Friday, May 02, 2008

Lessons from Vintage Fiction

Vintage fiction has been my treasure trove for figuring out how to put together a homemaking life. Old housekeeping manuals will give you out-dated specifics about how to iron or polish the silver the way it was done in the thirties or forties, but it's the mentioned-in-passing daily routine that fascinates me so deeply.

Here's what I have learned about a domestic life, courtesy of Grace Livingston Hill, L.M. Montgomery, and their ilk:

Homemakers have work to do. They get up early and make breakfast, since someone in the family needs sustenance before catching the trolley for a long day at the office. Homemakers have a plan for each day's special tasks. There's really no time to sit around; running a home is a demanding undertaking.

Homemakers dress the part. Need to make beds and clean? Try slipping a little cotton gown right over your nice morning dress to keep it clean. Going out to shop? A smart knitted dress is just right. Staying in for a family dinner? A crimson housegown is just the thing.

Homemakers make things beautiful. A room isn't finished until it reflects the homemaker's love of beauty. A pot of primroses on the dinner table, an embroidered bureau cover on the bedroom chest of drawers, a clean dresser scarf on the buffet in the dining room--creating a home takes attention to detail.

Homemakers think hard about meals. The planning and cooking of meals is an endeavor worthy of time and energy. Meals should be prepared with each day's needs in mind. Are the boys working hard on building a porch? Chocolate cornstarch pudding for dessert, as it can be eaten quickly, and people can get back to their project. No matter what else is going on, careful and appropriate attention must be paid to feeding the family.

Homemakers find out what they need to know. New to the neighborhood and don't know where to shop? Just follow the neighbor lady carrying the basket over her arm. Raised in splendor but married now to a working man? Take a cooking course. One of the privileged elite but ready to do your part for the war? Take that night course in practical nursing.

Homemakers can weather hard times. When money gets tight, they suck it up and move to the unelectrified shack in that rundown part of town and set out daffodils. When the bank fails they get the kerosene lamps and the oil stove out of the attic, and start cooking plain but delicious food. When the apartment's going to be demolished, they cheerfully move into a spacious stone barn for the summer.

Homemakers are indispensable. If mother can't do it, someone else must be found. There's no such thing as a family that runs itself, with every member gone to work or school every day. Without a guiding presence in the house, things go down deep and fast.

44 comments:

momawake said...

Your last point reminded me of Proverbs 29:15 The rod and rebuke give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.

Thanks for sharing. Don't you just love those old books?!

Rebekah said...

Perhaps I speak from misguided nostalgia, but it seems that once upon a time the housewife was regarded as something more than a drudge. Instead she was regarded as someone who was vitally essential to the health of a home and a family.

Unlike today, where the "stay-at-home-mom" is often caricatured as a harried woman in sweats and spit-up, chauffering children from one activity to the next, the "housewife" was a woman who ruled her domain and wore pretty but functional clothing to match. A while back, I bought a dress from a used store. I call it my 1950's housewife's dress. It's simple, bright, stain-resistant, and has roomy pockets for carrying whatever you might need as you go throughout your day.

You're absolutely right about the things we can learn from those old stories--we can learn how to reclaim the "housewife" and "homemaker" and even the "stay-at-home-mom" from the stigma of drudgery and regard them again as valuable and necessary.

Polly said...

Love it. And having lived in a household where there's someone steering the ship and in a household where there's not, I'd say your last point carries the most truth!

Miss Theresa said...

Love this, thank you for sharing.

Elizabeth G. said...

Wonderful! You should write a book.

mom huebert said...

Yes, and I can tell you just which book each one comes from! I think I have most of GLH's books nearly memorized... Thanks for the list, and the smile.

Baleboosteh said...

Oh splendid post! I've had the housework blahs for a few weeks here. I've been under the weather (plus all day morning sickness) and our house looks like a 'before' description in a GLH novel (complete with a stale heel of 'baker's bread' and unwashed dishes)! Your post has re-inspired me. Thank you!

Morning said...

All so true -- and so neglected and sadly belittled these days.

Anonymous said...

Love this..... Thanks.
Barb in Nebraska

Mrs. Rabe said...

These are the very things I like about those books as well.

