Sunday, November 30, 2008

Figgy Pudding Extortionists and Other Holiday Thoughts

Phew. Thanksgiving weekend is drawing to its quiet, Sunday close. We made it.

That isn't to say that it wasn't a very nice Thanksgiving here at the Last House. It was fairly fabulous, in fact, what with the company, the smoked turkey, ham, pies, cookies, Brussels sprouts and leeks, and all. The leeks and sprouts were an uncharacteristic menu item here. They were brought by our visiting English friends, who insisted on contributing something. Delicious. Shackleton asked for thirds of the "ball thingys". Our friends also brought along their other friends, Mo√ęt et Chandon. We had candles, I laid out the China - lovely.

But it's nice to decompress and not to have an dishes to wash for a few minutes. One must catch one's breath before the next big effort. Oh, wait. Christmas is already upon us, isn't it? The local radio station switched to all Christmas music last week. I took The Understudy and Shackleton to Burlington today for a birthday party (an hour and a half each way in the car). I got two solid hours of Christmas music on the journey. The kids can't seem to get enough hackneyed Christmas hits - I heard no fewer than three versions of "Do You Hear What I Hear" on the trip.

This reminded me of my very brief stint as a child chorister. I remember very little about the experience except that we sang "Do You Hear What I Hear" in poofy white robes, and that the kid singing next to me threw up and his vomit splashed my anklet.

Of course, the radio also played "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" every few minutes. Can someone explain why the carolers in that song demand Figgy Pudding and why they won't go until they have some? I have always wondered about that.

Now I am watching the Lord of the Rings, Return of the King on TNT and bossing the kids into their pajamas and blogging. This is how I relax.

While we are on the subject, I just wanted to share that I love LOTR. Not in a role-playing, weird "get-a-life way" (I hope) but because I think J.R.R. Tolkien was a true genius and because he used his powers for good. I like the Peter Jackson movies too, more than I thought I would since I felt the books were practically sacred. Every time I see them, however, (and I bought all three) I find myself wondering how the Elves and Kings and such would cope today.

Picture this: Legolas, Aragorn, Galdriel and Gandalf at a Sbarro at a rest stop on the New York State Thruway. Would you want to be behind them in line?

"Can you not bake that on a Lembas Bread crust?"

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Have I Mentioned About My Bad Taste and Tacky Habit of Naming Prices That I Paid for Stuff?

OK, let me put down my banner and my flamethrower. Whew. Those were heavy.

Now that I have blazed my way through that Snowboard thing (see the last post) we can get back to talking about junk that I have acquired. I am pleased to tell you that I have just passed through a particularly charmed junking period. Oh wait, I think I need to start calling my finds "trouvailles". This occurred to me last night as I was reading a biography ofJoseph Cornell. If you are not familiar with Joseph Cornell, the Amazon.Com review of this book sums him up this way: "Joseph Cornell (1903-72) lived in Queens with a domineering mother and severely handicapped brother while creating unique, haunting art: boxes filled with lovingly assembled objects and printed images."

In other words, Cornell bought junk (that he loved, as I do), and made art (as I don't, although I do blog about it). Andre Breton was doing the same thing over across the pond in the 1920s and '30s, while Cornell was prowling the streets of New York. Breton called his junk trouvailles and his manipulations of it made him famous.

I am not planning on making shadow boxes or collages and I have only a little sympathy for the surrealists but I am with them on the mysterious allure of old objects. Also, I would like to justify this acquisitiveness of mine as a form of art and a French word can help me along that road.

So, shall we take a little tour of recent Woolfoot trouvailles?

Let's begin with these glasses. I picked these up on a quick trip into Burlington about a week ago, in the household goods section of Recycle North, a charity shop cum workshop cum environmental advocacy organization in the People's Republic of Burlington. (I say that with all possible affection). I love Recycle North. The same day I shopped so happily there I also took a quick trip through Macy's. "Oh. Retail." I thought to myself. "I remember this". I admired the shiny floors and elaborate Christmas decorations and sales people in ties and skirts.

I admired but I did not buy. Better for me the cement floors and jumbled shelves and the tattooed and pierced staff at the Household Goods store. But back to our objects. These beautiful silver rimmed Champagne glasses (that's what they are, I have decided) were 25 cents apiece. I bought a water glass, there was only one, in a similar style. It weighs about half a pound and must be crystal. It was 50 cents. Also a bone china coffee cup (25 cents). I picked up a boxed set of Cocktail Piano jazz, circa 1970. This looked really promising. The set has five albums, all of them in pristine condition. I didn't notice til I got them home that they had been produced by Reader's Digest. Not a good sign. I played the first one. Think: background music for restaurant scenes between Darrin and Mr. Stevens on Bewitched. I wanted Marian McPartland I got Montovani. Well, you pay your 50 cents you take your chances.

