I took a year off between High School and College. It was my chance to move away from home and become an independent adult. I decided I would go to Prince Edward Island and find a job in Charlottetown. My mother always referred to it as the time I ran away from home but I didn’t see it that way. I was seventeen years old and very “responsible”. I made arrangements to stay with a church family in Charlottetown and purchased my train ticket with the promise that if I didn’t find a job within the first three weeks I’d return. I was fairly confident that wouldn’t happen so it was an easy promise to make, especially since I could tell my parents were trying very hard to pretend that they weren’t worried about me being on my own out there.
It was the first time in my life I was being treated as an adult and I wanted very much to earn their respect and prove that they’d not made a mistake in hiring me. After the first week I asked about doing my laundry and the cook told me there were big industrial machines in the cellar for doing the residents’ laundry and all the linens and towels. For my own personal laundry I could use the smaller machine and hang my things on the clotheslines that were strung at one end of the room. I thanked her and made my way down carrying my basket and the soap I’d purchased on my day off.
I’d never been in this part of the basement before but I groped around until I found a switch and flicked on the overhead lights. I glanced at the big stainless steel washer and dryer. Next to them sat a long table with a basket of clothespins on a shelf above it. The lines were there and I looked around for the smaller machine I’d been told to use. There it sat next to a couple of washtubs in the back corner…an ancient wringer washer. Did people actually still use the things? I had a vague memory of my mother using one when I was very young but that wouldn’t help me much. There was absolutely no way I was going to march back upstairs in defeat, admitting that I didn’t have a clue how to operate it. How hard could it be anyway?
I set the basket down and glanced over my shoulder to make sure no one was around before lifting the lid on the washer to have a peek inside. A thorough inspection of the rest of the machine gave me at least an idea of how it was supposed to work. It had two on/off switches, one on the wringer itself and one on the body of the washer. The second one had to work the agitator. There was a hose clipped to the outside that could be unclipped and fed into a bucket for draining. I found another hose that I could attach to the tap to use to fill it. I plugged it in to test the switches and smiled in satisfaction when they did exactly what I suspected they would. I found a little lever and discovered that it would allow the wringer to swing around to 90 degrees. That would solve the problem of rinsing. I could fill the machine to wash the clothes and then run them through the wringer and into the washtub filled with cold water to rinse them by hand. Then I could swing the wringer around to run them through from the rinse to the empty washtub before hanging them. Satisfied that I had it sorted out correctly I set about to do my first wash, inordinately pleased that I hadn’t had to confess my ignorance and ask for help.
Two sweating hours later I was ready to kick the confounded thing to China and back. Two of my nightgowns had inexplicably gotten tangled in the wringers and by the time I’d managed to free them they looked like they’d been chewed up by an army of starving mice. My favourite sweater came through the other side all right but the sleeves ended up six inches longer than when I’d started. I tried putting it in the industrial dryer in the hopes that it would shrink but it was a long shot that didn’t pay off. At least I got the job done with all my fingers intact. Obviously, this new/old way of doing the wash was going to take a lot of practice. I carried my basket back upstairs with my chin high and a pained smile for the cook as I passed the kitchen. I never admitted to a soul that I’d had a problem but I did wonder if I might have saved my clothes a beating if I’d asked for a little help after all. Perhaps there was such a thing as being too independent….or too proud….or both.