Welcome to A Sparkling Vintage Life, the podcast of author Jennifer Lamont Leo. You can subscribe over at iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, or wherever you get your podcasts. Reviews are very much appreciated.
It’s football season! Listen in as Jennifer discusses vintage football etiquette for the fans in the stands, what the well-dressed football fan wore in 1943, and more.
If you prefer to read rather than listen, scroll down to find a transcript of this episode.
“What it Was, Was Football” by Andy Griffith
Transcript of Episode 22: Sparkling Vintage Football!
Welcome to A Sparkling Vintage Life, where we discuss all things vintage and celebrate the grace and charm of an earlier era. It’s September 26, 2019, as I record this. There’s not much to report this week in writing news, just a reminder that The Highlanders novella collection is now available for preorder on Amazon. I’ll put a link in the show notes.
We’re officially a couple of days into fall, and less than three months away from Christmas. Up here in North Idaho there’s no denying now that summer’s gone. In fact, according to the forecast, we’re facing an unseasonably chilly weekend coming up. For me, it’s definitely time to pull out the soft blankets and woolly socks and hunker down with a good book and a cat on my lap. But I know for many of you, you won’t let a few skin-searing winds or freezing temperatures stop you from heading to the nearest stadium to grab a spot on the bleachers and cheer your favorite team to victory.
That’s right, it’s football season! And we’ll be taking a sparkling vintage look at football today. For those of you listening outside the United States, I’m talking about American football, those great hulking men in their pads and helmets charging each other across the field, not what the entire rest of the world calls football, which we call soccer.
Now, anyone who knows me will tell you I’m not a great football fan. On Super Bowl Sunday I’m more interested in the snacks than in what happens on the TV, except, possibly, if the Chicago Bears are playing. Hometown loyalty leads me to take at least a passing interest in how the Bears are doing. Nonetheless, football and fall go together like salsa and corn chips. American football’s history goes back over 100 years. It has its roots in rugby, a game played in England and brought to these shores. Some major changes in the game are credited to Walter Camp of Yale University, who introduced such key changes as the line of scrimmage and the forward pass. The late 19th and early 20th centuries were the glory days of coaches like Amos Alonzo Stagg and Knute Rockne and Pop Warner. Football’s popularity started in the colleges but quickly spread to professional teams. The predecessor of the National Football League formed in 1920, almost exactly 100 years ago.
So I did a little digging around to find out what watching football was like, back in the good old days.
First of all, perhaps you’re wondering what to wear to the big game. You may think that wearing your team’s colors is quite enough, but not if you were a lady of fashion in, say, 1943. For a taste of mid-20th-century elegance, forego the team jerseys and sweatpants and take a page from Grace Margaret Morton, who wrote a home economics text titled The Arts of Costume and Personal Appearance. About “spectator sports” like football, Miss Morton recommends attiring oneself thusly:
“Good taste for any spectator sport calls for clothes which are casual and nonchalant. Textures should be sturdy and practical, without glint or sheen. The girl on a limited budget will choose coats and suits which can do double duty as street clothes by change of accessories. . . . The coat may be an all-season coat with water-repellent finish and zip-in lining, a bulky knit coat of fingertip or shorter length, or a fur-lined cloth coat. It may be fashioned from tweed, cheviot, camel hair, boucle, fleece, suede, or leather. Plaids, stripes, and plain colors are used.
The suit that is tailored of sturdy tweed or similar fabric is an excellent choice. Warm-weather suits made of hopsacking, seersucker, cotton tweed, or cotton cord are appropriate.
The dress suitable for spectator sports and campus wear may be one from wool jersey, washable flannel, cotton jersey, or corduroy. Separate skirts of denim, seersucker, hopsacking, cotton tweed, cotton cord, and linen suiting are correct when worn with matching or contrasting shirts or blouses.
The hat in keeping with this casual wear will be a fabric or felt cap, beret, cloche, or any narrow-brimmed hat. Gay wool or silk is used in scarves or hoods. Your creativity will be expressed in the manner in which you wear your scarf; find an interesting way to wear it.
The shoe is generally flat. One may choose saddle shoes, brogues, moccasins, oxfords, or ghillies. They may be made of calf, pigskin, or buckskin. Pumps with low or medium heels and made of leather, straw, or linen are also proper choices.
The glove worn for spectator sports will be of capeskin, pigskin, or cotton suede. String gloves, gloves with leather palms, or gay woolen or angora mittens are other possibilities.
The handbag that is carried may have shoulder straps. Calf, novelty fabric, or saddle leather are often thought of in relation to this type of costume.
Jewelry must be very restrained in design. Metal, wood, or leather will express a harmonious relationship to the attire for these occasions.”
So there you have it, ladies. Pigskin: it’s not just for the football anymore.
Of course, once you’re properly attired for the Big Game, it’s all for nought if you don’t know how to behave. With gridiron season upon us, let us not neglect our manners. Here are some ways to root without rudeness.
In her 1940 book This Way Please, Eleanor Boykin advised fans on how to conduct themselves properly. She wrote:
It is unsportsmanlike for the friends of a team to try to rattle players on the other side by booing or shouting personal remarks. Hurling criticism at the referee is both useless and crude. Enthusiasm for your side is a fine thing, but don’t let it carry you to bumptiousness.
The members of a visiting team are your guests. Treat them like friendly enemies, and show them the courtesies you would like to have shown to your team on a return visit. When a player is hurt, forget sides. Give him a cheer and all the assistance he needs.
Back up your cheerleaders. Some stirring Rah! Rah’s and choruses at the right time are not an affront to the opposing team, and they put heart into the schoolmates you have chosen to arouse school spirit.
And from an article in Seventeen magazine back in 1971:
“Lots of words have been written on the subject, but good sportsmanship still depends on how you play the game, no matter what game you’re playing. Whether you cheat on an exam or on a court, it’s equally dishonest and distasteful to others. Whatever the game, follow the three “Be’s.” BE fair. BE a good loser. BE quick to congratulate winners.”
Now that you’re dressed to kill and have bowled over the opposing team with your exquisite manners, nothing beats an epic tailgate party, which takes place in the relatively neutral ground of a parking lot or nearby field. Typical picnic fare–burgers, brats, sandwiches, potato salad–is served up from the tailgates of vehicles ina spirit of good sportsmanship. But it can be fancier. One suggested tailgate luncheon menu from an old Lexington, Virginia, cookbook included baby mint juleps, cheese lace, cold cour-cherry soup, cold fillet of beef with sour cream, rice salad, hot rolls, and banana bourbon cake with banana creme anglaise! How do your game day snacks stack up against that feast?
So the next time your favorite team hits the field, be sure to dig up your pigskin gloves and jaunty beret before you politely cheer them on in the spirit of good sportsmanship. May the best team win!
And I’ll be back in a moment with today’s grace note.
Today’s grace note is a link to a delightful recording that’s been a fall classic in my family for years. It’s called “What it Was, Was Football,” and it was recorded by Andy Griffith way back in 1953. Many of you may remember Andy Griffith, who played Sheriff Andy Taylor on The Andy Griffith Show and later was the star of Matlock. Well, when he was just a young comedian starting out, he recorded this piece, in which he portrays a country bumpkin who accidentally stumbles across a football game, which he’s never seen before. I’ll play just a little snippet of it for you, so you can get a taste.”
“What it Was, Was Football” is currently available on YouTube. Look for a link in the shownotes at sparklingvintagelife.com/podcast under Episode 22.
And that’s our show for today. If you have a heart that sometimes yearns for the misty memories of yesteryear, be sure to subscribe to my newsletter at sparklingvintagelife.com. Leave a review on Apple Podcasts or Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts. And tune in again next time when I’ll be back to discuss another aspect of A Spa
To celebrate the release of the Downton Abbey movie, Jennifer shares the top 7 reasons she loves Downton Abbey.
If you would prefer to read rather than listen, scroll down for a transcript of the episode.
Transcript for Episode 21: 7 Reasons I Love Downton Abbey
It’s September 16, 2019, as I record this, and as the Downton Abbey movie is scheduled to release later this week, I thought I’d share with you the seven reasons I love Downton Abbey. Downton Abbey is the epitome of a sparkling vintage life, and while it’s not everyone’s fine china cup of tea, it certainly is mine. However, if you’re not a fan, you may feel free to skip this episode as it will simply annoy you.
I only have one bit of writing news to share this week, and that’s that The Highlanders novella collection is now available for preorder on Amazon. I’ll put a link in the show notes. My own contribution, a novella called The Violinist, is set in 1915, which happens to fall in the time period of Downton Abbey. But that’s just a coincidence. I promise.
I was a great fan of Downton Abbey from the beginning. For those who might not be familiar with it, it was a British television drama that aired in from 200X to 201X on PBS. Created by Julian Fellowes, it followed a similar pattern as a much older series called “Upstairs, Downstairs,” chronicling the lives of wealthy British people living lives of luxury juxtaposed against the servants who toiled for them below stairs. I loved watching these ways of life that were so foreign to me, both the nobles’ lives and the servants’ lives. Like all the best TV, movies, and books, it gave me a chance to escape my own reality and dream a little, in this case for an hour a week.
In anticipation of the movie being released later this week, I’ve broken down my appreciation for Downton Abbey into seven reasons.
- First of all, it was set in my favorite time period, the early twentieth century. From the first episode set in 1912 through the 1920s, it was an era filled with drama. One of the things I love about history is not only learning the facts about historical events, but learning how these events touched the lives of individual people and families. For example, long-ago events World War II or the Korean War seem so much more real and vivid to us when we hear how they affected our fathers, uncles, or grandfathers who fought in the war, or how our grandmothers coped on the homefront with rationing and shortages and war-bond drives. Well, in the same way, Downton Abbey lets me see historical events through the lens of one household. They got the ball rolling with the sinking of the Titanic in 1912, which kicked off Season One’s storyline. We saw the impact World War I had on different characters in different walks of life. We watched the wild spirit of the 1920s roll in, and all along, the various technologies: electricity, the telephone, the radio, the phonograph. One of my favorite scenes was from Season One where the dowager countess, Lady Violet, declares she will never have electricity in her house because of the damaging rays. Well, some people actually felt that way, and some still do feel suspicious about every wave of new technology that comes along. So my number-one reason for loving Downton Abbey is the time period.
