“You must be a very proud woman,” she said. “You ought to be a very proud woman.”
Mrs. Hosea C. Brewster always cleaned house in September and April. She started with the attic and worked her purifying path down to the cellar in strict accordance with Article I, Section 1, Unwritten Rules for House Cleaning. For twenty-five years she had done it. For twenty-five years she had hated it—being an intelligent woman. For twenty-five years, towel swathed about her head, skirt pinned back, sleeves rolled up—the costume dedicated to house cleaning since the days of What’s-Her-Name mother of Lemuel (see Proverbs)—Mrs. Brewster had gone through the ceremony twice a year.
Furniture on the porch, woollens on the line, mattresses in the yard—everything that could be pounded, beaten, whisked, rubbed, flapped, shaken, or aired was dragged out and subjected to one or all of these indignities. After which, completely cowed, they were dragged in again and set in their places. Year after year, in attic and in cellar, things had piled up higher and higher—useless things, sentimental things; things in trunks; things in chests; shelves full of things wrapped up in brown-paper parcels.
And boxes—oh, above all, boxes: pasteboard boxes, long and flat, square and oblong, each bearing weird and cryptic pencillings on one end; cryptic, that is, to any one except Mrs. Brewster and you who have owned an attic. Thus “H’s Fshg Tckl” jabberwocked one long, slim box. Another stunned you with “Cur Ted Slpg Pch.” A cabalistic third hid its contents under “Sip Cov Pinky Rm.” To say nothing of such curt yet intriguing fragments as “Blk Nt Drs” and “Sun Par Val.” Once you had the code key they translated themselves simply enough into such homely items as Hosey’s fishing tackle, canvas curtains for Ted’s sleeping porch, slip covers for Pinky’s room, black net dress, sun-parlour valance.
The contents of those boxes formed a commentary on normal American household life as lived by Mr. and Mrs. Hosea C. Brewster, of Winnebago, Wisconsin. Hosey’s rheumatism had prohibited trout fishing these ten years; Ted wrote from Arizona that “the li’l’ ol’ sky” was his sleeping-porch roof and you didn’t have to worry out there about the neighbours seeing you in your pyjamas; Pinky’s rose-cretonne room had lacked an occupant since Pinky left the Winnebago High School for the Chicago Art Institute, thence to New York and those amazingly successful magazine covers that stare up at you from your table—young lady, hollow chested (she’d need to be with that decolletage), carrying feather fan. You could tell a Brewster cover at sight, without the fan. That leaves the black net dress and the sun-parlour valance. The first had grown too tight under the arms (Mrs. Brewster’s arms); the second had faded.