Tuesday, January 22, 2008

memory lane

i was thinking about my mam.
can't believe she's been gone for almost 6 years. is that possible?
the other day i was remembering, not for the first time, a story she told me when i was young.
i always loved to hear stories about her childhood and her reminiscences but she needed persuasion to tell them.
i think she thought that her stories weren't interesting but i loved them and always asked to hear more. they were quaint and seemed to be from so very long ago. as things do when heard from the perspective of the child-parent generation gap.

when she was a teenager in high school she had a formidable domestic science teacher.
(domestic science is the lost, no longer taught, art of cooking, washing, cleaning and, no doubt, donkey stoning the front step.)

the art of laundering was next on the agenda.

the teacher told the class to each bring in an item to be washed.
(imagine today spending a whole class on washing clothes. in those days there were so many things involved in doing laundry..... first of all grating the great lumps of soap into flakes then filling the huge galvanized tub with water; lighting the gas burner under the tub to boil the water for the whites and then waiting for the water to boil. after a good boiling, out come the whites and next to go in are the coloured items; both loads agitated with the poss stick, i.e. pounded up and down, before being removed and going through the manually turned wringer.

the tub was emptied and refilled with clean water and then clothes were rinsed and re-possed before being wrung out again. it must have taken an eternity to dry washing in those days before the advent of the washing machine/spin drier...)

as instructed the items to be laundered were brought in by the eager students.

anxious to impress, they each brought in something neat, and already very clean.
no-one would ever accuse their mothers of the cardinal sin of being less than a perfect laundress.
thus, they were carefully inspected by the teacher who turned them over and over, inside and out.

pillowcases, sideboard runners, teatowels, antimacassars and tablecloths.

each article was judged on its merits before being allowed to be placed into the tub. no intermingling of unworthy garments. no personal garments allowed.

the teacher used the huge wooden tongs with metal clasps to plunge the articles into the boiling water and then gave the girl the huge poss stick and ordered her to 'agitate, agitate, up and down, up and down'.
until it was jessie mcdonald's turn to offer her article up for inspection.

the mcdonalds were new to living in a house that didn't have wheels.
and they didn't feel the same need for cleanliness as did the other families.
the girl held her item nonchalantly aloft as the teacher approached with the tongs.
the teacher paused and stared over the top of the glasses perched on the end of her nose.
her face went pale and her mouth fell open.
you could feel the tension in the room my mother said.
each student stopped what she was doing and peered through the steam to see what would happen next.

jessie mcdonald was holding out the most disgusting, red woolen sweater.
it had holes.
it had buttons missing.
and what looked like cigarette burns.
it was threadbare and very, very filthy.
it was extremely small and crumpled and smelled very badly.

the teacher wrinkled her nose and spoke barely in a whisper.
"and what, on earth, is THAT?" she demanded hoarsely, refusing to touch it with her precious tongs.
the class inhaled as one, waiting for the response...
and this is where my mother could never make it to the punch line. she would fall about laughing, her shoulders shaking and the tears running down her cheeks, so caught up in the memory of the event.

i loved to see her laugh.
i knew what was coming and i was already laughing with her.
"please miss" answered jessie mcdonald carelessly and almost proudly in her thick geordie accent, "it's the monkey's jumper"
i never did find out the domestic science teacher's response; i like to imagine she fainted, or the consequence she administered to jessie mcdonald for attempting to sully the sanctity of the galvanized poss tub, but in so many ways it was a lesson.
it was a history lesson because by the time i heard the story electric twin tub washing machines with spin driers were in most homes and poss sticks, tongs and poss tubs were now artefacts, long gone from the modern kitchen.

soap powder came in boxes, already shredded and finely scented.
hot water came out of the tap and no longer had to be heated under an open flame.
and domestic science was a lost art.
and people no longer kept monkeys wearing little red sweaters and hats as house pets.

but the memory still remains.
thanks mam xxxxx


Kee said...

Ah, that was very nice.

Clippy Mat said...

ah kee, thanks for reading it :-))

Rara said...

aww I've been checking your blog page everyday waiting for a new entry and there it was..a little piece about nana. beautiful.
I am just imagaining that laugh she did and the way she couldn't finish her stories for laughing so much! I don't think I've heard that story...very funny, cute, tell me more!!

I miss her.

S x

Clippy Mat said...

it's so nice that you remember her in that way, and miss her too. that will keep her memory alive. i'm sure she knows. :-))

wor vron said...

ah my favourite story -I can see her laughing now!

Mam loved school-what was the school play where she had to recite about ' a little bit of butter on my bread...........'? or was it marmalade?!

Clippy Mat said...

The King's Breakfast

The King asked
The Queen, and
The Queen asked
The Dairymaid:
"Could we have some butter for
The Royal slice of bread?"
The Queen asked the Dairymaid,
The Dairymaid
Said, "Certainly,
I'll go and tell the cow
Before she goes to bed."

The Dairymaid
She curtsied,
And went and told the Alderney:
"Don't forget the butter for
The Royal slice of bread."

The Alderney said sleepily:
"You'd better tell
His Majesty
That many people nowadays
Like marmalade

The Dairymaid
Said "Fancy!"
And went to
Her Majesty.
She curtsied to the Queen, and
She turned a little red:
"Excuse me,
Your Majesty,
For taking of
The liberty,
But marmalade is tasty, if
It's very

The Queen said
And went to his Majesty:
"Talking of the butter for
The royal slice of bread,
Many people
Think that
Is nicer.
Would you like to try a little

The King said,
And then he said,
"Oh, deary me!"
The King sobbed, "Oh, deary me!"
And went back to bed.
He whimpered,
"Could call me
A fussy man;
I only want
A little bit
Of butter for
My bread!"

The Queen said,
"There, there!"
And went to
The Dairymaid.
The Dairymaid
Said, "There, there!"
And went to the shed.
The cow said,
"There, there!
I didn't really
Mean it;
Here's milk for his porringer
And butter for his bread."

The queen took the butter
And brought it to
His Majesty.
The King said
"Butter, eh?"
And bounced out of bed.
"Nobody," he said,
As he kissed her
"Nobody," he said,
As he slid down
The banisters,
My darling,
Could call me
A fussy man -
I do like a little bit of butter to my bread!"

-- A. A. Milne
just for you vron. i can hear mam reciting it; very properly LOL :-)