Mothers and homemakers were vitally important and everyone knew it! Of course, they still are but now most people are blinded to their value!

Thanks for this post!

The Quiet Life said...

These are just the type of reading I love. I will definately be checking out these authors. Thanks!

Sarah Jane Meister said...

What a beautiful and correct way to look at homemakers. I am a stay at home wife/mom with two children and it's amazing (and saddening) how so many people, even people from the local church, ask me how I can stand to be at home all day with my beloved little ones to make a pleasant home for them and my husband! They can't understand how I ENJOY what I do and that I find so much fulfillment in my role!

Your post is excellent and I'm copying it into my 'inspirational' folder if that is okay. :)

Amy said...

So many people today do not value home and the work it takes to make it pleasant and livable for the family. And as I look around me, there are many societal problems that would be lessened a great deal if more people had happy, peaceful homes to return to at the end of a long day. Your words remind me of the value of what I do every day, and they also inspire me to do better! I did not grow up with a good example of how to make a home, so I am learning day by day. I am grateful for wise women like you who share their thoughts so graciously! Thank you!

Kimberly said...

Excellent reminders!
I am rerereading LMM's Anne series right now. Love it! I've only read one GLH, so I'll have to check a few more out.

Nanny Y. said...

I love this list it reminded me of why I find such inspiration from those books!

Deb said...

I love this:

"If mother can't do it, someone can be found."

I hope my husband hires someone to cook. Lol. I really need to work on that. But I just get caught up in schooling and doing other things I love more.

This, if nothing else, is a good reminder of the heart of keeping the home.

Cherish the Home said...

Yes!! (o:

Many Blessings,
Michele

Janet said...

What a wonderful, encouraging post, Anna! I will print this to keep for myself and my daughters.

Janet

Becky said...

Great thoughts !!!
Blessings
Becky

Everly Pleasant said...

Lovely post!
I love L. M. Montgomery and her contemporaries though I've never read anything by Grace Livingston Hill. Very practical wisdom.
Thanks,
Everly

Sweetproserpina said...

This was so heartening! Thank you Anna- I think I'll save this one, too :)

Spencer said...

Anna,
Very good points, and so beautiful and concise. I love reading GLH for all of these things you mentioned. It might romanticize it somewhat, but that helps you through the hard times.

Anonymous said...

To Deb,

You might want to look into a slow cooker, if you don't already have one. They're available in many sizes, and there are oodles of recipes online for them. In most cases, you just put in your ingredients, turn on the cooker and after five to seven hours, dinner is done!

I got one last year, and it is a lifesaver. I have to work outside the home in our family business, and often felt resentful as I started the "second shift" after a long day by having to start cooking dinner. On those days where I load up the slow cooker with a lasagna, soup, stew or roast chicken, I walk in the front door after hours of dealing with customers, smell that food cooking merrily away, and just beam. It also gives me time with my husband during the time I would have been in the kitchen whomping up something to eat!

All the best,

TF

Tracy said...

Ugh, blogger snaffled my comment!

I wanted to say thanks for the reminder that homemaking is a worth and valuable profession to pursue and not just what slothful, lazy women do.

Mrs. Mordecai said...

This post is so inspirational! Thank you.

Mrs.KAOS said...

Thank you for sharing. I read many of L.M. Montgomery's books when I was younger, but I may have go back and reread them as "research". My husband says my only flaw is that I woud rather live in Avonlea than in the real world :) I do wish the "old" ways of home could have a wide spread rebirth.

Linda said...

I don't think there is a "job" that is harder or more full of blessing than being the keeper of the home. With an empty nest now, it is such joy to see my children making their homes places of love, warmth and welcome.

Anonymous said...

I love insights into family life from older books as well.

The home is usually the heart of spiritual life and training as well.

From the fiction book written in the form of a journal, Stepping Heavenward by Elizabeth Prentiss, which starts out when she is a teen and moves into her married and family life:

"After all, one must take life as it comes, its homely details are so
mixed up with its sweet charities, and loves, and friendships that
one is forced to believe that God has joined them together and does
not will that they should be put asunder. It is something that my
husband has been satisfied with his wife and his home to-day; that
does me good."

http://www.gutenberg.org/dirs/etext01/stphw10.txt

This doesn't pertain to fiction, but J.R. Miller (1840-1912) wrote on the home a pamphlet called "Secrets of Happy Home Life" and a book, Home-Life, that you may enjoy. http://pamphlets.jr-miller.com/

Tina said...

