For years there was no electricity at our farm, except when the generator was switched on in the evenings. A coal stove burned in the kitchen throughout the day, having been lit early in the mornings – apart from providing boiling water for tea and heat for cooking, it also heated the water in the geyser. Food was kept cool in a paraffin ‘fridge – note I said ‘cool’ for the Lowveld summers were hot enough to make even an electric ‘fridge battle – or preserved for longer in a paraffin chest freezer. Laundry was done by hand, mostly in cold water, and dried in the sun and the breeze.
With no electricity, we relied on sadirons to iron our clothes. My mother accumulated quite a collection of them, ranging from very simple ones, similar to the image below, to more expensive ones that had place to add charcoal to make the heat last longer.
The large wooden table in the kitchen would be covered with layers of old blankets and sheets. A bundled up wet cloth was placed next to the metal trivet on which we would rest the sadiron whilst reaching for another item to be ironed or while folding a garment. The various sadirons heated up on the stove and were used in a particular order so that one always had the hottest one to use. Each had to be wiped on the wet cloth to remove any dirt or soot from the stove before being gingerly applied to the garment. The old sheets bore many scorch marks from testing an iron that was too hot.
When they were young, my children would laugh when they saw an array of sadirons in museum, knowing that their mother had used similar ones in her youth – I’m not that old, even though these useful domestic appliances have been around since the mid-1700s! I wish with all my heart that I had one of the original farm ones in my possession. My wise, kind and eminently practical mother quite rightly passed them on to the farm workers she left behind when she exchanged farm living for the security of urban living: they needed them far more than I ever have. This one was purchased for me fairly recently by one of my brothers – apparently they are still popular items among migrant workers returning to their homes in Zimbabwe and elsewhere in Africa, where electricity is not necessarily an option.
I used to wonder why these irons were called ‘sad’ – did one ever find ‘happy’ irons? I have since discovered that the ‘sad’ comes from the now obsolete sense of the word meaning heavy or solid – which is an apt description for them!