Thursday, September 20, 2012

Just Like Grammy Netted Me A "D"

My maternal grandparents
and itty bitty me.
I grew up with a family who sewed all our clothes. Or at least close to it. I don't remember a time when grammy didn't have something she'd made for me in a birthday box or Christmas present. As a kid, I didn't much appreciate clothing. No kid does. It's just that "grown ups" seem to forget that when they become parents.

Mom wasn't given to
hysterics--except for
when she sewed.
To give my mom and grandma credit, it was the time of WWII and with clothing near impossible to purchase, the family sewed our clothes. Even my aunts got into the game. The reason was that my mom HATED sewing. Oh, she did it, but I vividly recall the day she was sewing my middle sister and me a cute little yellow sundress. I was standing beside her, watching her create with cloth when to my utter amazement, that yellow dress went flying across the room and landed in a corner. About the same time as I saw it airborne, my ears heard mom say, "Oh, just forget it." The dress stayed in the corner till the next day.

This may be the exact pattern
mom used as the yellow dress
looks just like the one I recall.
Then one day mom surprised us with those cute dresses. I was more than surprised. I questioned when she had finished them because to my knowledge, I'd not seen her working on them since the "flying" day. "Aunt Aimee did them," she said. "She sews better than I do." I knew not to ask any more questions. Mom was well aware that I had witnessed her frustration with sewing. Actually, small as I was, I figured I'd never see that dress again.

Suffice it to say that it wasn't my mom who taught me to sew. Neither was it grammy or one of my mom's three sisters. My first venture into the craft came about in high school. In those days, ninth grade students were automatically cycled into sewing for one semester and cooking for another. By the time I was that age, I'd learned to cook, set a proper table, use a napkin, and I even knew what a salt cellar was and where to set them on the table. Mom loved entertaining. Thus, I learned at her feet.

Ninth grade Home Ec--mandatory sewing
The sewing knowledge began with a simple dirndl skirt. We girls were told to go out and buy a yard of our favorite cotton and show up the next day with the fabric, scissors, pins, and thread. Mom took me shopping and by the next day, I was ready to create my first sewn masterpiece. I had chosen a lovely polished cotton that I thought was the prettiest fabric I'd ever seen and nothing like any skirt I'd ever had before. I envisioned myself dancing through the halls in my silky-looking skirt. Surely every girl who saw it would be jealous. At least that's what I told myself.

Yep, we used those old black Singer
sewing machines.
We were all instructed to make up our own pattern, something I thought was ridiculous. We had to measure how tall we were, how big our waist was and how far below our knees the dress was to hang. Considering math and I had never been friends, I had to garner the teacher's help. I was thankful that I wasn't the only one. Once I had my instructions, I cut the fabric, allowing enough leftover for a one-inch wide finished waistband. I have to confess that it was easy to sew the side seam together, since the skirt was cut of a single width of fabric. Hey, I was on a roll.

You sew in two parallel rows so that if
one thread breaks, the other will still
gather the fabric. Unless, of course,
you break both threads.
Then came the gathering process. I carefully ran two rows of basting along the top of my skirt and then proceeded to gather the thread into a tiny circle which I figured out later would only have fit my little sister's favorite doll. Each class member turned their skirt in so the teacher could evaluate them. It was a daily occurrence. We'd sew, leave our project behind, and head out to our next class. I thought I was doing incredibly well, considering that with all the sewers in our family, I'd never had a single lesson.

Of course you've guessed what happened the next day. The teacher called me up to her desk and questioned if I'd decided to make the skirt for someone else when I had been told it must be for me. When I answered "no" she asked me how I expected to fit into it. She held the skirt up for me to figure it out for myself. How embarrassed I was to note that there was no way on earth that skirt would fit anything except one of my legs. I went back to my machine and began loosening the gathers. But I got too rambunctious and broke the thread. Both of them. That was the day I learned not to be so vicious when undoing a sewing project, especially if it involved threads the width of an eyelash.

