There’s a prompt running over at Irene Walters’ blog that asks for early, first memories. It’s a monthly, aka leisurely, prompt and February looks at
Prompt No 2. First memories of wash day. Was it a ritual in your house. Did you have to play a part. What kind of washing machine did you have? Was it the sole province of the women of the household? What was the style of your clothes line? Any memories of doing the laundry you care to share. I am sure that we are going to find some differences both geographically and generational with this one. Help me prove myself right or show that I am wrong by joining in.
Of course, we are talking a classic baby boomer upbringing: so cleaning was mum’s role Only mum wasn’t great at conforming to stereotypes.
First you have to understand my mother was not typical of her time. She had no truck with routine, believed tomorrow too far away to worry about and yesterday too far gone to matter. She had an ambivalent relationship with cleaning, seeing it as an unnecessary constraint on getting the most out of life.
Food was essential, and healthy eating necessary – so clean food preparation areas important – but cottons on a carpet? The created a new pattern. Mud on boots? They were nature’s dubbin. Dust – a food stuff for microbes, spiders were nature’s fly controllers and so on.
So washing happened. She understood expectations – school shirts and shoes had to be within the limits of whatever arbitrary code was imposed; offices had their own uniform requirements. Mum was no rebel but she was a semi professional subversive – shirt fronts and collars might be ironed but the back and sleeves ignored.
As I go back to mum’s cluttered and curious kitchen I recall a large zinc pan with handkerchiefs boiling away – the smell was appalling. That is an early wash day memory. A nasal scarring.
She also had a wooden contraption that hung from the kitchen ceiling which dried and aired the clothes if drying outside on her washing line wasn’t possible.
One day in a steamy noise-filled kitchen the rope tieing the airer to the ceiling gave way with a stupendous crash. In the ensuing chaos my mother was in hysterics. Not from fright or anger but laughter as the dog tried to sprint one way and little me went the other, both of us desperate to find, and failing to find, some grip on the shiny skiddy Lino.
Her outside line was somewhat Heath Robinson, with a clothes prop helping ensure the linen didn’t drag on the ground. It was strung across the garden at a height that would catch Dad on his evening wander to check his vegetables.
‘Why Barbs do you insist on setting the clothes’ line at garotte?’
For years mum swore she didn’t need or want a washing machine, doing everything in the sink or the awful boil wash on the stove or, in the case of the sheets, in the bath? If dad suggested an outlay for a machine, mum would list other things she would need- a new sewing machine, a set of trowels, a workmate. I guess the first machine appeared sometime in the 1980s after I’d left home and dad must have caught her at a weak moment.