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Posts Tagged ‘the 1950’s’

It’s so quiet. Mr. Stripeypants is down by the reflective heater, listening to me type. When I think of my birth, I think of a young girl, my mother Amelia, only 16 years old. I think of Augusta, Georgia in the 1950’s, Broad Street, one of the widest streets in the world, window shopping, my grandfather hanging out at the White Elephant bar. My mother tells me I had a thick head of black hair and the photographs bear that out. One in particular has me sitting in my grandfather’s lap. He is smiling, I am smiling, in a frilly dress and patent leather shoes.

I once thought I was born out of wedlock but that was another erroneous belief. It wasn’t until a few years ago when Mom and I were talking about her relationship with my father (whom I haven’t seen since I was about 6 years old) that she told me she married my father first — it wasn’t until later that I was conceived and born. I had thought until that time that she married him because she was pregnant. Nope. That’s how I began to learn how important it is to ask all the questions you have for your parents while they are still alive. Their memories may be fading, but at least you will have their version of what happened right from the horse’s mouth.

I was born not long after my Uncle Jack drowned in Clarks Hill Lake. He was only 18. Another assumption I made was that people were sad when I was born, still mourning the death of my uncle. Mom was quick to correct me, told me how joy-filled everyone was when I came into the world. What was it like for a 16-year-old in the 1950’s to birth a child? My father wasn’t a good provider. So my mother left him when I was two and went to work to put food on the table for us. Once she started showing, they made her quit high school, something that would be unthinkable today. They also made her quit her job in the Boy Scout admin office because they thought it would not be a good example for the boys to see a married woman that was pregnant.

It does make me realize how far we have come as women since the 1950’s. I recently heard a woman speak who was a stewardess on Northwest Orient in the 1950’s. She’s written a book and they were interviewing her on MPR. She said they had strict height and weight restrictions on stewardesses and you had to periodically “weigh in.” She also said you had to wear your hair a certain way, could not have dentures or partials, or wear glasses or contacts. Can you imagine the uproar today if those kinds of restrictions were put on American women?

But back to my birth. My earliest memories are not until I am about 6 years old. But once I went under hypnosis and remembered my birth father throwing me up in his arms and catching me, a loving gesture. I was an infant, all smiles. When I think of my birth, I think of my grandmother, too. And wish I could ask her what it was like for her when I was born. My mother tells me that nursing was painful. It makes me want to ask other women if nursing is painful for them. I never hear anyone talk about it. Much like I never hear people talk about miscarriages.

There are so many opportunities for women to be shamed. Are they good mothers, do they nurse, have they miscarried — many things which are out of their control. Did they have a natural birth or was labor induced. All of this falls on women, women who become mothers. A few years ago, my mother and I tried to find her step-sister’s grave. She died shortly after birth and my grandmother had scraped together the money for a marker. It was a rainy Georgia afternoon when Mom and I wandered through the Babyland area of the cemetery and finally stumbled upon her overgrown marker. There was an angel engraved into the stone.

Mom pushed the grass away with her foot, umbrella in her other hand, and I snapped a photograph. It was one of my first ventures back to Georgia to dig up the family history, interview my mother and other family members. The journey has led to many emotional ups and downs, most good. I felt happy that we had found the baby’s grave. And wondered about the circumstances of her birth. My grandmother is no longer here to tell me. She was unlucky in love in her early life. But the last man she married, Raymond, was a sweetheart. I felt so happy she finally found a man who would be sweet to her, someone she deserved.

You know what’s odd? I more remember the circumstances of each of my sibling’s births than I do my own. I was 4 years old when my brother came home from the hospital in Tennessee. I was 14 when my youngest sibling was born. We remember more than we think we do. If the right question is asked, a jumble of strange seemingly unlinked thoughts and emotions pour through the mind and heart. And that only leaves you to wonder more — what will be the circumstances of my death?




-Related to topic post WRITING TOPIC – 3 QUESTIONS. [NOTE: This is the third of three questions mentioned by actor and writer Anna Deavere Smith in an interview with Bill Moyers (see link). She talked about the questions in the context of interviewing people and listening to them. The three questions came from a linguist Smith met at a cocktail party in 1979; the questions were, according to the linguist, guaranteed to break the patterns and change the way people are expressing themselves. QuoinMonkey, ybonesy, and frequent guest writer Bob Chrisman take on the three questions by doing a Writing Practice on each.]

