Saturday, April 5, 2014

Cleaning with Memories

When hubby retired, it took me long while to accept my housework would never be done again nor would every room be clean at the same time. Now that we have a dog, this house is even worse…dog hair and mud…but play now too.

This morning we shared a quick suck up of dog hair and swishing a few things out. I caught the fragrance of Degreaser and was transported to my childhood. My bottle must be ten years old at least, but the memories are half a century old.

My paternal grandmother was a dealer in Stanley Home products. I never knew her any other way. Before her marriage, she “worked out”. This was not the going to the gym we know today, but she went out and cleaned and cooked for other women when only a girl, returning home at night to her own mother. Later when she was a mother, she often worked at cafes as a cook or waitress to help make money for the family. She was raising her children in the heart of the Depression; every single penny counted. She also raised and cleaned chickens in the wee hours of dark Saturday mornings. Then the family loaded up a trunk with dressed chickens and delivered them in towns fifteen miles away so the town ladies had fresh chickens for Sunday dinner.

Sometime around 1950 she became a salesperson for Stanley Home Products which was the original inventor of the party plan sales approach. It must have been a breeze doing those demonstrations of brooms and cleaners in women’s living rooms after mopping, rolling pie crusts, doing dishes and standing on her feet for hours in a commercial kitchen for a few coins to help feed her family. Her cleaning product parties became very popular; she enrolled many new sales people, and then moved up the ladder to district manager.

Grandma turned half her dark, dungeon-like basement into a storage room where, under a dull light bulb handing from the ceiling, she filled her orders for deliveries. Often our birthday and Christmas presents were Catherine O’Brien colognes or makeup promoted by the company. She had no time (or desire) to shop, so sometimes she just sent us to the basement to choose a sack of Stanley Products for our gift. It soon became a family joke as to what cleaner or broom we would “get” for our birthday.

When I was about twelve or thirteen, Grandma wasn’t slowing down much, but she did appreciate company. I often went to parties with her at night and helped carry in all the display cases. I could have presented the products myself as I knew them all. I loved passing around the velvet tray full of free gifts for the ladies. There were pencils, pads of paper, jar openers, key rings, hot pads all labeled with advertising for Stanley. Then there was always a nice dessert provided by the hostess for the evening. Sometimes after several trips Grandma let me choose a new hair brush or some hair spray for helping her.

Two favorite items my mom used were Germtrol and Degreaser. Even as a young girl, I realized the power of that cleaner. In days before no-stick pans, nothing was worse than skillet that had fried chicken and then cooled with the breading crumbs setting like glue on the pan bottom. Degreaser was a miracle tool at removing them.

This morning I dug deep into the cupboard and found my old bottle to use on an odious job. Sure enough, Degreaser saved the day and lifted ugly grease in no time. But it was the fragrance I appreciated most of all. For a few minutes, I felt my slightly disheveled grandma with chipped nail polish over finger nails hiding garden dirt. She had an aluminum tumbler filled with iced tea in one hand and the other hand on her hip watching me use her Number One Seller, Degreaser. I could almost hear her say, “Darn good stuff isn’t it?”

Yes, it is a hearty cleaner that worked on tough jobs…a lot like Grandma was herself.

Do you know Degreaser?


Sioux said...

Claudia--I don't know that particular brand, but I do know how great it is to have a degreaser-type product.

I also know how powerful aromas are--they can instantly transport you back to an era 40 or 50 years in the past.

Elephant's Child said...

Smells - be it scent or just plain pong - are such memory triggers aren't they?
And what a wonderful tribute to your Grandma. I am a bit misty here as I read it. Thank you.

Linda O'Connell said...

Wow! You took me back. Yes, I remember the degreaser. You and your grandma must have been a real team.

Mary Horner said...

We used it at our house, but don't think I remember the aroma. I'll have to ask my mom, she might still have some, too!

Lisa Ricard Claro said...

Nope. No Stanley products at our home that I can recall. I do know what you mean about the scent bringing back memories, though. The older I get, the more that seems to happen!

Lynn said...

Do they still make that stuff as I think I'd like some! Such wonderful memories of your (hardworking) Grandma! She sounds like a real gem.