September 9 – Monday Was Wash Day

by Sara Etgen-Baker

Helen Morain Stainbrook

Last Thursday my washer quit spinning, leaving in its wake a tub full of wet, heavy clothes. I grumbled and stared inside the washer, knowing I lacked the arm strength to wring out the excess water in each item of clothing. What I wouldn’t have given at that moment to have my grandmother’s old wringer washer.

I can still picture her standing beside her wringer washer that sat on a little back porch behind her kitchen. Come rain, shine, cold winter days, or hot summer afternoons, she washed clothes EVERY Monday. She rose extra early, built a fire, and heated wash water. She filled the washer and twin rinsing tubs with scalding hot water; hand scrubbed each individual item, using a washboard to remove bad stains. Once clothes were scrubbed, washed, rinsed, and sent through the wringer, Granny hung her laundry to dry on clotheslines strung between two tall posts. As I recall, there were some basic clothesline rules she and women of her time followed.

•       Clotheslines were cleaned before hanging any clothes. She walked the length of the line using a damp cloth, removing dust, dirt, and bird poop.

•       Clothes were hung in a certain order: “Whites” with “whites,” always first.

•       Sheets and towels were hung on the outside lines. “Unmentionables” were in the middle out of public view.

•       Shirts were hung by the shoulders; NEVER by the tail.

•       Socks were hung by the toes, NOT the tops.

•       Pants were hung by the BOTTOM or the cuffs, NOT the waistbands.

•       Hang clothes out to dry on Mondays only. Never on Sunday! For heaven’s sake!

•       After taking down dry clothes, ALWAYS gather up the clothespins. Pins left on the lines look tacky.

Although using a wringer washing machine took a lot of time and required tremendous body strength, my grandmother thought she was lucky to have a wringer washer. At the end of wash day, Granny sat on her stoop occasionally recollecting her youth when she built a wood fire under an iron pot where she washed clothes with lye soap; something she did in the early years of her marriage during WWII when it was impossible to buy a wringer washing machine.

I take a lot for granted these days. I have an automatic washer and can wash clothes any day of the week and at any time of the day or night. I have an electric clothes dryer so I don’t have to tote laundry baskets full of wet clothes outside in all kinds of weather and hang them out to dry. In fact, drying clothes on a line is rarely seen these days.

Granny certainly wouldn’t have much patience with me for complaining about my automatic washer having gone on the fritz. She’d be shocked knowing I’d gone soft, lacking the strength to lift wet clothes out of my washer and wring out the excess water. She’d probably fuss at me, too, saying, “Why the heck are you washing clothes on Thursday anyway? Shame on you!”

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

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11 responses to “September 9 – Monday Was Wash Day

  1. This brings back memories – a good reminder of how much better we have it now.

  2. Oh my! Your piece triggered to many memories for me. I am recalling doing laundry in the basement (where the furnace was) with the wringer washer. Yes, she also made and used her own lye soap. I vowed to NEVER use that kind of soap when I had my own home and I never did. I loved hanging the clothes on the line in the backyard of our farm house. I loved the smell of clothes that had waved in the breeze with the sun beating down on them. However, I would not trade all of that for the convenience of my now washer and dryer, but those were the “good ole days.”

  3. sara etgen-baker

    Patricia–thanks for reading the piece and for sharing your own experiences. Now that you mention, I do believe my grandmother also used lye soap. I grew up hanging up clothes on my mother’s clothesline and, too, loved that smell. Mother lugged big baskets of wet clothes outside and hung clothes out to dry in all kinds of weather, For that reason, I do like my dryer, especially on cold days. 🙂

  4. This story Sara is a reminder of days gone. I remember my aunt doing the laundry the same way in her small laundry shack. I believe that the machine is still standing there, unused of course.

    • sara etgen-baker

      Thanks for reading the piece, Ariel, and for sharing your memory of your aunt doing the laundry. How cool and quaint that the washer is still standing.

  5. Sara, your story is magical and mystical conjuring up memories immediately with the title. My mom and grandmother both stayed by the routine and rules you’ve written about. I can see Mom walking that length of line cleaning it before hanging anything on it. I stood on a stool as Mom used her wringer washer, and then I remember when she got her first automatic. Even then, she hung clothes out to dry and eventually I helped. In 1971, when my son was born, I hung clothes and his diapers outside to dry. Just recently a new family moved in several blocks away from us. The first thing the man of the house did was to put up clothes lines and a colorful hanging basket from each post. Can you tell how much I’ve enjoyed this piece? I hope so!

    • Hi Sherrey! Thanks for reading the piece; I’m glad it conjured up your own priceless memories. My mother, too, had an automatic washing machine but always hung clothes out to dry…until sometime in the 1970s. With her children all grown, she and my father could afford a dryer. The clothesline still exists at the ol’ homestead. How clever your neighbor was in installing clothes lines and hanging baskets from them…fascinating. Thanks for taking the time to comment and share your thoughts. 🙂

  6. I loved this piece, even though I don’t have those kind of memories, I can see it all in your great way of describing it. Her rules make so much sense! My memories revolve around helping my mother lug a laundry cart up and down four flights of stairs from our walk up apartment, and going to the laundromat around the corner. Great to read someone else’s!

    • Thanks for your kind comments, Susan. I appreciate your reading the piece and sharing your own wash day memories. 🙂

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