Ode to a Wringer Washer

genuine Kenmore wringer on tub

Genuine Kenmore Wringer on Tub

The second-most-viewed post on my site. I cannot figure this, but have loved seeing nearly every week, someone else coming to read this.

Have fun.

My gramma had a laundry wringer. And for a while, so did my mom. I always loved these machines that squeezed the water out of clothing so graphically and intriguingly.

click to view water running off

Click to View Water Running Off

Back then, washing used only one load of soapy water, beginning clean, with white clothing, and proceeded to gradually dirtier and darker clothing and water, until the last thing washed was the dingy dungarees worn to protect the good clothing from animal chores.

no longer dripping

No Longer Dripping

After washing came rinsing, or some said, “wrenching,” which surely they thought referred to the old way of removing extra water, by hand wringing, making the arms and hands feel nearly wrenched out of socket. My gramma put bluing in rinse water to make whites look whiter. I never could understand this substance, bluer than a computer screen, that made things white.

Gramma used homemade soap on clothes. I mean: natural lye made from last winter’s wood ash combined with natural trimmings from natural meat, and yes, she made it herself, on the wood stove in her woodshed, and stacked it everywhere in there to cure. Then she grated it for flakes. It all smelled so fresh and good.

To this day, aroma from homemade soap makes me think of birds calling and locusts scritching combined with comfy sloshy sounds of laundry done during warm laundry days. And my gramma’s voice explaining . . .

The washer, and its accompanying rinse tubs on platforms, rolled creaking out onto the bumpy concrete porch around Gramma’s woodshed. A hose ran first to fill rinse tubs, and later to empty them onto the enormous strawberry patch.

Only large pots of scalding water went into the washer, itself, and yes, heated on that wood stove. All the concrete porches got a scrub-down with used laundry water splashed on, pure and natural.

There were manual and electric versions of the wringer. My gramma had the kind she had to crank and disdained the electric, which could swallow up an arm or break off buttons. She fished clothes out with a stick; the water was that hot. My auntie had one and I didn’t like the noise of it. Besides, cranking the wringer was an honored chore because you had to be old enough to reach and strong enough turn it without let-up.

The wringer and its tray were rotatable to provide also for two tubs of rinse water. Every article of clothing went through the agitation in soapy water, wringing, pouring and dribbling, to kerplunk into the first rinse, and then into the second, before finally being wrung into a laundry basket for hanging on the line.

It seems like so much work, and it was. No wonder laundering was an event with its own day set aside. Imagine dragging all that production outdoors on a daily basis for just one load! Yet, all this was such an improvement over lugging all the laundry to a stream, or boiling it in a huge pot over an open fire.

Yes, it was good, honest work, but that woodshed and that porch were my gramma’s gym and she stayed fit, even into old age. And although she belonged to a gene pool that proved a tendency to plumpness, she always remained trim.

Unlike me.