A half-sewn waistband, ready to be
turned to the inside and hand-
stitched down.
I eventually got that skirt gathered to an inch larger than my waist size, which put me a day behind the rest of the class. So while everyone else was learning how to sew on the waistband, I was busy practicing yesterday's lesson. By the end of class, I managed to get the waistband partly sewn on. Teacher told me to take it home and finish it and to bring it back ready to wear. Hooks and eyes and all. I was happy. I KNEW how the waistband should be sewn down, and considering we had to do it by hand, I REALLY knew what it should look like because I'd worn grammy's offerings for years. Yet just to be sure, I browsed my closet and inspected the skirt's gram had made for me. That was all the confirmation I needed.

That evening I sat at the machine, hand stitching the inside of the waistband to the skirt. Then on to putting in the hem. Piece of cake. I knew what that should look like too. I was so happy when I walked into class the next day and presented my finished project to be graded. Now please note that I had never liked gathered skirts. And it would never have been my choice. Why, you ask?  Every high school girl I've ever known always wished to appear thinner than she was and toward that end, nobody wore gathered skirts. None of us wanted all that poofiness around our middle.

On the outside, my
skirt looked perfect.
 I walked into class the next day smiling confidently and, like the others in the class, handed in my project. A few days later, we all got our skirt back, along with the grade we'd received. But where was MY skirt? I figured maybe the teacher thought I'd done so well she was going to hold it up as an example of perfect so all the girls could see what a fantastic job I'd done.

I was a bit surprised when the teacher called me up to her desk. I still figured she was going to compliment me on my offering. I stood beside her chair as she brought my skirt out of hiding. "Sandra," she began, "I'm going to have to give you a D on this skirt and I really don't want to because I see how you've tried so hard to follow directions.

I guess I must have look puzzled because she continued, "Do you see this sewing on the inside of the waistband? And do you see the stitching around the hem?" I shook my head yes. "Will you tell my why you did such sloppy work when you've been so careful with all the rest?"

I was stunned that she didn't know what professional sewing should look like. So I explained. "But my grandma has made clothes for me all these years and for my sisters and all my cousins and that's how she always does the waistband and the hem. I wanted my skirt to look just like grandma made it."

Looking back, I realize how kind that teacher was. She looked at me with such soft eyes and talked real low so nobody else could hear. "Well, Sandra, that might be how your grandma sews but for this class, the school  has rules I have to follow in teaching, so would you please take all your stitching out and make it neat and tidy so I can give you a better grade? Afterwards, you can put it back like your grandma's if you want to.

I did as she suggested and ended up with a B in the class but only because I think she took pity on me.  The fact that I adored my grandma and wished to be just like her and copy everything she did must have touched some secret place in my teacher's heart. I've often wished I remembered her name so I could have thanked her for her utmost kindness toward me that day.

And by the way, I never did take the neat sewing out and put it back like grandma's. Teenager that I was, I was smart enough to figure out that maybe, just this one time, grammy was wrong.

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Great Firefly Fiasco

Summer nights on the farm wove a magic all their own. The yard light was set between the house and the barn, yet even with it's brightness, only the circle beneath the tall pole was well lit. And while it was true that one side of the big old farm house was visible and the whole front of the barn, there remained a sort of soft, velvety darkness that encompassed everything else.

There came a warm evening when my family and my dad's uncle and his family had gathered for supper, eating outside where the air was cool and the breeze a welcome change from the stifling closeness inside the house. And while the adults sat around after supper talking about things that were more than boring, we six young kids (we three sisters plus our three cousins) hatched a plan to make our own entertainment.

The farm was big, there were lots of trees around the house and with the yard light so pale, what better game to play than hide and seek? Unfortunately, we soon discovered that only our two boy cousins had the bravery to seek out truly dark spots for hiding and because we girls had no intention of venturing too far from the light, our hiding places were easily discovered. That's when we girls put our heads together and hatched a plan.

