Tuesday, February 4, 2014

What I might end up being known for -- the letter, 1951


We carry on the Pond's cold cream saga. There will be a recipe at the end of it, I promise. Don't forget to buy beeswax. If you can afford essential oil of roses, by all means splurge. 



So now I, too, kept a jar on hand. Still, apart from Halloween, I had no particular use for it -- tried makeup, found it aging on me -- until I happened to receive a book for a present, called Letters of the Century: America 1900 to 1999. It's a collection heavy on left-wing canonic documents, everybody eyewitnessing civil rights, Vietnam, and so on, but in the middle of it (pp. 368-371) is the best letter in the book. It was written in 1951 by a lady named Myrna Chase to another lady simply named Mary. Miss Chase had no grand national agenda to discuss. She was a medical secretary who was leaving her doctor's practice in order to get married, and her letter was one of instruction to her replacement. Miss Chase obviously loved her job and was very good at it, but she was also a fine writer. Her style is simple, delicate, just verging on the waspish but so intensely ladylike that it remains great fun to read. "I'm sure," she warned Mary, "I don't need to caution you against the horror of a dark slip under a white uniform." "Remember that white in a doctor's office must always be just a little whiter than white." "I know you will not feel it beneath you to supplement the efforts of the overworked janitress with a good dust cloth of your own." "When the doctor is ready to leave, usher him out and tell him good night as if he were the guest of honor. Your respect and admiration can never be too great for a man who is following the finest profession in the world."

And this, at the beginning of the letter: "Your day really begins the night before, when you take a warm bath, brush your hair, cream your face, and relax in bed for at least eight hours' sound sleep."

Now doesn't that sound delicious? It takes us right back to 1951, when -- so we fancy -- women relaxed in the evening in fur-trimmed peignoirs and low-heeled mules, gave their hair a hundred strokes before bed, and laid out a soignee uniform of dress, hose, gloves, hat, stole, and who knows maybe a fresh orchid, for the next day. And "creamed" their faces above all. Fran Dodsworth (Ruth Chatterton), in the old movie Dodsworth, creams her face and wipes it all off savagely while having an argument with her husband Sam (Walter Huston) in a European hotel room. She's forty, and about to become a grandmother.

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