A grandmother gave the new bride the following recipe:
This is an exact copy as written and found in an old scrapbook, spelling errors and all.
Build fire in backyard to heat kettle of rain water. Set tubs so smoke wont blow in eyes if wind is pert.
Shave one hole cake of lie soap in boilin water.
Sort things, make 3 piles
1 pile white,
1 pile colored,
1 pile work britches and rags.
To make starch, stir flour in cool water to smooth, then thin down with boiling water.
Take white things, rub dirty spots on board, scrub hard and boil, then rub colored don’t boil just wrench and starch.
Take things out of kettle with broom stick handle, then wrench, and starch.
Hang old rags on fence.
Spread tea towels on grass.
Pore wrench water in flower bed. Scrub porch with hot soapy water.
Turn tubs upside down.
Go put on clean dress, smooth hair with hair combs. Brew cup of tea, sit and rock a spell and count your blessings.
The notes go on to say: My mother-in-law would warsh and wrench the dishes if I would dry and put them away. Wrench has always been a mispronunciation of the word rinse. People used to always reuse rinse water to water flowers or grass.
The one thing not mentioned in the original post: That bar of soap you were to shave up. That didnt come from a store. You made that soap another day from hog fat, lye and ashes. Wasn’t pretty, nor did it smell appealing, but it sure cleaned well.
That those women were strong and resourceful cannot be denied (and many of them also died far younger than us).
Wikipedia states, the housewife “was in charge of feeding, cleaning and medical care for everyone in the household, as well as supervising the servants. The housewife’s domain, depending upon wealth, would also include “cellars, pantries, brew houses, milk houses, wash houses and butteries”. She was responsible for home manufacturing of clothing, candles, and foodstuffs. At harvest time she helped the menfolk gather the crops. She typically kept a vegetable garden, and cared for the poultry and milked the cows.”
In the idealised images of early advertising, the washtub is on a stand near a sunny, breezy clothesline, though in reality it may have been in a cramped kitchen or dark tenement courtyard, or by a tumbledown shack. Only, if they were very wealthy did they possibly employ servants helping with the laundry.
Whether you were spreading off-white linen on the ground to bleach in the sun, or just putting your laundry there to dry, you wanted a:
“grassy corner well open to the sun,…sheltered from high winds…the attentions of wandering poultry… and the incursions of pigs, puppies and calves…they not only soil the clothes, but will tear and even eat them”
Katherine Purdon, Laundry at Home, 1902
Memories from my grandmother
When I read the recipe above, I remembered stories from my grandmother’s lips.
My grandmother (my Nana) talked of her childhood in the South in the 1880s. The older children all walked to the river, and each carried back two buckets of water for washing. Then they all went back to the river for rinse water. It was an all-day effort, and, of course, they helped their mother.
When my Nana married, she said she had two “really nice” tubs, and a wringer. As a young girl, my mother (in the 20s) helped by running the washed sheets, first through the wringer into the first rinse, then through the wringer again into a tub of cold water that she had added blueing to.
When she spoke of it, she said she could still remember how good they smelled when she and grandmother took them off of the line after hanging in the sunshine.
She stated they worked hard and still considered it a blessing to have clean, white sheets!
That is the lost art…
Whether we have little or much, hard work or ease, the trick is to keep our eyes on the Lord and still be thankful!
As one commenter said: “[Today] we have trouble staying on top of the laundry because we have much much more. We own more clothes, more beds that need linens, more pillows, more towels, more everything. If we had to do laundry the way they did, I guarantee, we would have much less.”
So many ways of looking at this: Would you rather have lived then or now?
“The joy of the Lord is my strength” ~Nehemiah 8:10
“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men…” ~Col. 3: 23
Thanks for reading!