Saturday, July 19, 2014

From the Personal Archive

Here's another one.  I found this in the pages of an old book at Qcumberz (seriously, that fucking name, I'm going to start calling it something else) a few years ago and was so amused by it, I kept it.

It's a packing list for a vacation, or camp or something.  The notepaper the list is written on is brittle and deeply yellowed at the edges where it peeked out of the pages of the book.  I instantly assumed it was at least 40 years old from the condition and the terminology used, but I could be wrong.  Things keep well when trapped in books.  It could be older, but I don't think it's newer.


church dress
shoes (shoe subcategory: 1. sandal  2. tennis  3. loafers  4. church  5. thongs)
everyday dresses
coat (1. raincoat  2. umbrella)
skirt and sweater
b. c. (!!)
bathing suit
pants (1. long wool  2. couch (illegible)  3. shorts)
shampoo (1. rinse)
lotion (1. suntan)
first aid kit
stationery (sp)
bubblegum - 100 pieces
shower cap
pizza mix
eye drops
fingernail polish (1. file)
knee socks

Obviously, items like stockings, girdles, skirt/sweater sets and everyday dresses indicate that this is pre-70s.

What cracks me up is the "b.c." which covers a line that had been erased in which it appears that she began to write "birth control," but then thought better of it.  This list could have fallen into the hands of a man, or a parent, or the Pope!

I assume this is a young person due to the need to put candy, sunflower seeds and gum on an important list of things to remember, as well as the awkward, flouncy cursive.  I also enjoy the order of the items, with curlers, the bible and makeup as the first things she thought of.

I wish I could remember what book I found this in.  Whatever it was, it was unremarkable, and I didn't buy it.  Yeah, I stole this letter too.

I have a rosy, incorrect view of girlhood in the 50s and 60s, mostly because I watched a lot of movies with heroines named Gidget or Tammy when I was a kid.  Hayley Mills in The Parent Trap was my fashion inspiration in ~1994.  Obviously, life as a female at this time was not quite as adorable as it looked in "Tammy and the Bachelor" (1957), but in my mind, when I'm not thinking clearly, it was.

For me, it felt kind of easy to relate to those times when I was 10, 11, 12 years old because we lived in a house built in the 50s and my bedroom was largely unchanged from the way it had looked then, with the same furniture that had been chosen for some other family's daughter 40 years before.  As I have mentioned, our house came with all of its original 50s & 60s furniture, mostly unused as it had been a summer home, and we moved in and left it pretty much as it had always been, down to the glass grapes on the coffee table.  This is weird, right?  I think it's weird.  My bedroom had a custom built blond wood vanity, dresser and desk built into the wall, with a little stool covered in pink velvet.  I used the 50s jewelry box to store my own stuff, and the old ceramic cocker spaniel coin bank that had been the other little girl's is in my bedroom right now.

So anyway, I imagine this list was written by some everyday Sandra Dee.  What would she think if she knew someone had her list, and that something of such bland utility then could seem so interesting now?


Thursday, July 17, 2014


I've collected a number of letters and bits of paper over the years that have held some historic significance to me.

This is from a series of pen pal letters written between two young girls in the late 60s, a Miss Delfina Sapien of Phoenix, AZ, and Miss Stella Hardacre of Lancashire, England.

The set of letters was donated to the Children's Museum, assumedly by Delfina's family, because the museum is housed in what used to be the Monroe School, a monolithic 1914 classical revival in downtown Phoenix.  Delfina would have been a student at Monroe.

To my knowledge, the pack of letters still sits unknown, un-transcribed and generally uncared for in a filing cabinet in the development office of the museum, which is not really a museum, but rather a giant Wonka factory of installations meant to encourage children to learn through play.  So far, the Children's Museum has failed to realize its duty as the steward of its building's history, but we don't get too snippy about it; 15ish years ago, a demo permit had been issued for the building when the Children's Museum chose it for its space, saving the perfectly sound yet uniquely unwieldy building from destruction.  The building has been largely renovated since, but there are still entire rooms left in disrepair, with rotten wood floors too scary to walk on and discarded furniture covered in a furry coverlet of decades of dust.  Neat!

When Delfina attended the school in the 1960s, it would have been old, outdated, and mostly attended by poor children from the neighborhood.  It was closed in 1972 due to low enrollment, as people filtered out of the downtown area and entire neighborhoods were razed for commercial buildings.  When it was built, the Monroe School was one of the most modern and progressive public schools in the country, filled with such cutting-edge technology as flushing toilets, early intercom systems, and a teacher's lounge, the latter two being unheard of at the time.

