One More Lie: The “Equality Act”

As a proud lesbian woman for most of my life I know that every woman benefits from the existence of lesbian women! In a male dominated society every time a woman chooses to direct her life-energy to another woman regardless of the directives of society, she has expanded the possibilities for all girls and women. To defy the normative rules of enforced heterosexuality can be awkward and even dangerous. My long time partner, Jeanne, has noted that the “rubber-band theory” of political action applies here. Example: when lesbian women push the boundaries of accepted behavior, all women and all girls are encouraged to expand their push-back against the multiple pressures on women and girls. We are expected to conform to a narrow path of expectations allowed for females. Lesbians make that path wider and wider.

We are now facing an “Equality Act” that legally declares that a man (via his “gender identity”) can be a lesbian under the law! Passed by the U.S. House, the bill will be voted on soon in the U.S. Senate.

The purported intent of this “Equality Act” is to expand the classes of people and situations specifically protected under federal civil rights legislation. In the bill, three classes of people are named for additional or altered protection under H.R.5:
1. People who face discrimination on the basis of sex.
2. People who face discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
3. People who face discrimination on the basis of “gender identity”.

This bill provides that “gender identity” shall take priority over both sex and sexual orientation; meaning that a man who identifies as a woman is to be treated as a woman under the law, regardless of his sex; and so that a man can be a lesbian under the law. Young (female) lesbians are being lured into surgical and chemical mutilation of their bodies by the lie that they can escape the burdens of femaleness and homosexuality by becoming men.

Homosexual people are now called hateful and transphobic for the very thing that makes them lesbians or gay men; i.e., for excluding people from their dating pools based on sex.

A stealth campaign against homosexuality has been infiltrating much of the so-called progressive wing of politics. In my eyes, the Left has moved to the right and then claims their move to be “woke” politics. I see their political stance as the newest form of misogyny! Neither Left nor Right are reliable allies for women demanding our rights based on biological sex. H.R.5 in its present form would destroy those existing protections by effectively redefining the protected sex class “women and girls” to include men and boys!

The oppression of women and the discrimination against women is based on sex, not gender. Women have been excluded from employment, credit, military service, education, jury service, etc., based on their sex. “Gender identity” reinforces regressive sex-based stereotypes that assign dominance to males and submission to females; federal law should not be doing that.

Please note that is not possible for women to “identify” out of their discrimination by simply claiming to be men. It is biological sex that needs specific protection in the interests of justice. And it is “gender”, i.e., enforced femininity and masculinity, that needs to be questioned and resisted, if equal rights are to be achieved.

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The crux of the problem is that the Equality Act enshrines the concept of “gender identity” into U.S. law. Males base their claim that they are women on this concept which was invented by medical professionals in the 1950s and 1960s (Jeffreys) and latched onto by the transgender movement. Using “gender identity” males are able to say they “feel like” women and, with the Equality Act, the recent executive orders issued by Joe Biden and local legislation, PRESTO, their feelings are turned into what we are supposed to believe is reality.

As Tina Minkowitz, one of the authors of the Feminist Amendments to the Equality Act, has explained, with the Equality Act our legal existence as women is at stake! Here’s how this works. The Senate bill explicitly defines sex to include gender identity, saying that each of three factors – sex, sexual orientation, gender identity – is a form of sex discrimination. Here is where women are erased! Gender identity is made synonymous with sex. Discrimination on the basis of gender identity is considered to be sex discrimination.

Thus, the Equality Act makes it illegal to deny males who say they are women access to what have always been female only facilities. The Senate’s Equality Act explicitly states that there can be no female only private personal spaces: “[A]n individual shall not be denied access to a shared facility, including a restroom, a locker room, and a dressing room, that is in accordance with the individual’s gender identity.”

Giving any male who wants to the right to claim to be a woman has far reaching circumstances that goes far beyond his entry into female spaces, as is documented throughout the XX Amazons website.
Feminist Amendments to the Equality Act

Feminists in Struggle, or FIST, has proposed Feminist Amendments to the Equality Act protecting women, LGB, and transgender people by cleverly creating two new protected classes – sexual orientation and sex stereotypes – while leaving existing protections for sex in place. Each of the three classes are given clear and uncomplicated protection. The Feminist Amendments eliminate all mention of gender identity, providing protection to transgender people on the basis of sex stereotypes. By focusing on sex stereotypes, gender non-conforming people who are not transgender, including Lesbians and gay men, are also protected when they do not comply with sex role norms (demands).

The Feminist Amendments explicitly protects female only spaces from intrusion by males claiming to be women including “multi-stall toilets, locker rooms, changing rooms, communal showers, battered women’s shelters, refuges, homeless shelters, rape crisis centers, jail cells, bedrooms in residential facilities, hospital rooms, facilities providing intimate services such as massage or intimate grooming, or other places where women are sharing private facilities or are in states of undress and/or where their privacy may be compromised and or their safety may be at risk from male-pattern violence against females.” (p. 17, Feminist Amendments Equality Act) Sports programs, scholarship programs, clubs, political programs are likewise protected.

For more information on the Feminist Amendments to the Equality Act, please see:

Feminist Amendments to the Equality Act

FEMINISTS IN STRUGGLE (FIST) LAUNCHES CAMPAIGN FOR FEMINIST AMENDMENTS TO THE EQUALITY ACT


Time is Short – Act Now!

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1954, Coming of Age….

I’m writing about my life to explore the influences that have shaped my life. My stable girlhood is central to my understanding of all that has formed me.

In the fall of 1954 I was nine. Our family had grown to six. Lea, the youngest, was two years old. Lea was a beautiful girl-child with silvery blonde hair. She became the “pet” of the neighborhood. Everyone called her “baby Lea” until she was four or so. Marsha, soon to be four, was a helpful middle child. Karl, who at age 7 seemed to always have a grin on his face, was starting second grade. Every school day Karl and I rode our bicycles to school. We had no pets because mother said she had enough to take care of already. Dad worked long days at his job as a land surveyor while building the addition to our house as I discussed in my last blog in December.

Our family attended the Miami Springs Presbyterian Church most Sundays (at my mother’s urging). Our social life centered around some church functions, but especially around sports and the Miami Springs Recreation Department activities as well as school activities. I remember mother being involved in a women’s volleyball team for awhile. Dad always had bowling league activities he enjoyed. At times, we would all go bowling together. Marsha later became a professional bowler for several years.

Mother served as a cub scout leader for Karl for several years. Each Tuesday night when she did cub scout meetings, I was tasked with making dinner. My single specialty was tuna casserole made by mixing canned tuna with cream of mushroom soup. That mixture was sprinkled with crumbled potato chips for a crusty top–always Wise potato chips, then baked in the oven to be served hot. Probably I made a simple salad too. Marsha never liked this dish, so I would put a pre-packaged pie tin of macaroni and cheese in the oven to heat at the same time. Mother was always accommodating about our dinner preferences. Some say she spoiled us, but we kids appreciated her concern for our taste buds.

We were a average white family going about daily life in a white world in the deep south of the 1950s. We lived in a white community that more than likely had restrictive covenants hidden in the mortgage paper work making it illegal to sell any property in Miami Springs to blacks or Jews. These legally binding documents were assembled by the early developers of the town. In 1922, the sales brochure for the first development of Miami Springs “promised that the new community would be carefully zoned and restricted”.1

When my parents bought their basic cinder block, two bedroom house in 1947 they may or may not have been aware of those restrictive covenants. They were a young couple trying to find affordable housing even though it meant a long commute to work for my dad.

