I was born in the mid-1950’s. My dad was a self-employed plumber and electrician who worked long hours six days a week. My mom was a stay-at-home mom. I am the oldest of four kids and that accident of birth set me up as the target for Mom’s Housework Apprenticeship Program (HAP). I didn't volunteer, I was drafted.
I became eligible to enter the program the summer I was six years old. The first skill set was Introduction to Dishwater. Many would follow: Speck-Free Dusting, Porch Sweeping, Basics of Vacuuming, Floor Scrubbing, Spot-Free Bathroom Cleaning, Lawn Mowing and Laundry.
The Laundry Apprenticeship was divided into sections: Proper Sorting, Clothesline Preparation, Clothespin Selection, Techniques of Hanging, Wrinkle-Free Ironing and Folding. Notice the Laundry program didn't include operation of the washer and dryer. We didn't own the latter. The former was a wringer washer which Mom operated because of the danger the wringer imposed. Besides, how could I successfully complete the apprenticeship if my arm was permanently flattened and the bones crushed from being pulled through the wringer?
The main event on Laundry Day was staged on our enclosed back porch. Besides the wringer washer, the operation required two rinse tubs: one for the first rinse and a second one for the final rinse. A few drops of bluing, a whiteness enhancer for grayed or yellowed white clothes, were added to the final rinse. The wringer apparatus on the washer swiveled to be repositioned between the washer and the first rinse, then between the two rinse tubs and, finally, between the final rinse and the clothes basket. Our enclosed back porch was pretty crowded on laundry day with just enough space left for Mom. Fearing she might change her mind about teaching me to operate the wringer, I didn't hang around underfoot, but waited in another part of the house until I was summoned to hang out clothes.
For Mom, hanging clothes on a clothesline was a science. White clothes were hung in the sun, while colors were hung in the shade, if possible, to minimize fading. We used two types of clothespins, spring-operated and one-piece straight pins, each of which was used on certain types of clothing. Some items were hung separately—underwear, shorts and slacks—using two pins; while others—sheets, towels and T-shirts—were strung together by slightly overlapping the corners and securing with a pin. Our clothesline was a masterpiece of laundry day efficiency!
Now, I use a clothesline on warm days when the temperature is at least 60 degrees. However, towels go in the dryer because we like soft towels. Despite using fabric softener in the rinse cycle, towels hung outside are still scratchy. What we refer to as our “good” clothes, those we wear in public, go in the dryer but only for a few minutes.
One word of advice about hanging clothes outside when you live on a hilltop and the forecast calls for winds gusting in excess of 30 miles per hour: Don’t!
Shortly after we were married and living on a hilltop near Valley Falls, I learned the futility of attempting to wrestle a king-sized waterbed sheet on the clothesline on a windy day. This sheet was the type with the fitted and flat sheets sewn together at the bottom. When spread out in a single layer, there was enough yardage to outfit a fraternity toga party! One windy day, after I’d struggled for several minutes to drape this bedding behemoth over the line, a wind gust whipped it around me until I was wrapped tighter than a mummy. Since the sheet was nearly dry anyway, I shuffled to the house, unwound myself and crammed it into the dryer.
One recent morning, when I hung clothes outside a nice breeze was blowing. But a couple of hours later, a powerful gust rattled the house. I looked out the kitchen window and saw underwear turbo-jetting across the yard. I sprinted out the door in hot pursuit, fearing our undies would end up in the next county before I caught up. Grabbing the rest of the clothes off the line required two of us: one to hold the clothes in the basket and the basket on the ground, and one to take down what was left of the clothes.
Did reading this account of my Laundry Apprenticeship exhaust you? It may seem primitive to those of you from Generations X, Y and younger. But Baby Boomers feel fortunate that we didn't have to heat a cauldron of water over an open fire and use homemade lye soap and a washboard to scrub clothes clean. Or, haul dirty laundry down to the creek and beat it on a rock. We count ourselves lucky, indeed!
As a kid, I didn't appreciate the home-making skills Mom taught me. Now, I consider those skills priceless! Thanks, Mom!