With apologies to Alan Scherstuhl, Pitch archivist of the brilliant and the bizarre, I must share with all of Fat City my own recent historical find, a hardbound book titled Household Equipment, which I discovered over the weekend in the FleaMart.
You haven't heard of the new-ish FleaMart? It's the clean and shiny flea emporium at 14300 E. Highway 40, in the location formerly occupied by Rick's Picks, once the vendor of all kinds of fabulous salvage treasures, including dozens of gourmet food items that were, as often as not, past their suggested expiration date. My friend Truman didn't care if the gourmet cookies, sodas, imported pates and such were several months past the expiration date. "Look, I'm still alive, aren't I?" he once asked me. That wasn't encouraging enough for me to buy them.
But now the building is all about fleas. I mean, cast-off treasures. Some new, some old, some certifiably antique. While I shopped, I suddenly realized that FleaMart features live entertainment: a skinny middle-aged man playing a guitar sang upbeat Christian songs into a microphone that carried throughout the store. Not hymns, exactly, but variations on hippie folk songs with Jesus as the pivotal character.
It turns out that Household Equipment is the creation of Louise Jenison Peet, Ph.D. (the head of household equipment at Iowa State College) and Lenore Sater Thye (head of Housing and Household Equipment Division, Bureau of Human Nutrition and Home Economics, U.S. Department of Agriculture). In the years after World War II, machines that made housework easier were in enormous demand because those appliances -- stoves, ovens, washing machines, newfangled dishwashers -- had not been manufactured during the years when American factories were completely focused on creating products for the defense needs.
Once the war was over, baby, American manufacturing geared up for updating the all-American home. "Within the past two years," wrote Louise and Lenore in 1949, "rather extensive restyling of kitchen and laundry equipment has taken place ..."
No modern housewife could live without timesaving devices like pressure cookers, casserole dishes, aluminum bakeware, can openers (this was before the electric ones were introduced) and drip coffeepots. The first owner of this book took extensive notes (in blue watery ink from a fountain pen) in the margins, including -- in the "Ice Trays" chapter -- these words of wisdom: "Peas and lima beans should be left in their pods and fresh corn in the husks. Brussels sprouts should not be washed until just before cooking."