Saturday, February 08, 2003

RIP Washing Machine

I think the washing machine died. I suspected it was on its way out for a while. But then it has been living on borrowed time for eight years. That's the last time it broke, when my husband Bob was in graduate school (do I always have to measure things in student intervals? Another option for marking time is by death date. I'll think, "Howie [my pre-Rudy dog, a precious, grumpy, super-smart beagle/schnauzer] was alive. So it must have been eight years ago").

My father came up and fixed it then. I'm not sure if it is really broken this time, or if it is a belt or something minor like that. The problem is the same as in 1995, it won't spin. That time, though, it shut off after it tried to switch to spin. This time it runs for the entire cycle, it just isn't spinning. We probably will have to get a new one, since it is 16 years old and what, today, lasts even that long? I am wondering how we, or rather the delivery people, will get a new machine into the house. There are high snowbanks, a thick snow and ice blanket covering steps and the yard, and a gate to the fence that is probably frozen shut.

I wrung out the wet clothes by hand. Not a pleasant or easy task, and my hands got very cold. That was yesterday. Today, I ran another load through, a light one, just so I could watch and see exactly what happens. Sounds OK, water fills and drains, but it doesn't spin. Wrung out yet another washer full. Thought of Cherry Hill, where we had a special exhibit a couple of years ago on laundry that fascinated me and the visitors. Doing laundry was a big drudgery for women in the past. (Despite the technological improvements, and men who lend a hand, sometimes I think it still is.) Even families who weren't wealthy often had help with laundry because it was such a chore. This provided a much-needed and legitimate job for many poor and/or immigrant women. And it was something of a social time, everyone did their washing and ironing on the same two days every week - and visited outside as they dumped water and completed the back-breaking task. The invention of the washing machine was certainly labor saving - but it also meant laundry remained in the home, rather than being a service performed by a business.

I thought of Mimmie, my grandmother, who at times took in laundry, and years later, still had a wringer washer at the old house. It was a big round white tub, with legs on casters. She dragged it across the room to hook it up to the faucet of her kitchen sink. In my mind's eye I see her, feeding one piece of clothing at at time through the wringer. It generally took several passes before it was good enough to be hung on the line. Each piece came out flat as a pancake.

I sure wished I had that wringer today.

(Excerpted from Gully Brook Press)

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