- The stories! Downton Abbey is great storytelling, pure and simple. There are mysteries. There are murders and suspicious and inconvenient deaths (poor Mr. Pamuk). There are jilted brides, sibling rivalries, conflicts and betrayals and treacheries of all sorts, punctuated by sweet and tender moments, sometimes from characters you’d least suspect of being capable of sweet and tender. And there’s romance and heartbreak and more romance and more heartbreak and more romance and even some happy endings. There’s good character development, with characters who grow and change over the course of the series. So my second reason for loving Downton Abbey is the storytelling.
- The costumes ! The costumes. The dresses. The hats. The sparkly headbands and slinky gloves and luxurious jewelry. I could watch the series with the sound off and just enjoy the costumes. Even the outfits I hated, I loved.
- Good values. In Downton Abbey, a person’s character wins out over their social status. In a world where rich people are often vilified like cartoon villains simply for being rich, and poor people are often considered virtuous just for being poor, Downton Abbey showed a world where rich people could be good and kind and generous, and the lower classes were not necessarily saintly just because they were poor. To be sure, some of the wealthy characters were disgusting human beings–hello, Larry Grey. And many of the below-stairs people were, of course, men and women of sterling character. But most of them were a mixed bag: clever Lady Mary and snobbish Lady Mary. Kind Lady Edith and revengeful Lady Edith. Treacherous Thomas and vulnerable Thomas. Most of the characters are multi-dimensional, which means they’re human, like every one of us. We can relate to them. And multi-dimensional characters also point back to good storytelling. I appreciated the fact that, at Downton Abbey overall, a person’s quality of character mattered more than their social status.
- Good manners mattered. Downton Abbey shows a type of civility that our world sorely needs today. To express anger with words, not fists or guns. To wash your face, get dressed, fulfill your commitments and keep your promises, even when the world around you is shifting. That’s what good manners are. When everyone knows what behavior is expected of them and what to expect from others, things tend to run more smoothly. Good manners aren’t all about using the proper fork at dinner, although that, too, has its place. At their core, good manners about treating other people with respect and kindness, no matter who they are. Carson the butler was often joke-worthy in his insistence on a proper way to do everything. And yet there’s something reassuring having clear ideas about right and wrong, proper and improper, good and bad. In today’s world where many people think everything’s relative and there are no absolutes, such ideas are comforting. So, reason number five is good manners.
- Downton Abbey is a multi-generational family saga, meaning there are storylines for characters of all ages, from the elderly dowager countess to the youngest child. (The dowager countess, played by the incomparable Maggie Smith, could constitute a reason all on her own.) I love a series that has interesting and even romantic storylines for older characters as well as those in the bloom of youth.
- Reason Number Seven: Top-notch production values. From the décor of the interiors to the English scenery, British accents, and great casting, and aforementioned fabulous costumes, Downton Abbey is a treat to watch.
So there you have it: seven reason I love Downton Abbey. I’ll check back later, after I’ve seen the movie, to share my impressions of it.
Today’s grace note is the 1928 Jewelry Company, and specifically their Downton Abbey Jewellery Collection. You’ve heard me mention the 1928 Jewelry Company before. They’re not a sponsor, and I’m not an affiliate, but I do like their jewelry.
According to the company’s website, the Downton Abbey Collection was inspired by the Edwardian and Art Deco jewelry worn during the time period of Downton Abbey. It was created in collaboration with 1928’s designers and the shows costume design team in England through an exclusive licensing agreement. From the earrings and necklaces, down to the bracelets and hair accessories, the Downton Abbey Jewellery Collection features authentic details and motifs from the late Victorian and early Edwardian eras.
As I write this in September 2019, they’re having a sale on their Downton Abbey collection. I don’t know how long the sale will last, but here’s a link to the company.
If you would be so kind to leave a review of this podcast at iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts, I would so appreciate it. It feels awkward sometimes to ask for a review, sort of like fishing for compliments, but truly, nothing raises the visibility of a podcast like a healthy number of good reviews. So in the interest of helping other like-minded vintage lovers find this podcast, I’m asking you to leave a review, if you please. Remember that you can find the show notes at sparklingvintagelife.com under episode 21. And while you’re there, you can sign up for my newsletter and be notified whenever a new episode is available.
And that’s it for today! I’ll be back soon to discuss another aspect of A Sparkling Vintage Life.
As we celebrate back-to-school time, join Jennifer Leo as she looks back at the life and times of college women in decades past, including Literary Snippets from Lucy Maud Montgomery and more.
If you prefer to read rather than listen, scroll down to find a transcript of this episode.
Transcript for Episode 20: Here Come the Co-eds! College Women of Yesteryear
As it’s back-to-school time, I thought it would be fun to talk about college…specifically, what college was like for women in our favorite time period of the early- to mid-20th century.
But first, a brief update on my writing life. I’ve just returned from a wonderful three-day writing retreat in Post Falls, Idaho, only about an hour’s drive from my home. I went with several other members of my monthly critique group and it turned out to be a time that was both refreshing and productive. We alternated lots of writing on our own with time spent together, cementing our friendships. For the most part we spent our days writing, interspersed with a nap here or a hike there, and then gathered at mealtimes and watched movies together in the evening. If you enjoy writing, I highly recommend taking a writing retreat, either on your own or with other like-minded writers who are serious about getting stuff done. I think the same could be said about just about any art, from painting to quilting to scrapbooking. Time away can be refreshing as well as productive. Since I live in a quiet household anyway and have few interruptions other than those I impose on myself, I don’t know why I’m so much more productive on retreat, but there it is.
In other news, my historical-romance novella “The Violinist” will be published in November in a collection called The Highlanders. As the title indicates, each novella in the collection features a Scotsman. I took my Scotsman and I brought him to North Idaho as a logger in 1915. The other authors in the collection are J’Nell Cieselski, Naomi Musch, and Janet Grunst. I hope you’ll watch for The Highlanders and give it a read and a review. When it’s time for a sneak peek at the cover, I’ll post it in the show notes over at sparklingvintagelife.com under Episode 20.
My 1930s standalone novel, Moondrop Miracle, alas, has not yet been able to find a home with a publishing house. However, I believe in this story so much that I’m now planning to indie-publish it through my own company, Mountain Majesty Media. I’m making some final tweaks and it will go to an editor this fall, and I’ll also be auditioning cover designers soon. If all goes as planned, expect to see Moondrop Miracle in early 2020. And I’m still writing the first draft of the yet-untitled novel set in Hollywood in the 1930s. I took a break from it to get Moondrop Miracle ready to go to the editor, then I’ll be back at it. And finally, I’m polishing up a proposal for yet another novel, this one set around the capsizing of the Eastland excursion boat in the Chicago River in 1915. The working title of that one is currently, very unimaginatively, Eastland. If you have a better idea, let me know. The proposal and sample chapters will soon go to my agent to see if any traditional publishers might be interested in publishing it. I’m still open to entertaining a traditional publishing deal even though independent publishing is seeming more and more attractive on multiple levels.
And if you happen to be in the area, I’ll be speaking at the Idaho Writer’s League Annual Conference in Sandpoint, Idaho, on September 20 and 21, 2019.
So that’s what’s been going on with me. Now on to our topic, which is what college was like for women, several generations ago.
I’ve had great fun researching this topic. For the most part, I enjoyed my college years. There were some bad things that happened during that time, to be sure, but there were very good things too. So you need to know that my opinion of college is colored by my own overall positive experience, but I have very little firsthand or even secondhand knowledge of what college life is like today and how it compares. Those of you who are in college now or have kids in college would obviously know more about that than I do.
Another thing I want to say up front is that I no longer think college is right for everyone, especially in this day and age when so many alternatives are available. Of course, for certain careers one needs to credentials and the contacts that only college can provide. But I think nowadays specialized training, trade school or apprenticeships or online learning or other ways to prepare to earn a living are just as valid and often more practical, depending on a person’s life ambition. I’m also a strong proponent for self-education and lifelong learning no matter what path a person’s formal education takes. So don’t take this nostalgic look back at vintage college life and turn it into a blanket endorsement of college for everyone, because it isn’t.
All that said, let’s promenade back to peek at college women’s experience in the early 20th century. As I said, I had so much fun researching college life in that era. Sometimes it sounded like one chafing-dish party after another. Chafing-dish parties were all the rage in women’s dorms in the 1910s. Here’s some of what I unearthed.
First, rather than “college woman,” you’d be more likely to hear “college girl” or even “co-ed,” which was short for “co-educational.” Prior to the early 20th century, most colleges were segregated by gender. The majority were men’s colleges, plus a smaller number of women’s colleges. Women were more likely to attend finishing school, if they were from wealthy families, or to either get married or get a job straight out of high school if they weren’t. I’m planning to say more about finishing schools in a future episode of this podcast, so we’ll table that topic for now.
But back to colleges. In the late 19th and at the turn of the 20th century we had the land grant colleges which were now opening up coeducationally. It was still much rarer for women to attend college, and rarer still for them to attend colleges right alongside the men, the land-grant colleges notwithstanding. So when the first co-educational colleges came along, the female students themselves were called “co-eds” while male students were called “students.” You’d see magazine articles written about “Fashions for the Co-Ed” or “Study Tips for the Co-Ed.” In some places, female college students were still called co-eds right up into the 1960s, although by the early ‘80s when I graduated the term was no longer in use anywhere. We were all just “college students.”
I looked up some old student manuals to see what college life was like. It was interesting to see what was deemed important. For example, a women’s college in the American Southeast in 1927 devoted an entire section on the use of electric lights. Students had to be in their rooms with doors closed and lights out at 10:30 p.m., except on Saturdays 11:30 p.m. However, they were allowed two “light cuts” a week when they could keep their light on until midnight for studying. I’m wondering if electricity was so relatively expensive at that time that it had to be carefully regulated.
