DOING LAUNDRY ON A FARM IN THE FIFTIES
Grandma Gretchen’s in her rocker and she has something to say.
She tells a visitor, a young man from the city, if he plans to write a book about life on a farm in the Fifties, he likely has a lot to learn. She knows about that life because she was there. She says he needs to know about the little things as well as the big things if the book is going to be accurate.
For example, she says for him to understand that culture, he needs to know how laundry was done back then. This was before electric washers and dryers became popular. And he needs to understand why some farm wives today still use a ringer washer to do their laundry, usually on a Monday if the weather is nice.
The visitor agrees. So as he and Grandma sip strong coffee and nibble on scones from yesterday, Grandma starts to rock faster and begins a long tutorial.
The young man begins to feel he’s back in law school and should be taking notes but he had no reason to bring a notebook. He thought he was just visiting an older lady still living in her old farmhouse, a widow cared for by her adult children.
Colors and whites, Grandma explains, are always washed separately. Undies are washed separately as well. Sheets and towels are washed by themselves as are the men’s clothes.
“Men’s clothes are the filthiest thing on laundry day on any farm,” Grandma says, “especially the overalls.
“Believe me, young man, overalls are always washed alone. It’s a task no farm wife enjoys.”
In good weather, she says the whites are the first to be hung out to dry.
The clothesline is strung between two trees or from a tree to a hook on the house. As long as the line is not under where birds might perch, everything’s okay.
“Between two trees is prettier,” she says, “and a clothesline should look pretty.”
Warming to her task, Grandma goes on to explain that clothespins join all of the wash together except for bras which are hung by a single strap.
“A good wind and bras will kick,” she says, “like the Rockettes.”
The young man wonders how she knows about the Rockettes. He was told that Grandma’s sole exposure to the media over the years has been a Gospel music station on an old RCA console radio stationed not far from her rocking chair.
She goes on to point out that if it starts to rain and the clothes are nearly dry, the farm wife dashes out and rushes the clothes into the house.
“Even if he’s in the house at the time, her husband isn’t any help,” she says. “On a farm men have their tasks and women have theirs.”
Grandma admits she’s heard that some younger men today may help out in ways they would never have done back in the Fifties. That’s a big surprise, she says, if it’s true.
Then she mentions something the young man had been told by one of her daughters: Grandma and her husband, Carl, had seven kids. Carl took care of the farm and Grandma took care of the kids.
“Seven kids are a lot of work,” she says, “but Carl had 20 cows to milk every morning and 100 hogs to slop and eggs to gather in the hen house. I’d rather take care of Carl and seven kids.”
Grandma finishes her tutorial by telling the visitor that although she wishes him well, she doesn’t know how a man from the city can write a book about farm life in the Fifties.
“You weren’t there,” she tells him with all the kindness and wonder she can muster.
He tells her all he can do is try and maybe with her help something good will come of it.
She tells him he better let her read what he writes before it’s printed. She says she just got new bifocals.
The young man says she will be the first to read it.
And then he reaches for another day-old scone.