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The “Great Generation” – Say, “Good-bye dear friend”…

I had some really sad news yesterday.  My dear neighbor has passed away.  Although living in the neighborhood for literally, many decades, she hadn’t really befriended deeply any of the current immediate neighbors.  The current neighbors are a bit aloof and don’t interact much.  Beulah was a bit on the quiet side, but VERY observant of what was happening in “the hood” whether it was a car parked on the street too many days (“I don’t think it belongs to any of us. I wonder if it’s stolen.”), to “Did you see that such and such down the street had a baby girl recently?”

I happen to have adored Beulah.  When my husband and I moved into the neighborhood some 13 years ago, I introduced myself to all the neighbors.  I quickly learned who was married and/or had kids, who didn’t want to interact, and who all my “Widow Ladies” were. 

Beulah’s husband was still alive back then.  As is often recognized in my Japanese neighbors, he kept a meticulous lawn.  You could putt on it.  The lawn was always green, the yard kept impecible.  He was proud of his yard.  The house and yard I moved into had dandelions.  That was why I had gone around introducing myself.  I was going to vanquish those darn dandelions on the block, once and for all, withmy hose-end sprayer.  I apologized to everyone that they had had to put up withhorrible weeds all these years and that I intended to be a better tenant (eventual owner), than the last people had been.  I eventually won the war of the dandelions with much persistence!

After her husband died, Beulah would invite me into her home to sit down and chat, filling her in on my workschedule, the news of neighbors, what home-improvement task my husband and I were working on that week, the historic costume I would be sewing for the next event.  On warm summer evenings, we’d sit on the steps leading up to her house and look back at the freshly mowed lawn I’d do every Friday night after work.  She’d tell me that it was the envy of the neighborhood and that hers never looked the same after her husband died.  I knew she was being kind to me, but I was also grateful for her recognizing my efforts.

One year, I realized that most of the neighbors were going to be gone for July 4th.  Mind you, our neighborhood isn’t close, but we tend to “house watch” when we know someone is going to be gone.  Well, it was gonna be “The Widow Ladies” and Harry and I at home that year.  Since it was really warm weather, I pulled my old BBQ from the back yard onto the sidewalk, lit the briquettes and proceeded to make hamburgers and hotdogs for whomever was still home on the street.  I had made potato salad and other side dishes so we had plenty to eat.  It was a joyful surprise to the widows and Harry and I had a great time sharing the evening while we all “watched the houses” as if we were the official police on patrol.  We even had garden hoses at-the-ready for all the illegal fireworks that those young kids were going to set off despite the ban.

It seems that for most weekends of the years I’ve lived here, I would bake something tastey for my “Widow Ladies” and “Widow Man” along my street.  They would so love the banana breads, cream puffs and on hot summer days, the frozen pies that I would prepare because it meant that I would also take the time to stop in to visit with them individually if they were at home.  Their own children would take care of them the rest of the week, but on weekends, they were my own extended parents with sage advice to share and whom I adored.  Beulah was one of them.

Tonight, while I was mowing the 3 lawns I do every weekend, her son came over to her house to check on things and pick up a few pictures in time for the memorial service next week.  He explained her passing “in hospice” at home due to cancer coming back and then he told me about the sorts of dresses that she was wearing in the photos he had in his hand.

Seems that Beulah had arrived from Japan back around 1947-48 (I can’t remember the year exactly), from Japan, right after the war.  She married at age 28, in 1951.  The picture he had of her showed her in a prim suit with a beautiful corsage on her chest, smiling slightly while her husband looked sternly at the camera.  It wasn’t the sort of shot you’d see of today’s smiling young couples.  Beulah was obviously happy to be in love and in the U.S. and I bet her husband felt that he had won first prize.  Beulah was a real beauty!  She had cut her 1940’s hair (you know the type, the style that made the Andrews Sisters and Rosie the Rivetor famous), and was sporting a shorter 1950’s style that totally framed her face.  She really was “a looker” if I were to use my Father’s words.

So WHAT would all these words lead up to or have to do with costuming, you ask?  Beulah’s son shared with me that while his mother was still coherent in the days and weeks leading up to her passing, she had pointed at various photos they had and was able to tell him that “that dress was navy and has yellow or red buttons”, or which color shoes she had worn with the dress.  Wow.  She still had quite the memory even at age 80+.

I respectfully asked tonight that if they were going to go thru her garments, I would LOVE to have anything that was hers from the 1920’s, 30’s or 40’s.  He said that Beulah had someone custom-make all her clothing for her because she was both petite as well as a “size zero”.  That boggles my own mind since I’m a size 16, but I digress.  I thought that if he and his sibblings were willing to donate Beulah’s custom “vintage” clothing to me, I would share the talents of the seamstress with my fellow costuming group (Somewhere in Time, Unlimited), during a Sewing Circle where we could study how the dress or garment was constructed.  Quite possibly, I reasoned, we could recreate the garment for today’s body structure in time for next year’s anniversary of “D-Day”, etc. that have to do with The Great War, WW2.  He agreed to ask his brother and sisters.

As I am writing this, tears are streaming down my cheeks as I think of my friend Beulah.  The last time I saw her, she was having her hair done on Memorial Day at the local hairdresser.  She looked thin, but really great with freshly washed and set hair.  I’d walked down the street to meet her with some freshly baked goodies, so she could take them home with her to her daughter’s house where she’d been staying.  Beulah’s house will probally go on the market and we will probably get new neighbors.  It will really be hard to replace such a gentle, kind soul who crocheted me a scarf or doily every year for Christmas that we lived here, and who spent countless hours with me on her stoop talking about the problems with my mother who is now living in senior housing (Beulah was a volunteer at the Japanese assisted living facility nearby), or just talking about life experiences in general.  Who takes times for these things today, let alone with the elderly?

Thank you, dear Beulah, for sharing your life and wisdom with me.  I shall never forget you or your gentle kindness.  Should I receive your garments, know that I and my group will treasure them tremendously, recreating them in your honor.  It is with heavy heart that I must sign off for today…  Auntie Rita



Lady Victoria and husband Sir Harry of Essex (London), reside these days in picturesque Seattle, Washington USA. They interact with a number of vintage or antique groups, including the historical costuming group Somewhere in Time, Unlimited. Come, enjoy an afternoon with Lady V and Sir Harry!

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