WHEN CREDIT IS DUE


Several years ago a saleswoman in Macy’s tried to wheedle me into renewing my expired store credit card by offering a deep discount on the sheets I was buying. I dug it out of my wallet where it was mouldering between an expired library card and a 20% coupon for senior dining at the Elephant Bar. I happily handed it over prepared to collect my promised 15% off.

She looked at it, puzzled “But this is not your name”, she said.

The card clearly said my husband’s name. “That’s my husband,” who to my knowledge had never been to Macy’s nor bought a set of sheets in his life.

I flashed back another few years in another Macy’s store when a person with a clipboard came up and asked me if I wanted to apply for a credit card. “Absolutely” I replied instantly. “What’s your husband’s name?” she asked. I wish I could tell you that I engaged her in a lengthy conversation about women’s rights and then dashed for the door, but I let her continue filling out my application. This was in an era when women still needed a male co-signer to get credit. In some places you needed a husband or father to even get a library card. Once a representative from a local utility company refused to discuss my bill unless I let them talk to my husband even though my name signed at the payment checks. But it was his name on the account.

I’m telling you this ahead of time because on August 26 we will celebrate Women’s Equality Day, the anniversary of the 19th Amendment and women’s right to vote. That was in 1920, and there’s no one around who can tell us what that must have felt like to be disenfranchised because of your sex. But there are plenty of people around who can tell you what it felt like to be denied credit in your own name in the recent past.

The great thing about Equality Day is that it works in two ways. We can mull over both how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go. It is said that in the 1960’s a spokesman for NASA said that the talk of a woman in space made him sick to his stomach. Well that makes me want to lose my breakfast. There have been 50 women in space since then, including Karen Nyberg who is a mechanical engineer and NASA astronaut. and that has become so routine we don’t often look at their names.

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No one expected the 1970’s women’s march for equality to be a big deal. The police had only given the marchers permission to use one lane of Fifth Avenue. But more and more people came and finally the entire street was taken over. People hung out of windows and there was a huge parade. For a long time the drive for suffrage was seen as a depressing slog of middle class clubwomen gathering petitions and throwing themselves in front of horse and carriages.

“We did not eat our little lunches in lobster palaces, but out in the street in front of lobster palaces. We stand for plain living and high thinking, that’s it.” a marcher told the New York Times in 1912. It sounds as if it was a lot of fun. After the march ended, a woman the Times identified as “Miss Annie S. Peck, the mountain climber,” stood on a chair, “waved a Joan of Arc flag, and told her audience that this was the banner that she had planted 21,000 feet above the sea on one of the highest peaks of the Andes.”

The mixture of socialites and factory workers marching for one cause sent a message. Finally in 1971 Richard M. Nixon signed the resolution designating August 26 each year as Women’s Equality Day. It’s hard to believe it had first been introduced in 1878.

We seem to have an abundance of marches of all kinds these days, and parades with flags waving and bands playing are always crowd pleasers calling our attention to the importance of celebration. Though it isn’t at Macy’s, I treasure my credit cards bearing my own name these days. We women are going to have a heck of a time in 1920

(with excerpts from Gail Collins, NYT)

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SECOND HAND ROSE


Mrs. Lauderback (2)

One man’s junk is another man’s treasure. What used to be called “second hand stores” now are euphemistically known as “thrift stores which sometimes peddle high-end goods to economically savvy shoppers. Not as snooty as antique stores, but a step up from a junk store. In other words, they attract smart people who watch their pennies. Barbra Streisand wailing “Second Hand Rose” gave us a taste of what you could buy second hand.

We ran across a good example a week or so ago in San Juan Baptista when we spotted a great-looking junk store along the road called “Fat Willie’s which carried every sort of miscellany anyone could ever want. Roaming through the town itself we were drawn into “Fat Willie’s Antiques”; a store which brooked no bargaining, but which carried your grandmother’s china and furniture made by fellows like Chippendale, Duncan Phyfe and Hans Wegner (my personal favorite). Between the two stores, Willie was covering all the bases.

As a child my grandmother dragged me along to antique stores while she looked for old china and crystal pieces. I still have a crystal sugar bowl with a broken handle she gave me when I was 14.

