Marshall Field & Me

Here in the 1920s, I am thrilled to work at Marshall Field & Company, one of the leading department stores in the country. In my day, company literature said, ""Field's,' as it is intimately called by all Chicagoans and, indeed, by its thousands of friends and customers outside of Chicago, occupies a unique position in the life of the city. It has grown up with Chicago and is universally looked upon as something more than a store--rather a civic institution . . ., shown with pride as one of the chief show places of the city."

Working here makes it a lot easier to sneak over to The Store for Men and spy on . . . oh, wait, never mind that part. Let's just say I was over the moon to be hired, even though they put me in Ladies' Nightwear. I was hoping for Books so I would have something good to read when things got slow. But things seldom slow down at Field's. The motto is "Give the lady what she wants," and you'd better believe they keep us hopping.

People don't always realize the skill that goes into being a sales clerk. During my training it was emphasized that we have to be speedy and accurate at figures, able to talk nicely to perfect strangers and especially the not-so-perfect ones, and we have to hold our temper and use neat handwriting to fill out the order slips. We have to know the merchandise backward and forward and upside-down.We have to stand all day and not complain that our feet hurt. We're not supposed to chew gum or carry on conversations with other clerks while customers are waiting. We're not supposed to say things like, "Did you glimpse the swell dame that was just here? You'd think she owned the whole joint. All she bought was a yard of ribbon." Well, my stars, who would ever say something like that? A lot of this seems like plain common sense to me, but Marshall Field makes double-sure we know it.

To my friends in the British Isles (excuse me--United Kingdom--that term is still new here in the 1920s), did you know that Harry Selfridge of your Selfridge's store spent his early career learning the ropes at Field's? That all happened before my time, but someone in this century made a television series about it. (I'm still trying to make sense out of television. So you keep a moving picture screen right in your house, with sound and color pictures, that is operated by sitting several feet away and pressing buttons on a small rectangular box? Whoever dreamed up such a thing? I must admit, when I start watching a television on a visit to your century, it's hard to pull myself away, though I still prefer getting dressed up in nice clothes and going to the Orpheum, and then out for a soda afterward. At home I prefer listening to stories on the radio and forming the pictures in my head. Can people still do that in your century--form the pictures in their heads?)

The last time I was in Chicago, I tried to visit Marshall Field and see if any of my old coworkers were still working there. Then it occurred to me that all of them would be well over a hundred years old by now. Field's employees are loyal but not that loyal, to still be on the job at age 126. Anyway, the building was still there, but the sign on the door said "Macy's." Surely that's a mistake, because Macy's is in New York City, and even though I'm sure it's a perfectly nice department store, it's no match for Marshall Field.

We're going to have a book!

Have you heard the news? We've caught ourselves a publisher! Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas will be publishing our book sometime in 2016. The title "You're the Cream in My Coffee" is still tentative, but I hope they stick with it because I've grown quite fond of it. 

Anyway, you call follow its progress on Jennifer's site. She'll need to do most of the work on it, since I, of course, am busy with other things, like working at Marshall Field and stalking that adorable manager in the Store for Men.

Have you ever thought about what a funny name Jennifer is? In the 1920s, it didn't even appear on the list of the most popular baby names in America, although I understand it was a more familiar name in the U.K. There were some "Jennys," but that was often a nickname for "Jane," the way "Sally" was a nickname for "Sarah" and "Molly" was a nickname for "Mary".

In the 1940s an actress named Jennifer Jones rose to stardom, but her real name wasn't Jennifer, it was Phyllis. Anyway, I suppose that's when American parents started getting it into their heads that this was an appropriate name to give a baby, and a unique name at that. By the 1970s, it was the opposite of unique--it was the most popular baby name for girls. And now its popularity has waned again. 

I don't know why there aren't more Marjories these days. I think it's a delightful name! I understand it means "pearl," which is funny because a  character in another novel that Jennifer is writing is named Pearl. But I'm not supposed to talk about that, so keep it under your hat! You didn't hear it from me.

Toodle-oo for now,


Taking Tea

I understand from my travels around the century that "Tea Party" has taken on a new connotation of late--some sort of political meaning. Here in the 1920s we had the Teapot Dome scandal. But I gather your 21st-century Tea Party movement is something quite different from that.

