Some of you may remember, last year on November 7th my final grandparent passed away. My mother’s mother; known as Nana, was 97 years old. We knew Nana’s passing was immanent but it did nothing to quell the pain. The real struggle was not so much the event of her death, but the aftermath of La Familia. My mother is the only daughter of seven children, and I am my mother’s only daughter as well. Mother was tasked with handling the estate and mediating her brothers who have . . . strong personalities. Knowing Mother is one to easily become overwhelmed; especially when all 30 plus members of her immediate and extended family are taxing her emotions, I (stupidly) volunteered my services. Thus, The Handmaiden Contract was born.
1800s, 19th Century, Advertising, Ancestry.com, Architecture, Arizona, Biography, Cemetary, Crime, Criminal, Death, Drama, Family History, Health, Horror, Marriage, Medicine, Science, Society, Theater, True Crime, Victorian, Video, Women
Perhaps it is because there is an extra week this month or maybe it is just happenstance, regardless of the reasons, there is a boat load of 19th century related news going on. I easily curated my top eight headlines without utilizing all my keyword searches! Amazing.
There is a nice dollop of the macabre this month with the re-discovering of fetal bones that stirs an age old controversy, as well as an annual shindig festive enough to raise the dead. However, by far the most compelling headline, is original Victorian horror come alive on stage. The backstories, the mixed cultures, the costumes!!!–This needs to be a Thing! Why isn’t this wicked little play everywhere in the United States??? The demographic of my town would eat this stuff up! In conjunction with the underworld and Ancestry.com more criminal records and mug shots are being digitized. The information often recorded the sentence of the prisoners and the punishment never fits the crime. So harsh!! Speaking of going digital, another little book has been scanned for the internet concerning 19th century marriage advice. Good to know that contradictions and double standards have stood the test of time. Marriage and family were paramount during the Victorian era. A mini-biography of a mother who changed the face of nation (and its neighboring country) in terms of science education for women has made the short list. Heralding the changing times with advertising, comes from a beer company reaching back to its roots. The cute video is equal parts stylized and optimistic wrapped up in old age wisdom of entrepreneurship. Do watch! Lastly, giving a shout out to my home state! Arizona made the cut! In a NON-wild-west category, for once! I have passed the home that’s showcased in the article but it was never open when I’ve been in the area. It is one of the very few Queen Anne buildings left in the state. Great reading all around! Readers, you’re in for a treat!
- Bones of Contention
- Criminal Past
- Marriage Advice
- Mothers for Science
- Phoenix Victorian
- Playing Dead
- Starting Somewhere
- Wickeder Little Tales
Something you may not know about me, I have a tendency to chatter. Actually, it’s a cycle. I’m silent and focused for really long stretches of time enjoying my solitude. Then . . . I’m not. Many of my life epiphanies and revelation have been slips of the tongue in a seemingly meaningless (but entertaining!) conversation.
True to form. Yesterday, I made the off-hand comment to a co-worker, “I’ve been to twice as many funerals as I have been to weddings.” –We were talking about the fear of death, or in my case, the lack there of. When I sat back down at my office, I quickly calculated. I have attended 10 weddings in my life and 19 funerals and no births. I have never seen an animal born nor held a day old baby. This realization bothered me far more than it should. Half of the weddings I’ve attended were as a plus one to my ex-fiancé. Which means if I had not met him, I’ve would have only been to five weddings.
Now Death; death is an old friend. He and I had a heart to heart many years ago. We’re cool. I know what to expect of him. –Prior to attending college I seriously considered Mortuary Studies. I have always been fascinated by death rituals and embalming. I think it is a great honor to be entrusted with some else’s loved one and to serve the living in their moments of great need. It is a very meaningful career.–My father used to say it has the best job security. . .
When I lamented my latest revelation to my Mother, she paused before she made her point. “Well, honey, not many people are getting married these days. Everyone is living with one another or postponing the wedding, but people keep dying. So funerals won’t go away.”–I had to laugh. Because . . . truth.
After much thought, I realized I will be burying others until my own day comes, and I can’t foresee weddings for the “Nine Left Over” in my family who are all of marriageable age but have yet to get married (ages range from 26-40), but there is one thing I can control. Kinda. I can experience a birth. Not my own obviously. It takes two to tango after all. I am determined by my birthday in 2017, I will present as a witness to an animal birth.
Why is this important to me? And who cares? For one, the Victorians experienced all three milestones in close quarters at home and the village. They were exposed to all life’s joys and tragedies at a very, very early age. So being Victorian-esque, naturally, has an appeal for me. There is more to it, however. –I know I am a person that needs hand holding through new experiences. At least once. I like to know that there is someone there to support me. Insecure? Perhaps. Nervous and apprehensive? Most definitely. I have a much greater uncertainty with birth, than I do with Death. This is partially due to Doctor’s telling me I will have a difficult time conceiving, unlikely to carry to term, and my childhood fear of dying in childbirth . . . But simply because it’s “unknown.” So, yes, I fear the unknown.
