Saturday, February 21, 2009

21 & 22 February 1955 "Servants and Sewing"

21 February 1955: A Coy Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry (DCLI), who arrived in Bermuda in 1954, paraded for HRH Princess Margaret in Hamilton.

22 February 1955 :British aircraft carrier Ark Royal sets sail. The new aircraft carrier was part of the new "Audacious class" aircraft carrier and were a class of ship proposed by the British government in the 1930s - 1940s. The Audacious class was originally designed as an expansion of the Implacable class with double storied hangars. However, it was realised that the hangar height would not be sufficient for the new aircraft that were expected to enter service, so the design was considerably enlarged and commissoned now in 1955.

In the New York Tims of 22 February 1955 there is an article on the inadequate car for the sick and aged. It discusses the problems of the 'senile' (which of course we know today to have dimentia or alzheimers). It looks as if most nursing homes and facilities were reluctant to take them. Again, much as today, the middle class seem to be the most affected. The article states:

"Wealthy families can hire companions or nurses and keep the patient at home...If the family is supported by welfare funds, or demostrably unable to pay for the care of teh senile relative public agencies will assume all or part of the burden...The average, self-supporting, middle-income family, however, finds it virtually impossible in New York City to solve the problem of long-term custodial care for a senile relative in a way commensurate with its pride and self-respect...Fees at a nursing home (if they are willing to take the patient) fees will be at least $150 a month for bed, board and nursing care alone. Medical care when needed will be billed separately."

So, for a middle class family that cost would be equivalent to $1, 187.00 today. I do know, however, that here in New England (2009) that cost is around $6000.00 a month. Both of these cost factors whether 1950s or now show what a heavy burden on the middle class. It is unfortunate, as the family may show that they have the money to pay, it wouldn't account for possible children to put through college, or the mere fact of needing their own nest egg. I am not sure why it always seems, since the Great Depression in this country, the heaviest tax burden and cost seems to always fall on the middle class. Very sad and unfortunate.

This was a rather nice Sunday morning as I had Gussie in. While she was working away in the kitchen, I was at the sewing machine. She was humming away in the kitchen, the clang and clatter of the pans mingled with Ruth Brown on the 'radio'. I had my sewing machine whirring and clattering along; fabric and pattern pieces spread out on the Dinning room table. (My sewing room is not even close to being usuable.) The dogs wandered in and out of the two rooms wondering who was most likely to drop a scrap of food. Hubby was slumbering away in bed, his day to sleep in. The sound of my small industry, the song of Ruth Brown, the smell of coffee and sausage all of it seemed rather normal to me. I had to stop and think, "Two months ago this would not really be happening."
Now it seems normal of a Sunday to have a large breakfast set before us by Gussie followed by her turning back into our friend and having a nice conversational breakfast. After breakfast we all help 'Gussie' clear the table and then hubby is off to his study and I to my sitting room.
Now, the cacophony of sounds include the rain, Doris Day and the random high-pitch squeal that the ole' Kirby as Gussie cleans. The Kirby will call out sometimes with a great ear-splitting squeal, as if it is giving out its great YELP to the heavens; calling to any old unloved vacuums to awaken from their slumber. It is funny to hear the normal jet engine noise of the Kirby punctuated by this screech followed by Gussies, "Oh my goodness, this thing is loud!"
Our relationship with Gussie as a servant is an interesting aspect I would love to study more. Gussie and I joke around and help each other out. Now, it is true that Gussie is actually my friend (so we are comfortable with one another)but I think had I a real Gussie in 1955 she would most likely have been with us since my marriage. She would have probably been released during the war time for war work ( I am including a funny article about this from my 1944 magazine) However, I am certain she would have returned with the wars end. I think the laughter we have while she is cooking up breakfast and I try on my half finished dress to get her approval would have happened. Also, as a middle class woman I would have helped her with meals and cleaning. She would not have been a servant in the upper class since of the world. I would not ring bells for her to come and 'wait on me'. A sort of commaraderie between the maid and the housewife would have been the norm I think. It is too bad this no longer exists, as my friend has stated that she wished what she did with and for us was her actual job, as she likes it. I am certain there would be people out there who would have been happy to live in and help out a wife and in a sense be a part of their family. A relationship one would not normally have with their boss and it would result in a friendly excahange. I think as with all things of the past, most people want to deem it bad. As if it no longer exists it must be a bad thing. When, really, I think there must have been many happy 'Gussies' who enjoyed their family, and got much satisfaction (as do I) from a clean kitchen and a nice meal. She would have recieved gifts on birthdays and chirstmas, and been, all around, another memeber of the family. This relationship between the middle class and their 'servant' would be an interesting project in and of itself.

