Meet our writers

 







Humor September 2014

Strictly Humor

The Radiant Rat (And Other Home Worries)

By B. Elwin Sherman

It's a massive all-consuming consumer guide to good health, long life and home management packed with protocols – some baffling, some hilarious, some we should still be practicing – for bygone busy work. It's a seriocomic hymnal sung by a ghostly chorale, heard now only in the darkened church of a great-grandma's memory.

Woodrow Wilson Started World War I in the Panama Canal.

Though not necessarily in that order, those were the headliners when my great-grandmother began bringing up baby in 1914.

Also in that year, an accepted method for removing rats from the family home was published in a then preeminent resource for household maintenance. The manual, a 1200-page bible of household hints for the 1914 homemaker was entitled: Household Discoveries & Mrs. Curtis's Cook Book. It reads today like Hints From Heloise postscripts to the Dear Abby archives.

Chock-full of endless chores, maladies, concoctions and quack medicine "cures," we find home-brewed nostrums for nagging afflictions, and tips on home chores, child-rearing, gardening and healthcare, presenting now like tongue-in-cheek time capsules. No-nonsense recipes that combined thrift, inventiveness and hearty, homespun humor. Does anyone still serve Continental Pudding, Twelve O'Clock Pie or Oklahoma Rocks?

It's a massive all-consuming consumer guide to good health, long life and home management packed with protocols – some baffling, some hilarious, some we should still be practicing – for bygone busy work. It's a seriocomic hymnal sung by a ghostly chorale, heard now only in the darkened church of a great-grandma's memory.

It's a haunting postlude from the past: lilac water, feather pillows, flatirons, corsets, bric-a-brac, whitewash, straw braids, tinware, Smyrna rugs, ice harvests, typhoid fever and arsenic soap. The entire work was succinctly described in one timeless sentence by a contributing reader of the day: "Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful."

At the risk of oversimplifying the temperament and time of a youthful great-grandma's useful and beautiful home, yet confident the commentary will span and pardon the century of homegrown progress made since she boiled the baby bottles, let's peek inside:

Personal hygiene: Don't neglect the weekly hot-water bath, followed by a change of clothing to keep the body clean and healthy. Brush the hair at least twice weekly and shampoo once a month.

How to whiten an unpainted wood floor: Sprinkle the floor freely with clean white sand and if there is no objection, let it remain a few days. Thus, the family, in the process of walking to and fro, will keep the floorboards scoured to a snowy whiteness.

How to make floor sand: Purchase marble clippings, heat them to redness in an old iron kettle. When cold, they may be pulverized.

To remove freckles: Grate a fresh horse-radish root very fine, cover with fresh buttermilk and let stand overnight. Strain through a cheesecloth and wash the face morning and night with the resulting liquor.

To prevent baldness: Wash the head daily with Jamaican rum.

Dyeing the hair: This practice is regarded by all intelligent persons as an unmistakable mark of vulgarity. Young men who are supposed to be deceived by this process have coined the expression, "chemical blonde" and boast themselves able to recognize such an individual on sight.

Bad breath: Swallow half a teaspoonful of powdered charcoal with a little cold water.

Rabies: Any wound made by an animal showing symptoms of rabies should be cauterized with a red-hot iron.

Housecleaning: Wash a hardwood floor with gasoline. Clean the bathtub, washbasins, etc., with gasoline and flannel. Ventilate thoroughly before admitting a light.

Foreign bodies in the throat: Swallow pieces of slightly chewed bread or potato, or a fresh, raw egg. A slap on the back helps. If unable to grasp object with the fingers, swallow mustard water. If vomiting fails, bend a long spoon slightly, make the patient throw his head well back and push the handle boldly down the throat. This same operation may be performed with a bit of sponge attached to a piece of whalebone.

Rat removal: Catch a rat in a wire cage. Take a pronged stick and wedge the fork just behind the rat's ears. Pin him firmly to the floor. Roll a bit of newspaper into a tight cylinder, set fire to one end and singe the hair from his back without burning the flesh. Fix a small paintbrush on a long stick and apply a coating of phosphoric mixture to the animal's back and release him near his hole. Those who've tried the experiment report that no rats remain in the vicinity.

To prevent wrinkles: (my favorite, the cheapest, and given the aforementioned interventions and cures, probably the most timely): To prevent wrinkles, the book simply says: Quit worrying.

 

B. Elwin Sherman still writes from Bethlehem, N.H. Contact him via his blog at witbones.com.

Meet B. Elwin