Washday Blues

Image courtesy of The People’s History

Mother had some bad luck, then some good.  She was a  passenger in a car hit by a drunk driver and sustained a cut over her eye.  The good news was, she wasn’t badly scarred and got a two-thousand dollar settlement from the driver’s insurance.  Daddy and Mother were rich!  (He was the man and what was hers was his.) That was a lot of money in 1956.  She said the first thing she wanted was an automatic washing machine. She and Daddy made for the local furniture store.  When Daddy saw what a new Maytag cost, he balked. The set pictured above retailed at $494!  Of course, purchase of a dryer would have been ridiculous, since she had a clothesline and nothing but time, but the price of a new washer alone was outrageous!  They had a lot of better places for that money!  The upshot was, the salesman finally admitted he had taken a used Maytag in trade.  That was more like it.  Daddy always went for used.   That fine, used washer came home with them, for only fifty dollars.  It took place of pride on the screened-in back porch and Mother’s old wringer washer became a trade-in.

It worked okay for a few weeks and Mother dealt with her disappointment at not getting a new Maytag.  Soon, it revealed its true nature.  Apparently, the switch was moody.  It began to protest moving between cycles.  Sometimes it made a grinding nose, sometimes it meditated.  Eventually, it died.  Mother was livid.  They had wasted fifty dollars on a piece of trash.  At least her old wringer washer was dependable.  Of course, by now, the two-thousand dollars was history.  They’d paid some bills, and Daddy had purchased a small sawmill so he could go in the cross-tie business.  It looked like a great deal till the bottom fell out of the cross-tie business.  Money was tight as always.  Daddy had heard that a neighbor, J. D. Offut, worked on appliances, so he sent a kid over to ask Mr. Offut to stop by when he got off his day job.  This was before we enjoyed the luxury of a telephone.

I have no idea what Mr. Offut’s day job was,  but his hobby was soon performing CPR on Mother’s chronically ailing Maytag washer.  He always tinkered long enough to revive it for a few days.  Invariably he’d leave Mother with a handful of small unnecessary parts.  “I bypassed the such and such, so I didn’t need these.  You might want to keep them, just in case.  I don’t know how long it will hold up.”  His confidence in his work was well-grounded.  It rarely ran more than a few days, leaving Mother to  fish out a heavy load of cold, soggy laundry in anticipation of Mr. Offut ‘s call.  Sometimes, he had a previous commitment, so she’d have to finish the load by hand.  It was unfortunate she didn’t swear.  I believe it would have helped her feelings as she truminated on Daddy, the washer, and Mr. Offut.

Mother never did learn to appreciate that washer.

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Laundry in the Old Days

Images from Smithsonian collection

When she first married in 1946, Mother washed on a rub board. By the time I was born, they’d come up enough in the world to acquire a second wringer-washing machine. It cut her work tremendously. Wash days were so much more pleasant and relaxing. All she had to do was sort the laundry into whites, colors, towels, and work clothes.

She  manually filled the machine with hot water from a connection on the back porch as well as several pans of water boiled on the stove for her whites. Adding plenty of Clorox and laundry soap, she turned on the agitator and loaded her whites. The machine agitated the wash vigorously till she turned it off. When she was satisfied the whites were clean, the water was was usually still steaming hot. She’d turn the agitator off. While the clothes were washing, she’d fill two big galvanized tubs with rinse water, using the hose

After  switching the wringer on, she’d fish the whites out of the scalding water with a stick and carefully run them through the wringer, allowing the wash water to drain back into the washing machine tank. The flattened clothes fed from the wringer into the first rinse tub. She worked them up and down with a plunger to rinse, then swiveled the wringer into position between the galvanized tubs, to wring the wash before the second rinse, plunging and wringing again and winding into a basket for the line.

Water had to be added to the the washer and tubs after each load, since a great deal of water remained in the clothes and ended up on the floor. Between loading, agitating, and rinsing, the laundry not requiring starch had to go on the line. The washer had to be manually switched into drain. Since the washer was on wheels many times the drain hose ended up on the floor, instead of the drain, ensuring plenty of excitement and extra mop up.

Now the good part, starching. Using powdered starch, Mother cooked up a thick batch of starch on the stove. Refilling the washing machine with hot water, she mixed the cooked starch in, making sure to stir till the mixture was absolutely smooth Our good cotton dresses, pants, shirts, and Daddy’s work clothes went back in to agitate, then were run through the wringer, into the laundry basket for the line. Of course, they were very hot. As the family got bigger, Mother had to starch two or three loads.

The floors were a dirty, sloppy mess by the end of laundry day, necessitating a thorough scrubbing. The greatest hazard was getting caught in the wringer, hence the phrase, putting you through the wringer.”

Tuesday was ironing day, another treat.

You Poor Baby Part 2

vintage baby

Upon finding her washing machine packed to the rim with freshly laundered diapers mixed with freshly-laundered gobs of poop, Mother roused Carol from where she snored on the sofa, oblivious to her miserable, bawling baby. “Carol, come here. Let me show you how to use this washer! You can’t just throw filthy diapers in it without rinsing this stuff out.” Mother got a tub, made Carol scoop the poopy diapers out and clean the washer, then sent Carol out to rinse the dirty diapers under the faucet before bringing them back to the washer. “Be sure you dump that dirty water from the tub behind the chicken house, not in the back yard. You may as well get the rest of this mess soaking.” She pointed to the pile of poopy diapers that had not yet had a ride in her abused washer. Carol looked furiously at Phyllis and me as she stormed off to do this demeaning task, clearly much better delegated to underlings like us.

