As a young bride in 1937 and 1938 I had the memorable experience of living on Officers Row. My husband was a private in Company A of the 7th Infantry with a whopping salary of $21 a month. These were depression years and there were very few jobs available for young unskilled women just out of high school.
I learned that live-in jobs were available in officers’ homes for women married to enlisted service men. Upon application, I was placed in the home of Lt. Col. Bell, an Army dentist in his 60’s married to an attractive 30-year-old wife who had an 8-year-old daughter. I assured the Bells that I was quite experienced. The job paid $20 a month room and board with evenings free after 8 p.m.
It soon became quite evident that my chores on the farm where I grew up had not prepared me for upkeep of the colonel’s home on Officers Row. I was receive many scoldings from Mrs. Bell and shed many tears in private.
In spit of this, I began to appreciate this magnificent old home with its high ceilings, highly polished oak floors and dark woodwork that required endless dusting. I had never seen such beautiful old furniture and lovely oriental carpets. I loved working to the sounds of reveille and soldiers marching, but oh how I hated to iron those sheets; there was no such thing as wash and wear. Mrs. Bell would sprinkle the sheets until they were wet and my job was to iron them until they were wrinkle free.
Every afternoon at 4 p.m. I donned a long sleeved black taffeta uniform with a crisp white organdy apron, cuffs and head band. I helped Mrs. Bell prepare dinner, which I served to the family. The dining room was separated from the kitchen by a large swinging oak door. Mrs. Bell had a buzzer under her feet to call me from the kitchen, which was quite often. I also had to be in uniform to answer the door.
There was wonderful compensation for all the hours of cooking and cleaning and there was a dance every Friday night at the club house for all enlisted men and their wives or girlfriends. Any girl coming unescorted had to show a health card at the door. The Bells were gone each weekend so I would go to Mrs. Bell’s huge walk-in closet and choose one of her numerous long expensive gowns to wear to the dance. I was certain I was the most elegantly dressed girl on the floor. My husband was an excellent dancer and I felt wonderful and beautiful as I whirled around the dance floor — rather like Cinderella. I never gave a thought to the fact I might ruin a dress or the consequences if I were caught, but fortunately I wasn’t.
Since those years, my life has taken many turns but if it were possible to turn back the clock and relive any special moments, it would be those Friday nights long ago living in Vancouver Barracks when for a brief time each week my life was transformed from a dreary maid’s existence to a magical fairy gown being whirled around a dance floor.
Louise Van Brocklin lives in Vancouver.