Monthly Archives: August 2014
Nat King Cole, whose real name was Nathaniel Adams Coles, was born in 1919 in Alabama and grew up in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood, where his father was a Baptist minister and his mother, the church organist, taught him to play the keyboard. He showed an early talent for music, and as a teenager he sneaked out to hear some of the jazz greats of the day, like Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines. He began performing in the 1930s, calling himself Nat Cole. The “King” got added by friends later, perhaps a fleeting reference to the nursery rhyme “Old King Cole.” He first built a reputation as a jazz pianist, but it was his velvety voice that made him famous. He died of cancer in 1965. “Those Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer” was his last hit.
This is the weekend for end-of-summer clearance sales. Stores have been clearing out their summer inventory since July, so the selection might not be quite as great as a few weeks ago, but prices will be rock-bottom on those hot-weather items that are left. Of course we hope there is still some warm weather left to enjoy wearing summery clothing. But even if you buy it now and have to pack it away until next year, think of how much fun it will be to find a brand-new garment waiting for you next spring.
If you have some spare time this weekend, take some of it to look over your summer clothes, get rid of those that are torn, faded, or past their prime, and note what you need for next year. Then hit the sales, either in store or online, and see what bargains you can score. Getting good value for your money is a very “sparkling vintage” thing to do.
You probably have a good sense of what you need to fill in the holes in your wardrobe. Think back over your summer–was there ever an occasion where you wished you had something more suitable to wear? Also think ahead to fall. What activities are coming up? Any special events planned? Do you and your family have appropriate clothes for all of them? Jot down a list of activities and clothes and check to see if there are any gaps to be filled. If you’re interested in knowing what such a list might have looked like in 1943, here’s a handy checklist for a city-dweller from the ever-on-top-of-things Grace Margaret Morton:
Coats and wraps, both tailored and dressy
Dresses for street, office or school, dates or “afternoons,” dinner, and formal
Sportswear, both spectator and active
Lingerie: slips, bras, girdles, briefs, sleepwear, robes
At-home wear: hostess gowns, pants and tops
Accessories: shoes, hosiery, hats, gloves, handbags, jewelry
Whew, that’s quite a list! Miss Morton suggests you budget your clothing expenditures carefully. She wrote, “Regardless of how little or how much one may have to spend for clothes, the smart, intelligent, alert young woman will take stock of what is on hand at the beginning of each season. Note which items are wearable as they are, which ones need to be cleaned or altered, and which ones are of no further use to you. Ask yourself the following questions:
Do you have certain basic costumes over which your coat is not suitable because of a pronounced discord of style, color, or trimming?
Do you have suitable accessories for each costume or wardrobe area?
Are your separates of such a type that they may be mixed harmoniously and worn for many occasions?
Do you have certain costumes in which you never have a good time? If so, why?
Do you have certain ensembles which you have worn for several seasons and each time you wear them you receive compliments? If so, why?
Do you have certain needs which your present wardrobe does not supply?
Do you have garments which require so much care that you hesitate to wear them?
Honest, straightforward answers to questions such as these in relation to your inventory of clothing will determine how skillful you really are in the selection, planning, and financing of your wardrobe.”
Ensembles. Costumes. How many years has it been since we thought of our clothes in those terms?
If you wrote down a list of clothing necessities for your life this fall, what sorts of things would be on it?
We’ve met Bettina before, from the 1917 book A Thousand Ways to Please a Husband, in which newlywed Bettina learns to cook and keep house for herself and her husband, Bob. In this excerpt,
“Hello, Bettina; this is Bob. What are you having for dinner tonight?”
“It’s all in the oven! Why?”
“Couldn’t you manage to make a picnic supper of it? One of the men at the office has invited us to go motoring tonight with him and his wife, and of course, I said we’d be delighted. They’re boarding, poor things, and I asked if we couldn’t bring the supper. He seemed glad to have me suggest it. I suppose he hasn’t had any home cooking for months. Do you suppose you could manage the lunch? How about it?”
“Why, let me think. How soon must we start?”
“We’ll be there in an hour or a little less. Don’t bother about it–get anything you happen to have.”
“It’s fine to go, dear. Of course I’ll be ready. Good-bye!”
Bettina’s brain was busy. There was a veal loaf baking in the oven while, on the table, a fresh loaf of Boston brown bread stood cooling. Her potatoes were cooked already for creaming, and although old potatoes would have been better for the purpose, she might make a salad of them. As she hastily put on some eggs to hard-cook, she inspected her ice box. Yes, those cold green beans, left from last night’s dinner, would be good in the salad. What else? “It needs something to give it character,” she reflected. “A little canned pimiento–and, yes–a few of the pickles in that jar.”
