My gramma had a laundry wringer. And for a while, so did my mom. I always loved these machines that squeezed the water out of clothing so graphically and intriguingly.
Back then, washing used only one load of soapy water, beginning clean, with white clothing, and proceeded to gradually dirtier and darker clothing and water, until the last thing washed was the dingy dungarees worn to protect the good clothing from animal chores.
After washing came rinsing, or some said, “wrenching,” which surely they thought referred to the old way of removing extra water, by hand wringing, making the arms and hands feel nearly wrenched out of socket. My gramma put bluing in rinse water to make whites look whiter. I never could understand this substance, bluer than a computer screen, that made things white.
Gramma used homemade soap on clothes. I mean: natural lye combined with natural trimmings from natural meat, and yes, she made it herself, on the woodstove in her woodshed, and stacked it everywhere in there to cure. Then she grated it for flakes. It all smelled so fresh and good.
To this day, aroma from homemade soap makes me think of birds calling and locusts scritching combined with comfy sloshy sounds of laundry done during warm laundry days. And my gramma’s voice explaning . . .
The washer, and its accompanying rinse tubs on platforms, rolled out onto the concrete porch around Gramma’s woodshed. A hose ran first to fill rinse tubs, and later to empty them onto the enormous strawberry patch.
Only large pots of scalding water went into the washer, itself, and yes, heated on that wood stove. All the concrete porches got a scrub-down with used laundry water, pure and natural.
There were manual and electric versions of the wringer. My gramma had the kind she had to crank and disdained the electric, which could swallow up an arm or break off buttons. She fished clothes out with a stick; the water was that hot. Cranking the wringer was an honored chore because you had to be old enough to reach and turn it without letup.
The wringer and its tray were rotatable to provide also for two tubs of rinse water. Every article of clothing went through the agitation in soapy water, wringing into the first rinse, and then into the second, before finally being wrung into a laundry basket for hanging on the line.
It sounds like so much work, and it was. No wonder laundering was an event with its own day set aside. Imagine dragging all that production outdoors on a daily basis for just one load! Yet, all this was such an improvement over lugging all the laundry to a stream, or boiling it in a huge pot over an open fire.
Yes, it was good, honest work, but that woodshed and that porch were my gramma’s “gym” and she stayed fit, even into old age.