In 1942, after the Depression was over, but while the War was still on, my grandmother, mother and aunt showed up each wearing fur coats. It was the first I ever heard that you could buy something that someone else had already used. A real Second Hand Store with “hand-me-downs”. Now, in case you have ever wondered, that term was used by Jewish immigrant merchants who sometimes hung garments on high racks, and when someone asked to see a certain piece would tell his associate to “hand me down” that coat or whatever.

At the suggestion of a friend some years ago, I volunteered my services to the Ladies Home Society in Oakland, California, a charity for the benefit of elderly ladies of refinement. My job was in the small thrift shop sorting through all manner of goods, including clothes, furniture, linen, etc. donated by the members. As first responders, we had first choice in pricing and perhaps purchasing the good stuff. I bought so many clothes that my children laughingly told me they would have to give it all back to Grandma’s Attic when I died. I was so naive at the time I could not believe that some of the lovely embroideries, handmade lace and household goods would not be cherished by children of those who were donating their belongings. Older and wiser friends assured me that the style favored by the next generation doesn’t always include their parent’s residual possessions, but donated clothing, especially beautiful clothing, has great appeal.

Today’s Thrift Stores seem to come in two types: non-profit and those which can make a lot of money for their owners. We knew of someone whose family had three large thrift stores. We keep a box in the garage for things we no longer use and donate to Hope Services, a local non-profit store which gives to the mentally challenged, a group our daughter worked for after college where she had majored in the mentally challenged. We have a well-decked out friend who proudly shows off his “bargain” attire which he picked up at a thrift store after serious and judicious shopping.

When I was teaching pottery classes, I encouraged students to donate their “failures” to a thrift store. After all, “one man’s junk is another man’s treasure”, and something handmade is infinitely better than a cheap import.

LOOKS LIKE ANOTHER DAY WITHOUT SNOW, RAIN OR SLEET


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“Paper Narcissus” original watercolor by kayti sweetland rasmussen

I don’t know why it is surprising to see sunshine–other than a few drops to wash off the dust yesterday, sunshine is a cash crop here in California. There is no negotiating with Nature. My motto, adopted from baseball player Ernie Banks, former shortstop for the Chicago Cubs is, “The whole theory of my life is sunshine, and today the sun is shining.”

The rain did bring these lovely narcissus though and they look nice showing off in front of the antique Chinese robe. I have a love of artistry and of things made by hand, and the robe is embroidered with thousands of tiny stitches said to have been made by blind nuns. I heard a phrase that Pope Francis said which seems appropriate: “There are some realities that you can only see through eyes that have been cleansed by tears.”

I don’t remember deciding to become a writer. You decide to become a dentist or a postman or woman. I always defined myself as a sculptor if I ever thought about it. I have a sign which says so, which hangs in my garage along with other things formerly important only in my imagination. In my chrysalis days in art shows and street fairs, it hung beside my table, directing potential customers.

As writers our eyes and ears are always open for snippets of something to expand upon. Today’s snippet came from my good friend Bill and it deals with the cleaning of an old oil painting.

Bill is a connoisseur of antiquities, and came by an old and dirty painting by way of a relative. I had restored a couple of old paintings for him some time ago, but he took it upon himself to do this one himself. He was chuckling while he told me that he was cleaning it with spit. This is a skill you may need to know some day and it will take awhile, but courtesy of Canadian Jaqueline Mabey this is how to do it:

As far as I know this only works on oil paintings, though possibly also on acrylic. “The chemicals in saliva are like the perfect gentle cleanser; they break down the dirt and dust that builds up on the surface without damaging the paint. You’ll need little sticks, a roll of sterilized cotton, and patience4. You can’t really rush the process. It will take the time it takes.

Wrap a small amount of cotton from the roll around the tip of the stick. Stick the cottony end of the stick in your mouth between your tongue and your cheek. Roll it around getting the cotton wet, but not saturated. Remove from mouth and slowly brush the surface of the painting. Make your way slowly across the work.”

Well there you have it.

HOT DIGGETY DOG


It’s no secret that I am a dog lover. I have given my heart to several Dachshunds, to several German Shepherd Dogs, a Doberman Pincher, an Old English Sheepdog, even a Chihuahua. One or two were second hand blessings, the others took a bite out of our wallets. Our lives today are enriched by a slightly overweight Jack Russell Terrier with a grand sense of adventure.

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He’s not allowed on this chair

Charlie first became an entity by way of daily e-mail photos from our late son-in-law who claimed this puppy, brother to his pup, was “cute as hell” and we would do well to come to Southern California and see him. We named his picture “Charlie” after a brief naming process, and at seven weeks we were his.

