Could be you’re tired of reading about the mundane happenings on this quiet island, and so I’m calling on my mother to rescue you.
This is her Farm and Dairy column for Aug. 17, 1957, and it seems right timely. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did re-reading it these many years later. (Mother, Berenice Thompson Steinfeld, wrote under the name of Aunt Teek.)
“We expect torrid days and muggy nights this time of year and we have learned in this country to live around this uncomfortable condition. Don’t you wonder how your great-grandparents ever lived through their summers?
“Think about the way they dressed, particularly the women, those tight stays and corset covers and many starched petticoats and other such unmentionables from their point of view. Also you will recall, no lady of any standing whatever — except for evening dress in formal circles — ever dressed so that the hollow of her throat showed or the bend of her elbow of her arm or the area above her high shoe top.
“All that yard goods on a human frame makes us ill to think about it, and it was worn besides in a home with a wood burning cook stove by day and a profound belief that the night air was full of poisons and must be shut out.
“The men wore cotton knit underwear, a shade thinner than the double-faced fleece-lined heavies they wore for winter. There were sleeves and legs below the knee — there were no shorts then — and there were vests and stiffly starched high collars and cuffs and tucked fronts to their shirts. There were good thick woolen pants and coats and durable home knitted socks under their high leather shoes or gaiters.
“Even the little children and the babies were dressed in yards of material and wool with no more fresh air in their lives than was necessary. Then at night they all slept in a house closed up good and tight with bedroom windows nailed shut so no dread night air could get in. No wonder tuberculosis stalked the population with the mortality from it so high they themselves called it galloping consumption.
“Now that you are simply stifling from reading about it, lets talk about porches and fresh air. For the day finally did arrive that the grandparents found out that fresh air of a summer afternoon was delightful. Even after supper to sit on a porch was pleasant and restful and boldly they learned to sit and rock quietly after actual darkness had set in.
“Oddly enough, everybody seemed to benefit by it. Grass matting rugs came into fashion and wicker rockers and wire plant stands for begonias or Boston ferns. It’s a pity the moonvine of Grandma’s time is no longer seen. Large dark green heart-shaped leaves for coolness and shade and in the evening dusk the great white petals of the fragrant flowers would unfold before your very eyes.
“That’s how it started and now look at us living healthfully and pleasantly outdoors every summer, day and night — and glad to pay fancy prices for those discarded night stands and wire plant stands, too.”
(Mother couldn’t have foreseen what has happened to the so-called dress code these many years later or that summer nights are more to be afraid of than restful. All you have to do is read the police reports and avoid the night air if you can!)