Actually, as I remember, it was me who came up with the idea of asking the adults for flashlights. The grown-ups paid us scant attention, though they did inform us that no flashlights were available for playtime. That's when I got the idea to make our own lights. My plan was to catch a whole bunch of the fireflies that swirled around the yard, hundreds of them sort of turning the dark into what looked like a starry sky. I claimed that if we put them in a jar, they would become our personal flashlight and and we girls would be able to find the boys' hiding places.

But it was easier said than done. Truthfully, all the fireflies I managed to catch got smooshed in the process, so we enlisted the two boy cousins to help us catch them. Why is it that guys can catch bugs without damaging their frail bodies? Tis still a puzzle to me. In the end, we had about a dozen or so fireflies in our jar. I gave the jar a shake, expecting the bugs to begin flying, their tail lights illuminating our surroundings. Stupid bugs just sat there. I shook the jar again. Nothing happened. The fireflies were useless. In the end, I removed the lid and let the bugs escape. Wouldn't you just know it: they swooshed off with their tail lights glowing. Got to be the dumbest insects God ever created.

That's my story and I'm stickin' to it.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Fuzzy Recollections

I suspect we all have them: memories that are nowhere near complete. Things we've seen or interacted with that remain nothing more than a sort of fuzzy, cobwebbed memory of something from our past. For me, those imperfect reminders are naught but bits and pieces that seem to have no beginning and no end. They just are. I don't know what came before nor what went after. My only recall is that fraction of time in which my brain logged something in but forgot to save all the details surrounding the event.

I know I've seen the Aurora Borealis. I know I was little and the night was as black as night can be, so I know we weren't in a town but likely on vacation in Northern Minnesota--my parents favorite get-away.  I vividly remember seeing glowing pink and green lights streaking across the sky. Not moving. Just sitting there. I remember my dad pointing at the lights and telling me how lucky we were to see them because they were rare where we lived. I recall he told me they were The Northern Lights. End of  memory

While I don't remember having a dog, I do recall
one short moment inside the cabin.
I know my parents had a cabin by a lake because as I grew up, I heard tales about going there on weekends. I recall a night when we drove and drove and stopped in front of a dark building. Mom carried me inside and set me in a chair. All I recall is that the walls were wood; the fireplace of stone. End of memory. Years later, when I told mom I remembered that cabin, she took issue with me, saying it was impossible as I was only eighteen months old. But I know what I know. Even today, I could draw a fuzzy semblance of what I saw from the chair she sat me in. Isn't the mind an awesome entity?

Dad and me at seven, during happier times
I remember that my dad took me hunting with him when I was about seven, I recall it was a sunny, winter day and the snow wasn't deep, just pretty. I definitely recall walking through the woods. As I think back, I'm pretty sure I had no idea what "hunting" entailed. I was just with my dad and having a good time. I stopped to watch a cute gray squirrel playing in the snow. Then there was the most horrific noise, almost ear deafening. While I was trying to figure out what had happened, I saw the squirrel laying beneath the tree and blood on the snow. End of memory. I was an adult with grown children when my dad told me the rest of the story. I'd gotten hysterical to the point where he couldn't stop my crying, screaming, and running wild. Little as I was, I was more than dad could handle. He said he drove me home, handed me off to my mom and said, "Here, you do something with her; I can't."  I remember nothing after seeing the blood on the snow. Even telling me the details brought back no memory. What I've come to after all these years is that a child who absolutely adores animals should not be exposed to hunting them, that the reason I hated the book Bambi was because the story was too real to what I knew, and that my intense fear of guns stems back to when I was a child.

I absolutely do not remember falling into the lake. What I do recall is that I was about 8 or 9 and we were at our favorite vacation resort. I saw fish swimming by the dock that went far out into the water so I took a cane pole I saw lying on the dock and thought I'd catch some fish to eat. I remember that the line had a hook and a bobber, but the hook would only float on top the lake. I kept reaching out further and further with the end of the pole, trying to push the hook under water. I remember quite vividly putting my toes far over the edge of the dock, trying to extend my reach. End of memory. When I came to, I was lying on the dock and a whole bunch of people were standing over me. Since I'd been the only person on the dock at the time, I was told that someone had seen me fall in and rushed to pull me out. I have no recollection of falling in or thrashing around or swallowing water. Mom always told me that I drowned that day so I've always been grateful that someone pulled me out and got me breathing again.

