Tuesday, January 29, 2013

ON BEING CONNECTED -- 1930s


 

P.S. If you are near a radio, tune in on the Columbia network Saturday p.m., 7 o’clock and hear Byrd talk . . .
Ina Dobson to her son Vance, January 1934

Ina donned her green celluloid visor, turned the back of her old table radio to the light, and assessed the problem. She could see that some wires were loose, and undoubtedly if she soldered these, reception would be restored. She went to the back closet and retrieved the liquid solder from the shelf.

Radio reception in this remote corner of the world was anything but perfect, and this old secondhand set left much to be desired. Still, Ina was grateful to have come by it. Jack had no interest in fooling with it, but someone had to, so with son Earle’s help, Ina had learned the basics of how a radio works and was able to solder wires and perform basic diagnostics.

Ina was grateful when her efforts met with success and the radio was repaired. Sometimes a tube burned out, and then they would likely do without the radio for a time until cash showed up. Once during such a spell, Shirley had let slip to Ethel that the radio wasn’t working, and Ethel had organized a campaign amongst her siblings to raise the money. Soon Ina received dollar bills from Earle, Myrtle, and Ethel, and Vance actually sent a “fiver,” thereby enabling her to buy the needful.    

Ina was not one to express enthusiasm openly, but to herself she admitted that being connected to the world through the radio was lovely. The radio opened her lonely life  at Gilbert to the world of ideas. Turn it on, tune it in -- and it was more than she could wish for -- the news of the day, interviews with interesting people, political speeches, good music, comedy and drama. She found it expansive and intellectually stimulating in a way she had never experienced before.

Of course, you could also depend on the radio to deliver “drivel.” You could find it if you wanted it -- plenty of it. No, radio programming would never replace her love of reading, Ina mused. She would never trade literature for drivel. But, she watched for worthwhile programming -- kept up with the radio schedule as much as she could and made note of certain programs when they were announced, such as this talk by the great polar explorer, Richard E. Byrd.

It was nearly 7:00 p.m. on a Saturday night, January 1934. The little family – Jack, Ina, and daughter Shirley—had supped early, quickly finished the dishes, bathed, and were now settled at the radio to hear Byrd talk. Jack watched as Ina deftly searched the airwaves for the Columbia station out of Portland. It seemed to him that Ina barely turned the dial, but soon she had coaxed that Portland station from jumbled cacophony so that they could listen to Byrd talk about his exploration of the Antarctic, one of their favorite topics. KW

[The advertising is from the December 1936 issue of Good Housekeeping magazine.]

Sunday, January 27, 2013

"I DON'T KNOW"



As I plan little outfits for Emmy’s doll, I try to think like a contemporary four-year-old. Emmy’s doll needs outfits to which Emmy can relate – jeans and t-shirts, warm-ups, pajamas, simple dresses, perhaps a swimsuit -- all with simple fasteners she can manage herself. The process awakens my inner child, and I think of things that happened yesterday – er, sixty years ago.
We phoned son Yancey the other night. “How’s Emmy?” I asked.

Emerson,” said Yancey in a controlled but cross fatherly tone, “decided to color all over her hands and feet after her bath tonight. I just finished washing her. I don’t know what she was thinking.”

When it was Emmy’s turn to talk, I asked her why she had colored her hands and feet. “I don’t know,” she replied in the singsong voice we all know. Maybe because I had been trying to think like a four-year-old, I could relate to her plight. These episodes will happen from time to time as we grow up -- and even into adulthood. It was right for her dad to be stern, of course, but at the same time I remembered being three, four, five . . . and some of the dumb things I did . . .

When I was a youngster, the broad front porch of our house was more than my playroom. It was my outdoor world. I rode my tricycle back and forth across the front of the house, playing a little game of “chicken” by riding ever closer to the steps.

My mother would open the front door and sternly reprimand me. “Kathy, not so close to the steps,” she would say, and then return to her work.

But one day – the day of the big experiment -- the inevitable happened. I had been thinking about it. (Yes, I did think about it.) I was sure I could ride my trike right down those steps. In my mind’s eye, it went off like clockwork.

So, I faced off with the front steps. Slowly, ever so slowly, I applied pressure to the pedals and inched forward. So far so good. Mother hadn’t seen me. Then I reached the point of no return, and the trike – Kathy and all – plummeted down the steps.

My mother was there in a flash, more angry than sympathetic, because that’s the way my mother was. Above all, she took seriously her duty to teach, and she had plenty to say. Though her words were angry, her touch was gentle.

