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Isn’t it strange how sounds can take you back in time. Whenever I wash clothes and hear the sound of the washer agitating it takes me back through the generations of women in my family. I remember my grandmother, my Nanny, sorting clothes in the kitchen floor on laundry day. Lights, darks, towels, sheets, jeans, and whites to be bleached. Those were the piles she choose. She had a harvest gold washer right between the sink and the stove and the dryer was on the back porch. She would only use the dryer in the winter otherwise the clothes hung on the line in the back yard. The dryer wasted electricity she said. I remember running through the sheets as they hung on the line. Feeling the warm softness against my face and inhaling that wonderful smell of sunshine that permeated the cotton. That was back when everything was cotton and everything was ironed – sheets, towels, jeans and even underwear. Starched and ironed. My grandmother would set her ironing board up in the dining room and I would set my tiny ironing board up beside her. She would iron and I would iron and we would listen to the radio. Sometimes Swap Shop and sometimes just music.
The sound takes me back to my great-grandmother, my Momaw, who had a wringer washer on her closed in back porch. She ran a hose through the window to the kitchen sink for water. It was a green garden hose just like in the yard. She had to adjust the temperature at the sink if she wanted hot, cold, or warm water to fill the tub. Momaw let me stand on a tall kitchen stool so I could see the clothes in the washer wiggling all around. After it agitated a while she drained it and filled it again. Then came the part I was only allowed to watch from a distance, the wringer. She wrung the wet clothes out with the wringer. The wringer was attached to the side of the washer tub and looked like two wooden rolling pins one on top of the other with metal holding them together. The clothes went in one side and the wooden rollers squeezed every drop of water out as the clothes came out the other side. It was terrifying and amazing.
Momaw would tell me horrendous stories about the boy who got his arm broke playing with the wringer when his mom was at the store. He tried to wring out clothes and “hit just kept on a wringing clear up past his elbow, nearly tore his whole arm off.” I was terrified that would happen to Momaw every time she wrung out the clothes and I never did touch that wringer.
On nice days we would go outside and I would wave at the train conductors as she hung up the clothes on the line to dry. The train ran right behind her house on the other side of the main road. There was always a conductor on the engine that waved at me and another in the caboose. One day they were stopped and the conductor came across the road and talked to me all about the train. I guess that’s when my love of trains started.
On rainy days she would hang the wet clothes all over the closed in back porch. Popaw had strung her lines up just for that purpose. I would sit on a kitchen stool surrounded by all Momaw’s plants in the windows and watch her hang the clothes. She had a transistor radio she liked to play sometimes and other times she would sing church songs or tell me stories about when my grandmother and aunts were little. One of my favorite stories was the one about my Nanny and my Aunt Vi when my Uncle Bud was born. They didn’t want a brother and tried to through him over the hill. The doctor offered to take Uncle Bud because he was afraid the girls were going to do something to him. Needless to say, Momaw didn’t give Uncle Bud to the doctor and he survived his two older sisters.