Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Aug. 10, 2007

No rhyme to chores in modern times

Funny how some once-ubiquitous things can fade into history without anyone noticing. I thought about this when I recalled how certain household chores were consigned to certain days of the week. The "Here we go 'round the mulberry bush" rhyme documented these tasks.

"Here we go 'round the mulberry bush,
The mulberry bush, the mulberry bush
Here we go 'round the mulberry bush
So early in the morning."

"These are the chores we'll do this week,
Do this week, do this week.
These are the chores we'll do this week
So early every morning."

"This is the way we wash our clothes,
Wash our clothes, wash our clothes
This is the way we wash our clothes
So early Monday morning."

Every day had its own stanza. Tuesday was for ironing, Wednesday for scrubbing the floor, Thursday for mending, Friday for sweeping the floors, Saturday for baking bread and Sunday for dressing up - and going to church, I presume.

Art can recall when these were reinforced on the radio by little ad jingles, such as one for laundry soap: "Today is wash day, Today is wash day . . . "

Of course, even years ago, the order and type of tasks varied for different people. For example: Wednesday might be Mending Day while Thursday was Market Day.

There is certainly little reason and no rhyme to the way I do housework, and I have a hunch most women are like I am in this regard. When I get home from work, I may throw a load of clothes into the washer and then run to fix supper.

Or not.

We will have supper, but whether it will be preceded by starting a load of clothes is very iffy. And if it happens on a Monday, that would be pure coincidence.

Once in a blue moon, I'll sew on a button or patch a pair of jeans that need mending, but there will be no predicting when that might happen.

It is more likely that I'll do major house cleaning chores on Saturdays, but even that can vary, depending on my mood and the time I have available. And some weekends, when I'm feeling particularly "domestic," I will bake bread or make some sort of dessert.

Setting aside a whole day for a task such as washing was from an era before automatic washing machines and dryers, steam irons, vacuum cleaners, sewing machines and the many other modern appliances that make life so much more convenient.

When Grandma Ethel and Mom washed clothes, they had used wringer washing machines and separate tubs for rinsing and then they hung everything on outside lines to dry. When they were finished with the rinse water, they used it to water their flowers.

When Mom and a friend were talking about some of their chores growing up, they recalled ironing with irons that had to be heated on the stove. They started first with handkerchiefs, then tea towels, then pillow cases - which they ironed inside out so the embroidery would "stand up nice." They starched nearly everything and it would sometimes take 20 minutes to iron a single shirt.

Even when I was growing up, we sprinkled our clothes with water, rolled them up, put them in a plastic bag and brought them out one by one to iron. While I now find it hard to believe, at the time I thought it was great fun to bring out the wrinkled clothes and press them into shape.

Now I avoid ironing like the plague. When I buy clothing, I immediately check the fabric care instructions and if it says ironing will be needed, I put it back and look for something else. When youngest daughter Katie was 4 years old, we visited a friend, who brought out her ironing board and steam iron and began pressing her clothes. Katie stood transfixed and asked Nancy what she was doing. She had seen me iron so few times that this was a new thing for her!

Although I kind of miss some of the chores I had when I was a girl, I wouldn't want to be tied to doing them on a particular day of the week. I must be somewhat like my 97-year-old mother-in-law Donna. I asked her if she had particular days when she did certain chores.

"I did it when the spirit moved me," she said. "If I didn't feel like doing it one day, I did it another day. I was never one who had a particular routine."

Amen to that!

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