But today was Monday. It’s Laundry Day. And it’s an all day job. I was thinking this morning how quickly Mondays seem to roll around. I try not to schedule any engagements on Mondays in order to finish.
After I got the first load drying and the second one going in the washer I figured I had about forty five minutes of free time. I guess I was feeling sorry for myself, having to work so hard, when an old memory popped in my head. “Don’t you remember Mondays in the Mill village?” Then the memories came flooding back. They always do.
I was barely six or seven when my grandmother, mother, and her sisters got washing machines and retired the big black wash pots. I can still remember the smell of wood smoke coming from all over the village on those early fall mornings when there was a hint of cool weather in the air. They had two of those big iron monsters. At least to a little boy they looked big.
ONE WAS used to boil clothes in, stirring them with what looked like a short boat paddle. The other was just to get water hot. Then it would be mixed in a wash tub and the rub board scrubbing would take over. After that they were checked for cleanliness and rinsed and wrung out by hand. The next rinse tub was the one full of bluing.
Everything was made of cotton. All the men’s work clothes, and ladies dresses. All the bedding, towels, and wash clothes were cotton. Even the women’s unmentionables were cotton. Step-ins, bras, stockings were all cotton and the biggest majority were white. They got dingy, so they were rinsed thoroughly in a bluing tub to make them whiter and brighter. I do think a little of that bluing went on some of the older ladies hair also. After the bluing they were ready for the line.
Even after the iron pots were retired and a wringer washing machine was in use it took place on the back porch. The rinse tubs were still there but the machine had a ringer and that eliminated the need for hand ringing. And the boat paddle was retired. This was technology at its best.
HAVING a washing machine with a wringer on top could be a dangerous operation. It’s amazing how slang words and cliché’s appear when enough people have an accident or an act keeps re-occurring.
Years ago people would refer to a fellow that always showed up when something was going on by saying. “He’s like horse droppings, he’s all over town.” Only they didn’t say droppings. And it made perfect sense. Today it wouldn’t.
During the twenty or thirty years the wringer washing machine was in use many women got various parts of their anatomy caught in the wringer. It indicated that you were in a tight spot and in trouble. In other words, you’ve got a problem, so what are you going to do now. A phrase of “getting your…..in a wringer,” is still used by many senior citizens even today. As dangerous as the wringers were, nobody wanted to go back to the iron pots.
Hanging clothes was an art form in itself, and had certain rules that must be obeyed. Allow me to run a little rabbit right here then I’ll get back to hanging clothes. The Mill village, any mill village had several forms of communication. Hanging clothes was one of those.
FIRETRUCK whistles were another form. By the number of whistles every woman in town knew exactly where the fire truck was going.
My grandmother’s buddies would gather at her house after breakfast dishes were done, except on Mondays, and before it was time to start dinner. She was the oldest on the block and they hung out with her.
They referred to her as Mrs. Green. Most of the others were called by first names. This is where the village information was exchanged. After dinner dishes were done some of these women would visit with others on the next block. Tomorrow morning they would have new information.
With-in about three days the entire village new who was going to the doctor, who was expecting, who was visiting, who was sick, how many days the mill was going to be running this summer, and a multitude of other pertinent and important things. Like if a kid did something he shouldn’t have, or was somewhere he shouldn’t have been. And if it was you, trouble was on the way. Those morning meetings could be rough on a young boy. It gave meaning to the phrase “you can run but you can’t hide.” My mother used to tell me, “Don’t lie to me, I’ll find out.” And she would too.
BEFORE ANY clothes went out the line itself was cleaned. I don’t care how skinny a clothes line is, birds will sit on it and cover it with poop. That line was thoroughly cleaned first. The clothes line pole was checked and put in place. This was a plank with a bent nail on one end. After the line was weighted down you could raise the line in the middle with the pole and keep your fresh washed clothes from touching the ground.
White clothes were washed and hung out first. The sheets, towels and pillow cases were hung on an outside line. They should be sending out a strong smell of bleach so the neighbors would know you were serious about getting your clothes white regardless of age or how long they had been used.
All unmentionables were on the inside lines, pretty much out of sight. None of the men’s overalls or jeans was allowed to get ragged. That was not the style of the day. Holes were patched.
Yes, it mattered how they were hung too. Pants were hung by the cuff, socks and stockings by the toe. All shirts were hung by the tail. No woman would use two pins per item. Clothes were over-lapped. To be different would get your neighbors to telling that you’re a little bit uppity by using so many.
CLOTHES PINS were kept in their own cloth bag and never left on the line. The springs would rust and stain the white clothes if one wasn’t careful, plus that was a sign of being just a little slothful.
As I said earlier, communication was a big part of mill village life. Just by the wash on the line, your neighbors knew if you had relatives visiting, a new baby, a new dress or shirt and if someone was sick.
It was imperative to get those clothes in as soon as you could. The mill might fire up the smoke stacks, and if they did somebody was going to get cinders and smut on their white sheets. Weather didn’t matter. I asked my grandmother one time if she was going to hang clothes out on the line when it was below freezing. She said they’d still dry, even if frozen and off the porch she went.
I can still see the little 110- pound woman with her cotton dress and apron, stockings rolled down below her knees, wearing a sweater in the winter and a bonnet in hot weather, with her clothes pin bag on one shoulder.
SHE’D TAKE a black gum tooth brush, hit that jar of Bruton snuff and off the porch she’d go with what looked like a hundred pounds of clothes, somehow balanced on her hip. She was fast too when it came to hanging them out.
Her hands would be red and cracked from the weather and years of hard work, but she never said a word. She had too much to do, she had to hurry and see about dinner. And as soon as the clothes got dry, she’d gather them up.
Hanging clothes and clotheslines are like ghosts of the past. They may fade a little, but they don’t go away. It doesn’t take much to have them roaring back to the front of our memories.
But sometimes they get all tangled up with picking blackberry, home grown tomato’s, killing hogs or chickens, Sunday dinners and remembering some of those interesting stories our grandparents told. The ones we wish we had spent more time listening to and asking questions. Because we know now it was time well spent, but we were in a hurry, to get nowhere.
THEY’RE THE BEST memories, the fondest moments, the recollections that make your eyes mist when you remember grandma coming back in the house on a cold winter morning after hanging clothes and warming her hands in front of a Warm Morning heater, or running through the clothes as kids on bright summer mornings with her right behind you yelling “You better get out of them clothes.” That’s where we came from, and I’m proud of it.
Mike Ragland of Cave Spring is a retired Rome Police Department major. Readers may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his website at www.MIKE RAGLAND.com. His most recent book, “Bertha,” is now on sale.