By Elaine Rohse • Columnist • 

A wealth of time

I have a gift, a wonderful gift, a phenomenal gift. It isn’t gift-wrapped, so I know what is in it. It contains time — leisure time — hours and hours of time to use however I want. It’s my time-credit account.

By way of explanation, my gift is a present from mankind — the product of mankind’s inventiveness and ingenuity. The resulting labor-saving concepts save me much time every day, and, oh, how that amount has grown.

I had no idea how many accumulated hours were in my account until just last week. On Tuesday night, I was watching “Nightly Business Report,” and assets and liabilities were being discussed. That reminded me of my own accumulated “assets” — hours of leisure. As I watched the program, I mentally tallied ways in which the hours in that account came to be. The first that came to mind was “doing the wash.”

Homer and I were married during WWII, and I was lucky. I tagged along, following him from base to base during most of his service. We lived in some strange places: motels, single rooms, apartments — even some nice homes. But never did one of those rentals have a washing machine. I washed clothes on a washboard, wrung out the clothes by hand, pinned them to an outdoor line and hoped it wouldn’t rain.

Mitch was born during the war, and disposable diapers were not available. Washing diapers took considerable time.

And in those early wash days, I made my own starch — boiling it, stirring constantly to make sure it had no lumps. The pasty-looking liquid was supposed to bring back “body” to limp clothes. No push-button cans of liquid spray starch were then on the market.

Nowadays on wash day, I sort the clothes, add detergent to the machine, push buttons, toss in the clothes — and a bit later lift the lid. There are my clean clothes.

And remember yesterday, after the clothes were taken in from the line, those that needed ironing were sprinkled, rolled up and stashed in a clothes basket for next day’s ironing?

And years ago, every hope chest had a set of seven tea towels — embroidered with the day of the week and the chore the housewife was to do that day.

Tuesday, you’ll remember, was ironing day. Nowadays, my ironing board for a couple of weeks at a time is scarcely put to use. But during the war, I did Homer’s shirts. The military decreed, for some unknown reason, that shirts should have three pressed creases down the back — even if those shirts were worn under a dress blouse. I spent a lot of time on those creases.

No-iron materials also built up credits in my time account. Now I transfer clean clothes immediately from washer to dryer, push the proper button and, the minute the timer goes off, I hang the clothes on a hanger. Often, they require no ironing at all.

My electric range with the shiny black top is a jewel of a timesaver. Just the swish of a damp cloth and it’s usually clean, whereas the drip pans under every burner on my previous range were constantly charred because I let soup boil over. I spent a lot of time scouring them back to their original stainless steel.

And the self-cleaning oven on my present range gifted me with many hours — and eliminated the detestable oven-cleaning job: putting the dish of ammonia in the oven overnight to make the job easier the next day, and getting on my hands and knees so I could reach in the back and to the corners and SOS away the accumulation. A bummer of a job.

In that set of tea towels, Wednesday was designated mending day. And once upon a time, wives darned socks, sewed on buttons and mended runs in their nylon and silk hose. Some wives even bought little gadgets for repairing those runs so effectively the repairs could scarcely be seen. But oh, the time that stole from the housewife.

And although it saves only a few seconds of time, seconds mount up. You no longer have to wind your alarm clock and set it every night. You don’t even have to wind your watch. And those few seconds each day, in time, become hours.

My automatic garage door saves seconds with every opening. My electric can opener saves time compared to the old-fashioned kind, fought every time I used it.

My electric beater whips cream and egg whites. It creams the butter and sugar for my cookies, thereby adding credit to my saved-time credit.

Nowadays, fewer homes are heated with wood. No chopping of wood and “keeping” the fire. We turn up the thermostat instead.

And think of the time housewives spent canning the winter supply of fruits and vegetables. Frozen foods at the market save countless hours — hours to use as I most desire. Nor do I have to shell peas or pick green beans or dig a hill of potatoes before starting supper.

So now, sitting and reflecting and appreciating this enormous accumulation of gifted hours, thanks to man’s inventiveness and ingenuity, I consider what I should do with all of them.

Suddenly, I am appalled. I am aghast. I wonder whether I should call the Internal Revenue Service for an audit. Because, in my haphazard bookkeeping, I cannot now find those hours of free time I accumulated. I can’t imagine where they have gone.

I can in no way, not even in small measure, account for what I did with the wonderful gift of all those hours. Not even to the IRS could I offer an explanation.

Elaine Rohse can be reached at

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