Reading history, and now engaged in rediscovering the lives of those who went before me as I build my humongous family tree, I have learned much. I have learned that before the Industrial Age, when most people lived on a plot of land, while the men toiled with cash crops in the distant fields, the women maintained the kitchen garden near the house. They were the child-minders, the dairy maids who took care of the cow(s), the caretakers of chickens and pigs, the food preparers whether canning or cooking, the clothes makers spinning and weaving fabrics and making garments for the whole household. They were laundry mistresses. They performed medical tasks. Their days were long and their schedules interrupted by semi-annual child-bearing, weekly or bi-weekly religious services and monthly market days. For all their responsibilities, women needed organization.
I think organization is an acquired skill, handed down from mother to daughter. Before she became ill, my mother maintained a kitchen garden, a cow and dozens of chickens, washed our clothes in a tub with a washboard and tried to keep us clean.
Slowly, various improvements came into her life.
The first thing was a wringer-washer which we used outdoors on wash day. I loved taking the clothes out of the soapy water and pushing them through the wringer. “Watch your hands,” Mom admonished me many times. I never got caught, although from time to time the big wooden spoon I used to retrieve the clothes from the murky wash water and push through the wringer got caught. The wringer (mangle) would grind to a halt, and Mom would release the wad of clothes and spoon by backing up the flow.
We had two tubs of rinse water, one for dark clothing and the other with bluing for the lighter colored items. After my Mom had my baby brother, my Aunt Priscilla, Dad’s sister, came to stay with us and help with the chores. When Priscilla left, Mom hired a black girl. I had never seen a black person before, and one day when we were washing clothes I watched her with fascination.
I was five years old and curious. I noticed the palms of her hands were very white but the backs of her hands were black. I assumed the wash water had taken off some of the black from her skin, and I leaned over and asked her, “If you wash your hands won’t all the black come off.?” The woman smiled, but my Mom scolded me for being so “nosy.”