Pioneer Potluck: Washday and various other things

  • Tuesday, October 24, 2017 12:03pm
  • LifeFood

Northern Colorado


Last week I wrote about Monday wash day and Tuesday ironing day. I received many comments about hanging clothes on the line — to the clothespins we used, to the pop bottle full of water with the sprinkler top on it. Barb Romine commented that “they had it hard didn’t they, and all without a complaint.” She also stated that she was one of ten siblings. Mom had five and I thought as she did too, that wash day would never end with all the clothes she washed plus the sheets and pillow cases every week.

Whenever there was a nice sunny day the beds would be stripped down to the mattress and all the bedding, quilts and pillows were hung out on the line to get “aired out.” That was not so bad, but getting them off the line and back on the beds was the biggest part of the work. But, boy, it was worth it because they smelled so good. I have never found a detergent, a softener, an air freshner in a can that replicates that fresh clean air smell!

Also the “throw rugs” or “scatter rung” that Mom called them, were gathered up, shaken out and taken to the basement to be washed after all the rest of the clothes were washed. Then Mom lugged them back up the 13 stairs to the clothesline, in her words, “for the umteenth time.”

I have mentioned the 13 cement steps to the basement, but here is how I know there were that many: on the 13th one, it was shorter to the floor of the basement and you either fell or tripped on the bottom step, making you do the bottom-stair-dance across the floor! No light in the stair well and the only light would be inside the wall of the 13th step. If you had a load of clothes in your arms, and I mean a big load, you wanted to know where that 13th step was. More than once or twice I stumbled and jarred my jaw, hitting the floor of the basement with my feet in total surprise. So I counted the steps. What if Mom sent me to the basement where the pantry was, with three or four jars of fresh canned peaches or pickles and I stumbled on the 13th step? Then I would have to clean up the mess and hear my Dad or Mom ask me if I just learned to walk! They did that often enough as it was!

Dad mentioned that I could stumble over a blade of grass! I could jump irrigation ditches with no problem, but walk across the yard or living room floor — yup, I would stumble in front of anyone that was around. Thus, Dad named me the “stump jumper.” I have no idea why! And he also said I walked like a duck — I still do! The teasing was all in fun and with love. I never felt embarrassed, it was just me and the way I walked.

In Home Ec. in high school, Mrs. Burke gave us all lesson on poise and etiquette and how to walk straight and tall with your chin up and the head held high, shoulder back and arms to your side. I am so surprised I got a good grade in that class! (I worked at it!) We had to model the dresses we sewed in class and worked so hard on. I picked a circular skirt in turquoise waffle weave material. I had no problem with the dress itself and sewing it together on a sewing machine, but the hem had to be hand sewn and it HAD to be straight and neat. She had me tear out the whole circular skirt three times before I could even get a grade on it. I spent a week hand sewing the skirt and ripping it out! That was the only circular skirt I made! They were in fashion and Mom bought Ginger and I the crinoline underskirts to go with them. I had a grey skirt with a pink poodle on it. Remember the pink poodle skirts? Everyone had one! White “saddle oxfords” with white bobby socks, rolled down to the ankle. Boy oh boy were we in style. I still marvel at the fact that Mom bought us up-to-date in-fashion clothes. She bought herself some very nice dresses and a coral knit suit that looked so lovely on her with her black hair. I got to wear that same suit a couple times as a Junior and Senior to important functions at school and once to a western concert in Denver.

Back to the 13 steps! Our uncle, who will remain nameless to protect the relatives who know this story, lived with us off and on in the basement bedroom. He helped Dad on the farm and the ranches that Dad had purchased. He was a big help to Dad. They also had fun together along with my brother Johnny (or Butch) going coon hunting. Uncle really loved coon hunting! Dad did too and came home with detailed accounts of the adventure of the coon hunt.

Uncle had a place at the end of the oval kitchen table. Dad had the other end — the head of the table. We kids had our specific chairs. Uncle loved Mom’s biscuits and gravy. He would finish with dessert, and then in a quiet almost stuttering voice he would say, “L-loretta could I have the last biscuit and the gravy?”

He relished that more that anything I have ever witness in my 80 years. We all knew eventually to leave the last biscuit and the last of the gravy in the bowl for Uncle.

Anyway, back to the 13 steps. Uncle liked to go to town, 14 miles to Fort Collins, on a Friday or Saturday night once in a while. I think he owned a black Chevy coupe, and us kids would wait for him to come in the “back circular drive way” so as not to wake anyone. He parked in the yard and every so slowly opened the squeaky screen door to the porch, tip-toed to the top of the 13 stairs, then we would wait for the KERWHAPP! He hit the bottom short step and fall to the floor of the basement. At times he uttered a few short words, while use kids snickered and giggled upstairs in our beds. I am sure Dad and Mom heard him too, but they never said anything to embarrass him.

Finally Mom had enough of him coming home, sneaking in the door and going down the stairs and falling on to the basement floor. “John! Your brother has to find another place to live. I cannot have him around here any longer!” Dad would stutter and say “Now, Loretta!” Mom would say, pointing her finger, “He has to go!”

We think he left after we all went to school because Uncle was gone that day. We missed him! He would go to the sale barn every Wednesday and at times bring us a puppy, a parrot, ponies with carts, and a monkey! Mom made him take the monkey back after he climbed a tree and screached for hours. The ponies and the cart soon disappeared also. I got to keep the puppy. The parrot went somewhere also because Mom was NOT about to have that noisy, nasty bird in her house! She also stated to Uncle and Dad “THIS IS NOT A ZOO!”

Uncle did come back but for a short stay. He got married to a nice lady that took good care of him. They lived in a nice old house in Fort Collins. She also liked the things that he brought home to her!

This is about all I have to say about Uncle, the 13 steps and the way of life I grew to know and love.

Correction: For the Sunshine Cake in last week’s column, I omitted 3/4 cup sugar! So so sorry!

The Pioneer Potluck series is written by 50-year resident of Alaska, Ann Berg of Nikiski. Ann shares her collections of recipes from family and friends. She has gathered recipes for more that 50 years. Some are her own creation. Her love of recipes and food came from her mother, a self-taught wonderful cook. She hopes you enjoy the recipes and that the stories will bring a smile to your day. Grannie Annie can be reached at

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