My husband tells me that indeed my experiment should have worked -- something about a running start and keeping my weight to the back blah blah blah. Knowing Mike’s history of accidents, I’m naturally skeptical of his assessment. As far as I was concerned, it was a lesson learned the hard way, an important lesson about gravity that translates today to “stay off motorcycles.”

I’m sure that when my mother asked, “What were you thinking?” (and surely she asked me that), I replied in a singsong voice, “I don’t know.” But I assure you, at the time I had a plan. As adults we may wonder what the kids are thinking when they do dumb things, but on the other hand, if we seek out our inner child, we can relate. KW

[Photo 1: A pigeon-toed youngster, I wore special shoes and was encouraged to ride my trike in order to strengthen the arch of my foot. In winter that meant riding the trike in the living room or on the front porch.
Photo 2: This picture of the house was taken in 1987.
Photo 3: Mother and Daddy, January 1948, standing at the front steps. At that time -- and at the time of my experiment, the steps were rounded. In 1957, the steps were re-done and handrails added.]

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

PASSING THE WINTER, 1937




Well, we had a great Christmas, and it helps to pass the winter.
Ina Dobson to Vance, January 1933
 
January 1937
Ina watched the rosy glow of the rising sun reflected on the northern field as she washed the breakfast dishes.  She rejoiced that today would be a bright day. Her mood was so much better on bright days than when the sky hung low and gray. Her husband Jack sat at the kitchen table reading the Clearwater Tribune, Orofino’s weekly newspaper, while he finished his coffee.
 
Another Christmas had come and gone, and now things must return to normal. The Robinson family left when Ernest received his new assignment as a federal agent, taking Ethel and Shirley Jean with him. And of course, daughter Shirley had long since returned to her job in Orofino, where she boarded with friends during the week. Suddenly the house was very quiet. But – Ina mentally patted herself on the back because she had stood all the Christmas doings just fine, and now she carried wonderful memories of a Christmas well-celebrated. She could face the future confidently, buoyed by the love of her children expressed through gifts for her interest and comfort. It warmed her just to think of these things.
 
Ina loved the exchange of gifts within the family circle. She gave humble things that she made or gathered from her cupboards. Truth be told, she couldn’t afford to do better than that, but she loved to “put on her thinking cap” and come up with something for everyone on her list. To her way of thinking, gifts should be simple things – useful or inspiring things to brighten the recipients’ winter. It was a concept that was beginning to elude her children, swayed as they were by the ways of the world.
 
While she appreciated the love and loyalty shown by her children in what they gave to her, she believed that man was meant to live conservatively. Truly, it was the thought that counted. While the trend of consumerism was to encourage spending for lavish gifts, Ina thought it a bit of madness that spoiled the youngsters and wreaked havoc with sensible living and good values.

In fact, several years ago when her children all said they couldn’t afford to send gifts – well, she was a little disgusted with them. After all, she gave to them from her meager storehouse. Why couldn’t they do the same? Receiving from them was important to her. She admitted to herself that she expected homage as their mother. She also expected them to show a certain appreciation of their farm heritage and some support for their parents in this way of life. Things brightened her lonely existence on the remote farm, but – well – as much as she hated to admit it, a few dollars was best of all. It seemed to her that only Vance really understood.

Ina sadly shook her head as she dried the last cup and saucer and placed them in the cupboard. She hated to see the simple values she strove to instill in her children overridden by the materialism of the age. The world was changing and not necessarily for the better. Where would it all end? As she and Jack grew older here on the farm, they had no place to look for the help they needed except to the children.

“It’s useless to think of these things,” Ina said aloud, startling Jack from his reading. He knew better than to ask for an explanation. He returned to reading while Ina hung up her apron and moved to the treadle sewing machine in the corner of the dining room. The kitchen curtains had faded some, and she had finally convinced Jack that he needed to choose feed sacks of the same fabric so that she could make new ones. She looked forward to sewing on this nice, bright day. KW 

[The advertising is from Good Housekeeping, December 1936. The last picture shows sample feedsack designs, typical of those Ina might have chosen for her curtains, which I scanned from the informative little book, Feedsack Secrets: Fashion from Hard Times," by Gloria Nixon, 2010.]

Saturday, January 19, 2013

JUST LIKE SUMMER . . .



It’s a beautifully sunny winter afternoon. When Mike returns from his bike ride, he’s going to barbecue a pork roast. “A bike ride and a barbecue – just like summer,” he says excitedly. The weather has been rather cold, and as Mike puts it, it’s not that it’s so very cold, but our daily highs haven’t been much above freezing for several weeks – lows in the high teens to 20s. This afternoon, however, the temp actually hit 40.

