GENERAL ARTICLES

I've Had Five Maids —In Three Weeks

Mabel was a drunk, Lena was a dope and Mrs. Tramble never really meant to leave her husband—A working mother’s wail from the bottom of the manpower barrel

KATHARINE KENT April 1 1945
GENERAL ARTICLES

I've Had Five Maids —In Three Weeks

Mabel was a drunk, Lena was a dope and Mrs. Tramble never really meant to leave her husband—A working mother’s wail from the bottom of the manpower barrel

KATHARINE KENT April 1 1945

I've Had Five Maids —In Three Weeks

Mabel was a drunk, Lena was a dope and Mrs. Tramble never really meant to leave her husband—A working mother’s wail from the bottom of the manpower barrel

GENERAL ARTICLES

KATHARINE KENT

HON. Humphrey Mitchell, Minister of Labor, Ottawa.

Dear Mr. Mitchell,

Every once in a while you make a speech and in that speech you use a picturesque phrase — “We are scraping the bottom of the manpower barrel.”

Mr. Mitchell, I never really knew what that phrase meant until the last few weeks. But I have suddenly been thrown into direct contact with the scrapings of the barrel, and, Mr. Mitchell, you said a mouthful!

It all started when my housekeeper and I parted company, less than a month ago. Now it happens that I need a housekeeper because I work for my living. So 1 telephoned your Selective Service officers, Mr. Mitchell, to do what they call “order” a new one, but of course that is just a euphemism. Anyway, they laughed at my request and suggested I advertise, speak to my friends, stop people on the street - anything rather than depend on them. This shook me momentarily but then, I reflected, maybe you had been scraping the barrel to staff your Selective Service offices, so I put an ad in the Evening Blare and waited results.

Shortly after the paper came out the telephone rang. A charming, cultured, well-modulated voice said, “I see your ad in the Blare for a housekeeper. Have you been suited?”

With suppressed delight I replied, “No, not yet.”

“I see,” mused the come-hither voice. “This is the Morning Shout calling. We were wondering if you would care to advertise with us.”

The Morning Shout must spend all its time on the phone. Every time I advertise, my first response is from the Lady with the Voice from the Morning Shout.

My ad ran: “Housekeeper for businesswoman with two children, one schoolage. Week ends off. $50.” Pretty soon the phone started ringing and each time the conversation would go like this.

“You lookin’ for a housekeeper?”

“Yes, are you ...”

“Whatcha pay?”

“Fifty a month. Have you ...”

“How many inna famly?”

“Three, myself and two children. Would you . . . ” “Oh, childern. Both at school?”

“One is at school. The other is only 3. He ...” “Oh, a kid at home. You home all day?”

“No, I am at work all day. Will you ...”

“Well, if you’re workin’ all day and there’s a kid at home, how’d you give time off?”

“I am prepared to give every week end off. My ad has already said all this.”

“Oh, has it? I was just wonderin’ what you expected

for $50. Well, I reely called just to find out what kinda job it is. I’m suited where I am.”

I got so many of these calls that I began to wonder which of us was nuts. Then it suddenly dawned on me; maybe they weren’t applicants at all. Maybe—and this thought began to grip me—they were other prospective employers, checking up on labor conditions.

Well, Mr. Mitchell, your department has made lots of labor surveys, so you must figure they are a useful form of occupation. So I did the same. I spent a very enlightening evening on the phone. I worked my way clear through the “Female Help Wanted” and applied for every job listed. I still had too much conscience to make appointments I didn’t intend to keep—although that seems to be an integral part of the formula, judging by the number of people who have done that to me.

But I made some interesting discoveries. I found that housewives are willing to pay pretty fancy prices nowadays, but—they seem to expect some service for it. In the first days of the war, before wages had gone up so high, housewives seemed to capitulate in the matter of work and the ad running “General housework, no cooking, no washing, no heavy cleaning” was quite common. Now, however, the price is raised —the old depression $3 to $5 a week has gone up to an average of around $50 a month, plus room and board—but milady wants a little something in return.

Mr. Mitchell, only you can imagine what I got from my ad.

One applicant got a friend to call for her because she was stone-deaf; another got a friend to call for her because she couldn’t speak English; another got a friend to call for her because telephones made her nervous. One applicant charred in offices from five to eight every morning but wanted to take on my job in order to get a free room.

