Victory Over Daily Life: The Washing Machine

Standard

The slight smell of burning rubber coming from the laundry room should have alerted us to a problem. But it was the weekend and something in the dryer probably just got hot.

By Monday, it became clear that it wasn’t the dryer at all.

Isn’t it always a load of towels that sends washing machines into spasms? Or in our case just murdered the appliance with the sudden precision strike of an assassin.

It was Monday, I was ill, and it was raining. So I did what any person in my situation would do…I called my mother to complain. Whine really.

And it helped.

There was no reason to panic because I actually have two washing machines. The recently deceased one that was a part of the 2004 addition to the Old House and the older top loading one that sits in the original laundry room behind the garage and is nothing more than a shelf for Christmas decorations.

I believe that every old house in our neighborhood has an outside laundry room, sometimes connected to the garage but never to the house. Early in the morning, you can often catch a glimpse of our neighbors, huddling in their bathrobes, dashing out to their laundry rooms to fetch some necessaries. It’s Florida and the builders of these houses got it right when they decided that the last thing they needed was an appliance blowing hot air.

After my pouting and foot stomping, I pulled myself together enough to call the repairman and dust off the old machine so that I could be back in the laundry business.

Now it’s Thursday.  In three days I have become an expert on washing machine transmissions. Who knew that there were such things?  And who would have thought that they would eventually leak oil and die on a rainy Monday?

Not just the one machine…no, both my washers decided to go out together like an elderly couple in one of those wonderful stories, or probably more like Thelma and Louise.

The new machine with a viable transmission is on its way.  A trip to the laundromat ended the immediate dirty clothes crisis.

My cold is gone. The sun is out.

But I’m sure there will be something else to whine about when I call my mother this afternoon!

Deep Freeze

Standard

“We hurry about in inadequate clothing…We bring out our newspapers and old quilts and sheets and drape them over our favorite shrubs,” Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings wrote in her 1942 book, Cross Creek.

Nothing has really changed.

As I write this, it is 51 degrees at my central Florida home; we have the heater on and we are freezing.

Our Old House, built out of brick in 1926, was designed to handle every Florida weather phenomenon from 95 degree heat waves to whipping hurricane winds, but not the cold damp air that’s currently seeping through the walls.

Admittedly, we might not be dressed appropriately or fully prepared for anything colder than 60. But there is no time to root around for jackets in a rarely used closet; there are plants to bring inside.

This little snap should not result in a “hard” freeze, a phrase that launches the local strawberry growers into action: they turn on sprinklers to create an ice barrier that protects mature plants. Instead, this chill will surprisingly do us a favor and make the fruit just a little bit sweeter. I have always believed that the best oranges and strawberries are the ones with a bit of chill to them.

So as the thermometer drops this afternoon a bizarre abstract of old linens will appear strewn on lawns across town in an effort to protect delicate plants. Some plants, like my camellias which are heavy with buds and preparing for their annual Christmas show, will be fine. I’m still debating whether to cover others, including my ever expanding peace lily garden, or just give them some extra water tomorrow morning in an effort to keep them from dehydrating after a cold night.

I subscribe to the theory that our blood has “thinned” since our time living in real winters. Once, I thought it a joke when an old Floridian friend told me that water at his house freezes at 50 degrees.

Today, I agree.

The Present

Standard

By Pookie

Griffith gave me a book,
I don’t know him.
The book was a present,
left on a shelf
in the house of a dead man
for me to find.
Maybe it was Griffith.
It’s a book of poems
meant to make light of dark days
or to hold down papers.
I think Griffith liked this book.
Maybe he wanted to make sure
it went to loving hands.
Maybe that’s why his name is still there.

Pookie is a poet and proud Ole Miss Alum who is currently pursuing a Master of Fine Arts degree.

The Old Man: “I got this”

Standard

With one hand, my nephew scooped the toddler out of her car seat in the World’s Manliest Pickup Truck and slung her onto his hip, whence she proceeded to giggle and admire the world while he asked me what I know about alternators – which is next to nothing.

It seemed that his truck, a snorting diesel beast that is old enough to vote, had a new alternator that he himself installed while in the parking lot of a supermarket two nights before. The new part was not working properly. Investigating the mystery of why would keep us happily engaged for the next hour.

