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They’re fixing the gates at Smith College.

Heaven knows they need them.  The Grecourt Gates, named for the chateau in Picardy where a band of Smithies labored to repair the damage inflicted upon France by the Great War, have ushered generations of students onto the campus of Sophia Smith’s gift to the world.  Tall, wrought from lacy black iron and solid local brick, they have been the symbol of the college for nearly a century of sun, rain, wind, and biting New England cold.  It’s a wonder they’ve survived so long with only basic maintenance and the occasional coat of paint, let alone stand so straight and proud.

Alas, even the strongest guardian needs a lift from time to time.  That’s why the college will be taking much of the summer to clean and restore the Grecourt Gates to their original glory.  Elements lost to years and weather will be remade and replaced, unstable areas strengthened, and pedestrian walkways expanded and upgraded with fine bluestone and a new retaining wall.  The Class of 2019 will see the Gates in finer fettle than they’ve been in longer than their parents have been alive, all gleaming black paint and delicate golden details.  

It will truly be glorious.

Even more glorious will be what comes next.  Neilson Library, the venerable main branch of the campus library system, will be renovated top to bottom.  The stacks will be spruced up, some obsolete books moved to off-site archives to make room for new volumes, and old mortar and stone and wood prepared for another century of serving promising young women.

Best of all, the hideous brick additions to the central building that chop the campus in half will be removed or altered under the careful guidance of legendary architect Maya Lin.  Lin, daughter of a late 40’s alumna, hopes to restore Frederick Law Olmsted’s original vision of Center Campus as an open sweep of land between the Science and Humanities Quads.  I know I’m not the only one of Sophia’s daughters who can’t wait to see the results of her work.

As you’ve probably guessed from the above, I love my alma mater almost to distraction.  I’d been a feminist almost since the time I could breathe, and once I learned that two of Second Wave feminism’s greatest lights, Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem, had both gone to Smith, it was all but inevitable that I’d follow in their footsteps.  Faithful readers of these diaries know what happened next, and it shouldn’t surprise anyone that I’ve willed my papers, my research, and whatever property hasn’t been eaten by the GTPOD to the tender care of what its founder called “a perennial blessing to the nation and the world.”

I’m scarcely the first woman, alumna or not, to do this.  The Sophia Smith Collection bulges with the papers of hundreds, probably thousands, of women both prominent and obscure.  Virginia Woolf’s letters, Sylvia Plath’s poetry – these treasures and many, many more are archived in the old Alumnae Gym.  Mine will go there in due time, and if the curators will scratch their heads at receiving boxes of quilt history research, printouts of smutty fanfiction, and a small group of palm-sized action figures of Mr. Spock, Captain America, etc., in the same collection, they’ve probably seen weirder.  Whatever secrets I have will come out in due time no matter what, so why even try to pretend that serious scholarship and crazed fangirling aren’t part of my life?

One of the women whose papers repose in the Alumnae Gym would disagree.  This woman, a giant of early 20th century feminism, had a most unusual family connection.  Her beloved niece, whom she’d all but raised, lived with a married couple (and sometimes a third woman), sharing a house, four children, and the authorship of at least one book with her beloveds.  Not only that, the male in the relationship, a Harvard-educated psychologist/inventor/scriptwriter/self-styled expert on emotional health, had created one of the most important, controversial, and beloved superheroes of all time.  

The feminist was Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood.  Her niece, Olive Byrne Richard, was the sometime collaborator and stay at home parent for her spouses,  attorney Sadie Elizabeth Holloway Marston and author/psychologist William Moulton Marston.  The superhero was Wonder Woman, whose surprising, and surprisingly complicated, history begins with the suffragists in the early 20th century and continues to this day.  

Is it any wonder that Margaret Sanger didn’t go out of her way to publicize any of the above?

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'Tis summer, and time for a middle aged woman's fancies to turn to thoughts of bad books.

Not only bad books, of course.  I picked up several excellent books at Kalamazoo last week, two of which I've been asked to review, plus three free copies of journals from Oxford University Press.  I'll also be contributing to two books that, based on previous examples, will be very good installments in their respective series.  

