Cooking Clothes

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My mama “cooked our clothes” on a stove much like this one. There was always an empty coffee can on the stove for bacon grease.

 

Growing up we were a family of 10 living in the same household. My mother, father, 6 children, grandmother and uncle. We had no automatic washer so my mother and grandmother boiled all our soiled clothing, including sheets, towels and such in a tall, large pot on the stove.

Quilts and blankets were usually washed once a year in the bathtub.

A strenuous job any time, and especially in the summers in Mississippi. (No A/C of course) There was a long wooden spoon that my mother used to lift up the sheets from the pot and poke them back down and stir around.

She carried this heavy pot to the bathtub and poured the pot of clothes into the tub where she rinsed and wrung them out. This pot of wrung out clothes she then carried outside to the clothesline and she hung up each piece carefully, securing with wooden clothespins. Her hands sometimes bled from the caustic soaps.

As a small child witnessing this ordeal, I remember asking her why she cooked our clothes.

For things that were badly soiled, like my four brothers’ jeans, Mama had a scrub board she put in the bathtub and she rubbed the soiled items with a cake of lye soap. She also had “soap flakes” she put in the big pot – I assume these were flakes of lye soap. Years later, when we finally moved to a modern house and we had a washer and we ran out of Tide, she would still write “soap flakes” on her grocery list.

When I was about twelve or thirteen a laundromat opened 2 blocks away and every Friday night I would take a book with me and spend a couple of hours there washing our family’s clothes. I was the girl, after all.

We were not as concerned about having cute clothes, the latest styles, or even whether or not we liked what we wore. Having clean clothing was the luxury, with all my mother went through for us to have this. As usually is the case, I did not appreciate what she did at the time as much as I do now.

What do you remember that your mother did when you were little that you appreciate greatly now?

 

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