Segregated schools were the norm for public schooling in the Greater Miami area in the 1950s and into the 1960s. As a young person I never had another option. “Segregation is not always a choice or a result of self-selection. In the case of Miami, and many American cities, it was an intentional separation [by the authorities] of non-whites from whites in an effort to provide separate services, schooling, facilities, and housing. It is a part of history that can be tracked and seen through law, private deed restrictions, and bank policies of redlining.”2

I can assert that my parents were caught in the web of racism prevalent at the time, but I want to acknowledge that they benefited from a system that insured their property values would probably be stable. And, as home ownership usually allows homeowners to spend less on housing over the decades and to build equity, the whites-only covenants of that time benefited me and my family.

“Segregation, disparate access to credit and home ownership, and the consistent devaluation of homes in black neighborhoods combine to constrict the ability of African Americans to build equity and accumulate wealth through home ownership.”3 In other words “housing market discrimination is a contributor to labor market and economic inequality,” writes Gregory D. Squires.4

Mother was a avid reader of the daily newspaper, The Miami Herald, so we were aware of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling outlawing school segregation based on the landmark decision from Topeka, KS when it happened in May, 1954.

From a current Miami Herald newspaper website we learn that

The landmark Brown v. Board of Education desegregation ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court came out in May 1954, but it wasn’t until 1959 that Miami-Dade County’s schools admitted the first group of African Americans to Orchard Villa Elementary School, which had been all white. Seven-year-old Gary Range and three other black students broke barriers when they walked onto the grounds of the Liberty City school.

White students left the school, black students and faculty were transferred in, and by the summer of 1960, only one white student remained. In the 1970s, busing of students erupted as a new flashpoint in the battle over integration. Today, some civil rights activists and researchers say some schools in Miami-Dade and the rest of the country have undergone a “re-segregation” process.5

“Brown outraged white segregationists as much as it energized civil rights activists. Throughout the South, where state constitutions and state law mandated segregated schools, white people decried the decision as a tyrannical exercise of federal power.”6

US Senator Harry Byrd demands a “Massive Resistance” movement in 1956

Senator Byrd from Virginia: “If we can organize the Southern States for massive resistance to this order, I think that in time the rest of the country will realize that racial integration is not going to be accepted in the South.”

Many schools, and even an entire school system, as part of this Massive Resistance movement were shut down in 1958 and 1959 in attempts to block integration.

Byrd’s goal was to unite white politicians and leaders in Virginia in a campaign of new state laws and policies to prevent public school desegregation. White Citizens’ Councils throughout the South capitalized on whites’ dominance over financial capital, land ownership, and industry to punish civil rights participation.

Bombings claimed the lives of NAACP activists, including Harry and Harriette Moore, teachers and founders of the NAACP chapter in Brevard County, Florida (located east of Orlando). Their deaths in an explosion at their home on Christmas Day in 1951 led to protests across the nation but no immediate arrests.7 No one was ever tried for these murders. To read more about these activists follow this link https://www.history.com/news/first-civil-rights-murder-harry-harriette-moore-florida

Throughout Florida: “City ordinances require Negro [bus] passengers to ride in the rear.”

As a girl, I read about all these horrifying attacks and watched some on television news programs. I believed that “liberty and justice for all” was a sincere commitment when I saw federal government officials trying to implement school integration. I was unaware of the federal government’s involvement in ‘redlining’ various parts of cities (usually poor and/or black), which meant mortgages, other loans and insurance were unavailable by declaring the area a financial risk. I was unaware of all the other ways government, at all levels, institutionalized racism. I was naive girl who was hopeful for a better future.

Nothing changed in my schooling. Strict segregation was the reality for me for all twelve years of my public schooling. I graduated in 1963 from Hialeah High School in a senior class of over a thousand students–all white. Jeanne reports that her high school of about two thousand students in a Morton Grove, a suburb to the north of Chicago, was also segregated when she graduated in 1969.

In 1967, 13 years after Brown, a report by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights observed that “violence against Negroes continues to be a deterrent to school desegregation.” Other methods proved useful in upholding the racial caste system “such as criminalizing, arresting, and imprisoning peaceful protestors, [which]foreshadowed the modern mass incarceration era.9 The same source points out, “The Supreme Court was a reliable partner in maintaining slavery and in the campaign to rebuild and strengthen racial hierarchy and white supremacy after the Civil War. When the Court changed course in the mid-20th century and began striking down laws that authorized racial discrimination and segregation, many white people in the South felt betrayed.”

When political leaders and the leaders of other patriarchal institutions continue to make policy and to use tactics to strengthen racial hierarchy and white supremacy we all suffer the consequences. White nationalists have been re-energized by those who believe they can benefit from the chaos. “Separate services” were declared unconstitutional in 1954 when I was a young girl, but the practices that support the racial caste system still dominate the landscape of the U.S. in January, 2021.

Postscript from Florida, February 6, 2021: “Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis is pushing legislation on ‘disruptive protests’ that could lead to more arrests and more accusations of racial profiling. The proposed legislation could put protesters in jail for up to 15 years if police determine at least nine people took part in a riot.” from https://www.dailykos.com/stories/2021/2/4/2013906/-Don-t-be-fooled-by-GOP-bills-claiming-to-avert-repeat-Capitol-attack-Real-attack-is-on-Black-lives?detail=emaildkre
Notes

1 https://books.google.com/books?id=somhCAAAQBAJ&pg=PA37&lpg=PA37&dq=restrictive+covenants+used+by+Glen+Curtis+in+miami+springs+FL&source=bl&ots=Tf8dUSzDxd&sig=ACfU3U1-cFk-nUl-1RbXn6SI17vMH5ImHA&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjzt_XFpMLuAhWQKM0KHRjyC0gQ6AEwCXoECAkQAg#v=onepage&q=restrictive%20covenants%20used%20by%20Glen%20Curtis%20in%20miami%20springs%20FL&f=false p.37

2 https://miami-grid.com/2019/04/10/segregated-miami/

3 https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/economy/reports/2019/07/15/469838/racial-disparities-home-appreciation/

4 https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/economy/reports/2019/07/15/469838/racial-disparities-home-appreciation/

5 “The linchpin of Massive Resistance was a law that cut off state funds and closed any public school that attempted to integrate.” https://www.virginiahistory.org/collections-and-resources/virginia-history-explorer/civil-rights-movement-virginia/massive

5 1959 photo of a mother and her two daughters https://flashbackmiami.com/2014/05/14/school-integration/

6 https://segregationinamerica.eji.org/report/massive-resistance.htmlhttps://segregationinamerica.eji.org/report/massive-resistance.html

8 https://segregationinamerica.eji.org/report/massive-resistance.html

9 https://segregationinamerica.eji.org/report/massive-resistance.html

Restrictive covenants are binding agreements (now illegal) that hold homeowners (in this instance) to certain behaviors and practices around renting or selling their house.

The term “racial restrictive covenants” encompases agreements, most of which “run with the land,” that prohibit the homeowner from selling or renting to anybody of a specific race or ethnic background. The wording may differ from covenant to covenant, but the crux of the issue is the same: Racial restrictive covenants were designed to create and maintain neighborhood segregation. from https://www.homelight.com/blog/buyer-racial-restrictive-covenants/

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Looking Back, Visualizing the Future


January, 2020 began with a crowded trunk show at Cuttin’ Up Quilt Shop in Prairie Grove. About twenty-five women squeezed together to view the retrospective of many of my quilts from the last twenty-five years. No one wore a mask. No one could even imagine the need to mask ourselves from each other!

