Ode to a Wringer Washer

On almost any Monday morning, you’d catch Mom in the kitchen, first filling the old wringer washer with hot water, turning it on, then filling the swishing tub with dirty clothes that hit the suds one by one with a satisfying plop and blurble. Like a hungry monster, the washing machine pulled the clothes downward into the steaming, soapy water. After a moment, they’d rise like undersea monsters, pale colors and shades of white, mounded like the smooth back of some creature… then they’d swish and swoop downward, only to rise and do it again.


As a child, I was fascinated by this powerful machine and when I grew into an adult, the fascination remained. It may sound strange, but there’s something fine and dignified about using a wringer washer. No automatic, close-the-lid-and-ignore-it washing machine can come close to being cherished the way a wringer washer can. It was one of the most efficient appliances to come out of the industrial revolution, and believe it or not, it’s still the most efficient of all laundry methods. These machines came powered by electricity, powered by gas or powered by hand, with or without pumps to empty the water.


They’ve been made with square tubs, round tubs, wooden tubs, aluminum tubs, steel tubs, porcelain tubs and copper tubs. They’ve come with attached wringers or not. The one thing they all have in common is a dasher or agitator on a simple gear that moves back and forth, forcing water through clothing to release dirt and it works very well. A wringer washer gets clothes clean in a minimum of time, using a minimum of water and a minimum of detergent. You can do a whole family’s laundry in one morning per week, and not even think about it for another week. It gets grungy clothes clean without having to use spot cleaners or pre-washes or soaks or whatever. When one speaks of quality wringer washers, Maytag has always been the one to beat, although there were several other manufacturers.


Unfortunately, Maytag doesn’t make wringer washers any more (the last one rolled off the production line in 1983), but you can still find old machines that work because they were made to last. If you can’t find a working one, Lehman’s sells reconditioned Maytags, as well as parts for them. The best news is that new wringer washers are still being made. They’re not quite the same as the old Maytags and they’re not made in the US, but they’ll get your clothes cleaner, faster and cheaper than any automatic washing machine ever made.


Using a Wringer Washer The method of using a wringer washer is different from using an automatic. You use the same water for several loads of clothes, thereby saving on water and detergent. The clothes are taken out to be rinsed and wrung dry within a few minutes instead of the half to full hour that automatic washers take. Wringer washers are more of a “hands on” chore,  but not a disagreeable one. If you’ve never used one, or if you’ve used one and found it tedious or time consuming, you may benefit by using this method:


  1. Separate clothing into whites (which includes light, colorfast materials), mediums, dark and really dirty (like rugs, barn clothes, grungy rags). Save the delicates for a separate wash, or hand wash them.
  2. Set up your washing area by placing the washing machine within reach of water, but leaving an area for at least one, and preferably two, rinse tubs.
  3. Fill the washer with water – hot for whites, and fill the rinse tub or tubs with cold water. Put liquid softener in the last rinse, if you use it. (If not, a half cup of vinegar in the rinse water will help remove all traces of detergent, brightening and softening them somewhat.)
  4. Put in the laundry soap and start the washer.
  5. Let it agitate while you add pieces of laundry, a few at a time, until they’re all swishing comfortably. Don’t overfill it, as the pieces need to move freely.
  6. Let the load wash for 1-15 minutes, depending on how dirty the clothes are. Very dirty loads can go for 20 minutes and things that just need a little freshening can be taken out in 5 minutes.
  7. At the end of the washing time, stop the washer, turn on the wringer and put the clothes through it one piece at a time.
  8. Using a wringer is an art or a science, depending on your viewpoint, but there are things to keep in mind.

    a) Don’t get your fingers in it. Today’s wringers are sensitive and will release if you do, but it’s quite a scare, anyway.


    b) Zip all the zippers and button at least a few buttons on shirts and pants. Fold shirts so that the button band is on the inside before putting it through the wringer and make sure zippers are flat going through.


    c) Very large items, like blankets and heavy coats, won’t fit through the wringer. Squeeze, squish and drip dry them.


    d) When clothes come out the other side, they must have something to fall into – or else they’ll fall on the floor. When I was a child and wanted to help Mom, she let me catch the clothes and put them neatly in the laundry basket to be taken to the clothesline. Come to think of it, I’m not sure how neatly they were handled, but it gave me something to do.

  9. As soon as you get all of the items from the washer, turn it back on and put in the next load of laundry. Check the time so you’ll know when to take them out.
  10. Reposition the wringer over the rinse tub and rinse the finished load by swishing it up and down or side to side in the rinse water. Run the rinsed items through the wringer and into a waiting basket or second rinse tub where you will repeat the action.




