Sometimes,,as I throw clothes into my washing machine, I think about my mother doing laundry or the washing as it was known. I’ll use both terms for this blog post.
When I was young, my mother washed the sheets and the towels on Monday, a practice she continued for the rest f her life. It was quite a performance. The water in the copper had to be heated. The copper, in case you haven’t seen one, was a large round tub lined with, wait for it, copper. A fire was lit in the grate underneath it usually before breakfast. That meant Mum could add the linen to the hot water after we had eaten.
On one glorious (for us kids) morning, Mum had left the door to the grate open and the raincoats hanging nearby went up in flames. The fire engine arrived just as we were beginning breakfast. We were shunted off to a neighbur’s house to eat while the fire was doused. That was one Monday my mother didn’t get the laundry done and we had a great story to share with our friends at school.
Once the linen had been boiled, it was hauled from the copper with a sturdy stick and dropped into one of two tubs. Blue was added to the water for our white sheets. Next the linen went through the manual wringer into the second tub for another rinse and then back through the wringer again. Finally it was placed into Mum’s large wicker clothes basket to be hung out on the rotary line in the back yard. The line had been installed too high for my mother so Dad had built a little deck for her to stand on. The clothes pegs were the traditional long wooden type and with a face painted on the top knob made little dolls we could dress.
Everything had to be ironed. Mum’s ironing table was near the door of the washhouse and we often sat on the back verandah step and talked with Mum while she worked. I remember her drilling my sister on her ties tables. My grandfather who lived with us bought Mum an ironing machine and she would sit on her stool feeding the sheets through the machine. They were really crisp.
The weather was important. Women would be pleased to see fine weather with some wind to ensure drying was speedy. If it rained and they were in a meeting or a social occasion, you’d hear women complain that they hadn’t taken in the washing before they left home. Nowadays with high tech washing machines and dryers, sheets never go outside and they lack that fresh air smell. However, I bet most women were glad to see the end of the copper although it was useful for cooking the large Christmas ham.