The Laundry Issues

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I miss my washing machine.  I like being able to throw a load of clothes in the washer, go on to do another chore, and return to put them in the dryer.  In the summer I can often be found hanging a basket of laundry on the line.  The fresh sun-kissed fragrance of clothes dried outside fills my nose with childhood memories of barefoot green-grass summer days.  Basking in the warmth of sunlight and my mother’s attention, I handed her pins and the occasional wet sock out of the basket she sat on the ground.  Often she sang a tune while she worked, or she listened to me chatter on about my new dolly or the dress she had just made me.  Those times were special.  The oldest of four children I was lucky to have both my parent’s attention for exactly two and a half years before my sister appeared.  After that life was never the same as there were always more demands on my mom’s time than she had time to offer.  So, when mom had laundry to do I was very proud to be her “helper” and I have many fond memories of the time spent together.

When Michigan winter wrapped her icy fingers around us and turned our world into a wonderland of white we dried our clothes in the dryer.  At the time we used liquid fabric softener in the wash, but today we have scented sheets to throw in with the wet clothes to keep them smelling fresh and sweet and free of static cling; never as good a smell as fresh air-dried sheets, though.

I have lived in Mexico for seven months this year without a washer.  There is a very nice little lady a few blocks away who runs a lavanderia.  She is delighted to take that chore off my hands.  However, it means packing up dirty clothes and hauling them there.  My husband has been kind enough to take over the task of transporting/picking up the wash, but it’s still more time-consuming than being able to do your own laundry at home.  Since we flew here and are without a car, we walk everywhere.  That means we either flag down a taxi to take us the few blocks to the lavanderia, carry or drag a heavy bag those blocks, or figure out something else.  After trying several things we decided to pack up the items in a large suitcase we brought with us this winter.  We designated it as the “laundry hauler” and hoped it would last.  When the case was full we wheeled it to the lavanderia.  Success!  After a few trips we started leaving the bag there and would always return to find our laundry neatly washed, folded, encased in plastic and placed in the suitcase, all ready for us to take home.  I do have to add here that hubby has been the butt of a few jokes from fellow American/Canadian friends who call out as he passes by “running away from home?”  However, I was pleased to learn that another friend figured out the same thing and uses his suitcase to haul laundry in, as well.  I think the joke’s on the naysayers.  Hubby walks along the street pulling his case with ease while they are huffing and puffing with a bag on their shoulder or hanging from their arm, struggling with the weight.

Some people are just never happy.  Me, for instance.  Hubby returns with the laundry.  He hauls it upstairs and lays it on the bed.  I rip open the plastic and begin putting things away.  I sniff, but I never like the smell of the dried clothes and sheets.  No sweet sunshine smell and no Bounce sheet smell.  More like a kind of oily hot dryer smell like you sometimes get in a Laundromat back home.  No memories of mom (she would have been horrified if our wash had smelled like this!).  “Oh, no, “ I moan.  “I forgot to take my good skirt out of the hamper.  She washed it and now it’s all wrinkled.  Wouldn’t you think she would have enough sense to know that’s a hand wash item?” I ask my husband, who is wise enough to stay silent.  I try to smooth out the wrinkled garment to no avail, so I put it on the ironing board to press it after I’m finished putting away the rest of the clothes.

“Look at the pockets on my shorts.”  Hubby hands me the offending garment and the pockets are a wrinkled mess from the way they have been folded.  At home when I wash I button them down immediately and they stay in place.   The shorts get added to the skirt on the ironing board so that I can iron down the flaps.

I am amazed at how neatly the sheets are folded.  I can never get the pockets to lie down and these are beautifully tucked in flat.  The towels are nicely creased, but I refold them the way I like to put them away.  After a little more sorting and hanging everything is put away and I have ironed the few pieces that need my attention.  I like ironing, so that’s not a problem.

