Thursday, December 08, 2016

`Celery is Good for Rheumatism'

Andrew Rickard at Graveyard Masonry has posted some choice offerings from Putnam's Handbook of Expressions, published in 1915. My library doesn’t own a copy but does have Putnam’s Household Handbook (1916), compiled by Mae Savell Croy, who, I note, also authored 1000 Hints on Vegetable Gardening and 1000 Things a Mother Should Know With Reference to Tiny Babies and Growing Children (both 1917). One can think of many reasons for wanting to read a book – amusement, forgetting, remembering – but one reason we literary types frequently disregard is usefulness. I like books that tell me how to do things (field guides, cookbooks, dictionaries), and Croy (b. 1886) is a practical-minded utilitarian. No theorizing here:

“When work is waiting to be done, the busy housewife has not the time to read page after page for a suggestion, and it is with the thought of relieving her strain and not prolonging it, that the idea of this book was first conceived.”

Spare me your objections to “busy housewife.” Croy was writing four years before ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment. That was a different world, and not always a less enlightened world. Croy was no creampuff. Fifty years ago, long after her day, boys in my school took wood shop in seventh grade and girls took home economics. To my knowledge, no one questioned the arrangement. By seventh grade I was already preparing meals for my family, helping with the laundry and completely lost in wood shop. Prose has no sex but Croy’s writing is notably straightforward, uncluttered, precise and confident – putatively masculine qualities. Here are some suggestions from her chapter titled “In the Sick-room”:

“Stew spring onions in coarse brown sugar and take a teaspoonful at night. This will not only produce sleep but is very healthful.”

[I’ve reproduced Croy’s italics, which on occasion are puzzling.]

“Lettuce is good for the nerves.”

“Celery is good for rheumatism.”

“A teaspoonful of salt to a pint of warm water rubbed into weak ankles strengthens them.”

“In cases of illness where hot compresses are needed there is always the danger of burning one’s hands when attempting to wring hot cloths out of boiling water. To avoid this use a potato ricer.”

But for the occasional appearance of such things as potato ricers, Croy’s book has a timeless quality. Seldom does history intrude. Here is a rare exception, also from “In the Sick-room”: “No disturbing news should ever be told to a patient and newspapers with their columns of distressing casualties should be kept out of reach.” World War I had started in 1914. In 1917, the year after Croy’s book was published, the U.S. entered the war in Europe on April 6. 

One can reasonably question some of Croy’s advice, though she writes with the utter confidence of a mathematician or con man: “Gasoline and plaster of Paris mixed together to the consistency of whipped cream will clean feathers beautifully. Dip the feathers in this mixture and press them together. Then hang in the open air until all of the gasoline is evaporated. Do not handle until perfectly dry. Next shake well and the result will be clean and fluffy feathers. White wings can also be treated in this manner.”

Of course, I can remember when most of my grandmother’s hats had feathers on them. Here is a timely Yuletide suggestion: 

“When children are to be around fireworks or candles on a Christmas tree, render their clothing non-inflammable by dipping it into a solution of ammonia phosphate. This is made by dissolving one pound of phosphate in one gallon of cold water. The garment should be soaked in this solution for five minutes, then taken out and allowed to dry, after which it may be worn with perfect safety.”

1 comment:

Tim Guirl said...

What a delightful piece.