Two Christmas Memories by Linda Maugans (Guest Post)

I'm very grateful to Linda Maugans, my grandma, who wrote down two of her favorite Christmas memories and kindly has permitted me to share them here. These memories date to the early 1940s when she was a very young girl.

Christmas Memories: Dolls for Christmas

By Linda Maugans

Vintage Dy-Dee Doll Ad

Christmas always meant a new doll for my sister, Garnet, and me, and over the years we received all shapes and sizes, some with a wardrobe of clothes hand-made by Mrs. Santa Claus. One of the most memorable was a bride doll, complete with long veil. I didn't play with her much because I didn't want to spoil her beauty. I have her yet, and although she is packed away, when there has been occasion to open her box-home, she has always evoked the thrill I felt when seeing her for the first time.

Another special one was an adorable, little Madame Alexander doll, wearing her pink dress and white pinafore, and sweet little white high-top shoes. She still is quite beautiful as she sits proudly in my curio cabinet with other special treasures. Unfortunately, she is barefoot as somewhere along the line she lost her shoes, but I love her just as much unshod as shod.

During those years we also received the necessary items to care for our “children,” such as wooden highchairs, cradles — complete with music box — and a green trunk for all the doll clothes we had accumulated.

I was ecstatic when I unwrapped my first rubber “Dy-Dee” doll — a rubber doll that came with a little bottle, and drank the water (milk in my world of make-believe). She was completely outfitted with a bathinette that held water, and she must have been the cleanest baby in town. Of course, after she took her bottle it was only a few seconds before she needed her “didee” changed. That little doll took the whole world of make-believe to a new level.

I had several rubber dolls after that one. In fact, I received my last Christmas doll when I was eleven years old and although I sometimes played with her I felt that I should be doing so in secret. I felt uncomfortable and perhaps a little guilty because I knew all my friends had put away their dolls two or three years before. I like to think that they just didn't have the same kind of imagination…it seems I've always marched to a different drummer, or perhaps heard a different song than most every one else. I just seemed to think differently than a lot of people, and I haven't changed much, as most of you know.

We learned about loving and caring as we played with our make-believe babies, and it made for a much easier transition and joy when we were blessed with the real thing. Play was largely based on actual events during my childhood. Whatever the occasion we enacted it. There were many pretend church services, weddings, funerals, and school rooms, and we never seemed to tire of playing house. Play, back then, prepared us for life and I will always be grateful for it.

~*~*~*~*~

Christmas in Wartime: When the Lights Go On Again

By Linda Maugans

1941 Noma Christmas Light catalog cover

One of my earliest memories of the Christmas season is an ad that was in one of Mother's magazines. It had to have been during the period when the free world was afraid of being bombed, and the only way they had to hide was to go dark. I remember a couple years after the ad experience, when America was having black-outs and everyone was required to have dark window shades. I remember a night when there came a knock on the door. There stood an Air Raid Warden, wearing his white helmet, who advised Mother of a small hole in the shade at one of the windows which was allowing a pinhole of light to be seen, and that it must be covered immediately.

In this present time of streetlights, security lights, and neon signs it is hard to imagine that back then there was total darkness. This is all setting the stage for the ad, and I guess I should also mention that one of the popular songs on the radio was about the “dark” that was thought needed in order to survive. Each year I understand more fully how horrible it must have been living in blitz-torn England, and how blessed America was to have escaped the same fate, although we certainly paid with the blood of hundreds of thousands of our men and women in the military. Those early war years had much to do with the shaping of my life, and the basis for the way I feel as I do about many things that are happening now. But I digress!

Back to the song: “When the Lights Come On Again All Over the World.” I loved that song, and it has much to do with the ad which I can see as clearly in my mind as if it were before me. The ad was a two-page color spread, and all around the sides was a string of Christmas tree lights, shining brightly in all their different colors. In the center of the ad was the staff and musical notes to the song, and in large print, it read, “When the lights come on again, let them be Noma!” (Noma was the brand of lights.)

I hope you will add to your Christmas prayers thanks for the blessing of the wonderful light displays you will be seeing. Writing this has reminded me that they are something I should not so easily take for granted…or for the cost of our freedom to have them.

When the Lights Go On Again

Editor's Notes: (1) The vintage ad for the Dy-Dee doll and playthings dates to the thirties or forties and was located through a Google Image Search; the image used was originally at this French website. There are many (so many) other ads available on the web but this one had the “bathinette” and was from the right timeframe. (2) The 1941 Noma Ad was found at oldchristmastreelights.com, an interesting page in its own right that is worth a visit if you're interested in vintage Christmas lights. I tried for an embarrassingly high number of hours over several months to find the ad referred to in this post but haven't been able to find it. The shortage of Christmas lights in the U.S. during the war years probably led to a shortage in ads to be preserved by collectors. In case you've never spent an ungodly amount of time googling vintage Noma Christmas light ads (and every variant thereof), it is worth doing: some of the images which crop up are outstanding. (Santa smoking a cigarette in a mid-century Chesterfield ad, for example.) (3) “When the Lights Go On Again (All Over the World)” was written in 1942 and was the number one recording in the U.S. in 1943 (Wikipedia). The image from the sheet music cover is readily available by image search from multiple sources.

