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Sometimes an account needs a preface or general introduction. This opening begins at the U where occasionally an ad in the Daily read “I will do anything moral for money this week.” With a number to call the ad told a reader all they needed to know. I start there because the reality behind “anything moral for money” fittingly describes the conditions covering much of my early getting-by experience living on The Shore. It needs be said to outsiders (or as reminder to those who remember) the thrust of the area has gone from North Shore Workplace with Vacationers to North Shore Playpen with Service Workers. The jump is significant going from people visiting a local commercial fisherman and buy fish direct to texting a business for dates on local deliveries of salmon from Alaska or shrimp from The Gulf. My mind says a working fish house is of more interest than an air express delivery truck, but I am no doubt on the wrong side of advancement.
Going back to the premise I’ll list occupations that once kept me occupied and fed. There was an outfitter-guide business that also did archaeological surveys in Ontario while in off-season giving time as a carpenter’s assistant and to plow snow. With my spare time I operated an art agency representing a British sculptor. That is how I met Miss Marjorie. Marge was as much Edwardian English lady as you could hope for, though saying so will set correct-thinkers off on a false track entirely. Her family was well off from the coal business and her establishment south of London was ample for herself and a dozen close friends. Like Marge, however, the house was simple and straightforward lacking (except to a small degree in her own rooms) the ladylike frills incorrectly attached to all Edwardian Ladies. What else would you expect of a woman accomplished enough to have worked in radio with Peter Sellers and who was a leading donkey judge. (People over 40 may be familiar with David Copperfield to fill part of the blank regarding British and donkeys. Others will have to go away in the suitably unburdened condition of their custom.)
I last saw Marge a few weeks before a fall that led to her death preceded by her statement “I’ve had good innings” (another element beyond the unburdened). I said, which quite cheered her, I was visiting to pay homage to her AGA (photo). Sitting cane in hand at a small much-worn table Marge got quite a laugh as I took the photo you see. When I sat she pointed to a word written recently in pencil on the table top. It was a word I’d not seen before, but she explained with a tapping finger. “Forgettery, I do not wish to become forgettery.” She did not become forgettery and is not yet forgotten by the likes of me able to suggest to you that it was anything but easy to be, as Marge was, an Edwardian Lady. I’ve known others like her from various strata who were successful human beings on their own merit and who, indeed, had to overcome whatever station in which they’d begun.
Marge’s place in life began quite elevated. Her family house in London had footmen for the carriage. In the household ranking of the day a footman was near the bottom as were his qualifications; namely to be youngish and attractive when decked out in the family livery as he clung to the back of the carriage keeping ready to numbly leap forward in his fancy attire to aid the passengers.
But in the house hierarchy there was a lower place yet. Less important than scullery maids a hall boy was called such because his position didn’t warrant having his own room. At night his cot was set in a hall. Doing unskilled odd jobs a hall boy could work his way up or not. It was up to him.
In that environment (with elements reminiscent in last week’s Cabin Story) Miss Marjorie was observed as a five year old pickling at some plaster on a stairway. One of the maids reported this to the housekeeper who reported to the butler who in turn passed the intelligence to Marjorie’s father that his daughter had been seen damaging some stairway plaster. In time Marge was called on to explain her role in the serious issue of property damage. “Oh no,” young Marge denied she’d done anything and then suggested William, one of several hall boys in the house, was the culprit. Marge’s father said sternly “This is very serious, Marjorie. If William is guilty he will have to be dismissed.” William having been friendly and playful with Marge caused immediate regret leading to her tearful confession.
The truth (which was known all along) sadly out by Miss Marjorie’s admission, her father spoke sternly “You could have cost poor William his job. You must therefore apologize personally to him with me as witness.” William was summoned and hat-in-hand would no doubt have wished to be anywhere else in the wide empire than that drawing room. Blubbering sorrow and apology Miss Marjorie made painful amends to the boy she’d wronged. This was no pleasure or triumph for either of them. How soon or easily William forgot the rigor of that day is unknown to us, but it is hoped he was able to effectively move on with his life. It is known that Miss Marjorie never forgot her father’s severe displeasure at her lie or the awful burden her dishonesty placed on someone innocent and undeserving of accusation. Marge had learned firsthand and forcefully the value of honesty.
I trust the story allows interested parties to find issue with patriarchy, male privilege, struggles between classes, or a case for liberating the young from the weight of authority. But I suspect the sanitized social world that likely to result would be one where people were every day dying of monotony and glad of it.