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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

This is the way we wash our clothes

We have it so easy compared with our mother. I can remember her doing the laundry for eight people on a washboard. No wonder her hands were always rough. Wash day was a big event. She would heat water for the laundry on the coal stove. She would boil water in the copper boiler and boil the white clothes. I can still remember the stick she used to move the clothes around and take them out of the boiling water. It looked like the handle of a broom and was bleached white. She would shave pieces from the piece of yellow soap that she made herself. Then she would scrub the clothes on the washboard, wring them out and then put them into at least two big tubs of rinse water. There was the final wringing and then she would hang them outside on the clothes line. I will have to say that there is nothing like the smell of clothes that have been dried outside in the fresh air.

We sometimes think that that we have invented things like freeze dried and so forth but our mother freeze dried the clothes in the winter. She would hang the clothes out, they would freeze and much of the water would evaporate. Mother would bring the clothes in, and the long underwear would look like ghosts as they stood around thawing. Later there would be the ironing. We learned to iron using sad irons. We would heat them on the coal stove and then begin by ironing the linen things. As the iron cooled off we would graduate to the cotton items and then to the rayon and the more delicate things. We all learned to iron on flat pieces: hankies and dresser scarves. Then we went on to our Dadís work shirts. I am sure that more than once he wore a shirt with the scorch mark of a iron on the back.

Mother loved working with her linens and our sister, Eunice, inherited that quality from her. Eunice has the most marvelous laundry room. She built units to fit between the washer and the dryer. There were drawers for laundry waiting to be done. She was the expert on getting out stains and knowing just how to launder clothes. I think of her every time I do a load and put the cap from the liquid soap into the washer tub. Eunice told me to do that. There are so many times that I would like to pick up the phone and ask her a question. She sewed and tailored and altered and mended the clothes, not only for her four kids and her husband but also her mother and her mother-in-law. She made quilts and did handwork and painted and wallpapered and decorated, not only for herself but for so many others. . . and she ironed. In that marvelous laundry room, there is an ironing board permanently set up. You could almost always find her there, ironing or sewing. Everything got ironed.

One year Mmmm and I went to Asia for six weeks. Eunice and David came to live in our house and take care of the cat, even though they really didnít care for cats. When we returned, they had painted and papered and arranged and decorated. It was absolutely wonderful. It was like coming home to a new house. Of course we loved everything they did. We sisters always say that if Eunice likes it we will like it too. All of my sisters are great at things like this but she is the tops. She hangs pictures and has such a sense of what is the right arrangement and the right color and how things should look.

There is a real sense of satisfaction the evening of wash day. The beds are freshly made, the hampers are empty and the clothes are all neatly folded in the drawers. Our mother would be proud, if she ever allowed herself to be proud.

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