Friday, January 2, 2015

How the past creeps into the present

Photos from my hometown, taken this past Christmas. I love the font on this building.

It's crazy, but I've never noticed the detailed relief sculpture above the marquee of the old, unused movie theater. It looks like Columbus is subduing the natives (not so good) but wow. It's a work of art.

This building has potential, but it's been abandoned for as long as I can remember.

Gorgeous historic rounded windows next to odd turquoise building.

Mysterious door in the wall. Longing to explore what's behind it.

The past creeping into the present. An old cafe sign revealed ("Adam's Cafe: Lunch Counter, Table Service").

Another secret sign. Imagine, at one time, this small town had a book and stationery store....!

"Keep Out."

The old train depot. I think it's supposed to be torn down soon.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Find it in Columbus

I've always thought the motto for my hometown was funny: Find it in Columbus. "Find what?" I always asked myself. Chewing tobacco? Herbie Husker on the side of someone's garage? Herpes? But lately (as in the last few years) I've been finding cool stuff there, mostly from a place called Colonial Antiques.

Last summer my mom found a gorgeous 50's sort of Danish-modern-looking chair upholstered in black leather and two 60's Lucite side tables. K and I found an old pull-down school map of Europe there for only $35. My graduation present from grad school was a beautiful sheet-music cabinet from the 30's with numbered drawers. And this past Christmas, I came away with a few sweet things:

I've been eyeing this purse for a few years, and it was still there, so of course I had to buy it. It looks as if it's barely been used, has a lovely peach-satin interior with a matching coin purse and pocket with a mirror:

And it has a satisfying, monumental click when closed (what item made today can make that sound?).

I used it the other day, when I met a friend for coffee. It holds the important things, but since I usually carry more than most women need to carry, it didn't hold my bulky set of keys (which still have some obsolete piano-practice room keys on there from school...). I was wondering what women from the 60s usually carried. Were their wallets slimmer? Did they carry cash in the coin purse instead of carrying a wallet? Were their compacts smaller and more economical (i.e. could they carry not only powder but a tube of lipstick and a pack of cigarettes with a fold-out ashtray? I can definitely say yes on that one--I've seen one just like it and wanted it sooo badly but didn't want to pay $80 to get it).

Here's another purchase:

Lovely little faux topaz gold clip-on earrings. They were only $6.50 so I couldn't resist. I've been thinking about clip-on earrings lately, and actually wore some big pearly ones to a cocktail party a month ago. But I got the idea from watching a documentary about John Lennon (which I loved). There were some scenes of John and Yoko walking in the park where they were both wearing somewhat matching black leather jackets and her hair was pulled into a ponytail with the little yellow balls that little girls wear (you know, the thing you wrap around, and you pull one ball through the loop) and diamond clip-on earrings that looked so elegant and so simple and I loved it juxtaposed with the girlish hair band (yes, I notice strange details like that).

Anyway, I was thinking I could wear these as a new accessory, even though I have pierced ears, because they look so sweet and charming. But I tried them on after I bought them and they are a little too pinchy. But interestingly, I found that my left ear can take the pain more than my right one, so I thought I could just wear one with my regular earrings so it looks like I have one side pierced (a look popular in the 80s and 90s?). Or is that too corny? But I really want to wear them...

Then, the last thing I bought was a book called The New Standard Business and Social Letter Writer: Business, Family and Social Correspondence, Love-Letters, Etiquette, Synonyms, Legal Forms, Etc., from 1908:

There are all kinds of amazingly quirky letter suggestions in here, including this one, Marriage Proposal from a Butler to a Cook:

Dear Miss O'Neil:--
   For some time past, I have been anxious to make my feelings known to you, but have not had an opportunity of doing so. I therefore think it best not to delay any longer, but to tell you by letter that I very much wish to make you my wife, if you think you could be happy with me. We have seen each other so often the last two years, I am quite sure I should never like any one but you; and want you to express the same favorable opinion about me, and say that your heart is mine, dear Mary. If this is so, the sooner we are married the better.

The legacy of $600 received from my late master, added to my own savings of the last ten years, will enable me to take a boarding-house in a good location, and have already seen one which no doubt would answer very well; but I cannot decide upon anything until you accept me as your husband, and if I have not greatly mistaken your sentiments I believe you will.
          Believe me ever, my dear Mary, 
                                   Your fond lover,
                                     Thomas Black.

There are also letter suggestions for: marriage proposal from a gentleman of small means (with favorable and unfavorable responses); From a gentleman to his fiancee, complaining of her coldness; from an elderly gentleman to a young lady, offering her a birthday present; inviting a lady to pay the writer a visit at the seashore; from a son to his father, expressing dislike of his present occupation; and from a lady, excusing herself from keeping a dinner engagement:

Dear Mrs. Wilde:
    I am very sorry to say we are prevented having the pleasure of dining with you this evening, and must ask you to kindly accept our excuses, late as they are. My husband was telegraphed for this morning, and started by the 9:20 train for town, where I fear he will be detained several days.
Believe me,
   Very truly yours,
        Maria Whimple.