I also picked up a few other vinyl records for 25 cents apiece. Both were traditional choral music from England and New England etc. Both, also, unfortunately, had a little damage. But, looking on the bright side, since I have managed to listen to most of both of them a couple of times (only a few songs skip), I am already ahead of what it would have cost to play even a couple of songs a jukebox once.

Of course, not many jukes have traditional English carols on offer. If they did, I suppose it would cost a lot to play them since your average bar or pizza place would probably be cleared of its customers within the first stanza.

I also got this Vernon Kilns of California vegetable dish in the brown-eyed Susan pattern. Frankly, I don't like it much but I know some people do. It's on offer over at Ebay right now. We'll see if the $10 asking price comes through. If it does, my whole day's Recycle North shopping will be covered with about $3.50 in profit. If I don't sell it, that's OK too. It is a handy size.

Let's move onto another one of my favorite haunts, Degre Auction House in nearby Westfield, Vermont. They were having an "indoor garage sale" to clear out their back room this weekend in advance of their regular Sunday auction.

The kids and I stopped in on Saturday morning to preview Sunday's goods and check out the clearance items. Of course, we managed to find a few things to buy at the garage sale. Among various prizes for the kids (a "peace bear" beanie baby for both of them and a vintage '70s Dairy Queen Tumbler in red and yellow for the Understudy) I snagged the "Made in Japan" Scottie Dog at the top of this post and this beautiful Wedgwood "Napoleon Ivy" soup bowl. I think that set me back 50 cents. The bowl is also on Ebay now, mostly because it doesn't nest easily and though I love it I don't really need it. Thrill of the hunt and all. The Scottie was shoehorned into the breakfront. He's staying.

And how about these two-faced salt shakers? Odd and scary, but in a totemic kind of way, no? They are, I think, survivors from prewar Japan. I love my photos of them that I have posted here and now wish I hadn't put them up on Ebay shortly after I got them home. Someone has already bid $5.99 so I guess I have to part with them. Silly me.

We went back to the auction house on Sunday morning for the main event. The auction was not as crowded as usual, and I wondered why. The goods on offer were, largely, an unappealing mass of 1990s "collectibles", which may have kept down attendance, or maybe it's the scary economy. In any case, there were still some gems to be found and I got one of them. It what may be my best buy to date, I picked up 48 pieces of this China by Royal Swan in Staffordshire. Behold:

These date from around 1950. There are a couple of chips on some of the saucers and one teacup is missing but otherwise I have the whole nearly mint service for 8, complete with platter and creamer and sugar bowl in all its genuine-22-karat-gold glory. Delivered price (I hope you are sitting down): $10, or $11.66 with buyer's premium and tax.

We were having company for tea that day, our lovely English friends. They had gone to the auction (on my recommendation) before we got there and left pretty quickly, no doubt put off by the hideous 90s dreck. They were charmingly and gratifyingly amazed by my China bargain. I had, of course, spread it out to maximum advantage for their visit.

Oh, I forgot to mention that on Saturday the kids and I also hit a library book sale at the beautiful and famous cross-border Haskell Free library in Stanstead, Quebec and Derby Line, Vermont. (There is a line on the wood floor indicating the international boundary). There, I got a folio sized collection of the works of Joseph Conrad with some great woodcuts (1942), a biography of Stephen Leacock,one of Evelyn Waugh, and my current reading, the life of Joseph Cornell, as previously described. Also a book on the St. Lawrence River for Shackleton (one of his middle names is "Lawrence" so he has a particular interest). Another $2 well spent, wouldn't you say?

I have been blogging late into the night, waiting for my Dad and Stepmom to arrive. They have, apparently, gone to the bed and breakfast where they are staying and won't be here til morning (with all this junk there is hardly room for visitors in the guest room). They have traveled here from New York for Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow, which we are hosting and which will also be attended by our Oxford friends (who missed the China, poor them).

I am already feeling thankful, "for all that we have received [...]". I hope you are too. I pray a Thanksgiving blessing on all of your heads.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Vermont - C'est Fou! Or Avert Your Eyes from that Snowboard!

Sprenger said his wife found the questionable snowboards when she was on the company’s Web site. Not only did they stumble upon the “Love” boards [featuring playboy models from the 1970s], but they also found the “Primo Blunt” models, which detail self-mutilation in a comic book-style storyboard on the base.

