Three That Are More Than Period Pieces
Merry Christmas!

Big Around As A Washtub


I hope Our Lady would take the title of this post in the affectionate tone in which I first heard it, which was from the lips of a college teacher in reference to his own wife's gravid condition. She was within earshot, if I remember correctly, and seemed to be more amused than not.

This painting is on the cover of this month's Magnificat, and I found it startling. I don't think I've seen another picture of the pregnant Mary that's quite so...pregnant. And I think it's good to be reminded of the elemental physicality of her condition, which sometimes gets missed in the devout respect shown to her, and especially as it would have been two days before the Birth. I would hope the homely comparison would have amused her as it did my teacher's wife (I think).

It occurs to me that many people today may not have seen a washtub. Here's one in operation (picture lifted from an interesting-looking blog called Old Picture of the Day:



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You can tell she's really holy because at this point it's hard to smile like that. ;-)

I really like those galvanized washtubs. I think I'll look into getting a couple.

I keep thinking about that poor woman who appears to be struggling with the thankless task of trying to wash clothes in the Texas Dustbowl. Can you imagine how incredulous she would be if someone had told her that we would be looking at her picture in the 21st century, or tried to explain to her what we were using to look at her picture? I wonder what happened to her.


I thought that about the woman washing clothes, too. To think how much we take washing machines for most of our technological civilization.

Although it has a nice ring to it, I'm guessing that "big around as a washtub" will never replace "more spacious than the heavens" in the Church's Marian liturgical usage.


Years ago, after reading a history of housework, I asked my mother which household labor-saving device she thought was the most beneficial. Without a moment's hesitation she answered, "washing machine." She was old enough to remember doing laundry without one.

Hanging on my kitchen wall is a little print of Mary with her hands in a washtub. I think it came from OL of Combermere.

When I was a young newlywed, back in 1964, I spent a day doing the laundry with my mother-in-law, who still used a washing machine that consisted of a big electric-powered tub and a wringer operated by hand. It was one of the most exhausting days of my life!

I'd like to see that Madonna of the Washtub print.

I remember those tub/wringer affairs; they were quite common still in the rural South when I was growing up. As were the big black cast-iron pots in which clothes were more or less boiled over a fire...I guess the really dirty stuff or something.

I still call those nasty, rippled sections of dirt or gravel road "washboard" as in: Slow down at the bottom of the hill; there's a rough patch of washboard that'll shake your fillings loose if you're going over 30.

I'd seen plenty of washboards (sold many at my father's hardware store well into the 1970s or later), but only a few in actual use, as in the photo above. Lately I've wondered if younger folks know what I mean by "washboard road" since they may not have seen a laundry washboard.

It's a term I'm familiar with. Some people who haven't seen the utensils in their natural role might have seen or heard them used as musical instruments: washtub bass and washboard as percussion instrument.

It's a term I'm familiar with.

I would have thought so. I had been using "washboard road" as if everyone knew what it meant, but lately the term's origin occurred to me and I began to wonder how many Americans know it.

Merry Christmas!

"... the big black cast-iron pots in which clothes were more or less boiled over a fire...I guess the really dirty stuff or something."

Yeah. I'm picturing those old-timey long-johns (or maybe overalls) that men somtimes wore for a week straight (or a month or a winter...). Now you take something like that and I'd guess you'd better let it simmer for at least two days. Or burn it.

I love it! The expression and the painting. It's a bit sad that Our Lady isn't shown more washtub-like in paintings. It certainly is something we mothers can all relate to! And I agree with Janet re the smiling.

When I had to wash by hand for a while there, it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. The worst bit would definitely be laundering the really dirty items that needed boiling - that's where it would be tough. Fortunately, our washer was fixed before I had to tackle any really nasty stuff. :)


There was a *whole* lot more body odor in even the relatively recent past than there is now--within my memory there was humor referring to the custom of a Saturday night bath. You can imagine how people who did hard physical work smelled by Thursday or so. I remember first encountering it among poor farm kids in school and not knowing what it was.

Glad you like the post, Louise--I was a little concerned that it was over the line for irreverence.

Yes, I guess regular bathing, which is what most folks do these days was less common then, for whatever reason. Definitely the B.O. in those circumstances would be unbearable.

I understand about the concerns about irreverence. I sometimes post things which seem funny to me but then I wonder if it crosses the line.

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