Sometimes I wonder how many more cobwebbed recollections my brain bank holds. I've heard that times of trauma wipe out the memory, but most of my fuzzy memories don't stem from any kind of trauma. What I have come to believe is that the human mind is mostly unexplainable. The brain saves bits and pieces of information but not always the whole story. Intriguing, isn't it? Especially since I know that some of my hazy memories are from my very young childhood.

I suspect each of us has cobwebbed recollections residing in our memory. Recollections that do not tell a whole story, yet reveal to us that we lived through something we barely remember. What sort of fuzzy reflections do you have? Write and tell me about them.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Grammie's Room

Her room always smelled of powder and perfume. It wasn't an overwhelming scent but a gentle, soft smell that enticed a little girl to investigate, even though I knew stepping even one foot inside the door would mean big trouble if I got caught.

The problem was, there was just so much to see that tantalized my eyes. Right in the middle of the bed sat the cutest little puppy with coal black eyes. I didn't even care that it was created of long strings of white yarn. It called to me to pick it up and hold it close. I got into big trouble for that one. And another admonition that Grandma's bedroom was off limits and not a place for playing.

Perhaps it never would have occurred to the small child that I was to investigate Grammie's bedroom except that the only bathroom in the big old two-story house was on the second floor and getting to it involved passing right by Grammie and Pa's door. It also didn't help that Grammie always left the door open. Sometimes I'd just stand in the hallway and look in. Other times my curiosity got the best of me. That's when I employed either my middle sister or my only boy cousin (at the time) to stand guard. But that didn't always work out either. But more about that later.

The thing was, there was just so much to see that deemed closer inspection and nearly all of it was easy to spot from the doorway. Grammie had this piece of furniture she called a "vanity" and the things that sat on it were all sparkly and God knows, little girls  love sparkly. Well, at least this little girl did. And that vanity sat right inside the door so it took no more than three child steps to be standing right in front of it and if I thought Grammie didn't realize I was upstairs, maybe I'd even have time to sit on the bench and get an up close look at those glittery things.

The mirror, brush, and comb were all silvery. I thought they looked like something that should have belonged to Cinderella's step-sisters rather than my Grammie, but there they were, just begging to be used. I'd grab the brush and run it through my blond hair, then pick up the mirror to see how I looked--never mind that there was a big mirror over the vanity. Behind the hair things stood a small silver box, sort of high and round, and no amount of looking at it would tell me what it was. I'd not seen anything like it before and try as I might, my little kid brain couldn't come up with an answer. So I reached over and removed the top.

That's when the music started. It was a lovely little tinkly sound, but so muted I figured nobody but me could hear it. Inside the container was powder. How disappointed I was that it held nothing more glamorous. Surely I pictured it must be a hideaway for jewelry or rings or even a bracelet. But powder for a lady's face. How boring. I put the cover back on the box and made my escape. I figured I was maybe going to be a good detective when I grew up. Fearless. That's what I was. I'd investigated Grammie's room and not been caught.

I told my middle sister about my discovery and promised her that the next time we visited Grammie and Pa, I'd take her upstairs and show her my find. I explained the best I could that Grammie had a silver box that played music but I didn't think she took me seriously. The next time I saw my cousin Stevie, I told him too. I don't think he believed me either. Grammie and Pa weren't rich. We knew that much. Pa drove a school bus and Grammie stayed home and cooked and cleaned and did laundry and stuff like that. But I'd seen those silvery things with my own eyes. I was determined to prove I wasn't making stuff up.