That same 1927 manual prohibited walking on the roofs of the buildings, making me wonder if that was a thing. It also prohibited smoking within a radius of ten miles of the college. First offense earned a reprimand. Second offense earned suspension. I have no problem with prohibiting smoking, especially these days when we know how harmful it is to our health, but the ten-mile radius seems a bit excessive, as does the punishment, especially because they didn’t have the Surgeon General’s Warning about tobacco back then. Interestingly, this particular college was located in Virginia, heart of tobacco-growing country.
Students were also only allowed to go for walks in groups, and the size of the group determined where they could go. For example, two or more students together could walk to certain places, while only six or more could walk other places. And the destinations were very specific: from this farm to that person’s house, or through Dr. So-and-so’s gate as far as the bend in the stream.
Needless to say, gentlemen callers were highly restricted at this college in that era. Men were allowed to call at the college on Saturday evenings between 7:30 and 10:30 and on Sunday afternoons from 3:00-5:45 and 8:30-10:00. Apparently they had to find something else to do with themselves between 6 and 8.
Chaperones were in high demand. “There are no evening engagements off campus unchaperoned,” the manual intones, “for safety, to protect students from being misjudged and to safeguard the social good of the college.” A list of approved chaperones was supplied. I think an entire future episode on chaperones, what they were, and what became of them is warranted, don’t you?
At this school in 1927, students wore white blouses and dark skirts to classes, but they had to change into a dress for dinner. They could, if they wanted, give the impression of a dress by wearing a white skirt with their white blouse, or a dark blouse with their dark skirt, but no wearing a white blouse and dark skirt to dinner. That was daytime wear. Also, “girls costumed in knickers or trousers for hiking do not use the front hall after 6 p.m.”
At another school several years later, in 1935, students were prohibited from dancing in public places, although presumably they could do so at private functions. They needed written permission from their parents to ride in an automobile. Their use of electric lights was not so restricted, but if they brought a radio from home they had to register it with the dean’s office, pay an extra fee for it, and have it taken away if they played it too loud.
It would be interesting to see how these rules and regulations compare to the types of activities that are permitted and not permitted on campuses today.
Finally, it’s been a while since I’ve brought you a Literary Snippet, so I want to close out this episode with a few insightful literary snippets about college life fifty or a hundred years ago.
In Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery, published in 1912, Anne Shirley earns her teaching credential at Queen’s, a school that’s close enough to home that she can go home every weekend. Then in Anne of Avonlea she begins her first teaching job. At the end of Anne of Avonlea, she’s preparing to go to Redmond College to further her education. Before she goes, she meets her neighbor, Mr. Harrison.
“I s’pose you’ll be starting off for college in a fortnight’s time?” [said] Mr. Harrison. “Well, we’re going to miss you an awful lot, Emily and me.”
“Yes, I’m going. I’m very glad with my head…and very sorry with my heart.”
“I s’pose you’ll be scooping up all the honors that are lying round loose at Redmond.”
“I may try for one or two of them,” confessed Anne, “but I don’t care so much for things like that as I did two years ago. What I want to get out of my college course is some knowledge of the best way of living life and doing the most and best with it. I want to learn to understand and help other people and myself.”
Mr. Harrison nodded.
“That’s the idea exactly. That’s what college ought to be for, instead of for turning out a lot of B.A.’s so chock full of book-learning and vanity that there ain’t room for anything else. You’re all right. College won’t be able to do you much harm, I reckon.” (excerpt from Anne of Avonlea by L. M. Montgomery)
In the next book, Anne of the Island, Anne goes off to Redmond. Her love interest, Gilbert Blythe, is also going to Redmond, although they aren’t yet an item at this point. In a conversation the night before they leave, he says, “You look tired, Anne.”
“I am tired, and worse than that, I’m disgruntled. I’m tired because I’ve been packing my trunk and sewing all day. But I’m disgruntled because six women have been here to say goodbye to me, and every one of the six managed to say something that seemed to take the color right out of life and leave it as gray and dismal and cheerless as a November morning.”
“Spiteful old cats!” was Gilbert’s elegant comment.
“Oh, no, they weren’t,” said Anne seriously. “That is just the trouble. If they had been spiteful cats I wouldn’t have minded them. But they are all nice, kind, motherly souls who like me and whom I like it, and that is why what they said had such undue weight with me. They let me see they thought I was crazy going to Redmond and trying to take a B.A., and ever since I’ve been wondering if I am. Mrs. Peter Sloane sighed and said she hoped my strength would hold out till I got through; and at once I saw myself a hopeless victim of nervous prostration at the end of my third year; Mrs. Eben Wright said it must cost an awful lot to put in four years at Redmond and I felt all over me that it was unpardonable in me to squander Marilla’s money and my own on such a folly; Mrs. Jasper Bell said she hoped I wouldn’t let college spoil me, as it did some people; and I felt in my bones that the end of my four Redmond years would see me a most insufferable creature, thinking I knew it all, and looking down on everything and everybody in Avonlea; Mrs. Elisha Wright said she understood that Redmond girls, especially those who belonged to Kingsport, were ‘dreadful dressy and stuck-up,’ and she guessed I wouldn’t feel much at home among them; and I saw myself a snubbed, dowdy, humiliated country girl shuffling through Redmond’s classic halls in coppertoned boots.
Anne ended with a laugh and a sigh commingled. With her sensitive nature all disapproval had weight, even the disapproval of those for whose opinions she had scant respect. For the time being life was savorless, and ambition had gone out like a snuffed candle.” (excerpt from Anne of the Island by L. M. Montgomery).
So that passage gives you some idea of the various ways people thought about college education for women in those days. Those were several of the common objections people had to women going to college.
After they arrive at Redmond, Anne speaks to her friend and fellow “freshette,” Priscilla. In the book a “freshette” is a female first-year student, the female equivalent of a freshman. They talk about how overwhelmed and insignificant they feel as newcomers to campus. Anne says, “I suppose the trouble is we can’t forgive big Redmond for not being little Queen’s… When we left Queen’s we knew everybody and had a place of our own. I suppose we have been unconsciously expecting to take life up at Redmond just where we left off at Queen’s, and now we feel as if the ground has slipped from under our feet. I’m thankful that neither Mrs. Lynde nor Mrs. Elisha Wright know, or ever will know, my state of mind at present. They would exult in saying, ‘I told you so,’ and be convinced it was the beginning of the end. Whereas it is just the end of the beginning.” (excerpt from Anne of the Island by L. M. Montgomery)
And then finally, after a few weeks, Anne gets fully into the swing of student life a Redmond. “For the next three weeks Anne and Priscilla continued to feel as strangers in a strange land. Then, suddenly, everything seemed to fall into focus–Redmond, professors, classes, students, studies, social doings. Life became homogeneous again, instead of being made up of detached fragments. The Freshmen, instead of being a collection of unrelated individuals, found themselves a class, with a class spirit, a class yell, class interests, class antipathies and class ambitions. They won the day in the annual “Arts Rush” against the Sophomores, and thereby gained the respect of all the classes, and an enormous, confidence-giving opinion of themselves. For three years the Sophomores had won in the “rush.” That the victory of this year perched upon the Freshmen’s banner was attributed to the strategic generalship of Gilbert Blythe, who marshaled the campaign and originated certain new tactics, which demoralized the Sophs and swept the Freshmen to triumph.” (excerpt from Anne of the Island by L. M. Montgomery)
She goes on to describe many other fun doings of college life in that era.
Another delightful book that describes the college experience is Daddy Long-Legs by Jean Webster, published in 1912. Daddy Long-Legs is an epistolary novel, meaning it’s written in the form of letters. In it, an orphan named Jerusha Abbott has been sponsored by an anonymous benefactor to go to college, under the stipulation that she write to him regularly, keeping him informed of her progress.
So in her letters, when she first gets to college, she says:
The Letters of Miss Jerusha Abbott to Mr. Daddy-Long-Legs Smith [she calls him Daddy Long-Legs because she doesn’t know who he is, but she saw him from a distance once and knows he is tall].
Here I am! I travelled yesterday for four hours in a train. It’s a funny sensation, isn’t it? I never rode in one before.
College is the biggest, most bewildering place—I get lost whenever I leave my room. I will write you a description later when I’m feeling less muddled; also I will tell you about my lessons. Classes don’t begin until Monday morning, and this is Saturday night. But I wanted to write a letter first just to get acquainted.
To Mr. Daddy-Long-Legs
I love college and I love you for sending me—I’m very, very happy, and so excited every moment of the time that I can scarcely sleep. You can’t imagine how different it is from the John Grier Home. I never dreamed there was such a place in the world. I’m feeling sorry for everybody who isn’t a girl and who can’t come here; I am sure the college you attended when you were a boy couldn’t have been so nice.
My room is up in a tower that used to be the contagious ward before they built the new infirmary. There are three other girls on the same floor of the tower—a Senior who wears spectacles and is always asking us please to be a little more quiet, and two Freshmen named Sallie McBride and Julia Rutledge Pendleton. Sallie has red hair and a turn-up nose and is quite friendly; Julia comes from one of the first families in New York and hasn’t noticed me yet. They room together and the Senior and I have singles. Usually Freshmen can’t get singles; they are very scarce, but I got one without even asking. I suppose the registrar didn’t think it would be right to ask a properly brought-up girl to room with a foundling. You see there are advantages!
My room is on the north-west corner with two windows and a view. After you’ve lived in a ward for eighteen years with twenty room-mates, it is restful to be alone. This is the first chance I’ve ever had to get acquainted with Jerusha Abbott. I think I’m going to like her.
Do you think you are?
Later…They are organizing the Freshman basket-ball team and there’s just a chance that I shall get in it. I’m little, of course, but terribly quick and wiry and tough. While the others are hopping about in the air, I can dodge under their feet and grab the ball. It’s loads of fun practicing—out in the athletic field in the afternoon with the trees all yellow and red and the air full of the smell of burning leaves, and everybody laughing and shouting. These are the happiest girls I ever saw—and I am the happiest of all!
