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Out On The Mudline

Lye Soap Was Used Wisely On Wash Day

By W. P. Sissell


Washdays in the early 30s differed from home to home.  I do wish that we had saved the old wooden tub with hand-powered wringer that we had before we moved to the country in 1929.  In town we had electric power and the washer was powered by an electric motor. Eventually we got a one cylinder, make and break, gasoline motor for powering the washer; and later a “pump jack” for the pitcher pump.  That little motor changed the routines of our washday.  

Nannette loves to tell her memories of washdays when they were living at her grandfather’s home while their home was being built.  The water source was a spring branch running past the barn lot behind the house.  A deep hole in the branch supplied an ample supply of water for washing. When not in use the tubs hung upside down on the crib wall and the big black, iron, boiling pot (all clothes were boiled) was turned upside down with the edge on a brick or stick  (she drew a picture of this entire setup for me.)

Sometimes Maude let her play on the roof of the shed as she used the rub board.  Sometimes, when Maude was involved in scrubbing, Nannette  threw leaves from the roof down into Maude’s wash water (this is the same Maude from whom I had to ask permission to marry Nannette.)

A bar of lye soap was usually used per washing by shaving it into boiling water then adding it to the scrubbing tub.  The clothes were sorted into three piles; white, colored and work. All dirty spots were scrubbed in the hot soapy water.  Afterwards the work clothes were boiled and rinsed. The colored clothes were never boiled—just rinsed and starched if called for.  The rinse water, now fairly soapy, should be poured on the flower beds (this still works today—we have completely eradicated white flies from our 50-plus year-old Gardenia with soapy water).     

Jerry’s Washday Story

Jerry, our bug man, made his usual monthly call a couple of days ago.  When he calls there is a lot of conversation going on.  I don’t remember how the conversation got around to washday—but it did.  Jerry’s story about washday was unique enough that I, laughingly, asked point blank if I might quote him.  He readily agreed.  Most of the story agrees with Nannette’s story but his ending is different.  

If you notice, I did not say anything about that hot lye water in the washing machine.  At this point Jerry’s version changes; the agitator is removed, presumably by Grandma, and he and his brothers are one by one thrust into the, now still pretty warm, soapy (with lye soap) water.     

Grandpa removes each, in turn, from the water and rinses him with a bucket of fresh artesian water (not icy, but rather cool).  After this Grandma scrubbed the porch with the hot soapy water.  That hot lye soap is not wasted for it cleans clothes, boys and porch.  

After hanging the tubs upside down and turning the pot over, Grandma goes into the house, puts on a clean dress, brews a cup of tea, sits on the porch and rocks a spell as she counts her blessings.

If you go out on our back porch today you’ll find, hanging upside down, several tubs and a rub board.  Looking in the lawn mower shed will also reveal a black iron pot—all this just in case!

Nannette just bought a new washer and drier.  We do hope that all of you, like us along with Jerry, are counting your blessings.  

You can almost always reach me at 23541 Highway 6, Batesville, MS 38606 or 662-563-9879.  Do have a good week.

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