By Regena Handy
When I have once again let the laundry pile up and am sighing over the work load, wash days from my childhood come to mind. Such memories shame me when I compare the ease of this chore to past efforts of my ancestors.
Laundry day normally occurred during the week while I was in school. My mother would handle this day long task by herself as did most housewives living on a small farm. But during the summer months, I was her helper. Or perhaps a hindrance.
Though our house was built in 1950, it was several years before running water was added. Thus water for drinking, cooking, washing dishes, bathing, etc. — all had to brought by bucket from a spring some distance away. So it was with washing clothes.
The wringer washer was housed in a corner of the kitchen for years prior to movement to the newly constructed garage. Fortunately it ran off electricity versus the older models that were hand cranked. It was white with one tub for water. Several piles of laundry might be done in one tub load of water and rinsed in a separate galvanized tub that my mother sat nearby.
As I am writing this I realize I have more questions than answers about wringer washers and laundry day. Before running water was added to the house, did my Mom carry the many gallons of water from the spring to the house? There were probably times when my father and brother did so before leaving for work and school.
I read somewhere that the washer would use between ten and twenty gallons per load — at that rate, is it any wonder more than one wash load was done in the same tub of water. Add to that amount the gallons needed for rinsing. However, this number is still small when compared with that used by automatic washers. Even today for that very reason there are environmentally conscious people who use a wringer washer.
After getting water to the house, my mother would heat part of it on the stove before pouring it into the tub. She added cleaning powder, filled the tub with the first load of laundry — most likely the sorted whites — plugged up the machine and turned it on. The agitator would stir the clothes, washing them until Mom decided they were clean.
We would then run each piece through the wringer, squeezing out the sudsy water, before it fell into the rinse tub pushed against the side of the washer. After hand plunging in the rinse water, each item would again be run through the wringer and taken to the clothesline. And the process would begin all over with the next pile, usually ending with the dirtiest items — my brothers’ jeans and my Dad’s overalls.
When my mother felt I was old enough, she let me run the clothes through the wringer. That was the fun part of it all to me. Those who were more experienced could easily place the item against the rolling wringer, allowing it to latch onto the cloth and pull it through.
But the day came when I wasn’t careful enough. As I pushed an article against the wringer it caught my fingers, pulling my hand and arm into the machine. My mother quickly reversed the rollers and pulled out my little flattened hand and arm. But there was no actual damage — all plumped back up after a short time.
Now that I think about it, that automatic washer of mine seems like a right nice gadget in comparison.