OILCLOTH BRIGHTENS THE 1940 - 50'S KITCHEN
by Sherry Perkins
Remember oilcloth? It was much like
the vinyl tablecloth of today, only it was heavier
with more of a flannel backing which didn't allow
any slipping around on a table. Oilcloth was available
in the five and dime stores such as Woolworth's. One
bought it by the yard and it came probably 54 inches
wide. I don't remember the exact cost per yard, but
guess it was about 49 cents a yard back in the early
1950s. I know it took a bite out of Dad's weekly forty
dollar paycheck to purchase it.
In my growing up years, the kitchen
table played an important part in our daily lives.
Kitchen tables were usually round, square or oblong
and made of oak or pine or perhaps metal. Regardless
of the material they were made of, the table became
ugly with scratches, chips, dents, and watermarks
made by small children and with metal lunch boxes,
and cooking and canning projects.
Kitchen tables were even the location
for the butchering of chickens and hogs. They were
the counters where women rolled out noodles, prepared
meals, did book keeping, wrote letters, and watched
over the kids school projects and homework. It is
where they shelled popcorn, rolled up hair in curlers,
folded laundry and where everyone congregated at night
before television appeared in their lives.
Kitchens were wallpapered in various
patterns and colors and the paper stayed on for years,
so folks became tired of looking at the same thing
day in and day out. With new, pretty, bright oilcloth,
the kitchen became fresh and pleasing to the eye.
In our family, we thought oilcloth was a miracle worker
primarily because you didn't need to iron it.
I remember how we would go to town on
Saturday night and head first for the five and dime
store. At the back of the store was a large rack holding
as many as ten different patterns of the "wipeable
tablecloth." One could pull down the roll to
get an over-all view of what it would look like on
a table. The patterns varied from time to time and
it was always exciting to find new designs had been
added to the selection. There would be red and white
checks, colored backgrounds with fruit, vegetables,
pretty dishes or flowers. Some patterns would boast
of chicks, rabbits, spoons & forks, or any subject
the creator thought would entice you to buy. Then
one would need to look up a clerk to measure out the
two or three yards that Mom wanted to buy and cut
it off the bolt. It was always a difficult decisions
to make, but once done, it was with anticipation that
we took the oilcloth home.
Once on the table, it transformed the
drab kitchen table into a bright, exciting spot in
the room. Never mind that the color or pattern of
the oilcloth clashed with the wall paper or the linoleum
on the floor. A new oilcloth lifted our spirits, made
doing dishes in the dishpan more pleasant, chased
away the winter doldrums, and made the iced tea or
coffee taste better.
Eventually, after many wipes with a
soapy dishrag, the oilcloth would became faded, worn
and ugly. Then it was time for a trip to town to check
out the new colors and patterns and begin the cycle
all over again.