A friend sent me a brief history of wash day (laundry day), and then we talked and laughed about our having had the privilege of living much of that history having to do with the work before washing machines came along.
At lma, we had very few amenities, such as running water, electricity, or butane. We set aside most of a morning for doing laundry. That began with being sure we had enough wood carried into the kitchen so we could keep the water hot on the stove. We then set the No. 2 wash tubs just around the corner from the kitchen door, attached a hand run wringer if we had one, and then began carrying water to the large kettles on the wood stove.
We’d boil some of the white clothes in one of the kettles and carry the others filled with hot water to the tubs outside that contained enough cold water so we wouldn’t burn our hands. There we would wash the other items on the rub board.
Carrying water from the spring was a constant task because we had to rinse everything twice after having washed it with that good home-made soap. Emptying the tubs was not easy either unless Dad or my brother happened to be in the area long enough to help us.
They could carry the tubs to the bluff and empty them, whereas Mother and I had to dip water from them back into the buckets, carry them to the bluff, and return until the two of us could carry the tub to the bluff. We didn’t have to toss the last rinse water into the canyons because it didn’t have enough soap left in it to hurt the plants in the yard.
We hung the clothes on a fence until Dad finally put up a clothes line for us. We also did as Grandmother had done and hung some of the laundry on bushes.
She had learned in her pioneering days that the bushes helped to bleach the white items, and all of us wanted our whites to be as white as possible. After all, that was a bit of a status symbol and a major topic for criticism it someone didn’t have the whites just sparkling.
During the winter, the items would freeze dry before we could bring them back into the house but in the warm months everything would be dry by the time we had finished the last tub and we could begin the folding process.
Although we can look back on that hard work, we weren’t really aware that it was so hard because we had no other way to tend to that chore. As we use our automatic washers and dryers today, we can consider the differences.
I am glad I had the privilege of living through the various periods of wash days and certainly enjoy sitting around while laundry is practically doing itself these days. My knuckles hurt at the thought of using those rub boards. I’d now have to build up some calluses so the bails on the water buckets wouldn’t rub blisters on my palms.
I could chop just about enough wood to build a small fire and would have to make several trips to carry the wood to the house. Our memory banks are fun to explore, and our present banks are right pleasant to live in.
Lynn Moncus is a Tucumcari resident and can be contacted through the Quay County Sun by calling 575-461-1952.