Slow moving tender-hearted Sheepdogs sleep where they are pointed, eat when you get around to it, come when they are called, seldom bark, and generally simply want to please. Nothing is a hardship for them and they plod along with or without restraint for miles at a time, casually checking out the occasional squirrel or rabbit on the trail. Another astonishing and marvelous attribute, at least in the case of Panda—in spite of dense, curly fur; she did not shed. Leaves and dirt clods came in contact with her feet, but she left no hair. Not so with a JRT as those who own one will attest. It’s a credit to tight follicles that they have any hair left. We lasted two months without a dog when Panda left us, and it is difficult not to have something on the end of a leash.

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Playpen from thrift store

My father was a no nonsense dog lover who came from the age when most dogs ate table scraps and slept outside. He would not have understood our anthropomorphizing a tiny seven week addition to our family, but things are different today. Dog food comes in many varieties, even for different breeds and sizes. Pets feel their natural place is on our beds, even believing it their right to push their owners to the edge.

There were six puppies in Charlie’ family, and our daughter found homes for all of them. Soon afterward, she hired a trainer and gave a puppy party for the pups and their owners. It’s a Southern California kind of thing. The puppies didn’t learn much and neither did the owners, but presents were exchanged and food consumed and it was fun.

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The Puppy Party

Charlie is now eight, and his description as a seeker of adventure is well known to neighbors who now and then raise the alarm “Charlie’s out!” He has never seen an open door which has not called to him. Ours is the only house I know of in which a kennel sits by the front door where Charlie is funneled when the doorbell rings.

In the privacy of our house and rather large garden, Charlie responds to the slightest summons in jig time, but once out, the world is his oyster, and it’s a game of “catch-me-if-you-can.”

Charlie isn’t perfect, but neither are we. He has given us eight years of his life, filled with amusement at his antics, interspersed with keeping a close watch on all the doors opening into the neighborhood. He has the rare quality that some of us lack, the ability to make friends immediately.

A BOOK NO ONE WILL PUBLISH


A dejected young man trudging along Madison Avenue in 1937 was probably not an unusual sight during the Great Depression, but this one bumped into a friend from his college days who asked him what he was carrying. “It’s a book no one will publish” said Theodor Geisel, stinging from his 27th rejection, “and I’m taking it home to burn”.

As luck would have it, his friend, Mike McClintock, had just that morning been made editor of children’s books at Vanguard Publishing Co. He invited Geisel to his office where he bought the book the minute he read it. With the book, “And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street” became the first published children’s book of Theodor Seuss Geisel using the name “Dr. Seuss”.

When the book came out, the legendary book reviewer for the new Yorker, Clifton Fadiman, announced: ‘They say it’s for children, but better get a copy for yourself and marvel at the good Dr. Seuss’s impossible pictures and the moral tale of the little boy who exaggerated not wisely but too well.’

In college, Geisel had used the pen name Dr. Theophrastus Seuss and later used Theo LeSieg and Rosetta Stone. Though Dr. Seuss has become a household name, Geisel also worked as a political cartoonist, an illustrator for advertising campaigns and during World War 11 he worked in an animation department of the United States Army. He added the “Dr.” to his pen name because his father had always wanted him to become a doctor.

Leaving Oxford without earning a degree, he began submitting his work to magazines, book publishers and advertising agencies. His first nationally published cartoon appeared in 1927 in The Saturday Evening Post, and earned $25. Later that year Geisel’s first work signed “Dr. Seuss” was published in the humor magazine “Judge”.

Increased income allowed Geisel and his wife Helen to travel, and by 1936 they had visited 30 countries together. While returning from an ocean voyage to Europe in 1936, the rhythm of the ship’s engines inspired the poem that became his first book “And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street”.

During WW2, Geisel joined the Army Air Force where he wrote propaganda films and army training films. After the war, he and his wife moved to La Jolla, California where he returned to writing children’s books.

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Many of his forty-four books remain wild bestsellers. Theodor Geisel is selling 11,000 Dr. Seuss books every day of the year. As inevitable as Dr. Seuss’s appeal seems now, Mulberry Street was rejected by twenty-seven publishers,

Though he devoted most of his life to writing children’s books, Geisel had no children of his own, he would say when asked about this, “You have ’em’; I’ll entertain ’em.”

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