Setting: Dirt floor basement at the bottom of a steep set of stairs. Sunny breezy day. Clothesline supported by 2 rusty iron bars. Circa 1960
Props: wringer washer, extension cord, buckets, clothes line and clothes pins, wooden dowel rod, a cut off piece of garden hose about 6 feet long, 2 galvanized wash tubs, homemade laundry soap, dirty clothes for a family of 4
Characters: Mother, age 37 daugher, age 10
Conflict: Clothes were dirty. Needed to be clean.
Large baskets of dirty clothes were carried down the basement steps and sorted. There were delicates (underwear, good socks, hankies, tablecloths, nylon hose, good blouses and shirts) There were towels (bath towels, wash rags, dish towels, dish rags, bed sheets, and pillowcases) There were school clothes (dresses, shirts, blouses, skirts, good overalls) and then there were the barn clothes. (Dirty overalls, work shirts, kids work clothes, corduroy pants, work socks) Clothes were sorted according to type and of course according to color as well. It made for Many Loads of Clothes.
The washer was pulled out of the corner of the basement. Buckets of hot water were filled at the spigot and dumped into the washer. A garden hose attached to the cold water spigot was used to add cold water. When the temperature of the water was correct (determined by Mom) we added the laundry soap and let it dissolve. When the soap was dissolved, we started with the delicates. Clothing was added one piece at a time until Mom determined there were enough clothes in the washer. While the washer agitated the delicate load, buckets of hot and cold water were filled at the spigot again and dumped into the galvanized tubs nearby. These were the rinse waters.
Mom would check the clothes after about 20 minutes of washing, then remove each piece of clothing with a wooden dowel rod (the water was HOT) run each piece through the wringer to squeeze out the excess water. Then I would take each piece, shake it out and place it into the first rinse water tub and swish it around. After clothes were sufficiently rinsed, again they would go through the wringer and then into the second rinse tub. Again I would swish them around, take them out, and run them through the ringer again. This time they were placed in the clothes basket ready to go outside to dry. Of course while all of this was going on, Mom would be starting the next load.
Each load of clothing was washed, run through the ringer, rinsed, run through the ringer, rinsed again, and run through the ringer. Whew! Of course after a couple of loads the rinse water was no longer rinse water… it was pretty soapy. So it was dumped into the floor drain and you guessed it. More buckets were filled to create a fresh tub full of rinse water. And after a couple of loads of washing, the wash water needed to be changed as well. So the washer was drained, wiped clean with a damp rag, and filled again with cold water from the hose and hot water from the buckets!
When the second load of clothes was washing, Mom and I would carry the first load outside and hang them on the clothes line. Up a different set of steep stairs that led outside.
Time involved drying the clothes varied. It depended on the weather. In the winter a clothes line was installed upstairs and clothes were hung back and across the extra bedroom.
What a lot of work! No wonder one day a week was set aside for laundry. It literally took all day.
But wait! We’re not done yet. There was no permapress yet, so pretty much everything needed to be ironed. When the clothes were dry – towels, socks, and underwear were folded and put away. But the rest of it was dampened, rolled up in a clean bath towel, and placed in the refrigerator awaiting the iron.
Ironing often got put off until the next day. We were just too tired to iron after doing all the laundry!