Laundry day used to be labor intensive, but environmentally friendly. Every Saturday Mom stood over a bubbling cauldron of hot soapy water and dirty clothes, stirring her brew with a sawed-off broomstick, then carefully pushing each item between the spinning rollers of her wringer washer to squeeze out the excess water. If she wasn’t careful, the rollers sometimes snatched and painfully flattened her fingertips. After rinsing in clean water and another trip between the rollers, they were ready for drying.

My older sister and I carried the heavy baskets of clean clothes out to the back yard, where each piece was fastened with wooden pegs to rows of clothesline. The seven people in our household produced a lot of laundry. All around the neighborhood freshly laundered sheets flapped and rows of disembodied clothing waved their empty sleeves and seemed to dance in the summer breeze.

If dark clouds gathered and thunder rumbled in the distance, we made a mad dash to the back yard, quickly unpinned the not-quite-dry laundry, and scurried inside. When the sun came back out, everything had to be rehung.

Once thoroughly dried, it was unpinned and carried back inside, where everything was piled next to the ironing board. Permanent press had yet to be invented, so nearly every piece had to be ironed, then put on hangers or folded and returned to its owners to be put away. Ironing took a couple hours each week. The job usually was assigned to whomever was being punished for some household infraction or to a child who made the mistake of whining to Mom, “I’m bored.”

At bedtime we buried our noses in the fresh sheets and inhaled their aroma of fresh air and sunshine, which lingered for several nights.

Unfortunately, laundry also had to be done in the dead of winter, when sunshine and warm breezes were hard to come by. It often took the clothes a couple days to dry. Many frigid mornings I donned a coat over my pajamas and dashed outside to retrieve a dress off the line to wear to school. It was against school rules for girls to wear pants to school, even in sub-zero temperatures. Sometimes my dress was frozen solid. I’d stand it over a register while Dad stoked the coals of the furnace in the basement, coaxing some heat to rise into the house. Eventually my dress would thaw out, although it was still very cold against my skin when I put it on.

A few years later, the family’s finances improved, but not enough to purchase an electric washer or dryer. Every week Mom dropped off my sister and me, about eight loads of laundry, and a roll of quarters at the local laundromat. While we waited for everything to get cleaned and dried, we gossiped about school and talked about our plans for the weekend. Then we folded everything and waited for Mom to pick us up.

Years later, as a newlywed, I sometimes opted to hang my clothes outside instead of using my dryer. I’d hoped it would bring back memories and infuse my sheets and clothes with that aroma of fresh summer breezes. Unfortunately, it also infused my sheets and clothing with asthma-inducing pollen and allergens and occasionally bird feces. I guess I forgot that part. I’ve since worn out several electric washers and dryers.

6 thoughts on “Double, Double, Toil and Trouble

  1. We had an electric washer and dryer, but my mom still would hang clothes on the line in nice weather–oh, that wonderful smell (minus allergens!). 😉 But ironing day was definitely a thing in our house. Ugh. Did you guys have a sprinkle top on a Coke bottle to dampen the clothes as you ironed like we did?

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