Good Orderly Direction

Antiue Mason Jars from wikipedia

Antiue Mason Jars from wikipedia

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.”


14 thoughts on “Good Orderly Direction

  1. The five year old you question brought back a memory from my childhood. Our next door neighbour was chatting to mammy over the garden hedge, She was sharing the good news that her eldest daughter, living in Rhodesia (as it was called then) had her first baby. One of my young brothers was playing in the garden at the time and overheard. Immediately he was by mammy’s side to enquire if the baby was black! Well what can you expect, at that stage, we thought all the babies in Africa were black. In fact back then we had never seen a black person of any age.


  2. My mother worked all the time and we ate TV dinners during the week. She cooked sometimes on weekends, but would not let me help. I have developed my own routines as an adult, but I wish I had had more structure as a child. Very good post!


    • Thanks Gail. After we moved to town, many of my friends had two working parents. They worked in the cotton mills. These kids were the most self reliant youngsters I ever met, and most of them were good, if relatively neglected kids.


  3. I remember the old ringers and washboards. It’s amazing how much technology has advanced in such a short space of time, in the grand scheme of things, and we’ve only just touched the tip of the iceberg.


  4. I remember doing the wash with my paternal grandmother on her enclosed back porch, with a wooden spoon too. Grandpa had hung a line under the eaves for drying that sort of kept the rain off the laundry. Fond memories; thanks for stirring them up.


  5. My mom told a story much like that about her mom’s laundry lady (she grew up in Kentucky). In the Pacific Northwest where she met my dad and where I grew up there was no help to be had. To my mother’s sorrow. I do remember helping her with the wringer washer … and even used a hand-me-down one myself when we were first married (although automatic ones existed by then, we could not afford one).


    • The mechanics of the darn thing fascinated me. Mom had a Maytag (shown in the video above). Later she owned other models of washer, and eventually we had a dryer. I had no such luxuries when I married. I still prefer line dried wash, but if I hung it out where we currently live, jet fuel from planes arriving and departing from National Airport would soil it.


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