A 1930s Poetry Scrapbook

Fishing was a favorite pastime in the 1930s
Fishing was a favorite pastime in the 1930s

In my quest to archive the papers stored in my mold-infested storage room, I this week photographed two albums made by my mother in the 1930s. My mother, Florence Wick, graduated from Yakima (WA) High School in 1929 ½ (no explanation as to why there were half-year graduations) at age 16. She had skipped ahead a year. From the dates I found in these albums, it seems she assembled them after graduation. The first date is 1929. The last dates I found are in 1941.PoemPage

One album is a scrapbook, mostly a collection of poems cut out of magazines and pasted onto the pages. There’s a typed list titled Keep Your Friends Friendly with penciled annotations. A handwritten poem titled Friends is also pasted in. It could be Flo’s writing, but I don’t think it is. There’s a typed “poem” titled I Like, which starts, “I like polka dots. And molasses. And Spanish antiques.” That piece also is annotated with question marks and underlining. It’s followed by a long list of likes that Flo has apparently added in uncharacteristic rather messy writing. It starts: “red ties, Dresden china, first editions,” and ends, “farms, horses and hay.”I Like

My mother was an avid reader throughout her life. Flo told us about sneaking books into bed and reading through the night with a flashlight under the covers when she was a kid. As a young person, she also wrote poetry and won at least one poetry contest, although none of her own poetry appears in this scrapbook. As an adult she collected volumes of poems that lived on a bookcase in our family’s living room. She must have schooled me in poetry because I remember arguing with a teacher in grade school about how a poem should be read (I knew the poem; the teacher didn’t). But I never appreciated poetry as my mother did.

KeepFriendsTucked into the inside cover of this scrapbook is a photo of a young man dressed in knickers smoking a pipe and holding what appears to be a fox kit in what looks like a rather cold, stark place with some houses in the background (I think this is her boyfriend who spent time in the Pribilof Islands, and I remember other pictures of him, but not what he was doing there). The one other picture is cut out from a magazine—a young woman trying to bait a fishing hook.FoxKit

One newspaper clipping tells of her father’s death of a heart attack at the age of 59 in 1938. Other pages cut from magazines contain instructive stories (“If you must run after a man…the really smart girl is the girl who, while joining in the chase, makes it appear as if she weren’t”). I think Flo cut these out not for the stories, but for the poems on the reverse side. If I were a dedicated researcher I’d read and analyze all the poems, but perhaps I’ll save that task for another day.

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Writing to Mom about Sex Etc.

10-67Over the years a horrible sickening black mold has infected the room next to the garage where I’ve stored boxes of my old stuff. In order to access anything from that dark cavernous space I must wear a respirator and gloves. Now that I can use my iPhone to photograph papers and store them in my computer, I’m slowly archiving them. Chucking the mold-infected sheaves into the recycling gives me great pleasure.

1-17-69
January 17, 1969

I’ve imagined that the mold was introduced from items that had previously been stored in my grandmother’s root cellar/basement in my hometown of Yakima, I guess because the smell is similar. That’s silly, but it started me wondering about molds and how they travel. It might be stachybotrys atra (also known as black mold). Whatever type of mold it is, and there are more than 100,000 kinds, it is nasty and takes little time to activate my asthma if breathed in. Molds require moisture to grow. When we were remodeling this building in the early 21st century I discovered a crack in the foundation that allowed moisture

May 20, 1974
May 20, 1974

into the storage room. I patched it, but of course that did not rid the room of mold, and perhaps there is no way to get rid of it. Removing the contents might help.

This week I’ve been pulling out my mother’s papers to aid in reconstructing her life in Yakima and her work as a Red Cross Donut Girl in Europe during WWII. I still have Flo’s cardboard American Red Cross suitcase issued to her in Washington DC and then carried from Italy through France and into Germany during 1944-46. She saw the liberation of Dachau, so I suppose the evil mold could have traveled in the suitcase from Nazi concentration camps. It’s a theory.

74?
A Thursday in 1974
74
A Sunday in 1974, Seattle

When I opened the suitcase I found two scrapbooks that my mother had assembled in the 20s and the 30s, a sheaf of her letters, and a bundle of letters written by me to her in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. These I perused immediately. What a gift, that my mother had saved these letters! In the days when people wrote letters as a primary way of communicating, I wrote my mother often just to tell her what was going on in my life (long distance phone calls were expensive).

The letters span a period from the fall of 1967 when I first left home in Yakima to start college at WSU in Pullman (a 190-mile three-and-a half-hour drive away), up to the summer of 1981 after I’d moved into the house where I’ve lived ever since here in San Francisco. I haven’t yet counted the number of different addresses where I lived in Pullman, Seattle and San Francisco during this time, but it is certainly in the double digits.

10-23-76
October 23, 1976, San Francisco

The most frequent subjects of the letters were money—borrowing and paying back, the cost of things, not having enough—and job hunting. I’m glad for the mundane everyday minutia, what things cost in 1970,

“The prescription for progesterone that cost $1 to fill in Yakima cost $13 in Seattle. I should have sprung for the $6 bus ticket and bought it there.”

the many jobs I applied for and was rejected from (newspaper reporter, telemarketer, printer’s apprentice, waitress, library clerk, federal civil service, county extension agent, phone operator, bus driver).9-4-77

“Thanks for your help. Didn’t include you as a reference. It’s never a good bet to use a relative, especially your mother, no matter who she knows and how well respected.”

11-28-78I was struck by the close relationship between my mother and her daughter, the “never trust anyone over thirty” feminist revolutionary. No doubt this was the work of my mother’s efforts to maintain a bond, more than mine, but the letters make it clear that I depended on her for a great many things besides loans—support in whatever endeavors I worked at, help with writing, bouncing off opinions about politics and life in general. She was truly my rock and I hope I was hers.

7-19-77
July 19, 1977, San Francisco

Letters from 1967 through the spring of 1969 when I lived in dormitories (the only option for female undergraduates then) are filled with reports of studying, dating boys, finding rides home, gossip about people from Yakima and complaints about the cost of books and clothes. I’m surprised at how conventional I seemed, but I don’t think this was just a put-on for the benefit of my mother.

After I moved off campus in the fall of 1969, my letters expressed interest in “alternative lifestyles” and “building viable counterculture community institutions.”

I wrote about founding the League for the Promotion of Militant Atheism:

“College campuses need more militant anti-Jesus freaks.”

I wrote about politics and social change, racism, feminism, sex and gay liberation. I had embraced the unconventional.

So very many things changed during those explosive years, but some things never did. The last of these letters, dated 8/18/81, starts:

“Here’s some money I promised. Still looking for work.”5-5-77