(The model in this photo and her location are unidentified for fear some one may come and steal her laundry off the line.)
Dishwashers are nice and I would like to have one even though, although I hate to cook, I do not hate to do dishes in the sink the old fashioned way.
Even if I can’t actually remember being present when fire was first used by man I am old enough to still fervently appreciate hot water at the sink with bubbly grease-resistant soap in a bottle. Like washers and dryers, they are wonders not to be taken lightly.
Until I was nine years old the water in the house came only to the kitchen sink and was piped from a cistern at the back of the house. The 20th century had advanced slowly at our house, as at our neighbors’, but at one point the small hand pump at the sink had been replaced with an honest to goodness modern faucet. It was yet another six or eight years before the bathroom arrived and with it hot water. That was followed later by a shower in the tub and after that there was no stopping us.
Before all this scientific progress, doing laundry was a day long-process done in the basement where the wringer -washer and two tubs of rinse water were set up.
The basement was a wet and dreary place lighted by a bare 60 watt bulb suspended from the ceiling with a pull string to switch it on and off. A family of toads lived year round in the northwest corner and spider webs were so thick overhead I used to think they held the house up. The redeeming features of the basement were the water spigot above the washing machine and the drain in the southeast corner.
In the early years the water was heated in a great oblong pot that covered completely the double-burnered electric plate on the wooden bench in the corner. I remember Mom emptying the steaming water into the washer. How she even lifted it is a wonder. Later, the hot water heater made the job a lot easier.
The first step was to sort everything by color into piles; whites, colored, bedding, denim/work clothes etc.. equal to load capacity. We had a large family so there were generally 10-12 loads.
Then powdered soap and bleach was put in the wash water. The first rinse tub was left plain but “bluing” was put in the second rinse tub. Bluing was just that..a blueish dye that made white things really white.
The first load into the washer was generally bed linen then dishcloths, washcloths, white shirts, underwear and everything that needed a strong bleaching. The washer was turned on and the load was left to wash for about 20 minutes.
During this first wash a large pan of starch was set to cook on the stove. Almost all of the colored things: shirts, blouses, work clothes etc. were starched so there had to be quite a lot of it made up. The powdered starch came in a box, had to be mixed and cooked to a thick paste separately.
At our house a pot of beans, having spent the night soaking in the double boiler on the kitchen stove, was set to cook while the wash was going on. With cornbread, that made a ready supper after a grueling day running up and down the basement stairs lugging baskets of wet laundry.
Each load had to be run through the wringer from washer to first tub to second tub and again to starch. The things to be starched were dipped in a dishpan piece by piece after the last rinse and run through the wringer again.
After each load was finished it was taken to the side-yard. Small white things, dish cloths, washcloths etc. were spread on clean grass to bleach further in the sun. Everything else was hung. The clothesline was a set of four heavily wired lines stretched from poles about 30 feet apart. The weight of the wet laundry made the lines sag almost to the ground so 2x2 poles or just very long, trimmed branches from the woods were used at intervals to prop the lines up.
When the clothes were dry they were brought in and the things to be ironed, which was pretty much everything except the towels and wash cloths and underwear, were spread in a pile, sprinkled with water, either with your hand or with a pop bottle with a sprinkler attachment stuck into it, rolled up tightly and put into a laundry basket. Like most people’s laundry baskets, ours were used wooden bushel fruit baskets. After sitting in the basket for a couple of hours or sometimes all night they were uniformly but slightly moist and just right for ironing.
Our ironings were generally at least two baskets of tightly rolled and packed shirts, blouses, slacks, skirts, dresses, tablecloths, hankerchiefs, work clothes and blue jeans.
This was a lot of work.
Doing dishes was also a job to be remembered. Before we had climbed that last rung of the social ladder to hot water in the house and got our very own hot water heater, dish water had to be heated on the kitchen stove. This was done in a very large, heavy teakettle designed for tasks like this that far exceeded simple tea making.
Our kettle contained four steel balls, about the size of large marbles, that rattled around inside the kettle and served to keep the lime build up off the inside of the kettle.
The kettle was very heavy and for a long while, after the task of dishwashing fell to me, someone bigger had to lift the kettle and pour the steaming water into the dishpan in the sink. Even for an adult two hands with potholders were used to carry and pour the kettle of scalding water.
The modern version of dishwashing soap at the time was an all purpose powdered detergent, (we used Oxydol) that was also used as laundry soap. The fantasy of dishwater that actually had bubbles and did not immediately produce an itchy slime on your arms was just that, a fantasy.
But even more important than the actual washing of the dishes was the “scalding” In our house this was a never-to-be-neglected or carelessly done process. Mother was a great believer in the axiom Dirty Dishes Kill People. Unscalded dishes spread diseases like the plague, typhoid, cholera, tuberculosis, dysentery etc. It must be true because we ALWAYS scalded and not one of us caught the plague, typhoid, cholera, TB or any serious dysentery! We often got scalded ourselves but we never caught the plague, typhoid, cholera, etc..etc..
The scalding was done by propping the dishes up in a second dishpan, pouring the water from the kettle, then stacking to drain on a tea towel on the counter top. Dish drainers came much later. They are a wonderful invention. Every inch of every item had to be scalded. If you got lazy and missed an inch that could have been the very inch wherein lurked the germ that could have wiped out the whole family! No one wanted that responsibility.
I don’t know which is the bigger luxury: my automatic washer and dryer..or my bottle of Dawn Liquid Dish Soap with its lovely ungreasy sink full of bubbles.