We have recently rented a new place to stay in Mexico for next season and it comes replete with a washer!  Yay!  No dryer, but there is a sunny courtyard with clotheslines.  I am in heaven.  So is hubby.  No more laundry hauling for him.  No more fussing for me.  Next winter will be different.  We may even buy a dryer at some point.  We’ll see.   The weather here is always lovely and sunny, so line-drying is what most of the locals do.

Inzared, the woman in my novel INZARED, Queen of The Elephant Riders, didn’t have a choice about laundry.  She didn’t have the convenience of electricity and a modern washer/dryer.  She didn’t have a lavanderia around the corner.  I can only guess how hard it must have been to do laundry with the lifestyle she had.

In the mid-1800’s while Inzared was growing up on the mountain in North Carolina, laundry was a once-a-week, all-day chore.  Pa and Ezra toted water from the river and set up a big cauldron of water to boil over an open fire between the river and their cabin.  When the water was hot, it was transferred to a bigger tub and more river water added.  Ma used the lye soap they made themselves and a washboard.  She soaked the whites first and then with the bar of soap, ran the clothes over the washboard several times to get the grime out.  She left them in the water a few minutes longer, wrung the water out by hand and put them in a basket.  The next load of clothes was added to the same wash water to soak while Ma and Inzared took the basket of wash to the river to rinse.  After the clothes had been rinsed several times they were wrung out once more and Ezra toted them to the clotheslines, where they were hung to dry.  Clothes were washed in order, from whites to lights to darks so that there would be no “bleeding” from one color to another.  I can only imagine how tired the family was at the end of a washday and wonder how they even managed it in the winter.  I am quite sure there was laundry hung inside in the cabin to dry, as North Carolina Appalachian winters can be cold and snowy.

On the road with the Gypsy circus must have been even more difficult on washday.  The convoy always looked for a river to camp near as they needed the water supply.  They traveled by night, and slept by day, so wash must have been haphazard and done on any day they had time to lay over.  I think many times the Gypsies didn’t have time to bother with the hot water at all and just used the river to wash and rinse.  They hung clothes on nearby bushes and rocks to dry.  All of this was a very hard life in our eyes, but matter-of-fact in the day and time.

I have had to do wash the hard way, myself.  For years my mother used a wringer washing machine.  The concept was much the same as the pioneers used, except the machine was electric and agitated the clothes, saving a lot of strain on the back and arms.  We filled the machine with water and started with whites.  The clothes were agitated and put through a wringer into a tub of rinse water.  They were then wrung again into a second tub of rinse water, wrung once more and hung to dry.  And so on.

I lived in Germany for a few years and learned to do wash yet another way.  My landlady had one room in her basement that had a series of tubs in the floor.  We filled the first tub with the wash water and agitated the clothes with a paddle that looked like an oar.  After we finished they were wrung by hand into a second and third tub (for rinsing) and finally, hung to dry.  It was backbreaking work and I was very glad when we moved closer to the military base and a Laundromat.  But I am glad for the experience.

When I was a young mother we purchased a small washer that washed in one side and spun dry in the second.  You filled the tub (like the old wringers) washed and spun the water out.  Once some of the water was out you used a hose to fill the spin side up, let the water spin out (two times) and you were done.  Not easy, but with a small baby, much easier than toting wash and baby to the Laundromat.

So, I will quit moaning about not having a washer this year.  Just think, I could have to haul my laundry down to the river and spend the day knee-deep in water with a washboard and bar of lye soap.  Then I’d have all my unmentionables draped on the bushes and have to wait for it all to dry before I headed home.  I would look at laundry with a new perspective, I think.  I would be sure to wear clothing more than once before it hit the hamper.  I would become adept at removing spots and stains the minute they occurred, without my stick of stain remover.  My clothes would be made of sturdy cloth and I wouldn’t have very many, thank goodness.  Come to think of it, that might be a blessing.  I wouldn’t have so many things to choose from when I get dressed in the morning and maybe less to wash?

Here is a link to a great stain removal chart for laundry.

Stain Removal Chart

L.Leander Books Website

L.Leander Books Facebook Page

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