Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Way Back Machine


The time: Circa 1953
The place: Wisconsin

This is great-grandpa and great- grandma Gussie. We're going to concentrate on Gussie simply because great-grandpa was a stinker! He was a miser and my mom often tells the story of arriving at the cottage to find Gussie burdened in layers of clothing because great-grandpa would turn the heat up.

His large Chesterfield chair was positioned next to the large heating grate. On the other side of the chair was his silver and onyx smoking stand. He'd smoke his cigars while slowly passing his hand over the grate. My mom would sneak into the other room and turn the thermostat up in an attempt to save Gussie from freezing to death.

In a few moments the heat began to rise and he bellowed, "Who turned the damn heat up?"

My mom answered back, "I did. Gussie is freezing."

Gussie was the sweetest soul, a very gentle and loving woman. This is photo reveals some things that are very indicative of the 1950's. Let's be cultural and fashion anthropologists and dissect the image.

Look at her apron. It's a classic piece of 1950's domestic culture. Gussie would have gotten dressed and attended church. On her return she prepared the Sunday meal, protecting her Sunday best with an apron. This one appears to have some type of image printed on the fabric. Her hands are folded in her lap.


My mom owned many aprons back then. There would be a utility apron that would protect her clothing and provide a place to wipe her hands. Just before dinner was served she'd change into a hostess apron which was a frilly, flimsy confection intended to impress the guests.

Gussie's dress has a nice laid down collar which was probably made of satin. I'm amused by the small wing of fabric that takes flight from under her collar. She's wearing what appears to be two scatter pins. I'm guessing that they're crystal or aurora borealis which was very popular at the time.


Of course she wore pearls and in this case it's a nice triple strand.


She's wearing rimless glasses which have come back in and out of style several times. Her earrings are simple single drop pearls.

But look in her hair! What is that? It's some type of flower with airy leaves reaching skyward. It's such a fanciful thing for an elderly lady to be wearing but it reveals a playful streak, don't you think?

Perhaps this is where I get my love of vintage jewelry. My large collection includes many sets of pearls, aurora borealis and the later genre of Trifari and Coro. Every time I wear a piece of vintage jewelry I get compliments. People of a certain age relate memories sparked by the jewelry. I remember in the 1960's everyone had to have a circle pin. Many rumors floated around as to it's symbolism.

How about you? Do you remember an iconic piece of jewelry from your past?


Lucy said...

Someone once asked Barbara Bush why she always wore her three strands of pearls and she said it wasn't because of any love for pearls. It was just that the 3 pearl strands covered up the wrinkles in her neck. I think she still wears them. I do not remember my grandmother without an apron. Even the frilly ones for special dinner. At home. She always kept kleenex in the pockets....very much u.s.e.d kleenex. My mother was the same way with aprons. Now me...I've never had one on in my life. Much to my mothers patience level with me. When my mother died and we were going through her clothing, I could have saved a tree with the amount of wrinkled up used kleenex in every pocket she owned. I have never done that either. What can I say? I'm a rebel.

Molly said...

I had a great grandmother Gussie...She was tiny and I can barely remember her, and I'm happy for even that sliver of memory. Your Gussie looks as though she was always ready to smile or laugh. The aprons were de riguer in my family, both sides, until I was 12 ish. Then I don't remember them so much. I'm glad they're making a comeback.

Lisa said...

I don't remember a particular piece of jewelry from my past. What I do remember is spending time in front of my grandmother's jewelry box staring at all the strands of necklaces. And if noone was looking, I would open the doors and take a couple out....only to put them back in quickly so as not to get in trouble! I now own one piece that in all my years of looking at mamaw's (that's what we called her...we are from the south!) jewelry, I never saw. It is a small silver band. When my mamaw died, the aunts went through the jewelry and distributed it. Someone pulled out this ring and asked if anyone wanted it. I was 19 at the time and not into big pieces, so this was perfect. I was surprised that mamaw would have such a simple piece. As it turns out, I got home and found an inscription inside. My mom told me it was my great-aunt's wedding band. I now wear that ring every day and feel that I have a piece of family history with me all the time!

