Sunday, May 08, 2011

Ice Cold Pond's

Sixty five years ago in 1946 my father noted in his diary that he took a suit in to be re-conditioned. He also went to the Brooklands hotel and had "four" with Louis (my Uncle).  Other highlights he recorded during that May ( I was three) were my acquisition of a yoyo which I apparently enjoyed; his buying and selling Canadian mining stocks (following some guru's advise) and the enjoyment of "Barnacle Bill" on Lux radio theatre. He was thinking of getting duplex glasses made. I think these were bifocals?

My Dad owned perhaps a dozen suits and was a bit of a dandy for those days. He had his shirts custom made in Minneapolis and they fit him very well. I never saw him without a mirror-like shine on his shoes and remember the sounds of him spit polishing - mostly the cloth snapping against leather. He sat on the stairs going down to the basement to do his polishing or if my mother wasn't home, in the living room, on the couch. She hated that.

Reconditioning a suit consisted of a detailed inspection of the garment and re-sewing wherever it was necessary. They replaced the pocket linings which got a lot of wear. There would also be a very deep dry cleaning and minor alterations if they were necessary. A suit might last twenty years.

Dad would get to work and remove his coat, working in his shirt sleeves between appointments. He never appeared in "public" while on the job without a coat. In the summer when it was hot, I can remember seeing him a couple of times with his tie knot loosened and his jacket over his arm, but it must have been really hot because "casual" wasn't a look he liked. On weekends he had a pair of loose fitting pants and colored shirts he'd wear untucked. In colder weather he wore a short wool jacket, like an Eisenhower jacket. In moderate weather, like everyone in those "Father Knows Best" days, he wore a cardigan sweater.

In the winter when he came home from "having a couple" at the legion, his suit jackets would smell like cigarette smoke. Mom would hang them out on the clothes line the next day, beating them with the broom to air them out and probably to exorcise her own inevitable frustrations with my father. Although they smoked in the evenings inside the house (Black Cat filter tips) along with their cocktails (rye and water, no ice), Mom was particular about the airing out business. On the heels of the smoking hour came the airing out, no matter if it was freezing outside.  Like many tough Canadian farmers, accustomed to the extreme weather, she seemed to relish the cold. Years later when I was visiting her and wondering how I ever survived the climate, Axel, her wonderful companion would swoop in the door on a cloud of icy air exclaiming about how bracing it was!  He found the cold mentally stimulating and exciting - the colder the better.

Mother always slept with her bedroom window partially open, even when it was seriously cold - even minus thirty. She'd be toasty warm under her electric blanket but frost collected on the windows and you could see your breath in her room. My grandmother, Pulcherie also enjoyed nocturnal frigidity. They practiced a nightly ritual of slathering their faces with Pond's cold cream, wrapping their hair in curlers, then popping into the deep freeze bedroom for 8 or 9 hours. Both of them lived long, Mom to 91 and Grandma to 101 and both looked pretty good in advanced old age. Perhaps a face mask of frozen Pond's cold cream works some sort of magic. I bet it would sell.

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