Monday, 8 December 2008

To Mothers everywhere.


Since I began blogging several of those on my Blog List have lost a parent. I know, in the general scheme of things, we grow up aware that our parents are not going to be around for ever, but that doesn't make it any easier when it is time for them to leave us.

As I put my dirty linen into the machine this morniing I thought about my own mother and about the easy life I have compared to hers. And I am sure that during her lifetime she would have had similar thoughts about her own mother. The stresses and strains of modern living for us are very different and in many cases lead to the kind of busy life that our parents would never even have dreamt of. But in terms of sheer hard, physical work we are a favoured generation - we might choose to work hard on the garden, the decorating, but we rarely HAVE to do it.

Nowhere is this hard graft more evident than on Washing Day. Whereas I put my linen into an automatic machine, switch it on and go away to do something else - here is an outline of my mother's washing day in the 1940's in the very rural fens of Lincolnshire.

7am. Fetch buckets of water, two at a time for balance, from the stand pipe in the village street (we had no water laid on to our house). Father had already left for work. When I was old enough I would sometimes get the water for her while she did the next job. 7.30am. Light the fire under the copper.

Washing would be sorted, starch and "blue" mixed and various dolly-tubs, wash-tubs, dolly pegs, rubbing boards etc. would be got out ready. Once the water in the copper boiled she would be away.

Materials were not the easy care of today - shirts were often twill or even flannel which took a lot of washing and drying. Father had a clean starched loose collar every morning and a clean starched white handkerchief. Large items like towels and sheets would be folded and put through a huge wooden mangle to make them easier to iron. Then the whole lot would be carted down to the lawn and hung out to dry. If it was poor weather there would be the extra chore of lighting the fire in the wash-house and stringing the clothes across for drying.

When water has to be carried you soon learn not to waste it - so the end of washday would see the scrubbing of wash-house and kitchen floors. Then there would be the ironing. With only gas lighting there was no electricity so ironing was done using a flat iron heated on a trivet over the fire.

My mother lived long enough to have a "twin-tub" washing machine. It was her pride and joy and was treated like a major domestic god. David's mother lived long enough to have an automatic but for a long time refused to use it as she thought it wasted good water!

In the time it has taken me to scan the photograph and put this on my blog, my washing has finished. Most of it is easy-care, non-iron. The Aga in the kitchen ensures that it will be ready to put back in the drawers by tea-time.

So this post is a salute to all mothers and to their mothers before them. It is not so long ago - certainly within the memory of David's grandmother - that women in this village in The Dales washed their clothes in the beck, Oh how times have changed.

I am just off to make myself a coffee and read a chapter of my book. Another reminder of my mother. If I had picked up a book during the morning my mother would have said "Haven't you anything to do?" - does that strike a chord with you?

If you are interested the people in my photograph as as follows:-

Top left: Maternal grandparents. Top right: Paternal grandparents.
Centre right: Mother and Father.
Bottom: My sister on her wedding day. My Brother with his bike. Me and my mum.

30 comments:

Rachel Fox said...

I remember watching the women doing the laundry on one of those reenacted history TV shows (Victorian house, I think). I learned more from that than I did from the few history lessons I had at school. So slow, so hot, so horrible!
x

The Solitary Walker said...

I did enjoy reading this. Wonderful piece, Weaver!

Saying this rather belatedly, but I do like your new site design by the way.

Gramma Ann said...

I think we all think of our parents and grandparents and the laundry day labors, compared to our day. I enjoyed your reminiscence of your parents and grandparents.

My sister and I wrote a little about my mothers laundry day chores a few months ago on the "Moody Blues" blog. Can't remember the date, if I find it I will let you know.

It is somewhat like yours but also different. It was my sisters memories compared to what I remembered. She was 14 years older than me.

Gramma Ann said...

Update: My memories of laundry day were Sept 8, 2008 and my sister Margy's memories are on Sept 9, 2008.

Elizabeth said...

You are so very right.
The amount of work an ordinary woman was expected to do was quite extraordinary.
In parts of Africa to this day, women spend so much time getting water and on everyday tasks.
A dishwasher is such a blessing.
We should remember to be grateful for all our modern conveniences.

Mad Bush Farm Crew said...

My mother told me a story of how when she was a little girl growing up on her parents orchard of her mother boiling up the copper to do the washing. My Nana lived until the early 1980's and I remember her telling me of having to get out the scrubbing board when she was just five and helping her mother and four sisters do the family washing then waiting for hours in winter for the sheets to dry.

What a wonderful memory Weaver.And the photo album has made your post all the more memorable.

Thanks for sharing
Liz

Reader Wil said...

What a fascinating piece of history. I remember that my mum had a servant in Indonesia to do the laundry. We got clean clothes every day, how spoilt we were. This we noticed when we were interned in the concentration camp, where we had to share water with 30 other prisoners. The tap was running for one hour and we tried to collect that in a container. We had to clean ourselves and clothes, which was almost impossible. When we came to live in The Netherlands we had to do the laundry in a tub outside near the kitchen, but standing in the snow. Lateron we boiled the white wash and rinsed it in a large tub in the bathroom. My mum was very happy with her first washing machine.

Teresa said...

Hi Weaver,
Such a fascinating post. I find it hard to believe now - I'm "only" 50, but I remember helping my Mum with laundry as a young girl - and she boiled cottons and such in a large copper. I thought it was fun to feed the laundry through the wringer! As you noted, there followed hours of ironing. I remember ironing things you'd never think of ironing today: bed linens, tablecloths, and even underwear for the men in the family! Seems like eons ago, but was really not that long ago at all. Loved the photos of your family.

