‘Washing Day’ at the VanHaren household

It’s funny how memory works. I woke up one day about a week or so ago thinking about how Mom used to do the laundry before the REA extended electrical lines into our neighborhood on Konitzer Road.

But I never really got involved in that chore except for hauling water from the well, so I asked my sister Joyce what she remembered. And boy was her memory precise. So I asked her to write it down.

So here’s Joyce’s story. Thanks, Sis.

Washing Day

Hauling water. The well was up by the barn. Dad carried the first two pails when he came in from the morning milking and poured them into the reservoir on the old cook stove and filled the copper boiler on top of the stove to begin heating. Then Roger and I would make a few trips with a pail between us.

My first job was to wipe down the steel wire clotheslines to remove the rust and bird poop and hang out the bag of wooden clothes pins.

When the water was hot, it was taken out to the tool shed and put into the wooden stave washing machine. Next, Mom would shave the lye soap into the hot water and stir with an old broom handle until the soap was dissolved. Then she’d add a little of the bluing from a little bottle. I know at first we made soap, but mostly I remember the brown Fels-Naptha bars.

The washing machine was a wooden stave tub with a cover, which had an agitator that looked like a three-legged milk stool hanging down from the cover. Dad had attached a small gas powered engine to run the machine. (I don’t remember when it was converted, but it didn’t start out that way. Originally all clothes were soaked and scrubbed on a washboard.) There was a wringer standing above that swung around 360 degrees out over the rinse tubs.

There were two galvanized tubs used for rinsing. The first had lukewarm water and the second cold water to get the remaining soap out of the clothes. The clothes were then dropped into a bushel basket to be carried out to the lines for hanging.

First we started with the white clothes, towels, then the light colors (Chambrey shirts, etc.) After that, the darker colors were done, followed by the overalls and if the water was still liquid maybe a rag rug.

After a load had washed for a time, the clothes were run through the wringer (lifted out of the hot water with a stick because the hot lye water would remove skin). The clothes going into the wringer had to be folded so that the buttons were inside or the wringer would take them off. This was especially true of the overalls with the big metal buttons and shoulder buckles.

The clothes first went into the first rinse, where they were agitated by hand to untangle and straighten them out a bit before running them through the wringer a second time. The process was repeated in the second rinse. The clothes had to be “unbunched” so that the wringer could get as much of the water out as it could or they would be too heavy to carry to the line and it would take more than a day to dry on the line.

Depending on the day, this was started early so at least the white clothes got dry and could be brought in and put back on the beds. (We had only one set of sheets.) Sometimes the dark clothes could hang out overnight. Mom would get so mad if a bird hit them because the lines were next to the orchard and garden!

After the clothes were hung and dry, they had to be brought in and folded and the beds made. Then the ones that had to ironed were sprinkled and rolled up and packed back in the basket for the next day, when they had to ironed or they would mold. A whole other story.

So, There you go. Joyce’s first published column! Pretty easy week for me.

Contact Roger VanHaren at rjmavh@gmail.com