Wednesday, March 11, 2009

11 March 1955 "Penicillin, Painting, Workday Blahs, and Gardening for Victory"

11 March 1955- Sir Alexander Fleming, the man who discovered penicillin, dies. Sir Alexander Fleming was a Scottish biologist and pharmacologist. Fleming's accidental discovery and isolation of penicillin in September 1928 marks the start of modern antibiotics.

I just like this painting by the Australian artist John Brack, and this piece is from 1955. Although it depicts a busy street in Melbourne, I feel it could be New York or Boston or any of the American cities in post war times. The march of corporate worker is beginning. It is interesting that we lead ourselves into a sort of mindless hive mentality in the work environment but in personal or community life, we became obsessed with the me. Which, I guess, really makes sense. Slowly becoming part of a corporate world where all things begin being watered down and there are Walmart Starbux etc and endless cold grey office buildins, you will want to retreat to just yourself in your free time. I hope a move towards smaller business and community really is on the rise, because with that I am certain we will see the Me generations change to the We generations. (I know this is a modern hope, but I almost wonder if we wouldn't all be better if the government did let all the large corporations and banks fail. Why should we save GM? Why not let them go and let our country rebuild based on small local productivity?)

Now, I know this is not specifically 1950s, but this robot made by an MIT student is based upon the movements of 2-D Disney Cartoons of the 1950s. I felt it was worth a look as it is another odd way in which the 1950s has touched the 'modern world'.

Although in 1955 I would not be considered a new nor a young homemaker, because I am only two and half months into this experiment, I do think I have some of that new homemaker emotion. At least I feel the excitement and rush of all that lay before me. I sometimes feel a bit like I get to play house on a large scale. So, with that, I believe I feel those "new homemaker" ups and downs. Sometimes I move about with the determination of a seasoned homemaking vet, lists checked off, Kirby attachements thrown over my back as I rush up and down the stairs, dust bunnies recoiling at the sight of me. Then there are those other days...

With any job, especially one started with such anticipation and hope, there has to be some slump. Yesterday I felt a sort of slump. It was not sadness nor disillusion, just that sort blah. I had that "Oh well, I guess I better get to work", sort of mentality. Those are the days when I know this IS a job. When the alarm rang at 7:00 I wanted to hit snooze, only my vintage electric alram clock (in lovely early american styling with light up dial!) has no snooze. I had that type of day I am sure many office people have when they are just going through the motions. I got my work done by the end of the day, but only just what needed to be done. Just...
The ironing got moved to today. The floors got a quick sweep, but the Kirby sat idle and waiting in the cleaning closet. Dinner was made, nice fried chicken and even home-made cut french fries and greenbeans. But, no new cake, as planned. Luckily a 1955 Homemaker always has a backup, so it was a repeat of the previous nights dessert, Brownies with coconut and icecream.
I even forget to run out and do some quick marketing, which left my poor hubby (and me!) without a fresh pot of coffee. We had to have tea. I am sure to any non-U.S. readers this would seem no problem, but you must understand the importance of the American and his morning pot of coffee. It is almost a patriotic duty to have that smell, the aroma and the thick black heavenly brew before you can start your day. I adore tea, don't get me wrong. It is, in fact, what I drink for the remainder of the day. I look forward to that pot and some cookies (biscuits) in the afternoon when I get a few moments to peruse my magazines and research materials, but in the morning, it has GOT to be coffee. And, today, it wasn't. Even my hubby's thermos contains tea today, again almost a sacriliedge to we americans. Maybe even more so for we Bostonians, as there was that incident in the past when we sort misplaced all those cartons of English Tea in Boston Harbor. Ooops!
Anyway, it was one of those days.

But, it was a sunny day. S,o I made my 'schedule' in my Homemakers Housekeeping journal for the coming spring for the gardens. However, after talking to a friend on the phone and hearing she had already put in her peas and lettuce I felt my balloon again deflate. "Behind, before I even started!" It really was one of those days.
So, I stood there: dunagarees, hubbys old plaid wool shirt tied jauntily at my waist, work gloves and wellies, and stared at my vegetable garden. I have two 8 x 8 raised beds for veg. They need to be turned over and some mulch added for the season. Around these are the weeds and things that didn't get taken care of last season (Remember, I wasn't a 1955 conscientious homemaker then! Just a lazy modern girl whose ideas of liberation somehow involved slovenly behavior, apparently). I began to think, "Here I am in 1955, am I going to get lazy?"

Then, it hit me. Yes ,today I am lazy in my attempts to keep going with what I want to do each day for this project as well as my life.

This lead me to ponder, did a 1955 woman my age wonder this as well? She would have lived through the war. I would have been old enough to have to play a big part on the homefront. Our Victory Garden, rather it was city or country, would have been important to us. There was no time for laziness or self-pity during the war. Yet, in my quiet easy suburban existence, would I have moments like this? Moments where I was tired and thought, 'Oh, well, I will just leave those clothes in the dryer and iron tomorrow" and then be struck by the memory of only 10 years earlier when I had no dryer and working a garden meant having extra food to aid the rations?