Sprenger has two children- one who snowboards- and he rides himself. He said his main problem with the Playboy board is the message it was sending to people, especially Burton’s target market of 14 to 24-year-old males.

“I’m working hard to make sure my daughter gets a fair chance. This board is not going to make girls feel good,” Sprenger said.

Burlington (Vermont) Free Press October 2, 2008

Uh oh...

Just when I thought epater les bourgeois was a completely exhausted and bankrupt artistic concept along comes theecht Vermont controversy to show it still has some legs. It's so good the English language doesn't have vocabulary enough to describe it. Quick, everybody revert to type!

I hardly ever turn to current events on this blog, concerned as I am with my own little round of existence, but this is toooo good I just had to talk about here. We'll be back to tea cups and books and nature scenery very soon, rest assured.

So, here's what happened. Burton recently put some '70s playboy bunnies on a line of snowboards. The naughty bits are not actually printed but the women in question are clearly Not Wearing Any Clothes. There are also some boards that have weird drawings of hands with chunks missing. And, Mon Dieu, the "what-about-the-children" people are Up. In. Arms.! A hundred of them were over at Burton headquarters in Burlington's south end, just a few blocks from where I lived for several years, marching in the street last week.

But that's not all. Driving to work this morning I learned that the Burlington City Council voted 12 to 1 the other day to pass a resolution asking the snowboard company to meet with community organizations angered by the boards.

I'm sorry. Did I miss something? Isn't the City Council supposed to be seeing to the snowplow budget or negotiating contracts with the cops or arranging for hanging the holiday lights or something? When did they get into the denouncing business? Well, in the end they didn't actually denounce. I gather they started off in a denouncing mood but, in the end, moderate voices were heard and they only urged, which is safe enough. They urged a meeting between the Girl Scouts (I'm not making this up) and the the people at Burton who failed to consider the feelings of the Girl Scouts, the violence-against-women-people and the helpers-of-troubled-teens and assorted other earnest and concerned types when they designed their snowboards.

Here we recognize that figure, especially beloved in Vermont, of the Ombudsman. He hears all, validates all, seeks compromise. Thank you City Council!

Just FYI, in case you've been on Mars or something for the last 20 years, Jake Burton Carpenter of Stowe, Vermont invented the snowboard back in 1977. His company, of which he is still the chairman or something, is based in Burlington - though, of course, Burton is a worldwide phenomenon. The president and CEO of the company is now one Laurent Potdevin (appropriate because I assume he is French). To his everlasting credit, M. Potdevin has refused to talk with the press about all this except to issue a statement in which he declared that Burton has no intention of removing these boards from their line. Allez Laurent! Vive la difference!

I devoutly hope he and Mr. Burton will also have the backbone to tell the City Councillors and Girl Scouts to get lost when they show up for their meeting.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Accidental Vegan

One doesn't join the ranks of state government to be run off one's feet, especially ON A FRIDAY. What a day! The paralegal practically met me at the door to tell me a certain attorney who is generally making things DIFFICULT had called twice to say she was objecting to a continuance I had filed blah, blah, and then on the phone for a status conference in someone else's case, a subpoena rolled in on the fax for someone who was not reachable and so on and on. Suffice it to say that the Clif Bar and cup of cubed pink grapefruit that were supposed to be breakfast sat in my drawer til after lunch. Friends, this is not my way. I did eat a bowl of veggie minestrone at lunch, running it at 1 PM in advance of a 1:30 hearing, after realizing I had forgotten (!!!) to eat so much as one crumb to that point in the day - unless you count the coffee I had at 6:30 AM. Where are the violins? Send in the clowns! Something.

OK, so I did manage to leave the office before 5 PM, which is like the middle of the day for big city high paycheck lawyers. (I am, literally, the opposite), but I had to rush to pick up my kids and two others before 5:15 PM. I am on single parent duty this week. They might have put those kids on the curb or put a lien on them if I got there after 5:15. It was close. So, since I was not rushing for cocktails, but to chauffeur four kids (10 and under) nearly an hour over dark, country roads from their school, I feel I still deserve sympathy. A Vince Guaraldi Charlie Brown Christmas tune came on my ipod while the kids yammered in the back seat and, though I hardly ever drink, there's nothing like a little piano jazz at the end of a long Friday to make a person crave a Bloody Mary.

Suddenly, it occurred to me that I had, totally against my nature and all odds, spent a day as a Vegan. No, wait, I drank a chocolate milk while I was plying the kids, each with his or her own preferred flavor of chip. Well, like a lacto-ovo, or, I guess, "lacto-sugar" vegan? Wow.