I don't recall when it was that we were all at Grammie and Pa's again, but I do vividly remember telling my sister and Stevie that when the coast was clear, I'd take them up to Grammie's room and show them the box that played music. The three of us played out in the yard, colored in the always-present coloring books Grammie kept for our entertainment, and when I figured we were safe, I whispered, "Come on," and without a word, the two followed me up the stairs. I thought I'd show my sister first for I knew she would love the sparkle too. We made Stevie stay in the hall to keep watch, promising him that he'd be the next one in the room to see for himself.

The problem was, Stevie wasn't a good watchman. He was too interested in what my sister and I were up to so he stuck his head inside the door while keeping his feet in the hallway. Poor guy, the only boy cousin among six girls. If he wanted to play at all, he was stuck with us. We didn't mind though. He was always up for any sort of mischief I could think of, and what with me being the oldest of all the cousins. I figured it was my job to educate the rest of the tribe.

As I'd promised them, the box played music as soon as I removed the top. We all listened to it, thinking there was something magic about a silver box that played a song. We got lost in ourselves. And the moment. And the tune. And that's when it happened.

I'd lost track of time. How long had the three of us been missing? I had no idea. Not only that, I let the song play way too long. I was glad Grammie was downstairs in the kitchen, busy cooking something or other. And that's when the three of us heard it. "YOU KIDS GET OUT OF MY ROOM." Her voice floated up from the foot of the stairs. You never saw three kids scramble as fast as we did. I threw the top back on the box and we all went clomping down the stairs.

I figured there was no use lying. We'd been caught. I explained that I had wanted to show the other two the music box because they didn't think I was telling the truth about it. That's when Grammie looked at me with that Grammie face and said, "You thought you got away with being in my room the last time you were here, didn't you?" I must have looked guilty. At least as guilty as a small child can look for she said matter of factly, "I heard the music playing."

Guilty as charged. I do have to admit that there were a few times later on when I ushered other cousins into Grammie's room to show them the music box, but I never left the lid off long enough for the tune to carry down the stairs. Or so I thought. I got caught time and again. The only reason I think I ever got by with it was because we never messed anything up or opened any drawers or sat on her bed or picked up her yarn dog. The most we ever heard from her was:


Gotta love a Grammie like that.

Monday, May 7, 2012

I'm So Old That....Continued

I'm so old I remember when telephones were big wooden boxes that hung on walls. On our farm, the phone hung in the kitchen. As I recall, that's where most phones were because that's where the family generally hung out. In those days, nobody had more than one phone. It was always a big box with a handle on the right side that you turned round and round and round in order to get the operator's attention that you wanted to make a phone call. When the operator (always a lady in those days) said, "Number, please" you answered with the number and hoped it wasn't busy because whoever else was on the same line, might be using it. When I was a kid, there were no private phone lines. Everyone shared a phone line, generally two different homes, thought sometimes as many as four. The thing was, if you picked up your phone to make a call and heard someone already talking, it was easy to just listen in and get all the gossip from around the area. Mom absolutely forbid eavesdropping. Bummer. I could have learned some good stuff to spread around.

I'm so old I remember when getting a permanent hair wave was an all day affair. Everyday, on my way to school, I passed by the town beauty shop and there, right in the big window, was the most horrible contraption I'd ever seen. I always thought it looked like some kind of torture machine and one day I asked mom what on earth it was and did it hurt the person sitting under it. "It's an electric permanent wave machine," she said. And it doesn't hurt. I asked if she'd ever gotten one and she told me "no." I understood. I wouldn't have sat under that machine for all the fudge sundaes in the world. And brother, did I ever love fudge sundaes.

I'm so old I remember when gasoline pumps had glass globes.  Dad always went to Finny's Gas Station on the outskirts of our small farm community. Finny was lucky. He had two pumps and gas cost 12 cents a gallon. Dad always sat in the car with us because Finny pumped the gas himself. No self serve back in those days. I liked to watch the glass globe atop the pump because the liquid in it gurgled and burped as it emptied itself into our car. But mostly I just liked the smell of the gasoline. I found out that many people liked that smell. I always thought it would make a nice perfume. But, hey, what do kids know?

