This is the age of the computer. They are putting computers into the schools and teaching kids in the primary grades to use them. I wouldn’t know a silicon chip if I met one and “software” means flannelette pajamas to me, but my second-grade grandson understands these terms.
High technology has wrought many wonders. When I was a child, we washed our clothes on a washboard, an instrument most children of today wouldn’t recognize if they saw one in a museum.
A washboard is a flat, wooden-framed, two legged piece of rippled metal that stands in a tub of soapy water. A second tub holds rinse water, a third holds bluing water. The three tubs sit on a wash bench. The clothes are wrung by hand.
My mother had very strong hands and arms. She could wring a quilt and get all the water out of it.
In all kinds of weather, the clothes were hung on an outside line. Sometimes they froze stiff. In rainy weather, it might take days for them to dry.
The first washing machines were clumsy brutes, hand-powered, but what a treasure women of that generation considered them, especially after the kids got big enough to furnish all the power.
The electric washing machine was a godsend. But the clothes had to be fished out of the hot suds and hand-fed through a wringer into a basket. Wringers were dangerous, too. Once my small daughter grabbed at something going through the wringer. Her arm went through, up to her elbow. Frantically, I hit the release bar. Fortunately, her bones were still soft and she wasn’t injured, but the experience left me shaken for days.
In those days, the clothes still had to be dried outside, unless one was lucky enough to have a large basement. In any case, clotheslines and clothespins were the means of drying.
Once I dropped a clothespin on the basement stairs. Later, I stepped on it. It rolled. I fell down the steps and broke my leg.
That type of machine was a very far cry indeed from today’s machines that at a touch of a few buttons will fill the washer with hot water, wash the clothes a prescribed number of minutes, spin them almost dry, replace the water, rinse, and spin them out, ready, not for a weather-beaten clothesline but for another machine with another set of buttons, a dryer.
Recently, we have been reading that some day before too long, we may have a computerized washer-dryer connected to a computerized clothes chute, thus doing all these lowly chores on order of a pressed button, so that an ever-ready supply of clean clothes will always be at hand.
How would our grandmothers have reacted to such a machine? They might be scared to death of it at first sight, but if history is any guide, they’d soon be pushing the requisite buttons, just as their great-grandchildren are learning to handle computers.
Although I know that high technology is a foreign language I will never understand, I mean to take advantage of all the ways in which it can improve the quality of my life.
-From June 6, 1985