We went to an estate sale today. The estate belonged to the Blair family. John Blair began a mail order company at the turn of the century called the New Process Company. It is a keystone of the local economy even today, although it has changed hands, and changed names.
I worked there right out of high school, as a key punch operator. I realized how dated that was when I tried to explain the job to my kids. They looked at me incredulously. They couldn't fathom it. Why on earth would you type information on a card that ran though a computer? In today's world of personal computing, it actually made no sense to them.They had no idea what I was talking about. I saw John Blair pull up once. He was retired at that point, and his son was running the place, I think. Mr. Blair was riding in the back of a Rolls Royce, and I'd never seen such a thing before. I was gawking from a window, and my boss bawled me out big time, afraid that I'd been seen standing there, doing nothing, which would make her look bad. John Blair was incredibly old then, back in 1975, his wrinkled countenance and hunched back bearing little resemblence to the face of the man with the chiseled features that appeared on the mailings we sent out, the envelope of little flyers that predated catalogs.
The mansion is old, beautiful, but dated, lots of bright green accents that you saw in the early 60s. A lot of the furniture was dated as well, expensive stuff, no doubt, but from an era I have no interest in, although the bedroom had a marvelous four poster bed, and the attic had some glass fronted book cases I coveted.
It is strange to pick through the mundane details of a person's life. There was a Corelle casserole dish that matched my own dishes. How strange to think that the mega rich would use something as ordinary as that, but how stupid to think that they would not use the ordinary things that are common to all households. What else would they cook their tuna noodle casserole in? We perused that house, from the first floor to the third, picking through the belongings of a man that shaped the economy of this town. I bought a small train case for Cara, still labeled with a customs sticker from 1955. I bought Christmas ornaments, cast metal reindeer, very detailed, brand new with the tags still on them, for the other kids, a momento of days gone by. I will put them in their stockings at Christmas, and they will look at me, and none of them will 'get it'.
None of them will understand that long ago, when I was a girl, I was making $137. every two weeks, pounding keys to punch holes in little cards that zipped through my machine. It was noisy and boring, a tough job for a girl with big dreams of college. Our bosses were incredibly old ladies who never married, choosing careers over husbands. They had to. If they had married, they would no longer be permitted to work at the New Process Company. John L. Blair knew a woman's place, by gosh. These old ladies watched over us suspiciously, and were quick to chastise if we talked too much. In those days, women wore dresses to work, and there were jobs that we were not permitted to apply for. Men made more money than women, but the jobs were separate. There were men's jobs. There were women's jobs.
Not one of my kids will understand what it was like to wander through that house, to look through those things. They will not understand that back when I was 18, I could not have imagined such a thing, would have been shocked at the thought of it. They will not understand that these momentos from the mansion are a link to what their mother was before she was their mother. I think of that young girl. I think of the middle aged woman she has become (sitting at a computer, for pete's sake, a computer. Quite a far cry from a key punch machine!) How the world has changed... Some of those changes are sad, I suppose, but really, there are a lot of things about those days that I am very glad that my children do not understand.
Up in the attic, there was a briefcase, a battered old leather briefcase, with the monogram JLB on the top, inside the handle. I couldn't help thinking, "Perhaps he was carrying that briefcase when he got out of a Rolls Royce 35 years ago..." It was a silly thought, and the briefcase was $10. I didn't say anything to Tim. I don't think he would have understood, either. Actually, I'm not so sure I understand it myself, but I will go back Monday, when everything is 50% off. If that old briefcase is still there, for $5.00, I will buy it.