Housekeeping in the 1950’s

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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 ….

housewife

29 thoughts on “Housekeeping in the 1950’s

  1. Lesley, this is an exceptional write… It accurately mirrors a time when the husband worked outside the home doing the work of one, and the wife worked at home doing the work of many. I remember my dad coming home and asking my mom, “What did you do all day?” Moms are the true unsung heroes, then and now. Most importantly, they taught us values and respect. Thank you for this glimpse of the past.

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    1. Thank you Lance. This was my childhood and my mom was quite happy with her role. She worked during the war years and when my father returned home they married and started a family. Yes,they had their roles but they took them seriously, with pride and a great deal of love.

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  2. Oh my, Donna Reed! Not too many people today remember that name! I I remember watching her show and wondering how she could cook and clean all dressed up in pearls, heels, and a dress, when my own mother wore casual clothes and didn’t dress up for dinner. I was sure I’d grow up to be glamorous like she was. Lol Blankpaper, I was born a year before you, so our generation of girls and women have come a long way haven’t we? We’ve emerged strong, resilient, and taken with us some of the grace from Donna Reed and the wisdom of our mothers to help form us into the dynamic women we grew up to be. I doubt the young women of today would understand how much women have transformed from those days. And I so agree, cleaning out the fridge is the worst! Ugh!

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  3. Wonderful! I was born in 1950 so your words ring true. Everyone laughs at me when I say I don’t mind cleaning a clean house, but you have to be there to understand! The job I loathed was cleaning out the refrigerator! I once wrote an essay on the “Donna Reed gene” It was an amazing time to grow up in!

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

    I can’t believe it! This is so me. This was such a wonderful post. Very touching indeed. Got me thinking and emotional. I started journaling after my younger sister passed a few years ago. I had been journaling for years while in college but stopped because of life and stuff but when my sister passed… I began again. This post reminded me of that. It will be 4 years on the 10th since her passing.

    I love your style and content of your blog. I came across your shining light at Ward CLEVER’s world. I’m a fan already.

    Thank you for sharing this.

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    1. Thank you Mel. I’m so sorry about your sister. Both parents and my second husband have passed away and our trouts turn into amazing memories that remind us of the little things they did that were special and unique. I’m so glad to meet you. Thank you for stopping by. These days I’m find myself either protesting or relishing the little moments in time that touch our hearts. I never know….

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  5. I enjoyed this post, Lesley. It was a walk down memory lane for me as I remember my mother doing the laundry, ironing, and mending. She was an expert at keeping a clean house. I don’t mind laundry but no ironing or mending for me.

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  6. “She’d be typing away in her journal letting her imagination run wild as she relived the events of her day and discussed her thoughts about politics and other issues happening around the world.”
    For me, this was poignant. While I think your mom was wise to make the most of women’s lot in those years (my mom just took Valium), I can’t help feeling wistful that she never got a bigger platform to showcase her smarts and creativity and wit.

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    1. Thank you Amy. I think perhaps, had she not been born in 1920, but a few decades later she would have been a journalist or a historian. She broke boundaries in her own way. Rather like the eloquent letters Abigail Adams wrote to her husband John. Letter writing and journals were a way of recording history and that’s what my mother did. on her gravestone we wrote, “your history continues.” Each women in the 50’s coped the best way she could. Writing was my mom’s outlet and ironically it is mine as well.

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  7. I think you have the same ability to give your full attention to what ever task you have chooses to enjoy as your mother. As long as I have known you, you would excel at the things you held important and loved. Whether it was a TV series, new clothes, your students, or when we meet to eat, you give it your all. You have the same quality and I am sure your mom is proud of her daughter!!!

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    1. Oh Ruth, what a lovely thing to say. Thank you. I think the same thing about you. I certainly know you put your heart and soul into teaching and working with children and educators. And then there’s yoga, beading, healthy eating. I think we have a mutual admiration society!

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  8. Davy D

    I just recently bought a book of poetry all about washing lines Lesley. It contains some fantastic poetry all relating to laundry. That could be your angle to get through it – the Poet Laureate of Laundry- sounds cool 🙂

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  9. My beloved mother used 3 things to keep our household running smoothly:
    1) A system
    2) Us doing our chores in a timely manner too
    3) A loving manifesto: To make sure our time was organized in such a way that we could strive to be our highest and best selves.

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    1. Wow! Your mom was very organized. My mother had a schedule too but, I sure couldn’t tell you what it was. I was the middle child, the fanciful rebel in the family. My mother had me do chores, but I realize now she was quite understanding that I danced to the “beat of a different drummer” and had a more “artistic nature” than my siblings. My head was always in the clouds. I think because she grew up in the depression and had to help her father in his tailor shop after school, rather than having free time she understood that I needed my time. She wanted to play sports in the street with the boys and said her mom had to drag her inside by the ear to make her crochet and do more culturally feminine chores, which she hated. So, I believe she understood that if I did the basics, then her supposed wild child could have the freedom to paint my room purple or play the guitar. I have to admit, I was a master at procrastinating when I was a kid.Lol By the way,
      I love number 3 on your list. That should be a poster.

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      1. I love it that your Mother “understood” you. It strikes me that she wanted you to be your highest and best self as well. Let’s face it, we can find someone to do the domestic stuff. There are actually people on the planet that live for it. However talented [and in what areas] we each may be, snuffing it out in any shape, form or fashion is a travesty. Thank goodness that didn’t happen to us!!!

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      2. Yes, thank goodness! We were certainly lucky weren’t we? But, looking back now, I would have tried a little harder to listen better. If only we had the wisdom of age while we were growing up. Thank you so much for sharing your mom’s list. It is so much a part of the times and yet such simple rules. Much like I used in the classroom when I taught.

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      3. I’m one of those who hung on to my mother’s apron strings. Her words were the gospel to me. She fostered me, and when she had a stroke, I decided to run away at 15 rather than be subjected to a foster home without her in it. Had I not listened, I would have been lost for sure. It’s almost as if she knew, and made sure I took her age old wisdom for my own. I still had/have much to learn, but I made it.

        She commented once that she may have overdone it me. She didn’t realize that the more she reiterated, the more I took what she taught me on board. Now 62, I happy to report, I’m not standing in the floor just waiting for something else to do well.

        I’ve learned that to be at peace where you are in this moment…sometimes, it’s OK to call “enough” and simply be still.

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      4. Yes she was, and I thank her still. I think you and I were both blessed with gifted Mothers. They could only do the best they could for us, as it was all they knew to do. They left it to us to decide what we truly resonated with and what we didn’t. At the end of the day, our upbringing was about much more than what women AND men were all about in the 50’s. It how we have applied the “values” we learned to this day and time that’s important. By the way, my guest room is painted a lite purple and I love it!!!

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  10. I don’t know how anyone can do that stuff. I avoid it at all costs and only tackle it when I have nothing to wear. As for sewing anything, fagedabouit. Never going to happen. To make it a creative exercise says a lot about mom. Gert was great.

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    1. She was certainly creative that’s for sure. Her father was a tailor and I’m sure she watched him as a little girl and learned a few tricks. My grandfather could put in a zipper with an old fashioned foot sewing machine and manage to include his initials at the bottom of the zipper stitches. They were artists in their own way. Pretty cool.

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