OF POTS AND PICTURES by Mary Ellen Goodenberger

Life was simpler when I was a child, less cluttered. No one could afford a lot of things, and the things we had were meant to last. Unlike the planned-obsolescence toys of this era, which manufacturers don’t expect to survive Christmas Day, many of the ones which entertained us were cast iron.

 

All of which helps you to understand the significance of a new chamber pot (inelegantly known in some quarters as a slop jar) to a three-year-old. One had just been added to the Marshall household. There it stood – not yet put into service – in its pristine whiteness, with a dashing red border on the lid.

 

The mainstay of our family at that time was much-loved Beulah. Nowadays she would be known as my nanny. Beulah was more than that for my school superintendent father and teacher mother: cook, cleaning lady, laundress, gardener. Orphaned at an early age, she claimed us as her family, called my dad Uncle George, my mom Aunt Ida – just like the cousins who stayed with us during their high school years.

 

Beulah tried to make a lady out of me. Born a tomboy, I was a challenge. Because I adored her, I tolerated dress-up time but was impatient to be back in my khaki-colored coveralls. (Clothing then tended toward funereal hues, which didn’t show dirt.)

 

This particular spring day she had me well scrubbed and decked out in a gingham dress (carefully ironed) complete with matching underpants which sported a pocket with a dainty handkerchief tucked into it. These ended just above my knees. Knee socks and sandals completed my ensemble.

 

It was truly a Kodak moment. Of course Beulah wanted to record it for posterity. But by the time she had found her camera and was ready to use it, I had managed to put the chamber pot right next to me. No pot, no picture! Marshall bullheadedness was already alive and well in that small body.

 

The day was saved for Beulah when Dad appeared on the scene. George Andrew ran a tight ship at school and at home. No one argued with him, not even my mother. So the picture – which is a part of the wall-filling Goodenberger/Marshall collage in our home–features Mary Ellen solo. But I’m not smiling!