I also picked up what promises to be a truly marvelous Book So Bad It's Good, right up (or down, or sideways) there with jewels such as the collected works of Dan Brown, airport books about mysterious conspiracies, and the very best quality anti-Masonic propaganda from the 1840's.  It's absolutely perfect, and yes, I most definitely will be writing a diary about it.

As for diaries...

This weekend is the de facto kickoff of summer here in the land of the free and home of the brave.  Barbecues, lemonade, movies with a huge number of explosions and very little plot, cole slaw and potato salad, sandals instead of shoes, soft serve stands and skinny dipping on a deep dark night...there are but a few of the simple joys of summertime, at least in the vicinity of the Last Homely Shack East of the Manhan. It's a lovely time of the year, with farmstands and pick-your-own produce and thunderstorms that leave the air fresh and clean and crackling with ozone, and as much as I hate a sticky summer heat, I must confess that I do like this precious time quite a bit.

This may be why I've mapped out a particularly ambitious schedule for this summer, as you'll see once you venture past the 0.5 class Orange Kaiju for all the gory, scary, glorious details.

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Tonight, I come to you from the past.

Partially this is due to where I am:  the Kalamazoo Medieval Studies Congress at Western Michigan University.  This annual conference, which brings together several academics, graduate students, reenactors, and enthusiasts of all stripes, is truly a Conference So Good It's Mandatory, at least if you're someone like me.  This is my tenth pilgrimage to scenic WMU, home of the Broncos, and I assure you, it will not be my last.  I learn too much, network too much, and receive way too much encouragement for my academic work to give this up, even if doing so is sometimes a financial hardship.

This year I went, delivered a paper on female collecting, attended several panels, exhibited my attempts at medieval-style quilting, and generally had a good time.  I also was officially anointed as one of the troika that will be taking over the Pseudo Society, the annual Saturday night session devoted to esoteric topics like St. Guthlac's mortgage-derived martyrdom, Bruce Springsteen's surprising relationship to Geoffrey Chaucer, or desperate graduate students offering to marry prominent academics (gender unimportant) and/or dance for their funding.  I revealed the existence of Jean Louis de Pouffe to the world there three years ago, and when I tell you simply that next year will be EPIC, well, you ain't seen nothing yet.

All this fun and academia and de Pouffeishness has meant that alas, alack, and well-a-day! once again I must present you with a diary from past times.  Next week will be fresh material, dredged from the part of Badbookistan I like to call the Swamp So Yucky It Makes the Gowanus Canal Look Like a Vernal Pool, but tonight is a Medieval Studies Rewind.  Originally published a few years ago, this little foray into Historical Writing So Bad It Makes Herodotus Bawl Like A Newborn profiles four rotten books in an effort I like to call:

DEFENSTRATING THE DAUGHTER OF TIME
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One more week.

That's all that's left of this spring's Research Rewind slate, good gentles all.  I'm in the home stretch on my paper, which I'll be delivering next Saturday afternoon to the great acclaim of one and all (or a reasonable facsimile thereof).  That means that next week will be a fresh off the laptop diary, possibly with Exciting News about my latest efforts to take over the world, make a name for myself, and keep the GTPOD from eating me, the Double Felinoid, or the Last Homely Shack.

I live such an exciting life.  I really do.

Precisely what next week's diary will be about is still unclear.  I might talk about my recent visit to Boston, which was terrific in every way except for the panic attack I had when a cop pulled me over for speeding.  There might be some new developments in Jean Louis de Pouffe studies, and wouldn't that be fun?  I could haul my friends away from the Kalamazoo Medieval Studies Congress for hijinx and whoopee-good fun in the fleshpots of Grand Rapids, Michigan, and wouldn't you just love to hear about that?  Or maybe I'll just ramble about the Congress, tell a couple of cute anecdotes about my cat, and semi-liveblog the Pseudo Society.  

That's the beauty of next week:  I have no idea what I'll be writing about until I start, and you - yes, you! - will get to see the glorious results.  It could be a literary masterpiece to rank with Toni Morrison's latest, or it could be a complete disaster that will be a blotch on the family eschutcheon for generations to come, or at least until my next foray into Badbookistan.

