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Plastic Curtains

by Amy Kenneley

We were taking a Saturday stroll through Neisner's 105th Five and Dime, when she first spotted them. Was it in the late 1940's or early 1950s? Mom and I had just moved to a real house from an apartment, this new neighborhood was another great shopping crossroads to explore.

Fresh out of their packing boxes back in the Housewares section were the newest post-war products after years of rationing---plastic curtains!

Mother's eyes lit up as she felt their smoothness. Her eyes danced as the red geranium curtains beckoned her to buy-or would the "hip" green-blue cubist knock-off coax a few dollars out of her pocket?

Before you guess, an explanation: these plastic curtains were not the man-made fabrics with varying weaves and textures of the large plastic family we have come to love. Those would come later.

What Mother was looking at in the Housewares section of Neisner's Five & Dime was honest-to-gosh heavy plastic sheeting, not quite as heavy as the plastic covers she had already installed on the mohair sofa, and not as thin as the plastic bags over our dry-cleaning, but some weight in between. They were an opaque, cloudy plastic, clearly meant for windows you didn't want someone to peek into.

Some mad decorator had selected the most obvious patterns to entice my Mom- besides the red geraniums, there were pink plastic cabbage roses, and green ivy clinging to a white trellis background. And again, that oh-so-glamorous blue-green cubist one-Picasso minus the price tag.

A saleslady was at our side instantly, extolling the virtues of this wonder curtain "Why, all you do is dip them in some warm water with a little Duz and they wash themselves. You can wipe the dust off without ever taking them down."

That sounded good to Mom, who had always hated fussing with curtains. Ugly, ugly ugly, I thought. But I wasn't asked. I had hoped that she would buy some lace curtains, like the ones I used to see drying in the apartment basement.

They were pegged out on intricate wooden frames on stands. The wooden frames resembled yardsticks, because they were the same thickness and they had inches and half inches along all four sides. And along all four sides as well were metal pointy spikes, all spaced at regular intervals. After the curtains had had a last rinse in starch, the curtain was splayed upon this torture rack with the little spikes holding all the edges.

I really wanted lace curtains. The entire process of washing, drying and caring for them had seemed so..so housewifely.

But Mom wasn't housewifely that day at Neisner's in the Housewares section. Shortly after the saleslady had mentioned that there was no need to worry about lengths…all you had to do was to cut off what you didn't need….well, we went home with 3 sets of red geranium plastic curtains for the living room.

The curtains were spritely bright against the dull wallpaper of the living room, and even Grandpa thought they were "okey-dokey" Shortly after the coal furnace was stoked up for our first frost, the curtains began a wavy dance as the floor register under the windows threw up powdery black soot.

About two days later, Mom noticed that the curtains weren't dancing any more. Pulling back the mohair sofa, she discovered why. The long curtains had sagged with the steady heat, and the bottoms had melted permanently to the register grid.

Not to worry. Mom peeled off the melted ends and took down the curtains for their first washing. Were there instructions with these curtains? Evidently not. A red hot bath through Great-Grandma's boiling wash water REALLY cleaned them good. We flipped the curtains over the dry line in the basement and let them drip for a few hours before reinstalling them. Back up they went in the living room.

But now they had a crazy sag to them. That last boiling rinse must have done something to the plastic. The plastic had acquired lots of waves in that smooth texture. And some of the red geraniums were looking a little spotty. I guess Great-Grandma's Fels Naptha washed off some of the painted blossoms.

Anyway, they were clean and they were up. Mom decided that now was the time to trim the ends so that the hot register incident wouldn't happen again. She grabbed some scissors and tried to trim one curtain, using the baseboard as a guide. It was a little wobbly but the mohair sofa would cover that.

Several weeks later at my friend's house, I noticed a pair of blue-green fake Picasso plastic curtains at the kitchen windows. She looked at me and shrugged. It was our mutual acknowledgement : what can you do with parents?

Then I noticed the jagged line of curtain that almost touched the windowsill at some points, and then crazily meandered up an inch or two before crashing downwards again. "Scissors?" I asked her. She nodded. We screamed together.

Eventually Mother gave up the sagging plastic curtains, but not before trying other Neisner offerings. She did indeed get lace curtains for the kitchen, but they were plastic lace curtains, with holes punched for the design.

The teen years came, and with them, more interest in what I was wearing than what the house was wearing. The ultimate compliment in those days was to be asked to meet your boyfriend's parents. That could be serious. Boys came to girl's houses, and girls went back and forth to one another's houses, but if a boy invited a girl to his house-well, something could come from that.

And so it was that Himself asked me to come to meet his parents. I was a little nervous, but got through the "hellos" all right, and was ushered into the kitchen and invited to sit. My place was neatly set and the chairs pulled up for us all to eat.

I looked up and to my surprise saw something I hadn't seen since Neisner's housewares section-green ivy climbing a white trellis. I almost giggled. Plastic curtains. And cut with a jagged hem!

My intended's family had the same decorator genes as my family's-I just knew I would fit in. Marriages might be made in heaven, but that day our future together was sealed--in plastic!

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