Pebbles again has access to the greater range of the side pasture. She has spent much of the last several days standing along the fence communicating with horses who live on the other side. When she realizes that we are out by her feeding area, she bounds across the dry snow-filled irrigation ditch and larrups up to her feed bin, neighing joyfully. This morning she was taking a rest in the winter sunshine while I hung sheets on the porch clothesline.
Bare trees along the ditch cast shadows on the snow.
Looking across the yard toward the highway with the foothills of the Wind River Mtns beyond.
It has been so very cold the past nights---way below zero F. I have put up the heavy lined curtains I made to keep the chill of the unheated back entry from leaching warmth from the living area. Frost has built up on the edges of the French door in the entry.
The chilly entry is not a place to linger, although a few geraniums, a struggling rosemary and a Christmas cactus seem to be thriving there.
I couldn't resist pegging the clean flannel sheets on the porch line today. The low sun slants onto the south end of the porch and all day the wind was still. I knew the sheets would only partially dry, but we like the smell of line-dried bedding. Twenty minutes in the dryer late this afternoon finished the process and made the house smell of cold snow and sun.
At my grandfather's farmhouse, the laundry was done once a week. There was a large galvanized electric washing machine with an attached wringer. This large beast lived in a corner of the long narrow dining room. On washday mornings it was trundled into the kitchen and positioned between the sink and the wood cook stove, with a "washtub" set on a wooden stand behind it. The tall water heater in the corner didn't provide enough hot water to fill both the washer and the rinse tub, so water was dipped from the resevoir on the wood stove and supplemented with still more boiling water from several hefty teakettles. My Uncle Bill who supervised the laundry, added a large scoop of Oxydol soap powder to the washer and turned on the agitator, producing mountains of white suds and filling the air with bleach-y steam. In time honored fashion the sheets were allowed in first, chugging until Bill considered them clean. Then while the agitator rested, the steamy lengths were hauled out and fed through the wringer rollers into the rinse tub. I had been told terrible tales of children who unwarily caught a hand in the wringer and were pulled in, perhaps to lose an arm! I was fascinated by the process, but kept my distance! I was allowed to squish the sheets about in the rinse tub, after which Uncle Bill fed them back through the wringer to land on the closed top of the washing machine. From there they were plopped in a twisted heap into the laundry basket to be carried out to the lines.
In summer the drying yard off the back porch was a delightful place. There was springy green grass under the clothes lines, the vegetable garden lay slightly lower below a crumbling stone wall and a sour cherry tree bent delicate graceful branches. In winter, being bounded on the west by a wall of the main house, and to the south by the kitchen ell, it was a cold and shadowed spot, open only to the chilly north and east.
The front porch of the house faced due south and clotheslines were run under its low roof. Here, in winter the sheets were hung to freeze, flapping and booming when the wind billowed their stiff pristine folds. I loved to play on the porch during the short December and January days, while the linens snapped and tugged at their wooden pegs, casting strange blue shadows over the porch.
Towels were draped over a swoop of line which ran behind the kitchen woodstove, while a wooden clothes horse had pride of place over the hot air register in the dining room. Heavy clothing went on the top rails while the socks and underwear dangled at the very bottom. If the washing was a large one and it was especially cold outside, spare chairs were drawn up near the register to be draped with my grandfather's heavy flannel shirts and his "unionsuits." Summer or winter, the laundry was done, the washing machine drained, wiped dry and wheeled back to its resting place long before dinner time. The washtub and wooden stand went out to drip on the back porch, the floor was mopped.
My uncle had worked a few summers as a young man at a guest hotel and learned to use an electric "mangle." He bought one second-hand and used it cleverly to press the sheets when they were still barely damp, and even to iron the sleeves and collars of shirts--a delicate task which involved using a lever to open and close the hot jaws of the device. As he worked, the dining/kitchen ell filled with the hot scent of clean, crisply pressed laundry.
For years now, the aisles of supermarkets have been filled with a huge array of cleaning aides; I can choose a detergent with bleach, one with "mountain fresh" scent, a spray cleaner to use on tough stains [never quite as effective as the trusty old bar of yellow "Fel's Naptha!] I can add a slosh of fabric softener to the automatic washer's dispenser which will leave the laundry smelling of lavender, or vanilla or "powder soft." If I choose a rainy or cold day as laundry day, or if I am unbearably lazy, everything gets chucked in the dryer.
We're a thrify bunch in this family, so most of us still have a clothes line and the modern descendent of the wooden clothes horse lurking just out of sight. Sometimes, for pure nostalgia's sake, I conjure up the nose-stinging odor of Oxydol suds and the crackling sound and swaying shadows of frozen sheets which shivered in the cold sunshine of my grandfather's front porch.