The day begins at early light with the father up and dressing. He starts the fire in the cast-iron stove. Shavings and wood from the wood box are used for fuel to heat water and cook the meals. There’s a trip to the outhouse behind the cabin and the day starts just like it did yesterday and will again tomorrow.
Breakfast will consist of side pork, corn mush, coffee, and bread which the mother will soon begin to prepare.
Father is out feeding the oxen, horses and one cow in the rough shed that also stores grain, hay, tools, harnesses, and dry wood. He then heads back into the cabin to eat and rouse the kids. It is springtime with a lot of fieldwork to do.
Their three kids have a full day. The two younger ones head for the spring to fetch water for the day before walking two miles to the one-room school. The oldest boy has finished 8th grad and works on the farm with his father.
Today the father and son start to plow the 15 acres for oats they plan to put in. There are also 20 acres of woodland to cut, pull stumps and break (plowing for the first time), but that is a chore that will take all summer at best.
The work is hard for all of them. The mother of the house has two more big meals to make. She milks the cow, churns butter, knits socks and mittens, and patches or meds clothing by hand. This is also washday and she scours clothes on a scrub board in a tub filled with water she has first hauled in (along with the extra wood for the fire) and heated on the cast-iron stove. For rinsing the clothes she has just washed, the water must be near boiling, and then she must wring the clothes by hand and hang them out to dry.
Later, the kids are home from school, the men from the field. Its getting dark. A lamp is lit. Supper is done and the dishes washed. The kids read a bit from a schoolbook by lamplight. Sometimes a game of checkers is played.
Everyone heads for bed early, in the one-room loft they all share, to get ready for another day just like today.
Judging from the number of ironing boards that are turning up as donations to the Heritage Center Flea Market, apparently not. Much of our clothing is now made of fabrics that do not require ironing, a blessing to the households with no one home to do ironing anymore.
And ironing will soon be on the list as one more art lost to changing technology. There were conventional rituals for ironing each type of clothing or household linens that turned up in the ironing basket after wash day. A long sleeved shirt or blouse, for example, always started with the collar front and back, then sleeve cuffs and sleeves front and back. You progressed on to the two fronts and then the back. Done!
A house dress went much the same way, except that you had the skirt all around to deal with. There would be several table cloths in the ironing basket as every kitchen table had a cotton tablecloth for daily use unless someone was lucky enough to have found a piece of oilcloth. If there had been Sunday company the “other room” table would have been extended and a white linen tablecloth used for the company dinner.
Ironing a long linen tablecloth was a chore. First you folded it length wise and ironed each side full length. Then you folded it in half again full length and ironed each side. Linen required a very hot iron and you would have to frequently change the flatirons kept heating on the wood stove. Ironing very quickly when they were especially hot off the stovetop so as not to scorch the tablecloth. The smaller cotton tablecloths were ironed with the same procedure but cotton ironed more easily than linen.
Then there was the “starched” ironing. A boiled concoction of water and starch would have been cooked up and clothes requiring starch dipped in that after washing and wrung out. They were allowed to dry and then sprinkled with plain water a few hours before ironing. Starching encouraged scorching, so the ironer had to be very fast and efficient. The freshly ironed starched garment looked beautiful when first worn but after an hour or two hung as limp as if it had never seen starch. Nevertheless, starching had to be done. It was part of washing clothes.
The sight of an ironing board brings back childhood memories of coming home from school on a cold winter Tuesday (Monday was wash day and Tuesday you ironed) to find your mother in the kitchen with the warm smell of freshly ironed clothes in the air. It made you feel happy, safe and secure!