When All the Days Weren’t the Same
Is it Friday or Saturday, maybe Wednesday? Not that it makes a difference anymore. I remember when I was a kid certain days of the week had a significance based on what we ate or did as a family.
Sunday, for instance, we went to Sunday School and church. Afterwards, my mother cooked a scrumptious meal, most often a roast beef, meatloaf, or baked chicken. There was always some form of potatoes. (Her maiden name was Sullivan, so it was probably an Irish thing.) We went for a ride in the Merry Oldsmobile and stopped at High’s Dairy for ice cream.
Monday was a day to start a new week. My parents went back to work and I went back to school. We ate the Sunday leftovers for a few days. During the war, we adhered to Meatless Monday, as did our neighbors. I never heard anyone complaining about the rationing of sugar, meat, butter or coffee. We made do. Patriotism ran strong in those days.
Tuesday was a day I always looked forward to during the summer. It was my mother’s day off. We’d walk several blocks to the bus stop and then transfer to a street car to get downtown. We got off at 7th Street and hit all the department stores on that block—Kahns, Lansburgs, and Hechts.
Then we’d shop our way along F Street to 14th and grab a bite in the S&W Cafeteria, where I was especially fond of the stuffed green peppers. To end the day, we’d often take in an afternoon movie at the Palace, that included vaudeville acts before the show and a singalong with a real pipe organ.
Wednesday and Thursday were nothing special.
Friday, on the other hand, was an occasion for eating fish. We were Baptist, so there was no religious demand to abstain from meat. Still, out of custom, we’d often make a trip to the Maine Street wharf on the Potomac River. Fishermen in their smelly boats sold the catch of the day (oysters, blue crab, clams, shrimp) at the nation’s oldest fish market.
I was fond of the butterfish, a smallish variety that fit nicely in a frying pan. Looking back, it seemed like fish came with more bones in those days. To avoid stray bones, Mama always served cornbread, that would release any that might get lodged in your throat.
Saturday was wash day. Most women in the neighborhood did their laundry on Monday. But my mother worked, so our schedule was different. We’d crank up the wringer washer with the mangles, that squeezed out the wet clothes before they were dumped into a deep, double sink. One sink held rinse water and the other a bluing agent, that, supposedly, made the sheets and cottons brighter and whiter. After being run through the wringer once more, the clothes were ready for the wicker laundry basket.
The Sign of a Good Housewife
Mama and I would lug the basket from the basement into the back yard, where there were several long clothes lines. We each wore a clothes pin bag—standard household equipment—as we clipped the wet wash to the lines, being careful to group items by kind. Socks, sheets, underwear, and towel were always hung together. A clean, bright wash, swinging from the clothes line early in the morning was the mark of a good housewife.
Rounding out the day, my mother would often bake a yellow cake with chocolate icing, all made from scratch. A cake mix never darkened her kitchen shelves.
Car with a Shine
Meanwhile my father tuned up the Olds, his pride and joy. He spent a lot of time tinkering under the hood or cleaning the cloth interior with a whisk broom. A fleck of lint never lasted long on our car’s engine or seat covers. In the summer, he tended the flowers in the back yard and, during the war, our Victory Garden.
On Saturday evening, we often had my great-uncle and wife to play a card game of Setback (Pitch) and enjoy a watermelon from Eastern Market. It would always be compared, either favorably or unfavorably, with the previous watermelon we’d eaten. I can still recall the laughter.
I pondered all these normal, everyday activities in view of our current “day-less” weeks, when time appears to have stopped. When our kids and grandkids relate the saga of the Great Corona Virus Lockdown, what will they remember?
What will they say of our time? And what will they say of us?