Don’t get your elbow in a wringer

As I was growing up I often heard my mother say, “Soap is cheap.” Cleanliness truly was next to godliness in our home so it’s no wonder Mom’s old Maytag wringer-type washing machine remains a vivid part of my memories.

My earliest recollections of laundry day include a vision of a gray Maytag washer, complete with a drain hose attached to the side and a big black and white wringer on top. A rinse tub sat nearby.

Early on Mom had to heat water on the cookstove to do laundry but in 1953 we moved to town and enjoyed hot and cold running water.

Steam rose from the washing machine when Mom started the procedure. Whites were washed first and then run through the wringer into the clear, cold water in the adjacent rinse tub.

Light colored clothing went into the washer next, using the same water as the whites. After soaking in the rinse tub a few minutes, the white clothes were run through the wringer again and into a lined bushel basket.

The process was repeated with each successive load getting darker clothing until Dad’s work clothes became the final load.

We didn’t have a clothes dryer in those days so Mom carried the baskets full of wet, heavy clothing out to the clothesline. In the winter the laundry quickly froze stiff on the clothesline and Mom returned to the house with sore, red hands.

While I wouldn’t wish such chores on anyone again, I confess to enjoying the fresh scent of towels and bedding dried on the clothesline. Even the finest fabric softeners cannot give a pillowcase the fresh, delicate aroma it carries after having been dried in the sunshine.

A family discussion of Mom’s old Maytag washing machine invariably results in the retelling of a harrowing incident in April 1956. On a weekday morning Mom was hanging laundry on the clotheslines while I got ready for another day in second grade. My little brothers — nearly 3 and 5 years of age — were playing elsewhere in the house.

I heard screams. Following the screams to the enclosed back porch/laundry room I found the younger brother, Dave, hanging by his arm from the washing machine wringer, his toes barely touching the floor. The sleeve of his white sweatshirt was soaked with blood. Always the inquisitive one, he had activated the wringer and stuck his fingers in it.

I ran outside and shrieked the news to Mom. As she ran back to the house she screamed something about releasing the wringer. I had no idea what she was talking about.

Upon returning to the house, Mom flipped up the wringer release lever and freed my brother from the excruciating snare. Later Maytag models featured an automatic release of the wringer when the load became too great. This wringer kept grinding away until it pulled and chewed my brother’s arm up to the elbow and then blew an electrical fuse.

Brother Gerald and I stood by terrified and helpless as Mom frantically cranked the old wall phone to call Dad for help. This was long before our small farm towns had rescue squads and E-911 services.

Dad was delivering a load of livestock feed out in the country but his boss at the local co-op elevator rushed to our house. I’m not sure how they notified Dad but he was back in town in surprisingly short order. Mom also called the family doctor who met her, Dad and Dave at his office where it took more than 70 stitches to repair the injury.

Dave recovered quickly and, except for a nasty scar, one would never know how badly he had been injured. His doctor-recommended physical therapy was picking up bricks strewn around the yard each day.

As I grew older I learned to help with laundry and became familiar with the wash-wring-rinse-wring process. When I left home and began using the automatic washers at the coin-operated laundry I realized how much work the old wringer-type washing machines really were.

Still, when I see a photograph of an old Maytag wringer-type washer I wax a bit nostalgic. And I understand extremely well the meaning of the old metaphor concerning getting one’s elbow in a wringer.

Arvid Huisman can be contacted at huismaniowa@gmail.com. ©2024 by Huisman Communications.


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