A spot of vintage colour

Fluffo canI had one thought, and one thought only, when I spotted the item you see above in a giant antiques flea-market place recently. It was this:

“How did they get into my grandmother’s kitchen?”

I hadn’t seen a tin like that for close to four decades – maybe longer. But it was instantly familiar, because my maternal grandmother, Reta Keay, always had one on the counter in her kitchen. Colourfully painted exterior; plastic lid with a clever design that made it easy to grab and lift off. (This was long, long before those clever and ergonomically friendly Oxo Good Grips kitchen tools had been invented.)

But what was in that tin in my grandmother’s kitchen? I realized when I saw this one, all these years later, that I didn’t have a clue.

So I examined the tin in the antiques flea market a little more closely. On the side I discovered, sideways in small print, the very familiar name of the maker of the product that was once inside:

Fluffo can Procter and Gamble

And the mystery was completely solved when I turned the tin over and had a look at the bottom:

Fluffo can bottom

Fluffo! Do you remember Fluffo? It was a brand of shortening that was in wide use for whatever shortening is used for – can you tell I’m not a baker? – for, I gather, much, or maybe all, of the last century. Here’s none other than 60 Minutes newsman Mike Wallace (with some help from Mrs. Thelma Styra, Indiana State Fair Baking Champion) extolling its virtues back in 1955:

However, my (admittedly brief) search for Fluffo information online suggests that it is no longer with us.

What is still with us, however, is my brightly coloured Fluffo tin – because of course I had to buy it. (And at something like $7, it wasn’t much of a reach.) I like the fact that it can be used for storing pretty much anything – which is what I imagine my grandmother and many housewives like her did with their colourful Fluffo tins once the Fluffo was gone. It is the dimmest of dim memories, but I kind of think my grandmother kept her homemade cookies in that Fluffo tin, after lining it with waxed paper. (Waxed paper! Remember getting your sandwiches wrapped in that?)

I found some images online of similar Fluffo tins for sale at places like Etsy. Here is a link to someone selling a pair of them, one of which is just like mine. And here’s a little gallery of some of the others:

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I couldn’t agree more with the Etsy seller’s description of their “colourful retro outline graphics in a fun funky pattern,” and his suggestion that they are “perfect to add a spot of vintage colour” to your kitchen.

That’s exactly what my newly acquired vintage Fluffo canister is doing right now at the Manse: adding a spot of vintage colour. Well, that – and bringing me happy memories of my grandmother’s long-ago kitchen.

Mittens on strings: good gear for cold weather, then and now

I don't know about you, but I could use a pair of these, to keep from losing them. This particular very cute pair of mittens (for children) are hand-knitted and available at Etsy.com, here.

I don’t know about you, but I could use a pair of these, to keep from losing them. This  very cute pair of mittens (in children’s size) is hand-knitted and available here at Etsy.com.

Well, here we are in the middle of the January deep freeze, here in Eastern Canada, anyway. The high in Montreal today was -16C (3F), tomorrow it’s supposed to be -22 (-7F), and the week carries on like that. Yikes.

I think back to bitterly cold days when I was growing up at the Manse in Queensborough, and one morning in particular when my mum announced that the thermometer was registering 40 below! (Which, as you know, is the same temperature in both Celsius and Fahrenheit; it translates to “appallingly cold” on either scale.) Boy did she ever bundle us up to go meet the school bus that day!

And I recall lots of bright winter mornings when you’d breathe in the icy air and it would have the effect of kind of freezing the inside of your nostrils. Remember that? It’s been a long time since I felt that sensation. Global warming, I suppose. Or ceasing to pay attention to small wonders like that as a distracted adult, perhaps.

Anyway, what we’re experiencing right now is the kind of weather where mittens (or gloves) are not optional. But the problem I have with mittens is the same one I had as a kid: losing them. Which is why I think mittens on strings are an absolutely brilliant idea. Not only do the two mittens stay together, but thanks to the string being threaded through the arms of your coat, they also stay with it!

Didi (my grandmother Reta Keay) and five-year-old me at the Manse, December 1965. (Photo by my grandfather, J.A.S. Keay)

Didi (my grandmother Reta Keay) and five-year-old me at the Manse, December 1965. (Photo by my grandfather, J.A.S. Keay)

I remember as a kid getting annoyed with the mittens on strings that my Didi, my grandmother Reta Keay, would knit for us. I can’t remember why, however. Did the mittens climb up and get lost in the arms of the coat, maybe? Anyway, if it bothered me then, it certainly wouldn’t bother me now. I wish my Didi were still here to knit me a nice pair of bright red adult-sized mittens on strings. It’s just what I need to brighten up days like these. Not to mention keep my hands warm!

A bowl haircut, and what you can see in the background

Me (age 6, maybe?) getting the standard haircut by my Didi – my grandmother Reta Keay – in the kitchen of the Manse. And not looking to be enjoying the experience all that much. Note the turquoise-and-white (okay, the photo’s in black and white so you can’t see the turquoise, but perhaps you get the picture) linoleum tile floor that I’ve cited many times before, and that I long for today. (Photo by my grandfather, J.A.S. Keay)

When I was a little kid growing up at the Manse, I wanted to have long hair so desperately. Princesses and hippies and Laurie Partridge and Joan Baez all had long hair; why couldn’t I? Even Nancy Drew and her friends (save for “tomboy” George, who I believe wore it in a short bob) had hair of a certain length. Titian hair, in Nancy’s case. Whatever that is. (As my own cousin Nancy recently noted.)

