Friday, November 27, 2009

WOMAN'S TRUE NATURE 4th installment

Flora and friend, let's say Mae, off to a costume ball. Tighsolas wall is behind them. Norman, Flo's father, built Tighsolas in 1896, the year Sir Wilfrid Laurier came to power. He examined every brick and board and roof tile, apparently, well, he was a building inspector. He also kept a record of costs: total to build Tighsolas, $2,700 dollars, a big sum back then. Tighsolas was a mix of styles, I think. With it's asymmetrical roof in the Queen Anne style - and a bit of Scottish Baronial.

Flora pressed her school books to her chest with her right arm and opened the door to the kitchen with her free hand.

If she worked indoors she could think 'out loud' about "the Canadian character" and Mother Margaret was sure to toss in her two cents. She would not be able to help herself: It was in her nature.

Flora placed her scribbler and pencils down on the maplewood table which had not yet been laid for tea. Fresh graham rolls, on the counter, were perfuming the kitchen with a comforting sense of calm.

She pulled out the stenciled sheet with the examination questions and opened her Composition Textbook to the passage at hand.

Women in the Thirties:

The women of the family found their hands very full. Besides the daily round of housewifely cares, every season brought its special duties. There were wild strawberries and raspberries to be
picked and prepared for daily consumption, or to be preserved for
winter use.

Besides milking, there was the making both of butter and cheese.
There was no nurse to take care of the children, no cook to prepare the

The girls in those days were more at home in a kitchen than a drawing-room. They did better execution at a tub than at a spinet, and
could handle a rolling-pin more satisfactorily than a sketch-book. At a
pinch, they could even use a rake or fork to good purpose in field or
barn. Their finishing education was received at the country school along with their brothers. Of fashion books and milliners, few of them had anyexperiences.

Country life in Canada was plodding in the "Thirties" and there was no varied outlook. The girls' training for future life was mainly at the hands of their mothers. They were content to live as their parents had done. And though we can see that, as compared with later conditions,there may be something wanting in such an existence, this at least we know, that, in such a school and by such masters, the foundations of Canadian
character and prosperity were laid.

Finishing school? Who goes to finishing school? she thought.

Even Eleanor C. expects to attend secretarial school so that she can help out in her father's business. And Flora personally knew of few families who employed full-time maids and housekeepers and cooks.

Well, the Wales. But they were the wealthiest people in town.

And, yes, the H's had a cook and a woman to do the washing once a week. But he was in the business of tombstones and that field never wants for customers.

Question : In your opinion, what is meant by "Canadian character."

Flora sighed. She really could use some help here.

Then Margaret suddenly materialized, holding her corset up to the afternoon light. It was inside out with the slightly rusty side steels and wiring exposed. Like the inside of a fish, Flora thought.

"Well, that's done. I'm off to Mrs. M's
to see if she has a sturdy lock for my trunk. Trains are full of thieves. I'm afraid we are eating left over cottage pie for tea. But if you get hungry have one of the rolls with butter."

Margaret laid the corset on a kitchen chair and untied her apron and slipped it off of her shoulders, and put it with the corset - which signaled to Flora that her visit would be a long one.

"Mrs. M is sure to ask you nosy questions about your trip, " Flora remarked.

"Yes, but I don't have to answer."

"She'll want to know about Edith's flirtation."

"Yes, and I will tell her just enough to repay her for keeping an eye on you girls while I'm away. It's a fair exchange, a little gossip for a little peace of mind. I see you are hard at work, so I won't disturb you any longer. Oh, leave your jumper on the chair tonight. I have time to get to it after all."

"Ah," Flora thought."So, all is right with the world, after all."

Still, no homework help. Canadian character? Funny, how when she thought of those two words she thought of her mother, with all her patriotic clippings, and poems by the likes of Pauline Johnson, an Indian Squaw.

She looked up at Margaret's kitchen note- board for inspiration. A recipe board it may have been at one time, but Margaret had long committed all her favourite recipes to memory. They couldn't be stolen that way. Instead the metal framed piece of cork was covered in slips of paper, news clippings, mostly from the Montreal Witness Newspaper: jokes, poems, and longer items with headlines such as Montreal: Canada's Greatest City. Or Plato was a Feminist. Or Modern Parents. Or Away From Nature which was about factory work and how unhealthy it was especially for girls.

A suffrage pamphlet Marion had brought home from that city on her last visit was prominently pinned over a long grocery invoice from McKae's.

"Women's Vote in Australia" By E H. Macnagten, McGill Professor of Greek.

Margaret had read it out loud to all her daughters, one evening and they had clapped and cheered at all the best passages.

Beside that was pinned another smaller pamphlet: INVEST IN MEN. The California Oil Company. Herb had brought that one home on a different occasion to a very different reception. Indeed, it had precipitated an argument.

Herbert's bizarre money-making schemes usually had that effect on his parents.

Why oil? Margaret had asked.

The automobile! Herb had answered.

And what about the automobile?

Soon everyone will have one. And they run on oil.

Everyone, you say? What nonsense. It's merely a foolish fad. Men and their ideas!

Women like automobiles, too. You've taken tours with Mr. Wales and his chauffeur.

Well, I'd rather have a fine horse any day.

That was Margaret's pride speaking.

The Nicholsons, in the condition they were at present, could never dream of buying an automobile. They had had to give up their pedigreed trotter, Regan, and all that remained to recall the family's former easy lifestyle, was a fine carriage in the back barn, awaiting a purchase offer.

This memory gave Flora an idea, She picked up her pencil and began to write: I am not of the opinion that hard work gives you character, for leisure time gives you the opportunity to read and keep up with world events and if women have more leisure time it can be used to improve the world, to help the less advantaged, especially poor children, as it is well known that men are only concerned with making money.

This was what the women's suffrage people liked to say, but was making money such a bad thing? Flora had to wonder. Was money really the root of all evil?

One thing for sure, having no money, when everyone around you seems to be flush, was no fun at all.