Posted by: lafouch | March 26, 2010

My Aunt Mattie M. Bowman

Perhaps you remember home economics for girls and manual training for boys. I do. It wasn’t always like that in Paterson, New Jersey. When my Aunt Mattie (Miss Martha Mary Bowman) was teaching in the elementary school they did have manual training for the boys. The girls, however, had a sort of free period. As I understand it, my Aunt Mattie decided the girls should be learning something useful during that time; something along the lines of manual training. She began teaching sewing to the girls in her classes. This was soon picked up by the school district and Miss Bowman began teaching sewing to all the girls in all the schools. Stories I have heard about her mentioned her strictness, her promptness (you could set your watch by her, if you had one), and her expertise. My mother tells of how Aunt Mattie reacted to one of her first sewing projects. She sewed a pair of gym bloomers, which had a very long and full seam. My Aunt saw the seam and thought it was poorly done, so, she ripped it out. This was on the eve of the day the bloomers were to be exhibited for their grade. My Grandmother was very upset. I understand that she stayed up with my mother getting the seam re-sewn until well after midnight.
My experience of my Aunt Mattie was varied. She did have strict rules about how things should be done. I remember having a wonderful time with her on many occasions. At one point she took me to a convention in Atlantic City for the DAR. Another time we went into New York City to see Santa at one of the stores. Santa wasn’t a grown man on a big chair. He was a movable character inside a workshop at the North Pole. He moved around the work shop and spoke to us as we stood looking in at him. We spoke to him through a microphone. I’m not sure how the achieved the effect but it seemed very real at the time.
Aunt Mattie was my Grandfather’s sister. She and her brother, my Uncle Bill, lived in a house that was two doors from my grandparents. It was almost a mirror image of my grandparent’s house. I spent a lot of time in her kitchen or sun porch. I loved her kitchen. There was a table, which was usually against the wall. There was a radiator with a wooden cover under the table. When I would go to visit they would pull out the table and I would get to sit on the radiator cover…that was unless the granddaughter of her doctor neighbor was visiting her as well. Then we would have to take turns. Once ensconced on the radiator cover we would be served milk and Mary Ann cookies. We would eat around the name first.
The cookies were kept in her large pantry just off the kitchen. I remember that on the back of the pantry door there was a big cloth pocket that she had made for string and paper bags. The other interesting thing about her kitchen was her rocking chair. She had a wonderful rocking chair with a collapsible arm on the right side. When it was up it made a writing desk, a place to write your shopping list or a thank you note to a friend. When down, it was a regular, comfortable rocking chair with normal arms. Her kitchen was always a comfortable place to be.

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