There are also different samples of handwriting for different occasions:

I thought this book was quite apropos for my new year's resolution to write more letters, and now, if I have to write to an Invalid, from a Stranger, Offering her Fruit and Flowers using the vertical handwriting, I'll know how to do it.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Vivian Maier: a nanny/photographer rescued from obscurity

I don't really have any words to describe this. Just watch the video.

Also, check out this blog about her work.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

A lost city

I can't stop looking at these photos of a lost Detroit. Heartbreaking! It makes me pine for what I never knew, being born in the 70's: gorgeous art-deco architecture, opulent movie theatres, huge marbled train stations, grand hotels....sigh.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Found letters: from Jack to Irene, circa 1946

When I lived in Eugene OR, between 2002 and 2004, I used to go to this great vintage clothing store (the name of which escapes me now). One day, at the counter, I saw a stack of letters in a plastic bag. The price was $6. So of course I bought it.

Why? Why should I buy someone else's letters for six dollars? Because I was envisioning returning them to their rightful owner someday---that relatives would see this blog and contact me. Because I couldn't understand why people (and their families) would get rid of their letters. Because I'm a hopeless romantic.

The correspondence is between Irene and Jack, and the letters I have are from Jack. He's writing from Pasqua, Saskatchewan. Irene lives in Portland, OR.

 Here is a letter from May 26, 1946. Read to the end---there's a surprise.

Dearest Irene,       

Hello darling! Here goes for a few lines hoping you arrived home safely with no bad effects from the trip. Had Annie get the snaps in the mail yesterday so am sending you the negatives. Some turned out quite well but I'm afraid Jean moved the camera a bit with some of them. As a result they are not just as clean as they might be.

Where did you sit in the plane going home? We thought you were by the front window right over the wing. Were you? We waited and watched the plane take off. Seemed to take a long time for it to get started down the runway and when it finally did take off, Irene, I felt that part of me went with it. Gee, darling! I hated to see you go. I haven't shed any tears yet but there has been one lonely little boy around here since you went away. Missing you like hell and just can't help it. You should have stayed, my wonderful lady.

We arrived home about three thirty. Anyway it was day light. Bob drove and went to sleep about six times. It was a good thing Edna stayed awake to keep him awake. As it was we nearly went in the ditch at Homes's just before we got home.

Friday wasn't very eventful. Ran the tractor in the morning, helped Pa fix fence and do chores in the afternoon.

Saturday was town day as usual with Bob, Edna, and I staying at home. We finished [Miphams?] cultivating yesterday. Just have mine to do. Should finish to-morrow night. Last nite tho three of us went to Stony Beach in the truck. Bob went to ball practise. Didn't get there until it was almost over. After that we went to John and Ruby's. Bob and Walter had a session with the violin and accordion so didn't get home until eleven thirty.

As usual I spent most of Sunday morning in bed but did manage to get up int time to have breakfast and go to church. Dick informs me "It's a good thing that woman went home or they would have lost me." Claimed he'd only seen me at a distance since you arrived. But then who's worried about that. Wish they were still seeing me at a distance beside a certain person whom I consider very charming. And kiddo I'm not handing you the "shot." (Dot the "O" if you wish).

John was telling me last night he has a lot of work lined up. Don't know if he was hinting that he'd like me back for a month but have a good notion to ask him. As soon as we finish my summer [?] there won't be much to do around there for a month or so. I may as well be earning a dollar or two. I have a wild notion that it would be a good time to take a little trip, hitch-hiking to a place called Portland. Ever heard of it? Darling I'd like to come but think I'd better let my better judgment (or otherwise) control my actions. It seems like ages since you left. You might just as well have stayed until tonite (Sunday) at least.

Pa's latest comment is--He can't see why you being engaged to another guy would come and see me. I didn't try to explain. He might not understand.

And now my sweet that seems to be most of the news. Will send the photos as soon as I get them. Still missing you and wishing you were here. Looking forward to receiving your letter. Almost wish I hadn't told you not to wire.

Bye for now, Love! Jack xxxxxxxxo (for my baby doll)


Whoa--did he just say she's engaged to another guy?

It looks like the letter was written with a fountain pen. Does anyone know when ballpoint pens became more widespread? For the most part the handwriting is legible, and the grammar and punctuation correct.

I love the tone of his letters: "Gee darling" and "kiddo I'm not handing you the 'shot.' (dot the "O" if you wish)."