My nephew is not a poor man. Some say he is a cheap man. But I know he prefers to think of himself as a self-reliant man.

I was thinking about this the other day as I was passed on the highway by a far less manly pickup truck, swathed in advertising for a dog poop removal service. Seems that you can pay this company a weekly fee and they will send someone to pick up all of Fido’s landmines from your yard, presumably just before the lawn service arrives. There is apparently nothing we won’t pay somebody else to do.

Cleaning up after your dog doesn’t require any skill (although a subscription to the New York Times is useful, because then you get these convenient blue plastic bags that are perfect for this purpose).

For the household repairs and chores that do require some skill – especially for old homes – if you don’t have an Old Man around to mentor you, and you are bookish like me, I suggest a few old books that I found at yard sales over the years that I think are terrific:

1. Better Homes and Gardens Handyman’s Book. My copy comes from 1951; it’s a red covered three ring binding like the BHGH cookbook. Everything is arranged in tabulated sections with lots of black and white photos showing how to repair practically everything in a house.

2. Manual of Home Repairs, Remodeling & Maintenance. (Fawcett Publications, Inc. 1969) This book adds a lot of depth to various home repair subjects by discussing how they were originally constructed. I think this is so that if you really screw something up, you can rebuild it.

3. House by Tracy Kidder. (Houghton Mifflin 1985). This isn’t a do it yourself instruction book, but it is a great non-fiction account of a young couple having their dream house constructed and of all the drama and tension that naturally arises when you have someone else charged with putting your hopes and aspirations into wood and plaster.

The Old Man: Marrying Stuff

Standard

When the Old Man was much younger, he took a beautiful bride who had many old things. Some of these things were antiques she and her parents had collected and some were heirlooms of previous ancestors.

In most cases these things were odd (five wooden wall clocks from 1900, commemorating the Spanish American War) or cumbersome (an ornately carved pump organ). Other family members had already furnished their homes in particular styles, so these things became our things.

I think many young people are reluctant to accumulate antiques and heirlooms because they fear their ability to choose things for their own idiom might be compromised. Or perhaps they wisely anticipate the burden of a 250 pound pump organ.

We, however, had little to place in our first homes and we were possessed of a romantic – or perhaps simply unrealistic – nature. So the organ first joined us in Winchester, Virginia, and we then took it with us to suburban Chicago, back to Florida, then to Washington, D.C. and finally back to Florida again. Never once, have I been able to play an entire song on it. But great grandchildren of the man – my late father-in-law – who replaced the fabric on the wood treadles half a century ago merrily coaxed low moans from it just the other day.

Some of the other pieces that have been with us our entire lives together include:

•A Victrola that stands four feet tall in a conspicuous place in our living room, and still spins nonagenarian records at 78 RPM whenever the spirit moves us and we want to know what 1924 sounded like.

•Clocks and more clocks, in addition to the aforementioned timepieces from the Spanish American war. These include a small, ornate German clock that used to chime the hours and tick the moments in between for us in our cold and cramped first apartment, an English basement on Capitol Hill.

•A cherry china cabinet with glass shelves and a bowed glass door that my wife helped her father refinish, using Q-tips to reach into the narrow, carved grooves. As young parents we feared a toddler would crash into the glass, and for years positioned furniture defensively around it.

•A maple gate-leg table from the Depression that could tuck into a small space against the wall when we didn’t need it, or be made to expand by means of an ingenious folding leaf into a surface large enough for six and a Thanksgiving turkey.

Call them antiques, heirlooms or hand-me-downs, I think we always felt that these things were a trust, over which we would enjoy stewardship for a time, and then it will be someone else’s turn to live with them. We have added considerably to the collection over the years with many odd and cumbersome pieces of our own. What makes them special is the knowledge that they meant so much to someone long before us, and they have continued to play prominent roles in the accumulated memories of our family for the past three decades.

I hope our kids have big houses.

The Old Man can be found teaching vocabulary to his gun dog in the back yard of the Old House and occasionally typing his ridiculous and profane thoughts on an old Underwood typewriter.

Old Houses

Standard

I grew up in a town full of wonderful old houses. A quick bike ride across the railroad tracks and Calhoun Street would turn into a brick-paved old Florida wonderland.

