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A few things have changed for women, if not all that much on the rights side--we
seem to be going backwards at the moment--however, in the
material world, the traditional hard work of housekeeping has grown much easier.
Laundry is one of those revolutionized tasks. Still, like cleaning the toilet, another traditionally designated woman’s work, I'd thought I'd share some memories
about some of the things I've seen during my own 70+ years
I wonder how many of you
can also look back on these same changes, or if you have some unique stories of
your own. I’m going to move through time—my little slice of it--regarding
first laundry days I remember was at Grandpa’s house where we took our clothes
for a familial Saturday wash, because they had a machine, a rockin’ and rollin’
wringer washer in the basement. Running the wet clothes through the wringer was
men’s work in my family, although the women did the rest: pre-sort, load, hang,
fold, dry, and iron. (Remember ironing? The day devoted to the task, taking the
clothes out of the hamper and dampening them with a spritz or a sprinkle—the
ones from a little top you bought at the Five and Dime to attach to the top of
a coke bottle? The back ache/neck crick from standing for hours with a moving
extended arm, the pre-air conditioning summer heat?)
of course, for small children, there were dire, but necessary, warnings.
the dreaded wringer in which careless children get their arms caught and broken
and maybe even dragged in and squished to death! And don’t forget; the
release bar to open the jaws is along the top, so…!
the early Sixties, life took my mother and me to Barbados in the West Indies.
It was not the shiny tourist trap it is now. At one time, we lived in the
countryside which meant in a big temporarily for rent house—the “Bajan” owners
were in the UK, attending to some business there. The big white house with
louvered windows stood in a grove of large trees surrounded by what seemed to
be almost endless cane fields. A maid from a cluster of houses further down the
road, came along with the rent—that is, mother paid her the going rate to stay
on with us and do laundry and some weekly housework, so that she would be
support in the regular owner’s prolonged absence.
was a long bus ride from Bridgetown where my school was, and in the evening,
when I got home, I’d enter a small lane that had a bridge over a steep-sided,
fast moving creek. Down below, among the rocks, local women always seemed to be
doing laundry. Many small children, wearing undershirts and nothing else,
crouched and played in the water, like little kids everywhere. Here, sometimes,
I’d see Elsie, who worked for us, banging a piece of clothing I’d recognize as
mine, on a rock as if it had done some terrible crime and needed punishment.
First she’d scrub up lather from a big cake of Fels Naphtha soap which she kept
beside her balanced on a rock. Next, she’d pound, and last she’d rinse it out
in the stream. When I saw that laundry method for the first time, I came to
fully appreciate the high tech of the chugging basement wringer washer at
after coming back to the US, entering college and getting married—all in quick
time order—my husband, new baby and I lived in an apartment building which
rented to married students. It was a spacious old side by side duplex, now
split into four apartments. I worked part time--part time school--in order to
afford my first washing machine, a long-lived trendy bronze color Sears Kenmore top
loader. Wet wash was hung from the back porch on a super long reel line.
The kindly owner of our building had set lines up for both upstairs and downstairs
apartments, although the tenants overhead had to hang their laundry while leaning out
a window. As this was Massachusetts, sometimes it was too wet or too snowy or
cold, so we all had drying racks for such occasions. As everyone
knows, with babies, there is always a lot of laundry. And with diapers, it’s
best to hang them out, even if they freeze for a day or so. As the old saying
goes, “sunlight is the best disinfectant,” even if it’s 10 below...or in the 21st Century.