Sunday, November 19, 2006

Things You Never Knew

You think you know someone if you've been around them daily for your entire life. How strange it is to discover new information about someone after they are dead. Take my Mother, for instance. She was quite a talker. She was never shy about sharing her opinions, feelings, or information about herself with me. I felt confident that, after 43 years of constant exposure, there would be few surprises awaiting me in the archives.

I've resolved that the easiest way to sort through 80-some years' worth of my parents' belongings is to pick a drawer or closet per day, sort that out, then stop for the day. It breaks the chore into manageable chunks as opposed to the daunting task of "going through the house". While it's sad and difficult, at times treasures do turn up, such as the note.

This afternoon, I chose to go through the hall closet where coats and hats and a few sundry items were kept. Buried in the back were boxes of greeting cards (dating back to the 1940s), slides, and photos that I'd never seen before. Among them, I found a newspaper clipping about my Mother. It must have been from around 1940-42, when she was first in college. I knew Mother went to Ohio State (Go Buckeyes) and graduated from Miami (Oxford), but she always maintained she'd studied Art. (She also claimed to hold an MFA or MA in Art Education, but I have found no supporting evidence to that claim, and earlier this summer she admitted that she'd started the program but never finished.)

Was I ever surprised at what this article had to say. While at OSU, Mother submitted some sketches and sample writings to a contest held by Harper's Bazaar magazine... and won. She was appointed to the position of Ohio State Editor of Harper's College Bazaar (the article assumes readers are familiar with the publication, but I'm not). She would have regular assignments and report on anything to do with college co-ed fashion trends, including doing the photographs and student interviews. It was a short article, about half a dozen paragraphs, but I was riveted. This was all new information to me.

But what struck me dumb was the first line of the second paragraph:
Helen, who is majoring in fashion design...

Fashion design?!? Wha....?!? Now, THIS was REALLY new information! Even when I was taking fashion design courses in college, she never mentioned this to me. NEVER. And I was living with her at the time! I recall her saying that she'd once dreamed of moving to New York to become a fashion designer, but that was all she said. She didn't elaborate.

She sewed, and she made her own clothes, but she used commercial patterns. I never saw her make her own patterns or "design" anything. I never saw her knit, either. Or crochet. When I signed up for weaving, she declared, "I don't know why you'd want to take weaving, you'll be bored stiff". (I wasn't. I was enthralled.) Needless to say, I'm dumbfounded.

But I think I may have some insight into her (somewhat negative) feelings about my urge to pursue fiber-related activities. Though I cannot confirm it, I imagine she didn't mention her stint in fashion because it may not have gone as well as she'd hoped; perhaps she didn't want me to suffer the same heartbreak. Or maybe it was just the way my Mother was—likely to downplay failure of any sort. Pretend it never happened, and it never did. I'll never really know. I doubt anyone else is alive who'd have further insight into that. She didn't graduate from OSU, so I assume that she stopped studying fashion because she got married at age 21, returning to school later in her 20's to study Art Education after her first husband died young.

My Mother. Studying fashion design in college in the early 1940's. I'm still scratching my head in amazement. Will wonders never cease?


At 1:14 AM, November 20, 2006, Blogger tiennieknits said...

It's great to discover things about your parents but so hard when you can't talk to them about it but I still think it's great to find these treasures!

At 1:57 AM, November 20, 2006, Blogger Jeanne said...

Yes, it is. Finding evidence of their lives and hearts and feelings helps them stay "real" in my mind. People advise us to sit down with our loved ones and record their stories. I did, to an extent, with both; but still, you'll never get all of them, because some won't be revealed until they're gone.


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