Saturday, January 12, 2013

Mrs. Mustard

Mrs. Mustard
     This story is true. The Lady-of-the-House slightly embellished it to fill in bits and pieces of a memory. It is decorated with photographs taken of hand hooked rugs on display in Lancaster. You’ll learn why at the end of the story.

     Long ago, when still a girl (and girl scout) the Lady-of-the-House had a friend (who wasn’t a girl scout) who invited her to the house of Mrs. Mustard. (The name is real). The friend’s family was going to join a small party on a Saturday afternoon. 

     Mrs. Mustard’s wooden house was perched on a steep hill above a winding country road. Across the road was a deep creek. The sound of the water running over the creek rocks probably could be heard from the bedroom windows upstairs when sleeping with the windows open.

     It was mid-summer. A forest of trees - tall oaks, medium maples and delicate dogwoods - shaded the roof and windows of the little house. Everything about Mrs. Mustard’s house seemed lived-in. Its aged appearance was irregular to the girl who, at the time, lived in her parent’s new 1960s house with wall-to-wall carpeting, sliding glass door, push button stove top and automatic dishwater.

     To the girl Mrs. Mustard was old. She had soft hazel eyes and streaks of white in her brown hair. (She was probably the age the Lady-of-the-House is now.) Mr. Mustard looked even older.

     The house was as snug as a captain’s cabin on a sailing vessel so the visitors mostly sat outside on a level clearing bordered by rhododendrons. It might be said to be the front lawn except that it was lacking grass. Rather, a haphazard array of steppingstones was laid among ground cover and flowering herbs. A bee skep sat snugly among the flowers.

     For her guests Mrs. Mustard added fresh sliced peaches, cream and sugar to a small barrel of ice. The barrel was an ice-cream maker. It was matter-of-factly set between the two friends who were sitting together on a tree stump. They were given the job of turning the crank. The friends cranked until their puny arms ached and the sun moved in the blue sky overhead, putting them in a spotlight of sunshine. Mrs. Mustard came and took the barrel away. In a minute she was back and with a disarming smile claimed the ice cream was not quite ready. The girls continued to crank with insects at their elbows and faces perspiring, which made the eating of the ice cream when it was ready, a much anticipated and unforgettably delicious experience. 

     After the friend gave a nudge and a whisper, the girls excused themselves. They climbed down a path through the woods, down to the rocky creek. Cold water on bare feet is always refreshing. The sound of running water filled their ears as they removed their shoes and socks. Little birds hopped and fluttered from branch to branch. They could be seen but not heard for the creek’s babble was louder. Only the bigger birds with their caws and squawks – the contemptuous crows and blue jays – contributed an occasional audible note – complaining about the presence of the adventurers. 

     Inside the house the friends walked on Mrs. Mustard’s wide plank floors that squeaked. The Lady-of-the-House has no memory of a kitchen perhaps because the girl was more impressed with the walk-in pantry. She peeked into it when Mrs. Mustard put the ice cream barrel away. Its shelves were lined with glass jars of preserves, crocks and well-worn cookbooks that were cluttered with bookmarks. The girl had never seen anything like it before.

     In the corner of a room (not much larger than the pantry) sat a pair of comfortable easy chairs, each supplied with a soft fringed cushion in a fabric of roses. One couldn’t imagine the chairs without them. Baskets of wool and a stack of books crowded one corner. A potted fern sat on an oak pedestal by an open window. When a breeze found its way into the house through this window the limp curtains swayed lazily.

     There was something very strange about it all. Mrs. Mustard had no television. That’s what it was. Her eyes squinted with wrinkles while she was full of conversation. The wrinkles disappeared when she listened. All she and her company did was converse - sometimes in serious tones, sometimes with light laughter. 

     Upon reflection, Mrs. Mustard was fond of folk art. Her feet rested on a small rug speckled in browns and reds. How curious it looked. There was another by Mr. Mustard. The Lady-of-the-House doesn’t remember if the rug designs were of prancing horses, birds, flowers, sailing ships, houses, cats or dogs – only that they looked like something in her youthful mind that resembled a sort of high-end girl scout project.

     What she does remember is Mrs. Mustard’s hands. She had smooth rounded fingertips. Eventually, near the end of the visit, Mrs. Mustard couldn’t help herself. She took up some wool to fiddle with while she talked. The Lady-of-the-House wishes she could picture the rugs exactly as they were because so many years later (with white streaked hair of her own and rounded finger-tips) she, too, likes fiddling with wool and would like to accent her house with, folk art – even if she does have a glass stove top with computerized touch controls.

     You never know who will add bits and pieces of influence to your Mother Culture creativity – or what influences will eventually catch up with you – when the dust settles.

I enjoyed sharing this story with you.
Thanks for visiting,
Karen Andreola

Explanation of Photographs

Rather than add captions this time I placed my comments here to not distract the reading.

1 Mini mural hooked rug design in Rufus Porter style, in purples at Little Pines shop at the corner of Lincoln Hwy and Greenfield Rd., Lancaster. Betty taught me how to spin. She says that a punch needle is a faster tool for  “hooking” a rug. I’d like to try it.