The letters are written on tissuey, pale blue air letter paper, pre-printed with ninepence postage featuring the profile of young Elizabeth II.  We only have Stella's letters, naturally, one of which I inadvertently stole.  I took it home to read it, and, woops, I still have it!

This one is postmarked 22 July 1967, in Burnley, Lancashire.  Delfina's address is listed as 114 S. 8th Street in downtown Phoenix. Her house would have been a little bungalow built between the teens and the 30s.  Not only is the house long gone, the street is too, having been swallowed by the widening of Jefferson St.  The house's foundation is probably now in the middle of Jefferson's westbound lanes, a stone's throw from Mrs. White's Golden Rule Cafe.

In the letter, Stella shares the details (all of the details) of a family trip to Spain, then refers disapprovingly to the arrest of Mick Jagger & Keef Richards on a drug bust earlier that year.

"Dear Delfina,

I am writing this letter the day after we arrived back in England.  We have had an unforgettable, wonderful holiday in Spain and come back with a sun tan.  Early Wednesday morning July 5th we got up, had our breakfast, and at 6-40 am we set off in our car for London.  It took us about 6 hours to get there and we waited for about 1 hour til our flight was due. We had our passports checked and then we got into a coach which took us out onto the airfield where our plane was waiting.  We were shown to our seats and after about 10 minutes, we took off.

It is lovely looking down from 17,000 feet onto the ground!  You can see all the fields and tiny dots of houses.  Soon we were over the English Channel and we passed many boats.  We crossed the coast of France and I noticed that this part of France was nearly all country, but my dad said that southern France nearly all was.  Then the captain came on the loudspeaker and he told us that we were climbing to 19,000 feet to fly over the Pyrenees.  I felt a bit air sick when we started to climb.  Soon we were above the clouds (you couldn't see the mountains, just clouds) and it looks like you are floating through a sea of cotton wool.

Then the stewardesses came round with snacks.  This was: ham sandwiches, piece of cake, cup of tea and an apple.  We landed at Barcelona airport where we went through the customs and then we got on a coach which was taking us to our hotel.  We went through Barcelona city.  I am glad I don't live there.  Just one road was 8 miles long.  There were 4 lanes of traffic on either side of the road and they were overtaking on the right, left and centre.  After about one hour we came to a small town and our coach went up a street and stopped outside a hotel called Mar Blau.  We realized it was ours and our luggage was carried in and we entered the lounge.  Unfortunately we found that no one could speak English in our hotel and we just had a representative man who spoke English coming over once a day to see everything was all right.

We went on two excursions: one to Montserrat, and one to a night club in a nearby town.  All the rest of the days we went on to the beach and sunbathed or did some shopping.  We did not like the food very much.  It was a bit sickly sometimes.  The meat was not good as well.  We are hoping to go to Spain again next year so we are all saving like mad.

I agree with you about the Rolling Stones.  It is awful.  I don't think they should let them go out on bail.
This is all for now.

Love, Stella

P.S., Did you get the postcard?  Also if the friend of yours is not going to write to Marlene, could you find someone else please?"

Stella - you can't please her!

Friday, July 4, 2014

It is very hard to feel patriotic about a country with so much potential, yet which has always been half spoiled by various unforgivable offenses, most of which have been unthinkable to our developed, western peers.  America seems to take so much longer than its sister countries to rise above its crimes against nature.  This is, of course, due to ignorance, arrogance, and religion: the trinity of American disgrace.

Not to get too heavy-handed - it is my favorite federal holiday, because it's the only time we, as a country, would ever engage in a wide discourse about stars of the Enlightenment period.

Even if you are suspicious and resentful of the current charade, there are writings from the Revolutionary period and after that can touch even the most offish of disaffected hearts.  Reading these documents is the only time I have felt legitimately, personally proud of the concept of America.  There have been other times, stories of bravery and humanity under duress by soldiers or nurses or civilians, positive Supreme Court rulings, certain elections, but these stories always seem to be marred with a rotten underside, an unexpected or hitherto unknown terrible repercussion, something.  Anyway.

The most important things you can read this summer:

The Rights of Man by Thomas Paine, 1791.  Before this, the concept of individual human and civil rights was almost completely undiscussed, unconsidered.  How terrifying and telling that we have been focused on this type of human cultivation for such a short time.

The Virginia Act of 1786 by Thomas Jefferson.  Introducing!  Freedom from religion.