Maybe I'll even refrain from snacking now that Spirited Away is on the DVD player. Maybe I'll even try to carry on tomorrow.

My friend Alison from England told me at a party last summer that she had been trapped in airport the day before the party and had bought a copy of Skinny Bitch to pass the time between being refused flights. She said it described all the horrible things done to animals destined for consumption. It detailed all the bad health effects from sugar and cheese and all those things I normally eat, and the rewards of fabulous looks that come with eating no meat and no crap. She said that day that she was going to try going Vegan. OK. I thought. Good luck with that. I didn't say that, of course, (although I couldn't resist telling her about a line from the Simpsons, when Lisa falls for an environmental activist and meets some Very Pure types who won't eat "anything that casts a shadow." Alison laughed at that). Knowing my own utter inability to diet, I expected her resolve to fade within 72 hours.

Well, Alison was back in Vermont last week and we had dinner. She was 25 pounds lighter. A new woman. Her husband cooked us a proper roast beef with Yorkshire pudding and all the trimmings. She ate some mushrooms and turnips and stuff.

Maybe there is something to be said for being really busy at work. Hmmm. Must go finish that herbal tea...

BTW, I borrowed that vegetable picture from a website called The Green Rabbit. It's all about eating local and organic. Maybe ...

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Consolations of November

When chill November’s surly blast
Made fields and forests bare.

Robert Burns, "Man was made to Mourn."

Around here, it is basically agreed that November pretty much sucks. Well, the hunters, and they are legion, would disagree but I don't hang out with them, unless you count my brother, who spends more than I earn in a year on hunting this-that-and the-other around the world but, never mind about him. I am here today to talk about November. Stay on task, Woolfoot! Surly blasts, bare forests and fields, Vermont is, apparently, a lot like Scotland in November as per Bobby Burns.

The two biggest industries in our state are tourism and dairy farming, not necessarily in that order. November sucks (there's that word again) for both of them. The cows are still in the fields when the days are sunny, as it was today, but soon Bossy and Betty will be shooed into the barn for the duration. The tourists also disappear: leaf season is over and ski season has not yet begun. These weeks are known by hotel keepers as "stick season" and not many people will drive from New York or Boston and pay good money to see the sticks of Vermont. Also, we have just turned the clocks back and are now plunged into darkness just after lunch, or so it seems. So, around here, November is the red-headed step child of the calendar (about as popular as his scouring and soggy, red-chapped hands sister, March).

But - you knew this was coming - November has its bright spots. Happily, today was one of them. The light was thin, but it broke through whispy clouds and gave the day a special light, a kind of atmospheric Mona Lisa smile.

Also, as you can see from the "before" (summer)

and "after" (today)

pictures of the Corn Maze just off the Stowe Rec. Path, that Maze is waaaaay easier (and cheaper) now than it was in August. I defy anyone to get lost out there. And the farmer is no longer demanding $6.00 per head to give it a whirl.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

My Friend, Gladys Peto

A hand-drawn bookplate by British artist Gladys Emma Peto

I have written here before about Gladys Peto, an artist whose work I stumbled over 10 years ago. Peto was a commercial artist and illustrator during the English jazz age. I became of fan as soon as I saw that first drawing in a Quebec antique shop and since then have done my bit to rescue her from the near-complete obscurity into which she had fallen. I briefly hosting a website (back then one had to pay and it became a problem) and then writing a Wikipedia article about her some years back. (See the sidebar for a few of my favorite Peto images).

My interest in GP has brought me good things. In addition to a little collection of pictures and postcards and books (that I still love, though I have stopped collecting), I connected with the inimitable at Juliet Doyle at Musings from a Muddy Isle when she wrote a few Peto posts. Later Jeanette Payne introduced herself, via the internet. Jeanette has occupied the Peto Fandom Field with her fabulous and scholarly collection of Peto-ana which she shares on her website.

I periodically dip into my Peto collection and a few days ago I took down from the shelf, for my bedtime reading, a travel book she wrote in 1928 called The Egypt of the Sojourner. Peto’s husband, Cuthbert Lindsay Emmerson, was in the Royal Army Medical Corps and they were posted to Malta and Cyprus and later to Egypt. (A descendant of C. Lindsay found me via the internet and kindly sent me a copy of the Emmerson-Peto marriage license – as I say, good things have followed my interest). Peto wrote travel books intended to inform the long-term visitor to Malta and Cyprus and Egypt. They were published in the 1920s by J.M. Dent.