Of course, she had salad dressing–she was never without it. Sandwiches? The brown bread would be too fresh and soft for sandwiches, but she could keep it hot, and take some butter along. “I’m glad it is cool today. We’ll need hot coffee in the thermos bottle, and I can make it a warm supper–except for the salad.”
“How lucky it is that I made those Spanish buns! And the bananas that were to have been sliced for dessert, I can just take along whole.”
When Bettina heard the auto horn, and then Bob’s voice, she was putting on her hat.
“Well, Betty, could you manage it?”
“Yes, indeed, dear. Everything is ready. The thermos bottle has coffee in it, piping hot; the lunch basket over there is packed with the warm things wrapped tight, and that pail with the burlap over it is a temporary ice box. It holds a piece of ice, and beside it is the cream for the coffee and the potato salad. It is cool today, but I thought it best to pack them that way.”
“You are the best little housekeeper in this town,” said Bob as he kissed her. “I don’t believe anyone else could have managed a picnic supper on such short notice. Come on out and meet Mr. and Mrs. Dixon. May I tell them that they have a fine spread coming?”
“Don’t you dare, sir. It’s a very ordinary kind of a supper and even you are apt to be disappointed.”
But he wasn’t.
Bettina’s picnic supper that cool day consisted of:
Warm Veal Loaf
Cold Potato Salad
Fresh Brown Bread
Bettina’s Boston Brown Bread (six portions)
1 cup rye or graham flour
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup white flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons soda
3/4 cup molasses
1/4 cup sugar
1-1/2 cup sour milk or 1-1/4 cup sweet milk (if sweet milk is used, 1 T. vinegar to 1-1/4 c, milk will sour the milk)
2/3 cup raisins
Mix and sift dry ingredients, add molasses, liquid, and raisins. Fill well-buttered moulds (sic) two-thirds full, butter the top of the mould, and steam three and one-half hours. Remove from moulds and place in an oven to dry ten minutes before serving. Baking powder cans, melon moulds, lard pails or any attractively shaped tin cans may be used as a mould. Two methods of steaming [may be] used: (a) Regular steamer, in which the mould is placed over a pan of boiling water. Buttered papers may be tied firmly over the tops of uncovered moulds, or (b) Steaming in boiling water. The mould is placed on a small article in the bottom of a pan of boiling water. This enables the water to circulate around the mould. Care must be observed in keeping the kettle two-thirds full of boiling water all the time of cooking.
(From A Thousand Ways to Please a Husband by Louise Bennett Weaver and Helen Cowles LeCron.)
“Why would I want to drive around and look at the same old stuff that I see every day?” you may ask. Because you’re not looking for the stuff you see every day. You’re looking for the stuff that was there fifty or a hundred-and-fifty years ago (or even older, depending on where you live).
For example, in my area of northern Idaho, historian Nancy Foster Renk has written a new book called Driving Past: Tours of Historical Sites in Bonner County, Idaho. In it she outlines several driving tours, and along the way she tells you the stories of what to look for. See that tumbledown building? It was once one-room schoolhouse, and here’s what it was like to be a student or teacher there. That patch of meadow? Indians tribes used to gather there every year. That old cabin now used as a museum? It was built as a ranger station by the Civilian Conservation Corps 1934. For a history- or nostalgia-minded person, soaking your imagination in “how it used to be” is a delightful, refreshing way to spend summer afternoon.
Now, chances are most of you won’t be visiting North Idaho anytime soon. But you can do something similar for your town or county. Look for a book fo historical driving tours or, if there’s none available, map out a plan of your own. Visit your local library or historical society to find out where buildings and other structures were located, or what was there before there were any buildings at all (a farm field? A forest where people picked huckleberries?) Then plot your route, grab your lunch and your camera, and hit the road. Let your car become a time-travel machine as you learn about the people and places of yesteryear.
As the weather cools, gathering around a campfire begins to sound more appealing, and having something special to eat just adds to the fun. The Camp Fire Girls handbook of 1925 said, “Outdoor cooking is being appreciated more and more every day. One of the best sports and most healthy and invigorating pastimes is to strap a few necessities on one’s back and go away for one or two days’ trip. To be able to get far into the woods, away from houses, stores, and restaurants, and depend on one’s own resources is a delightful experience.”
