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"At the end of the Line with Ed Kelemen."

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Originally Published in 2006

This tells about the travails of living large in the 1800s

My son, Brendan, and I just returned home after an interesting afternoon where we learned how the other half of society lived in the late 1800s. Actually it was more like how the upper 1% lived in those long-gone days.

You know it wasn’t all peaches and cream for them. They had worries that us poor folk just couldn’t fathom. Like where to get reliable servants to keep a twenty-four room bungalow up to snuff. Someone had to clean and polish important things like sterling silver nutmeg scrapers on a daily basis. That would be the dining room maid who also saw to the crystal chandelier and all the rest of the things in that room.

Each member of the family, including the kids, also had to have a personal maid or valet to help them keep comfortable and well-dressed. Sometimes those unfortunate people had to wear as many as four changes of clothing in one day. The servants were expected to change at least once a day, black uniforms for daytime and maroon for evening chores.

The washerwoman saw to it that all these changes of clothing were cleaned, starched and ironed. Because of the work load, washerwomen didn’t last long. But hey, they were well paid for their efforts at $50 per month.

Breakfasts and lunches were eaten in the breakfast room while dinner, a two and a half hour daily ordeal, was consumed in the formal dining room. The servants ate from a different, less expensive menu. That meant the chef had to prepare at least six meals a day, leaving the scullery maid with a mountain of dishes, pots and pans to clean. That usually young lass was paid around $18 a month.

At some point, the master and mistress of the house had to decide which of the twenty-plus carriages they would use for the day and inform the coachman of their decision. That is, if he weren’t otherwise occupied giving horse-drawn cart rides to the young daughter’s dollies.

The master of the house had the responsibility to acquire a proper governess for the children. Her job would be to conduct all classroom exercises for the children and to teach them proper etiquette and languages. She would preferably be a citizen of a European country and conversant in many languages. The children needed instruction in protocol. Otherwise they might not know how improper it was for servants to use the stairways in the family part of the house or to, heaven forbid, enter through the front door.

Now, don’t think that the family members had to spend all their time watching over the lowly servants. One half-day per week the servants were allowed off the premises to conduct their own business. Some households allowed the servants every other Sunday off. During these times I guess the industrial gentry was left to fend for themselves. I wonder how they fared.

All this was a bit much for my tired old brain to absorb. So, on the way home, we stopped and got a coffee for me, a Pepsi for him. As a conversation opener I asked my son if he had learned anything during the afternoon.

“Yeah, Dad,” he replied. “I learned that things haven’t really changed all that much. Just like today, back in the old days there were people with just too much money.”

“Uh-huh,” I agreed.