Vee ~ A Haven for Vee said...

As you know, I'm an apron lover and wear them daily. They're not only a fashion statement, they're very utilitarian and save the clothes beneath them. I've been known to go to the store wearing my apron and to the transfer station (dump) still wearing my apron. Sometimes I just forget to take it off as I'm too often in a hurry.

You always speak of Gussie with such love. I feel as if I know her. Wonder what her secret was of getting along with the old miser who appears to be glaring at her. Sigh. She's gone to her reward now and I hope that it is a great one.

Vintage jewelry? I have an amethyst pin that my paternal grandmother often wore on her coat lapel. It's large, not so attractive, missing a few stones, but I have taken to displaying it on a lampshade to remember her by.

Thanks for another fun trip in "The Way Back Machine."

chocolatechic said...

My dad's mother didn't wear jewelry.

The only piece of jewelry that she wore was her wedding ring, and insisted that it never come off.

My's mom always had some sort of costume jewelry on. A broach or pin, or necklace.

When she died, I picked the one that was my favorite. A locket that she always wore.

Kaye said...

When my mother died last February, I went through her many jewelry boxes looking for a particular pearl necklace to go with the dress she would be buried in. I found it, but before I did, I found a box with my name on it. When I opened it I found another pearl necklace with a note that said, "Kaye, Granddaddy bought these pearls for me for Christmas in 1945 or '46. Treasure them as I have. Love, Mother" You bet I do! They are a treasure, but not as much a treasure as she was!

Louise said...

I love your "way back machine" posts. I'm going to do one someday... just one, though. I don't have fodder for more--at least at the moment.

I don't wear jewelry except once in awhile a pin. If so, it is always vintage. I love it!

tam said...

I feel as though I know great grandma Gussie! What sweet memories you have of her-thank you for sharing! Brings up some memories of the grandmother who raised me- that warm my heart.
Love that way back machine of yours!
~Tam :)

Carolfun said...

What a wonderful glimpse of the past. My memories of a favorite piece of jewelry is a pin my brother and I bought for my mom for Mother's Day. It was a flower pot pin with flowers in it and everything was studded with crystals. My mom loved it and I thought it was the most beautiful pin I'd ever seen in my 12 years of life. I still like the shiny sparkly stuff!

Kathi~Lavender, Lace and Thyme said...

How precious your post is Suzane, I love history and anything vintage. My Great Grandparents and my Grandmother passed away early on, my Mother and her sister took everything of hers to the dump. Sad.

I have been a vintage jewelry lover for years, my sisters and I bought and sold it years ago, I'm not sure what we were thinking! We each have a number of vintage pieces we cherish.

A lovely post!
Have a wonderful evening,
Kathi :)

Farmchick said...

I used to sit at my grandmother's cherry vanity table and touch/admire her jewelry. It was always very neat and organized. She mostly wore her pieces at church functions, etc... Several years ago she began giving away pieces of her jewelry. She said this way she would make sure that things went to the right person. She gave me her wide, gold wedding band. It is a wonderful piece.

You must have a great collection of photographs. I really enjoy seeing them.

jan said...

My Great Aunt Ruth was the grandma figure in my life. She was a large woman and usually wore large-ish pins on her coat. Sarah Coventry seemed to be about the only thing available in the small rural town that we lived in. I have a few of then and they take me back whenever I get them out and look at them.

She always had a hankie in her apron pocket and I have and treasure many of her hankies!

Mrs Parks said...

I love the fact that my home is so full of memories.
We have closets of photographs of family and friends, boxes of jewelery from the last five decades, knick knacks, letters and books.
It is so comforting to be surrounded by the things that gave the people I loved so much joy.

martina said...

Aunty wears an acrylic brooch at the top of her blouse, it has a back-carved red rose with a white background. I gave her matching earrings years ago and now she wears the "set". Almost all of her jewelry is vintage. She was amazed when I told her that people collect vintage costume jewelry and the prices people pay. She also wears aprons just like you described. Kleenex! Maternal Grandmother always had some under her her sleeves. Forgot about that!