The best part of writing, is researching for your story. I spent hours and hours doing research for Winter Wheat. I not only learned a lot, but I enjoyed reading stories written by others about a time in our history, that was full of wonderful happy stories, interspersed now and again by real tragedy. Chapter Six was a researchers dream come true. I not only had to research a specific topic, but I had to make it "real and believable" to my reader. I hope I succeeded.
The mechanics of everyday life in the 1920's were painstaking in comparison to ours today. Women had skills for things we don't even think of. You will see what I mean as you read this chapter... Hope I got it right!
Winter Wheat Chapter 6, begins:
For three days Emilie stumbled her way through a normal farmwoman’s daily life. Each morning she fought to light the fire in the woodstove, and even though she had demonstrated her abilities to Karl, for some reason her first three attempts to light the stove each morning always failed. Priming the frozen water pump every morning was the second hurdle of her day. She would no sooner get the frost removed from the pump then it would freeze over again, and so she would start the whole process yet again, and again. She cursed her continued ignorance every morning but with each new day she attacked her inadequacy with renewed determination.
One morning she decided that it was time to tackle the laundry.
“Raymond, does your Papa have die waschmaschine?” She questioned him as soon as their breakfast was over and the dishes were all done and put away.
Raymond by now was becoming accustomed to Emilie’s mixture of German and broken English; he’d even begun to mimic her words on occasion.
“Ja, he does!” his cheeky grin erupted to a smile as he tore off at a run towards the small back porch. He returned with a wooden scrub board tucked securely under his right axilla, and his chubby small hands clamped onto the handle of the large round copper tub he was dragging into the room.
Emilie watched in horrified fascination as he maneuvered the cumbersome tub across the floor then abruptly dropped it to the floor at her feet.
“That’s it!” She couldn’t believe that the child was not playing some sort of prank on her.
“Yup, that’s it. Dada hates to use it too, that’s why our clothes are always so dirty!”
“Mein!” She bent forward, lifted the tub from the floor and placed it on the kitchen table.
“No, not there,” Raymond pulled two chairs close to the woodstove and butted them together so they formed a platform of sorts.
“Put it up there,” he pointed at his makeshift stand then watched as Emilie whipped the tub off the table and on to the chairs. He grabbed the scrub board and plopped it down into the middle of the tub and then stood back proudly with his hands on his hips. He regarded his housekeeper quizzically, and then shook his head as if coming to some sort of decision.
“Don’t you know how to wash clothes?” He stood his ground and waited for her answer.
Emilie sighed and sat down on one of the spare kitchen chairs. “Well of course I know how to wash clothes, but I’ve always used a waschmaschine!”
“This is a regular washing machine,” the boy insisted with spirit, and then sighed in exasperation. “Well I guess I’ll just have to show you then.”
He ran to the sink and pushed the material that covered the open cupboard beneath it, out of his way. When he returned to where she still sat, he had a large square brick of strong smelling soap tightly clutched in his small hand. He held it out to her. “Here’s the soap. You have to scrape it off with a knife until you have a pile and then you put it in the tub. Then you have to heat some water on the stove until it is boiling hot, and pour it over the soap. You throw the clothes in and get them wet and then rub them on the board.” Up and down his little arm went as he demonstrated the use of the scrub board.
“Then you wring the clothes out with your hands until they are almost dry and hang them outside on the line.” He crossed his arms over his chest and waited for her comments.
“I’ll not hang clothes outside, Raymond! It’s winter, all they will do is freeze on the line!”
“That’s okay; they’ll thaw when you bring them back in!”
“Nein!” She shook her head and sprang from the chair. There was no way she was going to hang clothes outside to freeze, no way at all. She picked up the brick of strong smelling soap and pulled a sharp knife from the dishwater in the sink. She attacked the soap with the knife until she had a heavy pile of soap shavings. There was already boiling water on the stove so she carefully poured some into the copper tub, threw a handful of the children’s clothes into the steaming brew and quickly rolled her sleeves up over her elbows.
“Watch – it’s heiB!” Raymond moved to stand at her side.
“I know its heiB!” She answered him testily, and reached for the pail of cold water by the sink and added it to the tub. She fixed him a stare and then dipped her hands into the water. Her mother had always told her she had more stubborn German blood in her than anyone she knew, well be that as it may – no one was going to tell her how to wash clothes – especially not a child as young Raymond!
She grabbed the first article of clothing and smashed it up to the board. Just like Raymond had demonstrated she rubbed the garment up and down, up and down over the rippled surface. When she was satisfied that she had scrubbed enough, she twisted the cloth around and around until it would twist no more then shook it out and inspected her work.
“Gut . . . clean,” she mumbled to no one in particular as she checked each item thoroughly.
Raymond stared at her as if she’d lost her mind. “What’s so good about clean clothes anyway?”
She ignored his question completely.
“They only get dirty again anyway.”
“Raymond, does your father have any twine?” She asked without looking up from her task.
“Yes, I think so. What do you want twine for?”
“I’m going to make a clothes line here in the house. The clothes will dry faster in the warm house. Bring nails and a hammer too.”
He hoped he’d never have to tell his Dada that he was the one who’d fetched the twine, he thought, as he watched her pound the heavy nails into the window casings on one side of the room and the side of the kitchen cupboard on the other. Standing on a kitchen chair she firmly attached one end of the string to the nail in the cupboard, then hopped down and ran with it across the small room. Back and forth she went – four times before she stopped and surveyed her handiwork. She slapped her hands together and headed into the living room.
She repeated her actions, once again using the window casings on one side of the room as the anchor and this time the fireplace mantel as the other. When she was done two lines ran the length of that room too, and Raymond hoped that his father never found out that he’d had any part of this madness.
It took her two hours, but she completed all the laundry and found room enough on her makeshift clotheslines for everything she washed. When she was finished she stood back and examined her mornings work. Her hair clung to her damp face and neck, and her arms and backed ached something fierce, but her pride of accomplishment knew no bounds as she watched the wet clothes dry.
“Dadda won’t like this,” Raymond repeatedly complained aloud, but Emilie was beyond caring what Karl Wright thought about anything. If he wanted her to perform these tasks for his family, then he would just have to put up with her methods.