News

Slightly Retired

"When I recently toured the nearly-remodeled South Whidbey Historical Society's Museum on Second Street in Langley, a small display caught my eye; it triggered a memory, and I was back in the parlor of my New Hampshire grandmother's house. Perhaps it was the lace curtains or maybe the somberness of the furnishings that reminded me of another people-less room.The traditional parlor, or the best room, as it was often called, was part of most every house built in New England during the 1800s, and was used only for special occasions. When the minister or priest came to call, or a not-well-known visitor, or a wedding, baptism, or death was to be solemnized, the door would be opened and the small wood stove fired up to dispel the musty odor. My grandmother's parlor had also been my great-grandmother's parlor, and everything was kept the same. I can still feel the scratchiness of the black horsehair upholstered set of furniture--a love seat, rocker and straight back chair. On the top of a small stand by the window lay the family Bible. On the walls were large old photographs and a few portraits of stern looking people set in simple, handmade wooden frames. In the middle of the room was a narrow, long table covered with a handmade lace runner and in the center of the table sat a brass stand holding a glass ball filled with artificial flowers--the only bit of brightness in the room. Against one wall was the small, ever-present Ben Franklin stove.My great-grandfather had been injured by one of his oxen, and it was difficult for him to work his small farm. So when my grandmother married, she stayed home with her new husband to help. There was an unspoken agreement--they would inherit the land and house. The agreement was kept.In the early part of the 1800s, the parlor had to be opened too frequently for a death in the family. The casket was placed in the parlor for the mourning, viewing and prayers of a close-knit family and community. Burial took place within a day or two, with or without a preacher, in the sacred, fenced family cemetery not far from the house. Grandma once told me about the death of her younger sister and how she and her mother sat for two days and nights in the parlor with the body. My grandfather, who died from diphtheria before I was born, had rested in that parlor, and grandma had sat with him for two days. Sometimes, as a kid, when I visited her and she was busy, I would sit in the cheerless parlor trying to imagine what that was like. It is not surprising that when burying habits changed, the undertaker's establishment was called a funeral parlor.While growing up, many times I was told the story of how grandma helped support her family. She had been a milliner (ladies' hat maker) before getting married, so she put the parlor to use as a shop in which she could make hats and sell them. For a good many years she had a thriving business with customers driving up in their buggies to purchase a hat. Sometimes she would hitch up her horse and buggy to make the rounds of remote hillside farms.She also searched for old hats to wash and restore with new lace and ribbons and sell at a reduced price. Yankees have always loved a bargain. The arrival of the Model-T brought an end to her business as people were able to drive to a Woolworth's to shop.The house I was raised in had a parlor, too, but by the time I came along it had been turned into what my parents referred to as our room. It contained a huge, cluttered, rolltop desk, a Morris Chair (the forerunner of the recliner), a wood filing cabinet, a few small tables, a bookcase, and a rocker where my mother would sit quietly doing her mending and sewing, sometimes with my father or sometimes alone.Everyone respected their room. The atmosphere of a parlor still remained; no one entered the room without permission, even when the door was open. My brothers and I could sometimes hear the hum of our parents' voices and would dare one another to listen at the door--we never did.Maybe we should still have parlors or a best room in our houses. A room set aside as a space free of people, TV, computer and phone. A room always neat, always ready to accept the heartfelt notches in life that we tend to put on the periphery. Around the Senior CenterThe Senior Center is located on Highway 525 in Bayview, just across from Casey's. For information or reservations for classes, events, and trips, call 321-1600 or stop by.Thursday, Sept. 21: Hop the bus for the Puyallup Fair, biggest in the state. Enjoy the sights, rides, food and people, and leave the driving to the bus driver. Only $29 for bus and admission.Trip deadlines*Sept. 1 for special discounts, on March 2-12, 2001, a cruise on the Mississippi Queen with big band dancing in the evenings and touring of the ports of the antebellum South during the day. *Sept. 5with $100 deposit, for the Nov. 7-10 air trip to Las Vegas, staying at the Golden Nugget. Easy access to all the thrills of Las Vegas.*Sept. 6 for the Oct. 8-10 bus trip to the shores of Lake Chelan, with lake cruising in the day and casino gambling at night. "

We encourage an open exchange of ideas on this story's topic, but we ask you to follow our guidelines for respecting community standards. Personal attacks, inappropriate language, and off-topic comments may be removed, and comment privileges revoked, per our Terms of Use. Please see our FAQ if you have questions or concerns about using Facebook to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus

Read the Nov 22
Green Edition

Browse the print edition page by page, including stories and ads.

Browse the archives.

Friends to Follow

View All Updates