Friday, November 04, 2005

The summer of my yellow dress, pt. 1

The summer of 1949 was probably a rite of passage, and I didn't even know it until years later. Not to sound like I'm writing a pre-teen novel, but there is still a lot about that summer that I don't know, and even more I wish I didn't. But it was the summer of the yellow dress and traveling across the eastern United States with my mother, brother and grandparents in a time of no air conditioning and no super highways.

Ostensibly we were on our way to Asbury Park NJ to attend the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference, so it must have been June. But Grandma had another agenda--to find out what had caused her son's death in October 1944 in the China Burma India theater of WWII. It was the summer my mother began to lose her hearing. It was a summer to meet relatives I now record and keep track of in my genealogy software, Old Order Brethren, Quakers and Lutherans. It was the summer my brother got desperately ill from the heat and Mom discovered salt pills cured him. It was the summer I slept on the floor of a 3rd cousin's apartment in some city in Pennsylvania and watched her use a curling iron and paint her fingernails bright red--all very shocking, but exciting to me. I didn't know any women other than farmers who left the house in the dark to go to work.

This yellow sheer cotton dress trimmed in lace was so delicate and light, I felt like a fairy princess wearing it. It would twirl with me, run with me, and yet, when I paused in front of a mirror or store window to admire it, I thought I looked almost grown up. Mother made it of course, so I don't own the pattern. And she may have made it up from seeing a picture in a magazine or catalog.

The photo was taken in Wilmington, Ohio with Uncle Edwin. I fell in love with Uncle Edwin on first sight, and he was a dear old man, a retired college professor, and former President of Wilmington College, a Quaker institution. He and I started up a correspondence that ended only when he died in the early 1960s. I used to pour all my teen angst out to him--poor guy, he was absolutely baffled--sort of like me reading the teen blogs I find on the Internet.

Uncle Edwin was married to my grandfather's older sister, Alice, whom I remember looking sort of like the apple head dolls you see in craft shows, only she was white with white hair. Alice had helped raise my grandfather, who was orphaned at a young age. They later moved to Detroit and lived with their son Howard and his wife Roma. They didn't seem poor to me, but I think they were--church college faculty probably didn't make much or have pensions and may have not been covered by Social Security. Uncle Edwin wrote a book, "Tell me--my quest," which is about pacifism, I think.

I'm not sure how long we stayed at their house, or even if we did. When my grandparents were married in 1901 they went to Wichita, Kansas to live with Aunt Allie and Uncle Edwin who then taught at a Quaker college there. My grandmother ran a boarding house for students and my grandfather a feed store. Thirty years later during the Depression Uncle Edwin needed to borrow money from them, but they had none. No one had money--lots of land, but no money and no one to sell the land to. I found his letter in the 1990s--sad what you find out years later.

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