The Holes in the Pool Room Wall
Ca late 1920s It was a beautiful early summer morning. The sun was already promising a hot day – and there was a gentle breeze. A perfect laundry day, Jenny thought as she hung the wash on the clothesline. She was humming her favorite hymn, Rock of Ages, and reaching into the cloth bag for another four clothespins when the sight and sound of the automobile coming up the drive prompted the thought that if that car came any closer and threw dust all over her clean wet laundry, she would throttle those boys good. Fortunately for her two youngest sons, whose car she had recognized, they stopped well short of the danger zone surrounding the clothesline. They were no fools. Once you had gotten dust all over Mom’s clean laundry you never forgot the ensuing tongue-lashing. Her kids always said, That woman could talk you to death without even stopping for a breath. The four young men exited the car as only young men in their late teens can – all of a sudden and noisily. Hi Mom. We brought Ed and Jim up for the weekend. We’re hungry, so we’ll go on in and fix something. Then we’ll go down to the lake for a swim. With casual waves and Hi’s tossed in Jenny’s general direction, they went off to the house. Jenny didn’t even bother with the usual, Don’t go into the water for an hour after you eat. She knew that they would pay her no never mind. She marveled again that all five of her children had managed to grow up so strong and healthy despite ignoring her sage advice all these years. She was glad she was getting the wash on the line early. It would be dry by afternoon, giving her sufficient time to take it in and perhaps do a little weeding before starting dinner. She already had two extra for the evening meal and no telling how many more there would be. It was not an unusual occurrence to have unannounced guests. Jenny and Charlie had five children and they were free to bring guests home at any time, and without warning. It was that kind of a family. By early afternoon the laundry was indeed dry. Rather than put the clean clothes away immediately, she deposited the basket against the wall in the Pool Room when she entered the house – and then went out to the garden. (The Pool Room was so designated because it was dominated by a magnificent regulation size pool table sitting front and center.) Jenny was out in the garden when the boys returned from the lake. As young men are wont to do, they ate another meal. Then they decided on a game of pool, which was going well enough, when John shouted, Holy Good God – Look at that! The others followed the direction of his extended forefinger. There, crawling out of the laundry basket and up the wall was a copperhead. The two visitors went pale. They were city folk and not used to seeing a snake crawling up a wall – especially in a house in which they were to spend the next several days. John turned to his older brother Joe, We better get it out of here. Just how do you propose we do that? I dunno. We could catch it in a pillowcase or a bag, maybe. Can’t you think of something? Meanwhile, the snake was making progress on its upward journey, and the city boys were looking like they were ready to bolt. Can’t you do something Joe? I guess I could shoot the damn thing. I’ll get a gun. He headed toward the gun cabinet on the far wall and promptly returned depositing a large red, brass capped shell in the barrel of a 12-guage shotgun. He took aim and shot the snake right on that wall. Relieved that the immediate problem had been solved, they all began talking at once. Hol-lee Joe – what a mess you made! Look at all those holes in the wall. Do you guys shoot snakes a lot? – (And more to the point, since they were to be overnight guests in the house -) Do snakes come into the house all the time? Wait till Mom sees that wall. Hey – where’s the rest of the snake? Their attention had been focused on the nine holes, to which clung messy bits and pieces of snake – but now traveled downward. A good part of the rest of that unfortunate creature had collapsed back into the laundry basket – resulting in some quite gooey and no-longer clean laundry. Jenny arrived – breathless. She had heard the shot and had run all the way back from the garden, anticipating a calamity of the gravest kind (as most any mother would). She stood, gasping for air, and took in the scene. All four boys seemed to be alive enough. She followed their gaze to the wall. What in the world happened? Joe killed a snake. It was crawling up the wall and we wanted to get it out of the house, so he shot it. Now that she realized that her worst fears were unfounded and unrealized, she was beginning to think that she just might, herself, inflict a little bodily harm on her sons. Oh, you shot it did you. With a shotgun, Joe? Couldn’t you at least have used a 22, so as not to splat that snake all over hell’s half-acre? Gee, Mom (running his hand through his curly red hair) do you realize how hard it would be to hit a moving snake on a wall with a 22? And do you realize, you nincompoop, how hard it’s going to be to clean that snake splat from out of that whole basket of laundry? Now I’m going to have to wash it all over again. The visitors were surprised that no one had yet mentioned the nine holes in the wall – never mind the snake goo surrounding them. But even more surprising to them was the nature of Jenny’s most pressing concern – the laundry. What the young men failed to grasp, and what must be understood, is that this was not Jenny’s city home in which washday was relatively easy. Back there, all she had to do was go up to the second floor to get the laundry in a large wicker basket and carry it down two flights of stairs to