Saturday, April 16, 2016

Passing On What My Grandmother Knew

First, let me say that I am NOT a prepper. I was raised by folks who grew up or came of age during the Great Depression. I'm thankful for this because I learned skills that "preppers" are hawking. What this means for me, is that when an appliance goes on the fritz, or I find myself running out of Tide, or the electricity is out for an extended period of time, (or the frequent water outages in Barwick,) my life doesn't screech to a halt.
Like today. My son's sheets needed washing, but my washing machine is not only being used by my husband, but it's badly in need of service because the drum is out of balance and won't spin clothes dry properly. This has been the bane of my existence. To make matters worse, my dryer isn't heating properly and my clothes aren't getting dry. As you may know, we live waaay out of town in a tiny rural municipality of somewhere around 300 people and pets, so a drive to a laundromat would be a bigger hassle than fighting 15 hours to get one load of clothes washed and dried.
I'm in the process of remodeling my laundry room. I had purchased accessories that I knew I would need. Among them, a washtub. (Really it's to hold ice and beer at picnics and barbeques and it has a bottle opener on the side, but it's the perfect size for my purposes.) So, I decided today was a perfect day for a history lesson for my son.
Calling him into the laundry room with promises to teach him something cool, I sprinkled a healthy portion of homemade laundry powder (that I made to presoak his baseball pants) into the wash tub that I had sitting on the worktable. I had him fill a clean mop bucket with hot water from the bath tub and haul it in for me. He dutifully filled the washtub. Then I added his dirty bed sheets and let it sit for a moment while I hunted a dowel.
When I returned, I explained to him how the agitator worked in the washing machine. We discussed osmosis and its role in washing clothes. I showed him how to used the dowel to agitate the laundry and explained to him that the whole purpose was to run the soapy solution through the fabric. As the water got dirtier, he marveled at how quickly his sheets came clean. Completely engaged, he took over the stirring as I told him about home made tools and store bought tools that could be used for that purpose. He asked whether we could make a stirrer for future laundry endeavors. I told him we could.
When the time came to rinse, I had him fill the bucket halfway with hot water and haul it into the laundry room while I wrung the hot, soapy water out of the sheets. After he set the bucket on the worktable beside the washtub, I dropped the sheets in and the agitation started once more. My son was an old hand by this point and only needed minor direction. In short order, his sheets were rinsed clean. He marveled over how different it smelled from its regular laundering, fresher than he was used to.
He wrung out the water while I gathered clothespins and a Clorox wipe. Curious about the wipe, he followed me out to our clothesline. Once I wiped the dirt and dust from the clothesline, he understood. Together we gave the sheets one last good wringing before I unrolled them, snapped them smartly a few times to shake loose any excess water and hung them on the clothesline.
I explained to him that this was only a tiny load. In my great-great-grandparents' day the entire household's laundry had been washed in this manner. One entire day each week had been set aside for washing everyone's clothes, towels, sheets, tablecloths...everything! It was usually done outside, with water boiling on a fire and buckets handy, with washtubs, washboards, wringers if they were lucky, and shavings of homemade lye soap and washing powder. My great-grandparents had been able to afford a hand-cranked washing machine with the wringer attached. My grandmother had been able to afford an electric one. When I was a child, they still had washtubs, washboards, and that old machine in their garage.
Today you can find modern versions of those old appliances at places like Lehman's and Amazon. I may invest in a washboard and use it as a decoration in my laundry room...until I need to use it, that is.
As many times as I have tried to get him to do his own laundry, today was the first time that he actually enjoyed it and was eager to do his part. He got quite a history and science lesson in the process. Sometimes I like to do things the way my grandparents did just to teach my kids that there is more to the world than their electronics and video games, and to hopefully equip them for a life independent of technology.
I've never been without modern conveniences for very long, but when I find myself without them, I'm never at a loss what to do to be comfortable. Living in this century old house in the country, it makes me feel connected to the past and to my own ancestors to do things their way. It also makes me feel -- I don't know -- more independent to know that modern technology makes my life more convenient, but that I can function quite comfortably without it if I have to. If I can pass on that sense of independence to my children, so much the better.

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