This morning I saw this ad in an old Carleton Place Canadian. It was not only in the classified section– the editors also felt it need front page exposure. It said “the mother had deserted her child”. There is always two sides to every story, and we will never know if she had no way out, or postpartum depression. One thing for sure is it looks like there was no family to help her. In those days many did not know what to do as it was the age of respectability and one went away quietly.
The life of the average married woman in the 1950s and 60s was very different from that of today’s woman. This was the age of conformity and very few women worked after getting married; they stayed at home to raise the children and keep house. Girls were trained to look after their husband, their children and whatever else was needed.
Shopping for food in the 1950s and 1960s was done every day as storing fresh food was difficult. There were no supermarkets, so the housewife would visit the local baker, the butcher, and the grocer individually, carrying all her shopping home in baskets or in a pull-along trolley. The local shops would also deliver your groceries, bread and meat, the delivery boys using bicycles to make their rounds. I remember when the A& P opened up in Cowansville– people marvelled at it.
Monday was washing day in most households. No just popping the clothes into the machine and then into the drier for these women. If you were lucky enough to have a washing machine, it would be a wringer washer. This had to be filled from the tap. One side had a washing machine, the other a spin dryer. After the clothes had washed they were lifted out of the hot water with large wooden tongs, fed through the ringer. The whole kitchen would fill with steam as first the whites were washed and then the coloured clothes as the water cooled.
Entertainment was provided by the radio and more and more people were acquiring televisions. Some, like telephones, were rented, not owned. All televisions showed programmes in black and white, and there were very few channels. The milk man came daily and delivered your milk right on to your doorstep – again he would take away the empty bottles to be washed and reused.
Clothes were often homemade, either sewn or knitted. Knitted items when outgrown were recycled by being unravelled and re-knitted into something else. When collars on shirts became frayed, they were unpicked, turned inside out and sewed back on. All buttons and zips from old clothes were saved for the button box. Socks and stockings were darned.
Dinner would be on the table ready and waiting for the man of the house on his return from work. Housework and the care of children was considered women’s work so the man would expect the house to be clean and tidy, meal ready, children fed and washed and his clothes all ready for the next day at work.
Best of times or worst of times? Bit of both it appears. Should a woman find herself in a loveless or violent marriage, she was trapped; she had no money of her own and no career. Or what happened when you had postpartum like my mother did after she had me. You cried in secret or were diagnosed as having a ‘nervous condition’ and sent away like my mother to the Royal Victoria Hospital/ The Allan Memorial and she was treated with all sorts of things that were not guaranteed to work. My son sent me a link to “The Allan” yesterday and I felt terrible all day that my mother had no choice but to endure all this.
My grandparents were left to watch over me and my father moved back in with his parents. Each and every few days he made the two hour drive to Montreal to visit his wife who was receiving electroshock therapy to help treat “nervous conditions”. That was a common catch-all phrase used to cover everything from postpartum depression to mild psychosis. It was a very common treatment choice for the time and because of it her postpartum lasted over two years where she didn’t know me or my father.
No one spoke to Bernice Ethylene Crittenden about postpartum depression. No one explained to her that it was normal for her to feel like something was wrong.
So who knows the true story behind this classified ad see in the local paper? There is always two sides to the story, as I personally know, and I hope whomever this child was– he was loved and cared for.
READ the sequel-My Name is Bernice — A Letter to a Daughter