(CAVEAT: Safety first! Follow your local fire and burning laws and regulations, tend your fire carefully, drench it completely before you leave the area, and always make safety your first priority.)
To start, of course, you must build your fire. The manual advises, “In choosing a spot on which to build a camp fire, make sure that there is no flammable, dry grass near. Note the direction of the wind and relative locations of buildings, brush piles, roots, dry grass, etc. If the wind is high, fire should be protected by earth banks, which will prevent sparks carrying. The lee side of a rock, stone fence, or bank makes a good place for a fire where there is danger of the sparks being carried.
“A fire for cooking should be very small. Always choose dry wood. In laying the fire, it is well to make a small, tent-shaped structure of the shavings having an opening in which to insert a match. Always be sure that the finest material is at the bottom and have other materials at hand so as to be ready to lay on larger twigs or sticks, letting no bit of kindling burn up without igniting a larger stick above it. A skilled woodsman does not use paper for kindling his fire and he seldom finds it necessary to use more than one match. The finely shredded bark of the yellow birch, which is found in the northern forests, makes the best kindling known.
“Having secured some dry wood, make “fuzz sticks” by whittling long thin shavings, but not cutting them off completely. The inner bark of standing, dead cedar trees makes excellent kindling, while dead twigs from the lower branches of standing trees, especially hemlock, balsam, and spruce, if dry, ignite very easily.
“Build a wigwam of small sticks around a bunch of little twigs or fire sticks. Around the wigwam lay in cross-cross fashion a pen of sticks about one inch square. Light the fire in the center, and in a few minutes the pen will fall to a bed of hot coals. After this is burning briskly, lay side logs either parallel or closer together at one end (to hold the pot or pan). The fire is then ready for cooking.”
When you think of cooking over a fire, does your mind immediately go to hot dogs and s’mores? Those are traditional campfire fare, to be sure, but this Fudge Feast from the Camp Fire Girls sounds mighty tempting.
Menu (for six people):
Bread and butter
Corn chowder: 1 can corn, 4 cups parboiled potatoes, 1 small onion, 1/4 lb. bacon, 2 cups milk, 1 cup water, 6 crackers, salt and pepper to taste. Cut the bacon into small dice, fry until crisp, add the onion diced and fry all together until a light brown, stirring constantly. Then add corn. Cook until hot. Add potatoes (diced) and water. Season with salt and pepper. Add a few broken crackers and milk. Take from fire and serve immediately.
Fudge: 3 cups sugar, 3 squares unsweetened chocolate, 1-1/2 cups milk OR 1 can evaporated milk and 1/2 can water, 1/2 tablespoon butter (if using evaporated milk, omit the butter). Cook together in the frying pan until it forms a soft ball when dropped into cold water. Set to one side to cool. Then beat until creamy.
When you’re through eating and have finished enjoying your fire, it’s time to put it out. The manual emphasized, “Never leave a fire until you are sure that it is out. If there is sufficient water near, drench them thoroughly. If there is any doubt, throw fresh, moist earth over the fire, stamping it to smother all coals”
Summer may be on the wane, but there are still plenty of warm, sunshiny days to get outside and play. And one activity that’s fun for everyone from young children to Grandma is croquet (crow-KAY), provided you have a level, well mowed lawn to play on. (Alas, I don’t. I live on a mountain slope and the balls would go a-tumbling down. Although I understand there is an all-terrain version called Extreme Croquet, which seems like rather an oxymoron, but looks like a lot of fun. )
The more genteel sort of croquet dates back to the mid-nineteenth century in Ireland and England, and it quickly spread to North America. The Victorians went for it in a big way, both men and women, probably because it’s fun and challenging and lets you hold a conversation and stretch your legs, without being overly strenuous. In the olden days it also let wealthy people show off their manicured lawns, as short grass is required if you want the balls to move easily and not get lost. However, in England it was eventually eclipsed by the more popular lawn tennis (did you know Wimbledon was originally a croquet club?). Still, it remains a popular summer pastime.
A typical croquet set contains six or nine wickets (hoops that stick in the ground), short sticks (mallets) and a number of brightly colored balls, plus often a rack to hold the equipment when not in use. Most sets are pretty straightforward and widely available, but some vintage sets are highly decorated and elaborately carved, with prices to match. I was even delighted to find a tiny replica of a set meant for a fairy garden.
Rules for the game can be found with a new game set or at Oxford Croquet. Among the more amusing rules of croquet etiquette: “You must not tell an opponent that he is about to strike the wrong ball” and “Do not leave the lawn for lunch if any of the balls are in a critical position.”
