We Washed Clothes On Mondays


One can never begin to describe the back-breaking, time consuming, and tiring work endured by the miners wives and mothers prior to the invention of the washing machine.

Many made their own laundry soap especially after a hog or cow was slaughtered. Nothing was wasted, and it was so in our family. Any fat retrieved from the animal and considered non-edible as skin was rendered free of it's fat - even scraps from purchased meats. Lye was added and this made good laundry soap.. Face and body soap was purchased from the hucksters or company store.

There was no indoor plumbing and all water had to be hauled from the two wells located in Morea- the closest being 1 1/2 blocks from our house. Pa and my older brothers ways hauled water after work and on Sunday evenings.

Actually, we all hauled water, and we had many buckets as well as large size vats both in the shanty and on the back porch. Even the youngest had their buckets and would accompany Pa and my older brothers. Water was precious, and as youngsters, we learned the value of conservation. To do otherwise was to invite more back-breaking labor. Or course one could chose to stay dirty and risk eternal damnation something Ma and grandmother would not allow.

Rain water was also collected in barrels and vats placed in the yard. It was used for laundering and for the animals. As young girls, we also liked to use it to rinse our hair it was better than today's conditioners!

All our clothes were washed in the shanty where water could be heated on our second stove.

Although Mondays were wash days, this is a misstatement. We washed clothes every day. After Pa and my brothers returned from work and finished bathing, they emptied the tub and then threw in all their dirty work-clothes fresh water and Lye soap. The clothes were left to soak over night. Anyone and everyone, kids included were invited to swish the heavy mixture with a broom stick should he enter the shanty--which we did periodically. It helped loosen the dirt!

The next morning, the work clothes too heavy to handle on the scrubbing board, were removed one by one to the scrubbing table. There was a scramble almost every morning and a chorus of voices, ''Let me do it." " No me I was here first". we all loved to help grandmother and as kids we thought it was great fun until we grew up and learned otherwise.

Grandmother then scrubbed each piece with a scrub brush and more lye soap--with some help, of course! Most times she preferred to keep us busy with the smaller scrub board--scrubbing socks, and the additional pieces of flannel clothe the men used to wrap their feet before sliding into their work boots. The men stood all day long and the mines were damp and cold. The additional flannel was a must. Other lighter items as underwear were also washed on the scrubbing board.

When cleaned to her satisfaction, the work clothes were rinsed in a boiler of clean water. From there they found their way to the clothes lines which stretched across our long back yard.

Even rinse water was recycled. If not too dirty, some of it was saved to soak the next load of clothes. We also used rinse water for cleaning the shanty's wooden floors.

Yes, Mondays were wash days but only in the sense that this was the day set aside for washing bed clothes, towels and our own aprons, dresses and underwear. White clothes and sheets were placed in a copper boiler on the stove. The water was heated and store bought soap was added. The clothes were agitated with a shortened broom stick.

Tuesdays were set aside for ironing. We didn't have an ironing board. Grandmother would first cover the top of a table with several sheets and secure them with pins. She would then iron our dresses-- no, not with an electric Iron. She would surely have considered any such convenience a miracle. There was no electricity! Irons, of which we had three were heated on top of the stove and changed as they cooled.

Sometimes during the course of our work we were lucky enough to garner Grandmother's Individual and undivided attention. There were times when I thought I detected a hint of sadness in those clear blue eyes.

I asked her,"Do you miss Grandfather now that he has returned to Poland?"

''Yes, I will always miss him--but he is fine. He is with his brothers and his sister. They are taking good care of him". She paused and then continued "He is happy. And I am happy."

Then she looked at me, smiled and said, "Before grandfather left I talked to God and he said I should stay here with you.

Like the prophets of old, -no one In our family ever doubted Grandmother's close alliance with the Lord. She was a Saint in our eyes; and I'm sure she's in heaven still looking after us. Sometimes, I close my eyes and I can still see and hear her.