The New Textiles, or Remodeling the Dining Room in 1958

The following is  a paper written by Dorothy Griswold for a women’s club named “Snark” that she belonged to in Yonkers, New York, the city where she and Harlan lived from the time of their marriage in 1935 until their move to Woodbury in 1953. The women were apparently assigned research papers to present to the club. I don’t know whether any of the other members of the club did serious things, but from the material Dorothy left behind, it seems their main aim in the club was sheer nonsense, appropriate to the poem from which they named their club.

The New Textiles, Part Two

Having quietly and patiently accepted my cross I was ready for the next request to open the house for a tour this spring. I said “no” in what I thought my firmest and most final manner and, for an instant, felt very pleased with myself. My protagonist (sic)this time using a very different approach from Doris’ was just as effective. She shamed me into it. Why the heck did everybody make such a to-do about a house tour? There was nothing to it. She was going to open hers but nobody else was cooperating. This enemy of the people moved to Woodbury long after we did and bought a very impressive house and had it all taken down, put back together again and completely finished immediately. It’s always ready for a tour. I timidly asked if Doris and Iggy’s was on this one and she said no – things weren’t finished yet. Well I said I would if they couldn’t get anyone else and, of course, they couldn’t.

Thanksgiving in The Old Dining Room

I took another long hard despairing look at the dining room and know I couldn’t stand it that way for another tour in that condition even if I never got a Snark paper done. The ceiling was a dark gray mass of Post Toasties — one look and it showered on you. Obviously I could do that myself. The paper was like cold oatmeal with gravy.

The Old Dining Room

After digging a few strips of that off and making it look even worse, Harlan promised to remove the rest. Then it occurred to me that I’d better call Doris and Iggy before I did anything wrong. They came so fast it was almost indecent. They were very encouraging. The ceiling wouldn’t have to come down; just scrape all the paint off, rub it, patch the cracks — painting would be simple. Of course the mantel should come off and the molding around the fire place had been added at some awkward period in its history; the panelling would need to be scraped — ten layers and 200 years worth! it should be painted the original color — a kind of decayed vegetation green and the walls of course white — wall paper would be a descecration. The sliding Indian shutters should be fixed so they would slide out of the walls where they had been lurking for a hundred years, held fast by many overdoses of paint and the settling of the walls. Wherewith, Iggy could contain himself no longer and took off his coat and got to work. Doris and I stood around making encouraging noises. I got my exercise looking for tools which we didn’t have but Iggy did in his car. Tow hours later it was noon and I began to feel guilty about his working so hard — Doris had come presumably to visit the dress shop across the street but nothing could mover her now. Both she and Iggy were panting with excitement. I made a cup of coffee not daring to offer any lunch. I had had an impromptu meal at their house once which was fancier than most hotel meals and served on priceless antique china and silver.

But by one p.m. it was obvious lunch could be ignored no longer so I brought out the Campbell’s tomato soup and Ritz crackers and serve it on my most elegant dime store china in the kitchen which was suffering badly from Monday morning slump.

After our repast, Iggy went back to work and after another hour the sliding shutter at last was exhumed and ready for the next Indian attack. This was a very exciting moment. After giving me as many tips as possible, and nobody has more, and instructing me not to lose heart and it was going to be beautiful, they left.

My heart beat high with enthusiasm and ambition until evening at the return of my partner and I proudly displayed our treasure now sliding jerkily back and forth. He had not seen Iggy sweat and strain for four hours so he was not impressed. It wasn’t smooth enough. The onbly way to fix that was to tear out the wall and the walls that held the other two shutters and really get those things working right. Put them on rollers too. “Darling,” I wailed. “You can’t do that. What will Iggy say?” He apparently thought he was a match for Iggy anytime. I also complained that that would cost some money and here I was, expending my precious strength and effort on this project so that it wouldn’t cost anything. But debt is no object to Harlan when something really takes hold. The walls came down; the shutters became  mobile, the carpenter and plasterer were here and Harlan coped with Iggy. All Iggy got for his four hours work were the old nails that came out of the lath in the wall.

end of Part Two, to be continued.


About skgriswold

My love of history and art was nurtured by living in a wonderful significant historical house for much of my life.
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