Saturday, May 1, 2010

Linoleum, Glamour, and Mother's Day

My new husband had sent me upstairs to an obscure little room off the dining room. He told me my job while he was at work was to rip up the old linoleum in the room so he could sand and bring back to life the hardwood floor underneath. This old house we had bought was to be made into six apartments (from three) to pay for itself and earn money for the big dream house in the country.
The old chalky linoleum was in a 1930's style abstract pattern of dark black and grey. It was ugly and hard to pull up but upon removing just a few broken shards, I found page upon page of lovely white-as-the-day-it-was-printed newspapers from the 1940's, all Mother's Day ads from a large department store, long gone, that was once in the same city. Most of the ads were post WWII, when men were home from war and shopping for their women again.
I began to pour over these papers, picking them up gingerly so as not to rip them. Yes, they were almost all "women's pages" as if the husband who laid them couldn't bear to part with the important news or the financial sections.
It didn't really matter; I was just tickled to have the chance to see a bit of female life well before my time. There were illustrations of pastel colored gloves in salmon and baby blue. Women in hats with nets, spring coats in navy, two by two they stood together looking off at something in the distance. Perhaps, their husbands or children.
I saw illustrations of all manner of female frippery such as lace collars - just the things to transform plain dresses for mother's special day, handkerchiefs which the store would embroider for free with Mother's initials, lovely perfume bottles with rubber atomizers, small purses with handles of Lucite; even shoes for Mother, if one wanted to take a chance on size; most with heels and cut-outs on the toes. Everything considered elegant and ladylike.
For days and days upon days, I looked at these wonderful illustrations, turning the pages carefully as I sat on the linoleum, ripping up pieces of flooring as I went along. I saved a pile to look at when I broke for lunch. Soon, it became clear to my husband, the job was going much slower than he had hoped so he gave me a better tool to wrench the linoleum from the gummy glue underneath. But the tool only made me slower because I had to be extra cautious not to rip through to Mother's new leather slippers in cardinal red or her new apron with hand embroidered cherries and patch pockets.
I spent many happy hours alone in that room and eventually, the job got done and the wood floor gleamed to its old shiny brilliance. The apartment with the room was rented to a tenant who put a piano on the floor and never knew what glamour with its lovely display of consideration for Mother, once lied beneath....


  1. Emily, I love your blog! Where was the paper from? Boston or Worcester or RI? I hope that you kept it. I found a lot of old newspapers used in the walls of my kitchen as insulation. Most were from 1918.

    Thanks again for posting on my blog about Denholms.

  2. I must have missed this post last week. What a wonderful find. Years ago we lived in a little house on the Oklahoma prairie. The house was built in the 30's, a mail order house. I think the plans could be ordered from Sears and Roebuck. I set to strip the cabinets and began working on the inside where I found old wallpaper in a cabbage rose pattern, the wallpaper was covering old newspaper. The newspapers were so brittle they would crumble if I touched them, so I read them before taking them down. The most surprising find was under the newspaper, horse hair! They had actually insulated the house with clumps of horse hair. Of course I pulled that out, thinking it was dirty and nasty, then I could see daylight through the cracks in the wall boards. I miss that house. It had everything we needed, a cellar, lots of land with cows and horses, a clothes line and a garden, a lake and best of all glass door knobs and cabinet pulls! The cabinet pulls were BLACK!

  3. Thank you for your comments Jomamma! Isn't it amazing the quality and innovation that went into constructing old homes? I love glass knobs - they are so heavy in one's hand. I bought a small one for my linen closet door and I love it over and over again. Horsehair??!! Can you imagine!

  4. I kick myself when I think about those black glass knobs and pulls, I should have replaced them and taken them with me. That house is probably a cow shelter now or been mowed down by the recent tornadoes in the area. No, the quality of home building now doesn't even compare with the quality of days past.

  5. Donna You're WONDERFULLY talented writer. You need to be published.