Sunday, March 15, 2009

16 March 1955 "Bombs, Peace, and Grandmothers Life"

President Eisenhower declares that the United States would use atomic weapons against military targets in the even of war. "Now in any combat where these things can be used on strictly military purposes, I see no reason why they shouldn't be used just exactly as you would use a bullet or anything else."

Prime Minister Winston Churchill tells the House of Commons that he is working for a big power meeting to ease world tensions. That meeting should now include West Germany, France and the big three. "O still believe that vast and fearsome as the human scene has become, personal contacts of the right people in the right place at the right time might yet have a potent and valuable part to play in the cause of peace which is in all our hearts."
So, today I had planned on having my blog up sooner than this. However, as I had mentioned in previous blogs, there is a new house going one door down. Today, they came to connect their electricity, so they shut off the power for the street for a good hour or so. Thus, in the middle of wash day, and blogging time, I was left powerless. It certainly made me think of my ancestors. And, had I been really my age in 1955 my grandmother could have lived without power. Not only would I not be blogging (no computers in the 1950s) but I would be spending a lot of time hand washing (no electric washers in 1900)

That brings me to this great find! The book of Household Discoveries. It was printed in 1908 (this is the frontice piece) and belonged to some member of my family. Who that was, I do not know. Could have been for a homemaker of the past or for her servant or for the pair of them. It is SO interesting. I feel as if the knowledge in here would be the stories I would hear from my grandmother as she visited me here (in 1955 of course). I would be using my electric washer and dryer and she could regail me with stories of the 'old days'.

There are pages and pages on 'wash day'. To give an example of how one would have to just 'make do' until wash day due to its being so involved, here is a tidbit:
"To dry-clean White Goods.-Small mud stains and a clen white skirt may be concealed until ready for the laundry by pipe clay or painting over with white water-color paint.
Or if a clean white skirt or shirt wasit is spattered or spotted by mud or soot, let it dry, scrape off with a penknife, and rub over the stain with white crayon or school chalk.
Rub with a clean white cloth until the spot disappears."

Better to coneal the stain, it seems, as the act of washing was perhaps rather involved and you certainly did not have a closet full of clothes.

It looks like dry-cleaning in grandmothers time was also a 'do it yourself' job.

"To dry-clean shirt waists-Put 4 quarts of corn meal into a 24-pound flour sack or a pillow slip. Put the waist into this, and rub or knead gently so that the meal will come in contact with all parts of the fabric. Leave it there for a day or two, then shake and dust thoroughly, and press with a hot iron."

I wonder if this actually worked? It would save on your modern dry cleaning bill, I suppose.

So, this would be my grandmother or her servant.
While I enjoyed this luxery. I have to say, as well, that I would love that set of waher and dryer as that is one of my favorite colors. I am sure these are still around and working fine. It would be interesting to see if I could come by an old set like this. I love how you step on the floor and the dryer opens, even my 'modern' dryer does not have that option.

So, there will be more from this book in the future. It could be called :"My Grandmothers Corner" or "The Good Ole Days". Anyway, I am certain as a 1955 woman I would know of many of these things. My own mother would remember some of these things as a child or my grandmother telling them to me.
Again, I like the idea that a 1955 homemaker didn't just land on earth one day:magically be-pearled and be-petticoated in her electric kitchen. She had a history as told by her mother and grandmother and her own childhood in the 1930's would also be ever present in her mind as she went about her day. Opening the 'icebox' and remembering when there really was a block of 'ice' in there (although many middle class families in the 1930s had electric iceboxes, many did not). Or when she sat down with her family to watch Father Knows Best, recall huddling in front of the Radio to listen to 'Little Orphan Annie' or her grandparents regailing over the 'wireless'. If I am going to look back, I am going to keep looking back. As a woman in 1955, I would have this whole segment of American history from the late 1800's to the present day through my families memories as well as my education.

We often think of the good ole days as those that were more natural or green. And, quite often, they were. Yet, this bit about cleaning wood floors from 1908 sounds like a chemical explosion waiting to happen:

"To clean wood floors.-Detergents recommended for cleaning kitchen floors and other coarse and unpainted wookwork are caustic potash and soda lyes, soft soap, sand, lime, chloride of lim, ammonia, kerosene, gasoline, and various mixtures of these."

What a comparison to my fictional grandmothers time and my own fictional 1955 time. Does ease of living breed complacency, boredom and unrest? With more time do we simply fill it with pointless spending and then work to pay the bill? I am not saying I want to trade places with the woman on the floor. Nor, do I want to turn back the clock on womens rights, but it does beg the question, is more and easier always = better life quality? And if we find the answer different for each of us, then living in the modern world we can make the choice of which is better for us personally? Obviously, though, without walking for a moment in our ancestors shoes, how will we know? We cannot see the future, but in living the past for just a moment, is not our present a sort of crystal ball? Can we not look forward while stepping back and think, "Ah, yes, isn't that lovely, aren't we lucky we have this, or Oh, I never realized this or how much I enjoy that."

Those things which seem second nature or normal or just 'the American way', we may find are indeed only modern interpretations of the world. Better to know what and why we think and do what we do. Then, like a futuristic time-travelor, we can speed back to our present with the knowledge of the past. And knowledge is the key to any answer, really.

What is amazing to me, is look how close we actually are to this 'future prediction'. That floor cleaning robot on the lower left could be a roomba. This kitchen looks like it could be duplicated easily from IKEA. And could not that homemaker be any of us sitting at our table with our computer? Eerie, isn't it? It is amazing how far we have come in 100 years. I only hope we can keep and raise up the level of respect and reality there is in being a homemaker. Let us celebrate our past womanhood and revere her life in our own homemaking today. Don't worry if we are trying to 'recreate Leave it to Beaver', but look at what they were trying to portray and take the good in it. The knowledge of the home and the ability to ask why and to manage money, spend wisely, and sustain yourself as much as you can without the aid of 'instant meals, closests of cheap throw away clothes, and mindless spending.'
We can do it.
Happy Homemaking!
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