Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Grandma's Laundry

I have been known to whine about doing my laundry.  I whine about it a lot.  Anyone who knows me also knows that laundry is not my most favorite job in the world.  Did I mention that I don't like laundry?

I was thinking about my Grandma Matheny the other day.  Her first child was born in 1898.  By 1906 she had six children, including two sets of twins.  She did lots of laundry.

When I wash clothes, I pop them into the washer, go drink a cup of coffee while they wash, toss them into the dryer and drink another couple of cups while the machine does the work.  Not Grandma.  She took buckets outside to the water pump in the yard, hand pumped them full of water and hauled the buckets into the house.  I'm thinking that she made more than just a few trips carrying buckets of water.  Then she heated the water on her wood burning cook stove and filled a wash tub with the hot water.

I don't know for sure what Grandma used for laundry soap.  I make my own laundry soap.  I do this because I want to, not because I have to, and because commercial laundry detergents make my skin itch.  And because I can get six months worth of homemade laundry soap for the price of one small bottle of commercial laundry soap.  And because my handmade soap gets my clothes really clean and fresh.  But if Grandma didn't make her own soap, she used a large bar of harsh soap and cut or grated flakes off of it to wash her clothes.  Soap flakes and soap powder weren't invented until the mid 1900's.  And store-bought laundry soap would have been expensive.  She didn't have money for luxuries like laundry soap from a store.

When my clothes go into the washer, an agitator swooshes them around in the soapy water and gets them clean.  I'm pretty sure that Grandma's house didn't have electricity until later years when her children were nearly grown.  So Grandma did the agitating of clothes by rubbing them on a washboard.  She had nine children.  In 1906 she had two sets of twins under the age of four plus two older children.  That's a whole lot of cloth diapers and overalls over those years to scrub on a washboard.  To say nothing of the dirty farm clothes and children's play clothes.  Those kids got dirty.  They didn't sit in a clean environment playing video games or watching television or playing computer games.  They played outdoors.  In the woods.  In the dirt.  They worked outdoors as well, in the garden or helping with farm chores.

When my clothes have finished washing, they go into the dryer.  Grandma's clothes went in a basket and were hauled outside to the clothesline where they were hung up to dry.  I don't know how she managed to dry clothes in the winter.  Some hung clothes outside to freeze-dry and some hung clothes in the house to dry.  Either way, it was a whole lot more work than tossing them into a dryer.

When my clothes are dry, I fold them or hang them on hangars and put them away.  I don't own anything any more that needs to be ironed.  My ironing board stays in the closet until I need to press fabric for a quilt.  But Grandma didn't know about perma-press.  The clothes for her family were made of cotton, wool and other organic fabrics.  They came off the clothesline wrinkled.  I expect that this didn't matter for work clothes and play clothes, but the dresses she made for herself and her daughters and the shirts that the boys wore to school or church all had to be ironed.  When I want to press a quilt top, I just plug my iron into the outlet, let it heat up and in minutes, the job is done.  Grandma heated heavy flatirons on the top of her wood stove and with these she ironed clothes.  For eleven people.  Sometimes twelve, if my Great-grandfather was staying with them as he did sometimes.

And she did all of this along with the routine cleaning and cooking required to take care of such a large family.

I am such a wimp in comparison.  I do believe that I can not whine ever again about doing my little dab of laundry.  Or whine about any of the other daily chores that I do.  I don't have to haul water or scrub clothes on a washboard or haul heavy baskets to a clothesline or iron with heavy flatirons.  I have it pretty darned good.  The superwomen of today have nothing on my Grandma.

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