This morning as I faced my overflowing hamper I realized just how fortunate I am at this point in my life. I sorted my wash into two loads, lights and darks, then stuffed one load into the automatic washing machine with the automatic dryer waiting in the wings.
Wash day was not always like that. The first washing machine I remember was one of those wringer models. Grandma's washing machine was in the cellar. We filled the tub with hot water and began the tedious job of washing the family's clothes. I learned to wash clothes early in life because Grandma had an ulcer on her leg that was open often. I was recruited to help my mother do the wash when she got home from work.
The wash water was used over and over thus conserving a great deal of water. We also had tubs to rinse the clothes. The clothes traveled from the washing machine to a first rinse, then to a second rinse. Of course, the water cooled before we got to the last load.
The wringer was tricky. Sometimes a piece of laundry wound around the wringer. When that happened we had to reverse the rollers to remove it. Sometimes we had to pop them open to free the errant clothing/bedding. At first I was scared of the wringer because I thought my fingers might get caught in there. As I caught on to the process everything became natural.
The first apartment I had on my own came with, you guessed it, a wringer washer. This one had a much improved spin unit to wring out the clothes. My landlady had a nice cellar where I could hang my clothes to dry. The only catch to the process was that I was not allowed to wash at the beginning of the week because that was when my landlady did her wash.
Once again I felt fortunate. Most girls my age would not have known how to wash their clothes in the wringer model and they wouldn't even want to. Growing up in a multi-generational house had its advantages.
View From Hickory Heights
When I moved to the farm I used my mother-in-law's washer since our trailer home was right next door. We hung our clothes outside to dry, even in the winter months. It was quite a challenge to be sure I had clean diapers for the two youngsters who were wearing cloth diapers at the time. I am sure that I had more diapers than most mothers had at the time.
Then, there was the move to Hickory Heights. I was so thrilled to finally have room that I did not think much about not having a washing machine. I took the clothes to the launder mat but brought them home to hang out to dry.
Eventually, the basement here had a cement pad to house a washer, dryer, and freezer. One again there was a drawback. The electric system in the house would not sustain three more electric appliances. There was a decision to be made. What could I do without?
I decided that the washing machine was a necessity. The freezer would help me have enough food to cover the big meals that I had to prepare to feed our hayers. It also helped with the preservation of the things from the garden. The dryer had to wait.
Wash day was an adventure. I walked the plank in the basement to get to the washer with my dirty clothes. When they were clean I reversed the process once again walking across the plank to avoid the water that liberally ran through the basement each time it rained. I carried the clothes upstairs and hung them on the clothesline that was stretched from the columns on the porch. The clothesline doubled and even tripled to give me enough room for a week's worth of clothing and linens.
The porch provided adequate cover so even if it was raining the clothes did not get any wetter. I washed the light things first because they dried fast. When they were dry I took them back into the house to fold. The lines were ready for the heavy duty farm clothes that took a long time to dry.
Winter found me still hanging clothes outdoors. The things froze almost instantly. When they began to blow a little I knew they were ready to be brought in.
It was not until after my 25th wedding anniversary that the house was rewired to accommodate a dryer. Needless to say I was thrilled when we went to the store to purchase a new washer and dryer. Before their delivery date arrived the store called to tell me there was a problem. The dryer they promised me when I made the deal was no longer available. I agreed to take a scratch and dent model so they could be installed since my contractor was ready for them.
Well, folks, today I still have the scratch and dent model because they never could find me another model. I never heard from that store again! It worked for me since the price was right and they were behind doors anyway.
When I think back I do not really think about the hardships I endured. I did what I had to do to make things work. Somehow when you live through tough times you appreciate the good ones a whole lot more.
As I look forward to my turkey dinner with the family I truly feel fortunate. My health crisis is behind me and I am back to doing the things I like to do most. Time with family is precious. I savor every moment that I get and look forward to many years watching the children and grandchildren pursue their dreams.
Ann Swanson writes from her home in Russell, Pa.