The mothers of invention

I grew up with familiar sayings which really rang true.

My mother always said, “Necessity is the mother of invention.”

And her mother, Grandma Irene, always said, “Make do with what you have.”

Well, those mothers really knew a thing or two about doing just that.

As you all probably already know, vinegar is the solution for most problems in the world. Grandma Irene was a perfectionist when it came to cleaning and I remember her washing her windows more than anyone on this planet. Always armed with a bottle of vinegar and a fistful of old newspapers, that woman could make the dirtiest of glass seem literally invisible.

The tradition continued at my house where my mother loved the cheap liquid as well. I remember smelling the pungent odor of vinegar as I cleaned the mirrors in the bathroom, ran it through the automatic coffee pot (once we had one and retired the old percolator), put it in soap water to scrub the floors, sprayed it on the shower curtain and rinsed out canning jars.

As a child, I also learned about the use of vinegar to cure all that ails you. To this day, if I break out in hives (regardless of the cause), or even have a sore throat, I just sit in a bathtub of lukewarm water and vinegar until it’s gone. Smells awful, works great.

And let’s not forget the bounty of solution found in a box of baking soda. Got a bug bite? Make a paste and apply it to the red spot. Got grime around the grout or in that niche where the faucet connects to the sink? Make another soda paste and scrub with an old toothbrush. Got dingy, old cloth diapers that have lost their luster? Dump some Arm and Hammer in the wash and let it do its thing.

I remember Grandma using the sticky side of duct tape to rid her church clothes of lint; Mom dabbing whiskey on the gums of teething children; and the constant application of a peanut butter/toothpaste concoction that somehow helped get gum out of children’s hair.

When it came to structural issues, there was no need to call a carpenter or even shop for a new trailer house. In our residence, the windows never fit tightly enough to keep out the cold air with sometimes snow even blowing inside. So if winter weather was moving in, my mother created a “game” for us kids. She’d hand each of us a butter knife and a pile of old cloth diapers and rags. Our job was to jam those rags all along the crevices surrounding the windows. It was an odd way to pass the time, but I don’t remember ever hating it and we all knew it would result in a warmer night.

If we had a leak in our overshoes, there was a quick fix handed down from Grandma to Mom . . . just stick your foot in an old, empty, plastic bread sack and cinch the top with a rubber band. That way, even if moisture got inside the overshoes, your socks would stay dry.

Both were avid bread makers and routinely purchased giant cloth bags of flour from the warehouse stores. Fortunately, the bags came in flower prints. Of course, they couldn’t be thrown away – I remember many a child in my family wearing sweet little T-shirts sewn from the cloth.

If we went fishing and came back with raging cases of chiggers, the ladies used a solution that might be considered controversial today. We’d have to strip down to our undies and the mama would carefully apply gasoline to the affected areas.

Using a petroleum product was probably not the recommended idea and it smelled awful – but it killed that itchy, disgusting situation almost instantly. Bleach was also sometimes used when gasoline wasn’t readily available – but it wasn’t nearly as effective.

Are you congested? Simply fill a sink full of stinging hot water, lean over it, cover your head with a towel and breathe in the steam until the point of wanting to pass out.

Been sprayed by a skunk? Stop crying and let Mom pour tomato juice all over your body.

Don’t like the issue of intestinal gas after eating beans? Eat the stuff in the crock pot and don’t worry, because Grandma “defarted” them with a dash of cream of tartar.

Want your wood floor polished but don’t want to go through the work? Strap dust cloths to the bottom of your grandchildren’s feet and tell them to pretend they are Dorothy Hamill (for those who don’t remember, she was my Olympic hero, a champion figure skater, the face on the Wheaties box and everyone’s hair wannabe in the 1970s).

Those women knew how to utilize quick solutions that could remedy any situation, regardless of their economics. The crazy thing is that it all worked.

They were certainly the mothers of invention.




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