2 Flowerpot rug displayed at Hans Herr House

3 Bee skep rug at Hans Herr in pretty Colonial blue

4 Anne uses soft wool cloth to bind the edges on the back of a rug at Hans Herr

5 A work in progress of the same Rufus Porter design at Little Pines

6 Red House - Notice the lighter shades of ground are in the background and darker shades in the foreground – Rufus Porter style. These are the colors I’d like to use.

7 Wool fabric is sold and cut in strips for rug hooking at Little Pines.

8 Yarn can also be used for rug hooking. These skeins are hand dyed.

9 I like Anne’s menagerie beside a big brick house – based on an old quilt design.

10 The same Rufus Porter design with a white clapboard house - a work in progress

11 Anne’s rugs were displayed at Hans Herr. I enjoyed our chat last autumn. Look how neat her stitches are on the back. 


  1. Reminds me of Tasha Tudor, her home and lifestyle: calm, slow, comfortable. My "perfect patio" is as you described - random stepping stones, flagstones, interspersed with herbs and low flowers, the fragrances released as you walk by. To sit out there, in the sun, reading a book...thank you for sharing this quiet moment, a memory - and maybe a goal for when I am "old" (getting there much too quickly).

  2. I enjoyed reading your lovely story...what sweet memories!


  3. I understand fingers that want to fiddle with fibers. I enjoy knitting and sewing. This may seem silly, but here goes: I never have trouble taking my work along to a waiting room, but I usually talk myself out of taking my work with me when we are going to visit friends. Even in my own home, I often feel uncomfortable, about picking up my work unless only close family members are about. I have a friend who knits socks. She keeps a project in her purse to work on as time permits. I am somewhat envious of her brashenss, which really isn't brashness at all! So often I find myself wishing for my handwork when I am away from home. I wonder, when did knitting and other handwork become an oddity in public? I'm making an effort to not fret so much about what others might think and just knit or sew on a button or two... Any thoughts?


  4. Dear Karen,

    Mrs. Mustard sounds like my kind of lady! Someday I'll get my little house in the woods, and invite folks over for ice cream and fiber-fiddling. :)



  5. I find it funny that you referred to Mrs. Mustard as 'old' and on reflection find that she was probably the age you are now. Not old, right?

    One of the things I'm enjoying (and am surprised by) is learning knew skills. For too long I believed the old adage, "you can't teach an old dog new tricks". This old dog is getting trickier by the month! :)

    Always an inspiration here!

    Blessings, Debbie

  6. I have often seen Little Pines, but never stopped in. I am afraid I would become addicted to it, if I did! :)

    I love how things and people in our lives give us vision and direction and add to our "Mother Culture."


  7. That is SO true!

    I've written before about the home I visited as a newlywed with my husband. The young adults were friends of his but he also knew their mother and father well.

    The mother was a fabric artist and I can still remember the feeling that artistic, slightly cluttered home made me feel (cluttered only with works in progress).

    That was about thirty-eight years ago and I've been in homes far more expensive but they have been forgotten and her home always stays with me.

  8. Nice to read your thoughts, Ladies.

    Yes, Mrs. Mustard and Tasha Tudor have some things in common. An illustration in Tasha Tudor's book "The Springs of Joy" pictures children sitting on the stoop of the back door - surrounded by garden flowers - anticipating the ice cream that is inside the barrel ice cream maker.

    Needlework in public is not an impertinence to my way of thinking. One of my friends brings her crochet into the adult Sunday School. Her wooden hook is a polite forethought. In the event that she drops it, no distracting "clink" will be heard.

    I brought a sock to a group meeting. We homeschool moms were listening to a recording in the living room of our hostess. (I put the sock away during the discussion time that followed). One mom, sitting across from me, couldn't keep her eyes off my knitting. She told me later that my it inspired her to expand her skills and keep a yarn bag supplied for when she leaves the house.

    Stitching in public brought to mind another instance of "nerve". In a few instances, I had nursed a baby in a sparely attended public place discretely with a baby blanket handy. I remember when two young girls spied me. (This baby, nursed with wiggly legs.) One girl whispered to the other because I suppose such a thing is as rare as knitting in public. But the car in summer, in Florida, was too sweltering hot a place to nurse.

    Yes, we can pick up a new skill at any age - providing we have a good pair of glasses. (he, he.) Grandma Moses is one such example. Dean's grandfather took up the drums in his retirement and played 40s music in a band for fun.

    I always enjoy our chats,
    Karen A.

  9. Hello Kare,
    You painted a beautiful word picture for us. Thank you.
    Blessings Gail

  10. What a lovely story!
    Seeing pictures of your beautiful home, I almost cannot believe you grew up in a modern house like the one you described. You went for a complete change!

  11. What a lovely post!! What a treasured memory!!! I love to knit in public! ;o) My favourite place to knit is in the Bass Pro Shop comfily ensconced in the camo recliners while hubby and son practice at the range. I have gotten quite a few lovely comments and smiles.

  12. Love this story, Karen! I also pictured Tasha Tudor. I wish I knew how to sew or knit well. I enjoy handiwork like that without much knowledge of how to do it. When I leave the house I always have reading material.

    I hope everyone's keeping warm! :)