Esther and Artie were sitting out on their porch as they did most evenings after supper during the mild months of the year. It was a nice evening, not too hot, not too cool. It had been a busy day for Esther. Today was Esther’s wash day and her washer was downstairs in their unfinished basement which meant many steps up and down that staircase all day long. Esther enjoyed going down there to wash clothes where it was cool, damp, and a little musty smelling. Silly as it sounded, it almost felt a little mysterious to go underground to do her wash. To her, it felt like she entered another world entirely with it’s dimly lit interior and the muffled sounds that she could hear coming from from up above. She could hear the purring of a lawn mower in the distance as Art mowed the lawn and she could also hear when Artie would come inside as he opened the door and walked up the stairs to the kitchen. She could hear the sound of his footsteps as he shuffled around upstairs.
Esther kept her washing machine and two rinse tubs in the basement for the convenience of washing clothes year round. The washing machine was an old wringer washer. The tub of the washer faced one direction and the two rinse tubs which sat on legs stood on the opposite side of the washing machine. In between and above the tub was the wringer section which consisted of two rubber rollers that were held tightly together and when it was activated, each rolled towards the center. As Esther tucked the edge of a wet piece of laundry between these two rollers, the piece would be squeezed between the rollers as it advanced to the other side, squeezing out the excess water with the water flowing back into the washer.
When Esther washed clothes, she determined when the clothes had agitated long enough to be clean in the washer. She would then take the clothes, piece by piece, and feed them through the wringer sending them on their way to the rinse tubs. If the clothing was white, she would swing the wringer toward the bleach water tub and feed them through so they landed in the bleach water. She would stir the clothing in the bleach water with a long stick and then she would swing the wringer towards the plain water rinse tub so she could rinse them a second time. The bleach water piece would be fed through the rollers on its way into the plain rinse water, with the excess bleach water flowing back into its place of origin.
Once the laundry landed in the plain water, she stirred it around again with a stick, and then would feed it through the wringer one last time, drawing it forward into the laundry basket waiting below on the floor.
When the basket was full, she would take it outside and begin hanging the clothes on the clothesline. It was quite a process but Esther was extremely grateful for this wonderful convenience right in her own home under her own roof. It usually took most of the day to do laundry because there were so many steps involved. She always started with the white laundry, moved to the light colors, then the dark laundry, and finally on to the rugs or things of that nature.
Her clotheslines consisted of two large vertical poles cemented into the ground with a shorter pole that ran across the top of each pole, forming a “T”. From the cross bar hung about 6 lines, evenly spaced from end to end. Her clotheslines were long, so they required a clothesline pole which was v shaped at one end. When the clothes were pinned to the lines, the lines would sag from the weight of the wet clothes, so the v shape at the end of the pole would allow you to lift the line up high once you stuck the end into the ground. Esther would take each piece, one by one, and shake and snap it before pinning it to the line to try eliminate wrinkles. Often the sheets and towels were hung on the outer lines to hide the “unmentionables” (underwear) which hung on the inside lines. She loved watching her laundry blowing and flapping in the wind. She also loved the scent of the laundry when she brought it indoors.
Esther washed clothes year round and the winter months were especially difficult as she trudged through the snow carrying her basket and pinning the clothes to icy lines. Esther would let them “freeze dry” on the lines and after a certain period of time, she would high step through the snow again and bring them inside. They would be frozen stiff and she would carry them downstairs to hang on the clotheslines Artie had strung from the rafters in the basement. To some people it didn’t make much sense to hang them twice, but all the women of Esther’s era and community did them this way, swearing that the freeze dried method was first rate.
Esther would spend the entire day washing and hanging all the laundry for the week. Once they were dry, she took the pieces off the lines and folded the ones that did not need ironing followed by dampening the items that did. She had a bottle of water which had a sprinkle head corked into its narrow end and this was what she used to dampen her clothes.
Once they were sprinkled, she would roll them in cylinders and put them into a basket to preserve their dampness in the cool basement until morning when she would begin ironing.
Esther was tired tonight. She managed to make dinner while doing all the laundry and on top of this she had emptied out the washing machine by inserting the drain hose into a drain in the floor and then proceeded to wipe it out. The same held true for the rinse tubs. Oh that bed was going to feel sweet tonight, and she was contemplating retiring early.
Despite all the work involved in running a home, she loved her life. If she could go back and start all over again with her choices, she would choose the same life all over again, even though that old rhyming verse was true, “A mans work is from sun to sun, but a woman’s work is never done”.
It was true that a woman’s work was ongoing, but what was also true was the feeling of satisfaction in being the Queen of your own castle. She loved being able to choose her activities from day to day and had arranged her activities as “Wash Day”, “Ironing Day”, “Baking Day”, “Cleaning Day” and so on. Each day was hard work but each also brought Esther a sense of accomplishment. She would not trade her life for a different life even if it was offered. She had found her calling when she became a Housewife and Mother.
When it comes down to it, there is no more noble calling on earth than that of creating a home for the people we love. Esther was Queen and Artie was King of their castle and they were content! Actually, they could even say they were happy! How many people in this world can truly say that?
As she rested in her chair, she looked over to Artie and said “I think I will turn in…It has been a long day”. Artie smiled at her and said “Thanks, Es, for all you do. You are a hard working woman and I appreciate all you do for both of us”. Esther smiled back at him and as she stood up, she could feel her heart swell. Praise of this kind was rare so when she opened the bedroom door, she could feel a spring in her step. Being appreciated felt mighty good.