Chapter 20: The Palmer Sisters


The Palmer sisters moved into Adel in 1924 and they were quite the pair. 

Hilda was one of the first women in Iowa to graduate from chiropractic school. She worked in her hometown of Dubuque for a while, then decided she should set up shop elsewhere. Dubuque already had several chiropractors. 
She decided to move to a county seat, a place with the kind of workers that would need a chiropractor. That's logical.

On a trip to see a cousin in Des Moines, she heard about the brick factory in Adel, and thought this might be a good opportunity. If need be, she could work in Des Moines halftime and Adel halftime. Their cousin had a 'dime store' there in Des Moines, with extra room in the back that she could use as an office. This might help her make a go of it. 

They heard of Doctor Watkins leaving Adel and looked at the building for sale. Having been a doctor’s office on the lower level, the setting was ideal. It had a three bedroom apartment upstairs, with front and back entrance. The sisters did not grow up poor and their parents would purchase the building, which both Hilda and Lila May would own. 

They owned an automobile. Though Hilda was bolder in academic life, she was scared to drive a car. And though Lila May was often socially timid, she would barrel through town in their car like a race car driver. The car wasn’t so fancy that a customer would be too jealous, but it wasn’t an old flivver either. It was a 1920 Nash Roadster. 

One businessman on the town square said to a customer one day, while they were watching Lila May drive, said, 
“It seems that the younger Miss Palmer is trying to drum up business for her sister, with all the gyrations we pedestrians have to make, to stay out of her way.  I think it might throw one's spine out of alignment.” 

 This comment reached the ears of Lila May, who then complained to her sister, 
“I don’t understand why I should have to stop at a stop sign if no one is coming from another direction.” 

Hilda replied, “Dear sister, there might be people on foot wanting to cross the street without hazarding life and limb. 
And besides, I think the gentleman made a point. You should not be my main source of business.” 

About a month into their stay at Adel, the Police Chief had to sit her down and have a talk with her about such things. 

As it goes, they moved into their building and furnished it with the necessities, to begin with. They visited with the Watkins during the purchase of the building, purchasing a dining room set and a bedroom set from them, which helped. 

The basement still had three jail cells with the iron doors attached, with working locks; leftovers from the jail. 
Doc Watkins used them to store medicines and equipment so those things couldn’t be burgled. 

Hilda said, “I have no idea what to do with the jail cells since we have no real medicines to store.” 

Lila May suggested, “Perhaps we could store the desserts in one of the cells, with only me having the key, so you cannot get up and eat pie in the middle of the night.” 

Hilda did not appreciate that thought and replied, “Or perhaps, sweet Sister, we could put a man in one of the other cells so you, Lila May, might be able to keep a beau.” 

Lila May snorted and said, “Most men avoid me because they are intimidated by my driving.” 

"I have no doubt of that!" said Hilda emphatically. 

As it turns out, they made arrangements with a local dry goods merchant to his store excess inventory and seasonal items there to give him more free room in his store. He could come in the back during regular office hours by announcing himself, and do what he needed to do. To avoid rumors, he would bring along his wife or an employee.  

They got along well in town, except for Lila May’s perpetual grudge toward stop signs. 
She once told the police chief, that since men were obliged to open doors for women, 
they ought to be required to give women the right-of-way at stop signs too. 
The chief dryly replied, “If that were the case, Ma'am, you would see many men wearing women’s hats while driving.” 

The basement of the building was nearly nine feet tall. The tall ceilings allowed the clothes to be hung indoors away from the breezes that could be dirty when the farmland around Adel was being tilled, cultivated or harvested, according to the season. Even so, sun-freshened sheets and towels smell better than any other kind of drying. They purchased the washing machine when they moved in. It was a 'Dexter Royale', a double-tub wringer washer, built in Dexter, Iowa. 

The first mechanical washing machines were manually operated, almost like rowing a boat. Then, a small, one-cylinder gas engines powered some washing machines. Especially so in rural areas that had no electrical service. The basement had an iron exhaust pipe running outside where a gas model had once been used before electricity came to town. Finally, electricity and electric washers were available, and the Palmer sisters were glad to have the machine, 
though it still had to be attended through the rinsing. 
There was no need for a washboard, except for laces and such. 

Speaking of lace, Lila May had a particular talent; like Miss Twirpin at the poor Farm, she could tat. 
Tatting, in this case, is not about tattoos. 
Tatting is a way to make lace; the kind that is used in borders on dresses and blouses and doilies, as seen above. 

Lila May would tat during slow times in the office, when there wasn’t enough paperwork to keep her busy, but still needed to be at the front desk. Tatting is a skilled, but graceful task, in that it doesn’t require complicated machinery. 
It can be done while sitting in a chair at a table or desk. 
As tools go, tatting spindles, or hooks, needle and scissors were the tools for tatters in Lila’s time. 
She did custom-tatting for local shops and seamstresses. 
Her tatting was added to dresses worn for special occasions. 

So, tatters, when they talk about their tatting, are they tattertales?

Eric J. Rose
middlegrademysteries.com
photo1: https://www.artnews.com/art-news/product-recommendations/best-tatting-threads-1234579656/

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