Monday, February 16, 2009

16 January 1955 "Old Folks, Nursing Homes, Girdles, and Patterns"

February 16 - Nearly 100 die in a fire at a home for the elderly in Yokohama, Japan.

This was appropriate news, as I have been thinking on how we treat and care for our elderly lately, particularly as I have been to a nursing home a few times in the past month.

A 1952 nursing home fire in Hillsboro, Missouri had claimed the life of 20 nursing home residents, and the impact of two major nursing home fires in five years stimulated the Missouri legislature into action. They met the day after the Warrenton fire and immediately introduced a bill to require sprinkler systems in all nursing homes and other institutions in the state.

We were talking the other day, after having visited a nursing home on a few occasions, how odd it is the way we treat the two main aspects of life: Birth and Death. We stick women in hospitals as if they are suffering an illness to do probably the most natural thing. I know, obviously, it makes sense in case something arises. With our aged, we stick them in places very much like hospitals, treating age not with dignity and respect, but with the aniseptic gloves of hospital care. I am not sure when old age became less revered and more feared or tolerated. I do see that with the advances we are gaining in medicine here in 1955 that it is really beginning to be the first time ever that the population of aged or old people is occuring. We, then, our left with what to do with them.

Really, the nuclear family of mother father and children really begins now, in the 1950s. Prior to this it would have been normal to have extended members of the family, grandma, grandpa, old aunt ruth etc living with you. They provided child care and knowledge to youngsters. And they recieved companionship and a feeling of belonging. I am not really sure if it was just the boom in housing after the war which produced so many small houses. This allowed people to get 'out on their own' and not be dependent on their families. But, it is odd how that dependency went from our families to the state and other institutions like mortgages to banks and increased taxes. Maybe the increase of childbirth in the new small houses meant no room for grandma or grandpa or they didn't want to give up the old farm to live in a small suburban box, I don't know. We also have the role of wife and homemaker really being defined now, and the concept of it being shared with an aging parent or grandparent somehow did not fit into the scheme. Maybe it was a subconscious feeling of the old at this stage representing all that they were trying to forget after the war: "The Old Way". I honestly don't know, but you really begin to see the nursing home as hospital take shape now in the 1950s.

The care of the elderly is all tied up with Social Security in this country which began in the 1930's. There were countless changes to Social Security over the years. In 1950 domestic labor, household employees working at least two days a week for the same person were added to the list of those who were eligible and thus had to pay into Social Security. In 1955 an interesting thing happened. This list of those eligible, thus those who had to pay, was added self-employed farmers. They had not been required previously to do so before. This affected one group in particular: the Amish. I think this is a rather interesting story:

"The Amish were faced with a problem, as they thought they should obey the law and pay their taxes and get along with the government and outside world, they saw this tax as violating their religious beliefs and refused to pay. This brough on a clash between them and the IRS (Internal Revenue Service). There was a general outcry form the public regarding this. It culminated in 1961 an IRS agent toon an AMish man's horses after he had refused to pay the tax for some years.
The result of all of this lead to a 1965 waiver granted for self-emplyed persons belong to any religious sect that found the system contrary to their beliefs free to not pay, but interestingly enough by 1989 Kray Bill will make it only sepcific to the Amish as they didn't want any other group to get out of paying the tax.

I really think all of this ties into the concept of how we treat the elderly. I just think that taxes are good sometimes, but when we allow the government to become our nanny and we just throw money at it and wait for it to solve the problems, we often end up giving up more of our individual rights and freedoms. I think this leads to a loss of alot of what people like me are finding we long for, the 'old way of life', which is really just a time in which we respected old people, didn't revere youth, were couteous and kind and cared for our families. I don't want to sound preachy, but it seems that here in 1955 I keep seeing our trying to make a new world of happy family life and kindness to others after the hate and destruction of war, and yet we are really beginning the processes that ultimately sacriface what we care for and are working to preserve.
On a lighter note on this subject, our trip yesterday to the nursing home was at first sombre and meloncholy. One can only imagine the sadness in such places, if you have not been.

As we walked down the corridor, which had to be reached through a series of doors with codes you have to punch into little pads of numbers (not unlike a prison, perhaps) we were greeted with endless rooms with old people in various stages of neglect. Their aniseptic rooms and beds I am sure where germ free, but what a cold unfeeling place to exist. As we passed one door, a woman laid half-uncovered, straining to get out of her bed, her thin bare leg dangling sadly from the side. "Help me, Someone help me!" She cried out. I kid you not, that was her only plea. The few workers we saw in the hall ignored her and we too, looking in, realized what could we really do. We had to pass on. I felt so inhuman at that moment.

As our visit continued, once we were seated in a large aniseptic room rimmed with the aged and sad, we tried our best to lighten the mood. I tell you that a smile on a face in such a setting is like the explosion of your heart, it gives one the feeling of a thousand christmas mornings all in one. To see any happiness in that setting is such a contrast.

So, my hubby and my friend (Gussie though she was not Gussie at that moment) are sitting with me trying to make smiles in such a setting. We started singing old songs, which we have come to know so well in the past two months, and others would join in. So, in the midst of the sadness, laughter always seems to help. It is that moment of human foilble that makes us smile and forget ourselves. Here is what happened. Now, I was dressed rather smartly. I had on a fitted wool jacket over a vintage white thin sweater, neck scarf, matching tweed skirt. It was a straighter skirt, so I did not have on my usual crinolin. I was also wearing a new open bottom girdle I had just got and really like. It was a little shorter than usual. In my fevered preparations of the morning, I had forgot to put on my full slip. I am not sure how many of you have worn an open bottom girdle and stockings, but it is like wearing a tight little skirt under your clothes. As I was sitting my skirt, as it had no slip to protect it, had slid up under the bottom of my girdle. When I stood to use the restroom, I turned and walked a bit, feeling proud of my chic attire, when I realized the back of my skirt felt odd, a bit bucnhy. I turned, caught Gussie/friend's eye and quickly tugged at the back. I am certain I looked hilarious or comical. Gussie/Friend's eye twinkled and those around me smiled. After the first flush of embarrasment, I had to laugh. We all ended up laughing and discussing the foibles of girdles an such. It was such a human moment. In the midst of sadness and even our own feelings of immortality, which such a place certainly elicits, we laughed. It made us realize, we are all on this same ride together. Happy or sad, health or illness, sometimes all you can do is laugh. And laugh we did.