-Also related to posts: PRACTICE: Have You Ever Come Close To Death? — 15min (by ybonesy), PRACTICE: Have You Ever Come Close To Death? — 15min (by Bob Chrisman), PRACTICE — Have You Ever Come Close To Death? — 15min (by QuoinMonkey), PRACTICE: Have You Ever Been Accused Of Doing Something You Didn’t Do? — 15min (by Bob Chrisman); PRACTICE: Have You Ever Been Accused Of Doing Something You Didn’t Do? — 15min (by ybonesy), and PRACTICE — Have You Ever Been Accused Of Doing Something You Didn’t Do? — 15min (by QuoinMonkey), PRACTICE: Do You Know The Circumstances Of Your Birth? — 15min (by Bob Chrisman), PRACTICE: Do You Know The Circumstances Of Your Birth? — 15min (by ybonesy), and two Guest practices False Accusation, Almost Dying.

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Grandmama Elise On Washington Road, Augusta, Georgia, August 23rd, 1958, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Grandmama Elise On Washington Road, Augusta, Georgia, August 23rd, 1958, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



What do you remember most about your grandmother? Was she tall, thin, short, heavy? Or maybe she changed shape over the course of your lifetime. Do you remember what she smelled like, or the color of her hair? Is your grandmother living? Or has she passed on after a life well-lived. Out of all the relatives that come to mind, grandmothers wield tremendous power and are often respected by the entire family.

Grandmothers are the Elders, the Wise Ones, the Matriarchs, the glue that holds a family’s odd misshapen tree together. Many writers and artists are influenced by their grandmothers. Frank Gehry’s grandmother was the inspiration for his personal symbol, the fish. He includes fish in his architectural drawings, makes fish lamps, and has even designed buildings shaped like fish.

One of his most famous fish sculptures is the Standing Glass Fish commissioned by the Walker Art Center. Its first home was the lobby concourse between the Walker and the old Guthrie, where it was built scale by scale and exhibited as part of The Architecture of Frank Gehry Exhibition, September 21-November 30, 1986.

After two years in the Walker concourse, the 22-foot sculpture (constructed of glass and silicone and supported by a wooden armature with steel rods) was taken apart in five sections and reassembled at its second and permanent home in the central gallery of the Cowles Conservatory in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. Gehry made a number of plexiglass models to study the flip of the fish’s tail, the characteristics of its eyes, and the shape of the scales.

The brass plaque on the edge of the pond nearby, calls to mind Gehry’s fond remembrance of his grandmother’s fish:


In Toronto, when I was very young, my grandmother and I used to go to Kensington, a Jewish market, on Thursday morning. She would buy a carp for gefilte fish. She’d put it in the bathtub, fill the bathtub with water, and this big black carp–two or three feet long–would swim around in the bathtub and I would play with it. I would stand up there and watch it turn and twist . . . and then she’d kill it and make gefilte fish and that was always sad and awful and ugly.

        —Frank Gehry



Glass Fish Scales, Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, Minneapolis, Minnesota, January 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Standing Glass Fish, Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, Minneapolis, Minnesota, January 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by Liz. All rights reserved.Flying Fish, Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, Minneapolis, Minnesota, January 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by Liz. All rights reserved.

Glass Fish Scales, Standing Glass Fish, Flying Fish, Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, Minneapolis, Minnesota, January 2008, photos © 2008-2009 by Liz & QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


In dire circumstances, when money is tight or family tensions rise, grandmothers often step up and help raise their children’s children. Nikki Giovanni was born in Knoxville, Tennessee in 1943 and, though she moved to Cincinnati as a child, she returned in 1958 to spend her summers in Knoxville with her grandparents, John and Louvenia Watson. With explosive tensions between her parents difficult for Giovanni to handle, she chose to live in Knoxville for a time and attended Austin High School where her grandfather taught Latin.

It’s at this time that her grandmother’s influence profoundly shapes her life. According to her biography:


Her grandmother, who is involved in numerous charitable and political endeavors, becomes an increasingly important influence on her (Giovanni), teaching her the importance of helping others and of fighting injustice. When a demonstration is planned to protest segregated dining facilities at downtown Rich’s department store, her grandmother Louvenia cheerfully volunteers her granddaughter Nikki. In high school, Giovanni has two influential teachers: her French teacher, Mrs. Emma Stokes, and her English teacher, Miss Alfredda Delaney.


