Saturday, March 23, 2019

Back when.....

I was a child of age 3 through 19 living at home in the 40's and 50's and still remember the SAME washing machine in the basement for doing laundry. This flashback memory came to me due to my complaining about how difficult it is now to complete this chore at age 83. I need to shut up. Here's how it went as my recollection remains strong.

The dirty clothes and bedding were carried to the basement from the 2nd floor bathroom hamper in a wicker basket. If there were too many for the basket, some were bundled into a bedsheet. They were sorted into piles on the cellar floor - whites, colors, darks, linens. The EASY washer tub was uncovered, the three belled plunger apparatus was removed and the copper-lined tub was then filled with hot water. The water taps were attached to the concrete double sink tubs. A rubber hose brought water into the washer from the taps. The first load of whites or linens (bedding, tablecloths, towels) was put in the tub and the plunger was reattached to the center post. A switch was activated and the washing began. I don't know if it had a timer, but I think it did. I clearly remember the sound it made. "Cluck! Squish! Squash! Squish! Clunk! Squish!"

My mother used her own homemade lye soap that she shaved into flakes before switching over to Ivory Flakes or Duz Soap Powder in later years. When the washing ceased, the dripping wet clothes were put into the spinner tub mechanism on the side of the washer. They were spun with the water going down a tray into the right side concrete sink in front of the machine. When removed from the spinner they were then put into the left side of the double sink to wait for rinsing later, after all other loads were washed. All loads were usually washed in the same water which was hot at the start and then cooled down throughout the process, sometimes with more water added. After washing, the washer tub was drained and re-filled with clean water to rinse. The process started over again, except after being spun out, the large wicker basket was filled and carried up the cellar stairs and out the back door, down the driveway to finally reach the multiple tree-to-tree clotheslines in the backyard. This could be 4 or 5 trips! There were "special" long tree branch sticks with slotted ends kept nearby to be used as clothes poles which supported the lines when they were full and heavy. Of course a handy clothespin bag moved along the rope lines as items were pegged. In the winter months the laundry was hung on ropes strung around beam supports and fastened to the cellar wall and ceiling boards. We grew to be a family of six; seven when you counted Grandma who lived with us during the last years of her life.
All images below are from the internet
If you really think about it, the laundry process wasn't nearly finished. Our dining room table was used for folding and stacking. Our stairway to the upstairs was used for piles to be placed on the left side of several steps to be brought up and put in dressers or closets as necessary. If you went up, you brought a pile with you. Some things were sprinkled with water from a bottle with a sprinkler insert in the neck and then rolled up to rehydrate just enough for proper ironing.
In that home, the ironing board was in the kitchen in its own very special wall cabinet behind the table. The table had to be moved and the cupboard opened up with the board coming down into place! Can you visualize it? The image below is similar, showing how it looked when in use. 
Soooooo, I'm not complaining anymore because all we have to do is load two baskets into the back of the car, drive 5 miles to the laundromat, wash, dry (usually) fold, bring back home, unload from car and put away. Sometimes I can still hang on clothesline on sunny days. If you have never had the privilege of sleeping between sun dried sheets or worn clothing with the natural fresh air fragrances, you have really missed out. 

Now I wonder how the city and apartment dwelling folk in my young days got their laundry chores done! I KNOW it was more difficult before my time. This was hard enough for my mother and others back when... 

( Yes, I did have automatic washers and driers in my homes from 1955 to 1997. Laundry used to be one of my favorite homemaker chores! There is absolutely no room for any of those appliances in here. There are only two of us now and it isn't a major concern - yet.)


  1. I started out with a newer version of the Easy spin washer my Dad got me to do my first child's diapers when he saw me using a scrub board. The only thing different was I didn't have to take the spinner out and the tub was enamel. I did have pulley lines to the trees though. I still hang clothes out even tho I have a dryer. I use the dryer mostly for towels and wash clothes. I agree there's nothing like the smell of fresh sheets and pillow cases. As for the folks in the big cities years back, Those apt. Buildings had a courtyard just for clothesline and they had to share and trust their clothes didn't get snitched.

  2. My first recollection of laundry was my mother's washboard. Wish I had it now.

    The stamina of women in the 50's was something, wasn't it?

    Oh, and wooden clothespins!!