I think it’s rather sad that hats have gone so completely out of fashion. Oh, sure, once in a while this or that style makes a brief resurgence, and a small segment of the female population will sport berets or cloches for a season. For comfort and protection, we’ll pop on a floppy sunhat at the beach or a knit cap when the snow flies. But the days of every well dressed woman complementing her outfit with a hat are long gone. It seems to me that the quickest way to turn an ordinary summer day into a Sparkling Vintage Summer day is to try on a hat. But which style?
Grace Margaret Morton, author of the 1943 (updated 1964) book The Arts of Costume and Personal Appearance (from which most of the illustrations on this post were plucked), had reams to say on the subject. Here are just a few tidbits from Miss Montgomery:
“The hat is more than a protection. It is a frame for the face, a trim for the dress, the single most important accessory to a smart appearance, the culminating note by which drama is given to the tout ensemble (ed. “whole outfit”). A hat may need to be gay and a bit frivolous, young and casual, or dignified and sophisticated. A hat should be an adornment. It should give its wearer a lift. Unless it actually does something for her appearance, it should not be purchased.”
She acknowledged that “many young women, and older ones too, do not know the types of hats that are becoming to them or right for their needs. Many women find it difficult to distinguish hats that are right for sports and street and those intended for more formal wear. ” To that end, she set out to explain exactly which hat belongs on which face at which occasion.
“The beret and the casual hat suggest a youthful wearer and an informal occasion such as spectator sports or street. Another beret could be of velvet and suitable for wear to luncheons or teas.”
“Bandeaus and decors can be flattering and feminine, and have the added advantage of keeping the coiffure under control for late-day
occasions.” She also describes the bonnet, the breton, the cartwheel, the cloche, the tricorne, the turban (fabulous for hiding not-ready-for-prime-time hair), and a dozen other styles.
Since we’re still in August, perhaps the most perfect hat for summertime is the picture hat.
“The picture hat can be one of the most flattering and feminine of modes. It may appear in straws, felts, velvets, stiffened nets, and laces. It suggests such glamorous summer occasions as afternoon weddings, garden parties, and formal teas. In informal straw versions it may be a beach or gardening hat.” But, Miss Montgomery warns, “This hat is best worn by a woman who is at least average in height.”
And if you’re not “average in height” or otherwise model-perfect in face and figure? Miss Montgomery to the rescue!
“Large people need larger hats; conversely, women of small scale need small hats. Heavy bodies and heavy faces need thickness such as cushion-edged brims or heavy trimming at the crown. The wide, low-crowned cartwheel or sailor with its horizontal movement is not for those who need a hat with bulk and upward movement.
“Delicate features and slender bodies are overpowered by hats with too much brim, crown, or trimming. The crown should be small and the material delicate or seemingly lightweight.
“A round face and pug nose are given piquant, interesting angles when the brim is tilted.
“Weak chins are made less so by wearing dashing, lively hats with upturned brims.
“The heart-shaped dip in the brim of a wide leghorn is often becoming to a girl with a short and broad face, because it produces an effect similar to the widow’s peak so much admired.
“Feather and flower toques do very flattering things to white- or gray-haired women for afternoon. The older woman usually looks better in hats with some brim, or with irregular undulating lines, or with soft trimming such as folds of chiffon. She should avoid large, drooping brims which repeat the downward lines of wrinkles.”
Sounds like hats may be the answer to our most pressing beauty problems! A fun activity on a steamy day might be to locate a nice, cool department store that carries hats and spend a pleasant hour trying on different styles. Who knows . . . maybe you’ll land upon your perfect “signature” hat, and a new love affair will be launched.
This very popular song of 1912 has been sung in many, many movies, even Looney Tunes cartoons. Many people recognize the chorus, but the verses are more obscure. A bit more romantic than today’s “I know you wanna be my main chick,” dontcha think?
- Voices hum, crooning over Moonlight Bay
- Banjos strum, tuning while the moonbeams play
- All alone, unknown they find me
- Memories like these remind me
- Of the girl I left behind me
- Down on Moonlight Bay
- We were sailing along
- On Moonlight Bay
- We could hear the voices ringing
- They seemed to say:
- “You have stolen her heart”
- “Now don’t go ‘way!”
