A baby, a canary and a Singer sewing machine: part eight of Augusta’s memoir
In Waterbury we started our life together in a small way with an apartment John had found for $8 a month. It was on the third floor and had three rooms: living room, bedroom, and kitchen. It was owned by a lovely family named Coley, who were very nice to us. My husband was 22 years of age, and so was I. He earned $14 a week, and each week I put $2 in the bank. We were very happy in our little home.
Together we had saved $100 before our marriage, and with this we bought furniture at Wanamaker’s in New York. We felt very rich. We saved the receipt for the furniture all our lives. In the store was a bed rocking chair that I wanted very much, but we didn’t have enough money left to pay for it, so the store gave it to us for a wedding present.¹
My new husband was a member of the Swedish Lutheran Church in Waterbury. He was very interested in music, an inheritance from his father in Sweden, who was the cantor (director of singing) in the church in Börringe to which we belonged. In Waterbury the church needed an organist, so John took ten lessons and became the church organist. We both sang in the choir, and John was prominent in the Men’s Society and I in the Women’s Sewing Society. We sewed at these meetings for worthy causes, but it was also a happy social time with wonderful refreshments. We met at the homes of the members, and each would try to outdo the others in producing her finest cakes and pastries. The meetings were enlivened by the presence of all under-school-age children of the members.
Outside of our home we lived entirely for the church and worked hard for it, organizing many fairs to earn money for its maintenance. If the minister had to be away, my husband preached the sermon. Because of our work for the church the Young People’s Society gave us a surprise party and a gift of a beautiful morris chair, the newest style in 1896.
He was a wonderful man, my husband. Right from the beginning of our marriage he began to try to further his education in every way he could. He took correspondence courses to achieve more knowledge, with emphasis on philosophy, history, and law. He won a law degree (by mail), and also a certificate as a notary public in the Swedish language. He did not earn much money as a result, because he could not bring himself to charge anyone for his services. He read constantly, everything from Shakespeare to the history of world religions, and he was never happier than when he had a book in his hands.
Two years after our marriage we were blessed with a baby, a blond and handsome little boy weighing nine pounds. He was born on Thanksgiving Day, November 24, at 9:30 in the morning while I was baking a cake. Dr Castle was the doctor, but the baby was in such a hurry to arrive that when the doctor came Clarence John was dressed and ready to greet him. Fortunately we had a good German nurse who lived nearby. In those days a doctor charged $10 for a birth at home, but the nurse argued with him, and said he had to split the fee and give her $5 because he was not there in time and she took his place. He agreed to this and gave her half the fee.²
Our baby was christened three weeks later, at home because it was too cold a day to take him outdoors for the walk to church. After the christening I had prepared a little party for the minister and his wife and our baby’s godparents. Clarence John wore a beautiful dress I had made for him by hand. As was the style at that time it was very long, far beyond his little feet, and hadmany rows of fine insertions of lace and also two petticoats with insertions of embroidery and embroidered ruffles. He looked beautiful, and his name was duly recorded in our family Bible.
We couldn’t have been happier. My husband had a different job, and was now working for the Standard Electric Time Company in a neighboring town, a concern that made electric clocks for schools, banks, and other large buildings. My husband’s job was to inspect all clocks that left the factory. I was kept busy with dressmaking, thus increasing our income by this means. In those days food and clothing cost very little. I remember clearly when the best pork chops cost only 12 cents a pound, and bread and milk 5 cents each. Our income was not big, but it went a long way, and I even saved a few dollars every week, depositing it in a savings bank.
I had a problem in making dresses because I did not have a sewing machine, and had to make all clothes by hand. But the people in the house offered to let me use theirs, and after I earned $35 I was able to buy a Singer sewing machine. It worked with a foot treadle – electric machines were not yet made. I was very proud to have a sewing machine. I thought it was a fine piece of furniture.
At this time we had an addition to our family, a pretty canary named McKinley for the President of the United States. I guess we thought we were showing our patriotism for our new country by naming the canary for the President.
And life went happily on.
¹This struck me as awfully generous, so I looked up Wanamaker’s. It was a New York institution during the early 20th century, but apparently it had only just opened when Augusta and John bought their furniture there. Perhaps this explains the store’s gift to a pair of newlyweds: it would have meant good word-of-mouth publicity to do this kind of thing from time to time.