Monday, November 2, 2015

The Flapper in the Family Tree

2015: the flapper.

My ten-year-old struck a pose with a black feather headband and sleeveless dress lined with fringe. I was exactly her age when I wore a shinny blue version of the same iconic shift, performing as a chorus member in Thoroughly Modern Millie for the school variety show. My own mother had a black version of the outfit, a standby for costume parties in the 80’s. But let’s go back, way back, to my maternal great-grandmother, Ceil McCoy, née Miller, in this photo.

An original flapper.

She hung out with guys like this:

And in modest “cabins” like this:

What I know about Ceil is limited to my mother’s stories, a few old photo albums, and the collection of postcards passed down to me after my grandmother died. I have two memories of visiting Ceil. Once, when I must have been in third or fourth grade, my mother and I took the train to see her in Ohio. It was a long, slow ride and the woman in the seat ahead snored and belched all the way. But my great-grandmother had a pantry full of Campbell’s Sirloin and Country Vegetable soup, a gastronomic revelation as far as I was concerned, which made the journey well worth it.

Another visit involved my entire family stopping by her mobile home. I remember my father somehow locked us all out using the sliding door. And I remember pickles.

But now, here we are, nearly 100 years after some of these candid photos of my great-grandmother were taken in Cincinnati Ohio.
Ceil married Bob McCoy, a musician, shown above with members of Gregory’s band: Jack King, Bob Luig, Buss Shriver and Bill and Red Ruck, according to the green script on the back. Later, Bob would sell Electrolux vacuums to make ends meet. It was while doing this that he died in an accident. For Ceil, with three young boys and my sixteen-year-old grandmother, the music ended.

Ceil never remarried. From what my mother tells me, she’d take a yearly trip to New York City to attend a function held for the wives of salesman. And she’d visit my mom in Madison each summer, wearing long braids pinned to her head, perhaps a tribute not to the bobbed hairstyle of her flapper days, but to her mother, Emma Miller, née Gueth, whose photos are also in the album I’ve been sifting through and whose obituary, yellowed from age and the size of a stamp, I found loose. The flapper’s mother was born in 1877 and died on December 5th, 1959.

A 1940 census record shows a snapshot of the flapper’s life. Born about 1902. Married to Bob. Four children ages 15, 11, 9 and 1.

That fifteen-year-old is the one I hitch my story to. Patricia Jean, who met an officer in training, Ritchey T. Porter, during the war. His family album I also have, and it shows a photographic history of a slightly more privileged upbringing, although a Victorian stoicism dampens any sense that they were enjoying themselves all the more for it.

College was in Ritchey T.'s future, and a good job at Oscar Mayer, where he wisely saved and bought stock options and did what a company man was expected to do.

The lives of the women, Ceil, Pat, Linda, Sarah and now Heidi are somehow connected in this family tree that has endured harder times. I thought a lot about that as I ordered my daughter's flapper dress from a website. Surely Ceil would have shook her head and told me I could have sewn the thing myself. That's what she would have done, and skillfully, too. 

My daughter pulled the dress out of the box and held it up to let the fringe shake free. The earrings dangled like sparkling globes—so fancy compared with her usual tiny studs. We added black satin gloves. A feather band around her hair.

Two histories merged, through wars, jobs, marriages, deaths and births. And all in the blink of a century.

Thanks, as always, for reading. 
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Friday, October 16, 2015

Is the Universe Trying to Tell You Something?

I owe my yoga teacher, Romy Toussaint, special gratitude for introducing me to Melody Beattie’s Journey to the Heart.

Beattie’s entry for July 7th describes her drive on a highway in New Mexico. The car ahead stopped suddenly and although Beattie avoided a collision, the car behind her had been too close and hit the rear of her Jeep. No real damage was done, but Beattie says that afterwards, “the incident still nagged at me.”

Weeks later, on a two-lane highway, with a school bus ahead and a truck loaded with cars behind, traffic once again came to a sudden stop, this time when the bus stopped to drop off a child.

“I looked out my rearview mirror,” Beattie writes, “the truck loaded with cars was frantically trying to stop. I pulled my car off the road onto the shoulder, giving him an extra car length…..Had I not noticed, not pulled out, we’d all have been piled up.”

Her final message includes this thought: sometimes the universe gives us a little nudge, a little sign.

Today, after going to a mid-day yoga class in a busy shopping center, I stepped off into the pedestrian crosswalk. A car had just passed by on the right and my path was clear. Or so I thought.

I heard the revving of a large engine and within seconds a huge SUV, the size of a Suburban, sped into the crossway from the left. I jumped back. It was a near miss. My yoga mat and I would have been like flies on a tank if I'd not been alert. 

Ten minutes later, while on the highway, my car shook from the vibration of a police car as it speed past me on the left. No siren, before or after, just the reverberation inside me as I thought about how quickly this car, too, had appeared out of nowhere.

Ten minutes after that, as I drove along a beautiful section of Route 206, the fall foliage shining red and brown in the sun, I heard a loud bang. Had it been a rock the size of a lemon? It had the thud of something heavy and slow moving, but I knew that even in spirit, no ghostly Redcoats were hurling 2-pound cannons at my minivan on this historic trail. 

Still, I was shaken now and eager to meet my friend for lunch. 

Had the universe given me a nudge and closed out its trifecta of uncomfortable events or was the big one still ahead?

I tend to believe it is the former. But, as Beattie says, "Sometimes the universe gives us warnings."

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Monday, September 28, 2015

Lucky 13: What Lasts

What lasts after thirteen years of marriage? Does it undermine the beauty of the relationship to say that through it all, I stand in awe at the enduring quality of our bath towels?

They were a wedding present and made with some percentage of silk that doesn’t seem popular anymore. Maybe with 3-D printing and a cooperative silk worm I can make my own, but I suspect they just wouldn’t be the same.

