If you follow me on Twitter, you probably know that I am reading Another Way Home: The Tangled Roots of Race in One Chicago Family. I met the author, Ronne Hartfield, at the Writing Chicago Conference this summer. Her writing is poetic. Turns out she is, indeed, a poet, and a one-time memoirist. I wish I didn’t have to wait until next month to meet her for lunch. Our upbringing has so many commonalities. I love how she describes her dining room table and everyone coming together for dinner.
However , this morning I read about her mother’s lace curtains. We had lace curtains in our dinging room. And curtain stretchers, just like Ronne had when she grew up. Ronnie convinced her mom to buy venetian blinds:
Might any other mother have flatly refused to allow her newly sophisticated, know-it-all fourteen-year-old daughter to redecorate her house? If a mother did accede to such a whim, wouldn’t that daughter be required at the very least to assume the onerous responsibility of the upkeep of those blinds?
I found myself shaking my head. Oh Ronne, if you only knew how much upkeep those curtains required. If she had the same curtain stretchers my mom had, those things were like a torture rack.
First mom washed and starched the curtains.
Next, she stretched them to dry. The stretching frame had tiny nails sticking out every inch or so all around the frame. The frames must have been at least six feet square, supported on a stand. Mom stretched the curtains pushing the edges of the curtains down over the nails, one by one. When the stretching got low enough for helpers, we girls helped. Another curtain got stretched over that, and maybe another until the tiny nails became filled.
Next the curtains dried.
Then the arduous task of removing the curtains. Each nail had to be emptied one curtain at a time; one nail at a time. We girls did that job. Going too fast resulted in torn lace. No one wanted that.
The final step before hanging was ironing. Mom had a big Coke bottle with a sprinkling cork in it. First she sprinkled and let them stand for a bit. Then the ironing. She had one of those automatic irons. She taught Deanna and me to use it for the flat things like sheets. I graduated to shirts, but never got the hang of ruffles. Mom could iron anything with that machine. To be honest, I don’t remember anyone but Mom ironing those lace curtains.
I had to smile at Ronne’s next passage:
She showed off the new blinds to everybody, saying with motherly pride that it was all the children’s wonderful idea, and hadn’t her second son done a beautiful job of installing them. Then she just added the Smilax cleaning of those blinds to her regular housekeeping schedule, and nobody ever realized that they were extra work.”
Maybe those blinds were extra work. Still, I have a sneaking suspicion Ronne’s mother was, indeed, overjoyed with those blinds. I know I sure was happy when the curtain stretchers got replaced by gauzey sheer curtains.
Skip on over to Once a Little Girl and find out more about what went on in my dining room.