Another Washpot Tale
by Frances Willess
I just read your article about wash pots on your web page, and it reminded me of a conversation I had with my brother-in-law a few days ago. We were discussing wash days, and he lived in the country and his grandmother used lye soap. We lived in town, so my mother shaved chips off bars of P&G Laundry Soap. Gosh, that soap smelled bad. She also took clothes from the wash pot to the wash tub to the rinse water to the starch. I don't remember her using bluing. All wringing was done by hand, and if she ran out of clothesline for our family of six, some things were spread on bushes, etc.
My brother-in-law's grandmother had it made. She had a hand operated wringer she used on her laundry. I was about 5 or 6 in 1935/36 when my mother got a washing machine. Personally, I loved wash day, playing around the wash pot and having my mother outside with me. I could not understand why she was so excited about getting a washer. It was the first of two times I saw my mother cry. I wondered why, when she said she was so happy. I decided it was because the mottled grey enamel on the washer was so ugly. When we discussed it the other day, my sister thought that washer was a pretty blue, but she could not remember our mother washing on a rub board, either. My mother used that washer until she died in 1951. About five years before her death we moved into a house with a hot water heater, and a bathroom (converted from the back porch) big enough to put the washer in the house so she did not have to carry water so far. What wonderful convenience!
I have such vivid memories of washday, and my sister two years older doesn't remember it at all. I don't know if I told you about the year we lived in the country when I was 4 years old. We had a well with a pump on a big concrete platform, so my mother put her tubs beside the well. Daddy brought home three turkey eggs. Two of them hatched, but one of them fell in the slop bucket when he was little and drowned. (And I'll bet your family also had a slop bucket outside the kitchen door where you mother put all the scraps to feed the chickens.)
The other grew to be a giant, and for some reason he took a dislike to me. I know I never did anything to hurt him, so maybe he could smell my fear. He didn't bother anybody else except my grandmother. She would not get out of the car until somebody brought a stick to keep the turkey away while she got in the house. That dadgum bird would spread his feathers and start at us at a hard run, and he was probably twice my size. I was always very small. If I didn't have time to reach the house I would make a bee line for that platform at the well. I could barely crawl up on it, it was so high, but it saved me from that turkey many a time. So when my mother was washing I spent the day on that platform safely away from the killer turkey. I could not wait for Thanksgiving so I could eat that monster.
A few weeks before Thanksgiving we moved back to town, and I'm not sure what Daddy did with the turkey then, because he didn't come to town with us. But he was so big that Daddy sold him to the cafe where he worked, and he dressed out at 25 pounds. That was approximately what I weighed when I started school. Daddy got a smaller turkey for our dinner, and it didn't taste near as good as my enemy would have.
But on wash days I stood on that platform and was queen of all I surveyed. I remember more about my feeling of safety from the turkey than I do the details of laundry at that time. But I do have clear memories of the day my mother was hanging out clothes. She had an apron type bag she put her clothes pins in, but would take out several at a time and stick the extras in her mouth. One day she put one in her mouth and bit into a worm. My mother was not afraid to face a rattlesnake, but she was terrified of worms. She spent the rest of the day trying to get that worm taste out of her mouth, but it stayed with her.
It's funny we only lived there for a year, but all us kids had such vivid memories of our year in the country. I would have stayed there happily except for the fact we didn't have a radio, and I was so glad to get back to town so I could listen to "Red Sails in the Sunset."
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