25 YEARS AGO ON AMBERGRIS CAYE   BY ANGEL NUÑEZ

Whitening That Special Laundry


W
hen Mrs. Alamilla wants to give special treatment to her special laundry today she has many products and ways to do so. First of all there is that special liquid detergent for particular products. Then there is the fabric softener for the stiff clothing and for the baby clothing. Now if the weather is good, the laundry probably takes half an hour of sunlight and some airing time in the shade. If the weather is not too good, then the laundry ends up in the heater and there too there are special pads to give the clothing a fresh smell and to collect all the fuzz. Then to add that special white look there are many brands of bleach products. To remove rust, there is another product. Some clothing is washed in warm water and others in cold water. Some shirts can only be washed for ten minutes and never spun in the dryer. Others are simply hung on the hanger and require no ironing. Sounds like a simple operation or a complicated one. To me it sounds pretty complicated. It requires a lot of reading and following of instructions.

NOT SO TWENTY FIVE YEARS AGO. Mrs. Teresita placed all her laundry in a long rectangular tub called a “batella”. There she rubbed the clothing with a bar of sunlight soap and started the scrubbing with a hand brush. All the clothing took the same treatment and when the washing was over, Teresita rinsed the clothing once and wrung them by hand and finally hung them all on the clothesline in the sun.

“Are you using the patch of grass this evening?” Amparito questioned Teresita. Amparito was referring to the patch of grass on the street where both she and her neighbor Terisita placed their white clothing for night bleaching or whitening. Yes, 25 years ago the women used to place all their white clothes from the laundry on patches of grass in the yard or even on the streets. The grass was quite bushy and high so that the clothing never touched the ground and therefore never got dirty. It was believed that the moonlight and the night dew both contributed to whitening the clothing. Of course the jeans and cheaper clothing were never whitened. Only delicate linen like those used on beds or tables were given this special treatment. Bleaching clothing on patches of grass was only done occasionally. For this reason people intentionally kept some patches of grass in their yards and on the streets in front of their houses.

The problem with this process was that occasionally dogs preferred the clothing to their favorite fence or post. Also some naughty children playing ball on the street frequently trampled over the clean laundry. This, of course required a special apology when father took the naughty child to Mrs. Antoña, whose laundry had been messed up. The problem was not thieves. No, they never interested in laundry for the whole village would find out. The problem was not the vehicles and traffic. There were no vehicles on the island and the laundry was safe on the streets, overnight. Yes the probably was sometimes stray dogs that messed up the linen. But the villagers had the right to whip the hell of that dog and believe it or not, they learned pretty quickly that they should keep a distance from doña Vilma’s laundry because she did not play with obnoxious dogs.

Yes, I can recall that picturesque scene twenty five years ago when there were up to some ten patches of green grass on the middle street covered with white clothing put out there overnight for special bleaching or whitening. This was the custom of San Pedro during the 1950’s and everyone respected this custom. Oh, how I wish I could see a simple, quaint and picturesque San Pedro one more time. Yes, it is lovely today with golf carts, but the laundry cannot be placed on the streets anymore.

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