As for Badbookistan...as promised, tonight's Research Rewind is my second straight look at Comics So Bad They're Good.  Last week it was three groups of boy patriots created by Golden Age legends Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, best known to you, me, and Mrs. Calabash as the creators of the non-GTPOD unofficial and copyrighted by others mascot of these diaries.  Tonight it's a non-Golden Age artist who's a legend in his own mind even though he's all but unable to draw a human being from the knees or wrists down.  

Come with me, then, on this last Research Rewind, as we venture with trembling hearts and averted eyes into the corner of Badbookistan I explored in the summer of 2013 in a diary called

HOW NOT TO DRAW COMICS THE R___ L___ WAY
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Sat May 02, 2015 at 06:00 PM PDT

Research Rewind: Forward, Boy Commandos!

by Ellid

The end is near.

By this I mean that I'm entering the home stretch of this year's six week long experiment in reprinting old diaries as I lurch grimly toward Kalamazoo.  The paper is partially done, I'm tearing my hair out by chunks, and the Double Felinoid are avoiding me lest I spontaneously combust and deprive them of their major source of food, water, and heat source on cold nights.   Exhaustion, comfort food, and staring dazedly out the window of my car as I drive to and from my day job are now the norm, and I'm hoping to God my paper is written in something that approaches English.  That the said paper might, just might, make sense is not yet apparent.

The one exception to this dreary grind is my visit to the Heck Piazza Dodecaplex to see Avengers:  Age of Ultron last night.  This intimate film about a lonely robot that only wishes to execute its programming to protect the world by exterminating the human species, was the sort of warm, soothing, comfort flick that allowed me to relax and de-stress even better than a Calgon bubble bath, and -

Oh, for crying out loud, who am I fooling?  Age of Ultron was EXPLOSIONS and ACTION and hilarious dialogue and great special effects and Chris Evans' GLORIOUS BUTTOCKS and Jeremy Renner's ARMS and Scarlett Johansson's EYES and Robert Downey Jr. and Mark Ruffalo DOING SCIENCE and Chris Hemsworth's HAIR and EVIL KILLER ROBOTS TRYING TO KILL EVERYONE and the Avengers trying to pick up Thor's hammer and failing mightily and everything I could possibly want except a cameo by Captain Marvel and that's okay since her movie will be out in a couple of years and  CAPTAIN AMERICA WEARING A VERY TIGHT T-SHIRT AS HE RIPS A LOG IN HALF LENGTHWISE, LENGTHWISE I TELL YOU!!!!!!!! and -

Ahem.

Yes, I'm a geek.  Sue me.

There were some flaws - there was almost too much plot, a couple of twists came out of left field, and one or two sequences that made me blink at why they were included, particularly a gratuitous romance - but I liked what I saw enough that I will see this lovely art house flick at least once (or twice, or thrice, or whatever comes after that) more before it finally heads to DVD/Blu-Ray sometime before the 2016 Presidential primaries.  For right now, though, I need to focus on my paper.  At the same time I can't get comics off my mind, which is why the next two weeks of Research Rewinds will be devoted to funny books.  

The first of these installments is a look at a creative team whose work cheered the home front during World War II, allowed millions of little boys to dream about fighting the Krauts, and led directly to me hyperventilating in the theater at the aforesaid scene of Captain America preparing for a second career as an axe-less lumberjack (and let me just say that if Chris Evans does not get the Oscar for Best Log Ripping Scene in Cinematic History, there is no justice).  Silly names, child soldiers fighting for freedom instead of crazed warlords, wooden shoes, and tropes that show up again and again - come below the 0.5 Orange Kaiju for a little diary from last year as we all cry

FORWARD, BOY COMMANDOS!
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A month from now, my captivity will all be over.