Of course, the world of the wives of Army Officers in the days of Empire is one that is well and thoroughly lost and only a horrible Colonel Blimp could these days regret it. But it makes fascinating reading – it’s like walking into a Merchant and Ivory production but without the make-believe and alongside a guide who was – is – there.

Her style in this little travel book is light and very immediate. Her witty reproductions of ship-board conversations, or the idle chatter of neighbor officers wives over their sewing, bring it to life. Horrible oppressive imperialism aside for a moment, Empire had its winners and its romance, and both are, however unintentionally, on display here.

The other thing that struck me, as I opened the book again today while drying off from my bath, was how much I am sure I would have liked GP if I had known her back 80 years ago.

See what you think. Here’s a little exceprt from the chapter titled, “Cairo, The Daily Round”:

You can also have, at Gezira, the ideal and perfect lunch for a summer day, or for a winter day pretending to be summer, for you can order sandwiches and beer to be brought to you under the trees – also large wicker chairs. The sandwiches are very worthy of remark, for they are very fine large sandwiches, and the bread is always new, and inside them is foie gras and other pleasant fillings… and if you ask only your really intimate friends to join you, you can all read magazines and need not talk at all, and really what can be more pleasant than that… Only you must go early to the magazine room to steal your magazines, or there will be nothing left but Honey the Beekeepers Guide, and American paper about a new religion and then you get drowsier and drowsier, and enjoy a happy little dream or two before you go away to the races, or to the tennis courts, or to the golf course….

And then back again to drink tea… and meet all your friends and recognise your acquaintances, and marvel forever about the two or three groups who happen to be unknown to you. At the end of a few months you will know practically everyone of the British community by sight at least, so you will naturally greatly resent the arrival of anyone whose history and business you do not know.

Illustrations by GP, naturally

Well? I must say that GP’s idea of a good time and mine accord. (Magazines and sandwiches in the shade with your best friends? Sounds like heaven to me. I think I could get used to servants fetching chairs). Her self-effacing manner and obvious intelligence also commend her to me.

The Hon. Lady Fisher wrote an obituary for Peto when she died in 1977. It was , something less, actually, than a full blown obitutary - I forget what theTimes (London) calls it. But postwar Britain had not been friendly to Peto’s style or sensibilities and the obit. makes clear that Lady Fisher was reminding those of “the older generation” of the then-forgetten artist whose books for children, drawings, designs for pottery, dresses, and theatre scenery were such a feature of English life in the 1930s. Lady Fisher wrote:

A truly successful artist in her prime, she was admired and loved by all who knew her, not least for the humorous charm of manner which enhanced her life style, as it did, indeed, her work

I don’t doubt the truth of that or that was written by Lady Fisher for The Times through tears.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Feelin' Harvesty

Today's banner is Maisy standing in a field behind the Last House. I took that picture just yesterday, when it was positively, freakishly, summer-like here on the border. Before her lies a wee smidgen of America. The country ends just a little beyond that blue bit of farm equipment you see down there. Thereafter, it is Canada. The corn from that field was harvested just this week.

We (Whusband and I) don't do any actual farming. Suburban Schenectady and the South Side of Milwaukee (where Whusband and I come from, respectively) were not good places to learn farming. My father grew up on a farm, however, and that farm was and is one of my favorite places of all time which is why I wanted one of my own when I grew up - although I certainly didn't want to work like a farmer. So, we rent our land here to Jack Lazor of Butterworks Farm.

Jack and his wife Ann (lovely, both) are world famous in the circle of Vermont organic farmers (this is adapted from WHusbdand's observation that many Canadians are World Famous in Canada). And while we can't claim any credit for Jack and Ann's work, we do enjoy our window seat on what they accomplish here each year. One year we had sunflowers in the field in front of the house and they were, briefly, beautiful. Of course they turned into ghoulish black late in life and that was less attractive. In any case, it is especially nice as Thanksgiving approaches to have followed along on a full growing season and to witness close up the actual harvest of food. The stubbly fields are rather reassuring this year, with mortgage backed securities and other strange, ghostly forms of wealth vanishing into the mists from which they seem to have come. Here, we are back to where it all began. Food coming up and out of the ground and going into a barn.

Jack came shortly after I snapped this picture of his wagons, hitched them to his pickup truck and them down to his farm, in nearby Westfield. It will go into his cows and reappear as his famous Organic yogurt. (Those if you in NYC can get it at Dean & Deluca. Martha Stewart once featured his Jersey Cream on her show. Like I said, world famous). He'll also sell some, I think, for a pretty premium since it is all organic.

