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