The other day my daughter walked in and said, "You look tired Mom, are you feeling okay? I hadn't thought I was tired, but answered, "I did a couple of loads of wash this morning; maybe that's it?" Thinking about it later I had to smile. A couple of loads of wash? I sorted the clothes, pushed a few buttons, put the clothes in the dryer and pushed a couple more buttons, folded and put the clothes away. Tired? Total actual time spent doing laundry? Maybe fifteen minutes or so.
Go back seventy years or so. Most of you can't do that. You have to live a long time to be able to do that; and even that isn't far enough, to know how doing laundry really was, but it takes us back to wash day Monday (unless it rained). If it rained you had to wait until a sunny day and hope it wouldn't be too long.
My Mom's health wasn't too good; I was a teenager and very capable of doing the laundry which involved pumping the water from the well, heating it on the wood stove, filling the washer and the rinse tub, and thanking our lucky stars that we had electricity to run the wringer washer and electric flatirons to do the ironing. It was a full day's job and you were tired when you were through. Winter weather made it much harder. You could hang things on the line, but they froze solid and, unless there was a stiff breeze, you fought to get them off the line, before dark, and haul them in, stiff as a board and draped them over the clothes bars, or the furniture, or whatever you could find to dry them.
Okay, things progressed in the next few years. I was married, and many of you know, Leo and I had quite a little family, pretty quickly. We were really busy, and Monday was still washday, if possible, but we had modernized. We had running water and a special little electric heater that we could immerse in the washer, full of water, and heat it right there. We could rinse in cold, so I thanked my lucky stars that it was so much easier than my poor Mom had it. BUT; suddenly I had a LOT of laundry. I had babies in diapers, crib sheets, receiving blankets, sleepers, undershirts, barn clothes for Leo and myself (because good farm wives helped in the barn), and a few good clothes to keep clean, in case we could find a baby sitter and go to a movie, on a Saturday night. And, of course, tons of toddlers play clothes, covered in mud or food, or sometimes something a whole lot worse.
Monday washday was something like this: Of course, this was all done while taking care of babies, toddlers, four and five year olds, and doing the usual housework involved. It was: in the house from morning milking, getting breakfast and sending Leo off to work, then Laundry. Pull the washer out into the middle of the kitchen floor, fill-it, and the rinse tub, using buckets of water from the faucet in the bathtub. Plug in the heater; while the water is heating, gather all the laundry and sort into piles, and don't forget the diaper pail, with the rinsed, soaking diapers, (that was always fun!). If there was time, you washed dishes, swept floors, and did the usual housework, but there was seldom time for that.
The first load was usually the baby clothes, blankets, etc., because they weren't too dirty. The next would be the rinsed and hand wrung diapers, then a load of lighter colored clothes, toddler clothes, or whatever came next. By this time the water was getting pretty dirty, so you could do a load of barn clothes and then you had to empty the washer, and the rinse tub, and start over again with fresh water.
This time it was kitchen and bath towels first, usually another load of colored clothes and then another load of barn coveralls, or whatever was left, and then empty the washer and rinse tubs, put them away and mop-up the kitchen floor. Hopefully you could wait until later in the week, to do the bedding, and whatever else you might have. Usually there was at least two washdays a week, or maybe three, and if it was summer, and the weather was good, it was so much easier.
Of course, all day you had been hanging everything on the clothesline to dry. Weather was important; a breezy sunshiny day was such a bonus, for a brisk wind would fluff the clothes as they dried, and sometimes you could get away without ironing a few things. Most of your clothes needed to be ironed. They ironed better, if they were a little damp, so if you could catch them just right, and roll them up, they would iron much easier tomorrow, which was ironing day.
Of course, there was no wash and wear fabrics in those days. Every shirt, skirt, (do any of you remember how many yards of material you had to iron, to get a "circular skirt" smooth and beautiful, so it would swing-out just right, when your partner swung you at a square dance) and your blouse had to be ironed. Some of them even needed to be starched; I won't get into that, because that was one accomplishment I never mastered.
With the laundry done, it was time to try, to get the rest of the housework done, and get-out to help with the night milking, then dinner and dishes and bed.
As I write this it sounds impossible. I find it hard to believe myself, but it was like that. Sometimes the housework didn't get done, and sometimes your husband took pity and did the night milking alone. However, a full meal was expected at night and there was no Pizza Parlor to call for take-out. Of course there was no TV, but it didn't matter, there was no time to watch TV. I was never a "June Cleaver" housewife; of course I didn't know who June Cleaver was.
Today's busy housewives and Moms are just as busy. Their days are filled with so many things that they do with their children and that's a good thing. Actually I can think of one or two advantages we had, all those years ago. We didn't have to go to the gym or walk for hours a day, swinging our arms etc., to get our exercise, and of course, we really didn't have any trouble getting to sleep at night, (at least on washday).
After reading this over I realize that it may seem that I am making light of the busy lives that today's moms have; and thinking that they really have it easy. But I'm sure that my Mom, and all of our Mom's and Grandmothers, thought we had pure luxury. They carried all their water from hand pumps, or outdoor springs, heated it on the wood stove, scrubbed on a washboard and wrung them out by hand. Can you imagine trying to get black grease out of overalls,by rubbing them with a cake of Fels Naptha soap and scrubbing them on a washboard? I guess Wash Day in the 50s and 60s was pretty easy after all.
By Nancy Bond
Nancy Bond began writing in high school 60+ years ago, but then family life took hold, as she and her husband Leo raised twelve children, on their farm in the town of Clayton. It was only recently that Nancy began writing her memories on paper, for her children to enjoy. The Thousand Islands Museum persuaded her to share these memories with the “Thousand Islands Sun” and now with “TI Life” for all to enjoy. Click here for Nancy’s other articles – everyone one of them will make you smile!