At the risk of sounding like a 19th century windbag, I have to say that all this talk reminds me of a poem. Can't think which one... Oh yes. To Autumn by Keats - here are my favorite four lines.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;

Gawd, but those trophy photos in my last post are ugly. Sorry about that. Standards are slipping. I am mentally pledging to smarten up. See you at the health food store.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

A Tale of Two Trophies

The Maidstone Club Women's Golf 2nd Eight Trophy awarded in 1913 to Mrs. John H. Whiting

The Women's Tennis Singles Trophy Awarded by Ekwanok Country Club of Manchester Vermont in August 1910 to Jean F. Whiting.

About a month ago, my favorite auction house sold a bunch of things from out of the estate of a man who had worked as a personal servant of some kind, a chauffeur I think I heard the auctioneer say, for Juan Trippe, the founder of Pan Am Airline. There were some Charles Lindbergh books, autographed by Lindbergh (out of my league – I forget how much they fetched, hundreds at least).

Juan Trippe with Charles Lindbergh

There were also some box lots of Pan Am memorabilia, mostly odds and ends of airline promotional items: a matchbox with a pop-up 747, tumblers commemorating various special flights, etc. I bought one such box. I looked through it then auctioned most of it’s contents on Ebay. (Attending two auctions a month means I have to operate on a catch-and-release policy so we aren’t completely crowded out of the house and so my husband doesn’t kill me).

I had Shackleton with me at the Pan Am auction. He spotted another box lot with a lot of metalware in it, including these two trophies. They also came out of the estate of the Trippe servant.

Shackelton and I both liked the look of these, so Chariots of Fire, aren’t they? And isn’t it wonderful that they were awarded to women nearly a hundred years ago? So, we pursued and won the box. In addition to the trophies, the box included a small silver-plated cocktail shaker, rusted on the inside, a squashed baby’s cup with “Marion” engraved on it, a beautiful little creamer and sugar bowl from Peru with a dimple where something hard hit it. In fact, about every piece had a flaw – a ding or a bend. Needless to say, everything was black with tarnish.

My theory is that these were things marked “discard” by the Master or Mistress of the house (I assumed the Trippes, but more on that in a minute), but offered to or rescued by a member of the household staff. The household staff member duly held onto them for God knows how long and died with them still in his possession. Their story did not travel to the auction house. I was left guessing about their origins but, at this stage of my life, this kind of guessing is my idea of a good time.

Note: I am sufficiently self-aware to sometimes feel guilty about being covetous and materialistic. OK. I am covetous and materialistic. I admit it. But there is a kind of educational silver lining to my vice. Having acquired something that I had determined to own, and before I release it (if it is to be released) I make an effort to learn a little something about it. For instance, I went off to the library after I bought the Pan Am memorabilia and read up on Juan Trippe. His wife was on a trip to Peru when Pan Am opened up its routes there. I read in a diary that she wrote and that has been published that she did some shopping in Lima. Did the creamer and sugar bowl come from that shopping trip? I wonder…

These trophies, being engraved with the names, “Mrs. John H. Whiting” and “Jean F. Whiting” gave me a particularly good place to start my research. The larger trophy was won by Mrs. John H. in 1913 for “Women’s Golf Second 8,” at "The Maidstone Club.” I don’t golf. I don’t even like golf, so I had never heard of the Maidstone Club. I learned with no trouble at all, however, that Maidstone is a very famous old country club in East Hampton on Long Island. (You have to be a member even to look at their website). Hmm.

Teeny Internet Image of the Clubhouse at the Maidstone Club

The smaller trophy was won by Jean F. in August 1910 at another venerable country club in Manchester, Vermont, the “Ekwanok Club”

Wikipedia will inform anyone who cares to know that Juan Trippe had been president of the Maidstone Club in the 1940s, but Google didn’t cough up for me a connection between him and the Whitings. Also, Trippe was too young to have been a contemporary of the winner (or winners) of these trophies, having been born in 1899. He was only 11 when Jean beat back the competition on the tennis courts at Manchester and only 14 when Mrs. John H. proved to be the best woman golfer at Maidstone in 1913.

Amazing thing that the internet is, however, with a few more searches, I was rewarded.

I found out that “John Hill Whiting” was a manufacturer of equipment necessary to build foundries and by 1911, president of the Whiting Foundry and Equipment Co. of Harvey, Illinois near Chicago. He was born Sault Ste. Marie in. 1852 and in 1883 he married, Carrie F. Spence. Voila! The “Mrs. John H. Whiting” whose trophy now sits on my dresser. John H. and Carrie had four children: Florence H.. Barbara, Bradford, and, last but not least, Jean. John H. was a Republican and a Presbyterian (no surprise there).

