I love doing laundry. There is nothing so satisfying as clean laundry neatly folded and waiting to be put away. Unless it is the sight of laundry hanging on the clothesline in the bright sunshine. And the smell of line-dried laundry! That is something to cherish.
Of course, I have the luxury to enjoy this chore. Things were very different when I was a child. When I grew up in the 1960s, here in northwest Arkansas, we were still a very rural community, complete with dirt roads. We lived approximately 27 miles from the nearest town and were almost completely self sufficient. What we couldn’t make or grow for ourselves, we traveled the 27 miles of dirt road once a month to buy. There was no going to the local laundromat for us. We did all of our laundry at home.
My granny had always done laundry on a rub board in the big cast-iron kettle, but Daddy traded something or other for an electric ringer washer for Mother that we kept on the front porch. This was Mother’s treasure. She did laundry nearly every day, because it had to be hung on the line to dry and we only had so much line. Monday was blue jeans, so Daddy would have work clothes for the rest of the week (he was a mechanic at the local school). Tuesday was white clothes that soaked in a bleach solution before being washed. Wednesday was colored clothes; Thursday was reds (we had a lot of red things, as that was Mother’s favorite color); Friday was towels, aprons, washcloths, dish cloths, pot holders, etc. And one Saturday a month was the day Mother washed all of the bedding.
Mother washed in all kinds of weather. Sometimes, the days were switched around because of rain. Some clothes could be dried indoors on hangers, or hung on the porch out of the rain, whereas denim really needed to be hung on the line. But no matter what the temperature, Mother did her laundry. I can remember the blue jeans being frozen stiff as boards and Mother using a broom to beat them so the ice would break and fall off. Then she would bring them in, hang them over chairs before the wood stove, and let them finish drying.
Of course, we made our own laundry soap. It was basically shaved lye soap with baking soda and borax added. I used to help Granny make the soap in the fall when we butchered the pig. After rendering the lard in the big outdoor kettle, Granny would take only the white ashes from the fire under it, mix it with water, and make her lye, which she would put in the kettle with some leftover lard and cow milk. My grandfather had made her some wooden frames with an insert of wooden squares so that it fit together like an old-fashioned ice tray. We filled these frames with the soap, slid them under her bed to set up, and then a few days later when they were solid we would pull out the insert and carefully wrap each piece in newspaper and store them in the pantry / well house.
My laundry days are not as strenuous as Mothers, as I have my own modern washer and dryer. But I still love my clothesline, and use it as much as possible. I also make my own laundry soap, though it is a little different from Mother’s. I use 2 cups Borax, 2 cups washing soda, 1 cup Oxy, and 1 grated bar of Fels-Naptha soap.
In 1986 when Mother finally got the house of her dreams, Daddy bought her a very modern washer and dryer set, and the old ringer went into the barn. Alas, the ringer top has been lost, and the tub is rusting. One day, if I ever have a good dry place to keep it, I’d like to bring it out and set it up for display, replacing the lost parts. It played a very large part in my childhood, and I will always have a fondness for it.