Tuesday, April 8, 2014



A couple of years ago, when Beverly of PINK SATURDAY and I were having our “decade” birthdays, she suggested that I wear pink pedal pushers to my party, for old times’ sake.   I thought then of some ladies who wore those exact pants, when they were in fashion and I was in my teens.   They were a wonderful bunch of teachers, who lived "at Mrs. Woods'" when I was growing up.   I thought many thoughts over the years of how it might have been in that house of seven women, day after day---their gentle voices and small chores and comfortable friendship.  They're a continuing set of chapters in PAXTON PEOPLE, and are composites of many folks I've known, even if only in my imagination.


Each of the residents was accorded her place, her time to wake and contemplate and move into the day, as they came down in their dusters and hairnets, into the quiet calm of Saturday morning.   A few were already up and out, dressed in casual weekend pedal pushers and blouse or a culotte and cardigan, descending the stairs in a muted burst of energy and waft of Emeraude or Wind Song.   Reaching for a cup and slipping a quick piece of Wonder bread into the toaster, or choosing a piece of fruit from the ever-supplied wooden bowl in the pass-through, they made a hasty breakfast, and were off to the library, to Keene’s for nylons, to Breedlove’s for some engraved note-cards, or on any other errands proscribed by the clock during the school week.


Others took the morning as they found it, surrounding the breakfast table in the sunroom like colorful birds as they gathered in their kimonos and robes and caftans, gently rustling the paper and sharing bits of news over coffee and the teapot, and letting time move without them.   Miss Jones boiled an egg, Miss Omar made a ham-and-mustard sandwich, little Miss Hester ate her cornflakes with bananas on top. Arithmetic and verbs had no place here, and the demands of the classroom days slipped from them like shrugged-away coats.


Mornings were mostly for errands; afternoons, for little chores.   A neatly-typed schedule hung on the wall beside the washing machine, with a good leeway for two loads; everyone knew exactly when it was rightfully WHOSE, and there was scrupulous adherence to the buzzer, getting that load of clothes into the dryer or out so the next person could have her turn.  But the laundry and the hair shampooing times were flexible, with those who opted for a lazy morning at home getting a head start on one or the other, out of turn and who cared.


One of the two conveniently-ample water heaters served kitchen, laundry and Mrs. Woods’ downstairs bath, with the other three bathrooms supplied by the second.   And so several processes could be in progress at once, with everyone comfortably supplied as the day went on.   Such a scent of Halo and Conti and Luster-Crème filled the house on Saturdays, along with Duz and Tide and Faultless Starch, and rollers and pins and head-scarves were the dress of the day.  



Then there was all the hair-rolling, usually done each-in-her-own-room, with each one emerging in scarves or hairnets covering a skullcap of tiny white rosettes of cigarette paper secured by bobby pins, or a mosaic of small silver clips, and others resembling cloth helmets---the size depending on the diameter of the rollers-of-choice.


Miss Omar “did” her short bob daily---a quick shampoo and a finger-wave with several of the crocodile-clips to hold it while it dried.

  Shoe-polishing was done at any time, singly or in groups, at a  long, linoleum-covered table in the sunroom---a sort of gathering place for the little task, with everyone still in comfortable Saturday clothes, from slacks to Miss Hester’s little gardening coverall to the lazy comfort of a duster-worn-to-breakfast.



And in the hot days of Summer, Miss Wanamaker took advantage of the secluded, hedged back yard to wash her own long hair with the hose, wearing halter top and Bermudas, which not one of the ladies would have EVER worn out in public.   She’d sit in the sun, gently brushing the length of her shining mane, until it was just dry enough to roll the ends on curlers, for she quite often had a date on Saturday evenings for dinner or a movie or a party.  And the time young Mr. Harmon took Miss Wanamaker all the way to Memphis to the Peabody to go dancing at the Skyway---why, every lady in the house was as happy and a-flutter as if they were each being called for by a prince, with a line of carriages stretching out the gate.



There was a comfort in that house, a neatly kept, cushiony sort of feminine languor which napped the rooms like rich veloute, giving even the brightest and most energetic of the ladies an extra grace of movement and a restful air, with the slow confident ease of home and place and belonging.


Patsy said...

How sweet are the memories. That could have been in my youth.
Life was much slower and safe back then.

Dorothy said...

OMG! You took me back in time! I haven't thought about some of this in a long time, especially 'kiss curls'!

Jane and Lance Hattatt said...

Hello Rachel:

What an absolute delight this is to read!! "There was comfort in that house" so well describes the atmosphere and activities in this boarding house of a time, not our own, which you so evocatively describe here in this post.

And what we love so much is the way that these genteel school mistresses organize their Saturdays to ensure that each small domestic task is completed, each of which you write of in the most captivating detail. Wonderful.

Southern Lady said...

Oh, what a lovely way to start my day, Rachel ... by going back in time to the days when everything and everyone seemed kinder and gentler. Thanks for rekindling the memories ...

Kathy said...

My goodness, how lovely! I haven't thought of some of those things since I was a little girl. Those ladies could have been my mom. Thanks for the memories!

Jeanne said...

Hi Rachel, I love your story about the young women in Mrs. Woods boarding house for young school mistress. It sounds kind of like our house which housed five sisters that were close in age and growing to their mature ages in a three bedroom home with one bathroom. We had to time our use of the bathroom, ironing our clothes and washing and curling our hair. We would go shopping on Saturdays to spend our babysitting money on clothes and perfume etc. We were younger of course but the drill was similar. When I think about it compared to now...life sure has changed. It was a wonderful time and there was no fear. Just a happy bunch of young adults enjoying life and making their way the only way they knew how. The sweetest part of the story when a Bo took his girl dancing and everyone was excited for their friend. Kindness and support for each other was so lovely to read.

Thanks for another story that brings back memories and delights our souls.


The French Hutch said...

I haven't heard that expression in a long time. I remember my momma loved her " petal pushers"! What a sweet story and it brought back a lot of memories. Thanks for sharing...........


Ann said...

I wore pedal pushers back in the day and my Mom did my hair in kiss curls a few times. I came with a house of 4 girls and we all shared 1 bathroom-what great memories. I would adore wearing a pink evening dress like that one.

Kathryn Ross said...

Delightful read! Would love such a stressless life. I think I need to watch some Mayberry. Great pinks - love the capris. I have a black pair with aqua and white trim from the time that fit me nicely. Love vintage clothes!

Kim S. said...

Oh, Rachel! Your magic works again. I’m THERE! In the midst of those ladies hearing the clink of ice tea spoons and the susurration of starched cotton house coats (before they became unladylike mumus). And Luster-crème! My aunt had a huge salon-sized tub of it that I coveted!