Anyway, it was decided early on that my sister, Melanie, and I would have short hair, doubtless because it’s much more practical. And when we were little it was my grandmother, my Didi, who cut it. While I’ve called them bowl haircuts, they really weren’t. But they also weren’t the most flattering cuts a fashion-savvy Queensborough girl could have.

As with any old photo taken at the Manse, I scoured the one at the top of this post for telltale vestiges of what once was. There’s the turquoise-and-white linoleum flooring in the kitchen, and the rather fancier pattern of the linoleum in the adjoining dining room that you can just barely make out.

The vintage arborite kitchen table that Raymond and I have today in Montreal. Why do you suppose I wanted that kind of table?

There’s our old arborite kitchen table with the grey top (you know the kind I mean); ever since my childhood at the Manse I have harboured a love for those tables. The matching grey plastic-covered chairs that came with that one clearly had, by the time the photo was taken, bitten the dust; they were cheap and very unresilient faced with a bunch of little kids who could do all sorts of ripping-type damage. But I’d forgotten all about the wooden chairs that we used in their stead. I wonder where those chairs are now.

You can also see the late lamented white wainscotting along the kitchen wall, covered over six or seven years after this photo was taken with then-trendy wood panelling, but not before the chair rail had been ripped off and tossed out. (It pains me to recount this, as you can imagine.)

And finally you can just get a glimpse through the doorway into the dining room of the edge of a piece of furniture that came with the Manse and that we called the buffet – a dark and (as I recall) ugly old thing in which the good china was stored. But just seeing that little corner of it brings back to mind the not-unpleasant old woody smell that would emanate from it when you opened one of its doors to bring out the good china when company was coming for dinner. (Company – in the form of parishioners from my dad’s churches – came for dinner pretty much every Sunday at the Manse.) Also, our used-every-year advent calendar sat perched atop the “buffet” every December, and every year we had the same fun opening the little windows and seeing what was behind them. No candies, you understand: just pictures related to the Christian Christmas story, which we kids found delightful. I have still not got over the befuddlement I experienced the first time I heard that some advent calendars have candies or chocolates in them. That is over the top, if you ask me.

Anyway: you can see a lot in an old photo taken at the Manse! If you’re me and grew up there, that is.

My sister, Melanie, looking on. Hard to tell whether she’s next in line for the haircut or has already undergone the ordeal herself. (Photo by J.A.S. Keay)

As a very small child I gave my grandmother the name Didi, probably my attempt to pronounce her given name, Reta. My grandfather J.A.S. Keay was known as Buh, I expect the best I could do when it came to Grandpa. Buh and Didi – who lived in Leaside, the very pleasant Toronto suburb where my mother, Lorna, grew up – visited us a lot when we lived at the Manse; Buh took lots of photos, and it is thanks to him that I have all these great old images of my childhood and the house I grew up in. Didi was an eminently capable woman in very many ways: cooking, sewing (she made most of the clothes that my sister, Melanie, and I wore in those days), knitting and, apparently, haircutting. What I realize now but probably couldn’t have known at the time was that she did this to help out financially, since a minister’s salary was then – as it is now – pitiful.

Anyway, we loved to see Buh and Didi; they were kind and good people, and we four kids – their only grandchildren; my mother was their only child – were very special to them. They were awfully good to us.

Although truth be told I could have done without the hair-cutting.

Three little kids at the Manse



This is a very early Manse photo. It was taken (according to the neatly hand-written notation on the back of the photo by my grandfather J.A.S. Keay, the photographer in the family) on Feb. 6, 1965 – my mother Lorna Sedgwick’s (née Keay) 31st birthday (which must have been why my grandparents were visiting us in Queensborough), and only seven months after my dad, Wendell Sedgwick, had taken up his duties as minister of the Queensborough Pastoral Charge and he and his young family had moved into the Manse.

The photo shows (from left) my sister, Melanie (a few months shy of 3 years old), my brother John (a month away from turning a year old), and me, aged 4 and a half. Those cute matching plaid dresses that Mel and I are wearing were doubtless hand-sewn by my grandmother, Reta Keay (whom we called Didi); she was excellent at sewing and made a lot of clothes for us. (Though when we got older we tired of having matching dresses.)

My youngest sibling, my brother Kenneth, wasn’t born until March 1966.

All the old photos provide interesting evidence of mid-century furnishings and finishes at the Manse. This photo was taken in the living room. I expect the grey wallpaper with the white flowers that you can see is still there underneath other layers, and it brought a shock of recognition to see it again. The curtains were eventually (i.e. sometime before we moved away from Queensborough in 1975) replaced by the ones that are still there now; and I think the couch (or “chesterfield,” as we called it back then) is the one that was there through all the years we lived there and is the one that is still kicking around in the back porch of the Manse.

I want to get that couch fixed up and bring it back in; “old times sake” and all that. Raymond seems to think otherwise.