This post is written by a guest author, my mother Sue Morey, about her Irish Grandma.
Maggie and Harriet at the Jersey Shore
The summer before I turned eleven, my family moved into a house that had belonged to my great-aunts on Milwaukee’s South Side. Since there was only one house between ours and my grandmother’s, I was able to visit her whenever I wanted. I spent a lot of time there that summer since I hadn’t made friends in my new neighborhood yet. I’d sit in her kitchen, watching her prepare dinner while she told me stories about her life. I especially loved the tales of her girlhood in Philadelphia.
My grandma, Maggie, had a best friend named Harriet. They were neighbors on a Philadelphia street of rowhouses. Both girls had a streak of mischief, so the stories were fun, especially for a girl like me who rarely got into mischief. Maggie was a petite Irish girl with fair skin, jet black hair and deep blue eyes. She envied Harriet’s height and statuesque figure, but not her red hair.
When they were young women, Maggie, Harriet and two friends took the train from Philadelphia to Atlantic City for a vacation at a resort hotel. They looked forward to strolls on the boardwalk, meals in the hotel dining room and dances in the ballroom.
The first order of business was meeting some suitable young men, preferably before other girls attracted their attention. Standing on the train platform in Atlantic City, they surveyed the prospects and spied a group of four nice-looking guys at the bottom of the stairs leading to the main hall of the terminal. “I wish we could meet those boys,” Harriet said, ”but they’re not even looking our way.”
Maggie took up the challenge and ran quickly down most of the stairs, stopped to catch her breath, and then tumbled down the last few, careful to keep her long Navy blue skirt from flying up over her knees. She landed strategically (and unharmed) at the feet of the young men, who were only too happy to help her to her feet and make her acquaintance. Almost instantly, her friends converged on her with expressions of concern, accompanied with thanks to the boys for helping their friend. This clever maneuver on Maggie’s part not only resulted in help with the valises, but with dancing and dinner partners for the rest of their stay.
For Maggie, the biggest attraction of Atlantic City was the beach. For someone who lived in a crowded neighborhood of rowhouses lining street after street, escaping to the ocean was heavenly. Like most young women of her time, she never learned to swim well, but she was not afraid of the water and loved wading out until it reached her shoulders. Then she would lie on her back, paddling just enough to keep herself afloat and look at the open expanse of sky—a freeing experience for someone who lived in a rowhouse where seeing the sky was possible only by standing close to a widow in the front or back of the house. Floating like that required strength because in the early 1900s, girls wore heavy cotton bathing costumes—a blouse, pantaloons that fastened below the knees, and stockings. The cotton had to be heavy enough to satisfy the demands of modesty when the swimmer emerged from the water. Bathing costumes were almost always black or Navy blue—modesty again. Black stockings completed the outfit.
So when Harriet appeared on the beach in her black bathing costume accented by red and white striped bathing stockings, she attracted a lot of attention. After playing in the water, she would strip off her stockings and lay them out on the edge of the blanket to dry while she and her friends sunned themselves.
One afternoon, as the girls laughed and flirted with the boys passing by their beach blanket, a young man ran by and snatched Harriet’s prized stockings from the blanket. The girls shouted at him, but he kept running along the beach with the colorful stockings waving from his hand. Shocked and angry, Harriet despaired of ever seeing those stockings again.
In the dining room that evening, the girls sat at their appointed table, discussing what to do about Harriet’s stockings and how they would ever find the thief. Harriet was beginning to resign herself to going home the next day without her striped stockings when a young man with a roguish grin sauntered into the dining room. He wore a casual jacket, white shirt with a stiff collar and a tie. He took a roundabout route to his table, ensuring that everyone would notice Harriet’s stockings covering his calves below his Knickerbocker pants. The laughter grew as he paraded around the room, stopped at the table where Harriet sat with Maggie and their friends and gave a little bow.
At the end of the story, my Grandma paused in tenderizing the chicken breasts into submission. I can still see her shaking her head and laughing at the memory.
I don’t have any pictures of Maggie as a very young woman, but here are some pictures of her older.