Ironing Flutterbys

I did laundry this weekend.  Considering that the towels from the church luncheon last Sunday were still waiting in the dryer, and we have had a heat wave, the laundry really piled up in a week. 
I put all our bedding through both machines, then washed 5 loads of other stuff.  Three got hung on the line outside, and two went into the dryer.  I do like how soft the towels get with the dryer.  I hate making the bed, but it sure does smell better.

When I was doing the ironing awhile ago, I remembered how on hot summer evenings like this one when my Grandma would do the ironing on the back porch.  She had pulled the bottom corner of the screen loose and run an extension cord out for the iron.
She’d take the clothes, nice and dry and straight off the line, then sprinkle them and roll them up and put into the bushel basket that had a cloth liner fitted into it.
Then she would sit on a step stool, take those clothes back up and iron them before putting them on hangers.  Even though I was so young, I thought it was dumb to let them get dry, then re-wet them to do the ironing. 

Nowadays, I take Husband’s work shirts, and my two pair of dress shorts straight off the line and iron them.  There have been times when I just shrug and put them right into the closet, but they do look better after they have been ironed.

Ironing is one of those mindless tasks when the hands do something they’ve done thousands of times before, so the brain allows memories to come flitting in like butterflies in a meadow.  This evening, the scene that played out was more like a tidal wave of conflicting emotions, and every detail overlapped so fast that I couldn’t breathe for several seconds. 
Wonder what the differences are…….

When I was a little girl, doing laundry meant a wringer washer and galvanized steel tubs to do the rinses. 
I remember my mom, my dad, my friend Irene’s mom, my grandma, my Aunt Sylvia, each and all, at various times working the wringer in their basements. 
And being told to never touch it, it was Dangerous.

That didn’t stop me at about age 5 when I decided to help Mommy.  Mom had gone around the wall of the basement to where my younger sister was sitting on the potty.  The washer was not swishing around, Mom had stopped while in the middle of putting clothes through the wringer.  I fished around with the old wooden spoon she used for just that purpose and brought up a bit of cloth.  I pulled on the handle to start the wringer and fed the corner in.  I didn’t let go of the towel (I still remember that it was a dishtowel) and so my small child’s hand went on through clear up to my elbow. 

The wringer started groaning in protest, and I began screaming in pain.  Mom came running back into the laundry room carrying my sister whose pants were around her ankles.  I don’t know if her bottom ever got properly wiped.

Just as Mom got to the machine, the wringer did a LOUD Screech and stopped.  Mom reached up and pulled the plug from the outlet, then turned to me.  There was supposed to be some sort of safety which would work if the rollers of the wringer were forced apart too far, and that is what had made the noise and stopped the turning.

Mom pulled the wringer apart as far as it would go, yelling for Dad to get down to the basement and help with one or the other of us girls.  My sister, having been set down rather quickly, had lost her balance, what with her britches twisted around her feet, and had fallen over and bumped her head on the bench.

I’m thinking Dad had been sleeping on the couch, he worked shifts at the mill, so it is hard to say.  He came thundering down the steps, took a look at the scene, and must have decided on me with an arm caught rather than younger and half-naked daughter with a bump on her head.

He calmly told me that he was going to pull up the wringer, and I should quickly get my arm out.  I pulled away from the wringer and he set it back slowly, making sure it returned to its gears. My arm felt like it had gone to sleep, and was now tingling like it was coming awake again.
Then he took me to the steps, told me to sit on one, and proceeded to hold onto my arm and make me bend it every which way.  Came to the conclusion that it wasn’t broken, only bruised.  Then he went into the other part of the basement, took a diaper off the clothesline, folded it into a triangle and fashioned a sling for my arm.

Meanwhile, Mom had gotten my sister dressed, and had taken a washcloth off the clothesline and run the water really cold over it, and was putting it on her head.  She parked my sister next to me on the steps and told me to hold the cloth on her head with my good hand.  Then she and dad went to check the washer.  He got everything back into place, then he plugged it back in the outlet, pulled all its knobs and handles, and figured it would be fine.
Mom went on with the washer and wringer and rinse tubs as if nothing had happened.

Dad came over to the steps, took the cloth out of my hand, checked her head, tossed the cloth into the washer where mom was fishing stuff ‘out’.  She flung water at him with the wooden spoon.  He ducked, laughing.  Two little girls sitting there miserable, and he laughed at water on his glasses.

He turned to me, told me to stand up and go on upstairs.  Then he picked up my sister and carried her up.  We got some milk and Ritz crackers in the kitchen.

I wore that sling for a couple days, then Dad took it away when he caught me smacking my sister with my injured hand.  He diagnosed that I was now recovered.

It wasn’t until years later, when I was a mom myself that I understood that when my Mom flung water from the end of the spoon at the guy who had hurried to her assistance, well,  that was her way of saying “Thanks for the help, old man.” 
She never was very physically loving or sweet.  Life in our family was more like crisis intervention rather than planned situations.  Maybe a story for another day. 
~~love and Huggs, Diane

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9 Responses to Ironing Flutterbys

  1. caroline says:

    i love reading your stories…they are told so nice and so detailed. keep up the great work!

