We went to my aunt and uncle's lake place on Saturday, and we picked up three very useful items, all for free, because they were no longer being used by their owners. I like the idea of being able to reuse items that are well built, even if they may seem a bit anachronistic. One was a hand-crank meat grinder, which will come in handy if we buy a hog, shoot a deer, or even find a good price on chuck roast. Another was a wood stove, which we have no immediate use for but may eventually end up in a garage. The third, and the best deal of all, was a 1958 Maytag wringer washer.
Laundry has been a problem ever since we moved here. Once a week my husband or I have had to drive fifteen miles into town and spend up to $20 at the laundromat. This process took up the greater part of a day by the time everything was sorted and folded, and left me with frazzled nerves. Laundromats are generally dreary places to hang out, especially with three young children. In some urban college areas I imagine there are laundromats that make the experience bearable by serving alcoholic beverages or having Internet access available, and the people that frequent these places might even be interesting. But around here the only entertainment is a few old Good Housekeeping magazines, Christian tracts, and the bulletin board. It's an unwritten rule that people don't talk to each other except to complain about the dryer on the end that doesn't work, or the person who brought in fifteen loads and shoved five comforters in the super size machine, then went to the bar and left everything sitting for two hours. I have tried to bring in reading material, but I only get a few sentences read before I have to keep Joey from climbing into a dryer or tossing unknown objects into other peoples' washers.
The environmental impact of washing laundry this way leaves something to be desired as well. There is the gallon or more of gasoline consumed to bring the laundry to town, the energy and water consumption by the washers and dryers, the treatment of wastewater and leaching of chlorine and other chemicals from detergents and fabric softeners. And doing such quantities at a time means I have little time to pay individual attention to clothing items that may require special care. Stains don't get pretreated, buttons get lost, and the lifetime of the garments is perhaps shortened.
By contrast, the wringer washer is an incredibly simple technology that consumes relatively small amounts of electricity and water. It is quiet, and the gentle agitation is easy on clothing. My grandma always said the wringing process takes more water out of the clothes than the spin cycle of an automatic washer, so the drying time is less. And the drying is the best part; free solar energy, and the clean smell of clothes dried outside, no artificial fragrances necessary.
Yesterday we set the machine up outside, next to the shower, and gave it a trial run. Except for the electrical plug, which needed replacing, everything worked perfectly. I selected a load of the kids' clothes, presoaked them in a metal washtub, transferred them to the machine, and agitated them for about fifteen minutes. I drained the wash water, ran some rinse water, then started wringing. What fun--the whole family was there in an assembly line: Joe and Vincent handed me clothes, I put them through the wringer (avoiding the proverbial "tit in the wringer"), and Nina and Russ hung them on a wooden drying rack and a makeshift clothesline.
I often think our modern "timesaving" appliances create a disjunction that prevents one from any involvement or pleasure with the task. The assumption is that washing dishes by hand, or doing anything with laundry except for putting it in and out of machines, is a waste of valuable leisure time, and the appliances supposedly spare one from this drudgery. However, when we remove ourselves from the tasks necessary to live the way we do, we lose the possibility of finding enjoyment in the task itself. I enjoy reconnecting to the task, getting my hands wet, understanding that this is not drudgery but a vital activity in our family's life, an act of beauty, art, and prayer in its execution.