By Judy Linsley
Read the full June 2013 issue of Viewpoints.
Summer brings hot, humid weather to Southeast Texas. In the days before air conditioning, Beaumonters were forced to adapt their activities to the thermometer in order to stay cool. Though still a busy social season, summertime assumed a more leisurely pace, and traditions followed suit.
Houses built in the early twentieth century were designed to keep their occupants cool—high ceilings, wraparound porches, interior transoms over doors; but the Southeast Texas days required proactive solutions as well. One “keep-cool” home remedy was bathing—a lot. Ida McFaddin’s granddaughter, Rosine McFaddin Wilson, recalled that Ida and her daughter Mamie Ward
bathed several times a day in the summer: before dressing in the morning, before dressing to go out for a luncheon, before or after taking a nap, and before retiring. Keeping clean and fresh was a fetish of most upper class southern ladies, but I believe that grandmother and Aunt Mamie were more avid practitioners than most.
Another summer tradition was to sit on the porch, a shady spot that usually caught the summer breeze. Porches were considered another room, and even modest homes usually had one. Over time, porch sitting became social ritual as well as survival tactic; people walking by on their way to work, school, or store could stop and exchange the latest news. Mamie’s diaries attest to the coolness of the McFaddins’ massive porch and to their enjoyment of it: in 1938 she recorded in May that “Mother & I sat on porch” before going to bed, while in June she noted that it had been “a hot day – 91 – cooler on porch.”
Annual summer trips to cooler climes, often for weeks or months, also provided relief from summer heat. Ida made extended visits to Huntington to see her family. Bolivar Peninsula, on the Gulf of Mexico, was a popular summer destination for Beaumonters, who called it simply “the beach.” In 1915 the McFaddins bought a beach home at Rollover, but lost it to a hurricane in August of that same year. After that, Ida, determined to have a cool summer retreat, rented a house at Winslow, Arkansas, in the Ozark Mountains, and in 1930 the family rebuilt at the beach.
Travel meant keeping in touch with home, and summer correspondence could be accomplished in the heat of the day. At that time, letter writing was both tradition and social obligation; it was also a mixed media art form crafted with pen, ink, elegant stationery, and the perfect word or phrase. Postcards might contain hastily scrawled messages, but letters were more carefully written. Ida was noted for her letters; her handwriting is striking, though sometimes difficult to read, and her turn of phrase anything but ordinary. Sometimes she dictated letters to a secretary to type; and in 1936, she typed some herself, lamenting, “In the last few weeks I have tried to master this infernal machine as I have no one to write for me,” but feeling that she was “getting worse with every letter.” Clearly, she was more at home with pen and paper.
Weddings were part of summer tradition, during the social season that ramped up when young people got home from finishing school or college. Mamie jumped the gun slightly by marrying in May instead of June, but stuck with tradition for the rest of her nuptials. Her fiancé, Carroll Ward, very properly asked her father for her hand; but Mamie actually beat him to it. In her diary on April 6, 1919, she wrote, “I asked Mama’s permission to marry;” two days later, “Carroll came out & asked Papa’s permission to marry me.” Mamie and Ida then plunged into wedding plans: shopping for her dress and trousseau in Houston and Dallas, addressing and mailing invitations. Mamie’s social calendar promptly filled up, beginning with an engagement luncheon and followed by a whirlwind of luncheons, teas, dinner parties, bridge parties, buffet suppers, and lawn parties—at least 17—that went right up to the wedding day.
Like many brides of her day, Mamie was married at home, in what one newspaper called “a brilliant wedding.” She came down the central staircase, carrying her mother’s rose point fan, while 12 little flower girls lined the path to the parlor. The vocalist sang “Call Me Thine Own,” a selection sung at both Ida’s and Ida’s mother’s weddings. When Mamie and Carroll cut the wedding cake at the reception, she got the four-leaf clover in her slice and Carroll the horse-shoe, both of which signified good luck. The couple later changed into their “going-away” clothing and caught the night train to Huntington, West Virginia, for an extended honeymoon with Mamie’s family. Mamie took her wedding dress along, to have her formal wedding photo made in Huntington and, according to custom, to show off her ensemble to the Huntington clan, who might have missed the actual ceremony.
Mamie and Carroll returned from their honeymoon June 17 and had the rest of the summer to relax and settle in at the McFaddin house. A lifelong sports aficionado, whether as player or spectator, Carroll often played golf at the Beaumont Country Club. He and Mamie also attended Beaumont Exporter baseball games at the old Magnolia Ballpark, located on Magnolia between Hazel and Long. (After 1929, the Exporters, a Texas League team, moved to the new Stuart Stadium in South Park.) As long as Carroll’s bachelor brothers-in-law still lived at home, the third floor was an ideal spot for informal gatherings, to play pool, cards, or records, carrying on the McFaddin tradition for entertaining and hospitality.
Throughout the long summer days and the warm summer nights, the McFaddins and Wards went about their lives, traveling, reading, entertaining, listening to music, sitting on their porch, and generally trying to stay cool. Whatever their activities, tradition had an important role. The museum’s latest interpretation of “Tried and True: Traditions of a Southeast Texas Family,” featuring social and leisure traditions, opened May 22 and will run through November.
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