Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Search For The Twins - Part III

"Now you just sit right here in this rocker, Julia, on the porch so you can catch the breeze, and you rest, child." That's what Louise DuBois said to Julia after she helped her off with her corset that day and got her settled on the porch.

Louise DuBois was a stout, matronly woman with a stern look and a commanding voice that could be heard a mile away when she gave it full rein. But she had a heart made of pure gold. She had no qualms about taking charge when the occasion called for it. That morning was an occasion that called for it.

Julia had managed to feed the men their breakfast before Louise got there, but she was close to exhaustion afterwards. Not a morsel of the breakfast meal remained that could go toward the midday meal coming up next. Work on the farm in those days was extremely hard. A farmer had to consume between 6,000 and 8,000 calories a day in order to have the energy needed to do the work. A large man might need to consume close to 10,000 calories a day.

Julia was just starting to clean off the table outside on the lawn when Louise pulled her spring board up to the ice house in back so that it would not be in the way. The two women had not seen each other for more than a month. Louise had been up north helping a niece with a new baby. "Yoo-hoo, Julia." Louise called as walked into the yard. Julia seemed listless to her.

After embracing her warmly, Louise pulled back and placed her hands squarely on Julia's shoulders. She tipped her head first to the left and then to the right as she studied Julia's face intently. Then she dropped her right hand and placed it on Julia's abdomen. "You're in the family way." She announced. Julia nodded yes. In those days pregnancy was referred to in delicate terms such as that.

In 1900 half the babies were delivered by doctors. The other half were delivered by midwives. Louise had been a midwife for over twenty years. She knew all the signs. Yet, it was not unusual back then to find a married woman of child bearing age pregnant. It was almost a given if her youngest child was a year old or more. Indeed, Julia went on to give birth to a boy, Armond, the following January in the dead of winter with the ground covered in lustrous snow and Louise present to assist in the birth.

"Morning sickness?" Louise asked as she started to gather up the stacks of dishes on the table.

Julia brought her apron up and wiped the sweat from her brow with it. "Almost all day I am sick and want to throw up. Everything tastes odd to me. I get tired easily." She replied.

"Let's get you in the house, child, and get your corset off. You need to rest a spell. And the children? Where are the children today? "

"My sister Rebecca is watching them. She's taken them down to the creek to look for crawfish."


The Corset. It had been around for centuries. Although it often provided support for the mid section especially the back, its main purpose was to prepare the female figure to receive the fashion of the day. So, the corset form changed with the fashions.

A woman living in Julia's time wore her corset everyday just as today's woman wears her bra everyday. A woman back then hoed the garden in her corset. She did the laundry wearing it. She prepared the meals all corseted up. It may have been a matter of propriety to wear a corset and inappropriate, perhaps even seen as immoral by some, to go without one in public.

Regarding pregnancy, it was considered inappropriate, even immoral, to be seen in public if you were pregnant and showing. The longer a woman could wear a corset while pregnant and conceal that fact, the longer she could be seen in public before the baby came. But Louise advised Julia that day not to wear her corset during the pregnancy, because she had heard that there was a growing concern in the medical community that corseting up could harm the developing child in the womb. In fact there is reason to believe that some women, upon finding themselves pregnant back then and wishing they weren't, tightly laced their corsets in order to deliberately cause a miscarriage.


"But there are chickens to cut up and fry, Louise." Julia said as she struggled with her corset.

"Now, never you mind about the chickens or anything else. I'll manage just fine in the kitchen without your help. You just rest."

"I don't feel right about leaving all that work to you, Louise."

"Lands sake, I'm fit as a fiddle. The Pelletier baby isn't due for 'nother week yet best I can figure and I'm free as a bird today. " Louise replied as she helped Julia get back into her dress.

With Louise close behind, Julia came down the steps and walked out onto the screened-in porch off the dining room. She eased into the rocker that David's mother had given her earlier in the summer. Julia had whitewashed it and set it on the porch in the corner by the hydrangea bushes.

