The title of this post is from a song that every child knew. On Monday we sang, “This is the way we wash our clothes. Wash our clothes. Wash our clothes. This is the way we wash our clothes. So early Monday morning.” Each day of the week had a different task to perform. And that was just the way things were done! There was a weekly routine and folks just followed it. That is always the way things had been done. On Monday, you washed.
Washing was a bigger deal during my childhood. We didn’t have a clothes dryer. No one on our street had one We had a clothes line. Although we called it a line, it was really four lines. Some families had wooden posts. We had a steel post that my father had made. He spray painted it every year-generally in the spring after he used a steel brush to scrap away the rust. The clothes line ran the length of our backyard. Every yard had a hedge of clothesline. We had a big clothes pin bag. It held a lot of pins. The pins were wooden and had a spring in the center so the clothes could be held securely to the line. There was nothing worse than wet clothes falling on the ground and getting dirty. That would mean the clothes had to be washed again and the whole week’s schedule would be off!
The washer was in our kitchen although a few families had theirs on their back porch. Ours was white. Every washer was white. Frequently, the washer would be loaded incorrectly and the washer would shudder across the kitchen. Even a child knew what to do for a shuddering washer. Turn it off. Call Mom! The clothes were separated following the strict guidelines that were passed down through the women of the family. Men were not expected to do laundry. That was women’s work.
When the cycle was done, the clothes were pulled from the washer one item at a time. They were vigorously shaken to get rid of wrinkles and placed in a large aluminum wash pan or a wicker basket. My neighborhood was mostly wash pans because they lasted longer. There was no fabric softener. There was soap and bleach. Then the next load was started.
The next part of the laundry was what I thought was most interesting. Laundry had to be hung in a certain way. Only public items such as sheets could be on the outside lines. Towels were ok on the outside and so were socks. Unmentionables (panties, step-ins, boxers) had to be in the middle. Even though everyone wore them, they could not be seen. That would be “common”. In other words, you couldn’t do that. And brassieres? Oh my goodness. They were never seen! Which is hilarious since all were white cotton and made by Playtex!!!! Or maybe Lovable. This generally meant that the one hanging out the clothes was standing between two lines of wet clothing!
When you had to get the clothes in, the secret clothing had to be removed first and folded into the basket. No peeking! Then the public laundry could be removed!
When it was raining, we had a wooden clothes dryer that we filled with clothes so they could air dry. A good mama knew exactly how to arrange clothing so it would dry quickly. In the winter, my mama put the wooden rack over the floor furnace to speed up the process. Then the whole house smelled clean and wonderful! Sometimes women would sneak in an extra load of clothes at night and they would hang out all night. But the same rules applied!!
One smell I will never forget is the smell of diapers flapping in the breeze and the smell of sunlight in my sheets. Heavenly!