My Mama grew up on a farm in North Texas during the 1920s, where one thing was always certain: Monday was wash day.
Laundry was an assembly-line affair: A large metal tub filled with water heated on the wood stove inside the house was where Grandma scrubbed the clothes on a washboard, lathering them with a bar of soap. Alongside was a second tub, rinse water in which my Aunt Lona vigorously rubbed the just-washed items on yet another washboard until they were soap-free. Aunt Vila would then wring out the wash, hand it off to Mama who would hang the laundry on nearby clothes lines.
Another step in the process was bluing, a liquid that whitened and brightened clothes to prevent “tattletale gray.” Mrs. Stewart’s Bluing came in a metal container and a few drops were mixed with the rinse water for those articles to be “blued”. Until it was time to use it, the container sat on one end of a long wooden board balanced between two sawhorses.
One particular wash day, the local preacher dropped by for a visit. Grandma stopped scrubbing when he walked into the yard. He was new to the area, getting acquainted with his parishioners by making house calls. He was dressed in a cream-colored suit and a straw hat to match, which he doffed politely as he greeted Grandma and acknowledged her three daughters.
“Good mornin’, Reverend,” Grandma said. “Mr. Mills is down at the field right now.” She knew the preacher would want to talk to the man of the house. Then, “That was a mighty good message yesterday.”
“Why, thank you, Miz Mills,” the preacher smiled, pleased at her comment on his sermon. “I was glad to see y’all at service.”
“Would you like to set a spell and wait for Mr. Mills?” Grandma offered. “He shouldn’t be too long.” She motioned toward the makeshift bench near the wash tubs. “The girls and I need to get on with the wash, if y’all don’t mind.”
The preacher nodded, moving toward the bench. Just before he sat down, Mama realized the error of her ways. “Reverend, wait!” she cried out.
Alas, it was too late. The preacher sat on the bench, it tipped up behind him and the container of bluing lifted into the air, its bright blue liquid arcing skyward, headed directly toward the Reverend.
Lona, Vila and my mother watched in stunned silence, their eyes following the blue streak above them until it reached its final destination and soaked the preacher, now sprawled on the ground. The container hit the dirt with a resounding thunk while the preacher’s cream-colored suit, drenched with bluing, turned the color of the sky.
Mama and her sisters struggled to control gales of laughter, Grandma rushed over to the preacher exclaiming, “Oh, my stars,” over and over. “Girls, get some towels,” she shouted at her daughters. “Hurry now!”
“Oh, Reverend, I’m so sorry!” Grandma stammered, not knowing what else to say as she helped him up. He was speechless. Lona, Vila and Mama rushed over with a stack of unwashed towels and watched Grandma’s futile attempt to dry off the preacher’s jacket.
“Well, I declare!” the Reverend finally managed, swiping at the blue stains on his face and hands. Grandma offered to take him into the house to get a change of clothes.
“Mr. Mills has something you could wear,” she assured the hapless minister.
Clearly in a state of disbelief, the Reverend declined, saying through blue lips, “No, Miz Mills, I reckon I’ll just head on home.”
As he walked across the yard, Grandma called out, “We’ll see you next Sunday then, Reverend.” The preacher did not turn around, only waved his blue hand limply until he disappeared from view. Lona, Vila and Mama lost control then and giggled for as long as Grandma allowed them to while she suppressed a smile.
There were a couple of lessons learned that day: Grandma and her daughters learned that the bench upon which the bluing container rested should always be well anchored, especially when inviting a visitor to have a seat at the other end.
And doubtless the preacher had learned that wash day might not be the best time to go calling on parishioners.
At least not when wearing a light-colored suit.