And again, a very big thank you to Linda Maugans for writing this post.

 

 

 

 

 

Yes, Virginia

Another lifetime ago, back in New York, my neighbor was an elderly lady called Virginia. Her apartment was crowded with tchotchkes and stereotypes and was strongly steeped in rosewater and deep nostalgia. Virginia had coal black hair. She wore glittery things and old-fashioned hats. Her dentures slipped when she spoke, nearly impossible to look away from, like a lazy eye or the proverbial car wreck. You know you shouldn’t be looking at it, but where do you look, and ohmygod what did she even just say? And then you’d retrain your focus on her words and look at the brooch or the curtains or for the pet you could smell but never see and you’d hate yourself for noticing any of it. Virginia was kind. And gnawingly, achingly in need of company. So you with your backwards, equally lonely Midwestern-in-a-big-city self, accompanied by your far more dashing and self-assured roommate, would find yourself occasionally sitting in Virginia’s rosy-musty living room, eating Archway cookies and Milanos from dainty china plates, listening to Virginia.

Virginia, again like god-awful stereotype, reeked of the past, some other time. She was alone and she had, it seemed, limited her world to her apartment and the shops (it seems silly to refer to them as “stores,” even. Impossible to talk about Virginia’s world without reverting, in part, to the language of it). If she had children, there were no photographs among the shelves (stuffed animals and dolls in crocheted dresses, yes, but few photographs), no mentions. There was a husband, once, but she had lost him long ago in her past. She was a mix of the decades from the 30s to the early 60s and everything about her was strongly reminiscent of everything from black and white film stars to Jackie Kennedy to early TV. It would shift while she was talking, as disorienting as her highly mobile dentures, pinning her down to times you had only heard about and, I suspect, hiding the real thoughts and concerns of Virginia. Virginia never talked about the present; she didn’t much ask about the lives or backgrounds of these girls in her living room who were eating her cookies. She didn’t talk about life in the past, strangely, since she was so evidently still, well, living in it. What she talked about, and exclusively talked about, was her plan for a TV Christmas special.

I’ll give all the following due respect to Virginia: her imagination and childish glee were second to none, her belief in the imminent success of said Christmas special was unshakeable, and her descriptive powers were strong enough that, holding my cookie, I could see absolutely her TV show in my mind as real as if it had already aired. Mind you, it had the same coloring and video qualities as an Andy Williams Christmas repeat (that strange, Kodak-y both dull-and-over-bright chromatic quality that will date any video as several decades old) but nevertheless, in the mind it stood like the memory of an actual show you really had seen before. Virginia’s Christmas special was “A Trip to the North Pole.” It had dancing penguins who ice-skated in front of Santa’s workshop, described down to the personalities of each little penguin and the fact that said penguins were wearing red bow ties. She had personalities and casting ideas for the elves. She could — and did —describe endlessly and lovingly the set requirements, the costume changes, the scenes, the props. There wasn’t a lot of plot (Virginia was a detail-oriented sort of gal) but, it too, was outlined and tight: to say she had given this a lot of thought would be the understatement of a lifetime. I truly believe Virginia had given it her every thought. Virginia’s Christmas Spectacular was her opus, her masterpiece, her passion, her life. And the critical piece of her beloved TV show was Santa. Her Santa would be played by Frank Sinatra. She had, so she said, written letters to Mr. Sinatra and his agent with the script proposal, the details of her Christmas special. I think she said she had contacted NBC, CBS, and ABC. But it gets harder to remember that now; like I said, this was a lifetime ago. And truthfully, after a couple of hours of listening to Virginia wax effusively about Frank, and the elves, and the reindeer, the attention would start to wander when she’d get into the infinitely less thorough and thought-through parts of realizing her dream. But then, my best guess is, it wasn’t the realization that mattered to her, not really. It was the dream. Just the dream.

I am glad I knew Virginia. I am glad I ventured across the hall to hear about her Christmas special. I am glad she, like H&H Bagels and Gray’s Papaya and the free baklava with purchase of coffee at Nick’s, is a part of my New York in that lifetime. And I am heartily sorry that I couldn’t always manage to look away from her dentures. I hope she never noticed that.

Central Park in Winter

Thanksgiving Greetings

1911 Thanksgiving Card
Sent from Toledo, Ohio to Saginaw, Michigan in November, 1911. And now, from me to you.

Happy Thanksgiving.

