On my walk this morning I passed a corner yard and an older woman was in the midst of hanging her wicker basketful of laundry out on a clothesline. I could just imagine my mom watching her handiwork and cluck-clucking with her tongue that the woman did not know how to pin clothes on the line. Yes, the clothes were not hanging uniformly, but very haphazardly – one black sock here, a long-sleeved shirt with cuffs dragging on the ground next, then a red sock, followed by a nightgown suspended by the hem – my, but it looked like the person hung those items up while blindfolded … in my mom’s defense, even I was a tad amused.
Actually, I am surprised to see anyone putting their clothes out on the line to dry anymore, not with the ease of a clothes dryer – once and done and that chore is over. I know they don’t smell fresh and sweet like outdoors, but it really is the way to go. My mom never had an automatic washer nor a dryer for decades. She had a washboard in the basement for scrubbing, then washed the clothes in a wringer washer. It was a long-involved process, especially guiding a full-sized sheet through the wringer with one hand and catching it with the other hand and repeating this task several times to remove the excess water. The poor clothes would get flat as a pancake and you’d need to wrestle with them to open them fully to hang them up. In the dead of Winter, the clothes were stretched out to dry on plastic clotheslines around the laundry room, but the other eight to nine months of the year, they went outside on the clothesline. Poor Mom had bad arthritis already but insisted on pinning her flannel and cotton sheets out there on her pulley line and reeling them in a few hours later. The sheets and her fingers would be frozen stiff and she refused to wear gloves. My mom had gizmos to speed up the drying process which most people would never see in their lifetime. There were pants hangers where you put whole pants legs over metal bars which stretched the pants and created a permanent crease while drying. She had a similar device for pairs of socks – metal sock stretchers shaped like a big Christmas stocking which allowed the socks to dry faster. On a lark, I just went onto eBay and found vintage items of these stretchers for sale. We should’ve saved ours but we ditched them when we got the washer and dryer. This only goes to prove that you should always hoard everything and one day it will be worth something.
If the clothes washing was not enough of a chore, my mom ironed everything – even my father’s balloon boxer shorts and all our pajamas too. She would iron my uniforms and aprons from the diner where I worked and she told me the “greasy spoon fumes” emanating from the hot iron on those clothes made her feel nauseous. Anyone who has every worked in fast food or around grease will agree that at the end of your shift, you are saturated with a grease smell, from your skin and hair to your clothes.
Mom never had a steam iron until her later years and she would sit at the ironing board, with her water sprinkler and press cloth at her side to ensure every wrinkle was eradicated, including in corners. I can just picture her sitting at the ironing board, smoothing out every last wrinkle from the two sets of Priscilla bedroom curtains, despite my retrieving them still warm from the dryer set on “wrinkle release”. Our country kitchen at one time sported pretty cream and rust Priscilla-type curtains and each side was pinned back with a rust-colored sash. My mom would iron that sash and I had to climb up and fashion each bow so it looked perky and functioned as a tieback as well. Well, first off, I hate climbing up high anywhere and reluctantly I’d climb onto the stepstool and struggle to reach the rods over the sink, without breaking my neck, all in an effort to tie the bow just right. Both the sash and I started out perky but by the time we were done we were anything but perky – a little listless and bedraggled was more like it! You can see my efforts on the sash in the above picture and give me a grade of A through E.
Polyester and cotton-polyester blends eventually became our friends and slowly the need to iron everything slipped by the wayside. It has been decades since I even saw the iron – it is no doubt sitting in the basement with the other relics of “must haves” from years gone by.