Upstairs, Downstairs

While in Florida, I went to the Downton Abbey exhibit at the Lightener museum in St. Augustine.  The exhibit, which I will write about in this entry was beautiful, but it also got me thinking about how my family kinda resembled the Crawleys of Downton Abbey.

Obviously, no, I’m not descended from landed English aristocracy.  Actually many Poles believe themselves to be related to some long ago lost aristocracy.  My uncle did a genealogy on at least his side of the family and we’re definitely not aristocratic, which doesn’t bother me one bit.

Anyway, so I wanted to write a bit about my mother’s side of the family, the Badzian/Pietraszkiewicz/Kobos side.  If I missed a letter in the alphabet, let me know.

Here’s my grandmother Zosia with her sister, the Dowager Countess of Grantham (more on her in a little while):

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My grandmother is the one in the ruffled shirt.  Her sister, Krysia (the aforementioned Dowager Countess) is there looking chic in her sweater and skirt.

My mother and I like to say that my grandmother’s life story kinda follows that of Lady Sybil and Branson, the politically agitating chauffeur.  My grandfather Ferdinand (or Fema as he was known his entire life) was a chauffeur for a wealthy Jewish family in my and my grandparents home city of Lodz in between the wars.  My grandfather Fema had emigrated to Poland when he was 12 from Siberia.  His first language was Russian and he learned Polish when he came to Poland.  He told me stories about life in Lodz with open sewers and when the tram cost one grosz (a cent).

My grandparents met when my grandmother was 12 and my grandfather was 18.  By all accounts, it was love at first sight, but an interesting match to say the least.  My grandmother wasn’t aristocratic but she came from an intellectual family.  She’d been educated in French and finished high school, which wasn’t as common as it is now.  I’m not even sure how much schooling my grandfather had, but I do know that when he was in his 40s, he went back to finish elementary school.

I see a lot of parallels between my grandparents and Sybil and Branson.  I’m sure my grandparents faced a lot of opposition to their match.  My grandmother worked in a bank for her career.  She was a liberated kind of a career woman, when this wasn’t as accepted as it is now.  My grandfather moved from chauffeur to auto mechanic.  I still remember his collection of spare auto parts.  He had a crazy boxer dog that had to be chained up in the house.  To keep the animal from jumping on people, he fashioned a kind of indoor leash that was attached to the door to the balcony.  The indoor leash was from a brake line he had saved.  I always remember the sheer hilarity of the dog getting tangled up in the drapes all the time.

Here’s my grandfather with his two favorite things in the world — his granddaughter and his boxer:

My grandfather was a simple man.  He loved his pipe, his boxer, his sports, his job and his darling grandchild!!!!  I spent a lot of time with him when I was a small child.  One day I’ll write a blog entry about our relationship.

In this blog entry though, I wanted to focus on how the family kind of followed the way the of the Crawley clan.  From my mother’s telling, there was always a tension in the family between my educated grandmother and my simpler grandfather.  Downstairs and upstairs had mixed, like Lady Sybil and Branson and like on the show, it wasn’t the easiest of matches.

Then there was the Dowager Countess of Grantham, my great aunt Krysia.  Maggie Smith and her sarcastic quips always reminded my mother of her aunt Krysia.  For my part, I was also on the receiving end of some quips from my great aunt Krysia.  For some reason, she didn’t enjoy the fact that I wanted to show all of my cousins how to do cartwheels and handstands.  I was kind of a wild kid with a lot of energy and this didn’t exactly sit well with the Dowager Countess…

Well going back to the Downton exhibit, as I walked through it, I thought of my grandmother.  The exhibit featured all the famous outfits from the show.  I saw the beautiful coat with the fur collar that Mrs. Levinson wore on her visit to Highclere.  There was the Dowager Countess’s suit with the bustle on it and Lord Grantham’s army uniform.  There was Branson’s chauffeur outfit and many of the stunning evening gowns worn by the Crawley sisters.

As I walked through the exhibit, I could not believe the workmanship on the clothes.  They were made to measure and perfect for all the characters.  These did not seem like outfits anyone had bought at a local GAP.

You could see the differences in social class in the clothes that the characters wore.  Lord and Lady Grantham wore things that were made of the finest fabrics and made to measure.  Branson’s chauffeur’s outfit was made from twill, a fairly common fabric now but back them most definitely not something worn by an English lord.  There was a section in the exhibit with military uniforms made from fabrics that are very commonly used now to make cargo pants.  In the exhibit, its even pointed out that military uniforms were some of the first mass produced garments and that the production methods used to make them are still in use now.

My grandmother was too young to be part of the generation of young people on Downton Abbey but her attitudes were of that time.  I remember how horrified she was when I showed up to visit her wearing my t-shirt from my summer YMCA gymnastics camp along with my jeans.  Here I was wearing something made from men’s undershirt material, paired with pants that were made of the fabric used to make farmer’s clothing.  I didn’t really understand why my grandmother was so taken aback by what I was wearing but looking at the Downton clothes, I fully understand.    I think to my grandmother, I was wearing downstairs clothes when she fully believed herself to be upstairs.  I wonder sometimes what she would make of people like Jeff Bezos, who is worth approximately a gazillion and a half dollars wearing jeans and a fleece all the time, not to mention her granddaughter who wears ski pants and leggings!!!

Anyway, let’s see what the Downton people wore, upstairs and downstairs:

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