Monday, June 3, 2013

On Being a Maid

by Delores Miller

A best selling novel a few years ago was 'The Help' by Kathryn Stockett about the 1960s as colored maids in Mississippi.  Read it if you can.

So lets go back to the summer of 1955.  Time for me to find a job, between my Junior and Senior years of Marion High School. 

After the fiasco of the summer of 1954 and being a hired girl, I was looking for greener pastures and easier work.  Again I did not want to pick pickles the usual cash crop in Wisconsin.   

My Aunt Alma, after World War Two found employment as a live-in maid for a rich widow in Neenah on Lake Winnebago.  This area was a snaggle of paper mills, thus rich widows with  mansions.   She found me employment  as a domestic summer help.  Armed with my Betty Crocker Cookbook, and bluffing my way through the interview bragging of all the food I made the summer before as a hired girl.  The Missus hired me, no one else applied.   White uniform during the day, black for evening serving. Pay was $16 a week.  Big money in those days.

Easy job, cooking three meals a day, all served on good china in the dining room.  Learned to make fancy foods, i.e. lime and cheese souffles, salads, steak, hors d'oeuvre, deviled eggs, creme brulee, melon ball fruit cups, tomato flowers with cottage cheese and Pepperridge Farm  toast tips, appetizers, canapes, molded tomato aspic, borscht or beet soup with sour cream, dried beef rolls, popovers, Yorkshire pudding, baked Alaska, Schaum torte with fresh strawberries, cream puffs, chocolate eclairs, key lime pie, omelets,  English Muffins with orange marmalade, eggs Benedict with Hollandaise sauce, clam chowder,  lamb chops, fresh fruit, etc.  All made from scratch.  Each morning the Missus wrote out the  menu, called in the grocery order to a store which delivered.  I could order what ever I wanted to eat, too. (I gained weight that summer.)  Dinner parties for her rich friends. Cocktail hour before dinner, a full  hard liqueur cabinet, gin, rum, vodka, whiskey, brandy, bourbon, grenadine, tonic, bitters, vermouth.  Bartender made martinis, daiquiris, Manhattens, Margaritas, Pina Colada, Bloody Marys, wine.   Nothing so common as beer or diet soda.   I never sampled.  Then came dinner.  Salad, soup, overcooked vegetables, usually asparagus,  main meat course, dessert, coffee.  Serving from the left, removing dirty dishes from the right.  Finger bowls to wash dirty hands. Candles.   Cloth napkins, lace table clothes.   Tinkling silver bell summonded me back  to the dining room for more service.  Faux pas, I once took the aluminum  soup kettle to the dining room, when I should have taken her bowl to the kitchen.   No microwave or dish washer.  Polishing the  candelabras and silverware. The Missus was gallivanting often, even out of state and  left me in charge of the house.  How did she trust me not to steal the silver or have wild parties?

My own bedroom with bath and shower.  This was a big deal for someone straight off the farm.  Granted it was next to the laundry room with an automatic washer and dryer.   What luxury.  Lake flies plagued anyone outdoors, so thick, one could not open their mouth, or they would get a meal.    Mosquitoes.   Watching the sunrise over Lake Winnebago with sail boats on the horizon, beautiful.   No television, but a radio where I could listen to all the Milwaukee Brave Baseball Games and best of all - a library filled with books, novels, non fiction.  A 1936 Roget's Thesaurus and a 1929 Funk & Wagnallis Dictionary.  And I read them all.  And a typewriter so I could  write tales and memoirs of my adventures.  Daily newspaper.  Smallish house compared to the big mansions further up town.  A gardener, cleaning lady, laundress. 

Became friends with the other maids and nannies.  We had Thursday and Sunday afternoons free for movies or shopping.  Playing badminton at a nearby park.  Polio  or infantile paralysis epidemic that summer of 1955, swimming pools were closed, quarantined.  Many people died.  Was not in the same league with other neighboring teenagers, debutantes who were presented to High Society  at a ball at the Golf Club.

Oh, what I learned that summer being a MAID, grew up and saw the 'big' picture of life.  Observed  how people in the big city lived and work.

Went back to Marion for my Senior year of high school, graduated, kicked up my heels, shook off the dust and manure and left the area forever.  Enough of picking pickles, being a Hired Girl and a Maid.

Two roads diverged on a highway,

And sorry I could not travel both.

I took the one more traveled

And that has made all the difference.

What do teenagers now in 2013 do to earn money?

Copyright Russell and Delores Miller, 2013

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