Grace Livingston Hill
In the northern hemisphere, as the days grow longer and the sunshine grows brighter, the dust and cobwebs come out of hiding. Join Jennifer as she discusses that vintage, old-fashioned ritual: spring cleaning. Whether you choose to tackle the seasonal housework head on or pretend the grime doesn’t exist, this week’s episode will inspire you to come clean.
If you’d rather read than listen, scroll down to find the transcript.
I’ve been using and highly recommend the HB90 quarterly planning and productivity system for authors developed by Sarra Cannon at heartbreathings.com
Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House by Cheryl Mendelson
Daphne Deane by Grace Livingston Hill
Transcript of Episode 8:
Today’s topic is loosely tied to last week’s Home Ec show, because I’ll be talking about Spring Cleaning, which seems like sort of a home-ecky topic. Don’t worry. I’m not going to bombard you with stern admonitions to vacuum all the lampshades. Although, if they need it, as mine surely do, spring is as good a time as any to get it done. Today, what I hope to give you–and myself–is just some inspiration to get some spring cleaning done. If we need to talk specifics, maybe I’ll do so later on.
But before I get into this week’s episode, here’s a brief update on my own writing. I’m still hard at work on the 1930s-Hollywood novel, so nothing new to report there, except that so far this week I’ve been able to keep up with my daily word count goal, which is incredible. Many thanks to Sarra Cannon over at HeartBreathings.com for helping me figure out a solid productivity method for writing books seems to be working for me. Having a system for managing my writing time has helped me corral my easily-distractible brain. I’m also finishing up an article for Sandpoint magazine about the history of our local beach, the oh-so-poetically named City Beach. I love delving into the history of things and spending large swaths of time at our local museum, leafing through old photographs and documents.
And now, on to the show.
Spring cleaning. Did your family do spring cleaning when you were growing up? Do you do it today? In case you’re unfamiliar with the concept, in the olden days, spring cleaning was a time when the whole house was cleaned, top to bottom, attic to basement to garage to gardening shed. Upholstered furniture was taken outside and aired in the sun, rugs were taken up and beaten, heavy winter curtains were taken down and replaced with lighter ones. Basically, picture everything you own spread out on your front lawn for all your neighbors to see and evaluate. Except they’d be too busy to spy on your stuff, because they’d be working on their own.
Windows were washed, and so were walls and ceilings and floors. In Home Comforts, her encyclopedic tome on housekeeping, Cheryl Mendelson explains that this thorough scrubbing of all and sundry was necessary because of the way homes were heated and lighted in those days, with coal, oil, gas, kerosene, and candles. She writes, “By winter’s end, everything in the house was coated with a malodorous layer of black grease and grime, the ugliness of which would become ever more apparent as the days became longer and sunnier.” She points out that modern heating and lighting systems no longer create this layer of soot and grime, so a thorough scrubbing might not feel as necessary. Still, there are cobwebs galore to contend with, and smudges, and mud. Oh, is there mud here in North Idaho. Impossible to avoid it, here on our mountain. Sticky, oozing mud. But it’s not snow, so there’s that.
In the house I grew up in, we didn’t turn the whole house upside down come spring, but I remember certain chores, like removing and washing the storm windows and replacing them with screens. And we had a LOT of windows. The smell of Windex still carries me back to those golden afternoons of wishing I were just about anywhere else, doing anything else than washing windows.
And there was usually a yard clean-up day, with much raking and bagging and wishing I could go ride my bicycle in the warm sunshine. I wasn’t much for yardwork. Or for housework. Or, really, for much work at all. But I digress. The point was, we did some spring clean-up, but we certainly didn’t empty every closet and drawer or scrub every baseboard, the way the housewives of old did, plus whichever offspring they could press into service. Or, in more stately homes, the servants.
As part of cleaning these millions of windows–at least it seemed like millions–we took the draperies off the rods and either laundered them or took them to the dry cleaner, depending on what they were made of. But we didn’t dry them on stretchers, the old-fashioned way. In her 1937 novel Daphne Deane by Grace Livingston Hill, the title character goes about the charmingly antique task of curtain-stretching while enjoying the company of the attractive young man who lives next door. Here’s a Sparkling Vintage Literary Snippet for you, from Daphne Deane by Grace Livingston Hill:
“But Daphne did not wash curtains the next morning, though the sun was shining brightly and she had made her brother bring the curtain stretchers down from the attic and set them in position for her. She had put on a little blue print dress, one of her plainest morning dresses, and was all ready to go to work, but instead she went to answer a knock at the front door and found Keith Morrell standing humbly on the porch, an eager look in his eyes.
“Good morning!” he said. “Are you very busy? Would I be a terrible nuisance if I asked a favor of you?”
As it happens, the young swain gets roped into helping with the curtains, although he doesn’t seem to mind too much. He gallantly carries the curtains to the laundry room and dumps them into tubs of soapy water. There they need to soak awhile, which gives hero and heroine time to repair to the vine-covered porch where they can continue their mutual admiration society. Later they stretch the curtains on the stretchers that the brother had brought down from the attic. I had to look these up, never having seen one. They looked to be heavy wooden rods with measurements marked on them. These apparently kept the fabric from shrinking and wrinkling before being rehung on the windows.
Anyway, how often is it that in our modern world we can enjoy some moments of innocent flirtation while doing spring cleaning? That would surely make the process move a lot faster, in my opinion.
I don’t love spring cleaning. But I do love the results of spring cleaning. The fresh carpets, the sparkling clear windows, the knowledge that all science experiments have been expelled from the back of the whistle-clean refrigerator, the polished cherrywood table just waiting to receive a vaseful of colorful tulips. Something about spring cleaning is as restorative for the soul as it is for the house.