There’s much more to read about Jerusha Abbott and her college experience, including the fact that she changes her name from Jerusha to Judy, because she’d like to fit in better. So I do recommend, if you’ve never read it, Daddy Long-Legs by Jean Webster.
My final college-related literary snippet is from Campus Melody by Anne Emery. Published in 1955, Campus Melody tells the story of Jean Burnaby, who has received a scholarship to attend Overton College to study piano. I love the description of the campus:
“Jean’s room was in Houghton House, the oldest of four women’s dormitories at Overton College. An old brick building with high ceilings and Victorian woodwork, the floors slippery with age, the stairs grooved and creaking, it had the prettiest setting of any of the dorms, overlooking the new library, the older campus buildings, and the curve of the Ohio River, beyond which lay the Kentucky hills.
Jean loved everything about the college and her room, including the pink-and-blue curtains she had dreaded. They had turned out to be a dusty aqua with accents of coral and brown in impressionistic squares. The bedspreads were brown corduroy, and Melissa had contributed six lounging pillows covered in coral. Twin bookcases flanked twin study desks with coral blotters, set in the bay window, and each girl thought the other’s collection of books looked fascinating. Jean and Melissa spent the first week together listening to orientation lectures, filling out questionnaires, attending discussions on possible careers and courses of study. They had gone to two parties for freshman girls, had bought two record albums at the Campus Book and Record Shop, had had one of the famous milk shakes at the Sweet Shop, the favorite village hangout for students, and finally stood in line with two hundred other freshman girls in the big gymnasium to register for classes.”
At first all goes swimmingly for Jean. She has an active social life and keeps up with her classes. At first. Then she runs afoul of the housemother of her dorm, a stately lady with lavender-tinted gray hair. Jean and Melissa come in late one night.
“The girls ran up the flight of steps to the first floor as fast as their failing wind would permit and found themselves breathless and gasping, facing the housemother who had their cards in her hand.
“You didn’t sign out,” she said with a smile which was meant to be kind and patient. “That is our first rule, my dears.”
“I’m sorry,” said Jean, trying to think of an excuse and unable to. “I’m afraid we forgot.”
“Being sorry doesn’t help matters much, does it?” Mrs. Buxton smiled cheerily. “I am responsible to your parents for your morals, your conduct, and your study habits. And the only way I can cope with such a heavy responsibility is to have careful attention to the rules. Because,” she said happily, with a gleam of inspiration, “minor infractions lead to major infractions. We must not weaken the foundation lest the walls crumble.”
“We’ll remember next time,” Jean mumbled, feeling like kindergartner.
“I’m sure you will,” Mrs. Buxton agreed amiably. “We’re not surprised that freshmen find it hard to get used to our ways,” she went on, as if freshmen had had no upbringing before coming to Overton, “but we do feel that the sooner everyone is accustomed to cooperation, the happier life will be for everyone. Don’t you agree?”
Melissa had regained her breath. “We agree entirely, Mrs. Buxton,” she said obligingly. “Thank you so much. Good night.”
Mrs. Buxton looked pleased, if puzzled, at the thanks, and Jean wondered, giggling with Melissa as they climbed to the third floor, if it was hypocritical to agree with someone you disliked about rules you didn’t believe in. And what else could you do?”
Well, soon Jean is given a rush by the big man on campus, and adventure ensues from there. If you feel like a fluffy, lightweight read that will nonetheless immerse you in another place, time, and way of looking at the world, look for Campus Melody by Anne Emery.
Today’s grace note is a copy of my own book, Songbird and Other Stories. This is a collection of four short stories set in the Roaring Twenties, mostly in Chicago and one in northern Idaho. These stories feature characters from my Roaring Twenties series, so if you haven’t read that series, this is a great way to get introduced to those characters and to the types of books they are. They’re clean and wholesome and fun. I hope you would like them very much. So, to enter in a drawing for a copy of Songbird and Other Stories, simply go to sparklingvintagelife.com/podcast, click on episode 20 and leave a comment. In the comment I would like you to share a favorite memory from your schooldays. It could be college, high school, or elementary school. Just one memory you remember fondly from your schooldays. And in about a week or ten days, I will choose a name at random from those who have commented and you will have your choice of a print book, a large-print book, or an e-book copy of Songbird and Other Stories.
And that’s it for our show today. I hope you’ve enjoyed this little stroll across the college campus of yesteryear. If you have a favorite memory from your college days that you’d like to share, or a favorite novel set on a college campus that you’d like to recommend, feel free to leave a comment at sparklingvintagelife.com/podcast under Episode 20.
If you’re wilting in the hot summer weather, here are some time-tested ways to keep your cool. Visit http://www.sparklingvintagelife.com/podcast for show notes and other information.
If you prefer to read rather than listen, scroll down for a transcript.
Here’s a link to Episode 17 about porch life.
Winter Solstice by Rosamunde Pilcher
Transcript #19: Heat Wave! 31 Vintage Ways to Beat the Heat
Welcome to A Sparkling Vintage Life, where we talk about all things vintage and celebrate the grace and charm of an earlier era. I’m your host, Jennifer Leo, and this is Episode number nineteen.
I’m sorry I’ve been away for a couple of weeks. I’ve been fighting quite a bad summer cold. You might still hear it in my voice, but I’m well on my way to being mended. Summer colds always feel like a bit of an insult. We sort of expect to get colds in the depths of winter, but in summer when the sun’s out and the weather’s warm and we want to be out doing things, getting a cold seems particularly out of place.
It’s been an extra-hot summer in many parts of the United States and the northern hemisphere, so today I thought we’d talk about some good old-fashioned methods for keeping cool. Of course we have air-conditioning now, but did you know that widespread air-conditioning has been available for less than 100 years? In some areas, considerably less. And some of us don’t like to depend on air conditioning if we can help it. So here are some tips I’ve found in my research of old books and magazines of ways our ancestors beat the heat.
You get a head start if you’ve designed your home to help you stay cool. This is understandably more common in the steamy South than elsewhere.
Traditional southern porches are shady and cool. We talked about porches a couple of episodes ago. If you want your porch to be a refuge in hot weather, you want a deep eave or roof, and preferably near shady trees. You also want high ceilings in your home, because heat rises, and you want to ventilate with tall windows and wide, airy hallways.
Of course few of us can actually design our homes to stay cool, nor would we want to if we live in a climate that’s only hot a few weeks out of the year. There are plenty of temporary things you can do to cool down your home.
- Turn off lights and electric appliances you aren’t using
- Roll up heavy rugs and replace heavy curtains with lighter ones, maybe muslin or cotton.
- Close blinds to darken the room. You can also dampen the curtains to cool the breeze as it passes through.
- Cover dark, heavy furniture with lightweight slipcovers
- Put away decorative objects and clutter. Clear, smooth surfaces feel cooler than busy ones.
- Plants and ferns that cast shadow and shade
- Bowl of ice in front of an electric fan.
- Replace sheets with cotton sheets. On really hot nights, put the sheets in the freezer before putting them on the bed.
- Use linen rinse water or linen spray, esp. lavender or orange blossom.
For cooling down yourself:
- Cool shower or bath
- Hot shower or bath
- Include Epsom salts, herbs, dried flowers, milk, essential oils in your bath water.
- Run wrists under cold water, cold wet cloth on back of neck
- Witch hazel or other toner.
- Don’t use talcum powder for health reasons, but use cornstarch or arrowroot powder instead.
- Blotter paper.
- Whether to use moisturizer or not: Humid? Skip it, or maybe just use in areas that really need it.
Dry? Definitely use it.
- Put skin-care products in the fridge.
- Also put metal jewelry in the fridge.
- Pin up hair to get it off your neck.
- Avoid blow-drying or curling irons, or use them at night.
Dressing to Stay Cool:
- Skirts are cooler than pants, and loose-legged pants are cooler than tight ones.
- Loose clothing in general is cooler than tight clothing.
- Lighter colors, and natural fabrics that breathe.
- Sandals and strappy shoes rather than heavy ones.
- Accessories: brimmed hats, sunglasses, paper fans
- Hydrate regularly, and water is best. Fruit in water.
- Avoid salt, alcohol, caffeine, and fatty foods
- Eat lightly: salads, fruits, vegetables.
- Read “cold” books: Winter Solstice by Rosamund Pilcher, Dr. Zhivago, Call of the Wild, favorite Christmas stories.
- Serene vs. frenetic schedule. Move slowly and gracefully rather than dart around.
How about you? What are some of your favorite time-tested ways to beat the heat? You can let me know in the comments at sparklingvintagelife.com/podcast under Episode 19.
Today’s Grace Note is Sea Breeze Astringent. I was addicted to this stuff when I was a teenager and had terribly oily and acne-prone skin. But as an adult I’d moved on to different products as my skin became less oily. I still liked to use it as an after-bath splash, though. It worked the same as witch hazel or rubbing alcohol, but smelled nicer. It was heavy on the menthol, which is a fragrance I happen to like. What I didn’t know was that the original Sea Breeze formula I’d known and loved, which had been around since 1908 as a remedy for cuts and scrapes, had been discontinued. Apparently it was considered TOO strong. It actually stung people. Wimps. Well, the good news, for me anyway, is that the original formula is back on the market. So if you shop for Sea Breeze now, you’ll have your choice of Original Formula or Sensitive Skin formula. Sea Breeze is not a sponsor of this show and I don’t get anything for recommending it, and I am not a dermatologist, nor a medical professional of any type. So be forewarned. I just remember liking it a lot, especially in summer, and thought you might, too, since we’re talking about ways to beat the heat. Just keep in mind that it is very strong, and if your skin tends to react badly to alcohol-based products, you’ll probably want to steer clear and stick with good old witch hazel.
And that’s our show for today. Tune in again next time when I’ll be discussing another aspect of A Sparkling Vintage Life.