I'm so old I remember when a horse-drawn wagon delivered the milk. Mom had a regular delivery schedule. I don't recall how many bottles she got at a time, but I do remember the milk man came three days a week. Mom always put the empty bottles outside the door on milk day so they could be picked up, sterilized, and used again. If she wanted to change her order or add cream or butter, she left a note for the milkman and stuck it into one of the empty bottles. Back then, milk came in one quart clear glass bottles with a cardboard stopper on the top. The first couple inches was cream, which mom always poured off to use for something else. She always told us the cream was too rich for us. I always suspected she wanted it for herself because I don't ever remember one time getting to put it on my cereal.

I'm so old I remember when women wore hair rats. Don't panic. Hair rats weren't vermin; they were small, pliable rolls of enmeshed hair that could be pinned to the head and the hair rolled over them to give height or design to a hairdo. Mom had three hair rats. Two short ones, which she used on her bangs or on the sides of her face and a longer one that she used for the back of her head, right above the neckline. She only used the rats when she and dad were going out to party and I used to lay on the floor and watch in fascination as she transformed her regular plain hairdo into something I thought was magical. She'd use bobby pins to hold the hair rat in place, then comb her hair over the roll and hold it down with at least a dozen hair pins. Sometimes she used all three rats, two atop her head and one at the neckline. It was my favorite hairstyle for her. I thought it made her look like a movie star. The fact that she was good at fixing her hair didn't get passed down to me but to my middle sister, who later became a hairdresser. She never used rats though. By the time she was plying her trade, back combing had been invented and all the rats got tossed in the trash.

Just in case you've never seen a hair rat, I want you to know what you've missed. I distinctly recall the day I found one laying on a table in the living room. I looked it over suspiciously. Then I poked a finger at it. Then I picked it up. No amount of figuring could tell me what it was. So I asked mom. She told me it was a rat. I threw it back on the table, horrified. I was little, but I'd seen a rat in our barn and wanted nothing to do with anything so vile. "Doesn't look like a rat," is what I told her. So she explained. They went out of style sometime during the late 1940s. I thought it was a good thing because I certainly didn't wish to wear anything named after such a scary creature.

That's all for now. I remember other things too. Someday I'll write them down. Till then....



Sunday, April 29, 2012

I'm So Old That....

I'm so old I remember when women wore corsets. Mom didn't, but Grandma did. One time I saw this odd looking thing laying on her bed and since I couldn't figure out what it was, I asked. She informed me it was a corset and when I asked what it was for, she held it against her clothes and showed me how it went on. I suggested she get rid of it because it looked like it would be painful to squeeze one's upper body into such a contraption. She told me it was fashionable and made the wearer look thin. I vowed then and there no such thing would ever touch my body. I kept the promise.

I'm so old I remember when every lady I knew wore a dress and high heels to do housework. I never saw grandma in anything but a dress, though sometimes mom would wear shorts and a halter top during the heat of summer. I never saw her in slacks until sometime around the 60s when she gave into the casual and comfy wear of the times. As for grandma, who lived to be 94? Always in a dress. Never anything else.

I'm so old I remember when you had to run the sewing machine with your feet. As a small child I remember sitting on the floor beside mom as she sewed, fascinated by the rhythm of her two feet as she pushed the treadle back and forth. When I asked why she did that, she informed me it was what made the sewing machine work. So when she wasn't looking, I put both my hands on the treadle, pushing it back and forth. Yep, the machine started doing its thing. It came into my small mind that I might have sewed something I shouldn't, so I stopped and hoped mom never found out what I'd done.

I'm so old I remember ice boxes.  The ice man came around often, lugging a huge block of ice with scary looking tongs. I kept my distance. He'd take the ice block into the kitchen and deposit it into the top of our wooden ice box. In winter, it seemed the ice lasted longer than in the summer. The only thing I really liked about the ice man coming was seeing his white horse that pulled the wagon. It was the only white horse I'd ever seen and I thought it was beautiful.