There is something about those towels that represents the quality of a bygone era. I feel the same about the wooden basket we got when we were engaged so we could take picnics to Central Park and read books, printed on paper.

When I carry the basket now, people comment. It stands in contrast to the polyethylene ones with frustrating zippers that have taken over the snack and portable lunch scene.

Maybe it’s appropriate that the objects of our courtship and wedding were made of quality. There was the garlic press that didn’t make it to 6 months, but aside from that, I’m reminded of friends and family nearly every time I make dinner.

There’s the mixing bowl given to us by a dear friend and her husband from college.

The high quality stainless steel slotted spoon, a gift from long time family friends. Making pasta is filled with memories.

We’ve got a lot of formal bowls, too. They were trendy back in ’02. Crystal bowls, pottery bowls, hand blown bowls, and one with a turtle. I use the purple salad bowl every Thanksgiving and the one from a former boss anytime I need to serve nuts at a party.

Those may be salted peanuts, but the bowl is a work of art.

Our wedding china is another story. I take it out sometimes and just admire the smooth, cool surface. My husband selected the pattern and it’s modern and sophisticated, a 180 departure from the floral patterns I gravitate to that remind him of British tea or slow TV drama. 

I don’t feel bad about keeping our china protected in the dark green boxes it came in. The carpe diem spirit that struck me on my 40th birthday, when we broke out the wine we’d saved from our honeymoon, doesn’t sit on my shoulder telling me to get to it and serve the kids hotdogs with an eight piece table setting. 

The china is a reminder of the fragile and precious part of our marriage, and the intentions we had when everything was still ahead of us. And the material gifts from friends that have lasted in this disposable world we now seem to live in, remind me of the warmth and love that witnessed that special day.

Last night, on the eve of our anniversary, I saw a commercial that made me feel a larger gulf between that wedding day and the millennials heading off to the alter now. The bride and groom looked young and happy and had that ever-so-cool look I can’t quite identify. Then, hungry and exhausted from visiting with guests, they bid their farewells and slid into their limo, where the bride’s father has left some McDonald’s hamburgers for them to eat.

I turned to my husband, speechless, and he knew exactly what I was thinking.

And maybe that’s another reason why we’ve made it to thirteen years.

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Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Mistaken Identity at Doggie Daycare

New details have emerged in the case of mistaken identity for Wilfork the dog. Weighing in at 29 pounds, Wilfork (Willy to his friends) is a few hundred shy of his namesake, nose tackle Vince Wilfork of the Houston Texans, but with his Blenheim coloring and floppy ears he shows a keen resemblance to any other overweight Cavalier King Charles Spaniel in need of a bath.

On the day of his misfortune, Wilfork was mistaken for a female Cavalier named Pearl. Rumor had it, Pearl would be in the slammer (aka doggie daycare) for seven days. Her owner had scheduled a grooming appointment prior to her release, with a full shampoo, haircut, and sanitary shave.

Trouble was, Pearl was a no-show. Not even the Beagles caught scent of her. Butt-sniffing at the water bowl confirmed she was as absent as a flea after Frontline application. Word spread among the regulars at doggie daycare that Pearl was MIA, but the humans on poop patrol appeared oblivious.

We may never know how or why the official record reflected no cancellation of Pearl the Pooch, but interviews with those who were there, as well as phone records obtained by the New Bark Times, reveal a series of errors that highlight the nationwide frustration experienced by dogs across America.

According to one witness, a Bichon who goes by Snickers, Wilfork was his usual sociable and matted self when roaming the concrete play area reserved for their weight class.

“He stayed out of trouble. Wagged his tale. Sat in the back and observed,” the Bichon said through the help of a telepathic dog communicator. “We were all surprised when the big guy in sneakers came and scooped him up.”

According to the Bichon and his best friend, Marvin the Chihuahua, the big guy knew who he was looking for.

“It was clear he wanted the Cavalier,” Snickers said. “Wilfork looked confused. As far as we knew, his owners hadn’t scheduled a bath for him. I remember some of the better singers had organized a round of howling just after dinner. Wilfork wouldn’t have committed if he knew he’d be all tied up.”

What follows is based on Wilfork’s own account. Video cameras are not stationed in the grooming room and the only eyewitness is a comfort dog en route to Madrid. Efforts to reach the Golden Retriever have not been returned.

According to Wilfork’s owners, who were vacationing in the Poconos at the time, he was taken off the play area shortly after snack time. DNA evidence from milk bone crumbs is inconclusive. Wilfork maintains he was three-quarters done with his peanut butter flavored snack and had hopes to take his turn at the water bowl.

That opportunity never came.

“Before I knew it, my paws touched the cold metal table,” Wilfork wrote on this Twitter account. “I said, ‘you got the wrong dog’ but no one understood.” Within minutes, the grooming session began.

“Don’t get me wrong,” Marvin the Chihuahua said, “Wilfork can definitely make his new style work. It’s a little more dramatic than his usual trim, and between you and me, it’s not true to his breed. But, hey, it’s not like he’s doing dog shows.”

As dogs across the country have whined, once the fur starts to fly, it’s too late. It can takes months to regain the smells, knots, and barnacles they work so hard to acquire. One human, who asked not to be identified because it might comprise her job at the doggie daycare, explained how the mix-up finally came to light.

“Well, the groomer was doing the sanitary trim,” the human said, referring to a technique in grooming that shaves or trims the areas near the dog’s anus and genitals.

“I’m pretty comfortable with myself,” Wilfork said with his puppy dog eyes, “but it was a little awkward. She looked at me and, you know, I just wanted to say, ‘I told you I’m not Pearl.’”

Based on real events. Not entirely true. 

Thanks for reading.