"I stopped by the Boudreau farm on the way here and Zelia sent you a big pot of beef stew plus several loaves of bread for today's dinner meal." Louise said as she placed a small pillow behind Julia's head. "She said to tell you she's sorry she could not come here herself and lend a hand," her voice trailed off as she headed for the kitchen, "but her youngest is all a mess with poison ivy and her man is down on his back again with something."

"That was kind of her to send the stew." Julia called to her from the porch. "I'm sorry to hear about her man being down on his back again."

Louise chipped a few pieces of ice off the block of ice in the ice box. She drew water from the hand pump at the kitchen sink and carefully washed the saw dust off the chipped ice. Then she plopped the ice in a glass of water and walked back out to the porch with it. "Besides my pies, Julia, I brought along some of my pickled beets and a kettle of ham and beans too. Why, dinner is almost ready for the men."

Louise handed the glass of water to Julia and said, "This should cool you off right nicely." Tucked under her arm was a Sears, Roebuck catalogue she had grabbed off the table on her way through the dining room to the porch. "Here, Julia, look at this while you rest." She said as she handed over the catalogue to Julia.

In the evenings by the light of a kerosene lamp Julia would comb the pages of her Sears, Roebuck and look at everything a person could buy. Augers. Bailing wire. Oil chandeliers. Commodes. Divan couches. Chewing tobacco. Shaving soap. Plum pudding. Rolled oats. Vanilla extract. Chocolate. Men's dancing shoes. Ladies mufflers. Ladies ribbed drawers. Bustles. Buckles. Butcher's apron. And on and on. It was like touring a fantasy land of goods.

Julia wanted to take the twins to the new photographer in town to get their picture taken for their fourth birthday. So, she was particularly interested in what Sears, Roebuck had to offer in boys' clothing. She found an outfit for the boys which she favored. It was inspired by the Little Lord Fauntleroy fashions of a few years earlier. The shirt, or blouse, had a wide ruffled collar to it and long sleeves with ruffled cuffs. She decided upon a big floppy bow, too, in a red plaid for the boys that went under the collar and tied in front. At the time these bows were especially popular in America. Julia used her egg money to pay for the twins' outfits.

While Julia rested out on the porch, Louse busied herself in the kitchen finishing up some of the dishes Julia had started to prepare for the dinner meal. She glanced out the window at one point and then quickly called to Julia "Well would you look at who is comin' up the lane, Julia." She wiped her hands on her apron. "Sweet Lord, it is Marie Chouinard...and she's wearin' a hat of all things. Must be thinkin' it's Sunday."

Marie Chouinard was tall and thin with a mouth that rarely turned up at the corners and usually laid in a narrow abbreviated line right under her nose.

Whenever she spoke, the tip of her nose wiggled like a rabbit's nose. This made it difficult to take seriously whatever she was saying if you were looking right at her. Prim and proper, she was always snooping around looking for something that did not meet with her approval and she usually found plenty that did not meet with her approval. Despite Marie's shortcomings, Louise managed to get along with her and even liked her although at times Louise was forced to set her straight about certain things.

Louise rushed out the kitchen door to greet Marie who was struggling to carry two large wicker baskets. "What have you there, Marie?" Louise asked cheerfully.

"Oh, I thought Julia could use some spiced peaches and pound cakes for the men's meals." Marie replied then added snidely. "I don't suppose she's done much cookin' for the men with all those youngins runnin' round."

Louise shook her finger at Marie playfully, "Now Marie, let's not start that." She said. Louise knew where that was coming from. Marie had given birth to only one child, a boy, who died from pneumonia when he was three years old. That was twenty-five years ago. After the boy died, bitterness set in and never left Marie. It determined her attitude toward everything.

Julia was standing in the kitchen by the sink trying to wash some dishes when Marie walked in. "Oh, Marie, I am so happy to see you." She wiped her hands on her apron and went up to Marie. The two women embraced.

