Apparently, we have two very hip commodes in our house.
One is powder blue, the other a sunny yellow. Late ‘60s or early-70s vintage, they are – original equipment. This heavy-duty plumbing is “coming back,” as they say. You know you’re of a certain age when many of the things you’ve owned for years are “coming back.” Only, for you, they never went away, despite all hopes that they would.
But these toilets do fit their surroundings. The yellow has a matching American Standard lavatory, and the blue one has a matching sink and tub. All have original plumbing fixtures! To replace any part of this porcelain tapestry with a sleek, new, 1.6-gallon-flush model would be anachronistic sacrilege akin to placing an iPhone and a Starbuck’s mocha latte into the callused hands of the American Gothic couple.
These color schemes apparently are very popular in the W.C. right now. Purveyors of antique home decor scour e-Bay and set up RSS feeds to alert them every time one comes up for grabs in the virtual marketplace. I guess they’re fetching thousands and thousands of dollars in cut-throat, down-to-the-second online auctions.
If these commodes (much more fun to say than “toilet”) at our place didn’t have the faithful “American Standard” branded on their bowls, I might pull them, bust them with a 14-pound sledgehammer, have fun doing it, and pitch them straight in the landfill.
But I suffer from a disorder that does not permit me to get rid of things that still work, even if they may appear ugly and out-of-date to Society at Large. This tendency may have come from my grandmother, who helped raise me. When Wall Street fell in ’29, she was 8 years old, just surviving on the family farm off Chapel Route in Braxton County. Her Depression idea-era ideas about thrift and making do must have imprinted themselves on my young brain.
When this house was built, you could buy solid American goods made in America. Just about every town had manufacturing plants that employed people. These items were built to last, and they have lasted. And it will be a sad day when I can no longer obtain the hardware required to maintain them. The replacements will not be of comparable durability.
So I doctor these ol’ crappers along – replace a seal here, a flapper there, a valve or two, strip off some lime and calcium build-up with borax and vinegar – knowing full well they don’t possess any redeeming qualities whatsoever to others. But to me, they have all that really counts; they really take care of business, if you know what I mean.
Atop each low-slung, heavy bowl sits a tank that holds about five gallons of water. Why, in the event of some unforeseen failure of our public utilities, we store enough water on the backs of these beasts to survive well into the 2020s.
There are many tricks to the trade of maintaining the shiny bits and too-often crusty surfaces of vintage plumbing fixtures and porcelain. Most people give up and start ripping things out before they discover you can soften just about any crust by draping it in rags or paper towels drenched in white distilled vinegar. Let those work their magic for about 40 minutes, and the uglies just wipe away.
Did I mention our kitchen range is a “Product of General Motors U.S.A.”? This harvest gold appliance has more chrome and stainless steel than the Blue White Grill back in 1955 …
– Daniel Friend, a former
Eastern Panhandle reporter and editor, now teaches high school students outside Winchester, Va.