Peanut Butter and Romanticizing the Past

The beverages I drink don’t usually have words like “win,” “athletic,” and “epic” wrapped around the bottle. Thanks to a stomach bug I’ve been on the crackers and Gatorade diet for the better part of this week, drinking epic athletic liquid with artificially colored win.

I graduated to crackers + peanut butter on Friday and that was pretty exciting. Eating peanut butter spread on crackers always makes me think of one of my favorite people-from-the-past-I’ve-never-met-but-like-to-romanticize.

I have a soft spot for writers. My undergrad and grad school theses were both on 1930s film fan magazines. While I spent a lot of pages analyzing the contemporary context, consumerism, and content, I also spent a decent chunk of time looking at the writers and editors of the publications.

Some of the writers had prolific enough careers that they also wrote for other publications, leaving a big trail of evidence behind them. Others are a little trickier to track, though Anthony Slide’s Inside the Hollywood Fan Magazine does a really fabulous job of profiling many of the writers that are tougher to track elsewhere. When I was writing my undergrad thesis I took a lot of information from an issue of Picture Play, which had a great two part feature on contributing writers written by Samuel Richard Mook in the February and March 1930 issues.

I would definitely want to do some fact checking before taking anything in the article as fact, but there’s always that non-factual value  – the mood and message that it conveys. One of the anecdotes that’s always stuck with me is about Myrtle Gebhart. Early in her career before writing for fan magazines, she bounced from one writing job to another and worked addressing envelopes at a rate of three dollars for every thousand. According to Mook, her diet at that point “consisted chiefly of peanut butter bought in bulk and spread thinly on crackers.”

So now every time I have peanut butter spread on crackers I think of Myrtle Gebhart, this writer I have very little knowledge of and have definitely never met (she died in 1958 according to Slide). But I have a soft spot for Gebhart and her Mook portrait. As he notes, “there is something splendid about a girl who has been through the mill as Myrtle has.”

In my thesis I got all analytical historian up in the article about the portrayal of women and the rags to riches angle, but that and fact checking aside, there is just something completely enchanting about these little writer portraits in Picture Play.

Mook himself is author of one of my all time favorite quotes: “I prefer dives to palaces, as I feel that in dives you see life, and in palaces you look on an artificial glitter.” True that.

Today I think I can finally eat real food again (hooray), but the brightside to my downside week was the thought of Myrtle and me eating our peanut butter crackers, decades apart but together in spirit.

Application for a Date with a Seabee

While working with 20th century archival materials I think a lot about the privacy of the individuals represented in archives that have no idea some physical detritus of their earlier years is preserved for others to access. Access is one of the primary intentions of preserving anything in an archives, and even temporary restrictions are best avoided, but sometimes you have to look out for people.

There aren’t too many things in my family papers that need restriction before being launched online, but I felt compelled to be a little extra cautious with this Application for a Date with a Seabee from the 1950s. It’s tucked into my grandpa Donald Hickman’s scrapbook (the one that served in the Navy, including a tour in the Philippines). I doubt this individual (it’s not my Grandma) still lives in the same house in Oklahoma, and you wouldn’t get too far with a four digit phone number these days, but just in case.

There’s a blank form and a filled out version in my grandpa’s papers, but the filled out one is way more fun! I don’t know the form’s origin story, but it’s fun to think about really serious questions like: do you think the french kiss will replace the toothbrush?

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Grade E in Sandy Springs, Ohio.

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My great grandma Edith Graham wasn’t too into school, at least during the 1901-1902 year. What came before the “F” for fail grade? An E!

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My recreational life, with some exceptions, is mostly described as “school” these days. I’m so used to the A-B-C-D-F system, that it’s funny to think about past alternatives.

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I’m okay not leaving footprints, though I do want to examine the impressions that are already out there in the sands of time. It feels a little mean to post a bad report card on the internet, but she kept it and it made it to 2015, so it must’ve not been all that terrible a memory!

Cincinnati Public Housing: Winton Terrace

When my great grandpa William Howard Furnier passed away in 1940, he left behind his wife Edith Myrtle (nee Graham) and their two kids.  Sometime around then she moved to the Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority project Winton Terrace.  In my Grandpa’s (Edith’s son’s) papers there are newsletters from Winton Terrace in the latter half of the 20th century.  This one particularly caught my eye for its colorful cover and anniversary theme.

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Unfortunately there isn’t much history inside the newsletter, aside from this page making a special tribute to the families that moved in when Winton Terrace first opened (including my great grandma):

 

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The auto-fill that pops up when I type Winton Terrace into a Google search bar looks something like:

winton terrace beating

winton terrace fights

winton terrace cincinnati shooting

winton terrace cincinnati oh fight

The history of Winton Terrace

My Cincinnati and public housing history knowledge isn’t very sharp, so I don’t feel qualified to really dig into the social-cultural issues that make up Winton Terrace’s history and present.  (Best thing found in a quick online search is this report.)

