Suds in Your Eye, by Mary Lasswell

October 10th, 2009

Suds in Your Eye is about as substantial as the head on a freshly-poured beer but a lot more fun.

Cover of first U.S. edition of 'Suds in Your Eye'><a href=Suds tells the story of three older women (and an older man referred to only as “the Old Timer”) who come together to scrape through some lean times during the Second World War. Mrs. Feely lives in a rickety old house known as “Noah’s Ark,” which sits in the middle of the junk yard left her by her husband. Her primary contribution since his passing has been to erect a fence of concrete and old beer cans, and she spends most of her days emptying more of the latter.

She soon invites Miss Tinkham, a piano teacher too poor to keep up with the inflationary rents of wartime San Diego, and Mrs. Rasmussen, another widow, who’s been reduced to squatting in her daughter’s apartment, to join her, and the rest of the book is about how the three pull together and overcome a series of hardships.

Mrs. Feely finds out that her lawyer has been pocketing her property tax payments for years and her house is about to be auctioned off by the county. After a fretful night, they spring into action. Mrs. Feely begins selling her junk to builders slapping together new housing; Miss Tinkham creates leis from the flowers around the house and sells them to sailors on liberty; Mrs. Rasmussen finds out where to get meat scraps and day-old bread and vegetables, out of which she fixes delicious-sounding meals. The three of them get jobs in a tuna-canning plant. And in between, they sing songs, make wisecracks, and drink beer.

Beer plays a prominent role in this book, which is one of its more refreshing aspects. Lasswell definitely believed that life took on a softer, gentler glow after a cold one or two. Every few pages one or other of the characters is walking into the house with a fresh case. The book is also sprinkled with illustrations by the wonderful George Price, who was a master at sketching slightly off-balance characters like the three old ladies in Suds.

Mary Lasswell was a Scots-Texan who started writing while waiting ashore for her first husband, an ensign in the U. S. Navy. The success of Suds led to a whole series about the travels and adventures of Mrs. Feely, Miss Tinkham, and Mrs. Rasmussen: High Time (1944); One on the House (1949); Wait for the Wagon (1951); Tooner Schooner (1953); and Let’s Go For Broke (1962). Lasswell continued to write stories about them, publishing a few in the AARP magazine in the 1970s and 1908s. She also published two cookbooks inspired by the many fine meals whipped up in the books: Mrs. Rasmussen’s Book of One-Arm Cookery (1946) and a reissue with more recipes, Mrs. Rasmussen’s Book of One-Arm Cookery with Second Helpings (1970). “One-arm cookery” means, of course, stirring the pot with one hand and a beer in the other.

Suds is a goofy but warm-hearted comedy of the sort that was very popular in the 1940s. Like Leo Rosten’s The Education of H*Y*M*A*N K*A*P*L*A*N and Betty McDonald’s The Egg and I, it’ll give you a few chuckles (even sixty years later) and leave you feeling good about mankind. There are worse ways to spend a couple of hours.


Suds in Your Eye, by Mary Lasswell
New York City: Houghton-Mifflin, 1942

10 Responses to “Suds in Your Eye, by Mary Lasswell”

  1. bybee Says:

    Thanks for reviewing this book. I hope to find it.

  2. Nancy Drew Says:

    Mary Lasswell is one of my favorite authors. Her eccentric older ladies are great fun. I have been reading and rereading her books since the 1970′s when I first found them. I even own her cookbook from 1946, Mrs. Rasmussen’s Book of One Armed Cookery. I have only talked to one other person who knew about her.
    I was standing in front of the meat counter at my local store and there was a great sale on Spare Ribs. I said, out loud, “I wonder what Mrs. Rasmussen would do with these?” The slightly older lady next to me turned and said “Do you know about Mrs. Rasmussen?” That started a friendship of over 20 years.
    If you ever find one of her books I highly recommend them. My favorites are the first four. Suds in your Eye, High Time, One on the House and Wait for the Wagon. Her cookbook is great too.

  3. Shari V Says:

    I love Mary Lasswell’s books. I have read Suds In Your Eye and am currently reading One On The House. I hope to find more of her books soon at library sales, yard sales, etc.

  4. Laura Bird Says:

    I discovered Mary Lasswell’s books in the 70′s at our local library when I was a teenager. I love those old ladies and their friends. I now own all of Mary Lasswell’s books and am currently rereading them in order. I do this about every three years and am still not tired of the stories. I only wish she would have written more!

  5. tsi Says:

    Out of ashes come beauty. Dad, a WWII vet was pleasantly surprised to see me reading them when I was about 12. He started reading her stuff when stationed in the Marianna Islands. It was a shock when the local libraries sold off the copies but couldn’t get new ones. I long wondered why, but saw too many dependent on government and not self-reliant. Ms Lasswell was a mentor, be she blessed, though I’m not much of a drinker :)

  6. editor Says:

    That’s nice to hear. I sent a copy to my mom last year and it soon was making the rounds throughout her retirement home. I’ve since bought the rest of the series and she’s now got a mini-lending library service going. It’s definitely in the spirit of their generation.

  7. D Pollock Says:

    Yeup ! My mother loaned me Suds back in 1961 and since then I have read them all several times.
    Every few years I go back and visit my old friends at the Ark and their later abodes. ” Her’s to all that wish us well and those who don’t can go to ****.”

  8. DPollock Says:

    That is ” Here’s to all ” (above) I also liked “Here’s to the Japanese Navy. Bottoms Up”

  9. J. Storms Says:

    I grew up watching my mother read and laugh with all of Mary Lasswell’s books in the series of the wonderful little old ladies. Later, I read them and enjoyed them. My mother was a big fan of Mary Lasswell, and through the years they became great friends, corresponding for many years. On my mother’s 80th birthday, Mary was invited to her birthday party. Unable to attend, Mary sent my mother her last unpublished novel, which she cherished. My mother has since also died. I still have this manuscript, signed and dedicated to my mother. I wish I had a better place for it than sitting on my bookshelf.

  10. editor Says:

    Thanks for your comments. I can only hope that some smart publisher’s agent recognizes what a treasure you have and LEAPS to get a look at it!

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