As the new year of January 2021 begins it appears that most of us will still be “sheltering at home” for months or possibly longer. The future is unknown, yet we do have today. We, at Cedar Hill, are lucky to live in the country with a large garden to feed us and keep us exercising. As the days lengthen, our supply of solar electricity may allow me to resume machine quilting the many UFOs I’ve generated since last March.

My interest in writing about my life continues to be strong, although some interruptions and distractions have slowed the process. I appreciate each of you who has let me know that you value my posts. I continue to enjoy the luxury of sitting down to write about what I feel drawn to at that very moment. I know I am very, very lucky.

Writing has become a pleasure and a passion. I’d be writing in peacock blue ink (forbidden to us in the 1950s & 1960s at school) with the Parker45 fountain pen my mother gave me as a high school graduation present if I could still form those curvaceous letters I practiced for years. Because I’ve lost the fine motor skills to write long hand on paper, I’m now typing on this computer. Now I don’t have to worry about using white-out to fix any mistakes.

I hope you enjoy this collage–it’s my tribute to that vibrant peacock blue color!

I’ve not been an early adopter of computer technology or email. I needed to be coaxed into that new world. I’d even successfully avoided a cell phone until late in 2017 when I traveled to Crete, Greece by myself. Several years ago when Jeanne and I were making our living creating custom websites for quilt shops, she trained me to use Photoshop. Learning to resize and to manipulate photos and graphics for that job has made my blogs more fun for me to create and probably more visually interesting for readers.

Quite recently I’ve learned to use Power Point to create slide presentations—again coached by Jeanne. Now I’m learning to add audio to the presentation allowing me to carefully script the entire show slide-by-slide. These are some of the challenges that have kept me focused and busy this year.

My activist self is part of a local feminist group reading the classic This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color first published in 1981. One of the influential contributors to This Bridge Called My Back is Audre Lorde who earlier wrote The Cancer Journals about her experience with cancer and dealing with the medical authorities in the 1970s. Audre Lorde’s writing about her cancer journey, which was full of many challenges, helped give me courage to deal with my own cancer diagnosis in 1985 at age 40.

Our group of women is reading This Bridge Called My Back as part of the anti-racist reaction to current events in the U.S. We meet on zoom to discuss our readings and observations and to promote positive change.

Sewing has been a vital part of my life since I first learned to sew doll clothes circa 1950. Creating with fabric intrigues me and engages all my senses. Quilting was only a dream until 1994 when I met Lila at her quilt shop Quilt Your Heart Out in Fayetteville, AR. My passion for “playing with fabric” has helped me survive the forced isolation of the pandemic.

When I finish one project I rummage through my huge fabric stash to select fabrics I want to play/sew with next. At times, I find myself working on multiple projects–one can’t predict when inspiration will strike!

I play with each new combination of fabrics until I’ve created a “community of fabrics” that seemed destined to go together. Along the way I may modify the combination by adding or subtracting fabrics or by modifying the block design itself. In this way the entire process is creatively engaging throughout.

I’m really hoping we will be able to gather in groups again well before the next new year. Please stay safe.

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1953, Reading, Writing & Building!


Why do we read? Author and avid reader Maureen Corrigan suggests that we read for a lot of reasons, “but two of the most compelling ones are to get out of ourselves and our own life stories and—equally important—to find ourselves by understanding our own life stories more clearly in the context of others.’”1

I suggest that we bloggers write for similar reasons! Writing this memoir/blog takes me down unexpected avenues–often with many wrong turns and sometimes dead ends–as I seek new takes on my own past. New realities may dawn on me slowly or hit hard like a bumper car. My understanding of my own life story can shift and even swivel as a I research and write. I’m finding it an unexpected journey during this pandemic.

Banished to nowhere
Fall of 1953 my younger brother Karl and I entered a slapped-together elementary school named Springview Elementary. I had been reassigned to this new school. I left behind girlfriends at Miami Springs Elementary unaware that I would reunite with them five years later in junior high school. As a third grader, I couldn’t know that in the future some of those girls would became my best friends in that next decade.

As a child, I had to adjust to this new reality. This school was not a prize—some days, with a westerly wind, we would be overwhelmed by the acrid smells of slaughtered animals from a nearby glue factory. The “portables”, as the classrooms on cider blocks were called, were stuffy and hot. The playground was a sandy lot.

Karl and I could ride our bicycles to Springview Elementary. He was a first grader biking to school with his big sister. Marsha, born in 1950 and Lea, born in 1952 kept Mother busy caring for a toddler and an infant while we were away at school. “The girls” as they became known in our family were born only 18 months apart and as children were quite close.

My role of mother’s helper at home, continued at school. Almost all of our teachers in grades one through six were women. I was comfortable with them, usually. I paid attention and completed assignments. In those years we were also graded on comportment which was later called conduct. I was generally eager to please. I was my mother’s good girl, until I wasn’t….

The Springview teachers were a committed bunch and learning to read meant I could go to the library with my mother. We frequented the Miami Springs Public Library at 401 Westward Drive—too far to walk, but mother took us there almost weekly. I’ve learned that this little library, which seemed so big as a child when I stared at all those books, was started in the 1939 by the Miami Springs Women’s Club.

Part of the general federation of women’s clubs nation wide, the Miami Springs Women’s Club, like many other women’s clubs, created a public library as one of their first projects. The Women’s Club housed the library in the club’s building at 200 Westward Drive for ten years. In the 1950s the library moved to its own building–the one I roamed as a girl. Sixty-five years later this library is still in use as part of the Dade County Library System.

Reading became a valuable skill as well as a window into other lives. Later, as a young woman in the early 1970s, all the feminist books I encountered “made me see myself differently and gave me a wider sense of the world.”3 Reading would “nurture the path of resistance” for me—a phrase I’ve borrowed from author Tara Westover. I tripped over this eloquent phrase last week when reading her memoir Educated.


Four kids slept in two bunk beds wedged into the small second bedroom of the house at 336 Linwood Drive. We needed more room. Both my parents were resourceful people. Neither wanted to move–they liked the neighborhood and their close friends had bought the house next door. Marie and Paul had a thirty year mortgage and fully expected to pay it off someday (unlike most home owners today).

Paul and Marie decided to fix the problem themselves. They would make the house bigger. The lot was 50 feet wide and almost 150 deep. Dad already had a small workshop he’d built in a back corner of the lot. Popular Mechanics magazine was his tutor. The magazine was full of build-it-yourself projects of varying difficulty. It’s subtitle for each issue was “Written so you can understand it,” and was geared to an ambitious amateur handyman/electrician/carpenter. Paul tackled the project of doubling the size of the house with enthusiasm. He designed the two large rooms they wanted to add. He worked weekends and vacations for about two years. Mother and all of us helped–sometimes this meant staying out of his way.

The addition became a work-of-art! Leaving the dining room of the original house, one entered the large Florida room/enclosed porch. Beyond was a huge bedroom where Marsha, Lea and I each had our own nook. A full bath occupied one corner. We each enjoyed our own large walk-in closet outfitted with a built-in dresser drawers–all carefully crafted. The walls were a warm knotty pine, a real wood paneling popular at the time.4 The bathroom was the only part of the addition that had required outside help.