During the 1950's when we all wanted to 'get back to life', the victory garden certainly began to ebb. The cabbage patches where grandmother's roses once grew, could become roses once again. All the spare ground that had been given over to any kind of food production, slowly became lush green lawns and annual flower patches. Pansies and roses replaced peas and carrots. I am sure if there were a timelapse movie from the end of the war to the 21st century it would be interesting to see the slow decline in anything practical being grown to purely ornamental to acres of grass. It is a sad side affect that in the desire to forget about the war and to make a lovely little safe home, free from outside harm, gradually turned into another form of consumerism.

Even the farmers changed from small family farms to large production. The new era of big business and corporations has begun.

"In 1950 the farm population of 23 million stood at slightly more than 15 percent of the total population. Ten years later only 15.6 million farmers remained, constituting 8.7 percent of the total population. The American farmers of the 1950s did not necessarily resemble the gentleman farmers of Thomas Jefferson's day: they had become specialized and mechanized "agri-businessmen."

The need for large perfectly weed free green lawns gave us pessticides, more gas to run the mowing machines, more machines to cut the lawn, more things to buy to keep the lawn unnaturally green etc etc. It is really telling how every part of our modern day homefront has been permeated by the change in our socitey from an agricultural/urban socitey to a suburban/comsumerist society.

Now, I want pretty flowers and I also want to supply my table and larder as much as I can with my plot of land. I honestly feel, for my age in 1955, the war would be vivid enough in my brain to encourage me to keep "some of those cabbage amonst the roses", sort of speak.

In fact, the idea of Victory Gardens are having a come back in 2009. With the constant threat of global warming, concern about our carbon footprint, and the increasing costs down the road, many are looking at the big green lawn and invisioning some small crops there.

"Today our food travels an average of 1500 miles from farm to table. The process of planting, fertilizing, processing, packaging, and transporting our food uses a great deal of energy and contributes to the cause of global warming.
Planting a Victory Garden to fight global warming would reduce the amount of pollution your food contibutes to global warming. Instead of traveling many miles from farm to table, your food would travel from your own garden to your table.
Our current economic situation is other good reason to start a Victory Garden. Every time that food is shipped from the farm to the store and your table, gasoline is used. As gasoline prices rise, food costs rise. "

The site I found that information offers this advice:

I have no backyard, what can I do?
You can combine vegetable plants with flowers in your frontyard.
You can plant containers on your porch, patio, or balcony and can grow sprouts indoors.
Check to see if you have a community garden available.
Perhaps a neighbor or friend without time or ability would let you garden their yard, in exchange for some produce.
If these options are not available, you can also choose to purchase foods which are grown close to home by visiting your local farmer’s market or joining a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). If local foods are not available to you, choose foods which use fewer chemical pesticides - such as organics, are in season, or have minimal packaging.

What is nice about these examples is they definitely all have a very 'vintage feel'. The idea of community garden (I joined our local community garden last year, so I can buy what I cannot grow in my own yard there, support the community, meet my neighbors and support the reduction in the use of pesticides.) It might not be exactly purely 1955, but I really do belive people my age and older in 1955 would keep the memory of food shortage and the Victory Garden to heart.

This really does demonstrate a movement towards the past. It is another example of people looking towards a vintage lifestyle not only as a way to wear darling outfits, but as a way to get back the idea of family, community, AND the earth! It is these types of ideas and concepts that really encourage me to not only go ahead with my project but to really think that the vintage ideal can really be a life movement.

I want to take all the aspects we love of the 1950's, the way they wanted to make the world new and wonderful, but learn from all the mistakes we made from the 60's until now. Now, we have the benefit and knowledge of all that time before us. I say, leave the future to science and human rights, those both need to always advance, but culture in the home and community, maybe we really do need to take a step backwards so that our future will be something we can be proud of. And there is a certain amount of responsibility when you try to 'live up to' the past, when the future has an almost no accountabiltiy to it.

How much, I wonder, did war time memory provide the guilt and then the impetus to continue on with the 1950s homemaking lifestyle. Certainly, knowing what one had to go through to get to the 1950s and all the loss and strife that lead up to it, helped the homemaker to keep going. So, if we chose to make the world many of us long for with a sort of non-present nostalgia, we can use that same impetus. We can look back at the world wars and use them for our guide to betterment.
This also demonstrates how subsequent generations, without having to lose so much, did not appreciate what they have and are becoming almost like Rome at its decline. Bloated, lazy slovenly spoiled nations with no hardships.
Of course, I do not want a war or hardships per se (though we do have a war and our on the brink of a great financial woe) but let's face it, it is not 1940s. Yet, if we can feel a collective longing for a time in which most of us did not live, then certainly we can look back to their struggles, compare them to our day and think, "I had better get up off the sofa and get to work. Be thankful for that full pantry and make some wonderful meals and desserts. Be glad I can, for pleasure and to help the budget, go out and plant and harvest and do some canning and preserving or support my local farm for the same reason. Of course I can go buy anything I want at the store, but what if it were gone?"
Maybe with a mixture of the guilt of global warming and keeping the memories of the wars in our minds, we can move into a new world designed after the elements we find endearing in the old world. What do you think?

Now, needless to say, these thoughts did get me going for the rest of the day, but I had still lost a good portion of the morning to mopey tired bored 'day at work' syndrome. The good thing about this job, however, is I am allowed the time to contemplate my situation, evlauate it and move on. Today, after all, is another day and I am determined to get back to the routine, although I now have ironing to catch up on!
Happy Homemaking!
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