Wednesday, January 6, 2010

wince noticeably

In my continued quest to make all my interests and areas of specialty outdated, arcane, or just very odd, I came across a book called:

The Complete Book of Absolutely Perfect Housekeeping by Elinor Goulding Smith.

We visited Olga's parents in College Station Texas (Happy New Year, by the way, and Merry Orthodox Christmas!) and the title leoparded out at me from their inset kitchen bookshelves. "Hey now," I says to myself I says, "that seems like a joke."

And it is. This little book came out in 1956 and the cover, by the fantastic cartoonist Roy Doty, depicts a proper young housewife in a neat red dress and white apron with one arm cast dramatically across her forehead and the other holding a gun to a miniature house of four disastrous rooms- a burning stove, tower of laundry, etc. Doty's illustrations run throughout.

I've been going through it in order to find something to quote, but the humor builds on itself so much that, taken out of context, I worry they are a little flat. That's a fairly ridiculous worry, now that I see it written out.

On dishwashing

"Here a pet comes into his own, and you may speed the work greatly by simply placing the dishes on the floor for a half hour or so, while the animal does his share. A dog or cat is the most useful type of pet for this work. Birds, goldfish and turtles fail to perform effectively at this task.

While the dog or cat is completing his chore, you have your cue to retire for a minute to make a phone call or powder your nose, thus leaving things squarely up to your husband and children.

If this ruse won't work-- and it won't because they've all disappeared-- you may as well make up your mind that you're in for it... The hotter the water and the stronger the soap, the quicker the job will be done, and the quicker all the skin will slough off your hands. The trouble with dishwashing is that if you do it slowly you'll miss Groucho Marx but if you do it fast you'll break all the dishes. The latter is the less of the evils, and when you husband wonders why you're buying up so much new china you can honestly reply that you need it."

On Laundry

"First, throw away all your curtains. This will not only save washing and ironing time, but also taking down and putting up time, mending time, shopping time, starching time, etc. Second, throw away all your bedspreads. This will save hours of bedmaking time. They're awfully shabby anyway on account of the cat pulling off all the fringe. Third, throw away your table linens. They're old-fashioned.

You can't throw away all the clothing-- at least not if you're going to continue living in the same neighborhood-- but there are steps to be taken to cut down on the quantity. Every time you see one of your children taking a clean T-shirt, slap his hand. Every time your husband takes a clean pair of socks, wince noticeably. You might give up darning for a while, too. In time, they'll catch on all right. And you'll save hours of work."

And finally, Interior Decorating

"Sometimes accessories serve as conversation pieces. I don't know just what a conversation piece is for exactly, because if you and your guest can't think of anything to say to each other but 'My, what an interesting ashtray' it's my opinion that you shouldn't have invited the guest over in the first place. Why didn't you invite a friend over instead? Ashtrays are shaky foundations for an evening's conversation-- I don't care if they were part of a hubcab."

She wrote other books as well, a guide to child-rearing, and a book that includes these wonderful step-by-step instructions for building a Greek Temple.

Her husband seems a gem as well. Robert Paul Smith, author of Where Did You Go? Out. What Did You Do? Nothing, a book advocating that children be left alone more, like they used to be, so that they could invent the world for themselves.

The book with the Greek Temple instructions is dedicated very humanely "to all the people, all over the world, who drop things."

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