Tennessee Mountain Stories

Let’s talk Laundry

Children are a precious, wonderful, miraculous and infernally MESSY gift from God.  Let’s talk laundry!

I’ve mentioned here before how much I value some of my modern conveniences, especially major appliances.  Well if you ever doubted the value of your washing machine, you’ve never had seven children in your home.  As I told you several weeks ago, our household swelled to twelve when we were blessed with the addition of a missionary family.  This has really opened my eyes to some of the life my great-grandmothers must have lived. 

My children love to play outside and I’m thrilled that we live in conditions where they can.  My son says his favorite thing is dirt and he routinely brings a supply of it inside on the seat of his pants.  He’s probably not unique in this affinity.  So I know that any mother of young children will no doubt completely relate to the endless stack of soiled clothing I battle almost every day. 

Now I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining, there is another mother here taking care of her own children’s needs.  So between the two of us, the lines are always full and while I know the crops and the stock need a little more rain than we’ve been seeing, I’ve been awfully happy for the sunny days that provide such perfect drying conditions. 

In thinking about this chore in historical terms, I took a look at the Foxfire book number two (Anchor Books, 1973) where there Dickersons share the process of washing clothes in an iron pot.

First is the location.  It’s easier to take your clothes to the branch than to pack the water to the house.  Ah, for a good source of water.  Old homes were positioned where water could be found.  If something happened to a spring or a well the family might well leave the place.  You just can’t live where there’s no water.

They heated their water in a big iron pot over an open fire – a whole other discussion when the temperature is 82 degrees as I’m typing this.  The cold water that serves the first rinse would be a welcome break until you started beating the clothes or battling them and that would work up a sweat without the fire to contend with.  This of course assumes you don’t have a factory-made wash board which was patented in 1833 – I wonder how long it took for that idea to catch on?

Of course, any heavy stains will have to be rubbed out with the aid of your strong lye soap.  You made the soap another time and kept a good supply on hand of course.

By now the water’s boiling in your iron pot so in go the properly beaten garments.  Agitating is done manually with a long pine paddle.  While they’re simmering, you’ll need to empty the battling water and refill the tub for rinsing.  Whew, this will be cold water again and I’m betting there’s sweat a’pourin’ off your face after stirring the iron pot over the open fire. 

After a couple of rinses – because you sure don’t want to leave any lye-soap-suds in there, you can start hanging.  Oh, wait, you’ll need to wring them out well or otherwise it’ll take forever to dry them. 

Whew, I’m sorry I complained!