I had a near-fainting spell, 1918-style, in the mountains recently.
The year 1918 is notable because that’s when the Glenwood Springs Chamber was born. So it was only appropriate that while speaking at a chamber event celebrating the organization’s 95-year history of community stewardship, I almost hit the chaise lounge like it was 1918.
Almost is the operative word there.
The year is also significant because back in 1918, women were expected to wear several layers of heavy clothing made of fabrics that didn’t necessarily breathe. The constrictive nature of corsets, the warm sun and the high elevation would be enough for me to randomly lose consciousness. I’m really not sure how the women did it.
I still don’t know how mascots do it.
Since the aforementioned celebratory chamber event was specifically geared to highlighting the chamber’s 95th birthday, a “Downton Abbey” theme was assigned. Admittedly, I’m infatuated with this PBS Masterpiece Theatre blockbuster. And I love a good costume party. I couldn’t wait to get into character, which I had hoped would be Matthew returning from World War I.
I appreciate a good gender-bending challenge.
Since the chances of finding a World War I uniform — especially one that would fit me — were slim, I went with my girl Edith. I always know where to find a dress, especially of the wedding variety, so Lady E was the most obvious regal choice.
Something just felt right.
For the non-“Downton Abbey” watchers, Lady Edith is the middle sister. She has as much luck as Jokey Smurf. Her heart is consistently being broken. Her life is often under anguish. She’s been stood up at the altar and all kinds of other spoilers I hate to divulge. This is because my friend Nikki still hasn’t seen the last season of “Downton Abbey,” and I can’t hint around about Edith without giving away her story.
She may have the most exciting story line of all.
To become Lady Edith, I immediately found assistance from my friend Shanti. She could costume an entire litter of kittens and teach them to sing like The Supremes if asked. I went with a lace period wedding dress, and we fashioned a headpiece out of my grandmother’s pearls, a white feather clip from the bridesmaid gig at my brother’s wedding, and a couple of bobby pins.
Like little fashion-savvy MacGyvers.
The problem with lace period wedding dresses is they are hot. They don’t breathe much. They are much like the dresses of 1918, with long sleeves, ankle-length skirts and big lacy collars. I could barely get words out of my mouth in this dress, let alone pluck and fry a chicken and bake two pies.
I try to imagine what I would have done in that dress in 1918 after getting hitched. Or maybe I would have been sitting in the courtyard at the Hotel Colorado on my honeymoon watching the people go by.
Either way, I would have been hot.
The thing about speaking in public is that physiologically, our bodies can do some weird things. Blood can rush to the face. Blood can rush completely from the face. Minds can go blank. Words become so fumbled, they sound like teacher on The Peanuts.
I’m pretty sure that’s happened to me before in a dream.
I mostly thought I might hit the deck when I tried to pronounce Michele Diamond’s name. I think I barely got her last name out of my mouth before seeing little angels above my head like a black-and-white old cartoon. Everything after that was a blur. I recovered with a joke about the dress and being stood up, and all was well. I was just happy it really wasn’t 1918.
I like to think I was more of an Unsinkable Molly Brown-type.
I have no idea what my life would have been like if I had been alive in 1918. I like to imagine I’d be a lot tougher than I am now. Realistically, I would be fainting all over the place. I sound like I just ran a 5K just when I walk up the stairs in the mountains. My house would have those chaise lounges in every room. I like to pretend I wouldn’t be one those fainters, weak from the corset and the charm of the quick-handed gunslingers. I would want to be the pretty little 1918 lady who could break a horse, build a chicken coop, and cook a family of 12 a fried chicken dinner complete with buttermilk biscuits, ham and green beans, and white pepper gravy on the lump-free mashed potatoes.
All in a really hot, long-sleeved dress.
Considering I don’t even do that now, even with all of life’s culinary conveniences and places I could actually learn to break a horse, I’m wondering what I would have done back in 1918. Maybe I would have been a suffragist, fighting for my right to vote. Perhaps a mother of 10 kids who helped run a cattle ranch and went to church every Sunday. Or I could have been a nurse helping with the wounded in war.
The women back then did all those things in a dress.
A very hot dress.
— April E. Clark would like to nominate Kathryn Senor Elementary in New Castle, Colorado, as the best school in North America. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.