Monday, May 11, 2009

11 May 1955 “A little News and A Big Answer to a Question.”

The Japanese ferry Shiun Maru sinks off of Takamatsu, Shikoku; 168 are killed.

The Siun Maru was a Japanese National Railway (JNR) ferry that sank in the Seto Inland Sea after colliding with another JNR ferry, the Uko Maru, in thick fog on 11 May 1955. A lack of radar onboard contributed to the accident. Many school children were among the 160 people killed. The sinking of the Siun Maru encouraged the Japanese government to go ahead with the Honshu-Shikoku bridge project, the longest suspension bridge in the world. [I wonder if hearing of such a tragedy began the healing between Japan and the states. I have a few articles about how the Japanese were perceived post war in the USA. If I can find it, I have a lovely article about a GI who married a Japanese woman and how she was well received in her neighborhood and how her neighbors would be included in a tea ceremony she would sometimes have. It was very sweet and showed that the 1950s' as many want us to believe, was not, in fact, only a time of severe racism. In fact, having had been in Europe and fighting beside many varieties of people, probably played a major role in American perceptions of one another.]

revenge of the creature poster This movie was released today. Again, though the modern me was always fascinated by 1950s horror movies, the 1955 me, most likely would not go. I think it was more for children on Saturdays and Teens, but I might be wrong. Any of you old enough to know of these movies, correct me or give us your take and info. Who was the audience for these movies? I suppose many adults would be into it.

I think, the rise of this type of movie, much as horror films current increase in production, is an example in part of a society trying to forget the fear of the real world and to have the ‘bad guy’ be very clearly defined. Certainly, it is almost a release to see the ‘bad guy’ as a monster from outer space or under the sea than the subtle reality of the real ‘ monsters’ often in our own government and world. To have come out of WWII and recall WWI certainly, those who were once thought friends and allies became monsters to us. Even the ways of life and thinking had, in a way, become a subtle monster, but not one you could get your hands on. Probably the same reason Westerns became such a big genre in the 30’s thru the 50’s. The bad guy wears ‘the black hat’ and is killed by the good guy at the end. We felt a comfort in that. It was easy to understand and see good and bad and it helps to hide, for a little while, from the real world which is more often than not, all too grey.

I thought I would maybe make today’s blog my response to a great question I received from a commenter, Sarah:

Hi 50sgal!
I'm sorry to ask such a personal question but have you always been a stay at home wife? I am giving up my job in 3 weeks to stay at home - both of us are just fed up with rushing around all the time and have decided to 'do without' instead. (really it won't be doing without as we'll have the necessities just not the luxuries!)
I was wondering how you found the transition? At the moment I'm worried that I could easily end up spending everyday just channel hopping and then having a panic of activity just before my husband walks through the door! Do you have any tips for a newbie? How was your transition to being a housewife? Did you make the move before your 'time-machine' experience or did you do it so that you would be able to complete this wonderful project? What do your husband/ family / friends think about it? It was my husbands suggestion but some of my friends have been dismissive and my family downright hostile. I'm sorry for all the questions but I don't know anyone else who stays at home without children and the only blogs I have found on the internet are written by women who stay home for religious reasons (not that that's a bad thing - it's just not why I decided to).
I do love your blog - I have only been a regular reader for a few weeks but I have been reading back in your posts and the more I read the more I agree with you!!
Thank you for taking the time to read this (very long!) comment,

Well, first off No, I have not always been a stay at home wife. I have been really only a Homemaker since the inception of this project. What and how I lived ‘at home’ prior to 1955, I would not label a homemaker. Here is the rundown to my own path to becoming a Homemaker:

I have been not in the working field for some time, true. Before that, I did every thing from work for an artist, buy for an antique shop, work in cafe’s and finally ran and owned my own flower shop. After the last venture, I sold my shop and decided to take a break from the work world and decide why I was actually on the earth. The modern dilemma of ‘findings one self’. ( I have since found that rather than bother looking for yourself, it is better to get on with the business of living and you will appear soon enough. The modern problem of self and purpose soon fades when there is work to be done)

