CSotD: Remembrance of Things More or Less Past

If I’m going to connect comics with the past, I should start with today’s Bizarro, which riffs on the Reality TV notion of pampered, catty women in big houses, comparing them to housewives of earlier days.

The 19th Century was about when things began to turn around for “housewives,” which, up to the end of the period, lived largely as Piraro shows here. (Dan Piraro still does the Sundays, by the way, having handed over the weekdays to Wayno.)

But everyone worked at least a 16 hour day then, and many died young.

The voyageurs who went west from Montreal to the Athabascan were up at four in the morning and paddled until it was too dark to see, except when they were hauling a pair of 90-pound bundles over the portages.

And PC Wren, who had served in the French Foreign Legion, described the life in “Beau Geste”:

The route-marches were of appalling length at an unvarying five kilometres an hour. Over English roads, in the English climate, and with the English soldier’s kit, they would have been incredible. Over sand and desert stones, under the African sun, and with the much heavier kit of the legionary (which includes tent-canvas, firewood, a blanket, and a spare uniform), they were infinitely more so.

On one occasion we took a stroll of five hundred miles, marching continuously at thirty miles a day, as the Colonel thought we wanted “airing.”

Farmers’ wives did double-duty, often called away from their domestic work to assist at harvest and other times, such that, in the ancient folk tale of husband and wife changing places, she knew how to do his job and he was completely lost at hers.

“Housewife” was a full-time job and, for much of the century, you didn’t have to be very far up the middle class ladder to have a “girl” to assist with the work, families with spare daughters being happy to farm them out for a slight fee, unless there were shirt factories and more lucrative work available.

Nobody had it easy in those days, and a family needed both a breadwinner and a housekeeper to survive. I walk my dog through a mostly 19th century cemetery, and, while lots of people lived into their 70s and 80s, you find several plots in which the wife died and another took her place.

I think many of these second marriages were more practical than romantic. A man with children and no wife was in deep trouble, as were a lot of women with no man.

The stories of the 19-year-old girl marrying the grizzled old Civil War veteran are examples of a business arrangement — there was likely no romance at all, but, as his wife rather than his housekeeper, she was entitled to his pension after he died.

However, we also managed to flood society with plenty of genuine 19-year-old widows during that conflagration.


We’re more inclusive today, as the current story in Rex Morgan depicts. Two former high school friends have been reunited by a purse-snatching attempt, and Jordan — a well-established character in the strip — has taken his PTSD afflicted brother-in-arms under his wing.

Plot points to know here are that Michelle, the nurse Jordan is dating, is also a Gulf vet, which puts the housewife/widow thing on a whole other level, while Jordan has told people he lost his leg on patrol, but here, for the first time, is leveling with someone besides Michelle about the true nature of his service.

Incidentally, I have no scientific study to back anything up, but the two guys I knew in high school who had the roughest re-entry from Vietnam were relatively straight-arrow types. They were certainly willing to break a few rules to have fun, but they basically believed in the system, and I can’t help but think part of their issues stemmed from there being no sheltering “system” when the shit hit the fan.

And, as one of them said to me, the guys we sent to Vietnam went for one tour. There were no “multiple deployments,” and they knew when their time in Hell was going to end.

I expect Dr. Morgan will straighten this fellow out, but that’s a single starfish on an increasingly crowded beach.


Meanwhile, in Candorville, Lemont mourns the stars that his son will never see.

As noted in the past, I grew up under a majestical roof fretted with golden fire, and, when I walked the dog at night, I had Castor and Pollux and Cassiopeia and Orion as my constant companions, and the Milky Way as good a street lamp as any on our road.

It blows my mind and breaks my heart to think that most people grow up in places so polluted with light that they have never seen the Milky Way, and that so many who have, have only glimpsed it briefly, on camping trips.

To me, it’s like never having seen a bird. Maybe you’ve never seen a flamingo or a penguin, but to have never seen a robin or a sparrow would be harsh, and to not know the stars is equally so.

Maybe cartoonists could focus on tired old gags reminding kids that they should hate broccoli and ease up a little on the far-too-frequent story arcs in which kids hate to go camping.


(And the collard greens go doot-da-doot-doot-da-doot …)

Susan at Between Friends hits me at a time when I’m pondering my countdown to living on Social Security, since my paying gig won’t last a whole lot longer.

I need to pay off the car and find some other ways to trim back so I can keep my mitts out of my retirement account, because it ain’t much and it won’t last forever, even if I do.

I’d like to still splurge on fair-trade coffee, and that might require a capital investment so that I can grate my own cheese instead of buying it pre-shredded.

Never mind Susan’s earworm, though: I’m goin’ with this one:


One thought on “CSotD: Remembrance of Things More or Less Past

  1. One of Galt McDermot’s best songs!

    When we lived in Newport News, there was a meteor swarm we wanted to see… Leonids, Perseids, something like that. Got in the car and sought out a field or something where we were out of the light spill of Newport News, Williamsburg, Portsmouth, Hampton, Richmond. There really was no getting away until we thought of the Jamestown Ferry. There, up on the upper deck, we found an area shaded from the lights of the ferry, and Bam! Stars a-plenty, and some of them falling. It was pure luck, because they had three ferries making the back and forth trip, and as I recall, that one turned out to be the only one with the dark spot up top.

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