1900 House -- 06/19/00

You have got to watch this program. It is on PBS -- Monday nights at nine on the Boston station, I assume at some similar time elsewhere -- and it is the fascinating story of a British family that spent three months living in a house that had been restored back to 1900 technology.

The family -- mom and dad, 17 yr old daughter, 11 yr old twin girls, and a nine year old son -- volunteered for this experiment. They had to live exactly as a middle class family would have lived in 1900 London. They wear 1900 style clothing. They eat 1900 style meals cooked using only the implements and the stove that would have been available then. They can barely get luke warm water for a bath. The toilet is not in the bathroom; it is in the back yard.

The opening episode (of a four part series) last Monday showed the selection process by which the family was selected. It also showed the process of retro-fitting the house back to a 1900 level of technology. It is an eye-opening and mind-boggling program. Among the many areas explored is that of doing laundry... and the dangers to be faced. Last year a dozen children died in London due to scalding; in 1900 the figure was two thousand!

I have heard that the producers of this program are considering a sort of sequel to be called 1940 House which will feature a family attempting to live in a home as it would have been at the beginning of the Second World War. That would move things to the level of technology I knew as a child. (I was born in 1943.)

Bonnie recently wrote about laundry day as she remembered it from her childhood. That matched up with some of my own memories of laundry day when I was a child, memories brought up by having watched last week's installment of 1900 House. I can remember my mother's wringer type washing machine. It had two tubs, one filled with soapy water and one with rinse water. Running the garments through the ringer squeezed out the soapy water so they could then be rinsed. The wringer -- a pair of rollers -- used to scare me as a child and I feared getting too close when it was in use. I would imagine with horror what it would be like to have your hands pulled into the wringer! The wash tubs had a second use -- on hot summer days my mother would bring one out to our backyard and fill it with water: instant kiddie pool! The washed clothing would be hung to dry in the backyard. When I was very little we had a sort of carousel of clothes lines, a thick central pole rising from a wooden platform, with an overhead wheel and pole arrangement on which the laundry would be hung to dry. Later my father put up two cross bars about thirty feet apart with five or six lines running between them. He demolished the old carousel contraption -- and replaced it with two verticals and a crossbar setup from which he could hang various kinds of swings for my brother and me. (Reflecting his professional status at the time of steam-fitter and plumber, this was built from heavy duty pipe rather than from wood.)

In colder weather my mother was constantly annoyed by the amount of soot that would be deposited on clothing that was hanging to dry. In those days almost everyone heated with coal-fired furnaces (and memories of the coal bin and coal delivery, but that's another story.) The alternative -- and the only option on rainy days -- was to hang the clothing indoors to dry and our basement was strung with rope lines for that purpose.

Mom was so happy the day she was able to replace that wringer and tub monstrocity with a more modern agitator washer... and she was even happier a few years later when she was able to get a clothes dryer.

I have not owned or even worn a white dress shirt for more than thirty-five years. But wait, you say, "business causual" dress has only been around a short time... True... but I would wear (and still do) blue dress shirts or gray or green or yellow or beige or any color except white. (I did wear a white shirt when I was Best Man at my brother's wedding in 1966, but that was a rented formal wear shirt, not a normal dress shirt.) This distaste for white dress shirts goes back to my sophomore year of college, when I worked in a ShopRite supermarket on Long Island as a cashier. I had to wear white dress shirts (and a tie) to work but this was before the days of permanent press clothing. I had to wash and iron those damned shirts. I totally suck at ironing and I truly hate the task. I swore that I would never own another white shirt again and I have kept that vow. And a few years later permanent press arrived. Most of my dress shirt wordrobe consists of LandsEnd button-down collar shirts in a 60/40 cotton/poly blend. I have a few that are one hundred percent cotton but they, of course, require ironing so they mostly hang in my closet unworn. When I look at their catalog I see some shirts I would love to have but then I see that they are all cotton so there's no sense in buying something just to leave in my closet. (Yes, I have tried to iron them. It takes me forever to do a single shirt and the end results never look quite right.)

Anyway, try to catch 1900 House 9:00pm Mondays on PBS.

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