That's because I'll have, God willing, finished my paper, driven out to Kalamazoo with Ysabel, delivered my paper, become part of the new troika in charge of the Pseudo Society, talked about revising last year's paper for publication with my editors, driven back from Kalamazoo with Ysabel if she hasn't strangled me in my sleep for grinding my teeth, taken several days off from writing, and fallen face first into my wee bed once I've shoved the Double Felinoid onto the floor so there's room.  Dobby will be free! with plenty of time to romp, play, repaint my bathroom, and head over to the Heck Piazza Dodecaplex for my second and third and possibly fourth viewings of Avengers:  Age of Ultron.  

It'll be glorious, especially the parts about sleeping in my wee bed and ogling the gluteal regions of certain lead actors in Age of Ultron please ignore me I'm WWWWHHHHHHHHHEEEEEEEEEEEEE urgh argh help ack thump

The road trip itself promises to be exhausting but fun.  I've traveled with Ysabel before and we're reasonably drift-compatible, at least when it comes to bathroom use and meals.  We'll be staying with friends in Buffalo to break our journey, our hotel and car reservations are set, and as long as we can agree on music/audio books to listen to, it should all go well.  Traveling should be fun, after all, at least when it's voluntary and for pleasure.

Tonight's Research Rewind concerns such travel.  I've been to several countries, both physically and in the mass of tissue known as "Ellid's brain" in the Common Speech of the West, which has done as much to equip me for our regular trips into Badbookistan as anything else.  The diary includes several books that proved useful before trips to Europe and Great Britain, but the real meat is a trio of Travel Books So Bad They're Good:

- A popular, influential, and 100% bogus compendium of medieval wonders that inspired generations of travelers who longed to see wool trees and men with their faces in their chests.

- A lively, entertaining, and utterly misguided look at the America Civil War, written by a military observer who should have known better.

- A brisk little romp through 1930's Germany that somehow managed to miss the GIANT RAVING MEGALOMANIAC O'DOOM and his earth-toned followers marching through the streets.

All are worth a second look, which is why I now invite you all to venture below the 0.5 Orange Kaiju for a diary from late in 2011 that I called

AROUND THE WORLD WITH CLUELESS TOURISTS
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I'm still not free.

Those of you who read my diary a couple of weeks ago know that I'm basically in Stealth Mode from now until May 16th, when I'll emerge like a butterfly, wet and dripping and ready to spread my wings after six weeks in the Chrysalis of Knowledge, as I struggle to wrestle raw data into something that approaches a coherent paper for presentation to the academic world.  I'm making a few exceptions - just try to keep me from seeing Avengers:  Age of Ultron opening weekend - but last week, this week, and the next four weeks are Research Rewinds that allow me to work and you to savor old diaries.

Tonight's installment was specially chosen because of its subject.  I'm a medievalist, after all, and what is more medieval than Vikings?  The very word reeks of blood, thunder, and mayhem, plus names like "Harold Hardhead," "Eric Bloodaxe," and "Harold Bluetooth" (a real human being, not an electronic gadget) are the stuff of legend, heavy metal album cover art, and airbrushed minivans.  Add in some extremely bad, extremely misunderstood archaeology, and the result is about as perfect a subject for one of these diaries as it's possible to get.

Come with me, then, below the 0.5 Orange Kaiju to read a diary from February of 2014 that I like to call:

THE VIKINGS OF RHODE ISLAND
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A few weekends ago I was a star.

It was only for a few hours, in a couple of places, but man oh man was it fun.  I had people take my picture, I had people shout at me from across the road, and I was fangirled more than once.  It was a heady feeling, and I found myself rather liking it.  I'm not used to being complimented on my looks, even if this time it was because I was dressed like someone else:

Peggy Carter, hell yeah!
For the uninitiated, this was my attempt at cosplaying Agent Peggy Carter, World War II spy, co-founder of SHIELD, and among the best kickass females on television since Emma Peel fifty years ago.  Smart, strong, fearless, and blessed with a fashion sense to die for, Peggy has gone from the pretty girl Captain America pined for in the 2011 movie to a fully fleshed-out character in her own right.  Her eponymous TV series was a social media sensation thanks to strong scripts, a story arc that pulled no punches in detailing the sexism that women faced after the Second World War, and wonderful period details in the costumes, set design, and writing.  