Sharing a space with my sisters helped prepare me for dorm living. In both situations there were nights when each of us lay in bed as we talked and laughed sharing stories from our day. Large windows in our joint bedroom insured good ventilation to keep us cool all summer. Cozy electric blankets kept us warm on the few winter nights it was cold. Often, on Christmas day, we usually had on shorts by lunch time. Christmas day in a tropical climate is a study in contrasts. We would wake up in the chilly dawn, the youngest kids in footie pajamas, and then gather around a live tree weighed down with ornaments and a thick layer of tinsel. Sleigh bells jingling in snow were unknown, but that fir tree was surrounded by mounds of wrapped surprises.


During those years of building on weekends our family outings were limited. But we sometimes would drive the short distance to the Miami Airport. By parking along an access road we could watch planes lift into the sky and other planes as they touched down–roaring along the runway. As a girl, I had no inkling that I would someday sail the skies covering five million miles in my sixteen years of flying.

Writing here, I revisit my girlhood and that home built on the edge of the Everglades because it is full of stories, memories and love. Why am I detailing the details of our home? This building is tribute to the father I knew as a girl. This is the house he created with sweat and ingenuity and just plain grit. I’m in awe of the man who, as a child never lived in a house his family owned. Paul enlarged a small house to shelter his family of six.

Dad was a self-trained artist in many ways—he worked with his hands and his imagination. He was a magician able to transform a blueprint into the comforting bedroom my sisters and I shared for decades. Additionally this story is a tribute to the value placed on self-reliance which I experienced growing up in the south in the 1950’s. Others built too–Dad’s youngest sister Rosemary and her husband Darryl built their own house in North Miami during that same decade.

Today another family lives within those walls at 336 Linwood Drive. According to public records, that family has lived there for 36 years enjoying, still, the everyday artistry my father crafted for his family in the early 1950s.

Notes
1 Maureen Corrigan, Leave me Alone, I’m Reading: Finding and Losing Myself in Books p. 34
2 “when women began riding bikes in the 1800s, they were required to wear heavy skirts. The low bar allowed them to mount the bikes “modestly” and was a space for their skirts to go. Back then, bikes also had “clothes-guards” that would keep women’s skirts from being caught up in the mechanics of the bike. Picture is from the 1890s.” from: https://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2016/08/26/insisting-on-boys-and-girls-bikes/
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3 Maureen Corrigan, Leave me Alone, I’m Reading: Finding and Losing Myself in Books p. 62
4 Pickwick paneling: some of my readers work with wood and may be intrigued, as I am, by the paneling and its features. “Pickwick refers to the unique edge profile of each piece of this tongue-in-groove pine paneling. Stare at the profile edge from the side and you can see: Pickwick consists of two beads with a hollow in between on one side of each board… this pickwick side also includes the tongue and on the other side of the board, there is a groove. Sometimes referred to as a “butterfly” pattern, or “WP-2” in the industry. Today, it seems that you can get Pickwick panels that are 4″, 6″, 8″ or 10″ wide.” from https://retrorenovation.com/2014/05/19/pickwick-pine-paneling-3/

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Crowded School Days

1951 first day of school Miami Springs, Florida
Kindergarten had been a positive experience for me. I looked forward to my first day of school at Miami Springs Elementary. First grade meant big fat pencils, bright crayons and lots of other children to play with. Learning to read would give me the chance to read books myself.

First day of school in September 1951 was probably another hot, tropical day in south Florida. Mother sewed me numerous summer dresses for school and I got to pick my favorite to wear that day. Marie was sending her first-born off to school, leaving two kids, Karl and Marsha at home. By next spring she would have her fourth child.

As the last entry in my “baby book” Mother wrote, “September 7, 1951 Miami Springs Elementary School–Miss Williams, Teacher.
The school was so over crowded that they have two sessions each day. Paula started the noon to 4:00 session. Mid-term it will be 8:30 to 12:00.”

September 7th would have been my brother Karl’s fourth birthday. Our parents always celebrated birthdays with cake and presents–sometimes with a children’s party where we played the blindfold game of pin-the-tail-on-the donkey. Perhaps that photo above of Karl in his cowboy outfit was taken that day–although I’m sure I never wore my cowgirl outfit to school. (Guns–did we really have play guns as children? Unfortunately, yes.)

The schools were overcrowded because so many servicemen and women returned to Miami after WWII. “Lured by dreams of post-war prosperity, unhurried beaches and warm Februaries, migrants began to pour into the Sunshine State. Florida’s population grew from 1.9 million residents in 1940 to 2.7 million inhabitants a decade later.”1

The skills I learned in those early years of schooling have served me well. Reading and writing have been central to surviving life’s challenges. As author Maureen Corrigan reminded me, sometimes I can find “a book that changes the way I ‘read’ my own life”.2 Developing my own particular handwriting was an early artistic effort which I’ve enjoyed throughout my life–especially the pleasure of writing with a well-balanced fountain pen.

Mothers, in the 1950s, were the unpaid teacher’s aides in many public schools. At times my mother was a ‘room mother’ for my class or for one of my siblings. It was quite common for classrooms to have designated room mothers who brought treats like cookies or cupcakes to the classroom for holidays and sometimes, as a surprise for the students.

School based performances depended on mothers to be able to sew costumes for each event. Mother saved this photo of Fairies & Elves from 1952 or 1953 taken at Miami Springs Elementary School. All the girls hold stars crafted of cardboard covered with aluminum foil. Were the boys envious of our wands?

Fairies & elves, Miami Springs Elementary, circa 1952

Lighthearted school programs were only part of our education. I was one of the millions of children who ducked under our desks and covered our heads to protect ourselves from a nuclear attack. In 1951, the federal government hired an ad agency to create a film that could be shown in schools to educate children (and the public) about how to protect themselves in the case of atomic attack!3 View this short television ad about Duck & Cover made to accompany that effort: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zMnKNHNfznE

I’m writing about my life to explore the influences that have shaped my life. My stable girlhood is central to my understanding of all that has formed me. Both my father and mother were responsible for the steadiness of our family ties through my school years. We were a family of six prepared to meet the world together.

At the same time, my mother, Marie, was the central figure in my girlhood. Our bond was not perfect, yet our bond was strong. Mom was funny and smart. And she was an attentive listener. Even after her death in 1979, I continue to benefit from that strong bond.

Mother’s often save mementos from their children’s early life. Marie, my mother, saved these three cards I made for her seventy years ago. These are love letters from a girl to her beloved mother. Each carefully drawn letter is a thread connecting me to her. Each flower I drew is a bouquet of tenderness. How rare is a love letter from daughter to mother? One card ends:
“Mother mine, mother mine,
I love you, love you
Love you all the time.”

Strong maternal bonds are an ancient tradition for cultures around the world. The wisdom of our ancestors honored women as creators and protectors. Women are the center of the life cycle of birth, death and regeneration. Sherri Mitchell writes about this belief in Sacred Instructions: Indigneous Wisdom for Living Spirit-Based Change.

“As Skejinawe Apid, an Indigenous woman,
I have been taught that the women nurture life into being;
we are the creators of life
and the protectors of the life that we create.
Women possess a unique magic.
As women, we are able to call forth life from the other side,
and cultivate that life in the quiet space below our hearts.
Within our bodies, we hold an opening to the divine,
a portal that allows souls to enter into this world.
Because we are connected to the divine through the space governed by our hearts,
we are also the keepers of divine intuition and heart-based wisdom.
Thus, the teachings that we carry are essential
for keeping our societies spiritually healthy and emotionally balanced.”4

In presenting Sherri Mitchell’s words, I have typed her paragraph as a poem–this is how it reads to me. Loving women in a misogynist society is its own reward. We women continue our attempts to keep “our societies spiritually healthy and emotionally balanced,” one day at a time.