What are your thoughts about spring cleaning? Do you love it? Loathe it? Do it at all? Why, or why not? No judgment here. If you have a spring-cleaning routine, I’d love to know what sorts of chores you tackle. Does the whole family get involved? Or do you shoo the family out so you can work uninterrupted? Do you have any tips to make it more fun, like playing upbeat music or rewarding yourself with a nice dinner afterward? I’d love to hear about it. I need all the inspiration I can get.Just leave a comment below.
And I’ll be back in a moment with this week’s Grace Note.
This weeks’ Grace Note is the book I mentioned at the beginning of this episode: Home Comforts, by Cheryl Mendelson. First published in 1999, this thick volume covers everything you could possibly want to know about cleaning and caring for a home, from scrubbing and dusting to cooking to laundry to household safety. The author goes in-depth, maybe a little too in-depth for some, and even addresses how to care for specialized items like pianos and books. There’s even a section on domestic employment laws, should you be in a position to be hiring help. Ms. Mendelson happens to be a lawyer as well as a domestic maven. If this all sounds dry as, well, dust, it’s not. It’s a well-written book I truly enjoy picking up to read when I need some housework inspiration. The problem is, I’d rather read about cleaning than actually do it. But to paraphrase an old song, “Sunshine on my cobwebs makes me itchy.” I’d better go plug in the vacuum.
And that’s it for today, my sparkling friend. Have a lovely week, enjoy the changing seasons wherever you may live, and tune in again next Thursday when I’ll be back with another topic on A Sparkling Vintage Life.
“There would be cool blue shadows on the north porch where the pines were thickest about the hotel, a wonderful spot to come with a book before the world was generally astir. There would be the aroma of coffee, honeydew melons and toast, hot rolls just out of the oven, and a hint of brook trout frying in deep fat.” (Grace Livingston Hill, Happiness Hill)
So, from what I can tell, cool, hip, and sophisticated fiction readers detest Grace Livingston Hill.
Her writing is “cheesy,” they say. “Saccharine.” “Formulaic.” “Goody Two-Shoes.”
Well, for once I’m really, really glad that few people can ever accuse me of being cool, hip, or sophisticated. Because I’ve only recently discovered this writer, beloved by thousands– whose heyday of popularity peaked nearly a century ago–and I can’t seem to get enough. She’s like crack cocaine for the vintage soul.
Banging around in the Christian publishing arena as I have, I’ve been hearing the name Grace Livingston Hill for years and years, but have steered clear because of negative impressions like those above. Among the cognoscenti, her name is often accompanied by a lifted eyebrow, a slight sneer, as if to say Good thing we’ve evolved beyond all that wholesome stuff.
But recently I chanced upon “Happiness Hill,” written in 1932. So, I like reading stories set the early 20th century, which is also my favorite time period to write about. Maybe I could pick up a pointer or two about what life was like back then. In an idle moment, I opened the cover (okay, I’ll grant that the cover is a little cheesy, from a 1972 reprint–but then the 1970s were pretty much hideous all around, so there’s that) and started reading.
One chapter later, I set it down. A lump had formed in my throat. An actual lump. What was that all about?
In the story, a young, single businesswoman named Jane Arleth has cut her vacation short to return home because her family needs her.
Now, first of all, the very idea astonished me. What? No indignant insistence on her inalienable right to “me-time?” No disdain for her family for being a burden, for cramping her style? No cries of “but what about me-e-e-e-e? At twenty-three years old, I’m still just a kid!” No, siree. She simply packs her little valise and catches the train home.
And the descriptions! As the train leaves the station, Jane notices “the winding mountain road, fern-fringed and enticing, climbing back out of sight into the cool upward shadowed curves. Beyond and above, there would be the glimmer of the lake sparkling like a sheet of sapphire in the morning sunlight, tilting the canoes that rocked and lapped along its edges, slapping the sides of the larger boats anchored a little way out, bearing softly on its blue bosom the flock of white sails that a little later in the morning would be curvetting and billowing in the wind across the little island.”
What? Hello! Where have you been all my life?
“There would be cool blue shadows on the north porch, where the pines were thickest about the hotel, a wonderful spot to come with a book before the young world generally was astir. There would be the aroma of coffee, honeydew melons and toast, hot rolls just out of the oven, and a hint of brook trout frying in deep fat.”
Where do I sign up?
And then there’s the faith element. Many (most?) of her characters are unabashedly Christian in a way that would get them ridiculed by sophisticates today.
“She had awakened early before anyone had seemed be astir, reached from the bed to the little table where she had laid her Bible the night before, and lay there reading, beginning at the first of Genesis and taking the story of the universe as if it were all entirely new to her.”
She lays there reading, happily, until her friend comes to fetch her for breakfast.
“What on earth do you find so interesting?” demanded Carol lazily as Jane laid the handsome bound volume on the table. “The Bible! Why, Jane Arleth! You don’t meant to tell me you have turned saint!”
“. . . [A] slow color stole into [Jane’s] cheeks and a feeling akin to shame came over her. Had there been a tinge of sarcasm in Carol’s voice as she said that about being a saint, a curl of mockery on the lovely lips?”
*sigh* The more things change . . .
Please indulge my latest literary crush. I’ll be posting quotes of hers from time to time, as they capture my fancy, and perhaps commenting on the differences between Then and Now.
If you’re a fan of Grace Livingston Hill, I’d love to hear from you. What are your favorites among her stories?
If you have no idea who she is, check your local library or thrift store.
And if you don’t like her at all . . . well, you’re welcome to say so, of course, but I may just have to lift my chin and speak cordially but coolly to you.
Which is exactly what Jane Arleth would do.