This “bonus” minisode tackles the topic of common courtesy, which is so much more than using the right salad fork. If we’re ever going to solve the problem of hatred and violence in our world, we’ve got to start with treating each other with basic respect, kindness, and dignity.
If you prefer to read rather than listen, scroll down to find a transcript of this episode.
Civility by Stephen L. Carter
Transcript of Episode 18.5: Courtesy in a Violent World
This is a quick minisode–I’m calling it Episode 18.5–about the role of good manners in society. This is maybe a slightly more serious topic today than I normally talk about, but a few distressing things have happened lately in the news. I know distressing news is not unusual, and normally I don’t watch a lot of news for that reason. But a couple stories have come across my newsfeed than broke my heart.
First, there was a brawl that broke out at that supposedly happiest place on Earth, Disneyland. Even worse, this brawl broke out in the Toontown section, which I understand is where the youngest children go. So who knows how many people including some very young children had their visit ruined by having to be unwilling witnesses to this brawl that broke out among adults who were angry with each other and couldn’t manage to settle their differences peacefully, without shouting and cursing and physical violence.
I was still reeling from that story when the second story hit. This one happened much closer to my home. It happened in a small town quite near to me, where two teenage girls beat a third teenage girl, allegedly with a baseball bat, and put her in the hospital. This is normally a quiet, almost sleepy place, and to have something like this happen here just … there are no words.
I’m not going to go into detail on either one of these stories, nor am I going t link to them. I don’t want these kinds of topics on my page. The only reason I’m even bringing them up here today is that I feel they point to and are indicators of what can happen when people forget, or perhaps are never even taught, how to be civil to one another. Call it what you will–call it good manners or proper etiquette or civility or decency–those are all facets of the same thing. These acts of violence, as well as many others that take place here in America and all over the world, are symptoms. They’re symptoms of people losing their ability to get along with each other for the good of the community.
Sometimes people are amused by or even ridicule my longing for a return to good manners in society today. After all, who cares which fork you use for your salad or whether or not to chew with your mouth closed. Well, they’re right. It’s not about the forks. It’s not about the table manners. When you’re talking violence, these things don’t matter much. As many commenters have pointed out, people who do these sorts of things are steeped in dysfunction and violence and maybe mental illness. No amount of “please” and “thank you” can fix that.
But at its essence, above everything else, practicing good manners is simply a social lubricant that reduces the friction that occurs when people rub up against others or encounter people who rub them the wrong way. It’s a balm for wounds to keep them small and avoid letting them blow up into bigger problems.
Manners help people of different viewpoints and backgrounds and experiences to get along when they’re in the public square or at any type of gathering. Mannerly behavior and civility give people a framework within which they can try to work out their differences and a standard of behavior to treat each other with respect and dignity, not to beat someone to a pulp because they said or did something someone else didn’t like. At the very least, if differences cannot be resolved, good manners provide a way for each party to walk away, to maintain their own space, and to avoid interacting for their mutual benefit, if that’s the only way to keep the peace.
I’m not talking about glossing over problems or putting a fake happy face on them. But I am talking about using what used to be called common courtesy or basic courtesy to allow us to overlook the petty grievance or unintended slight instead of taking offense, or to resolve it in a way that leaves both affected parties with their dignity intact before the situation devolves into a brawl. Civility also assures that others don’t get drawn into the disagreement, either as unwilling witness like the innocent tourists trying to enjoy a day at Disneyland, or even those who are initially not involved but whose emotions are ginned up to the point where they take sides in the fight.
In his excellent book Civility, Stephen L. Carter writes, “Civility as a moral proposition begins with the assumption that humans matter, that we owe each other respect, and that treating each other well is a moral duty. Civility so understood often requires us to put aside our own interests and desires for the benfit of others–which, as the ancient philosopher Erasmus understood, is what civilization is all about.”
In short, civility teaches us to discipline our desires for the sake of others. In short, it’s the Golden Rule: to treat others as we would want to be treated. To love one another, and love our neighbors as ourselves.
So, no, I’m not naïve enough to think a few charm-school lessons are going to solve the deeply rooted problem of violence and incivility in our world. But I’m not going to sit idly by, either. I’m going to do my part to restore dignity and grace to the extent that I can, within my sphere of influence, one person at a time. Won’t you join me?
Sitting on the front porch, visiting with family and friends or just catching a cooling breeze, used to be a regular part of summertime life, before air conditioning and television sent us all scooting back indoors. Come and sit awhile and reminisce with Jennifer about the front porches of yesteryear. Maybe you’ll even be inspired to dust off that old wicker rocker–the one that creaked so soothingly as you watched the fireflies in the dusk.
If you prefer to read rather than listen, scroll down to find a transcript of Episode 18.
God, Me, and Sweet Iced Tea by Rose Chandler Johnson
Transcript of Episode 18: Front Porch Life
Hello, Sparklers! Welcome to A Sparkling Vintage Life, where we talk about all things vintage and celebrate the grace and charm of an earlier era. I’m your host, Jennifer Leo, and this is Episode number eighteen.
I’m so happy you’ve stopped by to spend a few minutes with me. It’s the first week of July as I record this, so I’m wishing a slightly belated Happy Canada Day to our neighbors to the north, and a Happy Fourth of July to my American listeners.
Today I want to talk about front porches. And in this case you can translate “front porch” however you like. It could be a flight of cement stairs in the city, maybe a set of lawn chairs or a blanket on the ground in the front yard, a little balcony, or anything at all. For my purposes,I consider a front porch anything that (a) brings your family out of the house and (b) faces the street or the sidewalk or any place that potentially brings you into contact with your neighbors and people who are passing by.
Front-porch culture used to be a regular summer pastime in many parts of the US. Families would gather on the porch in the warm twilight and talk about their day, or maybe the adults would just sit and relax, watching the children play tag or chase fireflies on the front lawn. Mom or Grandma might bring out a pitcher of lemonade and tray of tall frosty glasses, or dishes of ice cream, maybe hand-cranked like we talked about recently, or something fun like popsicles. Maybe someone would bring out a guitar and strum gentle tunes (I got that idea from The Andy Griffith Show, set in that quintessential small town, Mayberry. I have a memory of Sheriff Andy bringing his guitar out on the porch in the warm North Carolina evening and singing some quiet song to Aunt Bee and Helen Crump in the moonlight. It’s possible he only did it on one episode, but that vision stuck with me all these years).
Because front porches faced the street, people could greet their neighbors, who likely were also sitting out on their own front porches. Maybe they’d wave you over, or you’d wave them over, and you’d make room for them to sit and visit a while the kids played together. You’d at least wave or smile at people passing by. And there were people passing by, taking walks after dinner, catching a bit of fresh air before turning in for the night. If the porch had a roof, and it usually did, you would be shaded from the sun, and could even sit outside if it was raining.
People enjoyed their front porches even as the seasons changed, just adding sweaters as the cooler evenings of autumn settled in, until the autumn chill became downright cold and chased them back inside for the winter.
Porches were also the setting for many a romance. Those hard wooden porch swings and metal gliding sofas might have been less than comfortable to sit on, but you’d forget all that if the right person was sitting on them with you. Even my own novel, You’re the Cream in My Coffee , set in the 1920s, features a romantic conversation set on a porch swing. As I understand it, concerned parents might switch the porch light on and off, or tap on the windowsill, to signal when it was time to say goodnight to one’s beloved and come inside.
Whatever happened to front-porch culture? Well, several things. Air conditioning, for one. After World War II a steadily increasing number of households added air conditioning, which made staying inside a cool house more comfortable than venturing outside. And then television also kept people indoors. A radio could be heard through an open window, but a television actually needed to be watched. I suppose a television set could be brought out onto the porch and plugged in by a cord through the window, but that seems like a lot of trouble.
Also, sometime in the fifties and sixties, outdoor culture moved to the back of the house instead of the front. Many people, including my family, built patios and decks off the backs of their houses instead of the street side, and children played in the backyard instead of the front. While this certainly increased privacy and was perhaps a little safer than letting your children play in the street, it was also less neighborly. I suppose you could still wave at your neighbors if they were in their backyards, but quite probably there was now a fence separating you. It was no longer easy to just wave them over, and you weren’t likely to wander over there without an invitation. Maybe the rapid rise of the automobile played a hand in moving outdoor culture to the back of the house instead of the front, because if you lived on a busy street it was no longer as pleasant to sit out front as it was when most of the traffic was pedestrian. I don’t know if that’s true, but it could be.
Another factor in the demise of front-porch culture, sadly, is the rise in crime. Frankly, you can’t safely sit out on your porch in areas where you’re likely to get shot at, which is something that happens far too often in far too many parts of our country. Years ago, people out on their porches served as a deterrent to crime, sort of like an informal Neighborhood Watch. But that worked mostly with petty crime like break-ins and vandalism, not drive-by shootings and gang warfare.
Back in 2006, National Public Radio did a series about front-porch culture, connecting it with debate and democracy. As a transitional space between the privacy of the home and the public nature of the street, the porch was a sort of middle ground where people could become acquainted and enjoy good fellowship with one another and talk over the issues of the day or of the community. For a while there was even a Professional Porch Sitters Union, dedicated to bringing back the best of front-porch culture, but recently I wasn’t able to find any current information about it, so I don’t know if it still exists. I’ll put a link to the NPR series in the show notes.
How can you bring back front-porch culture in your community? If you have a front porch, or a scrap of lawn or even a sidewalk, and if it’s safe in your area to do so, go outside and sit there. Smile and wave at people who pass by. Have an extra chair or to so that if someone stops to talk, you can invite them to sit. If you live way out in the country, as I do, you may have to be a little more deliberate about actually inviting neighbors over to share your porch, as they aren’t likely to even see or notice you otherwise. And if you live in an apartment building and don’t have a porch? Maybe set up a few chairs on the common lawn area, or in a nearby park. In the end, porch-sitting is not so much a reality as a state of mind. A state of mind that’s friendly, curious, and content to just sit for a spell, as the Mayberry people used to say, and watch the world go by.