"Well, I know how hard it is to feed a bunch of farmers at harvest time, and I thought you could use some help Julia."

"What are you doing in here, Julia?" Louise squawked when she came through the kitchen door from outside. She set a basket down on the table. "You get right back out there on that porch." And she took Julia by the hand and led her through the dining room and back out onto the porch.

When she returned to the kitchen, she found Marie examining the curtains hanging in the kitchen window. "I wonder when the last time was that these were washed." She remarked as she fingered them.

Louise rolled her eyes and walked toward the sink. "Marie, help me wash up these dishes here, would you. And take off that hat, please."

The two women proceeded to work side by side at the long, trough-like sink covered in a sheet of metal. Marie leaned toward Louise and said quietly, "I see that Julia is not wearing her corset."

"Yes, that's true." Louise replied. "She's in the family way and exhausted right now. I advised her not to wear her corset anymore until after the baby is born. It could harm the baby, Marie. That's what the doctors are saying."

"I'm sorry, Louise. I try not to be judgmental, but...it is not right. It simply is not right. It is immoral, I do believe, to go without your corset in public." Marie replied smugly. "And here with all these men about on the farm today. When the other ladies hear about this, they will be shunning Julia for certain."

Louise began to vigorously pump the handle up and down on the hand pump up at the sink. Water gushed out. "MARIE," She bellowed as she pumped, "I'VE A GOOD MIND TO REMOVE MY CORSET THIS VERY MOMENT RIGHT HERE IN THIS VERY KITCHEN IN FRONT OF THIS VERY SINK. ....AND WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THAT?"

Marie stiffened as she stood back. Her face glowed red. "Huh,...well.....I never." She muttered.

Julia heard the commotion coming from the kitchen, but just about that time she saw Rebecca running up the road toward the house from the creek with the baby on her hip and Eugene and Albert close behind her.

Rebecca leaped onto the porch steps and swung open the screen door to the porch. "The twins. They've disappeared, Julia. I can't find them anywhere." She said breathlessly. Meanwhile the humming of the threshing machine in the distance could be heard.

To be continued....



I know everyone is eager to find out what happened to the twins, and I was hoping to reveal that in this installment, but it got too long and I ran out of mental energy. Next time, I promise you will find out.

Forever there has been a sisterhood of women to help each other out like these women were helping Julia. In any group of women, too, there is bound to be a Louise and bound to be a Marie. I am sure these stereotypical women existed in Julia's group of women back then.

In researching Sears and Roebuck, I found a site devoted to their 1902 catalogue. I was amazed by the variety of things that one could purchase through this catalogue. If you are interested, you can purchase a CD of the 1902 Sears Catalogue


  1. Corsets... ugh. This whole non acceptance of our bodies as they are is so unfortunate. Mainly for women, but it can affect men too.

    Beautiful photos to go with your story here -

  2. I've enjoyed every word of the story so far Susie. Looking forward to Part IV.
    I am going to try and reload your site to see if I can get the feed to work again.

  3. I love the characters.

    I love the research and history.

    I love how all the women would pitch in and help each other. I feel like I have a group of friends like that and it is a blessing indeed.

    I love the suspense at the end and will gladly wait and ponder...

    But... I hate the thoughts of a corset. Those poor women.

    Susieq, I am so glad to have found you and I enjoy your talents as a writer. Go girl!

  4. I am so enjoying all of this...you really are amazing. I can not wait to read the next part...your work and research is awe inspiring.

    Oh! Those little bears on my blog are really tiny...if one of them is just like your grand daughter's PLEASE let me send it to her. I would so love to do that.

    I also have a collection of bears and if any ohne of them would hep, please know I would send it to her.

    Let me know...I would LOVE to do this for her.


  5. I love reading your stories. It's like a living museum. I will be waiting for the next installment.

    And yes, many days I come home from work, hardly waiting to remove my corset as well. Heh.


