Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Book o' the Month: Below Stairs

Below Stairs is the memoir by Margaret Powell that (in part) inspired Downton Abbey.  Mrs. Powell worked in service in the early 20th century and chronicles her experiences in this hard-to-put-down book.  While reading it, I had to keep reminding myself that the stories were true.  (I mean, ironing shoelaces, for goodness sake!)

Mrs. Powell's stories reminded me of some of my Grandma's stories.  Grandma worked as a live-in maid in her mid teens during the Depression, in Des Moines, Iowa.  Grandma's aunt had found the position for her, after deciding she couldn't afford to keep my grandma, whose own mother and grandmother had died.  There are lots of stories of what she had to do.  Like having to wait to pour Mr. N. his second cup of morning coffee and hoping he would hurry up so she wouldn't have to be late for high school.  Also, having to sleep in the cold closed-in porch during winter time.  My grandma, ever the optimist recalls how she was kinder to the couple's son than his own mother, Mrs. N.  She even kept in contact with him, and his daughter (including helping her out once in a while) for decades afterwards.  Geez.  The things people put others through.  It's ridiculous.

Also, there is a quote that struck a chord with me (page 211).  About pursuing her dreams, "The seeds are in you and although it may take ten, twenty, or forty years, eventually you can do what you wanted to do at the beginning."   After getting married, leaving service, and raising a family, Mrs. Powell went back to school, accomplishing a great deal.  It reminds me that I won't always be an artist-on-hold.

Stop by Some of a Kind today to see what the other Turn the Page ... Tuesday gals have been reading!


  1. This sounds like a great book! I'm going to see if I can track this one down. I love to read non fiction of this sort. Hard to believe how others live sometimes.

  2. I want to read it too! I've listened to Grandma's stories about having to mop the floor on her hands and knees for that family EVERY morning, before she went to school!
    Her stories are amazing. Especially the ones about the little boy she took care of and how his parents never gave him time for a hug and how she used to make little toys for him, and buy him things from her own money!
    That Grandma of ours......is the most amazing lady I've ever known

  3. Sounds like a great book and it is going on my list! I'm thinking your Grandma should write one too!

  4. Oh my gosh, I love the quote in this book. It is so hopefull! I also have dreams of becoming an artist someday.....

  5. Funny, I just posted about how I needed a good quote and there you have it! Ask and you shall receive!