Making a Game of It

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As Joyce finishes setting her hot cake on a ‘cake cooler,’ (which I presume is a cooling rack) Mrs. Powers suggests she run upstairs and wipe up the bathroom tiles as well, as her son left pools of water on the floor when he bathes earlier that morning. Joyce’s are ‘bits of blue ice.’ But she bites back her unhumble, ungentle words and decides not to walk off the job in a huff.

“Why not” she asks herself, “Make a game of it, something that had to be overcome and won?”
And so she does. Making a game of it is an excellent way to gain a new approach on old problems as well as new ones.

She tells Mrs. Powers she will do her best if she has time, and then reminds her that she is wishing for a position as a teacher next fall and Mr. Powers is on the school board, and Mrs. Powers is supposed to be putting in a good word for her. She does this as a subtle way of reminding Mrs. Powers that she is not an ordinary servant, but a lady. Mrs. Powers stares at Joyce “as if suddenly some ribbon or powder puff or bit of lace she had been using had risen up and claimed a personality…” and she says any recommendation from her will depend on whether or not Joyce does a good job, something she is clearly doubtful of. Joyce recognizes that Mrs. Powers has no intention of telling her husband that he should consider Joyce’s application to teach at his school.

On that pronouncement, Mrs. Powers leaves to pick up her out of state guests from the train station. Joyce is near tears and in despair, wondering if she made a mistake in taking the job, but decides to finish what she started. She frosts the cake, gives the bathroom a quick wipe of the floor and brief tidying (it needs serious cleaning, she feels, but she’s not the one to do that job), then she shells peas and scrapes potatoes. She diced a stalk of celery and stuffs the tomatoes with celery and chopped English walnuts, because that will look prettier. The lettuce goes into salt water (not sure why). For the next hour she rushes ‘from table to range and from refrigerator back to the kitchen,” and then all over again.

She gets the biscuits in the oven and potatoes and peas ‘bubbling gaily on the stove,’ chops in the broiler, and sets the table. Since biscuits only take ten to fifteen minutes (at most) to bake, she must have set the table in five minutes.

Mrs. Powers returns with the guest from the train station and sees the

‘orderly row of salad plates, daintily and appetizingly arrayed on the kitchen side table, and caught a glimpse of the two cakes in the pantry window smooth and glistening in deep frosting.’

Oh, what vistas- a kitchen with a ‘side table’ (well, you’d need one when your kitchen has few cupboards and fewer counters), and a pantry large enough for a window!

But back to the book…She had asked Joyce to set the table with the rose napkins, which Joyce tells her are not where she said they’d be. Mrs. P realizes that they must not have been sent to the laundry after all, and says Joyce will just have to take them down to the laundry and rub them out. She’ll have to iron them dry.

Joyce runs down to the cellar where,

‘with a quick turn of the faucets and a fling of soap she… rubs out the napkins and gets them soaking while she finds the iron and gets it heating, then dashes up stairs to turn the lights under the vegetables down and back down again for the napkins.’

There are sweet potatoes, too, browning in a sugar bath, and the olives, ice water, and cream of the coffee, not to mention putting on the clean white apron for serving.

And with all that, dinner is precisely on time.

Will Mrs. Powers be pleased? Will Joyce get the teaching job? Will there be any more delectable cooking and making-do stories?

From Not Under the Law, by Grace Livingston Hill

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