Today, I want to talk about the genuine tea party . . . the kind held in the afternoon, , where you actually drink tea and spoil your supper with scrumptious, pretty, sugary delights. And if you discuss politics there, heaven help you. Eyebrows will be raised in your direction and people will whisper behind their fans, if they have them, or their hands, if they don't.

Believe me, I know all about whispering. I once attended a dismal tea party hosted by the local hospital auxiliary, to which I was invited as the "bride-elect" (a.k.a. fiancee) of Doctor Richard Brownlee. I felt like a bug on a specimen slide under a microscope. I won't bore you with the details, but suffice to say, most parties are heaps more fun than that one. (Details, if you must have then, are to be found in Jennifer's forthcoming book.)

Here are some tips on throwing a great tea party:

*Invite enough people . . . but not too many. Take a good look at the room where you're going to hold the party. If you invite too few guests for a large room, they'll look and feel lost. But too many guests crowded into a small room--what we call a "crush" here in 1925--can be equally uncomfortable. If the size of your guest list fights against the size of your room, either adjust the list or find a different room. Or hold it outdoors, if the weather's fine. Garden parties are quite the thing!

*Decide whether you want to invite both gentlemen and ladies, or only ladies (a party with only men is called a "stag" party and is not the subject of this post, although information abounds, if you're inclined toward such a thing). In my era, tea parties were often ladies-only events, since the ladies were free in the afternoons while the men were at work. But in your era, everybody works, so a date and time that's convenient for the ladies will most likely work for the men as well.

*If you include the men, decide if you want your tea party to include dancing. If so, consider hiring musicians. If musicians are beyond your budget, a gramophone works almost as well.

*There's no better decoration that flowers--lots and lots of them, according to the season. A potted palm or two can't hurt.

*Your menu includes tea, of course (iced tea in hot weather is nice), with sugar, milk, and lemon available, and possibly a fruit punch or other alternative for non-tea-drinkers, plus
as many cakes, breads, sandwiches, muffins, and what-have-you that you can conjure up. Everything should be cut up small, to be easily held in one hand. Supply plenty of plates and napkins, knives for spreading, and small forks, especially if you're serving anything gooey or sticky.

*Your party can be so small that it's just you and a few close friends sitting around a table. At a larger tea, though, you'll serve the refreshments from a long table. You can ask a close friend to stand by the teapot or punch bowl and do the pouring. According to Emily Post, being asked to pour is a great honor. She writes, "The ladies who 'pour' are always especially invited beforehand and always wear afternoon dresses, with hats, of course, as distinguished from the street clothes of other guests. As soon as a hostess decides to give a tea, she selects two friends for this duty who are, in her opinion, decorative in appearance and also who (this is very important) can be counted on for gracious manners to everyone and under all circumstances."

 *What to wear? Why, your prettiest afternoon frock, of course. Here are some examples:


Books on the beach--a lovely combination

Usually Chicago broils in the summertime (although I understand you're having a cooler-than-normal summer in 2015. Here in the 1920s, believe me, it's broiling.) I love relaxing with a good book, but it's too stifling to sit at home in the two-flat, especially since Dot and I have the upstairs apartment. Heat rises, dontcha know. So I love to take a good book or two (or five) to the beach.

The above picture could be me, if you replaced "Sanibel Library" with "Oak Street Beach, Chicago." And if you darkened the woman's hair a little bit. And my bathing costume is blue with white dots, not green. Green makes me look a little jaundiced. But otherwise it's like looking in a mirror.

In the summer of 1925, I'm reading The Keeper of the Bees by Gene Stratton-Porter--you might know her better for writing A Girl of the Limberlost, which made a splash several years ago.

I'm also reading Arrowsmith by Sinclair Lewis. Back home in Kerryville, some folks got annoyed with Mr. Lewis a few years back for making fun of small-town life in his book Main Street. I tried to tell then that Gopher Prairie is a fictional town and has nothing whatsoever to do with Kerryville, but they don't believe me. You know how people are. Anyway, Arrowsmith is about a medical doctor. My author Jennifer asked me to warn you not to confuse Arrowsmith with Aerosmith, which apparently means something else entirely in your century.

I love reading on the beach, but the dear folks at the Chicago Public Library might not appreciate sand falling from the pages of their books. We just won't mention it to them, will we?

What are you reading this summer?