The misty mornings of October melt into golden afternoons and crystal moonlit nights. Everywhere there is color. The maple trees that surround the house envelope it in a cloak of buttery yellow and carpet the ground, while the cadmium orange sumach crowns the hill above the vineyard, all in contrast to the still green grass and clear blue skies. Corn that has been left in the field to dry for winter feed has been bleached bone white, and it rattles like dancing skeletons in the October breezes.
Inside, the first fires have been kindled in the woodstove to ward off the autumn chill. There is a faint aroma of camphor wafting through the house from the familiar patterens of the patchwork quilts that have been brought out of storage to warm the frosty nights.
The last of the herbs have been gathered, and they hang from the beams. There are the culinary thymes, savory, aromatic sage, the medicinal mints, coltsfoot, southernwood, magical mugwort, wormwood and artemisia bathed in its own moonlight.
This is the time of the apple harvest: winesaps, greenings, macintosh, red and yellow delicious, the antique varieties of sops of wine, sheepnose and smokehouse. There are apples to fill fruitbowls for immediate eating, apples that keep well for winter storage and apples that make the best pie ever. The back porch smells of baskets of apples in the afternoon sun and the house is perfumed with hot applebutter richly laced with cinnamon, cloves and alspice, which is canned by the case.
The sights, sounds and smells of October bring about in all of us subtle changes, and as our bodies begin to change metabolism, preparing us for shorter winter days, our consciousness begins to shift from the more actively mental to the more psychically receptive state appropriate to the dark half of the year. As all of these changes are taking place I am busy preparing for the most magical night of the year, Halloween.
The sounds of small feet shuffling up the path through the dry leaves of October announce the arrival of trick-or-treaters long before their knocks at the door. As the children gaze wide-eyed at the array of Halloween treats placed before them and slowly fill their bags with one of each, their parents are met with cups of warm spiced cider to offset the chill of the night air and to protect them from evil spirits. Eventually the sleepy children, filled with candy and exhausted from hours of trick or treating, are carried home to be put to bed to dream dreams of goblins and popcorn, witches and candy apples.
At last I am alone by the fire to contemplate the magic of this night. As the “Witching Hour” of midnight approaches, I gaze into the flames and imagine other times, in other places, when on this night ,Samhain (or Halloween) Fires glowed on every hilltop. As moonset darkens this haunted night and the spirits gather at the doors and windows, I stare into the fire and the wind howls down the chimney. When the dying fire has been banked and the candles in the jack-o’-lanterns have been extinguished, I leave a plate of cakes and a cup of wine for whatever spirits seek the comfort of my hearth tonight.

Dog Days

July is the month when summer has a firm hold on all of us. The average temperature just about everywhere is above 70 degrees F, with 80s and 90s even more common in the South and Southwest. 

Thunderstorms are nearly as abundant as ants at a picnic, and the hot, sultry time known as the Dog Days has begun—and lasts 40 days, from July 3 through August 11.

Named for the Dog Star, Sirius, which rises and sets with the Sun during this time, the Dog Days are associated with uncomfortable levels of heat and humidity.


The heat and haze of summer afternoons, the buzz of the cicadas in the still, oppressive air, are sometimes interrupted by a sudden summer storm. More often the roll of distant thunder brings no rain to relieve the heat or  quench the parched vegetables. Leaves wilt in the afternoon heat. When rain does come, it is often in the form of a downpour with such pounding force that it bruises the leaves of growing plants, releasing the fragrance of a multitude of herbs into the warm, moist air.
The first major harvest from the garden is cabbage. When all the cabbage has been picked, I remove the outer leaves for stuffing and split the heads. I slice the quartered heads dime thin, weigh the shredded vegetable and then add three tablespoons of salt to each five pounds. Then the cabbage is stomped in an old crock until it is covered with its own liquid. This will ferment in the cellar until it is canned sometime during the waning moon in September.
Later in the month, when all the plants have turned yellow and fallen over, the potatoes are ready to harvest. I gently turn the soil with a pitch fork , then with my bare feet planted in the dirt, my fingers feeling in the warm moist soil for the potatoes as the rich loamy aroma wafts up into my nose.
By the last day of the month, our harvest is in full swing. We have tasted the abundance, we have eated our fill of tomatoes and peaches and corn on the cob. I have begun to can tomatoes and pickle cucumbers, and the cellar is begining to be filled.


Most of the month of May could easily be spent just gazing into the woodland garden. There is an amazing variety of color and shape of flower in bloom. There are the brown and green stripes of the jack-in-the-pulpit,the nodding crimson crowns of the rock columbine, the bold white triangles of trilliums, the startling cerulean blue of Virginia bluebells, the secret hidden blossoms of wild ginger, and the lacy whiteness of saxifrage and foamflowers. Tightly coiled spirals of fern fiddles are beginning to emerge everywhere, and above all, the woodland sanctuary is filled with Nature spirits and flower faeries, which are especially active at this time of year.
As children many of us were able to see them. If we sat perfectly still in the forest where wildflowers were in bloom, eventually, and without warning, they would emerge from the plants themselves to play and laugh with one another. These tiny creatures appeared to be half human and half plant.
It is my opinion that the human part of their appearance was contributed by my own consciousness as a sign that they were, like me, Spirit, and that the flower part of their appearance was a product of their self-awareness, because reality is as much what is projected as what is perceived. In other words, the flower faeries I saw were my perceptions of the astral bodies of wildflowers that had slipped out to frolic from the physical bodies of the plants as they dozed in the dappled light of the forest floor.
The month of May is one to enjoy from beginning to end.Nature is in full bloom, and the blossoms are the promise of a bountiful harvest to come. Taste the sweet wine of May, and gaze at the profusion of wild-flowers. Linger in the woodland glen and fern filled glade and perhaps catch a glimpse of the bright elfin folk who dwell there. Spend quiet time by a sacred well or gaze into the depths of a mysterious pool. Scry the reflective surface of a pond and bless the iridescent damselfly that seems to hesitate before you then disappears.