Thursday, December 10, 2009

Sunshine on Snow

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.


  1. Certainly great nostalgia. I remember all of that except under slightly different circumstances. I could still use a clothes horse today for some of the heavier things that don't completely dry in the dryer. But where would you find one of those?... short of having it 'specially crafted!

  2. I dont have a dryer ...always thought the cost of electricity was too high .... so I peg out in the fine weather and use a non wooden clothes horse ...or two ... and the radiators, in the winter. I have no memory of a washing machine when I was young but we had a mangle that Mum turned. We had an airer that hung high in the ceiling of the kitchen and was lowered to load up. Things dried so quickly up there after being mangled as the heat from the fire rose to warm the clothes and evaporate the remaining water.
    I love the nostalgic memories always start the grey cells working !!!!

    LOved all the pictures ...and those on the last post too ...fantastic stag shots.
    OMG ...-22 .....
    I thought it was cold this morning as there was still about half an inch of frost on everything at 9am...couldnt cope with it that low. xx

  3. Morning MM...I LOVE my clothesline!
    Sheets just aren't the same out of the dryer! I had to to use a wringer washer for 18 months in Germany. We lived in Military housing on the 4th floor and my washer was in the basement. I had a baby in cloth diapers so I lugged it all downstairs. We had a drying room with blower heaters in the winter and clotheslines outside for the summer. Memories!!

  4. Hi! I just came over to look at your quilts and I was delighted to see your cat Eggnog, looks very like our Fudge! I loved your work, especially the snowball quilt. I am enjoying reading your snow stories, particularly as we have mild, damp weather here in England.Thankyou for the comment you left me, I shall sign up here now, so I don't miss anything, best wishes Kath in England

  5. Hullo MM,

    How strange life is. I had a dream just last night where I was with my mother as she washed clothes in the very first washer we ever owned - a big boiler thing. My job was to work the 'wringer' to press the water out of the clothes when they were done and then to hang them out to dry {under strict supervision}.

    It then changed to the next machine which sounds identical to what you are desribing here.

    Beautiful cats and nice photo's. And every time the house here feels cold I look at some of those you have posted and be thankful for what is a benign climate in reality.


  6. Chris; I would love to find one of those wooden clothes "horses." the nearest thing is a rather feeble folding affair available at the local hardware store.
    Angie: I always thought of Uncle Bill's mangle as a rather odd household device--apparently they weren't all that uncommon? I've read about the drying racks that could be loaded and hoisted into the warm airy space below a ceiling--makes sense--everything getting dry without taking up floor space.
    Carol: I never had to lug laundry up and down flights of stairs, but it sounds labor intensive. So many of the tasks we did to "keep" our families just a few decades ago, would seem like awfully hard work for today's young women. I don't suppose any of it hurt us!
    Kath; Welcome! I went to look at Fudge the Cat and she does indeed look like my Eggnog. I never realized that England's winter didn't include much snowfall--maybe I have a Dicken's Christmas in mind?
    Al; Your comment makes me think, not for the first time, that I do a lot of what my daughter calls "wallowing in nostalgia." As I write about what I remember, it is not with a sense of "the good ole days"--simpler mechanics and technologies didn't make life "better" or make up for the troubles which modern medicine, in particular, now cope with.
    I think those of us who have become "regulars" on each others' blogs, enjoy the joggling of memories and the sense of recognition of a lifestyle and an era which was changing drastically even as we were children.
    The prolonged bout of cold weather has us thinking whether we want to live the rest of our elderly lives in such a cold climate!

  7. I know what you mean about blogging. My lovely G thought it a bit suspect that I wanted to blog and forbade me to blog about her or include any photos of her in it!

    She enjoys it now and has even been complimentary about it. {high praise indeed].

    I dont think it's about sentimentality at all. I think you blog what you know and what you feel, and if thats sentimental and nostalgic at times then so what.

    I bet in a few years you will be pointing out to her about HER sentimentality!

    I agree too about not wanting to live in the past. Much harder times and not the good old days they are portrayed sometimes, but there are parts of the past, usually people, that I enjoy recalling and reminiscing about. I think bereavement does that to you too don't you?

    We plan to move to France for some of the year when we are ready to downsize {finances permitting of course} to benefit from a warmer climate and a different culture.

  8. I grew up in a house that used a wringer washing machine and my mom air dried all her laundry. I miss those old fashion machines now with new ones it seems like it takes most of its time putting water into the machine for clothes that are really not all the dirty. I have given up on the modern convenience of a clothes dryer. I find a couple clothes drying racks really manages to get everything dry for me and you just can not get that air dried feel out of a machine.