How about you? Do you remember front porches? Do you have one? If so, do you ever use it? If you have memories of front-porch life, or even stories from your parents and grandparents, I’d love to hear them Leave a comment at sparklingvintagelife.com under Episode Eighteen, or send me an email at email@example.com
And I’ll be back in a moment with today’s grace note.
Today’s grace note is a little book called God, Me, and Sweet Iced Tea by Rose Chandler Johnson. This is a devotional book. It could be used as a daily devotional or just for when you need a little encouragement. It seems tailor-made for early mornings on the porch. Rose Chandler Johnson has a friendly, warm writing style, and reading her book feels a little like a friend talking to a friend. I’ll put a link in the show notes.
I also want to remind you that you can subscribe to A Sparkling Vintage Life at Apple Podcasts or iTunes or just about any place that offers podcasts. That way you won’t miss any episodes. If you’d be kind enough to leave a review, that will help raise the visibility of this little show so that like-minded kindred spirits can find it. And if you care to read my blog or subscribe to my email newsletter, or simply leave a comment, you can do that at sparklingvintagelife.com.
And that’s it for today. Stop in again soon when we’ll be discussing another aspect of A Sparkling Vintage Life.
It’s June in North America, which means the thermometer’s rising and strawberries are in season. Bring on the ice cream and join us at that most vintage celebration of summer, the ice cream social!
If you prefer to read rather than listen, scroll down to find a transcript.
Home economist Laura MacFarlane worked closely with Mary Brooks Picken at the Woman’s Institute for Domestic Arts and Sciences, which you may remember from Episode 2.
Listen to Episode 16: Time for Tea! for the discussion of curate’s assistants at around 3:40..
Jennifer Lamont Leo’s fiction:
Transcript of Episode 17: An Ice Cream Social
Welcome to A Sparkling Vintage Life, where we talk about all things vintage and celebrate the grace and charm of an earlier era. I’m your host, Jennifer Leo, and this is Episode number seventeen.
Hello, Sparklers. I’m so happy you’ve stopped by to spend a few minutes with me. It’s June 21, 2019, as I record this, which means summer has officially started, although apparently northern Idaho missed the memo and so I’m sitting here wrapped in a sweater. Nevertheless, summer is here, so this episode is the first of a short series on ways to enjoy a Sparkling Vintage summer. Today we’re talking about that classic summertime treat, ice cream.
But first, I wanted to give a heartfelt thank-you to Sparkler Mamamanzke, who left a five-star review. She wrote: “A Sparkling Vintage Life takes me away. When I just want to escape the stresses of today, I enjoy listening to Ms. Leo. It’s refreshing and clean. If only I were born in that era.” That’s how I hope every one of you feels while listening to the podcast. I want it to be a respite from the hustle and bustle of life, a little oasis of calm and a place to think about things that are true, good, and beautiful.
Also, on last week’s episode about tea, I mentioned that multi-tiered tray called a curate’s assistant. I mentioned that I didn’t know where the term “curate’s assistant” came from, but speculated that it had to do with church services, specifically Anglican, where a “curate” is the lowest form of the priesthood–the beginner level, as it were, assisting a priest or vicar. Sparkler Linda wrote in to say she’d recently heard that in the context of food, “to curate” means to put together certain foods for a particular meal or gathering. I guess it’s sort of like curating an exhibit in a museum, or curating a wardrobe, where you carefully choose some items and leave out others to achieve a desired effect. So maybe that’s where the term comes from. Thanks, Linda, for writing in.
And now on to our topic, which is ice cream. Writing in 1926, home economist Laura MacFarlane wrote, “No other variety of food appears to retain its popularity throughout the year with old and young alike as ice cream and its closely related desserts. But there is no time or season when these delicacies are so much appreciated nor so nearly “touch the spot” as when the mercury is creeping perilously near 100 degrees. Reinforced with a heaping dish of fresh-fruit ice cream, you will be prepared to baffle even the cruelest plans that Old Sol will take such delight in perpetrating [during high summer].”
In America, the first time we know of ice cream being served at a gathering was 1744, when Maryland governor Thomas Bladen served strawberry ice cream at a dinner party. Soon it became a favored dessert in the Capitol, with George Washington, Dolley Madison, and Alexander Hamilton’s wife Betsy Hamilton all being particularly avid fans. In 1802, Thomas Jefferson served ice cream at an official White House dinner. He liked it so much that he learned to make it and even imported equipment to do so. At that time, ice cream was molded into shapes. I can’t imagine the effort it took to make and serve ice cream in steamy Washington, D.C., or anywhere in the American South, in the days before refrigeration, But of course it was a treat for the wealthy, as they were the ones with the resources to build ice houses on their estates and plantations.
However, in the early nineteenth century, two African Americans–Mrs. Jeremiah Shedd and Mr. Augustus Jackson,–brought ice cream to the general population. Mrs. Shedd opened a catering business serving “frozen cream, sugar, and fruit” which became a sensation. And about twenty years after that, in 1832, Augustus Jackson, a White House chef, invented an efficient new way to manufacture ice cream using salt mixed in with the cream. Sadly, he never applied for a patent. Often called “The father of ice cream,” Jackson moved to Philadelphia and experimented with more flavors and methods, and he distributed the ice cream in tin cans to places called “ice cream parlors.” Ice cream parlors gained popularity throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as family-friendly places where young people and ladies could safely gather. Then they got a huge boost during Prohibition, when the liquor business went underground and many saloons switched to serving ice cream rather than close their doors. Drug stores, too, opened ice cream and lunch counters to serve the weary shopper in need of refreshment.
Meanwhile, back in 1843 Nancy Johnson had invented a hand-cranked ice cream freezer, and she did patent it. This contraption meant that anybody with sufficient arm strength and patience could make ice cream at home. Ice-cream-churning was especially popular on farms with their ready access to fruit from the orchards and cream from the cows. The image of children taking turns cranking the ice cream on the back porch has become an iconic symbol of heartland America.
After the Civil War, large cities saw the advent of street vendors, or Hokey Pokey men, as they were called. These vendors, who were often Italian immigrants, were the forerunners of the Good Humor truck some of us may remember from childhood. The origin of the name “hokey-pokey” is a bit of a mystery. Some think it’s a variation of the magic term, “hocus pocus.” More likely, it’s a corruption of the Italian “Oche poco,” or “Oh, how little,” referring to the price of the ice cream, which was cheap, and not the serving size. Lumps of ice cream were served in glass or wrapped in paper under sometimes questionable sanitation.
In 1897 another African American, Alfred L. Cralle, was issued a patent for the ice cream scoop, which allowed the scooper to dispense a uniform serving of ice cream using just one hand. Cralle’s basic design is still widely in use today.
Ice cream as America’s favorite dessert got a big boost at the World’s Fairs in Philadelphia in 1876 and Chicago in 1893, but it was at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis in 1904 where the ice cream cone was introduced to America, although the story of exactly which vendor should get the credit for introducing it is a matter of some debate. If you watch the old Judy Garland musical Meet Me in St. Louis, filmed in 1944, you’ll see the family enjoying ice cream cones as they visit the Fair.
Another twentieth-century innovation is the ice cream sundae. Here, too, the exact birthplace of the sundae is a bit sketchy, with two towns–Ithaca, NY, and Two Rivers, Wisconsin–nearly coming to blows over it with heated debates in the newspapers. A third town, Evanston, Illinois, doesn’t claim to have come up with the sundae, but they do like to take credit for the name. Evanston was home to the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, which opposed alcohol in all forms and championed the sundae as an alternative to alcoholic drinks. The story goes that religious hard-liners objected to the use of Sunday, the Lord’s Day, for such a decadent concoction. So the spelling was changed to s-u-n-d-a-e to differentiate it from the day of the week. Again, much of this may be apocryphal. It may be, as one source reported, a simple matter of a misspelling on a shipment of the trademark tall, fluted glassware that sundaes are served in. No matter how it’s spelled, sundaes and make-it-yourself sundae bars, with ice cream and all the fixin’s, are standard fare at ice cream socials.
For some reason, gatherings around ice cream are called “socials.” I suppose they could be called “ice cream parties” just as well, but “social” is the term that has stuck.
I remember attending ice cream socials at my church when I was a child, but they seem to have gone out of style except in pockets here and there. I understand there’s a quite well-known one held every summer on Prince Edward Island, the home base of author Lucy Maud Montgomery and her beloved heroine, Anne of Green Gables. But, of course, an ice-cream social seems a particularly Anne Shirley-ish thing to do.
In the latter half of the nineteenth and early twentieth century, ice cream socials became a favorite form of entertainment. Churches, schools, and other nonprofit organizations, in particular, latched onto the ice cream social as a way to raise funds for a good cause. I think it’s time to bring it back.
What do you need to put on an ice cream social? Well, ice cream, of course, and a way to keep it cold on a hot day. Bins of ice or portable freezers or access to a kitchen with a freezer is ideal. A variety of flavors would be good, as well as a variety of mix-ins: sprinkles, cut-up fruit, bits of candy, that sort of thing. Some jars of sauce to pour over top. Whipped cream. Maraschino cherries. Baked goods to accompany the ice cream are nice. Shortbread, of course, for strawberry shortcake during berry season. Perhaps brownies, cake, or cookies. Bring plenty of bowls and spoons–you don’t want to run out. For decorating ideas, visit Pinterest and do a search for “ice cream social” or “strawberry social.” You’ll be deluged with decorating ideas.
How about you? Are you fond of ice cream? Have you ever been to an ice cream social, or hosted one yourself? You can let me know in the comments.