Here in the valley we had just a few inches of snow this past week – enough to require some shoveling, an activity which exacerbates Mike’s back pain. However, he came up with a solution and a new use for his leaf blower. I was skeptical but he said he thought it would work since the snow was light and fluffy. He was pleased with the outcome and pronounced blowing the snow so much easier than shoveling.  
Outside of helping to set up the tax operation at the office, Mike is fully retired -- footloose and fancy free. I guess he’s adjusting. Bird hunting has filled some of the time, but the Washington season finishes Monday and the Idaho season in about ten days. He joined an eight-week competition pistol-shooting league at the local gun range and has enjoyed some success – third overall for the first two sessions. In his “spare” time he plans trips. He’s also looking into volunteer options.
Nellie has stood the hunting fairly well. She hunts hard and gets tired but seems to bounce back fairly quickly. Nevertheless, Mike takes care to plan a hunting regimen that doesn’t overwork her. Again this year, Mike has “ordered” a female German Shorthair from an anticipated spring litter and has hinted that if there are no females, he would consider a male. I am sincerely opposed, as in “over my dead body.”

Otherwise we’re passing time in the learning of technology. We decided life might truly pass us by if we didn’t make the effort. It came as a surprise to both of us that Mike would love his new iPhone. I expect my iPad to arrive on Tuesday, and my children have assured me that I will love it.
LIBRARY EXHIBIT
One thing I learned through my experience as a museum director is that humanities programs struggle to gain public interest. It’s difficult to get the word out and then difficult to get people to participate, so when I saw that the Asotin County Library was hosting a “gala opening” for a traveling exhibit, I suggested we attend. I traded my jeans for black velour pants and my Nikes for slip-ons. Any more dressed up and I would have been out of place. This is Asotin County.

Sponsored by Humanities Washington and the Washington Historical Society, the exhibit is “Hope in Hard Times: Washington during the Great Depression,” which explores the adversity and triumph of everyday Americans, comparing the struggles of the 1930s with those faced today. The interpretive display (text) was augmented through local artifacts, such as quilts, toys, games, photographs, etc. High school students served hors d’oeuvres and demonstrated a radio play.

Typical of how smaller communities cope with the need for visual appeal, one young lady (11 years old) is sharing her American Girl doll, Kit Kittredge, for the duration of the exhibit. Kit is from the American Girl historic dolls series and her story and accessories are patterned on the Depression Era. She’s the same doll I bought a few years ago to serve as my model for doll clothes. So the doll owner and I had a nice chat about our American Girl dolls. (The photos here are of my doll and the outfit I just finished for our granddaughter's AG doll.)



If you come to our valley, why not visit this exhibit? It’s at the Asotin County Library, 417 Sycamore St., Clarkston, through March 28. KW

Monday, January 14, 2013

SNOWY DAY REFLECTIONS



It’s definitely a winter day – cold, snowy, a bit breezy. It snowed overnight, and though it’s only a couple of inches, I’m still glad that I shopped yesterday and can enjoy the weather from inside the house. Mike and I have retired to the warm comfort of our separate offices. I think Chris is right – the white world seems to reflect more light into the house.

When I framed last year’s resolutions, I held my feet to the fire a bit. “No starting without finishing,” I resolved. It was to be a year of finishing the unfinished as well as finishing what I started. And it worked – sort of. I can’t report a flurry of finishes, but “starting and stashing” slowed.

Frankly, I wasn’t inspired by the goal to finish, finish, finish. What was inspirational to me five, ten, twenty years ago seems to have lost its luster in today’s sewing room. Inspiration must be kept fresh or it isn’t inspiration. 2012 was a good year, though, one reason being that I came face to face with the weakness to start, start, start. Two major points unfolded:

1.     I needed the comfort and privacy of  dedicated work space – and --
2.     You can’t move ahead if you’re held back by the past.
 
As a result, I got rid of some things and made room for progress. My resolution resulted in positive accomplishment and so the purpose of making and keeping resolutions was fulfilled.

Now we come to 2013 -- time to make new resolutions, or at least re-frame the old ones. I’m still the same person with the same strengths, weaknesses, and ongoing interests, so the goals never really change but fresh inspiration is in order. This year I’ll put some projects on hold again in order to make doll clothes for Granddaughter Emmy and some others. I’ve been waiting for this and I’m ready! And because this window of opportunity won’t be open forever, “the great doll clothes project” finally becomes a priority. As we know, four-year-olds quickly become 20.  I hate to think about that, so I’m not going to. KW