Imagine a 15-year-old Missouri farm girl going to work at Trail End (The Kendrick Mansion) in the spring of 1947. Duties included setting the table for breakfast, lunch and dinner, serving the meals, cleaning up and washing dishes by hand, no dishwasher.
Following breakfast I left the butler’s pantry to clean bathrooms daily, make beds and, as time permitted before lunch, dust and vacuum. I have no idea how many times I vacuumed those red carpets in the front hall.
Eula Kendrick, the senator’s widow, showed me the cleaning supplies and the Electrolux vacuum cleaner in the cupboard on the second floor. She advised me to “use my head to save my heels” by taking all the necessary tools and supplies with me for each task. A central vacuum system was not in use by then.
Diana Kendrick showed me how to miter the corners of bottom sheets as I made the beds (no fitted sheets) and make them so tight I could bounce a quarter on them. As soon as she was finished in her bathroom, I cleaned the stool, the tub and the wash basin. Once I broke a painted glass soap dish on the ceramic tile floor and left the pieces where she could see them, telling her what I had done. She surprised me by thanking me for being honest about it.
My guardian angel was Lottie Johnson, the cook. She explained the routine, showed me the dishes and all the tools needed to set the table. Placemats, napkins, service, soup, dinner, salad and butter plates, water goblets, coffee cups, flatware and the correct position of each, all were foreign to me. She taught me how to serve from the left, remove from the right, pay attention to water and ice in the goblets. Diana Kendrick used a foot buzzer to let me know when diners were ready for their next course. Lunch was served at 12:15 p.m., dinner at 6:15 p.m. Usually Johnson and I were able to leave the kitchen and butler’s pantry by 8:15 p.m. or so.
A key to the west entrance hung in a broom closet outside the door. One Saturday night during my senior year I was out very late with my future husband. He told me good night at the door and drove away. Then I discovered the key was missing. At length I decided the only thing to do was ring the door bell. Who should answer the door but Manville Kendrick himself! I quickly apologized and hurried to my room. His only comment on Sunday morning was something like, “You must be tired today, Rose.”
The key was always available after that.
Most of the time Eula Kendrick, Diana Kendrick, and Manville Kendrick were the three at lunch and dinner. Sometimes the grandsons John and Hugh ate with the others but much of the time the boys were off at school or the ranches. While I was serving his mother with my hands full and my back to him, Hugh was delighted to tie knots in my apron strings.
My short-sleeved day uniform was bright blue with white collar and cuffs and bibbed apron. I dressed for the evening meal in a long-sleeved black dress with white button-on collar, cuffs and waist-length apron. I ate in the kitchen with Mrs. Johnson, usually the same food as the family. I was off Sundays after lunch and Thursday afternoons between lunch and dinner. My pay was $75 a month in the summer, maybe $.20 an hour.
During school, my pay was $7 a week; I served breakfast and cleared up if I had time. Then I took off my apron, ran down the hill and across the field where the oval track now stands. As soon as classes were over for the day, I hurried back to dress in my evening uniform and prepare for dinner.
A. Rose Hill is a member of Third Thursday Poets who meet once each month at the Senior Center. Center Stage is written by friends of the Senior Center for the Sheridan Community. It is a collection of insights and stories related to living well at every age.