the basement, where the miracle of hot water was accomplished with only the turn of a knob on the wall behind the cumbersome machine. After the clothes had been through a noisy wash, and then an equally noisy rinse, they were carried across the room to the deep, large double wash tubs, to one of which was attached a rollered, handled wringer. Then each piece of wet laundry was placed between the rollers, and the handle turned enough times to extrude the excess water. The washed items were placed into the wicker basket once again and carried back up the two flights of stairs to be hung on the clotheslines. A very simple feat which was accomplished by hanging out of the bedroom window from the waist up and praying you didn’t topple over. So you see, it was a simple process. It might have been said of Jenny’s washdays in the city that they were a piece of cake. But – not so in the country house. She had to collect water in buckets from the rain barrel – or, if there had been no rain for a while and the water in the barrel was brackish, from the spring down the road (this story predates the well being dug and the hand-pump being installed on the kitchen sink). Then there would be a trip to the woodpile so a fire could be started in the stove. Once the water in the heavy cauldron was hot enough, it was transferred into the large washtub. While the clothes were being swished, scrubbed with the aid of a washboard, and swirled with the aid of a wooden paddle – the water for the rinse was being readied. The washed items were wrung by hand. Women of that era developed very strong (although not especially attractive) hands and arms. Then the clothes were placed in one of those ubiquitous wicker baskets and carried out to the clothesline. As you may have guessed, washday was dependent upon the weather – as well as the determined belief that cleanliness is next to Godliness! In any event, it should have been easy to understand Jenny’s consternation at having to repeat the process. Particularly with night coming on and the necessity of either hanging the wet wash on the line overnight to be soggy with dew in the morning, or being left wet and wadded in the basket all night – which would have helped neither the wash not the basket. The alternative of leaving the basket as it was until morning, with snake splat all over the clothes, was never a consideration. By the time Charlie arrived home, the boys (fearing retribution) had hustled and gathered the wood and the water for Jenny, and then washed down the wall. The wash was once again clean and on the clothesline. Jenny, happily, had calmed down and was involved with preparing a very simple supper. (And, she thought to herself, they’re lucky to be getting anything at all.) John greeted his father first and pointed to the wall. Hi, Pop. Look. There was a snake crawling up the wall and Joe shot it. Charlie surveyed the buckshot pattern on the wall in disbelief. Oh, this was too good, even for his kids. He started to laugh. Holy Good God – with a shotgun, Joe? Why didn’t you just take a run over to West Point and borrow a cannon? Charlie had a large bellow of a laugh which was remarkably contagious, and, once started seemed as if it would never end (this seemed to be a frequent response in the family when things went wrong). And now everybody was laughing. Including Jenny – who felt all was right with the world since the laundry was clean, dinner was almost ready, and no harm had been done. (Except to the snake, of course, but that was his own fault. He had no business coming into the house in the first place.) It might have been expected that Joe would be embarrassed by the overkill in his choice of weapons, but not so. Whenever he and the boys would go down to Brewer’s Tavern for a beer, or to the lake for a swim, they would be happily greeted with loud hoots and hello’s. Hey, here comes Joe, the big game hunter. Joe – I hear they’re rounding up all the snakes in Brewster so you don’t go in and shoot up the town like Jesse James. Hey Joe, my wife has a pesky mouse in the kitchen – anything you can do to get rid of it? Hey Joe, didn’t your Daddy ever teach you the difference between a rifle and a shotgun? Occasionally John would chime in. Sure he did. He told Joe that the shotguns were on the right in the gun cabinet and the rifles on the left. Only trouble is – Joe can never remember which is his left and which is his right. Joe laughed louder than anyone. Truth be told, he really enjoyed the good-natured and affectionate teasing. He found his boisterous (and sometimes bawdy) country friends far more interesting companions than the more stuffy and colorless city friends in New York. He welcomed this attention and the celebrity it afforded him. The holes remained in the wall for quite a few years. Probably because all of the family members loved retelling the story to whatever captive audience happened to enter the house. But there eventually came the time when all of her offspring were married (or about to be) and there were grandchildren born (or about to be) that Jenny felt it was time, for the sake of those grandchildren, that perhaps the free-wheeling and fun-loving reputation of the family should be replaced with a more sedate and dignified image. And so, reluctantly, the decision was made to replace the Pool Room wall. And the nine tell-tale holes disappeared forever. Funny thing, though… The wall was replaced – the grandchildren grew to maturity – but the story of the snake, the shotgun and the nine holes in the Pool Room wall lingered on. And does to this very day. And – as for the family image becoming more dignified and sedate… Forget about it. It was never gonna happen. Not in that family.