  2. Stephanie says:

    I don’t care what any college teacher says. I think you write beautifully…

  3. Brenda says:

    I don’t remember that incident but I remember your grandma using those old wringer washers up on Belmont St. Your Aunt Lola and I would sit on the steps and watch her on Saturday morning cut soap from a bar of Fels-naptha soap and procede to scrub clothes on a board. She would do the whites first while the water was nice and hot and then she would procede to the colored ones and then the dark ones and then the rugs. Oh what memories you bring back. Many of those Saturday mornings your Grandma would have gotten up at the crack of dawn and bread would be in the oven by the time she started on the waching. If we were especially lucky,we could persuade her to fry some of the dough for what we called fry-bread. They were the best sugar doughnuts in the world. That was when we were POOR.

  4. Brenda says:

    Here is another one.
    Your Aunt Sara was the designated ironer in your grandma’s house for many years, during the 50’s, after your mom got married and before Lola was old enough to do that task. Anyway, in the summer time it would be very hot and Grandma insisted that the ironing be done on Monday or Tuesday while she was at work. Your Aunt Sara, being a teen-ager, would turn the radio up very loud, put on her shortest, short shorts, tie her sleeveless blouse up as high as she could on her middle and iron away. In those days we wore a lot of cotton because permanent press hadn’t been invented. Your grandma also insisted that everything from sheets to tea towels had to be pressed. By the end of the afternoon, everything in the basket would be hanging wrinkle free on hangers or stacked high in neat piles. That whole time Sara would be singing away with the radio. I still have one of the sprinkling heads that we would put into a coke bottle and sprinkle clothes in a drawer down stairs. Now I don’t iron much unless I am sewing but I still remember the smells of clean laundry and white cotton shirts.

  5. Evelyn says:

    Brings back memories of “Olden” wash days.
    Thanks! Little did I dream that I would have an
    energy-saver, front load, spin “almost” dry
    washer AND a spiffy stainless steel dryer
    one day. How lucky can you get?

  6. momma says:

    What memories that brought flying back. In the winter we would hang the clothes on the line and they would freeze as we were pushing the clothespins in. I used to marvel at how something frozen in winter could dry. Dry they did but my hands would sting for a good while after.

    Our galvinished tub was also our bath tub. I remember the lever on top of the wringer on the washer and Mom explaining what to do if something got wrap around the wringer and wasn’t coming out the other side.

    It was my brother Bob who ran his arm up to his elbow in our wringer. I don’t remember exactly what happened, only that he carried scars of two incisions where Dr. put a tube in his arm until he was killed in an accident in 1978.

    Sprinkler bottles, rolled clothes, standing at that ironing board,and taking what seemed like hours to empty that bushel basket because Mom said the ironing was my job. Today setting up the board is the hardest part for me. But I have to admit when I do see the results I have to smile a little because I know that some people couldn’t iron a shirt if their life depended on it.

    Thanks again Diane for jogging this old brain!

  7. Cindy says:

    What a lot of excitement! I’m glad that your arm wasn’t hurt – nor your mentality. It could have been a hurtful, dramatic moment and story, but how you told it it was from a relationship point of view. Nicely done. The way you describe everything, I could picture everything in my mind and could see you and your sister sitting on the stairs, the wooden spoon, the pants around your sisters ankles…everything.

    Thank you for sharing! 🙂

  8. Tempe Berestoff says:

    I too remember your grandma doing the washing. She was so particular that she soaked the clothes overnight before washing them. They went into the galvanized tub in reverse order so that the most soiled dark clothes were on the bottom and then the lighter, cleaner ones on top. The water in the washer didn’t get changed so the lights went in first and the dark jeans last. By the end of the washing the water was almost muddy.
    Our mother didn’t want us to be messing with a wringer washer so she bought an Easy Spin Dryer. It had the washing part that washed the clothes and beside it was a narrow tub that we put the clothes in to spin out the water. That way it didn’t take so long to dry the clothes on the line, either in the basement or outside in the summer time.
    My mother next bought a washer that had a hose that would pump the water out and save it into another tub to be used again. We had both the washer and the tub to hold the water in our kitchen. That was the first step up to being modern. We never did get a dryer. I didn’t get a dryer until I moved to Alaska. I thought it was heaven. That was 1966.
    When your grandma baked bread, Brenda and I wanted to eat it. Of course Sara and Lola wanted the store bought bread that was in our house. My mother didn’t have time to bake bread but we surely loved your grandma’s.
    Love your stories.

  9. Doris says:

    Almost makes me want to take up ironing! Seriously though, what a situation. If it had been today, we’d be down at the hospital getting it all checked out and getting someone in a white coat to say all was OK instead of making that decision ourselves.

    Sounded very scary. Little you with your arm caught up. Terrifying.