The Prosser house was always my favorite with its majestic white columns. Pam favored the Victorian homes on Evers Street where she spent summers babysitting. And the homes on Mahoney Street were living tributes to the people who built Plant City either through commerce, agriculture or government service.

Years later when we decided to leave Washington, D.C. and move back to Florida, it was the inventory of great old houses that drew us to Bartow. We spent hours on the internet comparing listings of homes with the square footage and huge lawns we had missed from our 1903 Capitol Hill townhouse—which while historic was just 11 feet wide in places.

Like Plant City, this is a town full of houses with stories. Legendary Florida Governor and U.S. Senator Spessard Holland lived here, not in the big estate on Broadway but just across the street from it in the old bungalow. Down a few blocks in the great wooden house lived a composer who wrote for Frank Sinatra and around the corner from it sits the brick home where the street curves around an oak tree. Here in the “City of Oaks and Azaleas” we do love our trees. Local lore maintains that the lady who lived there sat in a lawn chair with her shotgun ready as the city crews paved the street. Guess who won?

Currently, there are several grand historic houses for sale in town and just like those childhood bike trips, I find myself weaving through back streets to check on any change in sale statuses. Realtors here should really have a disclaimer that no matter how grand your name is, locally these houses will always be known by their old family name.

We have lived in this old bungalow for almost 14 years but it will forever be known as the John Pittas house. A Greek immigrant and successful restaurateur, John lived here for over 50 years until he died at the age of 106. An avid gardener and cigar smoker, we still find the plastic tips of his smokes everywhere; middle of the driveway, under the azaleas; the garage. We never knew him but sometimes when we feel his presence we ask him to telegraph to us EXACTLY where in the yard he buried that jar full of cash we have heard so many tales about.

My husband once asked a neighbor if maybe it was the water here that contributed to John’s longevity. “No,” he smiled. “John never drank water.”

So if you catch me in the back with a shovel and glass of wine, that can be our little old house secret.

The Nectar of the Gods

Standard

by Cecelia

I’ve tasted the nectar of the gods; it’s my mother-in-law’s French dressing.

If you’re not a French dressing fan, this dressing will convert you. It’s tangy and pairs well with a variety of dishes.

When I began dating my husband 17-years-ago, French dressing was far from my favorite. I associated it with menu items like Salisbury steak and fruit cocktail; dishes shunned and replaced with pesto, arugula and sun dried tomatoes by the late 90s.

I remember sitting down to a Sunday supper at my in-laws’ house. The menu was fried chicken, yellow rice and a tossed salad with French dressing. I glanced around the table for another dressing option. Finding none, I drizzled a little French dressing on my salad.

The first bite of salad made me ask my brother-in-law to pass the gravy boat of dressing back down the table. In fact, by the end of dinner I was spooning it over my fried chicken like one of the family.

Today, I make this dressing about once a month. It is delicious on salads (obviously) sliced avocados and, if you pour a little over your fried chicken, I won’t judge you.

You’ll need a blender and three jam jars before you begin.

Sally’s French Dressing:

1 can of Campbell’s tomato soup
3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
1/3 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp paprika
1 Tbsp Worcestershire
1 Tbsp dry mustard
Dash of garlic powder

Pour all ingredients into blender and pulse until fully combined.

Divide into three small jam jars or other containers. Refrigerate for up to three weeks.

Cecelia is a military brat turned Southerner. She is an avid reader and lover of camellias, blue and white china, gin and tonics and tomato pie.

The Vagrant: The View From Here

Standard

by Vagrant

I’m in a city that stretches past the horizon in every direction. I’ll be here for a year. Hot, parched, cloudless sky above for months; the city itself a chaotic mess of beige and dirt and life. Wikipedia tells me that the population density of Cairo is near 50,000 per square mile; where I live it’s probably even higher.

It’s a strange and exhilarating change from growing up in Polk County—a peaceful, relaxed, even meandering haven—one I considered boring, slow, and boring again when I was younger.

Running with bags to the local orange grove to pick some fresh fruit, camping in Saddle Creek Park and kayaking through the entwining lakes was my normal. Now my alarm clock is the dawn call to prayer echoing through a city of millions. By the time I get dressed, enjoy my Turkish coffee at a local coffee shop, and start my day the streets are already packed and nearly immobile with masses of people. Exciting? Certainly. But there are plenty of things to miss from home.

