It would never have crossed my mind to do a post about laundry, so I owe this one to a remarkable, witty, (note the Oxford comma) and generous friend who lives in Chicago. Thanks for suggesting it, Terry, and for guilting me into finally doing it after promising and not following through. This one's for you.
My first experience with laundry in the bush was with my grandma's "mangle." This was a tubby device that looked a bit like R2D2 with an instrument of torture on his head and a side handle. On her side porch, in the small fishing village we first live in when we moved to Alaska, she had a line of fifty-five gallon barrels full of rainwater, since at that time there was no community waterline. It was on this side porch where she also had the mangle and she "let" us kids have the joy of cranking that handle as she fed the washed clothes through the press. What joy to watch that water squirt and run out!
It was a lesson well-learned and in later years, when they no longer made mangles (go figure), I rigged up a broom handle in my shower to wrap hand-washed clothes around and then twist. Again with the joy! Water squirting and running out of clothes. If you haven't experienced this, you really need to give it a try. Plus, it's great for toning up arms, wrists, and hands. It can even be a full body sport if you go at it the way I do.
When we moved to the burned down and abandoned cannery and built our home on the shores of a large, stone-strewn creek, the five of us kids acted like a really, really slow moving waterline (like something out of the Flinstones). We carried five gallon buckets of water from the creek to the house and poured them in the washing machine. The pay-off was that in order to run the washing machine the generator had to be started, which meant we got to watch movies. My parents often put in, for us, the Loony Tunes cartoons my dad had recorded when he was working at the logging camp across the strait. Now, whenever I do laundry, I always hear Bugs Bunny saying, "What's up, Doc?"
Sometimes, if we were low on fuel for the generator, we washed clothes down at the creek against the rocks, just like you see in National Geographic documentaries.the difference being in those documentaries they all seem to be in very warm climates. Our hands would go numb in the snow-fed creek waters and they'd barely be able to function. The bears were always hanging around, since it was a major salmon spawning creek, but they were too focused on fishing to wonder what on earth we were up to or to give us a bad time about it. Doesn't everyone have to deal with bears when they're doing their laundry?
It wasn't until the 21st Century kicked in that we graduated to a propane dryer (my sister and I bought it as a much-appreciated anniversary present for our parents). Up until that point we hung laundry on lines strung inside and outside. It was necessary to have lines inside because of our rainy climate. Even a sunny day could go to rain in a second so we had to have a place to hang the clothes after running outside and tearing them down off the line.
Yes, clothes hung on the line are justly famous for having that delicious fresh scent. Unfortunately, they're not as soft as they could be. My second youngest brother made us late for school every single day of our lives (on those days when the weather let us make it to school) because he had to go through an intricate process of rubbing, snapping, wringing and mauling his stiff, line-dried socks until they acquired the preferred softness.
When we moved here, my dad rigged up a wire clothesline with a pulley that went from the side of their floathouse to a spruce tree on shore. We put the clothes on the line and pulled to carry the clothes all the way to the tree.
A major problem with this system was that as the tide came in the floathouse rose and the line sagged toward the saltwater. On some tides it wasn't an issue--but you really had to pay attention. If you forgot about the line and the tide rose too high, odds were good you'd have to put your saltwater-dipped clothes through a rinse cycle and then put them back on the line. And hopefully not forget about the tide again.
I've had some fun moments with lines collapsing and dropping an entire load of just-washed clothes in the drink. And let's not forget that not only is labor wasted when that happens, but so is the fuel to run the generator, since you have to re-wash. And fuel has to be hauled from across the strait in the skiff. So, yes, quite often, just thinking about laundry would make my blood pressure rise.
I've learned my lesson and now when I dry things outside I hang them on a 1x2 board that's nailed to the side of my house. That thing ain't going nowhere. I've had clothes on it in hurricane force winds and they stayed put (I thumbtack them to the board). I should have thought of it a long time ago.
So, the next time you do laundry, I hope you will think of me and please forgive me for the envy vibes I've been sending your way for decades.
Tara Neilson (ADOW)