This information comes from, The Book of Chicagoans: A Biographical Dictionary of Leading Living Men of the City of Chicago, 1911. Harvard had a copy of and it was digitized in 2007. Thanks, Harvard. Thanks Google. Thanks Internet.

At first I had assumed that “Jean Whiting” (the tennis trophy winner in 1910) and Mrs. John H. Whiting (golf winner in 1913) were the same person with one trophy engraver using her given name and one her married name. Wrong. Mrs. John H. must have been quite an athlete to win the golf trophy when she was probably a grandmother. She had been married to moneybags metallurgist for 30 years by 1913. I was intrigued by this, and also by the fact that she obviously encouraged sports for her daughter(s).

Jean was, clearly, one mean tennis player, as well as a debutante. I soon learned that with one "Kenneth Trimingham", she won the mixed doubles cup in March 1912 on the Courts of the famous pink Hamilton Hotel in Bermuda (New York Times society pages archives – thanks NYT). Mrs. O. DeGray Vanderbilt (!) put up the cup and Jean and Kenneth just squeaked by the second place team at 9-7, 9-7. Later that same week, Jean and her mother also went to the Derby Day race and Jean was also present at the subscription dance a few days later, a dance “given by the men of the younger set” at the casino.

So we are firmly entrenched in the gilded age with Americans who probably actually knew Edith Wharton, or were maybe one degree of separation form her. (I spent a lot of time about a year ago with the House of Mirth and having these relics in my possession makes that whole lost world seem real. See the sidebar for some links to Wharton info.). As I said, this is my idea of a good time.

We’re not done yet, however. The most dramatic tidbit served up by the Internet was that my trophy winners were among the passengers on the famous, doomed White Star passenger ship, the RMS Republic. This shipwreck foreshadowed the Titanic disaster, although without the same great loss of life (or potential for a mawkish top 40 hit and a banal blockbuster film).

The Republic had departed New York for England on January 22, 1909. The following day, it collided with another ship. Six people died in the collision, but the Republic stayed afloat long enough for everyone else to be rescued. The passengers were evacuated in lifeboats to the other ships that rushed to the scene, thanks to the newfangled invention of shipboard telegraphy. I don’t imagine either Jean or Carrie had any trouble getting down ladders or pulling on oars, although it must have been cold in the waters off New England in January 1909. The Republic was put under tow for return to New York, but it never made it. The wreck sunk on the way back to port – with lots of treasure on board, they say.

I haven’t found in any of this what the Whitings had to do with the Trippes. My speculation is that the man who last owned these trophies may have worked for the Whitings before signing on with the Trippes in the 1960s. Maybe Juan Trippe, in the market for a chauffeur, met a Whiting at Maidstone and learned about our hero. I don’t expect I’ll get an answer to that question, but learning all this other stuff was fun and oddly gratifying.

After all this, can you believe I’m still thinking I’ll put them on Ebay? But why not? I think I have gotten from them what good they have to offer me, and I do need to have some funds for next week’s auction.

One last note:I couldn’t find any further information about Carrie and Jean Whiting and how they wound up, but some information about Jean’s sister Barbara, can be found 1914-1915 volume of Woman’s Who’s Who in America. (Thanks again Harvard):

Barbara Whiting (Mrs. Thomas Stevens Hammond), 162 E. Superior St.. Chicago, III. Born Detroit, Mich., Jan. 7, 1887; dau. J. Hill and Carrie F. (Spence) Whiting; grad. Mrs. Hazen's School, Pelham Manor, N.Y., '05; m. Chicago, June 3, 1908, Thomas Stevens Hammond; one son: Stevens Hill. Favors woman suffrage. Episcopalian. Recreations: Golf, tennis.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

7 Random Things Or, My Refrigerator Door, Myself

Lulu Labonne, over at Earwig Sandwich has tagged me to write about 7 Random Things.

Lulu wrote along a kitchen theme, and I am following in her footsteps, diverging just a bit.

Let's start here:

This is a full-frontal of the refrigerator in the kitchen here in the Last House in America. Our fridge is vintage Sears circa 1994. WHusband, then only WBoyfriend, bought this brand new back when we (that is, "he") bought the farm (I'm on the title now - of course - I am a lawyer, you'll recall). If you think the outside looks, hmmm, "unkempt" you should see the inside. Well, no, you wouldn't want to do that. Let's move on to some Random Things.

