A couple of years ago, when Beverly and I were having our “decade” birthdays, she suggested that I wear pink pedal pushers to my party, for old times’ sake. I thought then of some ladies who wore those exact pants, when they were in fashion and I was in my teens. They were a wonderful bunch of teachers, who lived "at Mrs. Wood's" when I was growing up. I thought many thoughts over the years of how it might have been in that house of seven women, day after day---their gentle voices and small chores and comfortable friendship. They're a continuing set of chapters in PAXTON PEOPLE, and are composites of many folks I've known, even if only in my imagination.
Each of the residents is accorded her place, her time to wake and contemplate and move into the day, as they come down in their dusters and hairnets, into the quiet calm of Saturday morning. A few are already up and out, dressed in casual weekend pedal pushers and blouse or a culotte and cardigan, descending the stairs in a muted burst of energy and waft of Emeraude or Wind Song. Reaching for a cup and slipping a quick piece of Wonder bread into the toaster, or choosing a piece of fruit from the ever-supplied wooden bowl in the pass-through, they make a hasty breakfast, and are off to the library, to Keene’s for nylons, to Breedlove’s for some engraved note-cards, or on any other errands proscribed by the clock during the school week.
Others take the morning as they find it, surrounding the breakfast table in the sunroom like colorful birds as they gather in their kimonos and robes and caftans, gently rustling the paper and sharing bits of news over coffee and the teapot, and letting time move without them. Miss Jones boils an egg, Miss Omar makes a ham-and-mustard sandwich, little Miss Hester eats her cornflakes with bananas on top. Arithmetic and verbs have no place here, and the demands of the classroom days slip from them like shrugged-away coats.
Mornings are mostly for errands; afternoons, for little chores or relaxing with a book in their rooms or in the garden. A neatly-typed schedule hangs on the wall beside the washing machine, with a good leeway for two loads; everyone knows exactly when it was rightfully WHOSE, and there is scrupulous adherence to the buzzer, getting that load of clothes into the dryer or out so the next person can have her turn. But the laundry and the hair shampooing times are flexible, with those who opt for a lazy morning at home getting a head start on one or the other, out of turn and who cares.
One of the two conveniently-ample water heaters serves kitchen, laundry and Mrs. Wood's downstairs bath, with the other three bathrooms supplied by the second. And so several processes can be in progress at once, with everyone comfortably supplied as the day goes on. Such a scent of Halo and Conti and Luster-Crème fills the house on Saturdays, along with Duz and Tide and Faultless Starch, and rollers and pins and head-scarves are the dress of the day.
Then there is all the hair-rolling, usually done each-in-her-own-room, with each one emerging in scarves or hairnets covering a skullcap of tiny white rosettes of cigarette paper secured by bobby pins, or a mosaic of small silver clips, and others resembling cloth helmets---the size depending on the diameter of the rollers-of-choice.
Miss Omar “does" her short bob daily---a quick shampoo and a finger-wave with several of the crocodile-clips to hold it while it dries.
Shoe-polishing is done at any time, singly or in groups, at a long, linoleum-covered table in the sunroom---a sort of gathering place for the little task, with everyone still in comfortable Saturday clothes, from slacks to Miss Hester’s little gardening coverall to the lazy comfort of a duster-worn-to-breakfast.
And in the hot days of Summer, Miss Wanamaker takes advantage of the secluded, hedged back yard to wash her own long hair with the hose, wearing halter top and Bermudas, which not one of the ladies would EVER wear out in public. She sits in the sun, gently brushing the length of her shining mane, until it is just dry enough to roll the ends on curlers, for she quite often has a date on Saturday evenings for dinner or a movie or a party. And the time young Mr. Harmon took Miss Wanamaker all the way to Memphis to the Peabody to go dancing at the Skyway---why, every lady in the house was as happy and a-flutter as if they were each being called for by a prince, with a line of carriages stretching out the gate.
There’s a comfort in that house, a neatly kept, cushiony sort of feminine languor which naps the rooms like rich veloute, giving even the brightest and most energetic of the ladies an extra grace of movement and a restful air, with the slow confident ease of home and place and belonging.