Her grandparents’ home stood at 400 Mulvaney Street in a neighborhood that’s long since been demolished, a casualty of urban renewal. In 1964, Giovanni’s grandmother Louvenia must move from her home at 400 Mulvaney Street; Nikki’s biography recalls the impact: Although her new house on Linden Avenue is nice, it lacks the accumulated memories of the home on Mulvaney, which Giovanni has also come to regard as her own home.

Nikki Giovanni often mentioned her grandmother when we saw her at the Fitzgerald Theater in January. She had returned to Knoxville on April 29th, 2008 when Mayor Haslam unveiled of a historical marker honoring Giovanni and the old neighborhood where her grandmother lived. It is now Hall of Fame Drive across the street from the Cal Johnson Recreation Center. It was on that childhood ground that Nikki Giovanni stood and recited her poem, “Tennessee By Birth.”


  Elise & Her Children, Augusta, Georgia, circa mid-1940s, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.  Elise & Her Children, Augusta, Georgia, circa mid-1940s, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Elise & Her Children, Augusta, Georgia, circa mid-1940’s, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


My maternal grandmother (lead photograph) is standing on the dirt of what used to be Washington Road in Augusta, Georgia. Her neighborhood, too, has been long gone, sacrificed to the growth of suburbs and cities. She was a hairdresser in her 30’s when I was born. My father was “allergic” to work and could not (or would not) support our family. My mother left him at 18, a few years after their marriage, and went to work. During that time, I stayed at my grandmother’s home. When I was a child, we were always close.

I remember the smell of her talcum powder, the imprint mark she would leave when she dabbed her lips after putting on her lipstick, the sound of her laughter in the evenings, her snoring at night.


*     *     *     *     *

When you say the words “my grandmother,” who comes to mind? (Most of us have at least two.) Who was your grandmother? Was she the matriarch, a dowager, estranged from the family? What was her name? Did you call her Grandmother, Granny, Grandma, or Grandmama. Did she spoil you, was she strict, how often did you see her, what kind of house did she live in? Does she ever sneak into your dreams?

Get out a fast writing pen and write the words “My Grandmother.” If you have any family photographs of your grandmother, it’s fun to pull them from the archives. Then set your timer for a 15 minute Writing Practice and Go!


Della Elise, Augusta, Georgia, circa mid-1950s, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Della Elise, Augusta, Georgia, circa mid-1950s, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Della Elise, Augusta, Georgia, circa mid-1950s, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Della Elise, Augusta, Georgia, circa mid-1950s, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

For Della Elise, I Miss You, Augusta, Georgia, circa mid-1950’s, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



Resources:


-posted on red Ravine, Thursday, March 19th, 2009

-related to posts: Art & Architecture – 2 Reasons, WRITING TOPIC — MEMORIES OF CARS, The Dying Art Of Letter Writing (Postcards From The Edge), You Can’t Go Back, Nikki Giovanni – Hope at V-Tech

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It was the 1950’s. Gas was 29¢ a gallon, cigarettes 25¢ a pack, a hospital stay was $35 a day. The Franklin National Bank in New York issued the first credit card, and the World’s first shopping mall in the U.S. – Seattle’s Northgate Mall was built. The First Grammy Awards happened, RCA’s Color Television sets hit the market, and the films, On the Waterfront, All About Eve and An American in Paris were released.

Marilyn Monroe and her husbands Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller were pretty big. So were Peanuts, Mad Magazine, Jonas Salk, James Dean, Fidel Castro, Rosa Parks, Billy Graham, the Korean War, and Israel invading the Sinai Peninsula.

In the decade of blazers, bermuda shorts, saddle shoes, and sack dresses, writers like James Baldwin, Richard Wright, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Lillian Hellman, William Burroughs, Sylvia Plath, Susan Sontag, Maria Irene Fornes, Gary Snyder, J.D. Salinger, Carson McCullers, Flannery O’Connor, and Dylan Thomas were all doing their thing.

People change and grow. Countries have lives and spirits that change and grow. Would you say America is still in its adolescence?

You can tell a lot about a person by the books they read. You can also tell a lot about a culture. In the 1950’s, here’s what America was reading.