  6. Paul: You will find this interesting. My grandmother was still wearing a corset into the 1950's. And it laced up if I am not mistaken. She was a stout woman, but with the help of her corset, she had one of those hour-glass figures. Some customs just hang on and hang on.

    Susie: I caught your comment on my previous post too. Thanks so much for taking time to come here and read my story. It means a lot to me.

    Nancy: You are becoming the wind beneath my writing wings. Thanks for all your words encouraging me to go forward. In talking to the tour guide at our local 1890's historic farm, I learned that the women back then were very good about helping each other out in all sorts of ways. On the research, I am trying very hard to portray those times accurately. But I could flub up now and then, because I am no expert when it comes to research.

    Sue (the other Susie Q): You are always such a morale booster with your kind words. I can feel the sincerity in them. I appreciate your offer to send my granddaughter one of your little bears. In fact hers was a small bear about the size of the helper bear you featured in your photos, but hers had her name on it. So, if you happen to have a tiny little bear with the name Rachel on it, let me know. Hugs back at you, Sue.

  7. Whoops, Josie, we crossed paths here and I didn't acknowledge you in my recent comment. You mean to tell me you don't sleep in your corset? I think there might be something immoral about that. :-)

  8. I love those old sepia photographs like that one you show of the girl (marie?) in the horses drawn carriage.
    When I was little I used to think that sepia was the color of the world back then; and that people moved around really fast like in those silent movies.
    Yeah, I know, I know . . .

  9. You know I love to read this story of your family Susie. The history with the Sears catalog and the corsets. One of the styles they had back then that pretty much defines the era was called Gibson Girl. I have a Gibson Girl skirt that I bought to wear with boots during the winter. All my friends and the ladies at church love it. When I tell them this was the style of the late 19th century and the beginning of the 20th they are amazed because it looks very stylish even today. I don't think I'll be wearing a corset anytime soon though.

    I'm telling you Susie, this series is just so well written and so interesting to me. You're putting my right there with Julia and her family. I hope you tell us about finding the twins but I'd like to hear more about what's going on during that time.

    Thanks for sharing all this with us.

  10. A piece of the late 19th century that still works today. Julia,< Marie or Louise might have been wearing one of these or been looking at one in the catalog. Mine is the brown in the picture.

    Gibson Girl

  11. Goatman: I have no idea who that woman sitting in the buggy might be. But I am grateful for this photo. I gave it the sepia look myself with my photo software. Nice, I think.

    Jenni: When I was doing my research on fashions of the times, I ran across the Gibson Girl thing. This fictitious female character was very popular for a couple of decades. I think you are right that the women in this story probably wore a skirt similar to yours. I bet theirs had pockets too that they may have sewn in themselves. The women back then used to take ready-made clothes and sew pockets in them so that they had some place to keep their stuff. I don't like to wear an outfit without pockets. I always seem to have some little something I need to keep handy.

    Something you will find interesting is what I learned about maternity clothes. They did not have them until around 1910. Women just managed without them and probably did not go out in public much at all if they were showing a lot. But the first person too design maternity clothes was Lane Bryant. Here is a link to that story:

    Lane Bryant

  12. My link does not work, and, try as I may, I can't get it to work. Sorry. But if you will do a search of Lane Bryant and maternity clothes, you will find it.

  13. I really enjoyed reading this tonight. It was a busy week and then we were gone camping for a few days with no internet. This came together very nicely. I like how you tie in some "history" as you tell the story. I find myself doing that, too, because I know a few of the people who are reading (such as my now-married daughter) have no idea how things were just a few short generations ago. I've mentioned that my wife's grandmother was on a farm like this. On top of a hundred other chores, she cooked three full meals a day for her husband, their four "working" sons, and the hired help. I know you know what kind of cooking that was--go wring three chicken's necks (actually she used to just hold 'em by their feet, step on their heads, and pull it off) then pluck the feathers, then fry it and serve it--and that was just one meal. What a woman. I was fortunate enough to know her for about five years.
    Great Story! Nice background. Remember, If you don't tell it, it will not be told...

