the time before soap

We spent a couple of hours with Jeremie’s Grandma this evening and she told us some great stories. We didn’t have a tape recorder but here’s what I have stored in my keppe.

Her mother liked them to spend a lot of time outdoors in the summer because the area of Montreal where they lived had sidewalks and very few trees. When Grandma was 5, they camped out on an island for the summer and lived in tents. Her mother had an agreement with the Federation (I didn’t ask, I’m assuming the Jewish Federation) to take in 8 girls for two weeks; she received a stipend of 10 cents a day to cover meals and such. As Grandma, her mother and her brother were out there for a couple of months they had several changes of girls.
Each morning her mother would wake up before the children and row a boat to the mainland to fetch a large jug of milk and a large jug of fresh water. One of the girls would be selected to travel with her and it was a great priveledge to be selected. Upon returning she would start a fire and made fresh onion rolls for breakfast.
The girls slept on straw mattresses in the tents and each morning they would hang them up to air out. Grandma said the girls were usually kind and would help her to hang up her mattress. She recounted that she learned very quickly not to touch the sides of the tent while it was raining. During one rain storm she touched the tent and got all wet. One of the girls in her tent thought to move her out of the wet spot and another told her a story while it thunderstormed.

Another story … One summer Grandma was to spend a couple months at a family farm about an hour outside of Montreal. Her mother put her on the train, vanished for a bit but came back quickly bearing a doll. Her mother told her that a man with a buggy would pick her up and the conductor would tell her where to get off the train. When it came time, the conductor did indeed tell her when to get off the train and she met the man with his horse and buggy. Near the end of the trip, the man asked her what the name of her doll was. She had not yet named the doll but saw a sign on the open barn door and quickly picked a name for the doll, “Nosmo King”.
Later on, she realized that the sign said “No Smoking” and she told us that she used that story to illustrate the importance of phrasing to her music students.

Grandma is 93 and the clarity of her mind and what she can recall never ceases to amaze me. She is a fascinating woman to talk with and listen to. She said the phrase “that was the time before soap” right before telling about her mother and spending the summer on the island, but either she didn’t complete the thought or I missed the context. Either way, I thought it was pretty funny.

She had a book on tomatos that she wanted me to have but she couldn’t find it so she gave me a copy of “The American Woman’s Cook Book” instead. It was published in 1940, as far as I can tell, and the recipes I’ve paged through so far are quite contemporary. There’s none of the strange concoctions of the 1950s and ’60s. I did see a few recipes for toungue but that’s not so wierd, it’s just fallen out of favor. I’m very excited to spend some time with this on the plane tomorrow.

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