Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Olden Ways: Wash Day

There are days when I'd love to find the door to the past and walk through it, just to see how things really were. It was a slower time, but a busy one. Work was always there to do, even if it was just around the house.

My least favorite chore is the laundry. I don't know why. It's so simple to throw a load into one machine, and when it's finished churning,to toss the clothes into the other one to dry. With permanent press fabrics, there's usually little ironing to do, but I dislike the entire process.

Press rewind. We are now in the 1800's. It's Monday...and the women of the household are doing their laundry. They've built a fire and placed the huge cauldron of water on the hook of the tripod to heat. The white clothes will be set into the boiling water to keep them their whitest. The few items of colored clothing owned by the family are awaiting the strength of the arm muscles to rub them over the corrugated washboard. Then all the wash will be rung out by hand and hung on the line in the air to dry, It doesn't matter how hot the day is, the women must stand by that fire and tiring work must be done.

The garments will be stiff after the sun and wind have sufficiently dried them. The natural fiber items will be full of wrinkles too, from the wringing. One of the girls must heat the cast iron flat iron, being cautious not to burn herself, and the clothing will be ironed free of creases. It will be a full days work.

Weeks before that laundry day, a hog had been slaughtered and butchered. The fat, the lard, had been set aside for the making of the lye soap. This, too, was woman's work.

Suddenly, I'm back in 2010, and grateful to be, as it is time to do my laundry in my quiet front load washer, with the little beeper to tell me when it's finished its agitating, and the 'electric wind machine' which will dry the heaviest of my wash loads. Today, as I think back to my great-grandmother's wash day, my chore doesn't seem half-bad.