It felt odd, those first weeks. It is funny, as it has been over three years since then, but the first two weeks are really imprinted upon me. I had gone from literally being at my shop seven days a week, 10 hours a day to nothing. I had a booming wedding business, as the Cape is a desired location for weddings, and often found myself setting up at posh clubs or seaside locales, coordinating my designers with our cell phones, praying the heat would hold off, the flowers wouldn’t wilt and that the brides and their mother’s wouldn’t turn on us with knives. A very hectic life to suddenly, Nothing.

I remember that first day I woke up and and thought, “Huh, I don’t HAVE to be anywhere today.” My husband was still working, as he kept his job while I ran my business. We toyed with the idea of it becoming a joint venture, but decided our marriage was more important, owning a business is VERY stressful.

So, there I was, day one: no job; no responsibilities. No one was going to call me and say, “the flowers aren’t here or they sent the wrong ones or the cooler just died and all the flowers for three weddings are wilting” Nothing. Silence.

I remember, I got into my car and drove to our local little shop where they have coffee. I bought a cup, put on some music and just drove.

Cape Cod is very beautiful in the summer. This was late summer and the Cape was pregnant with possibilities. The beach. The shops. Nature walks. I was where many come for holiday and I had a full tank of gas, no worries and all the time in the world.
I drove towards the end of the cape, to Provincetown. I made it as far as Brewster, and stopped at a local park and walked. Then I went to some shops, playing tourist. I remember thinking, “Oh, this would be good for flowers, or I could use this for a wedding”. It was hard to NOT shop for the store. Where did my personality exist outside of my work. Was the definition of me only in the work I did or had done?

I ended up driving a lot that week. I would throw my bike in the back of the car and go. I walked a lot on the beach. We didn’t have our boat yet, or I would have had that.

Then opportunity came in the form of a place to stay on the ocean. My hubby’s grandfather has a house on the water. He had a boathouse, where sailboats were kept and it contained a small two floor apartment. We moved there, bought a boat (a 30’ Morgan sailboat) and hubby left the security of his 10 year job.
So, we became vagabonds. Hubby grew out his beard and we sailed. Our days were dictated by the tides and the weather. It was a free time and we had fun AND adventures, including some close calls on the sea. We made various jaunts back and forth to the Vineyard (Martha’s Vineyard, an island off the coast of Massachusetts for you non-US readers).

After awhile, the money lessened and hubby became bored not working. He rejoined the workforce and now had a commute to the city (Boston).

Luckily, my lovely husband did not insist upon my return to work. I wasn’t ready. I really felt the work force was not for me. I returned, for awhile, to one of my old love :horses. I began riding again and took some lessons at a local stable. I even began Polo lessons (something I promise myself to return to one day).

Then, there was what was to become the eventual drama of moving my family ( my mother had contracted Alzheimer's as mentioned in a previous post) out here. At first, I was happy. It was nice to rebuild relationships and to share family Christmas. That, in and of itself, is a novel’s worth of emotions, happenings and final outcomes. To make it short, during that time, we moved out of the boathouse and to Boston to the Back Bay.

I really consider the path to my current happiness in life to really start from Boston. We were lucky enough to live on Commonwealth Ave. which has a central park way that runs up and down the street. A great spot for the dogs and walks etc. This is where I really began to peek in the mirror. To take brief glances at my idle pointless life and wonder. “What?” “Who?” My hubby didn’t always seem to love work, but he seemed happy. He certainly wasn’t wondering ‘who he was’. I did not have that.

