Getting line on laundry day memories

A few days ago, I was driving down a street in my neighborhood and saw a sight that I hadn’t seen in ages. A young woman was hanging her sheets and other laundry on a clothesline in her backyard!

This scene could have been from 80 or so years ago except for one glaring difference — she wasn’t wearing a house dress. She was wearing jeans.

Nearly 80 years ago, I was part of a scene quite like that when I was 3 going on 4. The place was York Avenue here in good old Warren in the summer of 1939.

I usually slept later than most kids. What awakened me was Mom’s closing the clothes hamper in the bathroom. She had loaded a huge wicker basket with dirty clothes and was ready to head downstairs to the basement. I couldn’t yet name the days of the week, but it was laundry day — Monday to older folk.

“Are you awake now, Sonny Jim?” She would ask me as she peered into my bedroom. I answered her — although I didn’t like to be called “Sonny Jim” — and climbed over the rails of my crib wearing my footed jammies. I had outgrown my crib, and even I knew it was about time we got a regular bed for me. As a matter of fact, I wanted to wear regular pajamas instead of those with feet in them.

I followed Mom down the steps to the living room, but halfway down the cellar steps, I froze. These steps were open in the back and I felt sure I would fall through.

Mom helped me down the rest of the way and began sorting the clothes. The green-with-white-flecks Easy washing machine was filling with water as Mom took her stash of soap slivers from the sinks and bathtub and threw them in the water with her Kirkman’s Flakes as the agitator in the machine began churning.

I looked with fear at that lethal clothes wringer that stood attached to the washer. Billy, in my Sunday school, had gotten caught in a wringer, and couldn’t use his arm.

Mom also had to fill two galvanized tubs for rinsing. These tubs sat on a little bench that I still have to this day. One of those tubs was also my wonderful little water-filled place to sit in on a hot summer’s day.

Mom took me upstairs to my bedroom and dressed me. She made me a breakfast of toast with cinnamon, sugar and butter floating in a bowl of warm milk and then sent me out to play in my sandbox, which was nestled in an inner corner of our house’s foundation.

There was a hole about the size of a child’s fist (mine) in the foundation next to the sandbox. Through it, I could hear Mom singing as she worked. Just a little off key, she would sing “God Bless America,” “Hail, Hail, the Gang’s All Here,” “Mama’s Little Baby Loves Shortnin’ Bread,” and a host of other songs of the day — and I would join in.

After the wash was wrung out and placed in that wicker basket, Mom would come outdoors and would start hanging the clothes and sheets on the clothesline.

Now was the time for me to really enjoy laundry day. As the sheets gently stirred in the breeze, I would get on my tricycle and ride it between those sheets, letting them touch my face in a gentle, cool caress. What a wonderful, memorable feeling!

I wonder if that young woman in the jeans had a little one who could experience that same wonderful, memorable feeling…

Mumford, of Warren, can be reached at