A child’s idyllic laundry scene

Richard —

I enjoyed your laundry post. It’s my birthday today — so I’ll be indulgent in adding to it.

When I was a smallish child, my mother did the family’s washing with an electric washing machine and a clothes wringer. The sopping wet clothes were pulled through the wringer by turning a handle. It took quite a bit of time and upper-body strength to wash clothes for a family of six.

After the clothes were wrung out, the heavy basket of clothes was taken out to our back yard, where Mother carefully hung sheets and pillowcases and towels and bedspreads, underwear, blouses, and shirts and skirts on three clotheslines running the width of the yard. Reach up, bend over, reach up, bend over, reach up, bend over until the basket was empty.

I would follow my mother to grab some clothespins and crayons to paint faces on the “dolls.” Sometimes I’d hand her clothespins to help out.

Mother inserted men’s pants into pants stretchers lest they shrink while drying. Cotton and lace curtains were also stretched so they would keep their shapes.

All would be fine on those nice summer days when the sun was shining and no thunderclouds passed through. But when the showers came, as they inevitably did, there was a mad dash outside as we frantically pulled the still damp or wet clothes from the lines and put them back in the basket.

Then if the rain ended, back outside to reach up, bend over again. But if it didn’t, she hung the still-wet clothes on inadequate lines on the back porch where the smell of damp permeated.

In the winter, her chafed red hands did the work.

The clothes did smell like sunshine and clover as Mother ironed the stiff and wrinkled sheets and pillowcases. Shirts were sprinkled and rolled for later ironing. Pants out from the stretchers were steamed-pressed with a damp cloth.

I remember her joy several years later when her Christmas present from my father was a brand-new washer with an electric wringer and a clothes dryer. An idyllic memory.