Baby Boomer echoes

by Teresa R. Zaverl

Most Boomer kids were around before the automatic washer and dryer. <BR><BR>We remember Ma washing clothes in a wringer washer, using scrub boards, wash tubs and clotheslines inside or out. At least we recall that much. But if we asked Grandma what laundry day was like before that wringer machine, we likely heard stories that would tire you out just listening to all the hard work.<BR><BR>I catch myself in these modern times dreading the chore of sorting, loading, and transferring to the dryer or the baskets of wet clothes to hang on the clothesline. It seems an endless task, but just think what Ma or Grandma from the Old Country endured. <BR><BR>Let’s go back to the days laundry wasn’t something you did on the spur of the moment, at any time of day or night. Times when one item wasn’t thrown in because “I need it now,” right at this moment and kids didn’t understand the process. Kids were better off out of the house, far away as possible on laundry day.<BR><BR>I now see why it was coined “laundry day.” It was a day and then some. <BR><BR>If memory serves me right, laundry day was usually scheduled on Mondays - every week of every year.<BR><BR>After cooking the big Sunday meal complete with homemade soup, grandma devoted Monday to laundry. The family would survive on the leftovers, frequently called the “Washday Supper.”<BR><BR>It started after Sunday night dishes, with the copper boilers on the wood stove. If she rose before 4 a.m. she had an early get go.<BR><BR>The earlier the better I assume, because neighborhood women often held contests on who would get the wash out on the line first. Sign of a “with it” got it together woman of her time.<BR><BR>When you think of grandmas handling those boiling hot kettles, shaving the soap bars for detergent, and hand wringing sopping wet clothes by crank into the old wash tubs you’ve got to wonder what we’ve got to complain about. There weren’t spray stain removers for grandpa’s mining pants or junior’s grass and mud. That’s what Fels Naptha soap and the big scrub board was for.<BR><BR>Starch was concocted on the stove, no Niagara Spray for shirt collars and cuffs. The only salvation being most men of the house were laborers not bankers. One dress shirt in the closet sufficed.<BR><BR>Wash day reformed when grandmas received the wringer washer or in Range Speak the “Washing Machine.” Slowly but surely it made its way into most local homes, relieving women of the boiling and rinsing. Instead of wringing by hand the motor took over. Great invention and available through better times at the local mines.<BR><BR>The mining companies seemed to pride themselves in the fact miners’ wives luxuriated with the new device. <BR><BR>If you remember all the mine strikes starting in the early ’50s for more pay and safety, you might recall a disgruntled union employee, on strike and on the picket line, reciting the words of then US Steel company president Fairless. “What do you guys have to complain about? Your wife has a washing machine, doesn’t she?” Guess that statement added a little fuel to the fire.<BR><BR>So here we were, in mining country, sitting on one of the greatest sites of high grade ore, in mines that claimed lives through its dangerous employment and after the union meeting all the family could do was sit around and worship their “washing machine.”<BR><BR>Maybe grandma’s way was better. Maybe we’d have to go back to that if pa was out of work much longer. Sell the washing machine. <BR><BR>Things did get better after the strike. We held on to the washing machine. And Boomer kids remember ma doing her weekly duty in the basement. Homes then didn’t boast of laundry rooms, but it was the ’50s and a new trend was on the way. Slowly but surely some locals landed the new automatic washing machine. <BR><BR>Grandma from the Old Country could hardly believe this device, one that washed and rinsed and spun all on its own. They actually imagined they had time to do something else on Monday. Were freed up to watch Soaps or read the paper. Life was better in America even though the water/electric bill took a leap. <BR><BR>Though the new device impressed housewives, they still felt a need to hang on to the old wringer washer. I bet you could visit most basements in town and still find an old wringer washer. Ladies decided the wringer was easier on carpets and was a “back-up” in case the new version kicked the bucket. <BR><BR>All this wash day history brings Boomers into perspective. We’ve come a long way unchained from Monday the wash day. That’s why we’ve accumulated so many clothes. We wouldn’t have them if we were boiling the water, bluing and home starching. We’d be back to wearing one set of clothes all work and school week - Sundays excepted for the best.<BR><BR>Thanks to grandmas and moms connected with Boomer kids. They’re the ones who labored and toiled over boiling kettles, hand wringers, and the old wringer washer to keep us clean and tidy. They didn’t complain, accepted the task and often had many irons in the fire on “Wash Day” - like rising bread and a few kids, some still in diapers (to hand wash) of course. Thanks ladies!