Let’s journey back to the late 1920’s. If you can recall any tunes from “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”, hum along. It’ll put you in the proper mood.
In the tiny town along the railroad tracks where my mother grew up, life revolved around daily chores, school, church, and a trip to the store for necessaries, news and a haircut (all in the same place and provided by her daddy, Judge, who wasn’t one, but that’s another story). A break in the routine came when relatives visited or when the kids got to go spend time with grandparents.
Even prior to being old enough to attend school, my mom often stayed with her grandparents to help out the old folks, seein’ as how their rheumatiz kept them from doing all the things they’d done when they were spring chickens. They lived near another tiny town just ten miles down the tracks. By the way, is anything ever “up” the tracks?
Here they are dandling a couple of the grandkiddies on their knees, Grandma in a dress that seemed to reappear in most of her photos and Uncle John sporting a fine head of hair and a beard to match. I imagine he cut quite a figure in his Union Blues back in his Civil War fighting days, don’t you?
Just so we get things straight – Grandma Martha married John, who had actually been married to her sister, Emma. It was all on the up-and-up, because Emma had passed on, leaving Uncle John a free man. Martha, having been first widowed (now that fellow was my mom’s actual grandpa) and then receiving a court judgment freeing her up from a no-good scoundrel, married John, who, in addition, was a second cousin, once removed. So, my mom grew up with a step-grandpa/uncle-by-marriage cousin whom they all called Uncle John. Well, now that that’s all cleared up…
Now isn’t this a little darlin’?
She’s my mom’s little sister, Gladys Pearl. I have no idea where she came up with that parasol, but I’ll bet she was mighty proud of it!
The family didn’t call everyone by double names, but they must have sensed that it was a fit for Gladys Pearl. She’d need it later, when she married and moved to the Deep South.
Little Gladys Pearl had a turn at staying with Grandma and Uncle John. Things were different in those days. Though big cities may have already embraced telephones and electric lights to a certain degree, out here in the Midwest things remained “off the grid”. In fact, there was no grid. Believe it or not, even good parents believed that anyone with a responsible job who could look you in the eye and shake your hand could be trusted. They may have had a few qualms about putting a small child on a train and giving the conductor instructions to see that they got off at the right stop, but they did it. I’m not sure if anyone met Gladys Pearl at the train when she reached her destination, because I’m sure they didn’t have a phone. Somehow she got there and perhaps had to find her way out to Grandma and Uncle John’s place.
Gladys helped Grandma and Uncle John with small chores and they enjoyed her visit, just as they did when their other grandchildren came. Having a pair of energetic little legs to run after this and that eased the daily grind.
One night, after going to bed, Grandma and Uncle John tossed and turned. Their rheumatiz seemed determined to keep them up all night. Miserable, they called out to Gladys Pearl, asking her to please bring them the liniment.
There seemed no point in going to the trouble of lighting a coal oil lamp for such a swift and simple errand. Gladys Pearl crawled out of bed. Guided by the comforting voices of Grandma and Uncle John and a glimmer of moonlight, she felt her way through the darkness and groped for the cupboard door. Following their instructions, her fingers soon fell upon a small bottle. Grasping it, she turned and, feeling her way toward their bed, handed it to her grateful grandparents.
Grandma and Uncle John passed the bottle between them, splashing the fluid onto their fingers and rubbing it everywhere. They applied it to every aching joint they had before resettling themselves under the covers.
After a bit, they called out to Gladys Pearl again, thanking her for being such a good helper and telling her that they felt better already! All three now settled in for a good night’s sleep.
The following morning when the household came to life, the day began with surprises all around.
Little Gladys Pearl, doing her best, hadn’t managed to get hold of the liniment bottle. Even if there had been a sliver of moonbeam to assist her, she likely hadn’t learned to read anyway.
What Gladys Pearl got was a glass bottle version of this –
Just in case you missed the punch line, I’ll explain. (And, if you are below a certain age or have never made a salt crystal garden with your kids, you probably did miss the punch line.)
Laundry bluing is exactly that – BLUE! To be specific, it’s NAVY blue! Clothing dyes include blues, yellows, etc., but over time the blue fades away, leaving fabrics “yellowed”. To bring the crisp, newness back to whites, you would add a tiny touch of bluing to a wash load. Note the instructions for usage as pertains to diluting –
Full-strength bluing, applied directly (and liberally) to the skin, left Grandma and Uncle John navy blue all over, not to mention their night clothes and the bed sheets. And, in case you’re wondering, it doesn’t wash off – it wears off. It’s a good thing they were country folk. They could, most likely, avoid a trip to town for a month or more if necessity called for it. This case of the blues probably made them reluctant to socialize.
Though this true story has made it through the generations, I’m sad to say that it never occurred to me to ask who noticed first.
Did Grandma and Uncle John wake up and, looking down at their hands, come to the conclusion that a mysterious deadly plague had descended on the household overnight? Or, did Gladys Pearl wake up first? If so, it must have been traumatic at her age to look in on Grandma and Uncle John, hoping they might be stirring and working their way toward fixing her breakfast, only to find her grandparents had turned blue!
As far as I know, the old folks took it all in stride. Grandparents have a way of doing that when it comes to the little ones. Besides, they did “ask for it” – didn’t they?
One other unanswered question remains. I’m fairly certain, however that the answer is “no”. I doubt they ever wrote to the address on the back of the bluing bottle, informing the company that their product, when applied during a bout of rheumatiz, worked wonders.
I’ve used Mrs. Stewart’s Bluing, with care, in the laundry. It does the job on those yellowed cottons. Check out their website here. They have instructions for everything. Maybe you can find out what it does for fish and dogs.
Comments? Questions? I encourage you to seek out the old-timers in your family and ask plenty of questions. It can’t all have happened just to us, you know.