I didn’t grow up on a farm, in fact most of my childhood was spent in a quiet subdivision near Sacramento, California. My mom taught piano and later became a nurse, my adopted dad was a chemist who worked at Aerojet, a company that was involved in the space industry. We had a family cat for a pet that I shared with my younger sister. My mom had all the conveniences of the modern housewife at that time, including air conditioning and an automatic washer and dryer. I really didn’t know that people hung out clothes to dry until I spent time with my Aunt Judy and Uncle Bob on their farm in Southern Illinois.
I learned a lot during the summer I spent on the farm! We watched Marsha Yockey forecast the weather every evening on the Evansville TV news channel.
My Uncle Bob would watch Marsha, with her short bangs and her black grease pen, draw the isobars on the weather map showing the high and low pressure systems. She was pretty accurate about the weather in terms of predicting the rain in the short term, but I mostly watched her for the entertainment as she was quite a character! My uncle would use her weather predictions to help him decide when to cut hay, and my aunt would listen to help her know if the next day would be favorable for washing clothes since she depended on the weather to dry them.
I fell in love with the scent of freshly-laundered sheets hung on the line to dry in the country air. I vowed if I ever won the lottery, I would hire someone to make my bed every day with fresh line-dried sheets. Who knew anything could ever be so grand?
Back then, it was a matter of economy for my aunt to dry her clothes on the line in the backyard, while I thought it was a luxury. My aunt taught me a lot about laundry - how to turn all the blue jeans inside out before hanging them on the line to keep the sun from bleaching them out (this was back when dark blue jeans were in fashion).
My Aunt Judy had a wringer washer in the basement that she filled with hot water to start the washday. Wringer washers were really the high-efficiency machines of the day in terms of saving water, but nobody worried about that back then. Once you filled the tub with hot water, you dissolved your laundry soap and added it to the tub. You would put in your cleanest and lightest-colored dirty clothes first – like dishtowels, sheets and bath towels. You would turn on the machine to begin agitating and agitate it did! Sometimes it would get so wound up it would dance across the floor of the basement.
As the clothes were agitating, we would then begin filling up the rinse tubs. There were always two of them. My aunt had separate tubs, but I have a set of two tubs that are attached together. The washing machine was situated so that the wringer, which would pivot around, would wring the clothes from the washing tub into the first rinsing tub, then you would pivot it again so that it would wring the clothes into the second tub of rinse water. Finally, you would pivot the wringer the third time so that the rinsed clothes were wrung into the laundry basket waiting on the floor. Nobody used fabric softener back then, I don’t even think it was a thing. You simply swished the soap from the clothes in the soft well water that was in the rinse tubs.
Putting the clothes through the wringer required some skill. You had to make sure all the zippers were closed before you ever started your wash so that they wouldn’t be damaged when going through the wringer. The clothes had to be fed through the wringer so that they
wouldn’t get bunched up. You had to keep the fabric somewhat even so that the water would be squeezed from it as efficiently as possible, and avoid getting your fingers, hair or loose clothing caught in the rollers.
Once you ran the first wash tub of clothes into the rinse tub, the next dirty batch of laundry was put into the washer. This was usually my aunt’s clothes – my uncle’s overalls were the last thing to be washed unless she was washing the throw rugs that week. Once the first batch of clothes made it through both rinses, it was wrung into a wicker laundry basket and taken up the stairs into the backyard to be hung on the clothesline to dry. Let me tell you, that laundry basket was heavy since the water was wrung, not spun out of the clothes! It was a workout to lug that wet basket of clothes up the basement stairs.
Once outside, we prepared the line for the clothes. My aunt would take a rag out and run it over the clothesline to make sure it was clean before we started hanging up the clothes. We had the old-fashioned peg pins, not the fancy clip clothespins. They were in a bag that she hung on the line so we had them at our fingertips. My aunt was very particular about how the clothes were pinned to the line, as she didn’t want them to have marks on them from the pins. Most everything was hung by the hem, and anything that was dark colored was turned inside out to keep the sun from fading the color.
As an aside, I will tell you a tip I picked up when working at an impoverished hospital in Jamaica. As a nurse, I helped lead medical missionary trips to Annotto Bay, Jamaica for over 25 years where we rebuilt their community hospital. When I first started going down there, the 120-bed hospital didn’t have any laundry equipment. The ladies who worked in the laundry washed everything in huge concrete sinks that had washboards built into them. They laid the sheets on the wet grass in the mornings to dry during the day. I asked why they didn’t wait for the grass to dry, or why they didn’t dry them on a line. They told me that the dew would bleach the sheets, and sure enough, their sheets were as white as snow. When I came home, I began washing my whites in the evening and putting them on the line to hang overnight. They catch the dew and it keeps my whites looking bright, like new!
Anyway, in the late afternoon when the clothes dried on the line, my aunt and I would go out to gather them in. We carefully folded everything as we took it off the line. Back then we had to iron most everything that we wore, and my aunt ironed the pillowcases as well. The ironing was done the day after the washing. My aunt had a method for getting things ready to iron. She had an old pop bottle with a sprinkling device that was held in the top of the bottle by a cork. She would fill the bottle with water and dampen the clothes. She liked to roll them up and put them in the deepfreeze. She would get out the old wooden ironing board, place it in front of the TV, plug in the iron, turn on the TV and watch “As the World Turns” and her other “stories” as she would remove each piece from the freezer and iron away. I think by putting the clothes in the freezer, she avoided them becoming soured or mildewed, as we didn’t have air conditioning on the farm back then.
Our clothes always were clean and pressed, and I can thank my aunt for instilling me with a love of fresh line-dried linen! When I began making my own soap, I decided that I would also make my own laundry detergent that was safe for my clothes, but most importantly, safe for the environment.
I use either lavender or lemongrass essential oils for fragrance, and just a tablespoon in my high efficiency machine leaves our clothes clean and fresh. Believe me, our clothes out here on a goat farm can get pretty gnarly at the end of the day, but my laundry soap gets them clean and smelling fresh! I don’t have time to use a wringer washer anymore, but I do take time to line-dry our laundry when the weather cooperates. I tell my grandkids it is a solar clothes drier which makes it sound more sophisticated than a “clothesline”!
My clip clothespins these days are made from sustainable bamboo, and the bag I keep them in was made by a friend. My husband had an old workshirt that had his name embroidered on it. I carefully cut the stitches and removed the name tag from the shirt and my friend sewed it onto the clothespin bag making it Scott’s clothespin bag.
He likes line-dried clothes as well and is always willing to help with the laundry. I don’t iron much these days, but occasionally get a “wild hare” and iron my pillowcases. When I do, the scent and the crisp folds take me right back to the summertime on my Aunt Judy and Uncle Bob’s farm. I feel blessed indeed!