When we hear someone say, “I’ve been through the wringer” what thoughts does it bring up? Being squeezed dry? Or is it one of those older phrases no one understands anymore because it lacks context?
In this photo the washerwoman is wringing out the soapy water and the fabric now goes to the rinse water. Technology at its finest. No sign of the scrub board.
By the 1940’s things were moving along as they tend to do. Electricity brought the first electric washer which was a big open tub with an agitator that moved in jerks in a circle, doing its best to knock the dirt out of the clothes.
The clothes were wrung out by hand or by wringer, rinsed in clear water, wrung out again, and then hung on a clothesline in good summer weather or on drying racks during bad weather or winter. I remember drying racks down by the old coal furnace in Grandma’s house and those clothes were stiff. Clothesline clothing could be a little softer if there was a good breeze.
I have no idea why Mom did her washing on the lawn out back of Grandma’s house. Maybe it was where the hose hookup was? This reminds me of what we had – an electric washer with an electric wringer. How did we get the electricity? I don’t remember. I was probably 5 years old or so and I didn’t look at lines and wires. I do know that the clothes lines were in the backyard, so maybe that is it.
One of the tasks I enjoyed was taking the wet clothes and feeding into the rotating drums of the wringer. What went in lumpy and dripping came out thin and mostly dry. It would be flapped out with both hands and then after it was clean it would be hung to dry. Slacks went on adjustable width pant hangers to give them a good crease.
One day while we were out in the backyard on wash day I found out what it was like to go through the electric wringer. Those little fingertips got nibbled up with some cloth and prest-o change-0, I was rapidly wrung right up to my shoulder.
As you can imagine, Little Toad Girl was screaming for all she was worth. After all, she’s being eaten by two rubber rollers and they press hard! And there was a real set of lungs on this kid, I can tell you.
Mom, busy hanging clothes dashed over with a clothes pin still in her mouth and stopped the rollers. She popped a latch on the side and got me out. I was so little I didn’t even have bruises, but it made a big impression on me. Keep yer fingers outta them machines, girlie.
At that point Grandma dashed outside what with all my screaming, crying, and general terrorized carrying on. I remember she showed me her thumbnail that she’d accidentally sewn right through on Singer Treadle Sewing Machine and how if I wasn’t careful it could happen to me! I seem to recollect being sent off to make mud pies or something after that.
Did I mention that I never learned to sew? Will wonders never cease! I can knit and crochet, but there are no needles involved. Embroidery? Not me. That’s a sharp needle. I used to do counted cross stitch, but those needles are dull. Not only am I very careful about fingers and machines, I can barely operate a sewing machine. Yup, lesson learned – my thumbnails are in pristine condition. 😉
So the next time you hear anyone say they’ve been put through the wringer, now you know. It really does make you feel – well … all wrung out. Not a drop of energy, water, or whatever left in you.
When we moved to Idaho my Mom was so happy to have a new washer/dryer – all in one machine. And there was no need for a wringer. It leaked out the front porthole, but we just put a towel down to catch the drips. Hey, it was inside and we were happy. We still had a clothesline and sometimes Mom used it in the summer because she said she liked the smell. I always wondered why. It was desert land – full of dust, the smell of horses, dogs, crop dusting, and the like. She seemed to think the clothes smelled like sunshine. I’ve never smelled sunshine, but it made her happy, so whatever. 🙂
Nowadays we don’t think about wash much. My daughter does wash almost every day with her family of 5. The washer uses centrifugal force to do the work of wringing the clothes. The dryer dries them. So far humans still do the sorting, folding, and tucking away.
Toad in the Hole