Washing Day

I can still smell soap bubbles in the scullery,
steamy clean and floating through my early
years; my grandmother’s hands red and hot,
tea-towels boiling in the biggest pot
as I turned the handle of the wringer,
reminded always to ‘Mind your finger!’
I remember sitting on the back step
while she raised the line with a wooden prop:
bath towels and sheets flapped above the trees,
vests and shirts danced in the breeze,
and I breathed in the scent of linen on the line.
Later, when the washing was dry,
I’d help collect the pegs and fold the sheets
ready for ironing. It was such a treat
to climb into a newly-made bed
and lay down my buzzing head
on a washing day scented pillow,
one that I’d seen billow,
and drift slowly
into soap bubble dreams.

Kim M. Russell, 2nd October 2018

Image result for 1950 washing day in the uk
Image found on Alamy

My response to dVerse Poets Pub Tuesday Poetics: Comfort Smells  also linked to Imaginary Garden with Real Toads Tuesday Platform

This Tuesday we have a guest host, Gina of Singledust, who would like us to think of a smell that evokes the deepest feeling of safety, such as a certain food from childhood, coffee from our favourite café, the smell of a freshly mown lawn or the musty smell of Grandma’s closet. Gina has shared poems by Christopher Morley and Eric Cockrell to give us inspiration.

The challenge is to write poems about comfort smells that take us back to a time when we would just collapse into a safe place.

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48 thoughts on “Washing Day

  1. We used a clothes line for most of the 50’s. We were late to get a television or a clothes dryer. But you’re bang on, no chemical dryer sheet can compete with fresh air and sunshine in a warm wind.

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    1. I still don’t have a dryer – everything goes on the line. Although, in winter we have an indoor airer suspended from the ceiling and lowered with a pulley in the utility room (also known as the cats’ room!).

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  2. Oh how wonderful, it was Monday in our house, the twin tub got wheeled out and you got stripped to your underwear….nanna had a mangle…in her kitchen, we had wooden pegs that you could make dollies out of with offcuts and material scraps and a bit of wool.

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  3. Oh, the wonderful smell of sheets and pillow cases dried on the clothes line in sunshine and country breezes! I don’t care how many “fresheners” they put in today’s laundry soap, NOTHING comes close to that wonderful scent!

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  4. I love how you took us back to a time you recall with such intense emotion and waiting to fall into the safety and freshly laundered sheets, like the arms of the one who washed them holding you safe. there’s is a certain soap we don’t use often these days but my mum used to have back in my younger days, if I get a waft of that scent I am back home again, running barefoot through the dusty lanes. I am sure you had many wonderful soap bubble dreams, that was a perfect line to end this “(nose)talgic” poem.

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  5. oh yes, no matter what has happened in a day, in a series of days, or weeks, in a life, no matter the turmoil or tumult, there is nothing more assured and refreshing than slipping into freshly laundered sheets – and if line dried? Heaven!!

    You’ve really captured a moment in time here Kim, one that clearly speaks of fond memories – and you’ve brought this scene to life – in the details, the scents – of soap, hot water, fresh air – and yes, watch the fingers for those pressure bearing wringers! …. yes, I remember that too ….

    this is just an absolute delight to read Kim … not only for the nostalgia, but also for the historical slice of an era, when things were simpler (although I’m certainly not suggesting wash days were easy then!) but how the necessities of life were challenging and yet, they offered the gift of slow living – and a deeper connection to others as well as mindfulness and yes, even allowance for soap bubble dreams and wishes 🙂

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    1. Thank you for your detailed comment, Pat 😉 Washing days were definitely not easy then – I felt so sorry for my nan with her red swollen fingers.Then, back in 1980, when Ellen was born, I was living in the wilds of Ireland with not even a washing machine for a while. When I got a second-hand twin-tub it was a dream come true but by then my hands had already suffered from washing nappies and I had the worst case of dermatitis you could imagine. I had a sweet-smelling baby, though!

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      1. the harshness of the soaps and the heat and all that friction from scrubbing … it meant cooked lobster claws for hands. I remember that all to well with my own grandparents … and even when my parents bought a new washing machine in the 1970s, my grandmother was suspicious of it, and wouldn’t use … preferring the tub and wringer model! (And yeah, cloth nappies ~ I was one of those babies allergic to the plastic ones, so I often was told how much trouble it was … so demanding and time consuming! LOL … )

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  6. It was a lot of hard work…I’ve seen antique tubs with treadmill for dog to turn the agitator. Grandma told stories of how dog hid on Monday mornings! Love your “soap bubble dreams” on fresh linen, Kim 🙂

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