Monday, November 12, 2012

Amanuensis Monday--Elsie Crocker’s Manuscript, Part 9: Laundry and cleanliness

To read this project from the beginning, click here.

These few pages of Elsie’s manuscript are a treasure trove of information on the everyday life of country women early in the twentieth century. It’s amazing to think of the changes that laundry, for example, has undergone in a single lifetime. Elsie and her sisters spanned the days of boiling shirts on the woodstove all the way to the modern technique of simply tossing everything into an electric washer. I’m sure they must have appreciated modern conveniences far more than anyone born and raised in our own era ever can.

You may also recognize a couple of the following paragraphs from my Halloween entry of last year. Now you will get to read them in their full context.

We had to iron most of our clothes, no dip dry or winkle proof or stain resistant. Sometimes stains were taken out by putting wet materials on the grass on a sunny day or rub a little salt on the stain if it’s stubborn. Milddew was common, if things weren’t used and laid around, they would collect damnest. Those days we never had heat all thru the house in the wintertime. A little lemon juice sprinkled on the spots and placed in the sun would come out easy. Grass stains were the most and hardest those days. The spots had to washed and then rub with soap and layed in the sun.

The girls wore dresses and slips, blacksateen bloomers. And black, long stockings Rarely did we have white stockings. We wore our hair in braids, with ribbons to hold the braids. I hated those braids and would take them doun on our way home. Mother never could figure out how they came doun, and I never told her. The children we walked home with would say how pretty my hair looked doun.

No slacks, shorts, pedal pushers, sleeveless blouses, pretty sweaters. No shells. We had gingham or calico dresses Shoes were MaryJanes, black, Oxfords, high shoes that came almost to your knees. Laced or buttoned. Pretty pretty awful. We didn’t know any different Everyone had the same. Maybe this is why they taught “Pretty is as pretty does”.

Mother wore ankle long dresses. She had a skirt and a pretty blouse, she wore on Sundays. She had a pretty pin she wore at the neck of her blouse.

We used oil cloth to cover our tables. They were easily cleaned, just wipe off with a damp cloth. Years later we had some cloth ones, Indianhead and a linen one for company. The Indian and linen, had to be real damp in order to iron them. With the irons we had those days, it took a couple of hours to iron one cloth.

The boys and men, wore overalls and jeans made of the overall material. The men wore dark blue serge pants to dress up. Those blue and white stripe coveralls were all most like some of the boys wore then. We called them milkman’s pans.

The irons were made of iron and heated on top of the stove If they got to hot they were pushed to the far side of the range top. The irons had a wooden removable handle. You needed about four irons to keep them hot enough, to do your whole ironing. On handle fitted all irons, the handle would clamp on top of the iron. If too hot it would scorch, to cold it wouldn’t iron. To hard to push across the article to ironed. So you had to test it by wetting your finger tip and touching it ever so lightly, if it spit, it was ready. Mom would clean her irons by wiping them on newspaper. This still is a good way to clean your iron. Only now rub your iron over a little bees wax or parafine then wipe it off.

Dad’s shirts were hard to iron, they had cold starched separate collars. The shirts were starched and then dried and then dampened doun real well. They were left several hours between dampening and ironing, for easier ironing. To dampen the clothes we would have a pan of water, dip one hand in the water and then shake over the clothes to be ironed. The collars of the shirts were really stiff. The collars were held on to the shirt in the back with a collar button. In the front of the shirt with the top button of the shirt. The men wore quite a number of bow ties.

Our clothes was two post set up, between these posts was rope. Usually two or three lines. Depending the distance between the post. Sometime we used to have to have props in the middle to keep the lines from sagging. Some of the clothes were long and heavy when wet. Especially Dads long johns.

The clothes were dried outside, if it rained they were hung on one of the porches. Monday was always wash day. The old saying “if there was enough blue in the sky to make a Scotchman a pair of britches” your washing would get dry.

They had no dryers, washing machines, no washing powder. The clothes were scrubbed on a washboard, with hoemade soap made from lard or fat and lye, hard on the hands. The fat was saved from the cooking of their meats.

No running water in the house, all had to be carried in The white clothes were put in a boiler on top of the stove and boiled. She had a certain stick to take the clothes out of the hot water.

Our wash basin, to wash our hands and face was on the back porch. We would wipe our hands and face, on a huck roller towel. The towel was a long one about one and half yds. Sewed together in the middle and then put on a roller. You’ve seen these they have them in some washrooms now. You would use what you needed then pull it doun a little so the next guy would have a clean spot. After all was used it would be removed and a clean one replaced the dirty one. No soft towels then.

We drank water from a long handle dipper, from a water pail that sat on our back porch.

With a barn and lots of animals we had a lot of flies. My mother hated them, she hung fly paper from the ceiling of the back porch. No matter how careful you are with this flypaper it is so sticky on one side. No fly can escape. The wind had blown one of these doun on the back porch which landed on the floor. My mother had called me in and I was in a hurry, I landed both feet right on this fly paper. It was awful, Mother came to help, she finally got a chair for me to sit on. She could get at it better. Between us we got that sticky mess off. It took a lot of soap and elbow grease to get the stickyness loose. She told me next time watch were I was going.” My dad had a good laugh over it. He said “We’ve really caught a big fly this time.” I didn’t think it was funny and I’m sure Mother did’t either. She was afraid I would get it on her floor, she was very particular about her floors.

My dad would take a bath sometimes in the canal, but we couldn’t because we didn’t know how to swim. Our baths were in the wash tub.

We didn’t have a bathroom in our house. Just a out house or (privy) as they were called. This was a small shed like type building, located a short distance from the house. Inside was a long seat across the back with holes small medium, and large, with covers, when not in use you put the cover on. Lye was used to keep it clean and oderless.

At night we would carry a lantern to see our way. One of the older ones would walk out with us, and stand out side and wait for us.
On Hallowe’en the big boys in the neighborhood, would like to tip one of these over, hoping someone was inside. They never got ours, maybe because we had a fence all the way round our place. The fence had barbed wire on top of the mesh fence, hard to climb.

No plumbing inside we had a poe (jerry or thunder mug) under the bed to use when we needed it at night. They even had different sizes of those. These were only used in emergencies.

Some of the poes were made of granite or china, they usually had a handle on one side, kept under the bed. Each had a cover.
To continue with the next installment of Elsie's manuscript, click here.

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