1. Santa's Village is a twee little amusement park in Jefferson, New Hampshire, about an hour and a half from where I am sitting. It is a complete throwback. Prices for things like hamburgers and soft ice cream are roughly the same as those in the outside world. If you get there after 2 PM, they give you a ticket to come back on another day, any day that season that you choose, for free. (!) When Shackleton and the Understudy were just past toddlerhood, Santa's Village was their idea of heaven.

This magnet was a prize one of them collected about two years ago for getting to each of the 26 alphabet elf stations around the park. The magnet has the holding power of a thrice-used bit of scotch tape, but the elves have a certain daffy something...

2. Another magnet, another story. Choco Kitty holds the high school graduation photo of Whusband's lovely niece. She is as nice as she looks and she finished high school in Wisconsin this last summer. She sent us an invitation to her graduation and we sent her, well, nothing yet. I am a a bad aunt. I feel bad, so let's hurry on.

Beneath the lovely niece is Shackleton as he appeared in kindergarten. His afterschool caregivers at the YMCA - both young women - asked for copies for of this picture for themselves. He has charisma. His shirt says, "I do my own stunts" which is still true.

The "U" is from a set of alphabet letters I bought before the Understudy (now 10) could even stand up. Oh, those early days of parenthood! Years before she was born, we bought a box of something that was supposed to help us teach our baby math. We never.

3. This koala is actually the answer to an equation. 1 Kid + 1 Kid + 1 store = 2 items minimum purchase. I was in a nice kids book store a month or two ago with the Understudy and Shackleton. The Understudy got a book. "What about me?" wailed Shackleton. (The alphabet letters, and every other literacy support we have tried for him, have, to date, failed miserably to make a reader out of him).

"A book? Noooo!"

"How about a magnet?" (I will and do bribe, but as cheaply as possible).
"Actually, you can get two. These are cute."

He got a fuzzy hippo (you might be able to make it out in the full frontal view) and this Koala. Both creatures have magnets in each of their four little feet. They were displayed in the store spread-eagled, like bugs who have gotten the worst part of a windshield. On the ride home from the book store, however, the Understudy discovered they could assume this amusing pose.

4. The Understudy and I got to go to England this spring. At last! During part of our trip we sponged off some friends in Oxford. The lovely Spongee, Aidan, drove us out to nearby Blenheim Palace for a day of ogling a real palace inhabited by a real old Duke and a lot of animatronic fakes. Loved it. The camera was out of batteries so I bought postcards. The English Post Box magnet came from a tourist trap across Cromwell Road from the Victoria and Albert Museum. We loved the V&A - and this junk shop. It may even be a tie - well, no, the V&A actually had a great place to eat as well as the Great Bed of Ware. It wins. Nevertheless, this card and magnet, I feel, should raise the appraisal on our crappy old house.

5. This is actually stuck to the side of the fridge. Sorry if that's cheating. It's a reprint, a bad one, of a picture taken of Whusband, aged 7, by his father. Whusband is instantly recognizable in this picture, lo these many years later. His father was gone long before I came on the scene and the only things I have ever heard about him are bad. No wonder the poor kid looks a little worried. His shirt was ironed, though. He had a very nice and careful mother.

6. Here is a little grouping of things that have survived my various fridge clearing efforts for several years. An old Christmas card, showing the kids near their peak cuteness; the Attack of the 50 Foot Woman Magnet I bought in another life - a single life. (I am tall, just under 50 feet, but fortunately not so tall that perverts in the houses below can look up my tiny, white, tattered skirt).

The magnet featuring the house and laptop on it came in the HR package at my last job - I think. Maybe they sent it to me? It has the number for the Employee Assistance Line, which you can call if you are considering suicide or having any mental or emotional health crisis that might result in a claim against the health insurance. I haven't called it, yet. As far as I know I have only held onto it because you can't have too many fridge magnets.

And, of course, we have Hello Kitty. Back a couple years ago, in a toy store, one kid wanted the Hello Kitty Magnet. Choco Kitty (see #3 above) was bought to placate the other kid.

7. Please see Number 4 above. The Understudy and I sent this London postcard across the sea to comfort poor Shackleton while we were gone for a week. He still talks about how much he missed us then. The blue doughnut of a magnet is a TV and computer destroyer and potential finger breaker that Whusband brought into this deal. That postcard is not going anywhere.

OK. That's seven. Thanks Lulu. That was fun. I know not everyone likes to be tagged but I found it sort of like getting assigned to a fun essay topic back in 9th grade. Oh, I can do that! I am going to tag Old Man Neill because I think this kind of thing may be up his street. If anyone else reads this far and wants to take a hand I'd love to see the result.