The best way to get over it and embrace it is . . . no, not to get pregnant myself, but experience first as an outsider. The “easiest” way would be to be present for a an animal birth. Puppies, kitties, horses, goats, cows, sheep, whatever is nearby in town. Someone instructed me to just watch a YouTube Video of a graphic delivery.–Yeah, no thanks. I could do that, but that’s not the experience I seek. The energy of a live birth. I want to know what that feels like. Then maybe, maybe I’ll move closer to peace about having children of my own. Or not. I’ll let you know after my exploration on the subject.
I don’t ever want to be a person who “desperately wants” any more. So. Much. Heartache. I’ve experienced with the break up of my engagement. I can’t image the level of those women who are dying to have a child and not being able to. I don’t ever want to be so desirous like that. I do want to come to terms with “whatever happens, happens and be joyous about it.” If I remain single for the rest of my days? Sweet! If I end up marrying Ryan Reynolds, Leonardo DiCaprio, or Sam Heughan? Awesome. If I never have children? Great. If I some how end up with five? Perfect. If I die in my sleep tonight? Nice. If I wake up tomorrow morning? Wonderful! Life and Death. It’s all good.
My Nana passed away earlier this month and it is a heavy burden for my mother to bear. I had promised her in the months prior to my Nana’s demise, when the time came, I would be Mother’s Handmaiden. What I mean is, I will support her and assist with estate clearing matters. No small feat! You see, my mother is one of seven children and the only girl. Due to family politics, my mother was left in charge of executing the Trust, clearing out the Estate, and selling all the properties.
My sweet mother is allowing me to administer to her in my “gentle militant” way of clearing out the house. . . . Well, actually she said “Since you’re so bossy . . .” My job, at this point, is to keep her on track and makes sure she meets the one year deadline. I force her to put items in one of four piles. I allow for stories that organically come out from discovering cherish memories. I keep chatty visitors to a limit and use others to deflect conversation, so she can go back to working through her childhood home.
It is rough going. She is saving string. STRING! I caution her, everything she is saving in the estate for the moment, will be need to revisited. She acknowledges this and I don’t push her further. She is still grieving and everyone grieves differently. Besides, it is tough to make decisions when one’s brain is foggy with grief. My mother desperately wants to be thorough with the house to honor my Nana. They are not decisions I can make. If it were me I might sell or give away more pieces, but it is not my jurisdiction. I’m just the Handmaiden.
I am proud to say we have gone through all the drawers and closets in the three bedrooms, both bathrooms, and three linen closets in one week. The first bedroom took 10 hours to complete. 10 HOURS people! We have given 11 bags to the charity, just as much to sell at a later date and a boat load of stuff we are keeping. . . momentarily . . . I hope. We still have the dining room, living room and, Lord help us, the kitchen and Billiard’s Room to sort through. Then we will move on to furniture and big ticket items, and last the garage and car port. . . oy vey!
Of course in the process of clearing out the estate, we have made wonderful discoveries. A picture of my great-grandmother! My Nana’s wedding dress from the 1920s! Money, naturally–which goes back into the estate. Some hideous linen and décor from the 1970s. *gag* Seriously! My grandfather’s guns. Newspaper clippings from the 1950s to present. Many items from my Tio/Uncle who died in Vietnam; his uniform, his suitcases, a trunk full of letters . . . these are understandably hard on my mother. My poor, poor mother. I hurt for her, but we solider on.
Depending on one’s class and gender, it was entirely different for the Victorians. Any child born with a modicum of aristocracy would be familiar with the snare of Entail. Entail is a way to keep all the real estate and titles in the family by way of the eldest son. Through rules of primogeniture, entail could only pass to and through a male heir. So in the case of families who only have daughters, another male heir was sought out. If the father did not have any brothers who had sons, it would work its way back up the family tree to find a line male to male. This means if one of the three daughters had a son, it could not pass on down to him. Furthermore, primogeniture is distinguished by legitimate heirs, meaning the parents had to be married for nine months prior to the birth of the son; no bastard children. Picky, picky! What’s worse, if no living male descendent is found the title and the real estate “die” with the last title holder. All females of the line could be displaced and without a living, as a result. So sons and sons of sons were imperative for the aristocracy to hold their position in society.
With Entail there was never any need to clear out an Estate, it would just be inherited for the next generation and so on and so forth. However, if one was without a tile or not Gentry, it is possible to be kicked out of the house. It was more along the lines of “as long as someone is willing to pay the rent,” the poorer people could live in the cottage.
Real Estate was synonymous with wealth. The more land one had, the richer the person was, because the maintenance was incredible and space was a premium. Entail forced heirs to keep the land in tack. They were not allowed to segment it and sell it to pay off their debts. However, they could buy and acquire more land . . .
My family and I are still in the throes of grief not only from the demise of my engagement a few months ago, but also the passing of my Nana this past week. It is interesting how different kinds of loss affect people. It all boils down to types of grief, or if you want to get all medical, “stages of grief.” I am not expert, although I did take an eye-opening Grief and Bereavement class in college. However, during a span of 18 months between 2006 and 2008, six family members died. SIX! Needless to say, I was forever changed as a result. So my Nana’s death, is not my first rodeo, but admittedly it was the one of the most beautiful and gut-wrenching funerals I ever attended.