  14. Wonderful!

    I almost missed this installment!!

    I read your reply to Paul. I was thinking as I read this, Granny, born in 1892, was still wearing a corset during the 1950's too! She was a very petite lady, but still wore that corset!


  15. Susie, here's the link to Lane Bryant I checked out your link and I can't figure out why it didn't work either.
    Lane Bryant

    I'm guessing from what you have told us here about Julia that she was probably very much in favor of Women's Suffrage. Great stuff!!!

  16. I feel like I'm watching Mystery on
    PBS and it just said, "continued".

    This is an enjoyable piece to read.
    I can tell that you have enjoyed
    putting it together.

    Yes, farm life was a world away from
    our present way of life. Everyone
    needs to go back, at least for a day.
    It would greatly enhance our appreciation and gratitude.

    Thanks for continuing to remind us
    of how far we have come and of the
    many good things we need to remember.

  17. Grandparent clothing can be interesting when you're a child looking at it because you see it's "different" even if you're not consciously aware. The patterns of my grandmother's dresses, the heavier gauge jewelry (uh... I don't think that's the right term, lol, but more and bigger beads, basically). Also, she was the only person in my family who had a mink coat, worn only for special occasions and also once a week to church I think.

  18. Tom: I can still see my grandmother wringing the neck of a chicken and see that headless chicken dancing around the yard afterwards. It isn't a pretty picture to think about today. Back then as a little girl it didn't faze me. I didn't think much of it. We all lived in town, but people were allowed to keep chickens. That was back in the late 1940's and early 1950's.

    Pat: It was my grandmother who I remember wearing a corset as late as during the early 1950's. She was a stout woman. The main character in this story is my Great-grandmother Julia. She was petite all her life. I can't imagine she would ever need to wear a corset, but I am sure she did.

    Jenni: Thanks for getting that link up to the Lane Bryant site. I don't know why I was not able to do it. I believe that probably Julia was in favor of women's suffrage. I know that she was very outspoken about political matters and did not hesitate to get involved in any political fray that might be in process in her presence.

    Sharon: I am sorry to keep people hanging about the twins and what happened to them. I hope people are not too disappointed when they find out the truth which is coming up real soon. Farm life was such a wholesome lifestyle back then, but the large amount of hard work involved drove people off the farm and into the cities to find work there.

    Paul: It is amazing to me that children can tell the difference in fashion and seem to know at a surprisingly early age when a particular dress is not youthful. Now I found my maternal grandmother's way of dressing intriguing. She made her house dresses out of flour sacks. That was as late as in the 1940's.

  19. I'm glad I didn't live back then, I don't think I could wear a corset all day long....No, I like breathing.

    How did she cook for all of those men and look for the twins at the same time?...I can't wait to find out.

    It is a good thing that the women helped each other out or they would never get anything done.

  20. There is a trade off Susie between living the wholesome life on the farm back then and living now in what might be considered modern times.

    Back then things were simple and there was no TV or even radio at the turn of the century. They read books and things were quiet at night with no light interference to see all of the stars clearly. However, there were still diseases that had no cure and killed or crippled many people. I found a part of a diary from my paternal Grandmother that tells of having to go to her grandmother's house for the summer because there was still scarlet and yellow fever around Philadelphia in the summer. Her youngest sister got scarlet fever and eventually died from it and that was in the early 20's. Many children contracted polio from swimming local creek.

    Every generation has some type of draw back. I think I would have rather liked living in the time of Julia just to hear the speeches of one of our greatest Presidents and personal hero of mine, Theodore Roosevelt.

  21. You are so talented, Susie. I love how you have taken real ancestors and simply embellished the story a bit with your writing.
    I cannot wait until to read the conclusion.