There is something to be said for the quality of life a live Lynyrd Skynyrd cover band along with some cheap, decent beer with friends affords (the swill available here, while effective, is terrible). Not to mention the thrill of sailing along the beaches of Anna Maria; watching the thunderstorms roll through Lakeland; reading Tolstoy on a hammock strewn between palm trees in the back yard; or casually appreciating the epitome of southern belle fashion—the sundress.

That’s of course leaving out the surprisingly diverse local characters which make Polk come to life: the metal-head who’s on his way to becoming a doctor, the youth minister who moonlights as a beer expert, the childhood friend who is becoming something of a mechanical savant, or my retired neighbor who recently told me her twin retirement hobbies are travel and skeet shooting!

Florida may move at a bit slower of a pace than the rest, but it never ceases to be interesting. Especially from here.

Vagrant is a Florida native who got stir crazy and wanted to see the world like the stereotype of the twenty-something he is, but then somehow pulled it off. He is currently residing in Cairo.

The Old Man’s Books: Look for these five collections when you are book hunting

Standard

Our fine old dining table is groaning under the weight of our latest book buying debauchery. Looking at the stacks of literature, biographies and references has my head spinning. It is the aftermath of a local estate sale that included a magnificent library of thousands of volumes.

Book dealers swooped in early to look for first editions and the things they can turn profits on. But later, when we arrived there were still great finds. We came home with nearly 100 volumes of what a book seller friend of mine calls “book books.”

These are not the collector’s pieces you find on the back of the New York Times Book Review, these are books you can actually read. And many are bound handsomely enough that you would be proud to display them. We must find room to eat, so these will be going into our bookcases – but not before spending time with me in my study.

At this sale and others, I have noticed a lot of sets of books and series that were published in the late 1800s and early 1900s that you can find for ridiculously low prices, but which would make handsome additions to anyone’s libraries.

Here are five favorites that I have found recently and that you may want to keep an eye out for:

1. The Harvard Classics, published by F. Collier and Son in 1909. This is probably my favorite. The president of Harvard University had often said that the average American could obtain a good liberal education by reading 15 minutes a day from a collection of books that could fit on a five foot book shelf. They include the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith and The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin.

2. The Colonial Press. Around 1900 this London and New York publisher began printing sets and series of books. I found a 16 volume set printed in 1901 that includes everything from The Federalist Papers and John Stewart Mills’ Political Economy to Turkish verse.

3. The Works of Washington Irving: A number of publishers produced sets of his work. We found two recently, from the late 1800s. I have been captivated by his Alhambra describing a journey he took in the early 1800s “among the Moors and Spaniards.”

4. The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson. This set published by Houghton Mifflin in 1904 includes his lectures and essays.

5. Encyclopedia Britannica. When I was a child, I desperately wanted a set of encyclopedias, and I thought Britannica was the best. With the advent of the Internet and the fact that half a century of discoveries and reconsiderations of facts has occurred since these were printed, they are nearly worthless to many people. But I stubbornly bought a set I found recently. And I make a point of using it still.

The Old Man can be found teaching vocabulary to his gun dog in the back yard of the Old House and occasionally typing his ridiculous and profane thoughts on an old Underwood typewriter.

Sale Day

Standard

S.G. bought a bear suit this morning. Cecelia found a concrete head and a copper stock pot. And I came home with a 1927 T.E.Lawrence first edition and monogrammed damask napkins.

It was just another Friday morning here in the South, where there is nothing better than a good ole eccentric estate sale. You get to see some old friends—or in S.G.’s case, the woman she tangled with over a painting a few months back. (Note: never leave me guarding fine art in a crowded sale.)

If you are prone to being nosy, a sale provides a rare glimpse into how people in your area really live; and that peek is never dull. Who knew that one of our neighbors owned a very expensive pale pink Italian breakfast set? Or why the gentleman in south Tampa had a signed Walker Percy first edition mixed amongst his cookbooks.

I acknowledge that it may be distasteful to some to go through a house full of the once cherished belongings of a person; a couple; a family. But things are not what are important in the end. That is the most valuable lesson learned by anyone who goes to estate sales or sits through antique auctions.

My husband has declared that our children will one day host the greatest eccentric estate sale of all time. But you will need to go to S.G.’s house for that bear suit.