It appears that the middle class servant was often the 'boss' of the house, yeilding a power over the family members in an almost reversal of boss/employee position. Probably not unlike a bossy great aunt or some similiar relative. She is responsible for the cleanliness and running of the house WITH the housewife and won't stand for any nonsense from the husband or the children. I love the little 'song' the husband sings in this story from my 1944 House Beautiful about their Maid, Gertie:

Gertie's gone to war,
And that's the final straw.
She ran the joint,
And here's the point-
Her word's no longer law!

Now, onto my sewing: Contrary to what I think some of my readers think, I have not really been much of a seamstress before. I have made a dress here and there in the past but with no regularity or feverent need as I do now. I have never had an official class to learn how to sew nor had I anyone (including my mother) to show me how to do it. At university in my early twenties I found my vintage machine I now have and managed a few things here and there, but it has been some time since I have really sewn. So, now I am slowly learning to address the patterns and their strange language much the way I am becoming increasingly familiar with the language of the cook book.This was one of the exciting bits, as with the cooking/baking, that I was looking forward to accomplish from this years project.
I think a woman of my class in the 1950s would have sewn. I am sure I would, as I do now, have had 'store bought' things here and there. I have my new fur coat. I would most likely have a few nice suits and some evening clothes I would buy on a shopping trip to the city, but to get a stylish wardrobe while not being wealthy, sewing would have been rather necessary. So, I am trying to become acquainted with it. Here I am again, faced with cram sessions on things of which a true 1955 housewife would most likely have had experience. I mean if not learning from a relative I would have had Home Ec in high school and most likely University level as well.

So, I think I will start documenting my progress more to share with all of you. Here is the pattern I am using now to make a dress. I am starting with the red number as its sleevless scooped neck top seems the simplest for me to get a handle on. I think if it turns out well, it can be a very good all around base pattern for me to add to here and there as my skill increases.

Here is the fabric I am using. It is not vintage (as I have ordered some vintage fabric but do not want to cut it up until I get better at my sewing). I think it has a pretty vintage feel, however. It is a simple cotton.

Here is how far I am as of this morning. ( Gussie took the pic for me and believe you me you would be glad I cut off my head in the pic, curlers no makeup does not make for a fun vintage photo!) You can see the top is not finished. I have not lined it but am going to instead pipe the neck and sleeves with bias tape. The bottom is also not yet hemmed. I am also holding it on myself as the zipper is not installed yet. These things will happen today.
I am using a vintage zipper, however. My vintage friend gave me this one! Don't you love the images on the back of the women. I am not sure exactly the date of this zipper but you can see from the clothing on the women on the back it looks at least late 1950's. I am going to attempt to make many of my future clothes ( as my skill increases) with vintage fabric and notions, so even if they are not actually vintage per se, they at least are made as vintage as possible.

Today's Sunday bake is going to be a pie. I think this one sounds rather yummy. I will post a pic and let you know how it turned.

I like that this pie breaks the class barrior as it "the choice of males whether they work in the office or the out of doors". A very diplomatic and delicious pie. And if you do not want to make your own crust I am certain this would be lovely in a premade frozen crust. Or, better yet, why not make your own crust in bulk and freeze a few for that busy day when hubby calls and an important client is to come to dinner, or unexpected guests drop by!
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