As I mentioned the other day, Irene Waters has started a new monthly challenge on her blog, Reflections and Nightmares, called Times Past
Irene says …
I’d like to invite you to join with me in a prompt challenge that will give us social insights into the way the world has changed between not only generations but also between geographical location. The prompt can be responded to in any form you enjoy – prose, poetry, flash, photographs, sketches or any other form you choose. You may like to use a combination of the two. I will also add a series of questions for those that would like to join in but don’t know where to start.
I fall into the Baby Boomers category, having been born in 1955.
Boom Generation/Hippie 1946 -1964 Space Exploration/ first counter culture
Prompt 1: The first time I remember eating in a restaurant in the evening.
I missed the first prompt but left a comment. All I remember about eating in a restaurant for the first time is the feeling – I have no idea how old I was, where it was, nor the occasion. I wasn’t a child, though. I remember feeling like a country bumpkin. Luckily, I had a vague memory of which cutlery to use from Home Economic classes. However, for a long time, I thought the fish knife was a butter knife.
Prompt No 2. First memories of wash day.
Was it a ritual in your house. Did you have to play a part. What kind of washing machine did you have? Was it the sole province of the women of the household? What was the style of your clothes line? Any memories of doing the laundry you care to share. I am sure that we are going to find some differences both geographically and generational with this one. Help me prove myself right or show that I am wrong by joining in.
About 1959, a much younger me had just woken from my afternoon nap on the couch, which also served as my bed. I wrinkled my nose. What was that scorching smell?
I looked over at the open fire, wondering if a spark had landed on the floor. On the other side of the nappy-laden clotheshorse, a thin spiral of smoke drifted towards the ceiling. I got up to investigate.
Whoosh! The nappies exploded into flame. I ran across the yard separating this building from the kitchen as fast as my four-year-old legs would go. “Mum! Mum! The nappies are on fire!”
That is my first concrete memory I have of anything to do with the mechanics of the laundry.
Monday was always the Big Wash day. We kids were kept out of the wash house with its boiling copper, hot suds and irritated mother. I vaguely recall the arrival of a blue-and-white Pope washing machine (secondhand) sometime during my early childhood, but this was useless in the late 1960s when we went to live in a house running on 32- volt electricity. By then mum had six kids.
The wash-house I write about was set up much like this one below – without hot water tap. The copper may have been bricked in, with the firebox at the bottom. There was a double concrete wash trough to the left like this.
One day, when I was about twelve, Mum gave in to my nagging and let me help her with the laundry. I wanted to see what this secret women’s business was about. I was allowed to fill the copper while mum sorted clothes into piles. I gathered sticks and small pieces of wood for the fire underneath. I scrubbed filthy trouser knees on a corrugated washboard before mum lowered them into the boiling water. While the copper came to a boil, I helped mum with hand washing the woollens and the other delicate items. Mum used blue bags on the sheets.
I helped put everything through the mangle, though by now I was sorry I had nagged to help. We hung the clothes out on the double clothesline out the back. This was an arrangement of two sturdy uprights with a swinging arm affixed to each. Enough wire stretched between the uprights to need two or three sturdy clothes props to keep the sheets off the ground.
I’m pretty sure this rented home was also the first place mum had a Hills Hoist. It was close to the house and quickly filled with the smaller items. Dad had imposed some rules about what was allowed to hang with what – for example, nappies and underwear on the line together was forbidden. A chance visitor might think that mum had laundered them at the same time in the same water. As if. Ewww.
After my ‘help’, mum had her wash-house back. I didn’t want anything to do with it! I found out later that was what she had hoped would happen.
Sometimes mum would run out of pegs and she would pay us a bounty for pegs found in the grass under the clothesline. I do remember dolly pegs, but I think we usually had the spring ones.
When I was fifteen, I wanted my summer school uniform washed more often than mum was prepared to do. I distinctly recall her words. “I show you how to do it yourself.” My younger sister was already washing hers. Eventually, we collaborated and took turns to wash both dresses.
When I left home, I had to do all my own washing. I learned not to put woollens in the dryer. I learned not to rest a hot iron on delicates. I have never hung anything in front of a fire without making sure the screen was in place.
After that day in 1959, I slept in two armchairs pushed together under a window at the other end of the room. Mum showed me how to get out the window and assured me that I needn’t worry about the room catching on fire again.
I vowed I would have French windows in my house when I grew up. I’ve always had sash windows, except here we do have several windows that wind out. It’s weird how a four-year-old would make that decision. It’s stuck in my mind all these years. As for my other unfulfilled wish – to have an attic – I think the Secret Seven or the Famous Five were responsible for that.