 

I’ll Get You, My Pretties

Pretty Halloween Ideas

 

How to Make the Prettiest Halloween, as told by the Internet.

On a sleepless night earlier this week, I was trawling the web, seeking holiday cheer. I found it, by the hundreds, my dry and insomniac eyes watering into the tiny screen of my mobile device; my feverish, sleep-deprived brain devising ways to build a porch to the house by Friday, October 31st so I could decorate appropriately (I will also be needing an old wooden dining room set and a 1930s truck, preferably both painted in shimmery old-fashioned pastels. I will need these by tomorrow so, universe, not to be demanding but, you know, chop-chop). At any rate, while I’m waiting on the universe to deliver my table, truck — oh, and illuminated dresses! — I compiled some of my favorite photos because they’re just too pretty not to share. No tricks, only charming and very pretty treats. Happy Halloween.

Images: I created my image using two apps, Moldiv and Aviary. The sources for the individual photos, by matching letter: A, B, C, D, E, F, G.

 

Children and Snakes, Monsters and Omens: Old Hoosier Legends

Indiana Autumn Cornfield

Milk Snakes and Hoop Snakes: There used to be several variations on the theme of Children and Snakes. At the heart of these stories, these were tales of friendship between a toddler and a snake. Generally, the child would leave the house with a bowl of porridge or a tin cup of milk and go off to eat/drink by the Wabash or an idyllic Indiana stream or a glade just off the pasture. The child would later be found by his or her parents sharing the porridge/milk with his/her friend, the snake. At which point the parents would frighten away the snake (who may or may not fashion itself into a wheel shape and roll away like a hoop). Within a matter of days – generally three – of the abrupt end to the friendship, the child would die, an event attributed to the snake. So if you catch your child sharing a spoon with a snake, just bring extra porridge.

And while we're talking about death, these are the death omens your great-great-Hoosier-grandmother always warned you about: A bird in the house, hearing three sharp raps on a headboard or house-front (the closer to you, the worse for you), seeing a ball of fire or a flaming torch (a spectral flaming torch, by the way, an actual torch or the state flag are presumably safe), a vision of an angel or a wraith, or a fallen portrait (it is a sad day for the subject of any painting/photograph when their image suddenly dives off the wall or the shelf). While not an omen, here's as good a place as any to mention that Hoosiers used to tell of death crowns left behind in feather pillows on deathbeds (open the pillow case and there will be a ring or halo made of feathers where the dearly departed had lain his or her head).

And while we're talking about things your great-great-Hoosier-grandmother told you, other old wives' tales include: The seventh daughter of a seventh daughter will always have the gift of second sight. The seventh son of a seventh son will have the ability to “blow off” warts. If a seventh son of a seventh son isn't handy (and we all know how disappointing that can be), warts can also be removed by tying knots in a string or piece of cloth (one knot per wart to be removed) and then burying it: as the knots decay, the warts will vanish. If you're afflicted with thrush, you need to find someone who has never seen their father because that person can heal you. Divining rods work for not only water but also precious metals: but like will find like. If you wish to find gold, a piece of gold must be added to the tip of the divining rod; silver for silver.

There Be Monsters Here: The French-Americans in Vincennes believed there was a loup garou (werewolf) among them. Residents of Churubusco are wary (and proud) of the Beast of Busco, a 500-pound snapping turtle believed to live there. A Bigfoot-like creature known as the Princeton Monster is reputed to live in the woods near the southern Indiana town of the same name. And, most entertainingly named of them all, along the Wabash and Erie Canal roams the Wampus cat, a terrifying, oversized cat who can still be heard yowling on sultry summer nights. Allegedly.

There Be Witches Here: Attesting to the importance of cattle, agriculture, and dairy in this early pioneer state, there were legends of assorted milk-witches, whose evil was worked both on and through cattle: Near Oakland City there lived a Dairy Witch of some repute and there was also the Butter Witch of Giro (a name I think we can all agree totally kicks ass). A witch in Anderson was believed to grow poisoned apples in the yard. But Shelby County has one of the most enchanting tales of witches of all (with a very many similarities to Greek myths and the Brothers Grimm): Three young and beautiful sisters lived separately from the nearest community. They were reputed to be witches who transformed themselves into fawns but there was no proof of this strange magic until one day a hunter went into the woods and chased three agile fawns. He had only one silver bullet with him and with this single bullet, he injured one of the fawns. The hunter followed the trail of blood to its end— which he found at the cabin of the Three Sisters. Two human sisters were ministering to the third, who was in bed with an injured leg. And, although the legends don't say anything more on the tale, I like to think that hunter married that girl.

Source: Baker, Ronald L. Hoosier Folk Legends. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1982.