Many words have gone missing
Today’s generation wouldn’t know a clothes prop from a pit prop
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.