Remembering “The Life of Riley”
Wash Day A Century Ago…
You 21st century people live a different life than the one I lived as a youngster in the early 1900s. Take Washing Day, for instance. These days you just toss your dirty clothes into a washing machine, press a few switches, and it’s done.
I remember scratching around to find a few pieces of wood to fire the copper for Mum. Sometimes I’d find a broken wooden fruit box that I’d split with a tommyhawk. Sometimes I’d gather some twigs and dead branches, and use them for firewood.
When the water in the copper began to boil, Mum would add a cupful of soap chips, and throw in a cube of Reckitt’s Blue wrapped in a muslin bag to whiten the clothes. Then she put in all the dirty clothes, first rubbing out the stains with a bar of Sunlight soap. She used a corrugated washing board for that. .
Some time later, when the fire had gone out, Mum would haul the clothes, dripping wet, out of the hot water with a strong wooden copperstick, and that was jolly hard work. The clothes weighed a lot more sopping wet than when they were dry.
Then she would feed the wet washing into a machine called a mangle. It had two large rollers with a narrow gap between them, and a big metal wheel that had to be turned by hand. That was my job – and it was real hard work for a small kid.
We hung the clothes out to dry on a line strung between two trees and held up with a prop made from a forked branch. Sometimes a crow or a magpie would leave a visiting card on a clean sheet, which would have to be washed again.
Mum used to starch the collars and cuffs of Dad’s shirts to make them stiff and neat. He was a big man, and she was proud of the way he looked in his Sunday best, with his freshly ironed shirt.
When we remember, we grow stronger…
(H/T Dorothea Johnson)