1 https://fcit.usf.edu/wwii/post_war.php
2 Leave me Alone, I’d Rather Be Reading: Finding and Losing Myself in Books by Maureen Corrigan p.xiv
3 https://www.history.com/news/duck-cover-drills-cold-war-arms-race
4 “A Letter to My Mother That She Will Never Read” By Ocean Vuong May 13, 2017
https://www.newyorker.com/culture/personal-history/a-letter-to-my-mother-that-she-will-never-read
5 Sacred Instructions: Indigenous Wisdom for Living Spirit-Based Change by Sherri Mitchell p.121

Posted in Paula's Memoir | 2 Comments

Transformation, Abundance & Celebration, 2020

“Autumn is a time of transformation and celebration, where nature dances in spectacular colors and the landscape fades into winter.” anon

In the woods or indoors, plant life can enhance our own lives–especially in the reign of Covid! Winter temperatures force me to focus on the tropical plants that now dominate my sleeping and work area of our light-filled house. With almost a hundred plants (only a few are large) I’m surrounded by a lush abundance of many shades of green. It’s my challenge to keep them happy through the long months and short days of winter. Abundant light is essential for both plants and myself. With three recycled windows each nine feet tall, both the plants and I can thrive.

“Gardens are a form of autobiography,” wrote Sydney Eddison in a 1993 Horticulture magazine. Eddison is a prolific garden writer who I wish had lived nearby so I could visit her and her garden.1 Certainly my recent post about the burro’s tail succulent I’ve lived with for the last five decades had numerous biographical elements. Gardens are appreciated by what they include and by what is excluded, as well as by what the gardener chooses to focus on developing.

“Half the interest of a garden is the constant exercise of the imagination,” is how the woman, Mrs. C.W. Earle, who wrote Pot-Pourri from a Surrey Garden in 1897 described the lure of gardening. When I looked at the overgrown burro’s tail last month, I could imagine ways to improve the looks and the health of the plant, and I saw a chance to propagate more plants from the original.

I also imagined how new plants could look in the variety of collected pots I have on hand. I felt the creative challenge. I looked forward to choosing a container and placing it in a spot to contrast or compliment other pots and plants in my intimate environment.

Growing New Plants
Here are some how-to photos and suggestions for any one trimming a burro’s tail succulent and for propagating new plants from the trimmings or fallen leaves. In the photo below, you see all the trimmings I took from the mother plant in late October. As a succulent plant, each dropped leaf and the stems I trimmed off had to cure, that is, each had to seal over before planting or exposed to water. Succulents are adapted to store water in the plump leaves in order to survive in their original dry habitats.

I cut the long stems and placed them all together on a piece of parchment paper in a sunny window to cure. I removed the leaves from the lower two inches of the stems to insert the stems in soil at planting. All the fallen leaves were arranged on the dry soil where they would live until sprouting new plants. The spiral arrangement came from an internet photo I admired. Here I’m working on the porcelain-top table near my bed that also serves as my cutting table for quilting. At other times this table holds the vintage Bernina sewing machine I use when machine quilting. Living in a small space requires versatility.

Ten days later without any water, it was time to plant the stems. I used a chopstick to make a hole in the dirt then inserted the stem and carefully patted the dirt around each. If needed, I added more dirt. Use soil that will drain easily. Over watering will kill succulents. Any leaves that fell were added to the pot–hopefully to sprout too. The added rocks and shells bring more texture and personality to the planting. I used the spray bottle to wet everything.

Watch for new sprouts on the leaves and water occasionally. Provide bright light.

I’ve discovered two vintage photos of burro’s tail growing in the original habitat of Mexico. Neither picture shows the lush growth of a protected growing spot provided by humans. The photos will give you an idea of the harsh, competitive growing conditions this succulent faces in the wild. source: http://www.plantgrower.org/uploads/6/5/5/4/65545169/sedum_morganianum.pdf

“The journey of discovery lies not in seeking new landscapes, but in seeing with new eyes.” Marcel Proust

Now in cultivation for over seventy years, burro’s tail succulents will thrive in many settings. I’ve collected favorite photos from the internet. I hope you will be inspired to grow and create your own grouping of favorite plants, pots and found objects.

Notes:

The joy of discovery happens in a variety of ways. While researching online for this article, I was introduced to the down-to-earth gardener and writer Sydney Eddison. This article will offer a brief introduction: https://www2.ljworld.com/news/2010/jul/25/ease-still-enjoy-gardening-you-age/?print
1. “Gardens are a form of autobiography,” wrote Sydney Eddison, in Horticulture magazine, August/September 1993. Her Connecticut garden has been featured in magazines and on television. A former scene designer and drama teacher, Eddison lectures widely and continues to teach a course on color at the New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, New York. She has authored six books on gardening.

Posted in Adventures in Arkansas, Gardens & Creativity, Paula's Memoir | 2 Comments

Wanderlust…from Home!

Memory and discovery intertwine in the arching stems and plump leaves of this plant commonly called burro’s tail. Growing up in Miami Springs, Florida my mother grew this plant in a sunny east window of our “Florida room”–a room built by my father. Florida room is a vintage 1950s term for any enclosed sunny room with good ventilation. Mother cared for only a few plants and no pets saying she had enough to deal with caring for four children.

Fast forward to early 1970 when I was sharing a small apartment with Cathy, another TWA hostess (current term is flight attendant). We were on a tight budget—our take home pay was about $100 a month. Since we lived in Kansas City, our cost-of-living was better than if we had chosen another domicile in one of the big cities. To furnish our apartment we needed to be minimalists. Plants would add their own personalities to our space. We had a sunny balcony where our specimens could live until winter weather threatened the tropicals.

Even as a very junior hostess, I often managed to bid for flights with a eight hour layover in Miami so I could visit with my mom and my sisters and my brother. Our house in Miami Springs was adjacent to the airport—I had grown up with the roar of takeoffs and landings as a natural part of my day. Mother took an interest in my efforts to set up a household in Kansas City. At one point, she gave me a vacuum cleaner she had obtained by saving Green Stamps and redeeming them for a new upright vacuum. As a crew member in those early days of jet travel, I was able to stow it behind the last row of seats on our Boeing 727 airplane with no questions asked.


The burro’s tail start mother gave me in 1970 was much easier than the vacuum to transport from Miami to Kansas City. It was a small plant that need little attention, but craved strong light. This burro’s tail (Sedum morganianum) grew and thrived outside every summer while tolerating the frigid Missouri winter months indoors. I moved twice before I bought my house in Kansas City, always ensuring that I had a spacious outdoor space for all my plants. My collection of potted, growing companions had grown considerably. I liked playing with them. I found caring for them relaxing. I often propagated new starts from my plants adding to the menagerie or to share with friends.

Note the additional windows (on the left) bringing light into the interior rooms by the added windows on the south wall extension. Current photo of 1718 Summit, Kansas City Missouri.

When I bought my dream house in 1978, of course all the plants were carefully transported. The Queen Anne Victorian house was built in 1888 in the area of downtown Kansas City, MO called Quality Hill. The house, located at 1718 Summit is a large house located on a small lot. I called it Crescent House. I fell in love with the high ceilings, multiple fireplaces, pocket doors and well-planned spaces. I discovered it because two women friends were part of the crew working at the house. They were being trained in building rehab, thus my house had all new systems.

The 1888 design included an exterior extension located along the south wall to bring more light into a box of a house and to add more square feet to those rooms. This gave me more options for successfully caring for my assortment of greenery. I carefully considered the light requirements of each plant and most survived the move.

