Doing the community laundry
The laundry was for the most part done by the lay sisters, who looked after the domestic duties of the monastery: cooking, cleaning, laundry. But the big laundry was so much work that the entire community was requisitioned outside the daily rhythm. Be aware that represented washes and washing of the time! So Thérèse wrote to Mr. Martin, "Your Diamond can not write to you because she is doing the washing, but that does not prevent her from thinking about you, my darling Father." LT 58 July 31,1888. As the day is entirely taken up by the laundry on these days, regular activities are cumbersome: refectory, kitchen and tableware. Each must make a little more effort. Sister Marie Emmanuel, for example, was known for extra work she was doing on laundry days, where each could see her sweep and prepare the refectory alone, wash dishes, help in the kitchen, all with an enthusiasm that could allay fatigue she brought upon herself. This fatigue of laundry days is mentioned in Last Conversations, where a Thérèse then exempted from communal work: says, “About one o'clock I said to myself, they are very tired in the laundry! And I prayed to the good God that he may raise you all, for the work to be done in peace, in charity. When I saw myself so sick, I experienced the joy of having to suffer like you. July 27 1897 / 4
How to do the laundry
We wash and that’s all? ... Alas, no: doing laundry at the time was to soak, wash, rinse, drip-dry, stretching and putting weight on the wet laundry.
Work clothes for all: tucked up dresses covered with a wash apron and shoes to protect the alpargate sandals from getting wet.
We begin by soaking laundry in the stone tubs, in cold water with soap and ash. The ash contains potash, which allows them to be used as a kind of soap.
ANNUAL BUDGET FOR SOAP
washing soda 5 francs
soap 120 fr.
ash 15 fr.
Epsom salt 0fr.50
bleach 0fr. 20
starch 2fr. 40
After a good while soaking, we move to the next step: washing or pouring, always in the laundry. The cloth was rubbed a bit before putting it in the washing machine, a large iron double bottom tank arranged on a burning fire. We pour boiling water through the linen, seeping into the cloth, which removes stains that have withstood the soaking. The double bottom in the washing machine prevents burning.
After washing, the next step is rinsing. They carry the wet clothes to the laundry basin adjacent to the laundry room to rinse with cold water, brought from the Orbiquet by underground pipes through the Fleuriot property. This was immortalized by Céline, as can be seen from both pictures. Tools for washing are the small wooden box protecting the knees from water and the beater.
They started by rubbing the spots that remain and which come out well. Then they beat the linen with beaters to get out the soap out. They wring it out very little, according to the laundry rules, to cause less wear.
Then hung the laundry on trestles around the washhouse to drip-dry. These trestles needed to be well protected with big thick cloths because of the rust. Barrel hoops, the smallest nails in the laundry could really spoil the washing. Rust stains were eliminated with Epsom salt.
It was only the next day that the drip-dried linen was taken to the linen attic for hanging on the iron wires that spanned an entire loft for drying.
But before the hanging it up, they must stretch it to dry: they stretched the damp cloth because at the time they only ironed parts used in the liturgy, the surplice for example, with irons heated on the gas oven used by the sacristans, as shown in the photo on the right. This phase of stretching led Therese to write one day to Sister Marie of St. Joseph: "Tomorrow we will roll up our sleeves together! "(LT 199 20-30 October 1896) as stretching the wet laundry was hard work.
Once the linen was half dry, some specific pieces were to press between wooden planks. In principle, they pressed the hats and white veils to dry, and a few other pieces. There were nearly two hundred toques to press between boards. A big job, of which Sr. Aimée of Jesus was a specialist. For the final stage of folding - in recreation – Sr. Aimée brought to the community toques and veils so well pressed that folding was three-quarters done.
Talk and sing
The laundry day is a special day because we talk and sing! It was indeed a so hard a time for all to live that relaxation was necessary, which was very human. The custom of singing during long sessions in common laundry was long observed in the monastery. But Thérèse still did not consider this time like a vacation day, as Marie of the Trinity testified in the Ordinary Process. "One laundry day, I went to the laundry room without hurrying, looking in passing at the garden flowers. Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus was going there too, walking quickly. She soon met me and said: "Is this the way to hurry when you have children to feed and we are obliged to work to support them" and dragging me along,"Come, come with me and we must hurry, because if we have fun, our children will starve."
Laundry and weather
There were two large loads during the year, in spring and autumn (Easter week and the week following October 15th) and many small ones. As indicated in the booklet Règlement de la lingerie, "the sister in charge of laundry must, in a spirit of poverty, only ask to do the laundry when the amount of linen to be washed is sufficient to meet the amount of fuel that required for the laundry ... In winter, because of the severity of the weather, care was taken that the first washing was completed before the cold weather and not to do the second until the hard frosts stopped. If we lack a little linen in between, we try to supplement it with some boiling done with lye in the same boiler. "Ditto for Lent: we just wash before and after" to avoid this fatigue to the sisters during fasting. "The tunics are however washed every two weeks.
All is well in the laundry when it is neither too hot nor too cold! Mother Geneviève, the founder, who obtained many small miracles through her filial prayer, always won us good weather for our washing, so that in the early years of the Lisieux Carmel, the people of the world came to ask well in advance what day we would do the laundry in Carmel! During winter, they said that on a big laundry morning, the cold was very intense; this good Mother went in anguish before the tabernacle and in her absence, the frost ceased. The weather was so mild that we might have thought it was spring.
This constraint with the weather brought us an interesting exchange between Thérèse and Marie of the Trinity: "During the laundry, the latter testified to the Ordinary Proces [1076v-1077r], one day I asked her what was best; to go rinse with cold water or stay in the laundry room to wash with hot water. She replied: "Oh! It is not difficult to know! When it costs you to go in cold water, it is a sign that this also costs the other; then, go ahead. If on the contrary it's hot, stay preferably in the laundry room. By taking the worst places we practice both mortification for our self and charity for others, since we give up the best for them."
Laundry outside the monastery
Families feel comfortable doing laundry outside along the river, as evidenced by Marie Guerin writing to Léonie (March 14th, 1889): she regularly visits the Buissonnets in the absence of Céline and Leonie, taking on the role of lady of the house, meeting with laundresses coming to bring back the laundry.
We have several paintings or sketches of washerwomen at work along a river by contemporary painters of Thérèse - but we also have young Louis Martin at work in this drawing of September 5th, 1854.
It was then the same for families as in the monastery; neither washing machine nor running water! Progress only came to Carmel when it came to the outside. Thus, it was not until 1938 that an electric pump was installed in the laundry room. What a relief! This halved the fatigue of washing. One had to have known the former regime to realize it really.