Poetry Friday May 24, 2019

This week's Poetry Friday roundup is hosted by Dani Burtsfield at Doing The Work That Matters. Check out her golden shovel poem about grief and finding comfort. Then connect up with others sharing poetry today.

I am working on poems about a pivotal time in 1958, when my family joined other relatives on an adventure into the Pine Valley region in Northern British Columbia. I'm committed to sharing a bit every week to keep me going. They might not be in any kind of order. I just hope to get some kind of drafts out there. I appreciate feedback on the construction of the poetry and ideas and questions about what information might be missing.

I'v learned that some of them had gas washing machines, so last week I was busy researching the history of these appliances. I've posted a couple of videos at the end of today's post to give you a sense of what laundry day involved. Part of me is now nostalgic for the days when we used to do laundry with an electric wringer washer. 

I'm also immersed in BC logging history, but today's post is all about laundry. I'll have another about washing diapers next week.

Here are links to previous Pine Valley poems. 

Ready and Willing 


Howard and Lynn
had some fancy
gas lights
and an Easy brand 
gas fired
washing machine.
Had a kick start,
and hit and miss engine.

Didn’t even have to crank
the mangle by hand.

Aunty Margaret wouldn't have
gas lamps in the house,
but loved her old Maytag
gas powered machine.

No wonder
with the crowd
of nearly grown children
she had to tend.

Dorothy and Marianne,
her two girls,
were put in charge
of the contraption
on wash day.

Made life easier,
but those machines made 
one heck of a racket!

And the darn things
were dangerous.

Had to be used outside
or the carbon dioxide fumes
would poison you.

Rollers were called 
a mangle for good reason.
Better mind your fingers
if you wanted to keep them.

Kids had to be watched
like a hawk
around the machines.
Barb, Howard and Lynne's
two year old,
got her leg burned real bad
from the exhaust.

Those machines were 
shared around with others.
But mostly
everyone else used
a washboard and tub,
except when cleaning
heavy duty loads.

Let me tell you,
wash day was some kind of endeavour.

Water had to be hauled
up from the river
and heated on the wood stove
to fill the machine's reservoir.
A square tub for rinsing
was filled with cold.

Come winter, 
the river froze over,
snow had to be melted. 

Laundry was sorted
from the least
to the most soiled,
and washed in that order.

Every load was cleaned 
and rinsed in the same water. 
It was pure nasty
by the time they were finished. 

Ropes stretched between 
a couple of pine trees 
where wooden pegs
hung onto the wash 
til it was dry. 

Ironing was left for the wind to do.


  1. Hadn't heard about gas powered washers before. Interesting! I guess it's better than beating clothes on a river rock but it still looks like a lot of work. Thanks for the history and poem. My mom was an "Aunty Margaret." :)

    1. That is delightful Jama. My Aunty Margaret was old enough to be my mom's mother, and I don't really remember much about her. I only have fleeting memories and the stories her children tell about her.

  2. Oh, my goodness. Those videos are something! And the word mangle.....yikes! I love your attention to the detail of the machine and the order of the clothes...what a terrible smell it must have been for the dirtiest items. I can only imagine. You are spinning quite a tale. I do look forward to each installment. Can't wait for diapers!

  3. Those ARE loud! It's interesting to think about what a timesaver they must have been, but I think you'd need ear protection if you were going to stand there for any length of time.

    I love this part:

    Rollers were called
    a mangle for good reason.
    Better mind your fingers
    if you wanted to keep them.

    It says loads (ha!) about the dangers of such early "modern" inventions.

    1. The early electric ones were really nasty too. There was no cover for the motor parts and if water splashed over women were electrocuted!

  4. You've woven great details into your poem that bring the times to life--and boy, are we lucky not to have noisy, stinky washing machines and especially not a washboard and a tub!

    1. I agree! I can't imagine trying to wring out a family load of laundry out by hand, although I'm pretty sure we didn't change clothes nearly as much as we do now!

  5. I love this! Laundry is one of those universal human preoccupations, isn't it?

    1. It sure is. Of course in those days, as children we wore more or less the same clothes for a week. When I was older we had school clothes and then after school clothes that we changed into.

  6. Poor wee Barb!
    I remember seeing women washing clothes in a lake on rocks in the early 1990s (in Guatemala). So time-consuming.
    Interesting about washing clothes from least to most soiled! It seems like those most soiled clothes might not get all THAT clean...

    1. We did laundry this way in an electric wringer washing machine into the 1960's. By then we were in a place where we had running water and flush toilets. If the water got really bad we could change it!

  7. Wow! And I thought my weekly laundry was an undertaking! You've done a wonderful job bringing this part of your family's experience to life with so many specific details and great word choice. For some reason, I love the work "contraption." After all that work, I can see why "Ironing was left for the wind to do!"

    1. Thanks Catherine. Contraption is one of those words used by family to describe any kind of machine, especially ones that were of dubious quality.

  8. Cheriee, this is my favourite kind of history--the tiny details of ordinary human lives. Thanks for getting this all out. I hear a novel in verse kind of thing going on, where it's not glorious wordplay that takes center stage but your spare, conversational voice:
    "Every load was cleaned
    and rinsed in the same water.
    It was pure nasty
    by the time they were finished. "

    Coincidence: my 16yo is doing his final 10th grade English paper on Terry Pratchett, and here's a great *uote at the top of your blog!

    1. I am a huge fan of Terry Pratchett, especially all his witch novels!

  9. This was all new to me! Those videos really showed how loud the machines were - and those motor powered ringers look frightening! What an interesting project you are working your way through.

    1. I knew about wringer washing machines but had no idea you could get them gas powered!

  10. What a contraption, a bit loud as others here have said. It almost seems like it was futile washing the clothes in that machine from this stanza,
    "Every load was cleaned
    and rinsed in the same water.
    It was pure nasty
    by the time they were finished."

    I like the wind coming in at the end, perhaps that helped some…

    1. Having washed clothes in an electric wringer washer, it isn’t that bead, but we did have running water and could change it if necessary! Seeing a load of clothes hanging on the line is very satisfying!