I always thought that machines were made to lighten a person’s work load and free up time for leisure. No one explained to us in Home Economics classes that a piece of machinery has a mind of its own. Of course, I didn’t know then that I would eventually have four children, a dog (or two), live in the country and have to deal with country plumbing. When I speak of country plumbing, I mean the sort that relies on well water and electricity to work. Urban plumbing simply requires a water supply that works on gravity and usually comes from a central pumping station. Country living depends on a well and a pump that rumbles and gyrates on a cinder block base in the cellar. Everything is just fine as long as the pump is working and the pump works as long as the power supply keeps coming which is a moot point if the machine in question is in top shape.
My first bone of contention upon moving to the country was the fact that gravity was no operating in my favour. Our washing machine was down in our brand new basement along with something called a sump pump. The sump pump moves the excess water (rain or snow melt or just ground water) out from under the house and into the ditch. I was supposed to keep an ear cocked for excessive pump action which could mean that our basement was flooding and the pump was being over-worked.
At first I assumed the sudsy water would just go into the drain and end up in the ditch. O no, no, no! Things were not that simple. Washing water, flushed water, bath water, and dish water were destined to take a downward journey from the upstairs floor and an upward journey from the cellar out to a tank buried in the ground. This tank got pumped out at least every two years, a smelly operation carried out by a large pumper truck. Getting water to flow down is no problem, but getting water pumped up from my washing machine required a third pump, one that sat beside my washer. That pump became the bane of my existence and was called some very colourful names and threatened regularly with bodily harm.
Hearing became an important sense for country survival. Not only was I listening for the particular telephone ring that was our party-line sequence, I was also listening for the for the sound of pumps. The regular operation of the sump pump and the well pump were essential, and even more necessary was the sound of the washing machine because, should I not hear the change i in it’s tone indicating the beginning of the rinse cycle, I wouldn’t get to the the pump switch before the deep washing sink overflowed onto the basement floor. Then I would have to spend some time in my rubber boots, sweeping water down to the floor drain. Because of four noisy children, a barking dog (or two) and my forgetfulness, our basement floor got washed on a regular basis. I spent a great deal of time in my rubber boots.
Washing machines come in all sizes. Ours was a commercial size with room enough, according to the advertisement to do the muddy laundry of a football team in the spring. I beg to differ. If I loaded towels and a couple of sheets into the tub, our washing machine set up a racket that would rival a cement mixer. It would dance a jig a leprechaun would envy and twist better than Chubby Checker ever did. Again, I would run down to the basement to placate the angry beast by opening it up and trying to level the load. It usually took me three tries to end its temper tantrum. I began to think living in a nudist colony had great attraction.
I remember being taught how to fold laundry properly in Home Ec and I used to love ironing clothes when I lived at home with my parents. I would make neat piles and hang all the shirts up on hangers so that the newly pressed collars and sleeves wouldn’t get crushed. Now, I just rushed down to the washing machine and flung everything into the drier that wasn’t going out on the line. Then, if I timed it just right, I could run down to the drier as soon as it stopped and not have to iron at all. I did a lot of running up and down stairs in those days. On the days I won the race, my husband didn’t have to wear wrinkled shirts.
Three stellar laundry days stand out in my memory. The first was the day we got a water sensitive drain that tripped the pump switch as soon as the water drained. That was real freedom. The second, was the day when our upstairs laundry room was completed and our machines came upstairs for good. No longer did I have to carry the laundry baskets up and down. The third day was the day our teenage children complained about the lack of clean clothes in their drawers. The light bulb went on over my head and a beatific smile spread over my face.
“Come with me ,” I beckoned them one by one. ” It’s time I introduced you to the washing machine and dryer.”
As they backed gingerly away from the manic gleam in my eyes, I closed the laundry room door and launched into the basics of Student Laundry 101.