As one gets older (and that’s the plan, remember?) one finds oneself with what you might call “obsolete skills”. For instance, while I am in charge of de-jamming and refilling the multi-use colour photocopier at work, I also carry in my brain knowledge on how to run a Gestetner machine.
If you are about my age you will recall the sound of the drum whooshing around, the smell of the duplicating fluid and the sight of purple-printed pages heralding a class hand-out or exam.
I don’t need the ability to run one of these machines, just as I don’t need to know how to send a Telex, or operate an old-fashioned switchboard. But the knowledge remains, crammed into a little corner of my brain.
Technology has made a huge difference in the way we disseminate information–we have to constantly learn new skills to keep up with it.
But in the home these changes are not as apparent. The vacuum of my childhood might have been an ancient Kirby bought from a door-to-door salesman, but it worked the same way my new built-in does. The fridge defrosts itself, but it still cools stuff like our old round-shouldered Kelvinator.
The only domestic chore that has completely changed is the way we wash our clothes. I was pondering this fact the other day, as I loaded sheets into a machine that will weigh the load, adjust the water level, and deliver clean items painlessly and surprisingly noiselessly.
I want to pay homage to the home makers of the past, and to this very important talent that was once such a difficult and time consuming task: to keep the family’s clothes clean.
How to use a wringer washer:
Because everyone changed their sheets on their beds on the weekends, Monday was wash day in our home. Yes, all day Monday. Set aside at least 6 hours, because you are doing a whole week’s worth of laundry.
Separate the laundry into whites (sheets and towels), brights, darks, and dirty (Dad was a blue-collar guy, his clothes got dirty).
First the washing machine would be rolled to the sink.
We had a basement, and big double concrete sinks, so that’s where the washer would be placed. A hose attached to the faucet fills the machine with straight hot water.
Put in the detergent and let the agitator mix it into the water, then start the wash.
First load: sheets. Set the timer for 20 minutes or more (depending on how dirty the clothes are) and go and do some baking or cleaning or God forbid write a letter or have a cup of tea. When the timer goes off, go back downstairs, swing the wringer over one of the concrete sinks that you have filled with rinse water, and then feed the sheets into the wringer so that the soapy water runs back into the washer. While the sheets sit in the first rinse, put in the second load.
After swishing the first load around in the first rinse water, swing the wringer so that it sits between the two concrete sinks. Feed the sheets through the wringer into the second rinse so that the soapy water runs back into the first sink. Empty that sink. Rinse it and refill with fresh water while you wring out the items for a second time and load them into the basket to hang up outside (if it’s sunny, even if it’s freezing out there) or in the basement on the clothes lines especially installed for the purpose.
When it’s time to wring out the second load, put them through the wringer into the second sink — thus the second rinse from the first load becomes the first rinse of the second load. That way you conserve water because this method uses a lot of water. And you rinse in cold water because hot water costs money, kiddo!
As the saying goes, lather, rinse, repeat. All day. Put in more water if it gets low in the washer, but it will get progressively more grotty — that’s the way it is. Put in more detergent if you add more water. Do the dirtiest clothes last.
As each load is finished and wrung out, carry the heavy basket of wet things to the back yard and reach into the basket and lift and pin the item onto the clothesline so that it will catch the slightest breeze and dry. It sounds like hard work because it is. It’s a lot of stooping and standing and carrying heavy loads. In the winter your hands will get very, very cold.
Eventually the last load is finished and it’s time to empty the washer (we used a kind of siphon that Dad had hooked up to the washer so it could empty into the sink). That lady in the picture above? She had to open a spigot in the bottom of the tub to drain the water into a bucket which she would then empty into her sink.
And that button on the top of the wringer? That’s to release the rollers when your child tries to help and the rollers grab her hand and pull it through the wringer up to her elbow. Ask me how I know about that. The pressure on the rollers was adjustable, too, so you could fix it according to the weight of the fabrics being wrung.
Now remember — the laundry must be whisked inside off the line at the first drop of rain. And you must bring everything in before the dews of the evening make it all damp again.
Fold and put away the items that don’t need ironing, underwear, towels, dish cloths. Put the items that need ironing into the clothes basket. That’s for tomorrow.