Litchfield, MN was a great place to raise our kids. Big enough to support a social network from cradle to grave within its city limits, small enough to let the kids bike to Grandma’s house. Visiting with the grandparents was a daily occurrence when they weren’t out of town or staying at the lake cabin.
When the conversation would slow down, Grandpa Herb would tell stories from the Good Old Days. If Grandma Edna wanted to listen, Herb would go on and on. If she didn’t, she’d stop him with "What good old days Herb! They weren’t the good old days! We were poor!"
All four of my grandparents were married and had children before 1900. Being the last child of the last child and nearly last child, I heard their stories of living in the first half of the 20th century from the people who were there and even more information passed down from their parents back to the 1870’s — horses, buggies, no electricity, World Wars I & II, FDR, and laundry day. Rather than link you to more than a century’s worth of information, I’ll address just one thing, Laundry Day . Ladies, the next time you complain about running a load of laundry before you go to bed, you need to know what you escaped by simple accident of birth.
Exactly *here* I was going to insert a picture of my grandmother, her mother, my dad, his brother, and a neighbor kid standing side by side outdoors. All day Saturday I ripped through boxes, drawers, and purses looking for that picture and did not find it!! (Grrr). Anyway, I guess the year to be around 1913. The women’s hair is disheveled, the sleeves are rolled up, the aprons look like they’ve seen a few wars, so I am assuming it is laundry day. All day. They’re not smiling, either.
In their world, Sunday was truly a day of rest. That day was used to socialize. People either called on friends or friends called on them. Telephones were not yet in every home so when they visited each other it was on a drop in basis. That part of Dad’s upbringing explained why he felt comfortable dropping in on cousins dotted across the midwest at 2:00 am.
Monday was Laundry Day. Do NOT drop in. I will assume Grandma used a washboard at some point. I think I saw one at her house, but that memory is vague. If the washing and clothesline phases were accomplished on Monday, Tuesday would be Ironing Day. I will also assume Grandma Murphy’s iron was the kind that was heated on the wood stove, in the heat of summer too. Scorch the shirt, toss back into the laundry. Again, they were not smiling in the picture.
Our system was better but nothing like today. We had a wringer washer , similar to the 1940 Model J Commander. Mom would fill the washer with all hot water so that by the time the last load went through it would still be fairly warm. Depending on the total quantity, one fillup would most times suffice for all the clothes. Behind the washer was the soak tub. Two rinse tubs completed a square arrangement. As each load was wrung through the cycle the clothes were packed into a lined wicker basket and carried to the clotheslines in all weather conditions but rain. If it was raining, Mom had a series of hooks in the living room and crisscrossed lines in a web pattern. TV was watched from a flat position on the floor and would you please not pull the clothes down off the lines stop grabbing them!! Just duck!!
Mom was a big believer in the smell of sunshine. If it was winter, even if there was snow on the ground, if the sun was shining the sheets were hung on the outdoor lines. More than once I was
instructed told to put on the rubber galoshes, trudge through the snow and bring in the rock hard (but sunshine smelling) frozen sheets and towels only to truck them back out when they thawed and were still damp. Hanging out those sheets was pure torture. Not only were they all white, but they were Cameron’s prize winning white. I sneeze from the sunshine even now. Factor in Mom’s whiter than white sheets — well, let’s just say that if the possible presence of sneeze epithelia ever crossed Mom’s mind she would have provided me with a face mask to avoid washing them again.
We acquired an electric dryer in the mid 60’s, an automatic washer a year or so later. It took Mom a while before she used the dryer exclusively instead of just on rainy days or only for a backup for time efficiency. The dryer eventually won out over the smell of sunshine, whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing is a matter of opinion. But whatever her choice, the clothelines remained at the ready as an option at least through the 70’s, maybe the early 80’s if not until the day they moved to the nursing home in 1988.
As Mom became unable to take care of her house, the leftovers shriveled into little black lumps, her freezers frosted over forgotten baked goods for the grandchildren, the washed used baggies became increasingly lonely on the indoor clothesline, and the home canned tomatoes and jellies gathered dust and cobwebs. She still preferred whiter than white sheets and fresh as sunshine towels.
Those were just some of her Good Old Days.