I returned to my love affair with art ( I studied art history at university). I began some classes at the Museum School and really loved it. This lead to my acquiring a studio in Somerville. It was small, but it was my own little place to exist in paint pots and have sketches hanging. What I noticed I liked most about this studio, was setting it up. I built walls and installed antique windows. I drug up the two flight of stairs old sofas and recovered them in IKEA sheep skin rugs. I dumpster dove old Persian rugs and layered them on the floor. I found myself having as much time and even more effort in ‘making over’ the studio than actually painting. I did do a lot of painting, though, and my classes really pushed me to pursue that. But, I was really just making a faux little home somewhere. I loved our apartment and we were lucky to have the first floor, so we had 15 foot ceilings with old moldings and fireplace, wonderful wood floors. But, it wasn’t really my home.

Then, the world sort of suddenly stopped in a way. The current recession hit and after trips back and forth to the Cape all the time I figured, let’s conserve and move back there full time.

So, we packed up and said goodbye to our flat in the heart of the city and to my little studio and moved back to the Cape. I didn’t realize how much I actually missed having a yard and being in the ‘country’ until I got back. I went full tilt into planning gardens and getting bees, though still feeling very lost in a way. I sort of felt on autopilot. I had many things I wanted to ‘get back to’ my painting and reading etc. But, really that first summer was spent between my Father having a stroke, my mother’s increasing illness and keeping myself distracted with swimming and the ocean.

By the end of last year I had really just discovered blogs. After seeing other people try similar projects I thought, “well, let me see what it is like”. I have always loved history and study, so it could be the next ‘diversion’. It was one of the best decisions I think I have made in a long time.

You ask how my transition to homemaker was and really it was sort of gradual. I had thought it would be a good project in that I could use it as a focus to pinpoint my loves of design and fashion etc. What really was meant to be a sort of year long history perspective/ personal study has turned into a lifestyle. Really, it has either turned into me, or I into it, or somehow, amongst the old magazines, ironing and baking, I just sort of emerged. It really began to seep into every part of my life.

You ask how others have taken to it. I think, for the most part my husband, being used to my various schemes and whims, just took it in stride. Then, he began to see the luck of having wash done and beds made and meals prepared without having to consider it. I think, lately, he has almost begun to see that indeed, this is not a whim, but an honest to goodness change. I am not sure how he feels over all, if he thinks I am just sticking to something a little longer, or if I have truly found a new form of happiness. He is very supportive and I am very lucky, no we are very lucky, to have found one another.

I think the most surprising and one of the hardest parts of this experiment was how two of my ‘friends’ responded. One, really my best friend, sort of went 'gung-ho’ for the whole thing. She found herself dressing vintage all the time (she already loved 1950s clothes and sewing so it wasn’t a stretch) but she was so into it, so fast that she was soon talking to me telling me she wanted one day to have her ‘career’ be a homemaker. I was happy to have someone so in it with me for the long haul. However, maybe she dove in too deep too fast. There was a moment when she suddenly, and I still do not know why, just stopped. She stopped calling me. I heard through a mutual friend that she and another friend were talking about me and not necessarily in a positive way. Here I was, going along living my life and doing what felt right and good and then I found out two of my friends were beginning to do the things without me and purposely not inviting me. I was told they thought, “ I thought I was better than them and that I wouldn’t enjoy what they were doing because it was too modern and not 1955”. It really began to be almost an insult from their lips, “Oh, your ‘project’” they would say. It was as if I had set about to offend or set myself above them. How this happened, I do not know. For me, it was almost overnight, I went from having a close friend who shared my passion, to someone who was talking about me and planning days out without including me.

I will never really know why she felt or feels that way. I cannot walk her path nor she mine. And, really, maybe that was the problem. In searching for her own path, she saw me suddenly have such purpose, she thought she would follow me along on my road. Only, setting herself up for what she thought I thought was the norm for everyone, she turned on me and when I spun around to laugh with her, as we have done in the past, she was gone. Her little hat and white gloves were put away. The dresses and crinolines replaced with her jeans. And our bond severed. We are still friends, certainly, but it feels different. Maybe 1955 was just too far away for her and she didn’t like the commute.

