In the 1930’s, doing the weekly wash was an all-day task.
Mama was up and dressed by 4:30 a.m. to start the wash, and to get breakfast for Daddy.
She put the coffee on, and while Daddy was getting ready for work, she sorted clothes into wash load piles.
Mama was thankful for the modern convenience of a wringer washer. It was much easier than scrubbing clothes on a washboard, or boiling them in a big kettle on the stove, or wringing the clothes by hand. Automatic washers had not been invented yet.
Mama plugged in the washer. With a short hose attached to the faucet, she filled the washer with HOT water, and poured laundry soap into it. Grandma called it “worshin’ powder.”
Mama moved the gear handle to the fast speed, and the agitator made half turns back and forth. When the water was sudsy, she put in the first load. Bleach could not be put into the wash water, because all the clothes were washed in the same water. Bleach went into a rinse water in a stationary tub.
Wash water swished, and gears click-clacked beating an accompaniment to any song you wanted to sing. I think the whole neighborhood heard the washer.
The first load of clothes “rubbed” while Mama and Daddy ate breakfast (cold cereal was the menu on washday). They talked and laughed and made plans for the day.
They prayed, and Mama sent Daddy to work with a kiss and a sack lunch (no one came home for lunch on washday).
White-to-be-bleached clothes were rinsed in bleach water first, then in cold water. Other white clothes were rinsed in cold water first, then in lukewarm “Mrs. Wright’s Bluing” water.
Mama rinsed the clothes and put them through the wringer. She put another load in the washer, and hung a load on the line before my three older brothers and I ate breakfast. We had sack lunches, too, and Mama sent us to school with hugs.
Clothes to be starched were dipped in starch wrung by hand, and hung on the line. These took longer to dry.
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Mama had time to rinse, wring, and hang more clothes before Grandma got up. Mama helped Grandma get dressed, and fixed her breakfast. They chatted while Grandma ate and sipped her tea. Mama helped Grandma whenever she needed it.
As the clothes dried, Mama brought them in and hung wet ones in their places. She rinsed each load twice. That meant sending each piece of clothing through the wringer from the washer into the first rinse water, thoroughly rinsing each piece by hand, sending each one through the wringer again, rinsing again, then through the wringer for the third time to be put into a dishpan for carrying out to the clothes line.
Mama kept in mind that we were charged for every ounce of water and that money was scarce during those Depression years. At the same time, the clothes needed to be clean.
We lived 4 miles from Santa Monica beach, so the clothes had to be brought in by 4 o’clock. Otherwise they would be damp and salty.
Seeing clean clothes on the line sparkling in the sun was kind of like the feeling an artist gets while admiring his or her painting. Shirts and dresses danced in the wind, held onto the clothesline by their shoulders.
If the clotheslines sagged, there were long nicked poles with which to lift up the clotheslines. The bottom end of the pole was pushed into the ground, and hopefully there was no danger of clothes touching the ground.
By the time we kids got home from school, there was a pile of clothes on the dining room table waiting to be dampened. All the starched clothes were sprinkled with water and rolled up into a tight ball and placed in a cloth-lined basket. Other things were sprinkled, too. If it had to be ironed, it was sprinkled - even the hankies. The steam iron was still a seed in someone’s imagination.
If all the clothes did not get completely dry, they were draped over dining room chairs. In wintertime, when there was a fire in the woodstove, the heat from the stove finished drying the clothes.
Even with conveniences, Mama worked hard, but she never complained. She did it for her family whom she loved.
That was Monday.
Tuesday was ironing day.