What ever happened to wash day? Now that we have the ability to wash any time, day or night, that day and all of its treasures are so mundane. Permanent press (or just cotton with wrinkles). How many times have I refluffed a load in the dryer because I didn't get it out and folded on time? Clothes that smell like laundry soap and softener instead of sunshine. Soft towels instead of loofa roughness that invigorates your skin. I know I'm among the minority, but I miss the old fashioned way.
I learned to wash on my Busha's apron strings. Both my parents worked on Saturdays, and that was when my Busha would come to town and get busy. She took the bus from San Francisco to our home in the suburbs. She always had a carry bag with something fun inside. I remember one Saturday in particular when I was about 8 and she brought this new kind of bread from Fosters Diner called "English Muffins". I think if I did my homework I would find out that Fosters had the cutting edge on English Muffins in the 60's. They were much breadier than they are now, and my Busha toasted them in the broiler of our big gas stove and served them to us slathered in butter and jam. I remember the smell, and the excitement to be sitting at the kitchen table with my grandmother, while I enjoyed them, and she enjoyed me.
And then she got to work. We did have a washer and a dryer but Busha did the laundry the way she knew how. Washed in the machine, yes, but then the learning curve began. It was an amazing string of events for me. I LOVED washing day with my grandmother. She would hang the clothes out on the line all the while narrating to me her intent and purpose. The underwear were on the inside for privacy. She didn't want the neighbors to see these intimate belongings. And then the t-shirts and shirts. The tshirts were hung from the hemline (you don't want pin marks on the shoulders) and the blouses and dress shirts were hung from the very corners of the collars. Just like eating meat on Friday, it was a mortal sin to EVER leave pin marks ANYWHERE. One never folder any part of the garment over the line for a quick grasp of the pin. You pinned flat and smooth. And then the towels, washcloths and pillowcases, and then (my favorite) the wet maze of damp sheets to explore. In and out and all around the bright white dampness that smelled like some place in heaven. The trousers were hung on these wire forms that stretched the lion share of the wrinkles out (does anyone else remember these?) My Dad's dress shirts were dipped in a wash basin filled with a blue starch concoction before hanging.
Once dry, the ironing began. The "clothing" was sprinkled with water from a coke bottle with a sprinkler head on top and put into the refrigerator to allow for easier ironing when the time came. (I guess somethimes the time was a long time coming, because I remember my blouses occasionally smelling like salami. I kid you not.) I learned to iron here. My Busha lowered the portable ironing board to my height and let me iron the pillowcases and washcloths. And next to me, on the board that came down from the wall, she took on the bigger projects:shirts, blouses, sheets, dresses, etc.
One time, and this is before printed sheets, when sheets were usually white or soft pastels at best, she pulled some rosebud calico out of her treasure bag (that she had picked up at Woolworths on Market Street in San Francisco), sat down at the sewing machine and edged my white sheets and pillowcases with rosebuds!
And then she set to hand washing the girdles and nylon stockings, hanging them in the bathroom to dry.
A childhood friend of mine told me recently that she always envied my learning to iron and so wished she could do it too. And yes, it was a lot of damn work, I know. But in my memory there is a tender place of sunshine and fabric that smelled like it, and my Grandma's soft hands holding mine as the warm iron sailed smoothly over a pillowcase or washcloth, and quiet. I remember the comfort of the quiet that felt like one big smile.
Oh my dear Busha, I thank you for this!