George Washington's Farewell Address of 1796.  Sweet, articulate and inspiring.

Read while listening to this on repeat for max effect.

and this

Past 4th of July posts:

J.A. says N-O

Wednesday, July 2, 2014


My relatives are putting together a family reunion.  One of those giant outdoor picnics of heredity that I have only seen in comedies.  By popular request, it is being held at the old farmhouse where my grandmother was born, in Iowa. 

It's weird to me that over 50 people will be attending this and that many of them requested meeting at the house instead of the original proposal somewhere else in the Midwest.  Weird because that's my house.  It's mine, and I will always entertain illusions of living there someday.

Up until recently, the house was owned by my great-aunt, whose frostiness was tempered only by her antiquated sense of hospitality when we went to visit a decade ago.  She was nice because she had to be, but that didn't stop her from bitching about things her brothers in law had done to her 60 years ago.  After she married my great-uncle Chick, it was decided that she would move into his family home while he was overseas during WWII.  What I thought sounded like a charming prank still stuck in her craw: the night she was to arrive for the first time to her new home was a late one, and after long hours of driving, they pulled up in the middle of the night and trudged carefully up the dark stairs to their bedroom.  On the upper ledge of the door had been balanced an open box of shot pellets.  Instead of slipping into a quiet bedroom for some long-anticipated sleep, they got a cacophony of hundreds of little metal balls clacking onto the wood floors and bouncing down the stairs, accompanied by the belligerent male laughter of many new brothers-in-law.  One got the feeling she had hated them ever since.

When we chuckled at the story, my dad particularly as he remembered fondly his uncles, she shot us a poison-tipped glance.  "Well it was certainly not funny at the time."  I remember that she seemed to be bragging about being from Ohio, a place that she thought was considerably more refined than Iowa.  Being from Ohio, she said, it took some time to adjust to the country ways of Percival.  I recall marveling that someone would speak of being "from Ohio" with the level of righteous pretension usually reserved for New York natives.

She was kind of charming, though.  We were initially wary because my grandmother hated her, hated her fucking guts, because she had thrown out a bunch of family heirlooms when she and her husband took over the house in the 1960s.  Allegedly.  She never visited and we had never met her, only thought of her as an evil witch living in my grandma's house somewhere towards the middle of the country.  We only met her after my grandmother died.  She was cute and old, with a 1960s tv set and a wall-mounted kitchen phone as her only windows to the outside world.  And an old radio, of course.  She asked me if I wanted to see "the Monaghan family library," and opened a linen closet to reveal stacks and stacks of Louis L'Amour and Zane Grey paperbacks.  Lots of phrases began with "The Monaghans..." in which she would illustrate what they do and don't do.  The Monaghans love barbecue.  The Monaghans have lived in this town for 100 years.  The Monaghans were the first Catholics in Fremont County.  The Monaghans fly planes and write copy for Chevrolet!

The Monaghans also had a cross burned in the yard of that farmhouse by the Klan in the nineteen-teens,  because of the Catholic thing.  My grandmother's sister told us stories of going to class in the one-room school and being teased and pinched by all the little Protestant children, who called them "cat-lickers".

After the great aunt's death, I was terrified for the house's fate, but all is well in that it conveyed to her genial son, a lay historian and riverboat card dealer.  That means I still have a chance to someday acquire the house.  In fairness, they have been careful stewards of the building's integrity, and apart from various stumbles, they have preserved it admirably.  When they diverge, though, they really mean it.  There is an upstairs back bedroom that, when I saw it, had 4" rainbow shag carpeting.  I don't know if that's period correct.

In spite of the occasional dashes of gingerbread and scallops, it is a practical, sturdy example of rural Victorian architecture.   It's not as flouncy or dark as I like them, but it is charming in its farmy way.

I like the glossy, polished dark wood thing and hallways so dark you want to put your hand out.  The first thing I would do in this house is strip the paint on the walls and find the original wallpaper pattern.  SUCH EXCITE!  Then I would, of course, remove all carpet to reveal the original wood floors, but I might just leave that rainbow shag in the back bedroom, because fuck the police, right?

So from the second photo, it appears to me that the house was not white originally.  I seem to recall an ancient conversation with my grandmother in which she said it was a garish color to begin with, something that sounded ugly to me at the time.  Perhaps yellow?  We'd do some archaeological peeling on that as well, just to see.

Circa 1913.  Not much changed.  My great-grandma in the middle holding a baby.