Saturday, October 9, 2021

Memories from the late '50s

I have heard that as you get older long term memories become more vivid. Recently I was doing my laundry, a simple task these days, and I thought about Sundays when I was a kid. My mother worked full time. There were six of us kids;  I was the third.

Every Sunday she changed the sheets on all the beds, that's a lot of beds. Actually she changed the bottom sheet - fitted sheets had not yet been invented - and she put the top sheet on the bottom, and a clean sheet on top. Then she washed all of the family's clothes, including the sheets and towels. The washing machine was a heavy old agitator with a wringer. 

First she had to move the machine from the corner where it was stored while not in use, (it was not plumbed in of course), push it up to the kitchen sink and fill it by attaching rubber hoses to the kitchen taps and running the water into the machine drum, add the detergent and set the agitator going. It was not a timed wash, the agitator would continue swishing until it was manually switched off.  In between wash loads she cleaned the house. 

Once a wash load was ready, she filled the big kitchen sink with clean cold water. The next stage was to stop the agitator and pull the wet items out of the water with a wooden tongs, feeding them through the wringer, being very careful to not get fingers caught in the wringer, hence the tongs. The clothes dropped into the sink of clean water where they were rinsed off by hand, then sent back through the wringer - at this point she had replaced the lid on the machine to avoid the clothes dropping into the, now dirty, soapy water. Sometimes this rinsing process had to be repeated more than once, particularly for big items like sheets and towels. 

Finally, she set the machine to empty - through another rubber hose that hooked over the sink, while she took the clean, wet clothes outside into the back yard. There, she hung them on the clothes line, if the weather was good. 

As you can imagine, for a family of seven, we had more than one line in the yard.  We went out and checked the clothes regularly and as soon as they were dry enough we brought them in to make space for another load.

If the weather was not good enough for drying the clothes outdoors, they were hung on a wooden rack that extended the width of the kitchen. It was a big kitchen.

She usually had six or seven wash loads, so she had to refill, wash, wring, rinse, wring and hang that many times. It took hours. I often helped her hang clothes on the line while she worked on another load. I hated the indoor rack because when it was full of wet clothes it was really hard to pull it up to the ceiling, it was heavy! And of course the wringer was not very efficient so the clothes dripped water all over the floor. We placed layers of newspaper on the floor, under the rack to sop up the water.

In between doing all that, she found time to cook a big dinner for all of us. Sunday dinner was a ritual in Ireland back in those days. Roasted meat and potatoes and at least two vegetables and dessert. For a family the size of ours, it was usually a leg of lamb. Lamb was very cheap in Ireland. We didn't have a refrigerator, so the meat, purchased on Saturday, sat in the pantry overnight. 

One week the dog grabbed it and ran out to the back yard with it. We all chased her till we cornered her and got it back. My mother washed and trimmed it and went ahead and cooked dinner as usual. We survived. We survived a lot worse than that!

Looking back now, I don't know how she did it. Life was not easy! In the 60s she did start using a laundry service. A big bundle of dirty laundry was left in our front porch, the laundry service picked it up while at the same time dropping off a bundle of crisp, clean laundry from the week before. We also got a used refrigerator.

My mother would have loved smartphones and email. In the '80s she bought an Amstrad computer on which she spent hours digging into the OS and using the word processing to replace her typewriter - she had her landline hooked up to a fax machine. Of course, that was much later, not until the late 80s.

Her answering machine message would instruct people to leave a message or send a fax. When I first moved to the US we regularly communicated via fax. 

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