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 Texas : Features : Columns : N. Ray Maxie :

Motherís Wash Day Monday on the Farm

by N. Ray Maxie
N. Ray Maxie
Throughout the years, on our family farm at least, sure as death and taxes, Mondays were always wash day. I do think many households across the land used Mondays as wash day. That weekly event was almost set in stone as the Ten Commandments and was pre-empted only by funerals and a rainy day.

Sometimes family wash day routines might vary a little, but usually Monday mornings on the Maxie farm in Cass County near McLeod, Texas, started something like this:

The old black, smoked cast-iron wash pot was set upright on three rocks with a wood fire started underneath it. Mother's wooden benches were arranged to hold four number three galvanized wash tubs, with a hand-cranked wringer mounted on the first tub, along with a regular metal rub-board. The wash pot and three other tubs were filled with fresh water drawn by hand from the nearby deep water well.

Mother brought from the back porch a laundry basket filled with important laundry supplies like a bag of wooden clothes pins, several bars of lye soap, a poke stick, a bottle of Mrs. Stewart's Bluing, a box of Faultless Starch and a starch pan. As the water was heating in the pot, bluing was added to the forth tub and the clothes line or wire fence was wiped clean with a damp rag.

Before long the pot water was hot and a portion of it was dipped into the first tub, then more dipped into the starch pan. A butcher knife was used to shave some slivers of lye soap into the first tub; making a mild mixture in the tub and a much stronger soap mixture was made in the wash pot.

Then dirty laundry was sorted, with soft into the pot and light whites into the tub. Badly soiled work clothes and rags were left until last to boil in the pot. Light whites were scrubbed on the rub-board before being put through the hand wringer and then rinsed. Pot items were stirred and poked until they came clean. In the end, all items had been stirred, poked, hand wrung and rinsed, and wrung again before being taken for hanging on the clothesline. Items for bluing went to the bluing tub and those needing starch were dipped in the starch pan.

Upon completing all the laborious laundry chores, the remaining rinse water was taken and poured on flowers and shrubs. The pot and tub of lye water was taken and poured on undesirable weeds, grass-burrs and bull nettles around the homestead.

After drying on the line by the afternoon sun and breeze, the clothes were gathered in and placed on the dining room table for sorting and folding. Work clothes were shaken out and hung on nails in the corner of the bedroom. The clean bed linen was placed back on the beds. Few families had any excess clothing or bed linen and most homes had no closet space. Most clothing was hung behind bedroom doors or placed in a bureau or perhaps put away in a crude wooden storage box until needed.

Now hold on, it's not over yet! All starched items were bundled into a bed sheet with all four corners tied into a bundle. An ironing board with two "steel flat irons" was standing nearby. Later in the day, each piece was spread on the ironing board, sprinkled with a water bottle and made into a tight, damp ball. All the starched, watered down, balled up items were then packed into a laundry basket with a damp towel placed over the top to help prevent water evaporation. That assured keeping them moist until each one could later be ironed.

Yes, Mondays were designated as wash days. And just as certain, Tuesdays were ironing day. Never in all my born days have I ever heard any practical reason why these days were so chosen and strictly adhered to, but that routine seldom ever varied on the Maxie farm.

© N. Ray Maxie
"Ramblin' Ray"
February 1, 2009 Column
piddlinacres@consolidated.net
Related Topics: Mothers | It's All Trew - Life in the Panhandle |
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