This blog is coming to you from Cottage Grove, Oregon where I am a columnist for the local newspaper. My 'Chatterbox' column is about reminiscing the experiences of real life in the 1950s to the present. The 'Cook's Corner' segment features updated, country-style cooking.
Real life. Real food. Enjoy!
Saturday, November 3, 2018
Life and laundry before computers
Today’s column subject was
triggered by a cartoon in the Register Guard newspaper. “Another View” shows a
man reading a newspaper headline that says, “Sears files for bankruptcy.”
Sitting on the floor are two
little kids. The boy says to his playmate, “My dad says that when he was a kid,
they had to drive to a store to buy stuff.” The girl, looking at Amazon on her
computer screen replies, “People had it so rough in the olden days.”
At first I laughed and then I said
to myself… life without computers was not rough. Computers make some things
easy but they don’t solve all problems. Shopping wasn’t really a problem
because we had people. Store clerks were your friends. They asked you how they
could help, knew your dress size, advised you when something was going on sale
and asked how your family was doing.
As I recall, we lived simple,
uncomplicated, organized lives using common sense. Electronic devices didn’t tell us what to do
or how to do it.Our households somewhat
followed these simple rules:
Wash on Monday, Iron on Tuesday, Mend on Wednesday, Churn on Thursday, Clean on Friday, Bake on Saturday, Rest on Sunday
Those rules are
embroidered on a set of tea towels (aka dish towels) that I received as a
bridal shower gift in 1958. In that era of homemaking, we took daily chores
very seriously. I still loosely plan my week around the above suggestions.
Especially the washing, ironing, cleaning, baking and resting part. I was never
very keen on mending or churning.
Again, life was not
always easy but it wasn’t for lack of a computer. Doing the laundry? Now that
was rough. In fact, it was a homemaker’s
full-time, never ending job. Come along with me as I reminisce about laundry
day before running water or electricity.
washing clothes in a river was the normal way to get clothes clean—even when
the river was frozen. Stains were treated at home by soaking in a lye solution,
a washing bat or board was used to scrub them. Soap was used sparingly and
could be made at home by those who had ashes and fat mixed with salt. The
clothes were rinsed in the river and spread on bushes to dry.
Women often didn’t have
time to wash clothes weekly. It was hard, time-consuming work. You can imagine
that clothes were practically filthy before being washed. Often, groups would get
together and help each other at a big laundry session every few weeks or
Lee Maxwell is 87
years old and vividly remembers when his family did the laundry. He says, “I
remember my grandfather wearing his overalls until they literally stood up.
Washing was washing. Today, we don’t really ‘wash.’ We kind of refresh. Your
shirts don’t get that dirty.” Lee has a Washing Machine Museum in Eaton,
Some areas of the
world still wash their clothes in rivers but most of civilization has
progressed. Wooden tubs and factory-made metal tubs made the chore easier.
Tongs replaced sticks for lifting the washed items. Boxed soaps and starches
were introduced in the 1800s. Clotheslines, pegs and pins made drying easier. Women
found employment as washers or had a box mangle to do ironing.
By the time I came
along, my mother and grandmother were still in the wringer washer era. I
remember being scared to death to go out to the wash house where the machine
was located. It was dark and damp and creepy out there. The machine was plugged
in and hooked up to the hot and cold water of a deep sink. I think it took two
people to do a load of laundry. Someone had to feed the clothes through the
wringer to another person who caught them on the other side. Then they had to
be hung out to dry.
I’m told that early
on (before my time), mother’s long hair got caught in a wringer! Fortunately,
grandmother was there to quickly unplug the machine before she was scalped! By the 1950s, washing machines were greatly
improved. A Speed Queen pamphlet touted that a 7-load washing could be done in
one hour with one tubful of water! To my mind that’s questionable but all women
had to be thrilled and I’m sure my mother was over the moon.
A final word on
shopping and the cartoon. Chuck’s dad worked for Sears and his mother
introduced me to Sears catalog shopping. Over the years, we bought a lot of
things that way—curtains, sheets, tools and washing machines.But our kid’s crib and changing table came
from Sears brick and mortar stores as did their clothing. Shopping? Catalogs
and neighborhood shops were our computers. No problem.