oxydol laundry soap, which was a big improvement over the earlier P&G bar soap. To clean the knees of my pants, mother put a washboard in the tub for hand scrubbing.

Daddy would pull a towel from the soapy water and hold a corner against the two spring-loaded, rubber rollers. Then my work began. As I turned the crank, the towel exiting the other side of the rollers was only damp before falling into the tub of rinse water. As my young arm tired, Wallace, my year-older brother, took his turn cranking.

After the first tub full of clothes had passed through the wringer, the tub of wash water was picked up by Wallace and me using the hinged handles on the side and carried to the back yard for dumping. The tub was then filled with water with blueing added for the second rinse. The first tub of rinse water became the next tub of wash water. After a second rinse and wringing, the damp clothes were put in a clean bushel basket for carrying to the backyard clothesline.

Mother was in charge of quality control. Wallace and I soon learned to hang sheets Motherís way the first time. One of us would hold two corners of the sheet together while the other grasped the remaining two. One set of corners was placed on the clothesline to share the clothespin of the last item on the line. Carefully holding the sheet edges together, three more clothespins were added. With the help of the wind, this all cotton, white sheet, the only color offered, came off the line as smooth as one freshly ironed.

In the wintertime we worked a little faster, for on some days the warm sheet would be frozen stiff as quickly as we got it on the clothesline. In case of rain, Daddy strung some heavy cord back and forth across the dining room creating an indoor clothesline.

While Wallace and I worked on the laundry crew, Harriette, my year-younger sister, started cleaning the house. If Wallace and I should finish our chore first, we helped Harriette complete the cleaning. There was never any dawdling, because Wallace and I knew that the neighborhood ballgame had already begun in the front yard or at Triangle park a block away.

Sixty years later, Saturday is still washday. With no mother, wife, or daughter supervising, I put the colored socks, underwear and shirts in the first load. By the time I have enjoyed one stack of pancakes, itís time to move the first load into the dryer and start the load of towels, pajamas, and sweat top. Relaxing with devotionals and a second stack of pancakes, I wait for the time to move the second load to the dryer.

As I dry my face after my Saturday night shower, I inhale deeply to enjoy the aroma of the freshly laundered towel. My sentence prayer is, "Thanks God for generously supplying me with a washer and dryer."

Copyright 1998 by John C. Westervelt

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