The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

The Day Grandma Got Her New Washer

By Beulah S. Fox © 1985

Issue: June, 1985

day grandma got her new washerThe washing machine pictured above is probably similar to the model described in this story. We found this illustration in a Maytag advertisement vintage 1919.Grandma's mind was made up. She was going to buy a washing machine. Since she could remember she had gathered the dirty clothes, carried them across the road down under the hill to the creek, filled the iron pot with water and heated it over a hot fire.

She dropped lye soap into the pot so it would melt and make suds. After the water was hot she scrubbed the white clothes on the washboard first and then she did the colored ones. She washed on the creek bank in the shade of the willow trees so she didn't have to carry water up the hill. Then my grandmother and I carried the wet clothes up the hill and I helped her hang the clothes on the line.

One day she confided to me that she had been saving her butter-and-egg money for a washing machine.

"Grat's getting tired of helping me," she said. "He says it's women's work. Last week I caught him burning some of his socks in the fire to keep from washing them."

She asked me not to tell anybody in the family about her plan. "They would expect me to get my arm caught in the wringer right off the bat," she said. "I'm awful tired of washing on the board. I think I can manage the machine."

I hoped Grandma wouldn't change her mind. I wanted her to have anything in the world that would make her life a little easier.

Later that same week Grandma and I were sitting on the front porch resting when we saw a salesman coming down the dusty road in his Model T truck.

He came in and told Grandma about the Maytag gasoline washing machine and how it operated. Grandma had no water ready so he didn't demonstrate, his product. But he did explain in detail how it worked.

He told Grandma to fill the tank with gasoline, add a small cup of oil and then turn the needle as far right as it will go. After that she was to crank it with her foot and then turn the needle to a vertical position after it started.

Grandma was most concerned about the danger of getting her arm caught in the wringer and she expressed her worry to the salesman.

The salesman replied that all she had to do was to turn the handle to the off position. Something told me I had better remember this.

Grandma went straight to the corner cupboard and brought out a syrup can with money in it. She paid the salesman from the can and had money left over. She made me promise not to tell anybody how she happened to get the Maytag. She said, "Now God I say." She was always very serious when she said that.

Grandma wanted to try the machine out the instant the salesman left. I helped her carry water and heat it. We carefully went over the directions the salesman had given us.

Then Grandma turned the pointed needle, hit the pedal a few times with her foot and the machine started. The lye soap began to smell. It was time to put the clothes through the wringer.

Everything went fine for a while. Then the worst - well almost the worst - happened. Grandma's sweater got caught in the wringer. There could have been a panic but luckily I was watching and remembered to turn the handle as the salesman had said.

"A body is going to have to be more careful," Grandma said as calmly as she could. "I don't know how I could manage without you. Let's keep what happened a secret. It's nobody's business what we do."

I agreed. I knew she was afraid somebody would laugh at her if they knew.

Years passed. Grandma quickly got the hang of it and used her gray Maytag as long as she lived. She kept a cover over it and from time to time she proudly showed it to friends and neighbors. It was probably her proudest possession.

One day Grandpa - the skeptical one - laid his hand on my shoulder and said, "Beulah, Christena was right in getting that washing machine, even at her age. It's a known fact that times are changing."