By 1978 burro’s tail from Mother had grown considerably. The cascading stems were visually pleasing. I had come to know how readily the plump, pointy leaves could detach from the stems at the slightest touch. I’d put those leaves back in the pot and sometimes they would grow new plants. We learned to coexist.

This jumble of favorite plants is a small segment of the indoor garden I’m tending for the next six months. Then they will be moved back outside.

At this time, Mother had emphysema and could not travel, so she saw only pictures of my house. She never saw this new home I’d created for myself. So much of how I “feather my nest” is influenced by living my early years with her and her sensibilities. Although she’d probably say my style is rather cluttered. I just see that as part of the Victorian influence since the Victorians enjoyed “layering” their furnishings including many indoor plants. I view it all as a jumble of things I love, from textiles to baskets, pottery, china, wood, metal and glass objects—most of which can become interesting planters too.

With mother’s death came a small inheritance. I wanted to do something special with her bequest beside pay bills. I decide to have the second story back porch rebuilt on Crescent House. The rehab budget had not covered rebuilding what may have once been a sleeping porch.

Located at the rear of the house, the rebuilt porch was a large outdoor space which afforded me and my roommates a private outdoor room. Shaded by mature trees that porch was a welcome summer retreat for all of us—plants, felines, canines and humans. Sometimes we even had a brave bird who nested up high in a hanging plant.

My last move was to northwest Arkansas in 1987. That burro’s tail was now approaching twenty. Today it is fifty years since mother shared starts from her plant. Since living in Arkansas we’ve live with wood heat. This means we cannot travel in winter and keep house plants alive unless we have a house sitter—not easy to come by.

For many years we did travel to Kansas City for the Christmas holiday to spend time with Jeanne’s aging parents. For several years, I farmed out all my house plants to a friend to make this trip possible. This meant finding a winter day that I could load all the plants into my roomy vehicle and drive them to her house. She and I would unload them and arrange them at her place. All the plants stayed there for a week to ten days depending on the temperatures for retrieving them. A few of the smaller, special plants like the burro’s tail traveled to Kansas City with us. This is how my burro’s tail has survived for decades.

International Intrigue
Imagine my surprise when I spotted several burro’s tail plants in Greece in 2017! During the Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete in fall 2017, we were invited to visit a woman at her home. She served us tea in her shaded courtyard filled with plants. She invited us to see the more public rooms of home. The space in the courtyard was larger than the interior of the house. It was obvious that the family spent many hours enjoying the shelter of the large fig tree in the center of the spacious outdoor room.

At her house we were encouraged to look around and take photos if we wished. I hurried to photograph the three different burro’s tail plants which you can see above. Her courtyard felt like a second home for me. Much of the hot, sunny landscape of Crete brought vivid memories of my girlhood. I marveled at all the potted plants seen everywhere—some growing happily in brightly colored five gallon tins that once stored olive oil.

The attention-grabbing bougainvillea will always be central to my girlhood infatuation with plants because they are spectacular when in bloom. Bougainvillea may have originated in South America but it thrives in Crete and most other hot, tropical climes. (The French first classified the plant found in Brazil in 1768 naming it after the admiral of the expedition sent around the world to find new territories for France.) The exuberance of the bougainvillea vine as it climbs where it will, is matched by the brilliant, extravagant blossoms. However, without enough strong sunlight my bougainvillea only occasionally blooms for me. I admire the magenta color when it does.

The burro’s tail doesn’t bloom for me either, but the gray-green color of the cascading stems pleases my senses. In this blog I’ve related my long-term efforts to nurture this plant gift from my mother. I’ve pruned and groomed my plant in previous years, but never found myself wondering about its original habitat–until now!

Perhaps you’ve guessed that the opening photo I used above might be a clue to the introduction of the burro’s tail to the general public. The adventure story begins in 1935 with botanist, Eric Walther from Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, who was traveling through Mexico’s state of Veracruz seeking new succulent plants. Walther was waiting for a local guide, when he was encouraged by a persuasive woman to visit her father’s small nursery, Jardin Flotante. He was greeted by what you see in this black & white photo–the sight of the pale green succulents nearly concealing the house was amazing. Each plant displayed numerous cascading stems growing from crowded tin cans attached to the walls-some were several feet long!

The story continues that after buying several of the plants from that original nursery, he encountered other examples. “Walther was unable to find any information about the plant’s natural habitat or its flowering characteristics. Indeed, he had no idea to which genus it belonged. Some three years later, Dr Meredith Morgan Sr, a hobbyist and expert grower from Richmond, California, flowered the plants in his garden. It has pink flowers that appear from the tips of the long branches.” With an accurate description of the flower, Walther was able to complete a description of the new species, which he named ‘Sedum morganianumin’ in honour of Dr Morgan. source: http://www.plantgrower.org/uploads/6/5/5/4/65545169/sedum_morganianum.pdf

Perhaps if we lived in a tropical area, we could emulate that 1935 photo and grow burro’s tail plants that would flaunt trailing stems four feet long! Discovering the origins of this intriguing plant, and roaming through memories of my long association with burro’s tail has helped sooth my own “wanderlust”! While sheltering at home during this pandemic, we each are looking for ways to cope with all the limitations. Hope you’ve enjoyed this journey. I have. I’ll close with a contemporary Internet photo with some similarities to the 1935 picture taken in Mexico. Enjoy….

Posted in Paula's Memoir | 6 Comments

Celebrating 75 Years!

Much of my birthday weekend I was able to “putter” on a project that I’ve been trying to complete for over a year. I started with only eighteen, 8″ walk-in-the-woods blocks I pieced several years ago. Not enough for a quilt really, so I decided to slice them diagonally in half and pair each with a bold floral–usually a Phillip Jacob design. Started the trial of this idea, but found myself distracted and unsure, so I put the sliced blocks and the floral fabrics away.

Returned to it this week with renewed enthusiasm. Friday and Saturday I played, and pinned, and sewed. Quite pleased with the bold, busy arrangement. Below is a photo of a portion of it on the design wall. Will sew it together and then seek border inspiration to transform the square design into a rectangle. It’s been great fun–love those audacious fabrics. The whole arrangement becomes rather like an “I Spy” quilt, meaning that upon close inspection the viewer will find recognizable objects and/or unique juxtapositions to explore.

Early Saturday morning we headed out to bring home a load of firewood since winter is coming and we have lost the help of our previously dependable woodcutter who delivered the wood and even helped stack it. Our large woodshed is not bare, but we really need to find a reliable source of quality firewood. By 9:00 we had loaded up our small truck, but that source is not one we can rely on! Does anyone in the area know of a reliable source of good firewood?

“Memory is like a child walking along a seashore, you never know what treasures the child will pick up.” anon

Thank you to friends who sent me birthday wishes and memories of good times together! Looking at photographs and working on my memoir usually jogs my own remembrances from the past.

As many others who are spending time “sheltering at home”, I’ve been retrieving things from storage. Sometimes I encounter precious objects like this vintage print of a painting by the Dutch artist Nicolaas van der Waay (1855–1936). I’d like to share the story of how this delightful image came to live with me for the last forty-two years.

In the late 1970s, my standard poodle Zelda and I lived in the spacious third floor apartment of a large house–almost a mansion–in Kansas City, MO. The other occupants were my friends Jim and Wayne, a homosexual couple, and Jim’s parents. All of us had our own spaces and got along well. Soon after I moved there, I discovered this painting in an attic storage area of my apartment, and was allowed to borrow it. I was quite intrigued and made up various stories about the young women and their relationships with each other. I hung it in a prominent place in my living room and often studied the procession.

