Watercolor by Mary Beth Percival

The Zen of Washday

by Dorothy Ainsworth

There's something about washing clothes in an old wringer washer that feels good for the soul. The organic process of transforming a pile of dirty laundry on the floor into a sun-kissed bouquet gathered off the line is more deeply satisfying than should be expected from a mundane task.

Dorothy doing laundry in an old square-tub Maytag plugged into the power pole

I bought my shiny white Maytag in a second-hand store for 40 bucks, brushed off the spider webs, and took her out of retirement. We've worked together for 15 years now, outside on the deck -- partners in grime. We're the same age, vintage 1942, both short and stout, built for longevity, and still going strong.

Clothesline between trees back in 1982
Remodeled chicken coop in background

Old Girtie seems to have a life of her own...breathing, sighing, and groaning as the wringer heaves open and closed, while her rhythmic heart beat goes thunk, thunk, thunk, swishing the clothes back and forth in her belly full of soapy soup.

I meditate as I play in the water, feeding cleansed clothes through the hungry wringer, watching suds squeeze out on one side while they flatten and dive into ice cold water on the other.

The alpha waves flow. It's my way of taking time out without taking time off. I go through the motions...oceans of motions.

Still washing outside 1983
Remodeled barn in background
Levi wash day

I splash around, lifting and plunging the colorful collection in clean rinse water, then reverse the wringer and run them back through. This time I take care to iron each item nice and flat before hanging them on the line. Blackbirds, dive-bombing my nose, add excitement to my fairy tale version of life in the country.

Graduated to newer model Maytag on deck

For country folks just getting started, a wringer washer is a simple and practical way to go. All you need is electricity, water, and a set-tub. You can do the whole laundry on one filling of the wash tub. Just add more bio-degradable, cold-temperature detergent to each load to gobble-up the new dirt. Start with whites, then add colors, and end with jeans. Or if you're a guy and want to advertise that you're single, throw everything in together and end up with homogenized duds -- all grouchy gray. It's the bachelor-look.

Kirt gets in the act too

You alone determine the length of the wash cycle: 5 minutes for lacy unmentionables, 20 minutes for ring-around-the-collar, and 30 minutes for filthy overalls. Let a pair of stiff new Levis thrash around for a couple of hours and they'll be as good as old.

It's important to change the rinse water a few times as soap accumulates. Drain the gray water off onto thirsty trees and bushes. They'll appreciate it, but the plumbing inspector won't! If he catches you in the act, cry, "Drought!"

Make sure the machine is grounded, and stand on a dry spot as you work.

Wash day can be loads of fun! I've never met a kid who didn't beg to help do the laundry. It must be the lure of the wringer.

A hose & electrical outlet & you're in business

The only drawback is washing outdoors in the dead of winter. Water freezes, and wringer washers hibernate. Compromise. Wear the same outfit for a month, or go to the laundromat on a Saturday night out, have a beer, and watch the dryers go 'round. Come spring, you're back in business.

Sunshine-fragrant sheets