I'm so old I remember when school desks had inkwells. The desks were wooden and wrought iron and in the upper right hand corner there was a small well that held ink. By the time I entered the fourth grade, the inkwell was filled and we were all given a stylus and nib and instructed how to write with ink. I don't remember much about those lessons. What I do vividly recall is that Johnny Miller stuck the end of Peggy Hanson's long blond pigtail into his inkwell and thought it was funny. Peggy and the teacher disagreed. Johnny got sent to the Principal's Office. I thought it served him right. I was doubly glad that I didn't sit in front of him because I had long blonde pigtails too.

I'm so old I remember when every movie theater had an usher. No matter what time of day I went to the movies, there was always a young man in a red coat, dark slacks, a funny little hat, and a small flashlight to show me where the empty seats were. Jim told me he used to be an usher at the only theater in the little town where he grew up. Sometimes I wonder if that was where he learned to like wearing a uniform.

I'm so old I remember when cameras were nothing more than little black boxes. While still in grade school, my parents gave me their old camera to practice taking photos. It was a black Brownie, ugly as it could be, and the pictures were fuzzy. I thought it was a great prize. When our family went on vacation to the east coast, I hauled it along with me. To this day I have the pictures I took with that old camera. I had it for a long time. Then one day, while cleaning closets, I came across it and tossed it in the Goodwill box to be given away. I've been asking myself ever since, "What on earth were you thinking?"

I'm so old that I remember when washing machines were all manual.  Mom's washer sat in the basement. I think that was in case it overflowed, which it sometimes did when she forgot to keep an eye on the water level. The wringer washer got filled with a hose that ran from the hot water spigot to the washing machine. Then she dumped in laundry detergent and a load of laundry--no where near the size of today's "load." Then she turned on the machine and the center paddle swished the clothes around for as long as she thought it took them to get clean. The wringer part on the top of the machine was movable, so she'd turn the machine off and the wringer on. Then she'd  put the clothes through the wringer, one piece at a time, and it would fall into another tub filled with hot water. That is where it supposedly got rinsed. When all the clothes were in the rinse tub, she'd move the wringer again and put the clothes into yet another tub, this time filled with cold water. Then every single piece of clothing got put through the wringer one last time so it would fall into her laundry basket. Then she'd carry the basket upstairs and outdoors where she'd hang each piece to dry. Then back to the basement for the next load. Laundry was an all day job. Whew. I'm tired just writing about it.

I'm so old I remember when you had to be a weight lifter to iron the clothes. If you've never held an antique iron, you have no idea what you've missed. Every woman I knew had at least two. One to iron with and one to set on the wood stove to get hot. Even as a kid, I could barely lift the iron. Mom was thrilled when electric irons hit the market, although as I recall, they weren't a whole lot lighter in weight. It was just that they heated themselves, so every household needed only one. Washing and ironing were never held on the same day. The ironing came a few days later, because there was no such thing as a steam iron and every piece of clothing to be ironed had to be sprinkled with water, rolled into a ball, and put in some kind of bag to "set." I did the same thing as a young wife, for steam irons were still an unknown entity. Blah. I hated ironing day. I think every woman did.

I'm so old I remember when you had to have a woodpile in the kitchen if you wanted to use your stove. I can still remember vividly the old cook stove on our farm. It was a big, black ugly thing that belched fire if you opened the wrong door--which I did on occasion. If you wanted to make breakfast, you had to get up earlier than everyone else and get the fire started before you could even begin the coffee--usually the first thing every adult wanted at that time of day. Once the whole stove top got hot, the rest of the meal could be cooked. It was rather like camping out inside the house. And woe to the one who let the woodpile get empty because that meant going outside in all sorts of weather to either haul in more chopped wood or chop just enough to get through breakfast. How on earth did those pioneer women survive? Hey, wait, I don't know any pioneer women. I'm talking about my family here. No wonder I have always hated being in the kitchen. Maybe that's why my middle sister hates it too. We are the only two of we three girls who remember that stove. Little sister came along way too late to know about it.

