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A Woman’s Place, my current work-in-progress, is set in 1963 Dallas, in the weeks leading up the the Kennedy Assassination. No, the novel is not about the assassination, but the timing is crucial. Without that world-rocking event, the conditions that propel the characters toward resolution would not exist.

And so, I tip the DeLorean time-travelling tour guide and enter the sixties.

Go-Go boots and blue eye shadow, paisley patterns and pastels, hemlines and hula hoops… Hm. What year were Go-Go boots in style? How short were the hemlines? When was the hula hoop invented?

In high school, the thought of research was enough to send me to the nurse’s office. In high school, I never needed to study the sixties.

The Lucy Show, Petticoat Junction, and Ed Sullivan dominated television. Johnny Cash, Elvis, The Chiffons, Ray Charles, and Lesley Gore hits crackled over the transistor radio. Suspense fans flocked to theatres to experience Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds.

1963 flickers across my manuscript in a kaleidoscope of colour. And yet, some thrills and chills fall to the wayside like blobs from a cold lava lamp, too late in the timeline of history to make it into my book.

Bewitched is released 1964. Bond’s From Russia With Love premiers in London but doesn’t hit North American theatres until ’64. American teens weren’t introduced to The Beatles until 1964. Hm. ’64 seems like a pretty good year.

Another debut also missed my manuscript by mere months. In ’63, the Suzy Homemaker doll was no more than a glint in a toy maker’s eye.

Carmen Dodd, the heroine of A Woman’s Place, writes the Helpful Hints column at a Dallas paper, and I had a darling of a line set up involving Suzy Homemaker. A darling I had to kill.

It took more than a few Internet sites to pinpoint the date of Suzy’s manufacture. Or, as Chip said to Dale (or Dale said to Chip), perhaps the information was on the first page, and I started at the wrong end. Didn’t matter. I was caught up in a tempest inspired by Suzy’s 3-speed blender.

In 1963, the world was a young girl’s paradise. Why, she could do whatever she wanted! Entertain, wash dishes, clean house, launder, iron, bake and, most importantly, always look like a queen.

I realized early in the plotting stage that I wouldn’t be able to reference Suzy, but the afternoon of research was worth its weight in frosted party cakes. In the pages of A Woman’s Place, I had hoped to capture the role of women pre Gloria Steinem and the Woman’s Liberation Movement of the 70s. Suzy Homemaker put me in the groove of an everyday woman’s life in 1963 like nothing else could. The atmosphere girls grew up in, the limitations, the pressures and the expectations, hit me in the face like a blast of heat from Suzy’s lightbulb-operated oven.

Sometime in the nineties, I came across a few pages taken from a home economics textbook. I was gobsmacked by every wifely tip. The highlights went something like this:

  • Before your husband comes home from work, touch up your make-up, put on a fresh dress, be carefree and gay.
  • Plan ahead so that your man can depend on a warm, delicious meal when he comes in the door.
  • Clear the clutter, dust every surface and turn off all noisy appliances (including children) in time for his homecoming.
  • Save complaints, bills, and children’s demands until he is relaxed. Remember, he has had a hard day.
  • Have a cool drink ready and the pillows on his favourite chair plumped. Offer a massage, but do not insist, for that will only add to his stress.

Cook, clean, take care of the children and look pretty. From toys to textbooks, this is the future girls were slammed with. In 1960, every woman’s place was Suzy Homemaker’s place.

Options, opinions, discussions? Sorry. The door on that oven is closed.

But you can leave a comment.

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