I answered the phone one day and a voice, choked with tears, said, “You g-got a housekeeper?” I went through the rigmarole, but after a minute I realized she couldn’t hear for sobs. “Are you all right?” I asked, “or would you like to call me later?” “N-no,” she bawled, “I’d like the job, can I come up now?” Something made me ask her, “How old are you?” “Fourteen,” she wept, “and I wanna run away from, home!”

My fifth housekeeper went to work today, three weeks after I started advertising. I think you would be interested, Mr. Mitchell, in hearing about them in case you are even more desperate for help than I am.

Mabel was first. A former country girl, widowed in this war, she was now bravely struggling to earn a living for her two beautiful children, at home on her father’s farm. Alone and friendless in the city, Mabel was attracted to me because of the children; they kept her from missing her own too much. She had worked before, but only by the day. She had two references; I phoned them and got such glowing

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I’ve Had Five Maids —In Three Weeks

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tributes I decided she sounded so perfect she must be a dipsomaniac.

Sure enough, she was. The first day she was with me bliss reigned i-n the home. I came home to find the house filled with happy, childish laughter, a delicious repast awaiting me, the house shining, and I could almost hear the heavenly chimes in the air.

The next day was something else again. About 1.30 I got a peculiar phone call from a gent who identified himself as Pete.

“I’m minding, the house for you,” said Pete. “Mabel’s been struck down with coal gas.”

“Coal gas?” I said. “There isn’t any. I burn coke. Is my little boy all right?”

“Sure, he’s fine. It’s Mabel’s been struck down by the coal gas. I gotta go back to work, can you come home? Mabel called me out here a couple hours ago and I gotta go.”

Mabel Is Amusing

I beat it for a taxi. In due course I arrived at the house, rushed in and was met by my three-year-old Billy. “I had such fun, Mummie,” he gurgled. “Mabel was lying on the living-room floor and I was jumping on her.”

It seemed Mabel had retired to bed. I went up to her room and found the door locked. I recalled that the door had no key.

“Open the door, Mabel,” I called, and added, “how did you lock it?”

“With my passkey,” groaned Mabel ’ as she obediently heaved off the bed and shuffled to the door. For the next few minutes there was a scratching at the keyhole, then a groan of springs as Mabel announced she had got the key in upside down and would have to go back to bed.

“Pete,” I yelled, “come up here and break this door open.”

“Gosh, m’am,” stammered Pete, “I’m a modest man. I can’t go in a lady’s bedroom.”

“She’s no lady and I’ll chaperone you,” I said. “Hurry up and break in the door.”

Three heaves did it. In we went. My only bottle of imported wine lay, empty, on the floor. Mabel lay, full, on the bed. I told her to sleep it off and then get up and pack.

Pete made his first constructive suggestion. “Your little girl came home for dinner but Mabel told her she was sick and she was to get her own lunch. She only had a handful of brown sugar and an orange. If you’d like to make her some sandwiches I’ll drop them in at herschool on the way back to work.”

It was this suggestion that caused my girl’s teacher to remark next time she met me, “I hope Janie’s not losing weight; she eats so irregularly, it seems.”

Ethel was next. Ethel was as good as Mabel had sounded—though Ethel had no references. For 10 days I lived in heaven; Ethel smiled at me in the morning and again at night; it used to make me weak all over to see those smiles. Sunday mornings she got the children up and breakfasted without waking me—a reversal of the former procedure when I had to do it myself rather than spend three quarters of an hour getting my housekeeper out of bed.

Well, Ethel was okay in every way. On the tenth day of her sojourn she called me up at the office. “I’m all packed and I’ll be ready to leave as soon as you come home,” said Ethel

calmly. “My mother’s had a stroke and I’m the only one free to go to her.”

Through the Mill Again

I called up Selective Service again. “How about my ‘order’ for a housekeeper, dated two weeks ago and marked ‘urgent’? ” I enquired, cheerfully.

“We’ll call you back,” said S. S., also cheerfully.

A couple of hours later I called again. “How about . . .?” I asked.

“We have no record whatever of an order placed by you,” said S. S., still cheerfully, “but you can fill out another order if you like, although it really won’t get you anywhere.”

So I put another ad in the Blare.

My next applicant—after the usual call from the Morning Shout, of course —was a delightful middle-aged woman from the country. Her home had burned down, her husband was ill and being looked after by his sister, and she had decided to come to town to get a job and repair the bank account. She loved children, was a good cook, experienced housekeeper, and capable of taking “complete charge”—a phrase which has come to give metheshudders. I have found it to mean telling me when I can go out, what I will eat and how I will arrange my furniture, as well as bringing up my children in piety and poor grammar.

