ICE BOXES, WOOD STOVES, WASHING TUBS 5th installment


Edith and Flo in a carriage, circa 1908. It’s official. These hats the girls are wearing were their hats for the season, as I have another picture of them with other dresses in the same hats. I’ll have to look up it that is some kind of Paris Fashion. The men of Richmond strike me as very handsome, but, then again, I married one of their descendants, so they are my type :)

I got fed up with my three computers, none of which worked well, and purchased a new lap top. So Flo in the City, my novel in progress, based on the letters of TIGHSOLAS is going to happen, now that I have no legitimate excuse to delay.

This morning I listened to BBC Radio Four’s Book of the Week, FAMILY BRITAIN, about Britain in the 50′s, a non-fiction account that uses diaries and other documents. I do love social history.

And, due to this new laptop with it’s superior RAM I also downloaded two Eaton’s catalogues and pored over the one from 1909 while listening.

My head is spinning and my eyeballs ache.

If life was simpler in the 1910′s, women’s fashion certainly was not. I knew that in an abstract way, but after scanning all those items of female apparel advertised in the catalogue, I felt I had another 6 years of research to do for this Flo in the City Book!

The terminology for hats alone requires the equivalent of an undergraduate degree. A degree in frippery and fluff.

Fancy Feathers, Wings and Flowers. I do believe that will be the title of my 1909 chapter. That’s the year of Margaret’s big hat purchase. That’s a section of the catalogue containing items for which to trim hats.

I have also decided after looking at the washing machines of the era to include one entire chapter about Flo washing, drying and ironing her white dress. It took her two days to do this.

My mother had an old-fashioned washing machine in the 60′s, I don’t know what they were called but you filled it with water, it rotated back and forth and then you drained it and wrung out the clothes in the wringer, making sure to keep your hair away or you could suffer traumatic scalping.

The machine was electric. In Flo’s days she had to hand churn the washer in the tub, and that’s after heating the water on the wood stove.

I’ll attempt a few more lines of Flo in the City. Very rough as I cannot write well after noon.

Both Flora and Mae walked with Margaret down to catch the 10:20 train to Quebec the next morning. (Her trunk had gone in ahead of her)

In the Richmond station Margaret underlined her instructions to them for the third and final time, handed them a little pocket money, climbed on board the train, and waved goodbye from the window seat, as they ran up alongside the train, just for fun, just like children.

Sister Marion, would only be arriving on the 4 o’clock from Sherbrooke, so they were free until then.

They popped into Sutherland’s drug store, and had Barry, Sutherland’s boy, pour them a cherry phosphate from the giant barrel at the soda bar.

Every employee in the store wore a clean white coat, including young Barry. They teased him a bit about it as they handed over 4 cents for the drinks.

With a flourish of his right arm on the crank, Barry rang their purchase into the cash register, dropped the coins into the drawer and slammed it shut- like a seasoned pro twice his age. He was showing off.

But there was their pocket money half gone, in an instant.

The girls sat for a few minutes at the soda bar, slurping the fizzy drinks in unlady-like fashion, and then took a stroll around the spacious store with its wrap around glass and maplewood cabinets lined with bottles and books, and its mystifying mix of mediciny aromas, the alcohols, the menthols, the sulphury fruit syrups, all with unpleasant associations.

They examined a display case of family remedies, as if they were looking at curiosities in a museum, Essence of Pepsin for indigestion (father used that one) and Spirits of Turpentine for the kidneys and Castor Oil. Ugh. They all took that in the winter.

There was an entire case of products for fatigue and lack of energy.

Her mother took Lydia Pinkham’s Vegetable Tonic, Mae remarked, but you can only order that by mail. Here’s one for you: Dr. Barker’s Malt Extract. Puts Flesh on Thin People.

Well, here’s one for you. Dr. Hammond’s nerve and brain tablets.

They leaned over the toiletries cabinet: Genuine Rose Water. Witch Hazel. All very unexciting.

In Boston, Mae explained to Flora, the bigger pharmacies even sold cold creams, face powders, and rouge de theatre. She said that last bit in her finest French accent.

Flora couldn’t imagine J.C.Sutherland, druggist, and the town’s most respected man of letters, allowing such ‘scandalous’ products like that in his store.

Sister Edith’s term and she always smiled a bit when she used it. Grown women had their secrets. Even Edith.

But for women to purchase right out in the open? It was unimaginable.

They were having a giddy old time until they hit on the school book section. Sutherland, secretary of St. Francis College, had the school text book concession in Richmond.

Here were stacked some crisp new copies of of Euclid’s Geometry, MacMillan’s Latin, and oh, dear, her Elementary English Composition book, Bertrand Sykes PhD, Copp Clarke and Co. Flora’s bubbly mood suddenly evaporated.

“Let’s go home,” she said.


By the time they made it back to Tighsolas, only stopping twice to talk to people they knew, she had recovered somewhat from her setback.

Mae released Floss from her rope. The dog jumped up and then madly pin-wheeled, first to the right, then to the left, in a dizzying blur of black and white canine ecstasy. It’s as if they had been gone for days.

Floss liked her freedom. She was known to everyone in the community. But Margaret had been afraid Floss would follow them to the train. And dogs were often killed on the train tracks.

Flora and Mae were on their own, with only Floss to protect them from the tramps, and that, in its way, was thrilling.

What would they do with their time?

Mrs. M had been out hoeing in her garden, when the girls had passed, and she had looked up.

They hoped she would not come over right away.

What a wonderful feeling. Free time to yourself. No grownups about. No work to do. Margaret had left the kitchen spotless, of course,so that it did not look, to any nosy neighbours, that she was in any way abandoning her duties.

Flora glanced at the icebox. The door was closed. There was no leakage on the floor.

Their one responsibility was to make sure that the collector pan didn’t overflow, oh, and to feed Floss, and, should Terry McJ. come around to fix that pane in the basement window, to make sure he replaced it with a pane of identical thickness.

Just three things to remember, until Marion arrived.

Wait, there was one more thing,but what was it? The most important thing! To pick up 2 pounds of beef tongue at Pope’s Butchers on their way home from the train. To marinate if for Marion. Whoops!

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