Washing Day

by Patricia Hall

Washing Day was an all-day affair when I lived with Nanna and Grandad as a child. For some reason this always happened on a Monday. It was hard, back-breaking work and I would reluctantly assist. Wood was gathered for a fire under the fuel copper and the firewood was primed with some kerosene. When the fire was being lit it could be an eyebrow-singing experience if you didn't move away quickly enough.

The sheets, always white in those days, were boiled in a fuel copper with shavings of soap added to the water. They were then dragged to the double tubs with a large, heavy stick. They were rinsed in cold water and then put into more water in which a blue-bag had been dipped. (The blue-bag could also do duty as a treatment for insect stings.) This blue solution could somehow make the sheets very white. Some garments could not be boiled in the copper so Nanna would rub them violently on a glass scrubbing-board in soapy water until they were clean. I don't remember a wringer so she must have rung everything by hand. Some things had to be starched and then the heavy, wet washing was carried to the backyard where there were two clothes lines strung between high posts. The washing was pegged on the lines which were hoisted high using clothes props. When dry the clothes were brought in and folded – that is, if it didn’t rain. If it did rain the clothes would be dried in front of the fuel stove. After a rainy day wet school shoes would also be dried in the oven. Occasionally they were too ‘well done’ to be wearable!

One Monday morning, after one of Nanna’s famous parties she was felling rather the worse for wear but was nevertheless determined to do the washing, She dragged herself into the laundry, wearily set the fire under the copper, doused it with some kerosene, lit a match and threw it in. Still squatting down after having done this she found herself eyeball-to-eyeball with a very large rat with flames flickering around it. With the by now terrified Nanna in front of it the rat’s options for escape were considerably diminished.

Suddenly the rat made a run for it and dashed out of the fire, fur alight and straight between Nanna’s squatting legs. The look on Nanna’s face was priceless and her scream blood-curdling. The poor burning rat ran out the door, never to be seen again. It was closely followed by Nanna – she wasn’t going to stay in that laundry one minute longer.

Nanna had to have a good lie-down to recover from the ordeal and from that day on was always reluctant to light the fire under the copper.