Imagine chores of by-gone days that were so time-consuming that an entire day was devoted to just one of the jobs, as such -
Monday: Wash Day
Tuesday: Ironing Day
In by-gone days clothes were washed in wooden tubs with wringers as seen at the Dunkirk Lighthouse and Veterans Park Museum.
Wednesday: Sewing Day
Thursday: Market Day
Friday: Cleaning Day
Saturday: Baking Day
Sunday: Day of Rest
Even with modern day appliances that do most of the work, people seem incredibly busy with household chores. There is even complaining over who will empty the dishwasher and take the clothes from the dryer. As the old poem or verse suggests, this was the case years ago.
Women had such a day-to-day routine with their housekeeping that it was even embroidered on hand towels. As seen last week in the column's "virtual tour" of the Dunkirk Historical Lighthouse and Veterans Park Museum, cooking was certainly a big daily chore on a wood-burning stove. This week is a continuation of this nostalgic look back in time in the kitchen of the lighthouse keeper's home as it was over a century ago.
Today we merely have to put our dirty clothes in our washing machine and push a few buttons with a timer alerting us when it is all done. The same goes for drying. Years ago however, cleaning clothes was not only time-consuming, but also a labor intensive job requiring strength and energy. Monday was probably the designated day to do it because mothers had just had a day of rest on Sunday and therefore had more stamina to do it. The wooden washtub was often outside in the summer and in the basement in the winter. It would be filled with water; sometimes left in the sun to warm it. Homemade lye soap or a laundry soap bar from the store was added. Clothes were agitated to make them clean, either by a wooden stirrer or some kind of hand crank for several minutes. Of course, clothes with stains were pretreated (scrubbed) using a washing board. A heavy part of the job was to remove sopping wet clothes from the washtub to put them through the wringer. Clothes were put then put into another barrel for rinsing and then yet at least another until all the soap was removed. Then, back through the wringer again.
The mother's work continued at the other end of the wringer with a heavy basket of wet clothes. This had to be carried to either the clothesline or a drying rack. Thank goodness for a dry and warm day when the clothes would be dried quickly. A little beating with a stick during this phase would help make the clothes be less stiff. A natural softener of vinegar and baking soda was said to also help make clothes softer if added to the rinse water. The washtub at the lighthouse has an added bit of interest with a hydro-powered crank device that was added to it in later years. Somewhat like an opening to a faucet with a hose, water was forced in to move the agitator, with another opening to let the water out. Perhaps some of this clean water could have been used for the rinsing tubs, but had to have much waste as well. This was probably not a big concern though when living on the lake. The joke on the tour is that the children had more time to agitate the parents when they didn't have to agitate the clothes anymore.
As Monday passed, Tuesday brought other chores. It made sense that ironing would come next with almost all clothes having wrinkles and needing to be pressed. As noted last week, the stove held the heavy irons that were used, being careful to have just the right amount of heat. The process of ironing would certainly make evident any clothes that needed mending, thus Wednesday being the day to sew or repair clothes. That brings the week to Thursday when apparently everyone's clothes would be spiffy and ready to go shopping in public at the marketplace. With the next chores of cleaning and baking, the clothes would naturally begin to get soiled again with the weekly rotation coming around once more. Thank goodness for Sunday and a day of rest.
The next time someone feels like complaining about modern-day chores it might be helpful to think about what our ancestors had to do to accomplish the same goal. From them we can learn what "going through the wringer" really means. Of course some of these habits are still good today. Nothing can beat the fresh feeling of settling into bed on sheets that have been hung out on a sunny and breezy day to dry. It also saves energy and money, something that would help everyone. Come to the lighthouse for a taste of Americana. See and feel what it was like to live in another time. Make it a good week and go to www.dunkirklightouse.com for more information.
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