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Down on the farm

Down on the farm
Out of the woods.

Saturday, April 20, 2013


I was messing around in the office, modpodging an old pair of sandals and checking for updates on Jenni and Claude's move to the new house.
Geoff and Dick were discussing the new Jackie Robinson movie in context with the older versions. While they talked a tiny piece of trivia popped into my head and I shared it with them. Geoff said "Why don't you write stuff like that on Face Book instead of writing about failed detergent?" So I put it down while I still remembered.
My father became pastor of the First Christian Church in Rochester, Minnesota in about 1950 or 51.  At the time the resident population was about 10,000.  At least 1/4 were doctors, another 1/4 were doing residency and 1/4 were supporting professionals. The "bad" section of town consisted of a 2 block stretch of poorer blue collar 2 up/2 down clapboard sided homes. The other 1/4 was us. Clerks, mechanics, carpenters, and so on.
Downtown consisted of a few blocks of businesses, a high school on a 3 block campus with buildings connected by a warren of tunnels that connected to the Mayo Clinic which took up a lot of the downtown area. The rest of downtown was hotel space. DE-lux, lux, middle class, cheap and the tumble down building by the rail road station used by American people of color. Nearly every family in town picked up Christmas money by renting out rooms to a "transient population" of about 17,000 annually.
Walking downtown was a geography lesson. German, French, Spanish, plus languages unknown spoken by folk of every shade of white, brown, and yellow. It was notable that every black person strolling the streets was exotically clad in long silky robes, hard round brimless caps with tassels, no matter what language they were speaking.
I remember my parents being in conference, talking softly. Mrs.Jackie Robinson was coming into town. I do not know if she was going to the clinic herself, or if she was visiting someone. I do know every hotel in town had refused her reservation, except for the "Colored" Hotel by the tracks.
The clergy and the doctors were aghast. MRS.  JACKIE ROBINSON refused room at our inns? Appalling! Why, the Robinsons were rich and famous!
Yeah, even then I thought it strange that nobody seemed to condemn that rattrap hotel when it was just your average black family.
At any rate my father, along with a number of other families offered to open our homes to her.  I don't recall if she spent the night but I know it was discussed. We had a meal together, at least.  I remember a very pretty, pleasant, well dressed young housewife, who happened to be darker than me.
And that's my story.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Have You Noticed How Expensive Detergent Has Become?

I can sew quite decently. I can paint almost any surface. I am handy enough with a hammer, saw, drill, etc. I don't cook a lot, but none of my family starved even when the cookies and chips ran out. So, I figured with a recipe for homemade laundry detergent...I can do that!
I got out the stock pot, which is the largest cookware we own, and began to assemble the ingredients. I had it all, didn't even have to go to the store. Baking soda: check. Borax: check. Washing soda: check. Water...yep, got that too. Bar of Fels Naphtha soap.
It was suggested that the bar of soap be cut in pieces and grated, run through the food processor or microwaved.
Hmmm. Mess up my food processor? or microwave it? No contest. If the directions say the soap expands when microwaved, then, place it in a plastic bowl! Microwave for 5 minutes, then in 15 second increments until the soap is completely melted. What could go wrong?
The bowl melted in less than a minute. The soap took longer. It also took a while to separate the melted soap from the melted bowl.
Finally I globbed the melty soap into the stock pot, added a cup of water, and turned the heat to simmer and began adding the dry ingredients. Almost immediately it began to scorch to the bottom of the pot. I added water and stirred, more water, stir...sticking, more last I added about a gallon of water. I hopefully left the pot on simmer and went to do some other important things. You know, check my work site, my work email, my personal email while I was at it, Face Book, and a quick run through Pinterest while I was at the keyboard.
Back at the stove, the pot had "simmered" all over the stove top. Sticky glop adhered to the lid, to the rim, to the pot, to the burner and everything around it. I pulled off the lid and poked at the stuff with a long wooden spoon. Now the spoon was coated, too. ARGH! I set the pan off the heat and replaced the lid.
When the stovetop cooled I began trying to clean the mess. I wiped at it with a dice. I covered it with soaked paper towels. No effect. Scrubbies. Little effect. I finally got out a heavy steel spatula with a sharp edge and began to pare it away. It took hours.
The next morning the lid had to be pried open. Inside the stock pot was a watery soup with a thick, gunk island bobbing around. I considered my options, and put a cooling rack in the bottom of a clothes basket which I placed in front of the stove. I broke the island into gunky chunks and put them on the rack to dry. The watery goo went into a detergent container. I'll find a use for it. It is bound to be a really bad example of something. The stock pot is clean as a whistle, though. Whatever that means.
It was really cheap to make, as advertised, unless stirring time and cleaning time is included. All in all I think I'll continue buying expensive detergent on sale with coupons. On the other hand maybe it was worth the laugh on a tense Boston Marathon week.