A Wren's Nest in Dad's Bib Overalls


| 2/17/2019 12:00:00 AM


It was Monday morning, which meant clothes-washing time. A farm family of eight generated an enormous heap of dirty clothes in a week, and unless foul weather was imminent, Mother pulled the old Westinghouse wringer washer out of the corner of the back room and did the washing.

She filled the copper boiler with cold water from the kitchen sink. One faucet said “cold,” the other “hot,” but only the cold faucet produced water when you turned it on; we did not own a hot water tank yet. So she had to wait while the water heated on the old Kalamazoo cook stove.

As the water warmed she took her old paring knife, its blade sharpened into an efficient arc, and sliced two bars of Fels Naptha soap into the machine. Two galvanized rinse tubs were filled with cold water to be used after each load of clothes had agitated in the machine.

The hot water was poured into the machine and the first load, whites, went in. When Mother was certain that the load was adequately clean, she engaged the wringer atop the machine and fed the clothes between the rollers to squeeze out the soapy water. Then the next load went into the machine, the process repeated as the colors of the clothing darkened and the water grew murkier with soil.

The last load was always Dad's bib overalls and work socks. Mother would cluck her tongue as she scrubbed the feet of the socks, rubbing vigorously with a bar of Fels Naptha and muttering, “Fred, Fred. These clothes are so dirty they could stand upright in the corner!”



Dad rarely heard her muttering, and if he did, he ignored it; clothing was a necessary protective covering to him, and it was frivolous to change it indiscriminately, which to his way of thinking was more often than weekly. He believed that any article of clothing should be worn exclusively until it was reduced to shreds. The final load of Monday's laundry was, therefore, quite small: one pair of Big Mac bib overalls, one pair of denim dungarees which he wore to town and on Sunday afternoon, a few pair of stiff work socks, and whatever other under garments Mother coerced him into wearing.





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