We did have to tend her poor, miserable baby while she slaved over the diaper rinsing, but that was better than rinsing out poopy diapers ranging from rock-hard lumps to runny diarrhea, depending on the vintage. The stench was horrendous, as evidenced by Carol’s retching. I have no doubt Carol was sick when she came back in. She took to her bed(our sofa) to recover. Clearly accustomed to help with her baby, she was reluctant to leave her repose to wash bottles and prepare formula, preferring to call out for one of of kids to “bring me a bottle!” when he cried. The first time, Mother let the hungry little guy have a bottle, despite the fact it was an expensive, hypoallergenic formula prescribed for her own tiny baby. She quickly pointed the case of milk she’d bought for Carol’s baby, the kind Carol requested. “Oh this will be fine,” Carol said. “He likes it!”

“Carol, you need to fix your own bottles! I bought you what you asked for. This stuff is forty cents a can!” Mother explained.

Carol was clearly offended. She dawdled a bit after he finished his bottle, put him down, and shut herself in the bathroom for a good crying session. Eventually, she came out and made a collect call to her mother, insisting she come, NOW! Mama couldn’t come, NOW! More crying on the phone. We were stuck together till the weekend. Carol had no problems leaving his bottles lying about to sour after baby was satisfied. Should he cry out when a sour bottle sat handy, she had no qualms about trying to get him to take it.

The next three days lasted an eternity. At my parent’s insistence, Carol did end up giving her baby good care while they waited for Mama, but she turned him over to Mama as soon as she arrived. His bottom had healed, he’d plumped up, and even played a bit with good care. Poor little guy didn’t get much of a pass. He was soon back home to be joined by a brother and sister in rapid succession.

Alas, Carol’s marriage fell apart, but before long she found another man and launched into her addiction to having babies she had no interest or ability to care for, eventually delivering eleven sad children. At a family reunion once, I heard someone ask how long she was going to keep having babies. She replied, “As long as God wants me to.” It was heartbreaking to see her children suffer from her neglect and ignorance.

Don’t Spin Your Greens, Granny (Part 2 of Multi-Function Appliances)

greens 2https://nutsrok.wordpress.com/2016/02/04/high-efficiency-multi-funtion-appliances/

When you live in the South and visit old folks in the country, the first thing you have to do is admire their garden. You’re liable to come home with a “mess of greens.” For the unenlightened, greens include turnips, collards, or mustard greens. Boiled down low, with a bit of pork, and garnished with a splash of “pepper sauce,” greens make a delicious meal. A true connoisseur polishes off by sopping up the juice, or pot-liquor with cornbread. If you’re above the Mason-Dixon Line, try a roll.

That’s the happy ending. Now, we get down to the nitty gritty, literally. Greens have to be “looked and washed.” The first step is dispossessing the wildlife who habituate greens. Nobody wants to find half a worm or a cluster of bug eggs in their pot-liquor. You have to give both sides of each rumpled leaf a good look, wash, and then wash and rinse copiously.

I’d heard the glorious news greens could be washed in the washing machine, cutting down tremendously on prep time. The next time Bud came in wagging a bag of greens, I didn’t moan like normal, having recently heard the good news that greens could be washed in the washing machine. As usual, the basic information registered, not the total technique. I loaded the washer with dirty greens and detergent and hit the start button. Quite a while later, the alarm sounded, and I went to retrieve my sparkling greens. Alas, no greens remained, just a few tough stems and a few bits of leaves. A follow-up conversation with my friend revealed that I should have only washed them on gentle and not continue to spend.

Though I hoped he’d forget, Bud came in that night expecting greens. I feigned innocence. “What greens?”

It didn’t fly. “The greens I brought in yesterday.”

It’s hard to come up with an excuse how precious greens went missing. I gave up and told the truth, though I don’t like worrying Bud stuff with gets his blood pressure up. I’m considerate that way. “They went down the drain.”

“How in the Hell did they go down the drain?” I don’t know why he gets all up in my housekeeping and cooking business.

“They just did. Now don’t keep asking nosy questions!”

“Exactly what drain and how did that happen?”

“The washing machine drain.” I hoped if I answered matter-of-factly, he’d move on. I didn’t work.

“You put greens in the washing machine? What in the Hell were you thinking?” I hate it when he apes back what I’ve just said. I’ve told him it gets on my nerves.

“It takes forever to look and wash greens. Jenny told me she puts hers in the washer and it works great. I didn’t realize I wasn’t supposed to put them through spin.”

“Grouch, grouch, grouch @^%&( , #@$%! Don’t ever put )(^%&# greens in the washer, again.”

“Okay, okay. Don’t go on forever about it. I get tired of your nagging”

Since then I’ve been careful not to spin them. It works great.

Me and Oil Can Harry

imageMother was stuck taking us everywhere she went, even to buy a new washing machine just  days before her fourth baby was born.  She never asked anyone to keep us since that would have insured she had to return the favor and keep someone else’s monsters in return, probably some of our killer cousins.  She was always on guard against that.  We followed her into Continue reading