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Topics may include, but will not be limited to: feminism, hockey, atheism, shoes, politics, fat acceptance, fitness, skepticism, dancing, introversion/HSP issues, and anything else that happens to be on my mind.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Ordinary People's History

My Grandma grew up somewhere in rural Kansas, I'm not sure of the details exactly, although I have the impression they moved to the town where my dad was born after she developed complications when pregnant with his older sister, so that she could be closer to a doctor when she had my dad.

Grandma recently moved from one seniors' residence to another, and as they were packing stuff up to move her, my aunt came upon a rare treasure. I don't think it would have ever been intended to be anything special at the time it was made. Living where she did in the 1930s, Grandma and her friends and sisters didn't have a lot of access to shopping, so if they wanted anything nice they had to order it from a catalogue. To make sure they got everything they ordered, and nothing that they didn't, Grandma would cut out the pictures from the catalogue and glue them into a notebook. She kept notes of what they paid and what they bought them for.

My aunt found the notebook, and scanned it and made copies for all the grand-daughters and great-grand-daughters. At first it was mainly a curiosity to me; I liked the styles a lot and the prices just seemed quaint. If I could walk in them, I would need these shoes desperately:

It seems the 1930s were the decade of all things my style, especially the hats. I want hats to come back.

And then I started reading through the album more closely, and there started to be stories:

H.C. would be my Grandma. Would O.C. be one of the great-aunts I never met? Besides her good taste in hats, what was she like?

And then there was a recurring theme of Ora (O.C.?) and Erna, where it looks like every time Ora gets something, Erna gets the same thing.

Were they friends who got everything the same so they could be more like sisters? Or did Erna drive Ora nuts with all her copycatting? Could Erna have been another great-aunt who got married and that's why she had a different last name?

As a co-worker commented when I showed him the notebook, the prices look low to us now, but for the time, these would have been fairly expensive items. Especially for people in rural Kansas. Here these women are, buying shoes and dresses for banquets and parties. Was this defiance of the circumstances? Maybe if you go far back enough I come from money and don't realize it, because the money blew away with the topsoil? And what of the changes sweeping the rest of the planet - is that something they thought about or was the Depression enough to worry about?

One day I'm going to run up my long-distance bill and find this stuff out.


Blogger Richard said...

Very cool. Were the notes made at the time of purchase, or added later? You can tell the items were costly to them. I mean, who today would keep pictures of the clothes they buy.

9:01 p.m.

Blogger T. Comfyshoes said...

Good point - more questions to ask.

I don't know when the notes were added. Certainly not recently, because she has Parkinsons very badly and can't even hold on to a pen (but this is definitely her handwriting), and I don't know how long the notebook sat in the bottom of a box before being found.

I guess the thing I learned from this is that things like photo albums and scrapbooks are important, and I've resolved to put more effort into mine. (Being, any effort at all)

8:40 a.m.

Anonymous Holly said...

And then I started reading through the album more closely, and there started to be stories

This is so cool!

I have long been a keeper of notebooks and journals. I've discovered that there's no end to the information I'll find useful in the future: just yesterday I looked up a date in 1994 to see if I had recorded the temperature, and lo and behold, I had.

8:42 a.m.

Anonymous Matt said...

This is a lovely post. My parents have a small publishing business and for my Grandmother's 80th birthday (if memory serves!) they published a book for her of her collected memoirs. They had asked her to write as much of what she could about growing up in New Mexico and then moving to England a couple of years before the Second World War broke out. She remembered a lot of it and had photos, newspaper clippings and other mementos to illustrate the book. She remembered, and had photos of, the dogs and the pet deer they had in New Mexico. The stories of war-time life in England were harrowing -- what do you do when ordinary things, like eating, become so difficult and regulated? I recently read the book on an overseas flight and I found it deeply moving.

I tend to do a better job of keeping my journal in the midst of catastrophes -- I think your post shows how important it is to keep up with the everday.

11:15 a.m.


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