1 9 5 0 ‘ s – B E S T S E L L E R S

F I C T I O N

  1. From Here to Eternity, James Jones
  2. Return to Paradise, James A. Michener
  3. The Silver Chalice, Thomas B. Costain
  4. East of Eden, John Steinbeck
  5. Giant, Edna Ferber
  6. The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway
  7. The Robe, Lloyd C. Douglas
  8. Désirée, Annemarie Selinko
  9. Battle Cry, Leon M. Uris
  10. Love Is Eternal, Irving Stone
  11. The Egyptian, Mika Waltari
  12. No Time for Sergeants, Mac Hyman
  13. Auntie Mame, Patrick Dennis
  14. Andersonville, MacKinlay Kantor
  15. Bonjour Tristesse, Françoise Sagan
  16. Peyton Place, Grace Metalious
  17. Eloise, Kay Thompson
  18. The Tribe That Lost Its Head, Nicholas Monsarrat
  19. The Mandarins, Simone de Beauvoir
  20. Rally Round the Flag, Boys!, Max Shulman
  21. Blue Camellia, Frances Parkinson Keyes
  22. The Scapegoat, Daphne du Maurier
  23. On the Beach, Nevil Shute
  24. Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand
  25. Doctor Zhivago, Boris Pasternak
  26. Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov
  27. Exodus, Leon Uris
  28. Poor No More, Robert Ruark
  29. The Ugly American, William J. Lederer and Eugene L. Burdick
  30. Lady Chatterley’s Lover, D. H. Lawrence



1 9 5 0 ‘ s – B E S T S E L L E R S

N O N F I C T I O N

  1. Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book; Betty Crocker’s Good & Easy Cook Book 
  2. How I Raised Myself from Failure to Success in Selling, Frank Bettger
  3. Look Younger, Live Longer, Gayelord Hauser
  4. Washington Confidential, Jack Lait and Lee Mortimer
  5. Better Homes and Gardens Handyman’s Book; Diet Book; Barbecue Book; Decorating Book; Flower Book
  6. The Sea Around Us, Rachel L. Carson
  7. The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version
  8. U.S.A. Confidential, Jack Lait and Lee Mortimer
  9. Tallulah, Tallulah Bankhead
  10. The Power of Positive Thinking, Norman Vincent Peale
  11. Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, Alfred C. Kinsey, et al.
  12. Angel Unaware, Dale Evans Rogers
  13. This I Believe, Edward P. Morgan, editor; Edward R. Murrow, foreword
  14. How to Play Your Best Golf, Tommy Armour
  15. The Saturday Evening Post Treasury, Roger Butterfield, editor
  16. Gift from the Sea, Anne Morrow Lindbergh
  17. The Family of Man, Edward Steichen
  18. How to Live 365 Days a Year, John A. Schindler
  19. The Secret of Happiness, Billy Graham
  20. Why Johnny Can’t Read, Rudolf Flesch
  21. Inside Africa, John Gunther
  22. Year of Decisions, Harry S Truman
  23. Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language, concise ed., David B. Guralnik
  24. Etiquette, Frances Benton
  25. Love or Perish, Smiley Blanton, M.D.
  26. The Nun’s Story, Kathryn Hulme
  27. Kids Say the Darndest Things!, Art Linkletter
  28. The FBI Story, Don Whitehead
  29. Where Did You Go? Out. What Did You Do? Nothing, Robert Paul Smith
  30. Please Don’t Eat the Daisies, Jean Kerr
  31. The Day Christ Died, Jim Bishop
  32. ‘Twixt Twelve and Twenty, Pat Boone
  33. Masters of Deceit, Edgar Hoover
  34. The New Testament in Modern English, J. P. Phillips, trans.
  35. Dear Abby, Abigail Van Buren
  36. Inside Russia Today, John Gunter
  37. Folk Medicine, D. C. Jarvis
  38. Charley Weaver’s Letters from Mamma, Cliff Arquette
  39. The Elements of Style, William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White
  40. Only in America, Harry Golden

 

-posted on red Ravine, Wednesday, May 2nd, 2007

-Resources: 1950’s Bestsellers List from Cader Books, The Literature and Culture of the American 1950’s

-related to posts:  The 1960’s — What Was America Reading?, The 1970’s — What Was America Reading?

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