So Mrs. Tramble took over. She came one night and spent the evening rearranging all the furniture on her floor. The next day a nourishing breakfast was served only 20 minutes late and my girl and I departed on our various ways with a reasonable assurance of having someone to come home to.

I had been at the office all of an hour when the phone rang. “This Is Mrs. Tramble,” said that pleasant, wellmodulated voice. “I’m afraid perhaps I misled you a little. My house burned down, but it was two years ago, and to tell you the truth my husband and I had a little tiff, so I came up here just to show him I could get a job all by myself. Now that I’ve done that I think I’ll go back to him. He’s had his lesson. I believe I’ll catch the afternoon train. Living in your nice house has made me homesick for family life again.”

“Mrs. Tramble,” I said in my sternest voice, “you have no business taking any job under such circumstances, particularly one like this. Today is Friday, and you will stay until Saturday noon. That’s an order.”

There was a slight pause, during which I swallowed my heart a couple of times and wondered what I would do about two appointments I had made days before, if my “order” didn’t stick. However, she shortly finished her own heart-swallowing and said, meekly, “Very well, if it will help you out. I would hate to inconvenience you.”

The Late Convert

That night I gave vent to my opinion of her activities in no uncertain terms. The next morning she said, cheerfully, “Well, what you said really went home with me. I shouldn’t leave you now. I’ll stay.”

However, I had been on the telephone the night before and a new jewel was coming that night, so I happily told her no.

The new jewel I had seen several weeks before, when I had cast out my bait the first time. Lena had come up and sounded marvellous, but had no references. However, the best references had produced the poorest results, so I called her again and she was delighted.

When I had first seen her she had come into the living room. I had suggested going up to the top floor to see the housekeeper’s quarters but she had refused on the ground that it was too much trouble to take off her overshoes. So it was with some surprise that I watched her go up the first flight of stairs. It took her 10 minutes. Lena sat down heavily at the top and I began going over previous prospects in my mind for future reference.

“No, it’s not me ’art,” she explained, “it’s me stroke. I’m just gettin’ over one and doctor says if I don’t take an easy job I’ll have another sure.”

“But this isn’t an easy job in that sense,” I told her. “There are two flights of stairs, children to pick up after, furnace to stoke during the day. You couldn’t possibly manage it.” “You may be right, m’am,” said Lena, “but I thought I’d like a bathroom to meself for the first time in my life.”

Beatrice arrived yesterday, complete with husband, which might keep her mind off boy friends or might... !

She was greeted at the door by Billy, who enquired plaintively, “Are you going to stay and look after me, or are you just visiting too?”

Replied Beatrice, “Well, son, I only brought one grip with me and I’ll leave the rest of my junk where it is for a couple of days till I see how I like it. I got other prospects.”

So tonight when I go home, if Beatrice is still there, I will have to demonstrate yet once again how to use the vacuum machine and its attachments, where all the lights go on, how to cook vegetables, how to stoke the furnace without burning up all the coke and without letting it go out, how I like my coffee made, how to keep Billy out of my cosmetics, where to put the milk bottles for the milkman, how to make beds so you can get into them all at once—you’d be surprised, Mr. Mitchell, at how some people make beds—when to make up the laundry and how to make a list, where Janie’s other clothes are to put on when she comes in wet, how to jiggle the electric plugs so the toaster will work, how to— but why go on? This will be the fifth home economics lecture in three weeks so it hardly hurts at all now.

Anyway, Mr. Mitchell, I just thought I’d let you know that I get what you mean about scraping the manpower barrel. There’s one thing to be said for it though, you do meet such interesting people.

Better

What was planned to be merely a substitute for hard-water type of soap, the production of which was greatly reduced because of the scarcity of coconut oil after the Japanese occupied the southwest Pacific, is said to be far better than the soap it replaced. Developed under the urgency of war, it is the outgrowth of a new cleansing agent, which when mixed with soap made from ordinary fats and oils has been found to be effective in any water —cold or hot, hard or soft, fresh or salt. At present manufactured exclusively for overseas duty, this new variety of soap “lathers quickly and removes oil, grease and dirt even in cold sea water.” As a special recommendation for postwar use is the statement that it leaves few if any “rings” on the tub.—Think Magazine.