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Mama's fed up with Blue Mondays

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By W.B. Evans

I guess it was a Monday when the lady of the cave decided it was time to wash out the family hides.

Years ago, it was called “Blue Monday,” not because washing clothes without a washing machine was depressing, but because of a bluing agent used in the rising water.

Blue Monday still lingers in some households, but the advent of modern washers and dryers has made every day a potential wash day.

Well, it wasn’t always that way.

When I was a small boy, Mama didn’t have a washing machine, not even the old wringer kind.

At most of the homes along Chesterfield Avenue, Monday mornings were busy times.

Wash day started early.

My standing orders included having a kindling pile at the ready to start the fire beneath our big black iron wash pot.

But there was one part of Blue Monday I never understood. For some reason which seemed foolish, the washing part was done some distance from the outside spigot.  I guess this goes back to an earlier time when water had to be carried by bucket from the spring or well.

I could never figure out why we never thought about hooking up the hose pipe and having all the water we needed without filling up all the buckets and hauling them to the wash pot.

I know progress and good ideas come slow, that one took more than 70  years to master.

Now, once the wash pot was filled and the fire heated the water to a boiling point, our dirty cloths were sorted by color to prevent fading.

We used Octagon soap on the wash boards and Rinso in the pot.

Several wash tubs were set up on wooden tables for rinsing.

A smaller tub was filled with hot water before a box of Argo Starch was dumped in.

White shirts, blouses, and tablecloths, napkins and such were always dipped in the starch tub before the excess water and starch were wrung out.

Finally, they were hung up on a long clothesline that stretched across our back yard to swing, sway and dry in the sun.

One time, Daddy’s underwear got mistakenly tossed in the starch pot. Mama caught the snafu before they hit the ironing pile. I guess that’s where all the jokes came from about starched underwear.

This time of year, there was extra stuff to clean ’cause Mama took down all of the organdy curtains. They were washed, starched and put on curtain stretchers.

Those curtain stretchers were dangerous, wooden frames lined with sharp nails all around. The wet starched curtains were stretched over the frames to dry. Only the frills needed to be ironed.

We were one of the lucky families. Thank heavens, we had been blessed with an electric iron. Some folks still had irons that had to be heated by an open fire.

Since Mama and Daddy passed away long ago, I’ll let you in on a story that wasn’t funny to them, but sure made me laugh.

Daddy’s re-election campaign for sheriff was pretty heated one summer. Everybody who was running made it a point to “politick” and press the flesh. It so happened that Mama saw an advertisement for a wringer-type washing machine in The Lancaster News.

She made up her mind that it was time to move into the modern age. Mama had her fill of wash pots and hauling water.

Daddy, realist he was, knew his days of stalling were over, too. Her words stung him hard.

“If I don’t get a washing machine in the next day or two, you can do all your lodging with Mr. Oscar Adams at the county jail,” she said.

Boy, that was clear and to the point, I thought. And from the look of surrender on Daddy’s face, he understood Mama meant business.

But stumping is stumping. And there was this unspoken rule that a fella running for office had to do some shopping from some country stores.

Well, it just so happened that right after Mama laid down the washing machine law to Daddy, the good sheriff saw fit to buy a new washboard from a country store (“it was a good price,” he said).

He brought it home to his bride, but she was not impressed or amused.

No, sir, that washboard didn’t sit well with Mama at all. 

Daddy was always deliberate, but this was one time he bowed to political pressure and didn’t think things out. Blue Monday was about to become a week-long affair. I was smart enough to stay out of it, too.

Lucky for Daddy, it didn’t take him too long to remedy the situation.

In fact, it was squared away within a few hours.

I don’t know what went with the washboard, but to make a long story short, somebody on Chesterfield Avenue got a newfangled washing machine early the next morning. 

You know, I think Daddy started a trend. In no time at all, a lot of folks up and down our street were getting ’em, too.

But there was still plenty of damp clothes to pin to the line in the back yard or around the pot-bellied coal heater.

Yep, those were the good old days. 

Well, maybe not.

I gotta go. The buzzer just sounded on the dryer.