My years of reading as if I were living 100 years ago haven’t turned me into much of a nostalgist. In general, whatever is awful in the early 21st century was even worse in the early 20th century. Back then, the United States was a racist, sexist, war-scarred country. The white supremacist violence of the Red Summer of 1919 was far worse than what we’re experiencing now. We lost half a million more lives to the Spanish influenza than we’ve lost so far to COVID, among a population a third the size of today’s.
Not that I’m minimizing what we’re going through now. We’re supposed to be better than our predecessors, and the fact that we can even draw parallels between that terrible time and our own shows that we haven’t done a very good job of learning lessons from the past.
Still, as this awful summer crawls to an end, I’m starting to feel like I wouldn’t mind spending some time in 1920.
Women have the vote!
Corsets are going out of fashion!
The pandemic is over, and people are free to go places and do things!
Sounds nice, doesn’t it? The perfect destination for an imaginary vacation. You can come too!
A house at the seaside is just the thing, wouldn’t you agree?
We’ll pack our clothes,
making sure not to forget to bring along our white shoes,
or our maid, whose greatest joy in life is cleaning them.
We’ll round up the kids,
but not the scary-looking ones,
and set out overland in the Overland.
Whew! That was quite a journey.
I need to freshen up.
I brush my hair,*
sprinkle on a little talcum powder,**
dab on some Odorono,
and I’m all set to go.
Of course we brought along the Grafonola.
Or the Victrola. Whatever! It’s party time!
We’ll go swimming
and play games
and watch fireworks
and go on picnics
and Sunday drives.
If it gets too hot, we’ll just loll around in fetching outfits.
The fresh air will do the children a world of good
and maybe wean them off their weird obsession with bread.
And of course it wouldn’t be summer without some romance.
Enjoy it while you can! All too soon we’ll be cleaning up the summer house
(just kidding, that’s the maid’s job),
heading back home,
and sending the kids off to school.
But it’s nice to get away for a while, isn’t it?
*I try to keep this a family blog, but oh 1920, you test me sometimes.
**A very little, since it’s full of asbestos.
Lots of dainty artwork here! I always wanted a summer house, in the South of France, where Edith Wharton had one. She also had a maid, of course, whose greatest joy in life was polishing Edith’s white shoes with some sort of “dressing.” I wonder whether anyone actually asked the maid if that was indeed her greatest joy. Just as today’s TV commercials are mainly for luxury cars, in 1920 it was baking powder that appeared in print practically nonstop. So along with getting the vote, women were lavished with a stunning variety of cleaning products. Life was still stressful, it seems, with picnics to assemble and sweaters to hand-wash with pre-Woolite soap — one cared-for sweater for every frock. But here’s an inconsistency: the seaside house had to be cleaned and tidied for the family’s summer vacation, but that was suddenly the maid’s job. Where was the maid when shoes were being polished, and strawberry shortcake was in the oven? Who put it there? Then there was the delicate matter of the obligatory summer romance; apparently the man had a foot fetish: he seems to be in love with leather. Wasn’t that the wrong love-object?
So I’m not so sure about 1920, when everyone looked so nice and relaxed as they drove the Model-T over bumpy roads. And such big families! Six children swanning around in their new suits and middies were a common sight. I think I’ll stick with 2020 for now, when the appliances are shiny and hard-working, and the cars don’t break down at the drop of a straw hat. But thank you for this imaginary world of ease and nostalgia. We had a vacation after all, even if everyone did resemble the Lone Ranger.
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Well, at least the prophelactic penetrator gave me a good laugh.
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Barbara, I love your comments! If you had a blog, I’d be your most devoted reader. That guy who keeps staring at the woman’s feet creeps me out too. Talcum powder was even more heavily advertised than baking powder. Bottom line: powder is good! You’re right, there’s an inconsistency between pretending everyone has a maid and emphasizing how effective the cleaning and cooking products are. If you have a maid, why do you care?
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The bread ads! “Make your boy a top-notcher…(bread)will harden his muscles and make him healthy….Let him know how manly it is to eat….” I’m as gluten-tolerant as the next person, but…!
And the Overland cars were a product of Willys-Overland, the folks who created the Jeep.a couple of decades later. This advertising campaign makes one think they were already thinking off-road in 1920.
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“Bread is your best food—eat more of it!” A motto that I could, but probably shouldn’t, live by.