I’m still intrigued by the intimate glances and the careful body language of the young women who seemed very interested in each other. When I bought my first house, an 1888 Victorian house in downtown Kansas City, I was prepared to leave this favorite painting behind when I moved. But as I was leaving, Jim and Wayne presented me with it wrapped in brown paper as a house-warming gift!

The painting of these young women has been displayed on my walls for most years since then. Three years ago I put it away in favor of another print and stored it in a dubious spot. I knew better. Recently I discovered the paper had large active mold showing in the light areas! I’ve cleaned it up and replaced the backing paper. This week I’ve returned it to the center of the house and will watch over the procession more carefully now. Today I study the subtle use of light and the shadings of color that create the crisp photographic effects. Both intrigue me.

Postscript:
Artist Nicolaas van der Waay (1855–1936) lived in Amsterdam and did a series of paintings depicting the lives of girls from the Amsterdam Orphanage. ” Seen above, “Orphan Girls Going to Church” is one of the most famous of this series. No current reproductions seem to be available. For more information about the artist:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicolaas_van_der_Waay#/media/File:Kerkgang_weesmeisjes.jpg

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Catfish, the Cat Born with Determination….

When August began, Jeanne and I had four companion animals. Our two dogs, Zora and Shyla, are both over twelve. Our cat, Scout, is seventeen with various health issues. Catfish was the youngest critter at eight. The last Tuesday in July he was lethargic and seemed not interested in eating and drinking. In the past, we have had cats bitten by a snake who showed similar symptoms and they recovered in a few days. On Thursday we were quite concerned and made an appointment at our vet for early Friday. Catfish died Saturday night, August 1, from “bobcat fever”! We buried him in a special part of our front garden on Monday morning.

Covid has brought many losses to many people. We all cope with our grief in a variety of ways. Collecting these photos, and writing about Catfish and his spot in our family has helped me accept his death. This montage is also for the women who knew Catfish, his antics and personality, from afar.

Living with losses, small losses and large losses, is a reality for each of us. Friends drift away, politics pushes people apart, disabilities create isolation. Hopefully other friends remain and new interests emerge. We humans are gregarious creatures seeking compatible community. This pandemic brings losses, challenges, and possibly new discoveries for each of us.

Catfish brought his strong personality to us after
we lost two favorite cats in 2011. I believe he had a good cat-life with us. We miss him, and his companion, Scout, seems lonesome too. I’ll write more about “bobcat fever” later.

In 2011 Jeanne and I lived with four dogs and three cats–all rescued or abandoned animals–some dumped in our “haller”. Late that year, Summer disappeared and Striper died as a result of a predator–probably coyotes. You can see Summer and Striper pictured sleeping together below left. Soon we decided to look for a kitten to be a companion to Scout who had been raised by Summer. Striper had grown up alongside Scout and all three cats would groom each other and sleep together at times.

We found a shelter with a feral adult female cat who had recently given birth to kittens. We visited with the kittens and chose the tiny gray tabby with white paws who had not opened his eyes yet. We waited while he grew. When he did join our household he needed to be fed by hand for awhile. Scout groomed him and played with him.

We had a difficult time choosing names–one we tried at first was Ajax. That name did not stick–we kept deliberating, finally settling on Catfish. This seemed a unique name for this determined feline. I’ve collected a variety of photos to let you see his personality for yourself.

Because Catfish was so young and small, we were concerned about predators scooping him up, so we closed the cat door and the dog door at night to keep him inside. He howled, he climbed screens, he was impossible. To get some sleep, we tried keeping both him and Scout in our second building at night. Scout cooperated, but Catfish did not. Eventually he found a way to push out one of the window screens and escape. We gave up. We could not protect him in this manner. Catfish was determined to be outside at night–perhaps this relates to his mother being feral.

The last night we had with Catfish at home, he crawled in bed with me for much of the night. It was his last gift to me. He felt lousy, but he wanted to be with me. When we hustled him off to the vet Friday morning, I felt pretty sure he’d recover and I’d see him again. But the infection caused by “bobcat fever” is virulent.

Bobcat fever’s scientific name is cytauxzoonosis. It’s an infectious disease caused by a protozoan parasite called Cytauxzoon felis. Bobcats are the natural hosts of C felis; it’s then transmitted to domestic cats through tick bites, especially from lone star ticks. We have lots of lone star ticks here. “Bobcat fever” does not affect dogs or humans.

Symptoms seen in your cat include lethargy, lack of appetite, and high fever.
Another prominent symptom is the third eyelid appears and partially covers both eyes. Early detection and swift action are key to surviving “bobcat fever”. You can learn more by following this link: http://www.ozarkcountytimes.com/news-local-news/early-detection-and-treatment-are-key-cats-here-survive-bobcat-fever-0

“It is a fearful thing to love what death can touch,” these words are inscribed on an 18th century New England headstone. I assume the sentiment was meant to comfort. I do find comfort in knowing we loved our feline companion despite the fact that his loss has been a “fearful thing”. Death will touch us all. Fear of loss cannot keep us from loving. We have today. Tomorrow the sun rises and probably so will we. Hope keeps us present and hope keeps us appreciating the cycles of living. Catfish lives on in our memories, and now in these words and photos taken over the eight years of his life.

Posted in Paula's Memoir | 4 Comments

Out to Pasture….

TWA flight hostess uniforms 1955-1960 designed by Oleg Cassini

At dawn, as a girl, I woke to the sound of the early morning flights from the nearby Miami airport roaring overhead. It soon became a background noise. In the school year 1951-1952, I started first grade at Miami Springs Elementary. As a child I was unaware of the women struggling to earn a living wage as flight attendants. I was unaware of those women and the unions they built.

My own right to work until retirement was secured by their decades-long efforts. Many women were denied job security for a job well-done, and were forced to “retire” at 32 or 35. Many did not have the opportunity to retire with benefits. I salute their persistent efforts to be treated with respect as valuable employees. Remember, the risk of death while working as a flight attendant in the earlier years was real. “In the 1950s and 1960s US airlines experienced at least six crashes each year – most of which lead to the deaths of all on board. This shocking statistic began dropping dramatically from the late 1970s, and such crashes are very rare now.”1

I feel a strong affinity to these determined women since I also sought to eliminate sex discrimination when I worked for TWA from 1969 to 1985. I continue to benefit from their concerted efforts. Today I’m writing about their challenges in the 1950s and about the shift at TWA to new uniforms after eleven years in the “cut-out” style of uniform.

TWA Hostess uniforms 1944-1960

One stewardess involved in union organizing in the 1940s observed, “The airline hires us young, works us hard, and then wants us gone.” This strategy intensified in the 1950s although one accomplishment by flight attendants in 1952 is worthy of note.

1951
Flight attendants were facing an on-the-job “speedup” in 1951! The introduction of the Super-G Constellation, or Model 1049, doubled their workload. “This stretched variant of the earlier Constellation boasted unheard-of refinements, such as air conditioning, reclining seats, and extra lavatories. It was a plane ahead of its time, at least twice as fuel efficient as the industry’s first jets and as efficient as many of today’s modern aircraft.2

1955-60 TWA hostess uniforms designed by Oleg Cassini


The flight attendants working on the faster aircraft
were facing shorter flying times and more passengers for the same scheduled in-flight services (and the same low pay). These working women were the first to experience jetlag and to describe the effects! Not surprisingly their experiences of flight-related fatigue were not taken seriously.

