It has been said that a handful of key inventions enabled the rise of civilization. A short list of such inventions invariably includes the wheel, the lever and the screw top beer bottle.
    Those who think such trifles are responsible for civilization are – to borrow a phrase often used by the Oxford Union Debating Society – full of hooey. The device most responsible for the success of modern civilization is the washing machine.
    The first washing machines appeared in the Stone Age. They were quite crude and made of stone. After all, it was the Stone Age.
    Clothing was taken to any nearby body of water, soaked and then pounded with rocks. This was not very efficient, especially when it came to eliminating stubborn stains.
    “I can’t seem to get this stubborn stain out of Og’s pants. I wish he’d never had that encounter with that saber-toothed tiger.”
    “Whoa! I didn’t know that Og killed a saber-toothed tiger.”
    “I didn’t say he killed it. I said that he encountered one.”
    Washing machine technology advanced over the centuries, eventually evolving into a system that involved a tub and a washboard. Using a washboard vigorously for long hours every day built up the abdominal muscles. This led to what we now call washboard abs.
    Washing machines have undergone innumerable changes over the millennia. The principal driving force behind this transformation has been women.
    This is because we guys tend to have miserably low standards when it comes to cleanliness. After all, it was a guy who invented the mountain man method of laundering.
    In the spring of the year, a mountain man would tromp down from his mountainous haunts to sell his cache of furs. Most trading posts were located in or near towns, which meant that the mountain man might be forced to interact with other human beings.
    But his buckskins were covered with muskrat snot and moose drool. Their odor was a pungent reminder of an unexpected encounter with a grizzly bear.
    The manly mountain man would simply disrobe and toss his clothing onto a handy ant mound. While the ants performed the insect version of dry cleaning, the mountain man might entertain the notion of bathing in the nearby creek. Not that he needed it, mind you.
    This attitude toward cleanliness is deeply embedded in many guys’ psyche. It’s also diametrically opposed to most women’s attitudes. In many cases, if a female were to examine clothing under an electron microscope and detected a single molecule of dirt, the clothing would be declared filthy and immediately washed.
    I felt sorry for my wife when our sons were young. Keeping things clean with two little boys running around the farm (she often said that she had three boys, counting me) was a Sisyphean task.   
    Like all little boys, ours were fascinated by interesting pebbles and anything that crept or crawled. My wife soon learned to check all the pockets before doing laundry. Otherwise, the washing machine might emit noises that involved interesting pebbles or some luckless creepy crawly who was suffering from severe motion sickness.
    I admit I was just as bad as the boys, although my wife often said I was even worse.
    This was because I was both a dairy farmer and a guy. Specifically, I was a guy who was an ardent adherent to the mountain man laundry philosophy.
    Sadly, there are no active ant mounds hereabouts during the wintertime. This meant that it could be up to six months between launderings if things were left up to me. Which, thankfully, they were not.
    My wife wanted to launder my spattered coveralls every time I turned around. My attitude was that coveralls do not need washing until they remain standing after you take them off.
    Better sense prevailed, and my coveralls were washed a lot more often than I thought necessary. Even so, the water in the washing machine frequently became an icky sudsy slurry.   
    A true hallmark of civilization is the sight and smell of a steam plume rolling out of a clothes dryer vent. It is a sign that many things are right with the world.
    It means there is a ready supply of hot water. It means there is a plumbing system to deliver this hot water and to carry wastewater away. The particular aroma tells you someone cared enough to buy laundry detergent that contains a pleasant scent.
    But above all, it tells me my putrid pantaloons and my nasty knickers are coming clean. It also reminds me that my wife has taught me a real man – that is, a civilized man – does his own laundry.
    Jerry is a recovering dairy farmer from Volga, South Dakota. He and his wife, Julie, have two grown sons and live on the farm where Jerry’s great-grandfather homesteaded over 110 years ago. Jerry currently works full time for the Dairy Star as a staff writer/ad salesman. Feel free to E-mail him at: jerry.n@dairystar.com.