Today’s grace note is the movie I mentioned earlier, Meet Me in St. Louis, starring Judy Garland, It came out in 1944, which makes it seventy-five years old this year. If you enjoy dreamy, nostalgic images of early-twentieth-century Americana, this is the movie for you. Set in St. Louis, Missouri, in the year leading up to the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition, the story centers around one prosperous family as they move through summer, fall, winter, and spring, and particularly one daughter of that family, Esther, as she meets and is courted by the young man who’s just moved in next door. It’s a musical containing several songs you might recognize, like “The Boy Next Door,” “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” and “The Trolley Song. Look for Meet Me in St. Louis when you’ve had it with twenty-first century life and are ready for an idyllic rose-tinted trip down Memory Lane.
Afternoon tea and conversation…the perfect combination! Come sit down, pour yourself a cuppa, and let’s dish about the delight that is afternoon tea. If you’d prefer to read rather than listen, scroll down to find a transcript.
Show Notes: Brambleberry Cottage
Transcript of Episode 16: Time for Tea! This is Episode number sixteen of the podcast, and today we’re talking about tea and tea parties.
But first, a quick update on my writing. I’m closing in on finishing the novel set primarily in 1930s Hollywood. I should have that done in a few weeks. Then it will go to an editor, and then to my agent to see if he likes it and want to represent it to publishers. If he does, I’ll leave it with him and start on my next book. If he chooses not to represent it, which could happen for any number of legitimate reasons, then I’m going to explore other options, like publishing it myself. I’m a little scared of self-publishing a novel, as the process seems daunting. But I did self-publish a short-story collection earlier this year, called Songbird and Other Stories, and that process went smoothly. The agent is already representing a different novel of mine, featuring the rise of a businesswoman from the ashes of the Great Depression, but that one has not found a buyer yet. I’m also still planning on producing large-print and audio editions of Songbird. So I’ve been pretty busy on the writing front.
And now on to today’s topic, which is tea. A few days ago I went to afternoon tea with a dear friend. Our tea date has become a tradition that we try to follow at least once a year. This is not just your typical Starbucks run, although I love those get-togethers, too. Afternoon tea is special. My friend and I use the occasion to get all gussied up in our favorite dresses. We drive to Spokane, Wash., which is about ninety minutes away from where we live. Our preferred spot is called Brambleberry Cottage, which is an old house that’s been turned into a tea cafe. Each room is beautifully decorated, and the staff is warm and friendly. You get to choose your tea from a long menu of types and flavors, and it comes to your table in little individual pots. The tables are decorated with antique linens and fine china, all different patterns and colors, and there’s soft instrumental music playing. The food comes on a tall, multi-level tray.
I recently learned that the name for this three-tiered structure is a “curate’s assistant.” Unable to find a reason for this name, I have to assume it has something to do with church services, possibly the serving of communion.
Anyway, back to our tea, the food includes everything from little cucumber and chicken-salad sandwiches to scones and crumpets to desserts. There’s something for everybody here, and the exact menu varies with the seasons and the cook’s whims. These morsels are dainty in size, but there’s plenty of them, and we always leave the table satisfied. But best of all is the conversation, the unhurried time to catch up one-on-one with my friend, both during tea and on the drives there and back. One time when the weather was too nasty to drive to Spokane, I invited my friend over to my house for tea. I pulled out my prettiest linens and china and made a variety of special things to eat, and of course I brewed tea. It was lovely and fun, but it was also a lot of work. I’m just as happy to travel to the tearoom and let them take care of us for a couple of hours.
I got to thinking about what it is that makes going out for afternoon tea so special. I decided on six reasons, in no particular order.
Reason #1: It’s a time to dress up. In today’s uber-casual world, and even more so I think in a rural area, it’s hard to find reasons to dress up. It’s also increasingly hard to find people who even like to do it. Many take pride in their extremely casual appearance, as though it’s a badge of authenticity or down-to-earthness, or I-don-t-care-what-anyone-thinks-ism, or even mild rebellion. I like to dress up, and to spend time with people who also like to dress up. Afternoon tea gives me that excuse, if I need an excuse, which I don’t always. I should add that I also love the feeling of changing back into casual clothes when I come home, so I get the joy of doing that, too., when I go out for tea.
Reason #2: It’s a time to enjoy being a lady. You don’t see a lot of men at the tearoom. Not that men aren’t welcome there, and you do see the occasional male, but they always look slightly ill-at-ease among the delicate china and frippery. I’m not saying it’s a good thing for men to be ill-at-ease. I’m just saying that it’s nice once in a while to visit a place that’s so over-the-top feminine. I also like that the setting brings out everyone’s best manners. At home I may slouch and slurp my soup, but at the tearoom I sit up straight and mind my manners, and I’m reminded that I’m capable of being a more polite person.
Reason #3: Tea time is time off the clock. Once we’re seated at our table admiring the gracious surroundings and sipping our tea, we have no worries about where we need to be and what time we need to be there. I deliberately schedule a generous amount of time for tea so we don’t have to rush.
Reason #4: It’s time with my friend. We don’t see each other very often, and when we do, there are usually other people around: other friends, her family, my family. For just the two of us to go out and enjoy some deep, meaningful conversation in an unrushed way–that’s really special to me. It’s like we’re saying to each other, You’re worth spending time with. You deserve my attention, and I’m interested in your life and in what you have to say.
Reason #5 to love tea-time: It feels literally like a step back in time. From what I’ve read in old magazines and books, afternoon tea used to be observed a lot more regularly by women. There are recipes for tea cakes and patterns for tea gowns. Before World War II, our small-town newspaper used to report on tea parties: who hosted them and who the guests were, and who poured. It was considered an honor to pour. Often the guest of honor was given that duty.
I got curious about this, and about the etiquette of teatime in general. I learned that the time of day usually considered teatime is four o’clock, and it’s meant to be a late-afternoon break between the strenuous hurry and preoccupation of the day and the formality of a later dinner, at least in traditional upper-class households. For middle- and lower-classes teatime was more often to be what in my house, growing up, was called an after-school snack.
If you’re hosting tea in your home, the atmosphere is important. If it is winter, a fire in the fireplace and a few lighted candles are nice. In the summer if the weather’s nice, you might want to serve the tea outdoors, in which case it veers into the garden party, a concept which deserves its own episode, and will eventually get one. I also found out that there is considerable difference between “tea” and “a tea.” The latter, “a tea,” is a party and calls for, as one etiquette book put it, pretty decorations and one’s best afternoon gown and white gloves. A tea will likely include from several friends to a whole community of women, such as a club tea or church tea. It might also be called a “reception.” By contrast, an invitation that says, “come for a cup of tea on Tuesday” usually means a quiet corner, an intimate talk, and the restful atmosphere which teacups for two always suggest. Also, for those who may be wondering, “high tea” has nothing to do with status or level of formality or, heaven forbid, snootiness. A high tea is merely a more substantial tea that’s more like a light supper, with heartier food but less than a full-on dinner party. In the olden days, high tea sometimes preceded a game of bridge or an informal dance.
For those of you wondering about the custom of raising one’s pinkie finger while drinking from a delicate china cup, I’ve heard that the custom resulted from a princess, one of Queen Victoria’s daughters, who’d broken her finger and was thus unable to bend it. As often happens, the ladies of the court imitated her, and the custom spread. A less colorful but more probable explanation is that the handles of most teacups, unlike the hefty mugs out of which we drink our coffee, do not accommodate all of our fingers. The pinkie is extended to balance the cup in the hand. Whatever the reason, most etiquette experts agree that obviously lifting one’s pinkie while taking a sip is an affected and silly gesture.
The sixth and final reason I love afternoon tea is that it is rare. Not much happens in the way of tea parties anymore. Do little girls still have them? Maybe afternoon tea fell out of favor because so many women have careers outside the home now, so afternoon social events of any kind aren’t really practical. Or maybe it’s because we’re so much more invested in spending time with our kids that a quiet, adult-centered activity like a fancy tea is out of the question, at least while the kids are young. Or maybe it’s just too fancy, too formal, for most modern women’s taste. But when I go to afternoon tea, I feel like I’m participating in a sisterhood that goes back thousands of years.
How about you? Do you enjoy the occasional afternoon tea? Or is that a little too much frou-frou for you? You can let me know in the comments.
Today’s grace note is another podcast. In keeping with today’s topic, I’m recommending the “Tea and Tattle” podcast. This is a sublimely interesting podcast, hosted by the articulate and very British Miranda Mills, that’s mainly about books and authors, but also about creative women in general, doing all sorts of interesting things. The conversations are fun to listen to, and I always learn a lot. You’ll find the Tea and Tattle podcast at teaandtattlepodcast.com, or search for it on your favorite podcast host. If you have a topic you’d like me to cover or a question you’d like answered on A Sparkling Vintage Life, feel free to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, if you can take a few minutes to stop by iTunes or Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts and leave a star rating, or even better write a quick review, that will help raise the visibility of this little show so that more of gentle souls like you can find it.
A special remembrance episode for all who’ve given their lives in the service of their country, including a reading of “In Flanders Fields.” We will not forget!
If you’d prefer to read rather than listen, scroll down to find a transcript.
Transcript of Episode 15: Memorial Day
Welcome to A Sparkling Vintage Life, where we talk about all things vintage and celebrate the grace and charm of an earlier era. It’s Memorial Day here in the United States, celebrated on the last Monday of May. Unlike Armed Forces Day, which celebrates all who currently serve in the Armed Forces, or Veterans’ Day, which recognizes all veterans, Memorial Day honors those who have died in the course of serving their country in the armed forces.
Other countries have similar celebrations honoring their war dead. I’d love to hear about them. This episode focuses on the remembrance in the U.S.
Several men in my family tree have served I the military, but the only one I know of who died in a war was my grandfather’s brother. He was Corporal John F. Lamont of Company F-132nd Infantry, and he was killed in action on October 9, 1918, in the Argonne. Those are just facts I discovered while researching the family history. I wish I knew more about John. Maybe over time I will be able to learn more. I would love to know what he was like, what he looked like, what kind of personality he had, how he enjoyed spending his time before his life was cruelly snuffed out.
