Peterson: Washing machines put belief through wringer

I’m pretty fortunate to have been born near the end of the Baby Boom in 1958. Which is at least a half-century ago. To put it in perspective.

We really had it all: indoor plumbing, electricity, a furnace, cars, radios, television sets, Bic pens. I don’t remember where I was when President Kennedy was assassinated, but I do remember where I was when John Lennon was shot.

I easily missed the Vietnam draft. I didn’t even have to register with Selective Service, which is the government’s way of keeping track of young men and women should a draft be needed. Missed it by two years. And I was opposed to even that, having filed my conscientious-objector status when I turned 18. By then, the country was pretty fed up with wars anyhow.

Yeah, 1958 was an ideal year.

The most primitive thing I can remember, and I can only remember it for one brief instant, was the wringer washer we had in the basement. It was a dangerous beast that filled up with water, covering all the clothes in the tub, with the clothes being agitated back and forth. I always like that word – agitated – because it’s like clothes had emotions and hated being soaked in suds and tossed back and forth.

When the washing was done, my mom would run the clothes through the wringer, two rubber rollers that squeezed the excess water out of the clothes so they could go into the dryer.

And that’s what I remember: the wringer. It was dangerous, and I was told to keep away from it unless I wanted to have happen to me what happened to brother Dave, who was old enough to be drafted but not old enough to be picked. He stuck his fingers in the wringer, which squeezed them like lumpy jeans.

I didn’t witness that – I probably was taking a nap – but I did hear about it. And I didn’t need to be told to stay away from the wringer, averse as I was to pain. I learned a lot of things like that from my brother, who was the oldest, so he blazed the trail for stupidity, making it safe for those who followed him.

That’s the instant I remember. “Keep your fingers away from the wringer,” my mom said. And that’s all I remember.

But that wringer washer, that’s as old-fashioned as I get. Everything was pretty much invented. It was just a matter of making things smaller and faster. It was just a matter of having more choices and more conveniences. It was just a matter of money, no small thing.

They have made washing machines smaller, but really, the trend is for bigger machines that can wash more clothes, such as the machines at the commercial laundries you go to with a pocketful of quarters.

I’ve been around washing machines nearly my entire life, and I still don’t get them.

Honestly, how can a small capful of laundry detergent and a lot of water get the dirt out of clothes? I mean, really get the blood, sweat and tears out of them so they are as clean as they were the day you bought them?

Just because they are agitated for something less than a half-hour? And the wringer has been gone a long time, replaced by machines that have spin cycles. These machines can spin clothes so fast that they are just damp when they come out. It’s amazing.

And I don’t really believe it, even after having washed thousands of loads myself. The dryer makes perfect sense. You put damp clothes in, they get tumbled in very hot air, and before you know it, they are dry. The proof is in the touching.

To prove wash machines really work, you’d need a microscope to inspect clothing for dirt molecules.

Of course, we want to believe that wash machines clean our clothes. Actually, it’s gotten beyond believing: We expect wash machines to clean our clothes, no questions asked, no thought given to it. It cost a couple of hundred dollars to buy, so it had better work. For a long time.

The same thing goes for dishwashers, which became all the rage in the late 1960s. Why wash dishes by hand when a machine – the cousin of the washing machine – can do it for you? I wash dishes by hand, and I’m pretty sure they are clean when I am done. But put them in a machine with a couple of teaspoons of detergent and expect them to be clean when done?

It makes as much sense as the washing machine.

I’m not advocating for the time before machines, but I’m just asking: How do we really know?

For me, the good old days are all about convenience. We’re just not supposed to ask too many questions. Trust me, we’re told, it will all come out in the wash.

• Dick Peterson, who lives in Woodstock, is a mental-health advocate, freelance writer and a former Northwest Herald Opinion Page editor. He can be contacted at dickpeterson76@gmail.com.

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