Classic Tales of Old Dorp: In winters past, the washing froze and cream rose out of milk bottles

There are some things we remember fondly about the winters of our youth, things that can’t happen to

The Daily Gazette is reprinting excerpts of the late Larry Hart’s long-running column, “Tales of Old Dorp.” Today, with winter weather in fashion for the foreseeable future, Hart remembers ways people used to tolerate the cold days of January, February and March. This column excerpt originally was published Jan. 19, 1992.

There are some things we remember fondly about the winters of our youth, things that can’t happen today.

There was the milk delivery on frigid mornings, when the frozen cream extended high above the neck of the glass bottle. Occasionally, the milk expanded sideways so rapidly that it cracked the bottle.

How about the wet wash that women hung out on those wintry days, the squealing and creaking of the pulleys as the line played out the clothes over the backyards? Many were the times when we kids were amused at the shapes some of the clothing took, the now stiffly frozen long underwear, stockings, nightgowns and shirts becoming comical statuary. Now that we think of it, the poor housewife must have had a difficult time of it, trying to pull in that icy lot and haul it in from the line.

One thing, though — probably you can’t beat the fresh smell of clothes that were dried outdoors, something rarely done in these parts nowadays.

Bathing in kitchen

We today who are accustomed to central heating and indoor plumbing would find it a hardship, indeed, to rough it as our forebears did until about the turn of this century. Even up to World War I, however, there were many homes in this area that did not have bathrooms as we know them. Bathtubs were hung on a big hook in the back entrance hall, to be hauled out on Saturday nights and placed on the kitchen floor where members of the household took turns getting their bath.

We’ve heard it told that, to save water and the fuel to heat it, the bath water often was used by three or four persons if it was a large household. Those that did the telling recalled with some mirth the way families arranged the “pecking order” for turns in the tub. Sometimes it was by age, but frequently by the money turned in that week by working members of the family.

Only the more affluent could afford indoor toilets (even chemical toilets) until about 1900, when they became more commonplace. Before that, it was “out to the backhouse” with kerosene lamp or candle on nights when people absolutely had to answer nature’s call. Our pictures and maps of Schenectady streets in the early days inevitably showed two small outbuildings in almost every backyard — the privy and the woodshed.

Categories: Life and Arts

Leave a Reply