There is a lost-in-time feeling to most laundromats -- and the one in this shopping center on Fair Oaks is no exception. This could have been any coin-operated laundry I used in the 1980s and 90s before I owned a washer and dryer. Same 1970s colors. (Same jarring fluorescent light which was never much fun on bleary Sunday morning after a fun Saturday night...) I was so overjoyed when I had my first washer and dryer. No more hoarding quarters! No more bizarre bleach marks on dark clothes! No more weird guys watching me sort my underwear! Even now, after all these years with a home laundry room, I still feel lucky not to have to schlep dirty clothes to a Fluff n Fold.
But even that is nothing compared to the way things used to be. Our home, like many in our neighborhood, was built in 1900. Laundry for the original owners was far more involved than anything we've ever known. First of all, forget hubby tossing in a load of whites. Victorian wives were expected to not only launder but often make all clothing worn by the family. Laundry had to be soaked, rinsed, boiled, stirred, bleached or blued, starched, wrung out, hung up and then ironed (with an actual iron that had to be retrieved from the fire.) Water often had to be fetched from wells and carried back home. If the water was too hard, it had to be boiled with wood ashes -- or Borax -- before being used.
And soap? Think of this next time you lug a box of Tide from the store. Most Victorian women had to make their own lye soap and use it to scrub soiled items on a washboard. For tough stains? Kerosene. Bleach? Try salt and lemon juice. And sometimes human urine. (I couldn't make this stuff up.) After scrubbing, laundry was then agitated by hand with a "dolly" -- a cute name for a long stick with some wooden pegs on the end that women used to stir, poke, jiggle and otherwise beat the heck out of whatever they were trying to get clean.
No wonder every cookbook had a recipe for absinthe and laudanum was sold over the counter!
Starch was a necessity of Victorian life in an age where wrinkles and limp collars were a sign of a slovenly character. Starch, of course, was made at home. Victorian housekeeping manuals are filled with various instructions on how to make the "best" starch -- wheat? Potato shavings? Sugar? Rice water? Take your pick -- but you had to pick something because only the most unkempt homemaker would neglect this important aspect of clothing maintenance.
After starching, the homemaker commenced to hanging all clothes to dry on outdoor clotheslines. (Hopefully, the above activities could be completed before mid morning as to maximize the sunlight. Victorians wore a lot of velvets -- and velvets not only took forever to dry, but they also tended to grow mold quite easily if left damp for too long.) After the laundry dried, the lady of the house moved on to the ironing -- with not one but many various implements set upon the stove top or into the coal fire. General irons, fluting irons for pleats, "mushroom" irons for puffy sleeves, "tally" irons for bows and strings and flat irons for sheets and pillowcases. (Yup, a proper Victorian lady had to starch and iron those, too.)
And all of this was accomplished while wearing corsets that limited normal respiration by up to 70%.
Needless to say, while I enjoy my home's architecture, and its vintage light fixtures, doorknobs, wood floors, picture rails, wooden built-ins and wavy-glass sash windows... I have no desire to journey back to the year it was built. And if my washer or dryer ends up on the fritz, this retro laundromat will certainly do in a pinch!
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