The 1930's: Life in the City
THE WET WASH LADY
"Grandma, I really liked those stories you used
to tell us about when you were young. Are you sure you haven't remembered
"Oh, I don't think so. However, just the other
day, one of my friends was talking about her childhood. Some things were
different from mine. Would you like to hear about those?"
"Okay, Grandma. I do like the stories you
"This lady lived in a big city - not on a farm
like me. That's why some things were so different. There were lots of
houses built on the street where she lived. They were so close together
you could almost reach out of a window and shake hands with a kid in the
next house! She was lucky to have lots of kids to play with. Besides kids,
there were lots of people who came by her house. I guess that's why she
enjoyed sitting on the stoop outside her front door.
Early in the morning, the milkman came by. They
didn't have cows like we did to get their milk from. They always left
their empty milk bottles on the stoop. The milkman would collect these and
leave full ones. One of her jobs was to bring in the fresh milk and put it
in the ice box."
"Grandma, you mean refrigerator, don't you?"
"No, I really meant ice box! It was a big wood
box about the size of our refrigerator. For that, they needed the ice man
who also came by. He had great big blocks of ice in his truck and would
pick one up with huge tongs and carry it right into the kitchen and drop
it into the top section of the ice box. The cold air from the ice settled
down around the milk and food to keep it cool. Now, I've just taught you a
scientific fact - cold air always settles down!"
"Grandma, I'm just a little kid. What do you
mean by scientific fact?"
"Oh dear - well, it's just something that's
always true in the world around us. Incidentally, the opposite is also
true - hot air always settles upwards. That scientific fact also helped
keep the food cool. I think I'd do better telling you about the ice man.
My friend said that quite often, he would chip off a piece of ice for her
to lick while she waited for the next person to come by. That would be the
'Wet Wash Lady'.
"Who on earth was that, Grandma?"
"That's exactly what I asked my friend. This is
the way she explained it to me. She said: We didn't have enough money to
buy a washing machine, but one of our neighbors had saved enough to buy
one. She became the 'Wet Wash Lady'. Dirty towels and sheets were hard to
clean in our sink, so when we, or one of our neighbors had enough to fill
a laundry basket, we would set it on the stoop. The Wet Wash Lady would
pick it up, wash them in her washing machine, and return them. Then we
could carry them to the back yard and hang them on the clothes line to
dry. You could also ask for Dry Wash, but that cost a lot more."
"My friend mentioned one more person who came by
once in a while. This one I don't have to describe to you. He always
played music so you would know he was coming. Can you guess who that could
"Oh I know, Grandma, I know - the Ice Cream Man!
I really like to hear him coming!"
"So did my friend. That old ice box they had
wouldn't keep the ice cream frozen. Thank goodness our refrigerator did
because we didn't have an ice cream man in the country!"
"You made your own ice cream, didn't you,
"Yes we did. Life was very different on the farm
than it was in the city. But in some ways, our memories were the same. My
friend had a nice long side walk down the block for games of marbles,
hop-scotch and jump rope, just like I played. We both used to recite
rhymes to keep in step with the jump rope. Neither one of us could
remember any of them. Both of us did remember a silly song we used to
sing. It went like this:
Come all you children, Come out and play with me
And bring your dollies three, we'll climb the apple tree
Holler down the rain barrel, slide down the cellar door
And we'll be jolly pals forever more
We were sitting there singing this silly song and
then realized some other ladies at another table were staring at us. I
guess they thought we were nuts!"
"Oh Grandma, you are a nut! But I love you
"I love you too, sweetheart."
"Next time you stop by, I'll tell you about your
Grandpa's childhood. He lived in the city, too. His family were
immigrants. They came here from Italy. And we'll plan on making some
Italian cookies from a recipe his mother, your great-grandmother, shared
"Sounds good to me, Grandma!"
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Have a great year!