Loved this post...thank you!

Love, Tina :)

Cassandra said...

Anna,
Do you have a list of nourishing reads that you recommend from your vintage fiction favorites? I have read Honor Girl and Rainbow Cottage. Where do I go from there? I love this post so much!

Anonymous said...

Anna,
I looked for GLH books at our local library and there were so many titles to choose from that I would like to know which ones are the best. With little children and not much time, I would like my time spent reading to be profitable. Do you have any suggestions?

Susan said...

What a lovely post - thankyou. I, too, am going to print it to keep.

Also, you're the first family I've come across that has a son named Giles. My Giles is almost 16 (and a delight).

PS I came across from Little Jenny Wren.

Rebecca said...

To Anonymous who asked about which GLH to read....I loved "Recreations" which is about a college girl who must leave school to take care of her family. The mother is ill, the father in financial difficulty and the younger children without a guiding hand. There are lots of lovely homemaking details.

Tracy said...

I loved this post! I am a big fan of GLH's books, too. I popped over from Little Jenny Wren. :)

Joy said...

Anna,
I just finished "In the Way" by GLH. I love that the sister, Ruth, was born to privilege and all that, but her adopted mother (who was really her aunt) made absolutely certain that she 'had the best training money could by' regarding dressmaking, the culinary arts...at one point Ruth explains to her brothers that her mother felt that she (Ruth) out to be 'well-turned out and fitted to any work the Lord might be calling her to'. (You'll have to read it to find out what happens, *wink wink* but I love that the unspoken message through out the book is that those skills were absolutely vital and worthy of pursuit- Ruth would have been totally lost without them!

Scarlett said...

I love Grace Livingston Hill and the story about her family living in a barn is one of my favorites. I want to get it out and read it again. Thanks for these lessons!

Jill said...

Thanks - this is an inspiration today!

yoshi3329 said...

wow I loved this post! you should write a book with what you just posted I'm sure it would help alot of women!

http://adlynmorrison.blogspot.com/

Pony and Petey said...

Now I feel SO proud of my chosen career of homemaker!

I get that "what do you do all day?" question ALL the time as I was unable to have children and my pilot husband is gone for 2-3 weeks at a time.

Vegetable gardening and composting, cooking from scratch, hanging clothes on the line instead of using the dryer, taking care of a house where 3 big dogs, 4 furry cats, a guinea pig and a snake live (plus the 2 humans!), active in our church, marathon running, scrapbooking, cardmaking, generous with the time and talents that God has given me...

These work-outside-the-home career women have NO idea!

Sara said...

This was great, thank you! I'm currently doing a Bible study on "And Then I Had Kids," which speaks quite a bit about the blessing of a servant attitude toward caring for our homes and our children. This was such a nice passage to put it all into perspective of a time when the servant mentality was accepted in our society. Thank you!

Jodie said...

I love coming here. Every time I visit, I find some gem to carry over into my own home. I linked to you from my post today - because I've been so inspired by you. You have no idea. Thank you for keeping this blog up and going because it is a running source of encouragement and inspiration to me. I find it energizing, beautiful, and very practical. I truly love it.

Here is the link to my post today -
http://darkbetweenthestars.blogspot.com/2008/05/to-be-busy-at-home.html

mamachristina said...

linked over from www.mommyetc.blogspot.com, and boy am I glad I did. I love this view of SAHM's. How encouraging to know we are making a difference in the little and big things we do. God Bless.

Karol said...

Smart Words even today, there are grains that can be pulled out to use! Karol

Lady-in-the-Making said...

As all the other ladies, I loved this post so much I printed it out.

I am a working mother, but long to be the GLH homemaker. Until such a time that the Lord sees fit, I will make the most of my time at home.

Thank you for this beautiful post. I could recognize every reference to one of Grace's stories! Perhaps the reason I love them so is because of her writings regarding homemaking and femininity

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