I'm so old I remember a lot of other things too. But I won't list them all. So think about this: if you think taking care of a home is hard today, look back at what it used to be like. I bet you'll be grateful you live in the 21st Century.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Mama's Hankie

Mama always had a hankie somewhere on her person. Most of the time she carried it in the middle of her bra where it couldn't be seen but would be readily available if the need arose. There were times when I also saw that hankie come out of her apron pocket; other times it got plucked out of her purse. But most of the time, it came out of her favorite hiding place.

Mama always wore an apron

I thought mama was so smart to find a easy place to keep that hankie. So one day I decided to keep one there too. It made a lump on my blouse and then fell to the floor. I stubbornly jabbed it back inside the blouse. When I realized the battle had been lost, I went to mom, asking why hers would stay put and mine wouldn't.

She didn't laugh. I give her credit for that. Had our roles been reversed, I'm pretty sure I'd have giggled long and loud. She told me I'd have to keep it in a pocket until I grew old enough for a bra. She promised me that when that day came, the hankie would stay put.

Pretty bags that smelled good
were always in her hankie drawer
Back in that day, there was no such thing as Kleenex. No paper towels either. Mom had a whole stack of hankies she kept in her dresser, along with some kind of perfume bag that smelled wonderful. Even now I can remember the scent of her handkerchiefs.

Mama had a lot of hankies
They were her handiest tool. Those hankies dried tears, wiped noses, and all too often, got spit on so mama could wash my sister's and my faces. I have no way of remembering how many times I got spit washed as a child. But it was a lot.

We'd go off to visit someone and before we even got out of the car, all three of we girls got the once over. Out came the hankie. We sisters would all look at each other, wondering who was going to get the spit cleaning. It was usually me. The middle sister was too much a lady; the little sister too young. That spit wet hankie generally headed my direction. The only reason I ever put up with it was because it was never wet enough to be icky and the hankie smelled good.

There were times when we'd all be out as a family and one of us girls  would fall and skin a knee or elbow or whatever. Out came the hankie. Wounds got double spit. The wounded one got cleaned till mama was satisfied we wouldn't get infected before we got home to proper first-aid.

My own hankies were kid size.
Every mom I knew always carried a hankie somewhere on her person. I grew to love having a hankie collection. I still have them, old as they are, because I've taken good care of them. These days, Kleenex gets popped into my purse. Or maybe a few wet-ones. The hankies stay in my scented dresser drawer where they'll be safe.

When my own kids were young, I carried more modern equipment on my person, all the better to wipe my own kids noses or dry some tears. Boxed tissue and individually wrapped wet naps were my tools of the trade. Even so, there were times when an emergency presented itself and out came the Kleenex. I'd carefully scrunch it and put it to my lips. The kids knew a spit shine was imminent and they objected loud and clear. Sometimes they even took off running. Looking back, I wonder why my two sisters and I didn't do the same.

According to history, handkerchiefs date back to Rome and the days of the gladiators--when those in attendance waved their hankies in response to whatever was going on in the ring. My guess would be that it was the men waving the hankies. Those moms, like all others after them, were likely spit washing a youngster's smudgy face or skinned knee. In a mother's world, some things just never seem to change.

Over the years, I've given this hankie thing a lot of thought and part of me is sorry such a genteel habit has gone by the wayside. In my recollections, I see mom's using apron corners and hankies to spot check their kids, whether they liked it or not. I've also decided that the reason my sisters and I put up with it was due to the fact that mom always smelled as good as her hankies, so good none of us ever minded being shined up a bit. Well, that isn't exactly true. We did mind. But it was mom. Nobody else would have gotten by with it. You know what I mean?

"She watches over the ways of her household, 
And does not eat the bread of idleness.
Her children rise up and call her Blessed;
Her husband also, and he praises her."
Proverbs 31: 27, 28