1940-1955 on a farm north of Fort Collins, Colorado
I do not remember one single time that my mother did not wash clothes on Monday. Her Mom, my Grandma, did the same thing. Mom carried the dirty clothes down the long steep stairs to the basement, sorted, washed, rinsed and rinsed again. She put the wet clothes back in the basket and carried them back up the stairs, out the door, down some stairs and out under the clothesline. In the first basket of clothes she carried a wet rag with her so she could clean off the clothesline. When I got tall enough that was my job. She also had a bag of clothespins, not the ones with the spring, the old-fashioned kind. Sometimes she had them in her apron pocket or just in a bag in the clothes basket. She would put one clothespin in her mouth and shake out what she was going to hang up-pin it with the clothespin that was on the line and take the other clothes pin out of her mouth to fasten the wet article of clothing. I see her so well in my mind’s eye to this day, so intent, so precise, so satisfied because her clothes were so clean and white.
Grandma washed at the bottom of the stairs in the basement house they lived in for many years on the cherry-apple orchard one mile north of us. She carried her clothes up the stairs and to the clothes line, and when dry, back down the basement to be “sprinkled,” roll up and put back in the basket for Tuesday ironing. And not to mention the old-old days when the irons were heated on the stove before they could get the wrinkles out of the starched clothes — those were the days and a whole new story to be told.
The first basket to hang out on the line was sheets and pillow cases. Sheets were always white, never colored like we have today. Sheets and pillowcases went on the first line. White underwear, T-shirts and socks went on the second line to be hidden by the sheets and pillowcases. The socks were hung by the toes never the tops, underwear by the waistband and the T-shirts by the bottom. Each item of clothing did not need two clothespins, but shared one clothespin with the next washed item to be hung.
After the whites were hung, Mom would pick up her old wicker basket, go up the stairs on the porch, go down the stairs to the basement, by that time the clothes that were in the washing machine needed to be put through the wringer, into the rinse water, run through the wringer and into the rinse water again, put through the wringer and into the wicker basket. She put the next load of clothes in the washing machine picked up the wicker basket and trudged back up the stairs to the clothesline. This basket of clothes was girl clothes. Blouses, skirts, dresses, aprons — what mom called “coloreds.” They were carefully shook several times to get the wrinkles out and hung so as not to leave clothespin marks. Then back up the porch stairs down to the basement for another load of clothes.
This load of clothes was work clothes that Dad and brothers wore to the fields. The work shirts were hung by the tail. The next load was work clothes and Levi’s and jeans. They were hung by the waistband with the pockets pulled out so they would dry.
Oh! You think Mom was through washing clothes? Nope! She gathered up all the rugs and washed them, every week. The last load was the heaviest and I am sure my Mom was very tired by the time she got through with Monday wash day. Even in the winter unless it was bitter cold or snow blowing Mom never missed a Monday washing clothes and hanging them out. Most of the time in the winter and I remember this very well, the clothes would freeze dry and were stiff as a board when we gathered then in. We carefully lay them across the wicker basket, so as not to bend them — because they would tear. We would lay them on the table, drape them over chairs until they thawed and grew limp, fold and roll them up so we could iron on Tuesday. And I can still smell the “clean smell” of the wash coming off the line, folded and put away. Clean sheets on the beds and the beds made so we all could crawl into a clean bed every Monday.
That was not the end of Mom’s Monday as she usually baked bread on Monday. She got three meals on the table, ham or bacon or sausage, eggs, toast and sometimes biscuits and gravy when Uncle Guy was living with us. He loved biscuits and gravy. Lunch to us nowadays did not exist on the farm, it was called dinner. It consisted of potatoes and gravy, fried meat, vegetable and a salad. Dessert was cake, pie or cookies, home baked of course.
Evening supper was potatoes and gravy, sometimes a big roast, beef or chicken, vegetables and a salad and of course, homemade bread with lots of butter on it. Dessert was pie, cake and ice cream in the summer time. Dad’s midnight snack, at 9 o’clock at night before he went to bed at 10, was Mom’s home canned peaches, pears or plums, with the thick cream that raised to the top of the milk that was brought in from the morning milking. The cream was like ice cream, cold and thick, with a big tablespoon of sugar sprinkled on top. I loved the cream poured on Mom’s home canned purple plums.
If there was leftover chocolate cake, Dad would put that in a big glass; pour the cream over the top, sprinkle sugar on that and stir and stir. He would have the first bite, and offer us little kids a taste. Oh it was so good! In the winter time, he heated the milk carefully on the stove, poured over broken up pieces of bread, added a big spoonful of butter and salt and pepper then he would stir in stir. None of us kids like that!
Back to the washing of clothes and the clothesline.
Here is a poem that was sent to me recently:
The clothesline was a news forecast, to neighbors passing by.
There was no secret you could keep, when clothes were hung to dry.
It also was a friendly link, for neighbors always knew,
If company had stopped by and spend a night or two,
For then, you would see the fancy sheets and towels on the line
You also would see the company tablecloths and napkins with intricate designs.
The line also announced a baby’s birth from folks who lived inside
As a brand-new baby clothes were so carefully hung with pride! (Cloth diapers too!!)
The ages of the children could so readily be known,
By watching how the sizes change, you know how much they’ve grown
It also told when illness struck, as extra sheets were hung.
The night clothes and a bathrobe too, were carefully strung
It also told “On vacation now,” (never in our family!) When lines hung limp and bare.
And it told “we are back” when full lines sagged with not an inch to spare.
Folks all around were scorned upon if wash was dingy in gray;
Those neighbors carefully raise their brow and looked the other way.
But clothes lines sadly to say, are now of the past,
For dryers make work much less, so now what goes on inside a home is anyone’s guess.
I do miss that way life!
It was a friendly sign when neighbors new each other by what was hanging on the line.