Housekeeping in the 1950’s


I don’t know about any of you, but I really hate washing clothes.  In fact, I hate housekeeping in general.  I much prefer doing something more creative with my day, but let’s face it; we all have to deal with the fact that once or twice a week, it must be done. Sigh. We need clean clothes and an environment that is habitable.

I often wish that I were more like my mother, because she took on the task of  washday and made it one of the highlights of her week. She figured out a way to actually make it fun. (At least for her!) To Gert Kluchin, washing clothes was like solving a mystery. She turned every piece of clothing into a challenge and a creative way to remove stubborn stains from all three of her children’s outfits.

Now, you must keep in mind that I grew up in the 1950’s and children played outside. We ran and jumped and rolled around in the dirt. We played tag, Red Rover, red light, green light, baseball, and basketball, we swirled round and round using hula-hoops… and we roller-skated and rode our bikes everywhere. Therefore, we fell and scraped a lot of knees, came inside with massive grass stains, ripped pants, torn shirts and sweaters, because we truly lived and played in our clothing.

AND when we were done with those clothes, IF they could be salvaged, we passed them down to our younger siblings. So they HAD to be mended.  I suppose THAT is where the excitement began for my Mother. She  dabbled in a variety of ways to fix torn, worn out pants, invented experimental methods to make invisible patches, and concocted her own solutions to clean the impenetrable stains. And 99.9 percent of the time her remedies worked!!!! Remember, those were the days before supermarkets carried sprays or pens that doubled as spot removers. So, she loved Wash Day. And I admire her for that.

And she was great at it. She found a way to make something boring, exciting and creative. I recall her calling me (or my sister) over to show us her miraculous fixes. (Oh, yes, she darned our socks too and they had to be perfect so we couldn’t feel them in our shoes!!!) She was like Mr. Wizard in her Laundry room.

My sister must have found all this pretty extraordinary because she possesses this gene too!!! She can spot remove and fix torn clothing really, really well. Even my sons quietly (Yes, behind my back) have been known to ask her to mend their jeans (after my mother died) and like a good Auntie she always accommodated them. Smart boys, I have. They knew I would have either thrown them out, or cut them up and used the denim to make unique patches. Then I would have put them on my jeans and created a cool pattern that looked very hippie chic. OR, I would have created an interesting denim patchwork pillow or purse.  But no, I would NOT have mended their jeans.

And,  never – ever, have I enjoyed washing clothes. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that year after year as a teacher we did science fair projects and there were always a few children who elected to do a project on which brand- of clothes detergent cleaned better. For all you inquiring minds out there…pretty much it was always a tie with a few brands doing slightly better. (Yawn). Yeah, they are ALL basically the same. Some just have fragrance and some do not. Some are better for the environment than others, but they all clean the same when you use data and chart the results!!!!

Even when I did a class science project I stayed as far away from clothes washing as I possibly could. In fact, I remember when I sent away to Harvard University for a kit on a study (for gifted children) on ESP, (which actually developed math/science skills) using probability and deductive reasoning. The children always found it cool to think ESP was involved. (BTW, I never found a student in 36 years who really had ESP. I did, however, have a parent one year who thought ESP was the work of the devil, and didn’t understand that it was just a probability lesson, which is math.  (But, as teachers you always run into a few odd balls.) And guess what?  BOTH the girls and the boys were equally able to predict outcomes. No surprise there.

Another fun science fair project that didn’t involve washing clothes was to see what kind of music would make plants grow better.  I can tell you right now that Mozart and Beethoven are enjoyed much more by plant/green life than heavy metal rock groups. (Yes, ALL the heavy metal bands actually KILLED the plants.) The Beatles, however did pretty well except for songs like “Helter Skelter” and “Why Don’t We Do It In The Road.” So the lesson? Our environment is sensitive to the vibrations around us…  I could go on, but I digress….

So, while I love to solve a mystery and do research on just about anything, I DO NOT like doing housework or laundry.

And, in a moment I will have take out my delicates and hang them up and then put in a load of jeans. The only exciting thing about that is my next load is filled with very cool embroidered jeans, so I will have to hang them up rather carefully instead of putting them in the dryer. (Yawn) Still not very exciting.

My point in all of this? I guess I was just thinking that I really admired my mother for finding a creative way to make housekeeping and washing clothing in the 1950’s enjoyable.  I’m 68 and I still haven’t figured out how to do that. But SHE DID!  She never seemed unhappy  doing the wash or housework, and made it seem like she was the Indiana Jones of Laundry. And that is really rather special.  I didn’t appreciate her creativity back when I was little, but I certainly do now.

And when her day was done and the three kids were in bed, sometimes I would creep into the hallway and peek in to see what my mom was doing at her desk while she waited for my dad to come home.  I’d sit and smile and watch her. She’d be typing away in her journal letting her imagination run wild as she relived the events of her day. I’d hear the indistinguishable sound as her fingers flew across the keys and she wrote down her thoughts about politics and other issues happening all around the world.  Journal entries that I did not read until after she passed away.  Gosh, I really miss her.  I think if she were alive today, I might even pay better attention to how she took out those difficult grass stains….

UGH! There goes the buzzer. Time for another load of laundry ….