Many words have gone miss­ing

To­day’s gen­er­a­tion wouldn’t know a clothes prop from a pit prop

Cape Breton Post - - CAPE BRETON - David Muise

My daugh­ter moved to a new house re­cently, a nice, older home with a yard full of trees.

While my grand­daugh­ters gave me a tour of the grounds, we dis­cov­ered an old-fash­ioned clothes­line strung be­tween two trees. There were no pul­leys, just a length of rope nailed se­curely to each tree. The girls looked puz­zled as I ex­plained that this was how their great­grand­mother dried our clothes.

Notic­ing that the line was not very high, they asked. “How do you keep the clothes from drag­ging on the ground and get­ting dirty again?”

“Why, with a clothes prop,” I an­swered.

“What’s a clothes prop?” they asked.

These girls had grown up in the front load, high-ef­fi­cient, de­ter­gent pod, wrig­gle-free gen­er­a­tion where fresh out­door smells came from a small piece of pa­per fab­ric soft­ener. And, hav­ing lived in apart­ments, clothes­lines and their as­so­ci­ated para­pher­na­lia were un­known to them.

“A clothes prop was a long wooden pole with a notch at one end to hold the line and a point at the other to stick in the ground to hold it up.”

“Where would you buy a clothes prop?” they asked.

Won­der­ful mem­o­ries of Satur­day morn­ings came flood­ing back as I re­called the women from Eska­soni go­ing door to door sell­ing the most beau­ti­ful hand­made bas­kets and flow­ers while the men came be­hind sell­ing clothes props and fence posts — “peeled and pointed.”

A good clothes prop would last a few years; the point would rot so the old man would chop it off. When it got too short you waited for the men from Eska­soni to come around again. I don’t ever re­call any­one go­ing into the woods to cut their own.

The clothes prop served other uses too. It could be used to get a tennis ball out of a rain gut­ter or a Fris­bee (ice cream con­tainer cover) off a barn roof. And for the brave at heart, who had watched too much “Robin Hood,” they served as joust­ing poles as we charged at each other on our bikes, clad in card­board ar­mour.

We had names like “Sir Dave the Brave,” “Sir Dou­glas the Das­tardly,” and “Sir Den­nis the Mid Evil Men­ace.” We had to make sure no moth­ers were watch­ing the tour­na­ments lest we be grounded un­til uni­ver­sity.

I started ask­ing the girls some more ques­tions. As third gen­er­a­tion non-smok­ers, they didn’t know what an ash­tray was and had no idea that cars once had cig­a­rette lighters. They had never heard of a warm morn­ing stove or a coal bin, a jacket heater, a boot­leg pit, gum boots, dou­ble knit pants, K-Days, $1.44 Day or Archie Nathanson’s Lower Price Store in the Pier where three baby bonus cheques were re­turned in full each month.

When we were struck by the sweet aroma of fresh baked bread cool­ing on the cup­board — thank God my daugh­ter has re­tained this tra­di­tion. Hanger toast was a treat at our place. You bent a wire coat hanger, put a piece of home made bread on it, and tool the lid of the wood stove and held the bread there un­til it was well toasted.

My grand­mother, a proud New­found­lan­der, swore by the bread poul­tice to cure cuts and boils. I don’t think they are used to­day and I can’t re­mem­ber when I last heard of some­one hav­ing a boil. See, the bread poul­tice has cured them all.

“That’s gross, Poppa,” said the girls.

“Oh, yeah? Well wait ‘til I tell you about sul­phur and mo­lasses.”

I’m just sayin’...

David Muise, QC, prac­tices law in Syd­ney with Shel­don Nathanson Law and is the au­thor of the Jim and Far­quhar se­ries.

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