I asked relatives about their memories of Winton Terrace. The small details of kid memory get me the most, like my aunt remembering “Grandma’s bricks on her aluminum garbage cans.” Memories from multiple family members about their Grandma (my great grandma) threatening (but never hitting) them with a flyswatter when they misbehaved.

I want to know more, but I started grad school this year and stuff got pretty real in February, so I have to set aside in-depth personal research for research of the school and work variety for now. But Winton Terrace will be hanging around in the back of my mind for awhile. That tension between the hope of public housing and the reality of decades of aging and change, and how personal memories and contemporary stereotypes about housing projects shape the conversation. Lots of questions; lots and lots of questions.

(P.S. The Pruitt-Igoe Myth is a really good documentary on a public housing project in St. Louis.)

Evolution of a Cubi Tour(ist)

This was tucked in my grandpa Donald Hickman’s scrapbook and serves as a nice follow up to my post the other week on his time in the Philippines in the 1950s:

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A lot of the devolution centers on San Miguel beer, which is pretty clearly visible in one of my grandpa’s photos:

Three year anniversary.

This is the three year anniversary for me and my current apartment.  It’s the longest I’ve lived in the same place as an adult.

Part of me wonders if I should be disappointed that my old wanderlust was replaced by moving and shaking of a career variety instead of a new-city-new-neighborhood variety.

But everytime I ask that question I say no.  I like who I am and where I am and I feel like what I’m doing is worthwhile.

Everytime I help researchers find what they need, whether they are 10 or 65, I know I’m in the right place.

Yesterday I helped middle school aged kids locate online resources for their National History Day projects.  One student was researching a mid-20th century TV program’s impact.  She was incredibly articulate about her subject, though her mother said multiple times that they picked a “light” topic this year; as if there was some unspoken need to excuse the choice of a pop culture topic.

She didn’t need to excuse her students’ project, especially to me.  Everything is important.  Everything has meaning and value.  It’s all connected in the domino run that is life.

When I first moved to Los Angeles I went to AAA and asked them for all their Los Angeles maps.  I cut them up so the maps fit against one another where one ended and the other began.  I wanted to master the roads and freeways – as a child of the suburbs I was programmed early on to view places through windshield glass.

I don’t have any LA maps on the wall anymore.  There’s still uncharted territory in my mental map of the city, but this is home.

I’ve found my corner.  I feel a mix of delight and disgust that I’ve settled into my routine and that I like it.  I am right where I am suppose to be – at least in this very moment.

The sublet room I lived in when I first moved to Los Angeles.  Full of someone else's furniture and not very well decorated, but what was important made it on the wall.

The sublet room I lived in when I first moved to Los Angeles as a 21 year old. A tiny box of a room right off the living room.  It was full of someone else’s furniture and not very well decorated, but what was important made it on the wall.

Veterans and Academics

My grandpa Donald Hickman (on the left) in the Philippines in the 1950s.

My grandpa Donald Hickman (on the left) in the Philippines when he was stationed there as a Navy Seabee in the 1950s.

I would never think to tell anyone that I come from a military family, though both my parents, my grandpas, and my brother all served at some point.  I’m the only non-veteran in my immediate family.  I interned at a defense contractor for a summer, but that’s about as close as I’ve been to the military industrial complex.  My parents were out of the Air Force by the time I was born, so I didn’t experience a military brat childhood, so I think that’s part of it.  Though I didn’t live through that lifestyle, I can’t say that the American military hasn’t had an enormous impact on my life.

My parents first met on a military airplane going to Saudi Arabia in the 1980s.  My paternal grandpa met my Grandma while he was a Navy Seabee in Southern California in the 1950s, and my maternal grandpa met my grandma when he was stationed in Japan in the 1950s.  So, if it weren’t for the military I wouldn’t exist (two generations over).

None of my military family were lifers – if anything it seems like the military can be something you do because you need a job, because you want to get out of the small rural town you grew up in, because it’s a direction to go in other than college – basically, the military is a source of opportunity and possibility.  I can’t speak for anyone, but that’s what it looks like from my outsider perspective.  I respect the individual contributions of veterans and I appreciate what the military offers to our increasingly degree obsessed American society.

I’m pretty much an academic, with all the voodoo mojo jargon writing that goes along with it, and I professionally serve a very ivory tower community.  I don’t discount the value of the academy, but I do get frustrated at elitism and exclusivity and find that contemporary American society’s privileging of excessive credentials is fueling an educational industrial complex.

I don’t believe in intellectual elitism, but I’m unfortunately starting another masters degree in January, and I still haven’t discounted the possibility of eventually going back for a PhD of the history variety.  I’ve already got enough degrees and educational certificates to wipe an ass after a pretty sizable dump.  So I’m a bit of a hypocrite, but I’m also in a place in my career where I don’t feel like I have the power yet to change the system and I think having an arsenal of letters after my name will help.  You have to fully understand the system to affect lasting change (=how I sleep at night).

Enough ranting – in belated celebration of the contributions of veterans past and present, here is a gallery of my maternal grandpa Donald Hickman’s photographs from his Navy Seabee time in the Philippines in the 1950s, complete with captions he handwrote on the backs (where applicable):