So, my advice in that vein is, even though you may only be choosing to become a homemaker in modern terms, be prepared for odd responses. Women today, for some reason, will often react to this decision as if you have lost your mind or as if you are ill. They may treat you as if you have contracted a disease and they certainly don’t want to catch anything that means they have to iron and cook. But, and here is what is important, If you find that you love it, as I have found, it won’t really matter. We all have many friends through our lives and sometimes we grow apart. It is just part of life. But, the true friends and those who will hold you up and support you even when you make decisions they think are odd, ARE the true ones. It is a good sorting mechanism in a way. When those who do not understand, question you, tell them you have all of women’s history as an example. There have been centuries of we women who ‘stay home’. Even though we are not expected to today, there is much benefit to it.

I have come to really feel that there is inherent in many of we women, the desire to nest and build the strength of the home. It takes a great strength to go on and continue with the work of the home during wars, and it was not only WWI and WWII. Women have been those strong home warriors since the first time people stopped being nomads, set down their roots, planted crops, kept animals and waved their sons and husbands off to battle. The very study of the woman at home is very interesting and can and has filled countless texts. For example, the woman of the middle ages had much more power and rights than her Renaissance sister. The middle ages often saw women on landed estates running the show while their men were off to battle. They had not only to manage all the household (and though there were scores of servants sometimes, these women had to know how to run and aid them) and handle money and decide on crops and building etc. Unfortunately, one of the backlashes of the Renaissance for women, was it was the time that their place began to become 'decorative’. Though, in all honesty, it was not only men who put us in that place. We all know how a gown and a pretty bit of lace can make a girls heart race, but women lost many personal rights to freedom and land ownership then. It was the time that ‘thinking’ began to take importance over ‘doing’. Another example of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

We need now, really, to take pride of doing and regain our thinking together. So, if you feel the pride of place and the importance of the home that has been our women’s history, that can often give you the courage to look the opposing women in the eye and say, “ I am doing the most important career there is. I am living history”.

I found very little resources and that is why my trip back to 1955 has been such a rich source. Of course I wasn’t really intending on becoming a homemaker permanently. I just wanted to see what a woman in 1955 at home would have experienced. In 1955 a woman choosing to be a ‘homemaker’ was not ridiculed. Though, there were women in university and doctors and lawyers etc back then, they did not mock or look down on their sisters who chose to ‘stay home’. I have often commented that my trip back to 1955 is really an education in the ‘University of the Home’. And, of course since then, I really believe my role of homemaker no longer merely a year long ‘project’ but my ‘calling’ if you will. A place I feel rather ‘at home’ if you will excuse the pun.

My advice for you concerning, and I quote; “I'm worried that I could easily end up spending everyday just channel hopping and then having a panic of activity just before my husband walks through the door!” First and foremost, get rid of the TV. I know this sounds drastic and you don’t have to literally get rid of it, but try perhaps not having cable or any means to have a variety of channels and then try covering it up or putting it in a closet for a few weeks. Then bring it back and use it as a means of casual entertainment. Watch movies on weekends, say, or an occasional show with your hubby. This is THE biggest distraction. The other, of course, is the computer. I have really tried to be strict with myself and use it only for my blog and of course my research. I even feel guilty as I do not read and comment as much on others blogs as I would like, but I have to be careful or you will find your day gone in such activity. Use it as a reward for that ‘break time’.
Secondly, treat is as a job, no a CAREER. You are both your boss and your staff. So, give yourself designated break times. Make a lunch and sit and read a magazine or look at some blogs with a sandwich and tea and maybe a sample of your latest baking experiment. But, know first and foremost,this is a REAL CAREER. You can either just live in your house, where you do the minimal to eat and sleep there and use it as a place to hang your clothes and watch your TV or you can MAKE A HOME. To do that means you have to treat it as a job. Make a schedule. You can be flexible with yourself, after all you are your own boss, but plan each day. Even if you just scribble down a few things you would like to achieve that day, the power of ‘crossing off the list’ is not to be underestimated. You will soon find you cannot believe how much you can do in a day and your desire to ‘channel surf and go online’ will slip away, as doing is more fun the being. I am sure there are people who would like to try this sort of life and think, “well, I can just control myself with the tv” but I am telling you, at least from my standpoint, that tv is probably the cause of and continuing enabler of modern angst and laziness. Really, just try it a month without it, you can always get it back and you know they will rerun anything you wanted to see.

