Off the Bookshelf: Walnut-Stained Hands

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Short excerpts from long reads

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"Thoroughfares like Main Street had a gravel surface, but roads in general were dirt. Between spring and summer, they sometimes went from liquid to gas with barely a pause at solid. In August the dust on some roads might be so deep you couldn't ride a bicycle. Dust rode up wagonwheel spokes and then fell in showers like water off a paddlewheel. In town, roads were oiled or were sprinkled regularly by a water wagon. Because all laundry dried outside, housewives hated dust. They got up extra early on Monday to see who would be the first to get her washing on the line. It was considered improper to hang dark clothes and light clothes together. In winter, ice and wind were another problem; clothes wore faster when they froze and flapped on the line.

"When people got together, they often played whist or cribbage. Some had their own personal cribbage boards. On Sundays they went to church and then came home and had a big dinner and sat quietly the rest of the day, and the made the children sit, too. Some didn't even allow reading, except of the Bible, on the Sabbath... Kids who grew up in Norwalk around that time later said they'd had a ball. Three ring circuses came to the playing fields on Milan Avenue north of town once or twice a year. There were picnics, and excursions up to the lake on the electric railway, and parades on Decoration Day and the Fourth Of July. Boys and girls picked black raspberries along the roadside and climbed apple trees for eating apples. In the fall they went into the woods and brought back gunny sacks full of butternuts, hickory nuts, an black walnuts. During husking, the walnuts stained their hands a golden brown that wouldn't fade until late winter." ~ from Family by Ian Frazier

Image by Flickr user Balthazira  


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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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