Monday, March 14, 2011

What I Learned from Wash Pots

Recently I drove with a friend to view a new piece of property he had purchased. On it he had situated a travel trailer. He had also built a stand-alone bathroom/storehouse. The place is an idyllic getaway for him and his wife. He loves to hunt, and it is in the middle of prime deer territory. Quiet, peaceful, all natural--a little piece of heaven on earth.

Both of them have taken pains to decorate around the site, making it livable, warm and friendly. Old fashioned dinner bells hang from several tree limbs. A couple of feeders hearken to the birds to come and enjoy a feast. It is simply a place where they can relax, get away from the pressure of a job and enjoy the sights and sounds of nature.

As we walked around the site, I noticed two decorations that were among the many on the grounds. Curiously, I asked my friend if he knew what one of them might be. He ventured a guess that it was an old cast iron pot that was used outside to cook stew or prepare chitterlings. I told him, “No,” but these kinds of pots had been employed for those purposes as a secondary use. Then I had the chance to show my age.

I explained to him that it, indeed, was a cast iron pot, but its original purpose had been to wash clothes. I explained how a fire would be prepared under the pot so as to heat water into which a family’s clothes would be placed. There, they were boiled with a strong detergent like Oxydol, Duz or even a homemade detergent containing lye. After boiling the clothes, they would be placed in a galvanized tub of cold water to rinse the detergent from the fabric. After rinsing, they would be carefully and methodically hung on a clothesline where they would be dried by Mother Nature.

Then I told him how I knew about this process. I grew up in a rather poor family. I often tell people that I wore blue jeans and drove a pickup truck when neither was fashionable. My family could not afford a washing machine or dryer, so they resorted to the cast iron wash pot. I still have my family’s wash pot to this day as a reminder of my roots.

I vividly remember during my junior high school and early high school days, that one of my chores for the week was to go out in the morning before going to school and to chop wood for our maid to use for the wash pot fire. She was paid a fairly meager sum, certainly far less than it would have cost to purchase a washer and dryer in those days. I mean, after all, gasoline was $.10 or $11 per gallon, and the price did not fluctuate from day to day like it does in our time.

Sometimes, when I might have a washing day off from school, I’d watch our maid do our clothes. This allowed me to learn how she got such a wonderful, straight, and lasting crease in my blue jeans.

After rinsing my blue jeans, she would lower them into a tub of prepared starch. I don’t know what the ratio of starch was to water, but I can tell you that, when complete, the jeans could stand up on their legs. She would swirl the jeans in the starch, slip a wire frame through the legs of the jeans and open the spring that stretched the pants legs. The frame also put a stiff crease in the front and back. She would then hang them on the line with the remainder of the clothes and allow them to dry. No one else in my school had such highly creased blue jeans.

We’ve come a long way from wash pots to washing machines. For those who enjoyed the luxury of washing machines early in life, you are to be thankful. For those of us who did not, we learned a valuable lesson—convenience is not always a good thing. It often suppresses gratitude so that we become cynical, ultimately believing that we are owed such luxuries. For those of us who grew up in the post-war era, hard work and the absence of many luxuries in life have instilled in us an appreciation for all that we are and have.

Since those days, God has blessed me more than I could have ever imagined. Would I want to go back to those days—yes and no. No, in the sense that life was hard and often unforgiving. Yes, in the sense that life was simpler, less complicated, and thus could be lived out more honestly.

I hope you, too, can look back on your life and acknowledge that you have learned from all of your experiences, good and bad. For in it all, God is preparing you for something much greater.

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