Monday, August 13, 2007

I Travel

Was in DC for Blowoff this past weekend. Some sort of bear jamboree overlapped it. I did manage to enjoy myself.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007


In the mid 1960s nearly all American families used cloth diapers. The thick, softly napped cotton squares were intended to be folded over in the centers to form rectangles, placed between an infant's legs, wrapped up in front and back and pinned together on either side with large safety pins clasped at their opening ends with plastic bunnies and ducks - pink for girls, blue for boys, and yellow for shower gifts and other pre birth purchases made in an age when the baby's gender was revealed only by the doctor's announcement at the time of delivery. This barrier was further leveed with elastic legged rubber panties made out of translucent material akin to shower curtain vinyl, and often screen printed with additional bunnies and/or ducks. Disposable diapers were an expensive luxury for working class families. Even the middle classes and more well to do used cloth diapers, saving the newfangled disposable for special occasions like travel; packing the bulky ill fitting contraptions, the surgical tape and scissors (in lieu of safety pins) necessary for installation, as well as the still mandatory additional shields of snap on rubber pants.

In my hometown, the mothers in the stately Georgian center halls, prosperous columned Greek Revivals and striving mansarded Victorians spaced in a proper receiving line along the broad, shady, granite curbed width of Elm Street; and the mothers in the low sprawling ranch houses lounging on sweeping green lawns set far back from the sinuous lanes and cul de sacs of Sherwood Hills - all used diaper services. Uniformed diaper service drivers in fleets of glossy white panel vans - emblazoned with images of bundle bearing storks and crisply hand lettered with company names like "Dandy Didee Delivery", "Stork Service", or "Bundles of Joy" - delivered fresh paper wrapped string tied bales of bleached white fluffy squares once or twice a week. More importantly, the men removed the company's own logo stamped pails hazardous waste containers filled with the returns, now heavy and wet with the digestive efforts of the town's future generation of merchants, bankers and managers.

At the top of the hill (where in the two previous centuries the fine Elm Street home's granite foundations, steps and gate piers had been quarried and cut) mothers in plain and sturdy clapboard cottages (built essentially the same for a century and a half) and set in close queues with the narrow gable ends facing the oiled gravel roads - washed their own diapers. They emptied them into toilets, then plopped them into their own diaper pails, becoming skilled in removing and replacing the tight fitting lids in the shortest possible time. Transfers between pail and washer were swift and precise. Braided cotton lines pinned with long flapping strings of diapers stretched behind the houses like ships' riggings at Fleet Week, a semaphore of white cotton squares signaling that a baby (or two) was on board.

When my parent's third son and last child was born, the second was just ten months old. With the new baby came the need to purchase additional diapers and the increased volume was deemed enough to justify the purchase of a new modern washer (and unmatched dryer) to handle the multiple daily loads. They selected a Maytag, wisely. As advertised, it provided decades of repair free service, well worth the premium paid then. The diapers too were an exceptional value. Bought for the third son they continued into the early 70's and the first grandchild. The new and improved disposables had by then become ubiquitous, but due to their extreme popularity often in short supply. The cloth squares worked in a pinch, and expanded their duties as shoulder covers for burpings, pads for changings, and general soft plentiful absorbency as necessary. After the babies they served around the house for arts and crafts cleanup, to dampen the resonator of Dad's banjo, to prevent punch bowl scratches on the dining table they'd just polished, and to clean and wax Mom's station wagons and later the boy's first cars on the long blacktop drive laid along side where the clothes lines were once strung.

In his e-mail today, written in a house without clothes lines hundreds of miles from the Maytag's final resting place, my Father mentioned that today, Mom threw away the last tattered diaper, frayed and much reduced in size. He thought it worth noting, as Yankees do, that they'd gotten their moneys worth out of them. They'd lasted almost exactly 42 years since he bought them at Vars Bros. on High Street, in the weeks following my birth, on August 7th, 1965.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

If You Lived Here, You'd be Home Now

My parents have elected to end their years in a subdivision in the New Jersey Pine Lands. I drove over to visit.

Mom prepares dinner.

Dad considers driving up north for his 50th high school reunion.
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