When wash­ing clothes be­came an ad­ven­ture

The Compass - - CLASSIFIED - — Ma­rina Power Gam­bin was born and raised in her beloved Branch, St. Mary’s Bay. She is a re­tired teacher who lives in Pla­cen­tia where she taught for al­most three decades. She can be reached at mari­nagam­bin@per­sona.ca

Grow­ing up in Branch in the 50s and 60s, I knew no lux­u­ries in our lit­tle com­mu­nity. We did not re­al­ize the con­ve­nience of elec­tric­ity un­til 1965.

But in 1958, we had a gaso­line wash­ing ma­chine. We pur­chased it on the bud­get plan from the Great East­ern Oil Co. As I re­call, we were prob­a­bly one of the last fam­i­lies to buy a washer.

So, when ours ar­rived and was sub­se­quently set up, my older sis­ter and I proudly trot­ted down the lane to the shop to pur­chase the nec­es­sary gal­lon of gaso­line for less than twenty-five cents. I can still see my sis­ter Jean swing­ing that gaso­line can so that ev­ery­one around could plainly see that we were now the own­ers of a cov­eted washer. No more scrub­bing on a rough wash­board or twist­ing our wrists wring- ing wa­ter out of woolen blan­kets. Proud as pea­cocks we were. No mat­ter that we still did not yet have run­ning wa­ter or in­door bath­room fa­cil­i­ties.

A noisy, danc­ing beast

The washer it­self was a mon­ster of a ma­chine. It was started (not eas­ily) by means of a hand pul­ley, and once it got go­ing, it made a noise com­pa­ra­ble to the en­gine room of a boat.

What in­trigued us most the first time we used it was how it danced all over the kitchen floor. My baby brother, who was in his crib at the time, al­most went into con­vul­sions.

How we solved the prob­lem of the mov­ing washer now es­capes my mem­ory, but it was even­tu­ally im­mo­bi­lized. Once we got the hang of op­er­at­ing the ma­chine, we could fill three clothes­lines quite pro­fi­ciently in jig time. Wash day was a con­tin­u­ous pa­rade of boil­ing wa­ter on the wood stove, dump­ing it into the washer, pump­ing it out, fill­ing it up with the rinse wa­ter and so on.

A de­mon in­ven­tion

I’ll never for­get the com­bi­na­tion of steam and gaso­line that of­ten wafted through our bungalow on the Hill. We did not mind the labour be­cause we were mov­ing into the age of mod­ern times and we were not about to com­plain.

Dur­ing those wash days, the nov­elty of pass­ing the clothes through the wringer and watch­ing the ag­i­ta­tor churn up the foamy Rinso or Surf, com­pletely cap­tured ev­ery­one’s at­ten­tion. All the young­sters in the fam­ily waited their turn to pass some­thing through the wringer un­der the watch­ful eye of some­one older. Ex­cit­ing days, those first few weeks of the new ma­chine!

But enough about the me­chan­ics. Be­fore he passed away in 2001, I asked my el­derly fa­ther if he re­mem­bered our gas washer.

“In­deed I do,” he said. “The first time we used it out­doors that sum­mer, it made such a racket that Un­cle Jack’s mare ran away and broke down ev­ery fence on the Hill and nearly killed Aunt Lucy Ann. She called it a de­mon in­ven­tion, the devil’s own cre­ation.”

I can’t re­mem­ber how of­ten we used that washer each week, but I know the whole fi­asco was quite the ad­ven­ture for the first sum­mer. To­ward the com­ing of fall, the nov­elty had worn off, we were all sick of the washer and ev­ery­one tried to pass the job to some­one else.

To­day, my older sib­lings fondly re­mem­ber the gas washer episode and the sum­mer we were ini­ti­ated into the world of house­hold ma­chin­ery.

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