When I came home I crashed and my hubby put me to bed. He brought me tea and managed dinner for himself, as I couldn't think of eating.

I have found out, yesterday and today, how important a housewives role really is. I have been ill this past week, but had managed to really just feel run down but not actually get as sick as my hubby. That changed yesterday when I awoke feeling miserable, sore throat, hard to speak and exhausted. We had already made important family plans that really could not be broken (that involved the nursing home I mentioned earliers) so I had to get up and get ready.
At first I dreaded my girdle and stockings etc and wanted to just stay in my nightgown in bed. But, I do have to say after making myself get up as I knew it was important for me to go, I felt better. I think I paid for it later in the afternoon when we got home. But, I sat at my vanity, fastened my stockings, put on my face, adjusted my hat etc and by the end of it I felt good enough to go out into the world. I really felt for my pre 1950's self, where I would not have thought of myself but for the country and the men fighting over there. It is good to care and think of yourself, but sometimes you have to just pull yourself up, brush yourself off and get going.

So, today I awoke feeling equally as bad and began to get up, as I usually do, to prepare breakfast and get lunch together etc. This is when I would really enjoy Gussie being a full time live in person, but no such luck. As was probably the case with most 1955 housewives, I had to face it myself. My husband insisted I stay in bed, so I tried, but as I heard him getting ready and such, I just couldn't rest. I thought, really I need to go to work today. And that is the thing with being a housewife, you are always AT work. You live and dwell withing your work environment, so I got up, against my husbands protests, and made us bacon and eggs, packed his lunch and honestly the smell of the coffee helped to perk me up. Then he left for work.
Here I am now, alone. There is no one to bring hot tea and soup to the housewife. I could go to bed, but I have no Gussie to ring for, so I would sit there alone waiting for my tea and soup forever. Today is also wash day, and the hampers are full of clothes awaiting me. The kitchen is littered with my ill-attempts at breakfast. I am proud of myself, as I did not even think of using the microwave. I did notice that my husband was thoughtful enough to load up the 'new' dishwasher last night, but when I reached to get clean dishes for breakfast he had forgot to turn it on. Another moment where I realize how much I really do do to keep this house running throughout the day.
When I, the captain and crew of this ship, falls ill, the whole place goes to pot. Again, I have no one to turn to. I could, as would most likely normally do, just leave everything until I feel better, but honestly, my husband goes to work when he is ill unless he cannot stand. I can stand. This house is my work. It is my career. I don't feel like I can go on and on about how I am finding homemaking to be a career and then at the first sign of not feeling well, throw in the towel. I need to do as much as I can and I will feel better when I rest later, knowing the kitchen is clean the laundry is in progress and dinner is ready to pop in the oven. I owe it to myself, the house, my husband, and all the homemakers who have gone before me to buckle down and get to it. Get the job done!

As I have said before, it is funny how quickly routine becomes natural. Here it is not even two full months into this project, and I do feel like I really NEED to make sure dinner is planned, laundry is done, rooms are clean, beds made. I feel, probably more than I have before, that I have taken on this challenge and need to see it through. I am also scheduled to go to tea this afternoon with some friends who are leaving to return home to another state. I need to just focus on not letting others down and get through it. I have nothing on tomorrow, excpet ironing and basic cleaning, so I will rest up then.

On the subject of homemaking here are some great little tips from my latest homemakers manual. I think they are little gems:

For better flavor add a pinch of salt to coffee as it is being brewed.

Rinse a pan in cold water before scalding milke to prevent sticking.

A cake which sticks to the pan may be loosened by placing the tin over a bowl of boiling water (this works wonders, as I have tried it!)

If bacon moulds, sponge witha a clean cloth dipped in vinegar (this was probably a leftover from the meaner times of the war when everything had to be saved)

If lemons are put in the oven a few minutes before they are squeezed. more juice will be obtained from them.

After frosting cakes, dip a knife in hot water and smooth over the frosting to make it glossy (this also works nicely, as I have done this as well!)

Now, onto the sewing room:

I just recieved 6 yards of this wonderful vintage dress fabric. The scan does it little justice, as it is a lovely brownish gray, which is not showing up, but the little designs are threaded into is and raised. I want to make a full skirted dress with short sleeves to wear all seasons, as it would look pretty with a cardigan in cold weather, or good in summer with sandals.

I really needed some good serviceble skirt patterns. These are two 'new' patterns I just recieved. They are actual vintage patterns, so I will have to be careful measuring and making sure that I plot out my actual size compared to the size of clothes then. They are both from 58, so I know that's not quite right, but I can just make the skirts a little longer and they will be appropriate. I love the little kick pleat on the gray tweed skirt. And the Vogue skirt looks a dream to make, it looks rather simple, actully. I think using a quilted fabric edged in bias tape would really look nice with this pattern. What do you think?
Well, I need to get back to work. Laundry to do. I need to give myself time to set my hair and pick out my clothes for tea this afternoon. A housewifes day is a busy one.
Until tomorrow...
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