What is great about the Homemaking Career, is it really can be designed to your needs. There are many constants and set rules that should be obeyed. Learn to cook and bake. Learn to sew (if you have no desire to make and design your own clothes at least learn to sew on buttons mend tears and rips) Washing and Ironing each take a separate day and the study of stain removal can save a lot of money, but there is a lot of leeway for personal growth. If you always wanted to paint watercolors, that can become part of your day, as you learn to do more and get through your lists, you will have time and energy to pursue those passions you have. You will be surprised at what you learn and how differently you look at life.

I am really also a newbie. I have become a homemaker since January of this year and yet, I don’t feel unqualified to give advice on homemaking, because in my trials and tribulations, I do feel I have amassed a set of skills and knowledge, but and here is the Third thing: KNOW YOU HAVE NEVER LEARNED IT ALL. I don’t think there will ever be a time when a good homemaker says, ‘Well, that’s all I need to know’. Really, that is true in anything we do, if we wish to do it well. I think is was Socrates who said, “the only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing”. In other words, there is always more to learn and really isn’t that exciting? I would think even a great chef would be a wiser one if he knew there were more and better ways to make and prepare food. So, in that, approach each new chore and task with the idea that you are learning. You will make mistakes, but not only will you learn you may discover another way and then you can share it back into the community of women, who will thank you for it. Nothing is ever done so good that it is not done again a new way.

Get as many books on homemaking as you can lay your hands on. Go to your local used book stores, thrift stores, tag sales. Failing that, there is always EBay. Here are two books I would really recommend. They are from the late 1940’s early 1950’s. Also, any old cookbooks often have tips on homemaking and there are countless tips and articles in old magazines.

household book americas housekeeping book

I am finding that the concept of vintage knowledge sort of goes hand in hand with a happy approach to being a homemaker. There has not been much written of late that really addresses, I don’t believe, in the way they once did. Now, many books are very specific and narrow where these old books are rich with many skills. Really, a good homemaker is a well-rounded Renaissance woman, she can do it all, look good doing it, and is well read and pleasant to be around; she is dependable and often depended on. Now, who wouldn’t not want to aspire to that?

I think one of the most important aspects I have found with this project is my voice. I feel more adult in a way and yet still feel very youthful and free. It is odd that so often I felt “I wonder if and when I will feel like an adult?” I always expected there would be a day when it would just happen. And yet, I think subconsciously, there was a fear that ‘being adult’ meant no fun and no frivolity. I have since found that to be the opposite. I think what I feel now in my own ‘adulthood’ is that the fun and frivolity I feel to dress in a vintage outfit and just go out feels freer as an adult, because how I felt before, I would have been concerned about what ‘others thought’. That is really an immature thought. Of course, adults feel this, but I always admired how really old people just sort of did what they wanted and didn’t care. That is the level of maturity that is very freeing. Not that I want to go out and hurt people and not care, but the worry of “do I have the right things or am I wearing the right clothes etc”, having that gone is a great release.

So, I hope that answered your questions and didn’t scare you away. It is one of the most rewarding and sometimes frustrating jobs, but boy is it a boost for your self worth. The skills and knowledge you can gain from learning to make and run a home is endless. The happiness you gain from the happiness you bring others is another boon to homemaking.

I’ll leave you with this quote from Henry David Thoreau:

“Our truest life is when we are in our dreams awake.”

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