- As we sang love’s old sweet song
- On Moonlight Bay
Candle lights gleaming on the silent shore
- Lonely nights, dreaming till we meet once more
- Far apart, her heart, is yearning
- With a sigh for my returning
- With the light of love still burning
- As in of days of yore
- We were sailing along
- On Moonlight Bay
- We could hear the voices ringing
- They seemed to say:
- “You have stolen her heart”
- “Now don’t go ‘way!”
- As we sang love’s old sweet song
- On Moonlight Bay
Many consider baseball to be the quintessential summer game, but to my mind, tennis runs a close second, and unlike baseball, you don’t have to round up two whole teams in order to play. Simply grab a partner, a couple of rackets and a can of balls and head to the nearest court. If you’re feeling really ambitious, grab three friends and play doubles.
But hold on a minute . . . not so fast. What is that you’re wearing? First you need to make sure you’re properly attired for the court. From Grace Margaret Morton, circa 1943:
“For tennis, the correct attire is a dress with a round or V neckline, short or no sleeves, and a knee-length or shorter pleated skirt. Sometimes shorts are preferred. The garment will be of cotton pique, broadcloth, linen, or sharkskin. Generally the costume is white rather than colored, to keep from distracting other players on adjoining courts. White canvas shoes and white anklets are suitable footwear; and a tennis cap, a visor, or a simple ribbon will keep the hair in place or shade the eyes.”
Once you’re decently dressed, the next step is to get a clue about the game–not only the rules of play, but the etiquette. Eleanor Boykin (1940) advises, “[T]he traits a person shows in playing games reveal his character and breeding. And the qualities needed in games are the same ones needed for decent living–fairness, honor, self-control, willingness to abide by the rules, zest tempered by restraint, and the ability to win or lose with good spirit. If you cannot muster up any interest in a game, you had better stay out of it. A halfhearted player who does not keep his mind on the game, is forever asking, ‘Oh, is it my turn?’ and plainly does not care how things turn out is an annoyance. The ideal player . . . tries to win, yet he is not so eager that he jumps in ahead of his turn or claims victory before the game is over. When you win a game, gloat if you must, but in secret; don’t crow. When you lose, take it cheerfully; don’t blame the referee or the sun in your eyes, or your opponent’s tactics.”
Miss Boykin adds a special note for ladies: “A girl should not expect special privileges or waiting-on or to be provided with equipment merely because of her sex,” she warns. “If she is not willing to pick up her own balls she does not belong on the tennis court.”
Finally, playing tennis for fun is all well and good, but when you go on vacation, beware landing in a tennis-happy resort town during the week of a major tournament! Reaching back to the turn of the twentieth century, a writer bearing the pseudonym “Jenny Wren” writes of tennis tournaments, tongue-in-cheek, “Have you ever visited a resort in the midst of a tennis week, when the grand tournaments take place? Tennis is a delightful recreation for a time, provided you have a good partner and good antagonists, and you are playing under a moderately warm sun; but when you hear, see, and play nothing else for a week, when the conversation is ‘tennis,’ when no one appears without a racquet in his hand, when all you have to listen to are criticisms on the courts and balls, grumblings against the handicapping–well, you begin to hate the very name and wish you could injure the man who invented it. You grow tired of watching the same thing day after day, the men who spend their lives in tossing balls across to each other, the sea of faces, turning backwards and forwards at each stroke with the regulation of a pendulum.”
I guess there are some advantages to not living near Wimbledon or Forest Hills or any facility grander than the humble courts at the local park.
Besides, how can anyone scoff at a game that includes the most endearing of scoring terminology: “Love-Love!”
Perhaps you took to heart my farmer’s market post, got a little carried away, and are now wondering what to do with the abundant yield now overflowing from your fridge and counters. Or your garden is putting forth fabulous food faster than you and your family can eat it. If so, consider doing some home canning, that time-honored method of food preservation.
I didn’t learn how to can until quite recently. I never saw my mother or grandmothers do any canning. In fact–city women all–they seemed rather relieved that, in this day and age, they didn’t have to. Moving to a rural area and tasting the delights of home-canned fruits and vegetables made me interested in learning the process, and so not long ago a friend took me under her wing and showed me the basics.
If you’re new to canning, the Internet is filled with tutorial help. I like the information put out by Ball (suppliers of that most basic canning supply, the Mason jar, who presumably know what they’re talking about). If you’re an experienced canner from way back, give us novices your best tips in the comments.
Try it. All it takes is some time and know-how and a little practice. And come winter, when you can pull that jar of pickled green beans or spiced apples off the shelf and place a bowl of summer sunshine on your dining table, with the satisfaction of knowing everything that went into it, you’ll be glad you did.