Families and friends of the deceased have decorated graves since time immemorial, but Memorial Day–an official day to honor those who gave their lives in military service–dates from the 1860s, right after the American Civil War. There is some controversy over when and where the first official Memorial Day actually took place, with Columbus, Georgia; Columbus, Missouri; and Waterloo, New York being among the possible launch spots (newspaper misinformation is blamed for the confusion–‘twas every thus). Whatever the origin, on April 26, 1866, the graves of Confederate casualties of the Civil War were decorated with flowers, hence the name Decoration Day. Some Southern women were generous enough to also place flowers on the graves of Union soldiers buried in that region. This gracious gesture made the news, and the custom spread northward.
While there were variations seen across different regions of the country and different towns and cities, a typical Decoration Day celebration including a gathering of the townspeople at the local cemetery, where flowers would be placed on the graves of deceased servicemen. Often these flowers were placed by young girls dressed in white with red and blue sashes. As each serviceman’s name was called, a bouquet was placed on his or her grave. There might have been a church service, or a parade, and/or a potluck picnic. Almost certainly, sometime over the course of the day, a trumpeter would play Taps, that sweet, mournful bugle call. Overall Decoration Day was a solemn event without the joyous overtones of, say, the Fourth of July.
Today, people still visit cemeteries on Memorial Day. Sometimes there are still public ceremonies, but it seems more common these days to visit as family groups or individuals, and many people don’t go at all.
One tradition that has endured is the wearing of poppies. In 1915, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, a physician with the Canadian Expeditionary Force who cared for many wounded during World War I, wrote the poem, “In Flanders Fields.” He wrote it while seated in the back of an ambulance near the Battle of Ypres in the Flanders region of Belgium. Its opening lines refer to the fields of bright-red poppies that grew among the soldiers’ graves in that area.
In 1918, inspired by the poem, YWCA worker Moina Mitchell attended a YWCA conference wearing a silk poppy pinned to her coat and distributed over two dozen more to others present. In 1920, the National American Legion adopted it as their official symbol of remembrance. Today crepe-paper poppies are sold by several patriotic groups as a means of raising donations to benefit disabled veterans.
In 1868, Decoration Day was moved from April to May 30, so that chilly Northerners would also have some flowers to place on graves. In time the name changed to Memorial Day and expanded to honor those killed in all wars, not just the Civil War. The date remained May 30 until 1971, when the it was changed to the last Monday of May in accordance with the federal Uniform Monday Holiday Act (although a handful of hardy Southerners still cling to April 26).
Though some may resist smudging a perfect spring weekend with somber thoughts, I think it’s important to remember and to grieve. So many young men and women have given their lives for our freedom. This weekend, let’s each take at least a few moments between barbecues and ball games to remember those who gave their lives for their country and honor the sacrifice they’ve made. Maybe buy a poppy to wear, or have your children make some out of red crepe paper. If you know of a particular soldier, sailor, or marine, perhaps someone in your family or town or circle of friends and acquaintances, tell their stories to your children. so that the memories will live on.
And thank you, Uncle John.
Today’s grace note:
In Flanders Fields
by Lt. John McCrae
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
From formal concert choirs to belting out tunes around a campfire with friends and family, research shows that singing as a group is good for us! So why does it seem to have gone out of style? Why do families no longer gather around the piano, or friends break into drinking songs down at the local pub? Jennifer discusses new research into the physical, mental, and psychological benefits of singing as a group, and why we need to bring it back.
If you prefer to read rather than listen, scroll down to read a transcription.
“The Surprising Health Benefits of Singing in a Choir” (article on Artistworks.com)
Some seventh-inning serenading at a Chicago White Sox game (hear “Na Na Hey Hey” at 1:44)
Here’s a link to the famous Coke commercial that has infected the brains of so many generations. You’re welcome! 🙂
Transcription of Episode 14: Is Choral Singing the New Prozac?
I’ve just come back from a community choir rehearsal. I say “choir” when technically the particular group I sing with calls itself a “chorale.” I didn’t know what the difference was, so I went to Webster’s Dictionary, which defines a “choir” as an organized company of singers, a “chorus” as “an organized company of singers, especially who sing the choral parts of a work such as an opera, and a “chorale” as a synonym for “choir” or “chorus.” Not very helpful. Maybe some of you listeners who are better educated I the fine points of musical terminology can clue me in. At any rate, I choose to call my group a ‘choir” in casual conversation, because when I say “chorale”, meaning the musical group, some people think I’m saying “corral,” the place where you ride horses, and all sorts of misunderstandings ensue.
My community choir is rehearsing a lot these days, because we have a concert coming up in June. To be honest, I don’t always like going to rehearsal. Often I resent having to make space for it in my schedule, and I have to drag myself to the practice venue, and only my highly developed sense of personal responsibility spurs me on. Once I’m there, though, and once I’ve warmed up and am singing, my cares melt away, until the only thing I really care about is mastering that tricky passage that seems next to impossible, or counting the measure correctly. And when we do it right, when the conductor stops casting the evil eye toward my section and heaving deep sighs indicative of great pain and suffering, when he actually looks pleased, when all the parts come together, it feels glorious. I leave rehearsal tired in a different way. Physically tired, mentally fatigued, but somehow buoyed up in my spirit.
It turns out, there are actual scientific reasons for this. An article posted at Artistworks.com says recent research bears this out.
According to the article, which I’ll link to in the show notes, humans bond best when we are making music with each other.
Studies show that our physical health is improved by singing: lower blood pressure, increased blood oxygen saturation, elevated immunity, stronger respiration, and less stuttering. Singing and other forms of music-making also produces measurable changes in the brain!
When we sing, we breathe deeply, as in meditation, with the same good effects like improvements in mood, decrease in stress, depression and anxiety. These effects are even more enhanced in a group setting, compared to singing alone. In other words, singing alone is good, singing with others is even better.
Turns out humans like to have a sense of belonging to something bigger than ourselves, to be part of a larger community. We get that feeling when we sing in a group. And research shows that this deliberate synchronizing with others makes us feel more altruistic, more generous, more ethical, more helpful toward others, and more willing to respectfully listen to others’ points of view. This is starting to sound a lot like “I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony”–extra points to those of you who are old enough to remember that iconic Coke commercial of old.
No less than the noted researcher and author Daniel Pink writes, “Exercise is one of the few activities in life that is indisputably good for us. Choral singing might be the new exercise.” Pink goes on to cite the following: “Choral singing calms the heart and boosts endorphin levels. It improves lung function. It increases pain thresholds and reduces the need for pain medication.” Similar effects have been found in athletes who must synchronize efforts and their sense of timing, like dancers and rowers.
So, no wonder choir rehearsal makes me feel good … well, most of the time. But with all that good stuff coming out of singing together as a group, why has group singing mostly fallen out of favor nowadays? For example, lots of the older novels I like to read mention families gathering together around a piano to sing, just for fun, or people going caroling at Christmas, or singing folk songs on a hayride or around a bonfire. Workers used to sing together to make the long days pass more quickly. Thus we have a whole treasury of folk songs centered around the railroad, the mine, the forest, the farm … even the prison yard. Maybe today’s professions don’t lend themselves to singing as much as the professions of yore. There are no software-coding songs that I know of.
Schools had songs, and sports teams had songs. Outside of singing the National Anthem, and maybe “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” at the seventh-inning stretch, or “Sweet Caroline” or “Na-na-hey-hey,” do sports fans sing anymore?
Some writers have put forth theories about why we don’t sing together anymore. One is that we’ve turned from a culture of participation to a culture of performance. We pay to watch professionals perform and keep our own mouths shut. A hundred years or more ago, people also paid to watch professionals perform. Singers like Enrico Caruso and Jenny Lind drew crowds. But listening to the pros didn’t stop people from also gathering around the piano at home. So why does it stop us now, if it does stop it? Even some of our churches have given in to this nowadays, disbanding the traditional choir and sitting back to listen to the worship band perform instead of singing together as a congregation.
The rise of streaming music has also meant a splintering of what we listen to. There is no common body of songs that everybody knows, like the Top 40 of my youth. I remember driving on a highway late one night with my brother and his wife. To pass the time, we sang as many pop songs as we could think of, the ones we liked and even the ones we hated, and we laughed and laughed. Today, with everybody tuned to their own individual downloads, I don’t think people today have a common songbook like that. Do they? It’s hard to sing together if you don’t all know the words.
For whatever reason, group singing seems to have fallen out of favor. Members of community choirs like my own tend to be older, looking, as one wag put it, like a bunch of cotton swabs on stage with all that white hair. As these music-lovers die out, who will take their place? My sense is that, to the younger generation, singing as a group is nerdy and uncool. And that makes me sad. People who feel that way are missing out on all those great physical and mental health benefits mentioned earlier, and the sheer joy of learning new music or pulling out old favorites and singing them together. They’re missing out, and that makes me sad. It makes me want to teach the world to sing. In perfect harmony. I’d like to buy the world a Coke. And keep it company.
Why don’t you try group singing sometime soon? Start small, maybe with your family, in the car on a long trip. In church, open your mouth and actually sing the hymns with gusto–don’t sit back and let the worship band do all the heavy lifting.
Today’s grace note is a book I’ve been enjoying called The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir by Jennifer Ryan. It’s historical fiction set in England during World War II. With most of the men away fighting in the war, it’s decided that the choir of the local church should be disbanded. The women in the choir rebel at this, and choose to carry on singing, resurrecting themselves as the Chilbury Ladies’ Choir. While most of the novel focuses on the individual stories of the women involved, the common bond of the choir sustains and encourages them during difficult times. If you like books like Lilac Girls and The Nightingale, this might be a good one for you. Unlike many novels set during wartime, this one is not depressing or gloomy, but more about courage and camaraderie. Of course I’ll put a link the show notes, which can be found at sparklingvintagelife.com/podcast. You can also leave a comment there.
If you have a topic you’d like me to cover or a question you’d like answered on A Sparkling Vintage Life, feel free to send me an email at email@example.com. Also, if you can take a few minutes to stop by iTunes or Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts and leave a star rating, or even better write a quick review, that will help raise the visibility of this little show so that more of gentle souls like you can find it.