Friday, September 18, 2015


Washing machines.
One day last August I loaded my clothes, added the soap, then closed the lid; I turned the dial to the “Regular Wash” cycle, aimed the little arrow at “start” and pushed.
          The washer started the spin cycle.
          I stopped the machine, turned the dial, lined everything up again and pushed again – this time, it started the spin cycle, but added water to the whole thing.
          The third time around, I got agitation, but no water.
There was no fourth time; I went to the laundromat in town.

Over a hundred years ago, the Charles Williams Stores in New York offered a washing machine called the Sunny Monday Double Rubber Washer!
“The clothes to be washed are put into the tub between the lower and upper rubbers…practically the same movement as the one used in washing clothes on the washboard…”
          They’re not talking about rubber as we know it—they’re talking about two wooden rollers inside the machine that “rub” the clothes back and forth whenever you move that bizarre handle on top.
It’s only $2.45, for goodness’ sake!

Sears, Roebuck offered The Dolly Wonder – a “big family” size tub of one-inch cedar. Operated by electric motor, it “will do the family washing week after week and month after month easily and economically.” It was equipped with a power wringer with semi-soft rolls; a wide, reversible drain board. Only $51 if you pay in cash; the credit terms were $5 down and $5 per month…but the interest pushed the cost of the machine up to $56.25.

But, omygoodness, look at the 1931 Wardway Electric Gyrator Washer from Montgomery Ward!
          “The new, improved Gyrator Agitator swirls and forces the hot soapy water through the clothes…women everywhere tell us that no rubbing is necessary!”
          It has an all-copper tub that holds 6-8 cotton sheets; it has a strong ¼ horsepower splash-proof electric motor; its gears push the clothes back and forth AND up and down!
          Mrs. L.E. Davis of Tippecanoe City, O, writes “Under your easy payment plan, one pays so easily that it is not noticed.
          Best of all, the Wardway comes with a 10-year guarantee (with ordinary family use).

Wish I’d had a 10-year guarantee on my 2011 machine…

Friday, September 11, 2015


…it’s about the wine coaster.
          I remember this one from my grandmother’s dining room table.
Dinner could be formal there: I had to wear a dress, white ankle socks (that always sagged) and black strapped shoes--remember Mary Janes? I knew which fork to use, which spoon; had a napkin as big as a pillowcase and my very own wine glass (never used, of course, but at my place, nevertheless!)
Eating dinner with the adults was pretty boring – I couldn’t understand much of the conversation – I much preferred to eat in the kitchen with Mrs. Sagan.

But, I digress; back to the wine coasters…
She had three or four of them for her two, fine stoppered cut glass decanters with an H (for Howell) etched on the side of the bowls; the decanters themselves were lovely, but I was more fascinated with the stoppers than with any other part of this arrangement.

The coasters were  sterling silver with wooden bottoms. At any dinner, there might be one or two on the table—one for a decanter of red wine, one for white—and they prevented drips/stains on the tablecloth. They also kept the decanters apart to prevent chipping the crystal.
          The term “coaster” didn’t make any sense to me until I learned that coasters with wooden bottoms were slid across the tablecloth to diners who needed refills; after-dinner coasters had felt backings so that those who lingered after the dinner had been cleared and the table cloth removed, could slide decanters back and forth across the bare tabletop without scratching the surface.
          Old coasters—made in the 17th and 18th centuries, were less than five inches in diameter; when broader-bottomed cut glass decanters came into fashion, decanters became larger, too. In huge dining rooms, coasters sometimes had actual wheels to make it easier to slide the length of enormous tables – they were called wine carriages!

I have this single felt-backed coaster and one of the decanters. I have no idea where the others might be; I’m hoping they’re with second or third cousins, somewhere, gracing their tables.

Friday, September 4, 2015


Isn’t she beautiful?
This photograph—one of the first color ones in my family collection—has lived in every house I’ve ever owned.
This is the drawbridge at Osterville, Massachusetts. I think it connected the points of land between the North and West Bays in Osterville Harbor, but I’m not so sure of that.
My father, the engineer in charge, was working on this bridge in October of 1946 when he received word I had been born: He drove to Boston to meet me, then came back a couple of days later to finish up the bridge.
It’s been known as “Deb’s Bridge” in my family ever since!

The last time I saw that bridge was in the very early 1960s when I was sailing with my family on the Trident; I was about fifteen years old. I stood on the bow with the horn and called the approach for the bridge keeper – I remember his singular response—a conversation, of sorts; an agreement between us—and then the slow, lovely ascent of the draw.
          We passed through; I made my way to the stern and watched the descent from there.
          My father’s bridge, I thought.

I’d like to think it’s still there…