Country clotheslines and wash pots

J.A. Bolton Storyteller

August 12, 2014

Any of ya’ll remember when everyone had a clothes line and a No. 12 or bigger wash pot sitting in the backyard? Well if’en you do, you’re ‘bout my age or older.

For you young folk, a clothes line could be a single strand, double or even a triple line of smooth wire stretched between two or more posts or trees. People used to string their wet laundry on these lines or sometimes they just might hang their clothes on a bush to dry.

You see when I was coming along most folk didn’t have or couldn’t afford what they called a ringer washer, no sir–ree. That’s where the wash pot comes in. It’s a large, black, cast iron pot with three little feet and two small handles on it. Most didn’t come with a lid. If’en you wanted a lid, you just placed a piece of tin on top. The wash pot could be used for many purposes such as to wash clothes in, render lard and pork cracklings, fry fish, make lye soap or even cook up a pot of catfish or chicken stew.

Why if’en you had a big family there might be two or more wash pots in your backyard. One pot to boil water and wash your clothes in and the other to rinse them in. Then thar’d be several old scrub boards hanging on the side of the outbuilding to use if you needed to scrub your work clothes to get them clean. Otherwise you’d just have to add more lye soap to the boiling water and commence to stirring them clothes round and round in that wash pot.

Mondays was usually wash days for most folks if’en the weather cooperated. My Grandpa and I would get up early and fill each wash pot with water drawn from our well. Then we’d build a small fire around the wash pot with stove wood. You didn’t need a large fire but it had to be hot enough to boil the water in the pot. Won’t no switches or controls if’en you wanted a hotter fire, you just added more wood and to lower the heat you’d just rake the coals back.

Grandma would wash her white clothes first; then long johns and last; the dirty work clothes. Lye soap was added to the pot and the clothes stirred with an old broom handle or homemade wooden paddle. After each washing, the clothes would be placed in a pot of cold clean water and rinsed. Then the clothes would be rung out by hand the best you could and hung on the clothes line. You would have an array of clothes; underwear and linens blowing in the wind just as pretty as you please.

You see that’s why you wanted to do your washing on a sunshiny day. If’en a storm came up, you best be getting them clothes off the line and in a hurry, don’t you know.

To hold the clothes on the line we used wooden clothes pins that didn’t have wire springs attached. When we got a hold of the spring type we thought we was in high cotton.

When the clothes were dry, Ma would take ’em off the clothes line and place them in a woven wooden basket. My how good them clothes would smell all fresh and clean. Then they were taken in the house to be ironed on a homemade wooden ironing board. Ma still had several of them old smoothing irons you heated by the fireplace but she had saved her tobacco money and bought one of the electric kind.

Why I remember when I was small Grandpa would turn them wash pots upside down to keep them from rusting. He’d tell me, “boy, don’t you be fooling with them wash pots cause the Old Devil might be hiding under one of them.” Well he might as well as told me to turn them back over cause I just couldn’t resist the temptation. I got me several old bricks and a tobacco stick and pried one right over. To my surprize this big toad frog jumped out from under one. I just knew that frog was the Devil himself! Until this day, this Ol ’Boy don’t have no use for no toad frogs.

J.A. Bolton is a member of the N.C. Storytelling Guild, Richmond County Writer’s Club and Story Spinners in Laurinburg.