Before the Washing Machine

“Just because the past didn’t turn out4 like you wanted it to, doesn’t mean your future can’t be better than you ever imagined.” Anon

We found it complicated getting our clothes washed and clean in Brazil. We never did have hot water and clothes almost always went out on the line to dry. But we had to find a way to get out clothes clean, especially when living in Rio Preto. The weather there was generally hot or very hot. Living in that city in the interior of the State of São Paulo meant we often needed a change of clothes.

We had electricity but did not have a washing machine. Doris scrubbed the clothes by hand for awhile but soon needed more help. So our maid took the clothes home to wash. It was the only solution for that was what most everyone else did in “coffee country.” As Doris and I talked about the clothes washing I was not sure the pictures are of the lady who did our wash. But they tell the story.

My beautiful picture


All the roads in those days in the interior were red dirt or if it rained a slippery red gumbo. The normal result—lots of red dust in the air. So all my white shirts had a pink tinge in spite of the frequent scrubbing they received. Why use white shirts? Well, professional people in those days used white shirts on work days, on special occasions and in fact, most of the time. For me that included more than Sunday services. Some of those shirts also had small holes that were not noticeable—they came about by riding on the wood-burning trains with the open windows. Imagine those tiny sparks quickly wakening a person out of a deep sleep.

My beautiful picture

As you can imagine the “by hand” washing was hard on the clothes. Doris just said to me as I was getting my details straight, “I couldn’t put up with that.” Besides she objected to paying for every single item. So we saved from our miniscule salary to buy a washing machine, a wringer washer back then in 1957.


By the way, I’m not complaining about the salary under the Holiness Movement church. I am thankful for the leadership that did so well to support a huge mission program with a small membership. But when union came with the Free Methodists it seemed we had died and gone to heaven. During our second term in Brazil we bought an automatic washer but a gear broke in it shortly after the end of the guarantee. That is the way most guarantees work but in this case I bought the parts and was able to fix it.

The major rebuilding we did in Neves (the interior of the State) allowed for a tap for the washer. The rental house years later did not have plumbing for a washer so it found a spot in an oversized toilet in our backyard. So it was carry the baskets of clothes down a set of stairs to get to the washer. With cold water there was much soaking and scrubbing of the items that were really dirty. In any case the clothes line was close by. And if the Jobuticaba tree in the yard had fruit, a handful added to the interest in getting the clothes done. Of course if a person did not have a clothesline, then the grass served as a place to dry clothes.

When thinking of “washing” a person might recall all the ritual washing laid out in the Old Testament. The good sense of that is obvious—washing saved people from a multitude of diseases. Of course there was also the symbolism—the spiritual cleansing coming from the worship of God. But then I came across the words of St. Paul, “…he saved us, not because of the righteous things we have done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal of the Holy Spirit.”

That washing is both a mystery and perhaps more difficult that getting those pinkish white shirts of mine washed clean. St. Paul then makes clear that this washing is offered by “Jesus Christ our Saviour.” With that addition the story of washing clothes in Brazil is complete.


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