P.S. I was born and raised in Nottingham.

The Weaver of Grass said...

So all the things you say and more Rachel.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Thank you and thank you Sol Wal.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Yes - the memories are better than the events Gramma ann - we get rose tinted spectacles on when we look back, don't we?

The Weaver of Grass said...

Elizabeth - I agree dishwashers also transformed our lives - I remember how awful it was doing the washing up before detergent was invented - when we had to add soda crystals to the water to kill the grease.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Mad bush - someone advised me years ago to treasure old photos and collect them together like I have done - the next generation may not know who they are otherwise. So many old photos end up in tins with no record of who or where - they might as well be thrown away - we owe it to our children to detail as much as we can, don't you agree?

The Weaver of Grass said...

Reader wil - your memories are of much more privation than I have ever known but I am sure those memories make you even more grateful for the mod cons we all have now.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Those were the days Teresa. I was brought up in Lincoln and we used to go into Nottingham to do our shopping sometimes. I still have relatives in that area.

acornmoon said...

Despite the fact that labour was much more intensive, people looked much smarter in our grandparents days.I wonder what our great grandmothers would have made of our attire, our jogging bottoms, jeans, tee shirts and sweatshirts?

Annie Wicking said...

What a wonderful posting, Weaver!
I love your old photogarphs too.

I remember my mother putting the washing through the old mangle in the yard out the back of the house. We even had an outside loo and a tin bath in the kitchen.

Like Rachel, I watched the programme called the 1900 house.

willow said...

I enjoyed looking at your wonderful vintage family pix! And it's easy to see that is a little you!

I am so terribly spoiled with my new front loading washer and dryer set. I wish I would have had them when my kids were all at home.

Frances said...

Hello to you from New York, having arrived here with the roadmap given me by Elizabeth, who I see has already left a comment here.

Yes, every generation, or half-generation of femaledom does have the pluses and minuses of the passing of time.

I have no dishwasher other than my own hands. The laundry machines are in the basement of this apartment building. (I remember hanging laundry on a line in the back yard of my Virginia family home, and watching sheets freeze to stiffness in the December chill.) I wish that I could have my laundry exposed to that same cleaner fresh air.

Could go on, but since this is my first visit, will refrain.

See you again soon.

Debra (a/k/a Doris, Mimi) said...

This is a very interesting post. How do you come up with all your interesting topics? In addition to Weaver of Grass, I would call you Weaver of Stories.

When I was a young girl my grandmother used a wringer washer machine. She had no electric dryer so clothes were carefully hung outdoors on the line until dry. Even in the cold of winter. We have all the modern conveniences. I wonder what advancements our grandchildren will have that will remind them about how antiquated and difficult our lives were.

Love the holly berry header. It is holly, isn't it?

Mad Bush Farm Crew said...

Hi Weaver just read your reply. Yes absolutely I agree. I've been rescuing photos my mum has thrown out and keeping them safe for my three girls. I'm digitising lots of old photos as you know and not just for my family. If we don't preserve our precious photos then we can lose something we can't replace. I have really treasured this post and just love the images you have there of your family.

elizabethm said...

Hi Weaver. I am frances's friend - I see you have another Elizabeth! My mother's wedding present from my dad was an automatic washing machine but my grandmother washed just as you describe. I used to love helping her put things through the mangle. I often think about how easy our lives are now. Even the hardest I have here working inside and out, digging, washing, ironing, cleaning out chickens, would have been a rest day to our grandparents' generation. Fascinating post.

Poetikat said...

My father passed away 3 weeks ago and your post made me think of his responsibilities as a young child and youth. As a boy, he worked in a linen mill in Belfast and at age 14 1/2 he joined the British Army.
As a child, I went to school and watched afternoon t.v., as a youth, I went to birthday parties and rock concerts. How different our experiences were!

Like Rachel, I viewed (I believe it was the 1900 House) and was astonished at the laundry they had to do by hand - running it through the old wringer-washer (my grandmother in Nova Scotia had one, I recall). Of course, we balked at having to throw laundry in the washing machine and put it in the dryer! How I'd moan if I had to iron anything. (I don't do that at all now.)

You must discern that I found your post very thought-provoking indeed. (I came by way of Dave King, by the way).

I'll be back!

Kat Mortensen

Poet in Residence said...

How well I remember the steamed-up kitchen. My turning the handle, wondering about those sheets and shirts coming through the slot so flat, and mum giving instructions from time to time. Other stuff bubbling away in the boiler in a kind of grey watery sludge. The room smelling of Lux soapflakes and Rinso. Carbolic soap.

The Weaver of Grass said...

I agree about smartness acornmoon - everything was ironed in those days - even the socks and dusters!

The Weaver of Grass said...

Thanks to all of your for your comments and welcome to the two new visitors - hope you will call again.

Heather said...

Oh Weaver - what a lovely post and how I agree with you. My parents never had much cash so lived quite frugally but my mother didn't have too hard a time of things. However, Granny had six children to rear and moved to the country in 1916 from Essex. I think in some ways life was easier as she could grow fruit and vegs., but that in itself made more work for her. It was a life which suited her and she kept goats and chickens until she was in her 70s. We are not made in the same mould. Granny was my role model but I feel I fall far short.

patteran said...

So resonant, Pat. A wonderful read. Its details would have been familiar to my mother from the accounts of her maternal grandmother. Thanks for this.

thousandflower said...

Great minds think alike. After reading your comment on my Wash Day post I looked up yours. Must be a cleaning up for the Holidays mood that has us thinking about washing.

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