When it’s time to do sheets and towels in my crib, I always think of two people, my mom and my neighbor Suzanne Kelley. Now, my mother and my very good neighbor, to my knowledge, never crossed paths, but they do have one thing in common. They both were, in Mom’s case, and are, in Suzanne’s case, quite proficient in folding fitted sheets.
As for my mom, I can remember the perfect fitted-sheet squares after they were ironed. As for Suzanne, well, I’ll certainly take her daughter Quinn’s word for it. During a recent family gathering, somehow the subject swung to my frustration with fitted sheets, both that pesky problem of socks that don’t fully dry when the dryer buzzer goes off after they tumble their way into the corners of fitted sheets and my long-abandoned feeble efforts to fold them old school.
Following my fitted-sheets diatribe, Quinn looked at me and said, “Go knock on the door and ask my mom if you can look in the linen closet, and you’ll see fitted sheets that look exactly like top sheets.”
It was then my niece Jessie put the conversation in reverse by saying, “Whoa, back up! Grandma Grindrod used to IRON sheets?” To which I replied, “Yes, right after she ironed Dad’s handkerchiefs,” which added another layer to Jessie’s incredulity.
Despite Jess’s reaction, the fact is that those items were routinely ironed by, dare I say, most of those wonderful women of the 1950s and early ‘60s. As I drove home after our family gathering, I had to chuckle over our conversation about hankies and sheets and what it represents about shifting priorities as the decades came and went.
So, what else has slipped back into the shadows of obsolescence? As for fashion, while I wasn’t paying too much attention to women’s wear as a young tyke, I did look more carefully at my dad and his contemporaries. Men like my steel-and-copper-wire-selling father when dressed for business almost all sported a fedora, those soft felt hats curled at the brim showing a lengthwise crease. Nowadays, I’d have to stream a TCM movie with a young Mitchum, Garfield or Boogie to see one.
As for Dad, I also remember those half hankies with the cardboard that had the name of the dry cleaner on the bottom and a burst of color on the top. They were supposed to be put in the suit coat’s breast pocket to accessorize by matching the tie. In order to find one of those now, you’d probably have to hop on eBay. And, of course, for my father, that brush was swished around that mug every morning in the bathroom in that small ranch in the middle of Latham Avenue before lathering his face and shaving, and those shoe trees were inserted in that pair of shined wingtips once they came off at night.
For me, when it comes to items from long ago that fell far from favor as time passed, there’s one item that stands out and was the bane of my existence, since math and science were largely foreign languages to this humanities guy.
That instrument was the slide rule. Now, I suppose, looking back, I should feel fortunate I was not expected to master the abacus. Had I known the calculator wasn’t all that many years away, I wouldn’t have fretted so much about trying to figure out where to slide that clear plastic collar to get the correct answer when I was an neophyte during my second-half ‘60s. According to the post “When Slide Rules ruled” in historictech.com, “The humble slide rule is the simplest of all mechanical computers ever invented yet remained the de facto tool for most businesses across many hundreds of years.”
But, for me, there was nothing humble and certainly nothing simple about that dang thing! As a boy, I loved words, and as I progressed through my English classes year by year, my love grew for phrases, clauses, sentences and paragraphs, especially how to connect them, how to punctuate them and how to make them flow. The only numbers that ever mattered to me were sports-related, as in points per game, yards per gain and batting and earned run averages, and I sure didn’t need a stinking slide rule to figure those out.
Thanks only to the beneficence of The Almighty, I’ve indeed been afforded the opportunity to have seen so many changes in my 70-plus years, not only in global concerns but also on a far smaller scale with what so many of us once did, once wore and once were expected to use to find square roots, as if the latter has ever played even the smallest role in my life.
So, I think I’ll pass on Suzanne Kelley’s daughter Quinn’s invitation to skip across the street and get the folding-a-fitted-sheet lesson. However, as a devotee of TCM movies and most everything historical, somehow it comforts me to have that lovely lady a couple hundred feet away who can still make a folded fitted sheet look just like a top sheet.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a division of AIM Media Midwest, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at [email protected]