I also love that Bob and Walter had a "session" with the violin and accordion. Does that kind of thing happen anymore? When K's parents were here a few weeks ago they said that both of their parents used to jam on the accordion with their friends on a regular basis. I seriously think I was born in the wrong time (either that or I need to rekindle this tradition).

What's so fun about reading these letters (there are 9 more) is hearing that obsolete vernacular. Recently I was reading an article about Mad Men in the NY Times Magazine, and how the writers read letters from that time period to get a sense of how people spoke back then. They also watch films and read books from the era, but Matthew Weiner said the best way to get that old language into your ear is to read letters from the period.

I wonder what eventually happened between Jack and Irene? Did she marry that other guy? Did she go for Jack? Did she run off to the convent? It's been awhile since I've read the other letters. Maybe there's a clue somewhere about their fate....

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Secret Children's Section of the SSP Library

This past Monday, I took a short drive to the public library in South St. Paul. The only reason I went there was to pick up a book I wanted (The Blue Jay's Dance by Louise Erdrich). K took E and Z for a walk so I had the drive and the library to myself, which was fortuitous because this is what I found:

Isn't it cute? A little colonial-style Carnegie library. It felt like a true small-town library from the not-too-distant past. There were actually librarians at the front counter, waiting for you to check out a book, instead of those self-check machines. It was a little embarrassing--I had to ask the librarian if this was where I checked out--because I'm so used to doing it myself.

But the biggest and most wonderful surprise awaited me when I walked up the steps to the second floor. First I saw the sunny yellow walls, then the large windows, then the fireplace, then, then the books:

Old editions of children's books. A whole room full of adorable editions from the 30's and 40's.

It made me wonder. Have these books always been in this library? Is this some special collection the librarians decided not to replace with new editions? Have generations of children been checking these books out? Children that are now grandparents? I felt like I had found buried treasure or the lost city of gold.

I wrote down some authors that I had never heard of who had wonderfully old-fashioned names (probably because they were born in the early 1900s): Eleanor Estes. Lois Lenski. Lenora Weber. Some of these books have to be currently out-of-print, right?

I miss cards and card catalogs. My favorite part about going to the library when I was little was hearing the librarian dunk the cards into the stamping machine. It made such a satisfying dunking sound that that was the sole reason I wanted to be a librarian when I grew up: I wanted to stick a card in that slot and hear it make that thunking sound, feeling the inner parts thwacking the card with the date it's due.

Also, do we see cute endpapers anymore? What happened to this lost art?

Imagine my delighted surprise when I saw this sunning itself in a window:

It was just sitting there, frozen in time, as if someone had just taken the last page of their novel out in a hurry and left it as is.

Or it's saying: "I'm ready. Keep me company." How can you resist this sunny window?

I don't make discoveries like this very often, but when I do the moment seems eternal or monumental or special, like the universe is trying to tell me something like, "There are more secret places to be discovered..."

Friday, February 19, 2010

Why I'm Doing This

It's about time I wrote on this thing. I set it up because I'm in the habit of collecting old photos, letters, postcards, and other ephemera that once belonged to someone.  Also, I'm fascinated by antique gadgets and the sounds they make--sounds that have almost disappeared from our soundscape, like typewriter letters thwacking a page, a shutter click from a manual SLR camera, the grinding of coffee beans in a hand-cranked mill, and the roll of a rotary-dial phone. These are the people and things I'd like to document here.

The title of this blog came from a time when I worked in my college's archives. The elderly (yet cantankerous, spunky and opinionated) nun (who would pat the head of a statue of Jesus at the door to the archives and say, "Hello, Jesus") who ran the archives put me on a special assignment one day. Usually my job consisted of filing random papers pulled out of office trash bins (i.e. memo notes) or newspaper articles about the college, or organizing old photos (mostly I'd just sit there and pour over them--not doing much organizing), or dusting antique tea cups and original editions in the rare book room. But on this particular day, Sister M. handed me a large black and white photograph of a pretty girl who had black bobbed hair. It looked like a senior picture. There was no name or other information on the back. "Find her," Sister said, and handed me the photo.

Making myself comfortable on the floor in the library stacks, I pulled out several old yearbooks from the shelf and began flipping through the pages. I can't remember how long it took--maybe only an hour, or maybe a day or two, but I found her, in a yearbook from the 20's. It was the same senior picture that I held in my hand. Her name was Mary McNally. She showed up in other yearbooks too--it seemed she was fairly popular and was involved in several activities.

When I told Sister M. who she was, she said, "You rescued her from obscurity."

I don't know why, but this has always stayed with me. When it was happening, when Sister M. uttered that phrase, I told myself: remember this moment.

That's what I'm seeking--adventures like these where objects and photos from someone's ordinary yet extraordinary life can be rescued from obscurity.