Friday, December 4, 2009

An Era of Optimism

A blurry picture, taken prior to 1912, as the old lady, Marion McLeod died in 1912. Might be Flo standing right, certainly is Marion, bottom.

Success! I found the Tighsolas book, with all expenses. But it did not contain any notes of stoves or furnace.

I have found everything I'm looking for. Now that I have finished the very first rough draft of the first chapter of Flo In the City, Just a Change of Colour. 2 days in early June. I introduce Flo and her anxieties, Margaret and her news clippings, and Marion and her strong, purposeful character.

Before I get to the next chapter, or while I write it, I want to re-read my letters, to pick out good lines that illustrate the times. In my last blog I wrote about a letter from 1904, Montreal, where a man runs into a new mother on Drummond and says her plans for the future are rather optimistic, considering that her husband is a mere book-keeper.

I think this is the type of thing that resonates: All young people, all new mothers are optimistic, but the 1900 era was an optimistic time, when young people thought the world was their oyster.

This story, Flo in the City (about a young woman coming of age in the pivotal 1908-1913 era of history and based on the letters of will reveal how the middle class felt in 1900, and also hopefull explain the truth of it.

I also spent some time this afternoon going through the pile of invoices I have from the Nicholsons, most from either 1900 or the war era. I don't know why this is. I assume the stores and the prices from 1900 were pretty much the same in 1910. There must have been some inflation during the war... I think I read as much in a letter.

Anyway, these invoices in themselves are a peek into the life of these people.

One thing I do want to resolve... why was flour so expensive, 4.75 to five dollars a barrel. This was the wheat boom era, after all.

The big Red Roses flour mill, an enormous eyeshore and iconic building on Montreal's landscape, was built in 1912.

The Nicholsons bought Red Roses flour, at least sometimes.

Anyway, I have my work cut out for me. The title of the next chapter of Flo in the City. Maybe A Modern Conundrum. Why? Because today I dug out a book called Modern Conundrums from 1906 from the Nicholson collection. A conundrum is a puzzle (usually wordplay involved). The modern conundrum will be around womanhood. How to be a family woman and feminist.

Marion Nicholson figured it out, but at a price.

In the next chapter, Margaret comes home and announces that Edith is quitting her school and returning to Richmond. Is there a marriage in the offing? Apparently not. Edith goes to Montreal to work, very suddenly. Leaving Flo alone. But not before Flo and Mae go to Boston for a vacation, in August. And Margaret goes to Quebec for the Tercentenary celebrations, in July, and sees the Prince of Wales, who will soon become king.

Both Marion and Edith are tossed in love. Flora (sober-faced Flora as she is described in that 1904 letter) visits Henry Watters, bachelor cousin, who is a successful doctor in Boston. Henry is everything brother Herb is not, very successful and very attentive to kin. I have an earlier letter where a sister discusses how Margaret had wanted Herb to be a doctor. Instead he works at the bank, in Montreal. "He will be President one day," the sister says. She also says she assumes he is 'a ladies man.'

Well, Herb never became bank President. Far from it. And if he was a ladies man, he NEVER wrote about his loves to his mother. His life was a big secret. He was always in debt. I think I will have him visit prostitutes on de Bullion Street of Montreal. In the first chapter Mae brings up deBullion street. So I will have it that Flo told Mae how she overhead Marion tell Margaret that Herb has been hanging around de Bullion, where the prostitutes are.. Something like that. In an earlier blog I wrote about an article in a 1906 Ladies Home Journal that dealt with the double standard around sex, that a young man was expected to get some experience somewhere, but a woman had to remain pure. The very word pure says it all, right?

Marion will have heard rumours, from a friend of a friend. Maybe that dentistry student Flo has talked about..Somewhere in the letters are descriptions of a woman relation who appears to be a fallen woman.. someone visits her and says "she is worse than ever" . I should read that letter more carefully.