How many steps did a working flight attendant take on a single flight? On a routine flight from Chicago to Miami in 1948, the flight attendant walked an exhausting eight miles as measured by the pedometer she wore that day. The airlines did not introduce serving carts until the late 1950s. Imagine this scenario: one to three hostesses using the cramped galley “as a base for preparing, serving, and clearing multi-course meals and drinks for planeloads approaching one hundred passengers.” 3

1952
Finally, in 1952 the Civil Air Administration officially required the presence of flight attendants on commercial aircraft where their “duties would include but are not necessarily limited to cabin-safety-related responsibilities.”4 The efforts to obtain certification as trained safety professionals on board commercial aircraft has been denied (in part due to the opposition of the pilots union) to flight attendants for the last seventy-five years.5

1955-1960 TWA hostess photos and ads

1953
From the earliest years, if a flight attendants married, she was dismissed or, if she was lucky, she might be offered a ground position. Yet, some women enjoyed the airborne work, enjoyed supporting themselves and reveled in the chance to travel on their own. Respected historian Kathleen M. Barry described the situation:

“As the flight attendant workforce had steadily expanded since the 1930s, so had the numbers of women who had stayed in the job for several years, even while the average tenure remained at two or three years. Some veterans took the few routes of mobility available to female flight attendants, becoming stewardess supervisors or trainers, but most continued to serve passengers. Airlines minimized veteran male and female flight attendants’ claims to economic rewards for time served by capping salary increases at eight to ten years and by not offering pension plans or other long-term benefits. But veteran stewardesses, even if relatively economical as long-term workers, still left airlines with the ‘problem’ of employing maturing women in what was supposed to be a temporary sojourn between school and marriage.

American Airlines pioneered the ‘solution’ by declaring that as of December 1953, it would ground stewardesses upon their thirty-second birthday. American’s official rational for the new policy was ‘based on the established qualifications for Stewardesses, which are attractive appearance, pleasant dispositions, even temperament, neatness, unmarried status, and the ability and desire to meet and serve passengers. Basic among the qualifications is an attractive appearance. Such an appearance ordinarily is found to a higher degree in a younger woman. Therefore the establishment of an age limit will best effectuate and preserve the concept of Stewardess service as it is understood by this Company.’6

American imposed the age ceiling as a precondition of employment. New stewardesses signed a pledge to resign ‘voluntarily’ at thirty-two.”7

Ten TWA hostesses circa 1955. Each is pictures with her twin sister!

Stewardesses Not Entitled to Job Security
Eliminating sex discrimination in employment practices was one of the efforts the flight attendant unions attempted since first organizing in the late 1940s. Using the tools of collective bargaining and of the grievance procedures brought limited success. In this drastic situation in 1953 “the Air Line Stewardesses and Stewards Association (ALSSA) forced a limited compromise. ALSSA managed to restrict the age limit to new hires. The union immediately saved the jobs of sixty-four American stewardesses then already thirty-two or older and set a precedent of so-called ‘grandmother rights’. ‘Grandmother rights’ not only protected veteran stewardesses jobs at American and other carriers. They ensured that a few more mature stewardesses would remain in the job as living evidence of how arbitrary the age ceilings were….”8

At TWA about 10% of the women benefited form this “grandmother” exemption because they were hired before this policy went into effect! But, Barry points out that “the rare job security ‘grandmothered’ stewardesses enjoyed came at the cost of being the unwelcome exception to airlines’ increasingly stringent demands for youthfulness.” With these policies, I believe the airlines also sought compliant employees unwilling to question unfair working conditions. As the astute union woman in the 1940s said, “The airline hires us young, works us hard, and then wants us gone.”

Despite years of activism and lawsuits it was not until the mid 1960s that the flight attendants were successful in forcing the airlines to eliminate the age and marriage restrictions as conditions of employment. I’ll write more about that struggle and the win at a later date.

TWA hostess uniforms designed by Oleg Cassini 1955-60

1955
Howard Hughes, with his Hollywood connections, was still at the helm of TWA in the mid 1950s when Hollywood designer Oleg Cassini was selected to design the new TWA hostess uniforms. Cassini had worked as a designer first for Paramount Pictures and later (1942) for Twentieth Century Fox. His assignment to replace the unique “cutout-design” uniform that had symbolized TWA for a record eleven years was a challenge.

Cassini designed a variation on that cut-out design. The collarless jacket of the fitted suit emphasized the red TWA lettering on the right shoulder. The hip length jacket with five covered buttons was long-sleeved in both the summer and winter uniforms. The winter uniforms were a medium brown wool. The more appealing summer version in green lightweight wool featured the same collarless jacket. The straight-fitting skirt with a rear pleat fell below the knees.

For decades wool has been used extensively in year-round suits for women and for men because wool resists abrasion, drapes well and wrinkles little. Both winter and summer uniforms were worn with a white cotton blous-slip. Either brown pumps or brown and white spectator pumps as well as white gloves completed the uniform.

1956 TWA flight hhstess graduates

Details: The red embroidered TWA letters appeared on the right front of the blouse too. The blouse had front button fastenings. The white blouse-slip was cotton on the blouse section and nylon on the lower slip section. The sturdy brown or green wool hat featured a left upsweep to the crown which was accented with a three color cockade, that is, an ornamental knot of ribbons. The hostess half wing was pinned to the center of the ribbon cockade. The uniform was manufactured by Briny Marlin and the hat made by Mae Hanauer.

Most sources indicate that the colors of these uniforms were coordinated with the cabin interiors of TWA’s Lockheed Constellation for the innovative trans-Atlantic service at the height of the propliner era. See for yourself. Return to the the third group of photos (above) with the interior view of the Super-G Constellation. These uniforms were worn by the TWA hostesses until 1960. Years later, in 1963, Oleg Cassini became First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy’s official designer.

`1955-1960 TWA hostess uniforms

Stereotypes of the stewardess of earlier decades continue to flourish. Occasionally I see a tribute as appreciative as this: “Stewardesses were globe-trotting modern women who always looked professional, capable, and enthused.”10

In many ways wearing a uniform is a costume for a role devised by an employer. Wearing a classic fitted suit with hat and now, for the first time, white gloves, is rather like a stage appearance. Both inside the airport terminal and then on the airplane itself these women were trained safety professionals, capable of evacuating an aircraft in 90 seconds and enthusiastic about a career in aviation. The uniform added to their dignity. The women who worked as flight attendants, whether called hostess or stewardess, had carved out a niche in aviation for women in a time when women had limited career choices. Yet, nostalgia, the sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, dominates most descriptions of aviation’s yesteryear–especially commentary about the stewardess.

Postscript
Oleg Cassini designer of TWA hostess uniforms 1955

Notes
1 https://www.express.co.uk/travel/articles/1055852/flights-united-airlines-cabin-crew-lax-air-hostess-turbulence
2 from https://www.lockheedmartin.com/en-us/news/features/history/constellation.html
3 Femininity in Flight: A History of Flight Attendants, Kathleen M. Barry, p. 45 https://books.google.com/books/about/Femininity_in_Flight.html?id=fGVy_CsvIwgC
4 https://www.afacwa.org/milestones
5 Femininity in Flight, p.73
6 Femininity in Flight, p.112
7 Femininity in Flight, p.124
8 Femininity in Flight, p.113
9 https://www.crfashionbook.com/fashion/g32227361/flight-attendant-fashion-dior-yves-saint-laurent/?slide=2
10 https://www.southernliving.com/fashion-beauty/vintage-flight-attendant-uniform

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