Jim and I had made an idea list -- ideas of what we might write about sometime in the future. Now and then, I'm going to refer to this list to get an idea.
My memories will always include things we shared and things he told me of his childhood. When we compared our up-bringing, much of it was similar. I'd say, "My mom did ... ," "So did mine," he would reply.
While Jim was in the hospital, a tune kept running through my mind -- "This is the way we washed our clothes so early in the morning" -- but I couldn't come up with the entire song. I sang the tune to everyone I visited with, hoping they might remember more of the song. At first I asked those my age, and they too were stumped. But when I asked younger computer-age friends, they searched and found a copy of the song. Hooray! Now I can relax.
Anyway, this song brought to mind wash days, one of the ideas on our list. When I grew up, the water was pumped from a well in the yard, carried into the house and heated on the range. Mom would soak the whites in very hot water and then washed them in a wash machine operated by a gas motor since we didn't have electricity. The clothes were put through the hand-cranked wringer to squeeze the soapy water out, then rinsed in cold water and run through the wringer again. Then each item was hung outside on the clothes line to dry.
All the clothes were washed in the same water, batch after batch by color. The last batch was always the dirty farm work overalls. When I left home to go to college, the folks still didn't have electricity or running water in the house. That came later.
Now to compare wash days with Jim's family. His folks moved when his dad changed teaching jobs. Sometimes they lived in town, so his mom had electricity for her Maytag. If they lived in the country, they were lucky to have a system that provided electricity.
That was great to always have power and running water, but Jim knew when his arm got caught in the wringer it didn't stop. By the time his mom came to his aid, he was hurtin', a lesson he never forgot. But their wash days followed the same pattern as mine.
The clothes hung on the line outside in the fresh air and sunshine, whipped dry by the Kansas wind. You can't beat the fresh-air smell or softness of wind-blown sheets and towels.
Our mothers and grandmothers used homemade lye soap to wash the family laundry. I found a recipe for lye soap in Mom's church cookbook; also a friend sent me her recipe and the librarian provided me with the history of making lye soap.
The simple instructions are to use an iron pot over an open fire. You will need 2 gallons non-tap water, 10 ounces of lye and 5 pounds of tallow (fat from beef). Follow the directions, be patient and you will eventually have bars of the lye soap our ancestors used.
You might think "I'd never use that lye soap!" but according to the material I read, all soap is made with these three ingredients -- water, lye and tallow -- even commercial soaps. They are the basis of all soaps.
When we married, we shared a machine with the lady living in the apartment above us. When we moved to the farm, we had electricity but were short on water. We used an old Maytag and made it all work on wash day, similar to when I was a kid.
Jim and I had grown up, married, raised a family and saw the changes made through the years, from the scrubbing on the washboard to the automatic washer and dryer of the present time. It is hard to believe how hard the women worked to wash the family clothes.
Grocery, store shelves are now full of cleaning products to purchase. I'm thankful I don't have to carry water, make the soap, use a washboard or run the clothes through the wringer, as we did years ago. I feel we don't appreciate the many new inventions that make life easier for women these days.
Now back to the tune that started this. "Here we go round the Mulberry Bush" is the title. As we sang this song, we acted out the housework chore, ended up skipping in a circle as we did in the beginning round the mulberry bush.
Here is a shortened version of the whole song.
Around the mulberry bush early every morning; wash our clothes Monday; iron our clothes Tuesday; scrub the floor Wednesday; mend our clothes Thursday; sweep the house Friday; bake our bread Saturday; go to church Sunday morning.
Let's get together and have a sing-a-long. It would make us all smile, I'm sure.
Opal Flinn, Ellis, is a member of the Generations Advisory Group.