There hasn't been a better female action lead on TV in years.  That's why even though I'm older, heavier, and not nearly as attractive as Hayley Atwell, the actress who portrays Peggy in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I decided to spend a few hours on a beautiful spring Sunday dressed, made up, and shod as much like Peggy as I could.

Of course I wasn't perfect.  I'm wearing modern business clothes, modern shoes, and modern underwear.  I'm carrying my aunt Betty's old briefcase, which usually sports a shoulder strap.  I'm wearing MAC lipstick and Bare Minerals Foundation, and I had to practice putting my hair up in pincurls for a week before I finally got the look I wanted.  The only thing that's authentic to Peggy's time period is my hat, and that's only by a fluke; I once had the good fortune to encounter a hatter who not only had a beautiful piece of wool felt and a hat block from 1937, but the skill to shape the felt and proportion the brim in the correct period style.

So...for all that people were praising my costume and shouting "Agent Carter!  You look great!" across Seelye Lawn at me, at best I was only a pale imitation of the original.  I'm hoping to do better by the next time I portray Peggy (probably at PI-Con in August), with a skirt instead of trousers, more comfortable shoes, and possibly even a dress taken from a vintage pattern.  I love the character, love the look and cut of the clothing from that period, and if I'm going to go to the trouble of creating a costume, I want it to be as close to accurate as my means allow.

I'm scarcely the only person who's attempted to do this.  Re-enactment groups abound for every time period from the early Byzantine empire to the 1970's, with standards that range from the loose (the SCA, at least for beginners) to the anal retentive (Revolutionary War groups that require cloth from the same British tailor that made redcoats' dress uniforms in the 1770's).  Period pattern books are available from Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, and secondhand stores like Powell's and local used book emporia.  Historic clothing enthusiasts have a rich variety of source material to draw upon, and that doesn't even count the actual vintage clothing and resized patterns for sale on eBay, Amazon, and from commercial companies like Vogue and McCall's.

It's a real shame that some of this source material is not precisely - dare I say it - entirely accurate.  Many older costume books are based on bad research and redrawn paintings, not actual garments, and plenty of "vintage" patterns are anything but.  Serious reenactors almost always end up learning to draft their own patterns and make their own garb, whether that means a Venetian matron's gown from the 1520's, a steampunk gentleman with gears on his monocle, or Rosie the Riveter stomping on a battered copy of Mein Kampf.  

I'm no exception.  I may have thrown Peggy's outfit together from clothing I already owned, but my SCA wardrobe is almost all homemade.  I've struggled with bad costume books and less than workable patterns for years, and I'm far from the only medievalist who's done so.  

Tonight's rewind is dedicated to everyone who's ever dreamed of dressing in the fashions of a bygone era.  Originally published in February of 2012, it discusses two very interesting costume books indeed, one by a Victorian lady, the other by two professionals who suffered from lack of proofreading and a certain odd prudishness that makes them more than worthy of being considered Books So Bad They're Good.  I've even added some of the illustrations from the former, and if what they depict doesn't count as Pageant Costumes So Bad They're Good, I shudder to think of what does.

Join me, then, for a nostalgic trip to Badbookistan that I like to call

WHAT NOT TO WEAR, HISTORIC EDITION
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Wed Apr 08, 2015 at 07:53 AM PDT

Question on hand surgery

by Ellid

I was just diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome after years of occasional numbness and tingling, particularly on the left.  I went to a neurologist last week and was told that the nerves themselves are fine, with no sign of neuropathy, but that I should probably have surgery at least on the left hand.

My doctor is working on getting me an appointment with a surgeon to go over my options.  Fortunately I have good insurance and plenty of sick/vacation time accumulated so that's not an issue, but I have some questions:

- How long before I'll be allowed to go back to work?  I'm not scheduling anything on my dominant hand at this time.

- When will I be allowed to type?  Knit?  Drive?  Hold a book?  

- How painful is this surgery?

- How much physical therapy is involved?

Any advice or comments would be welcome.  Thanks!

Discuss

This weekend is my last taste of freedom.

Before anyone panics, I'm not going to jail.  As those of you who read these weekly excursions into life, Badbookistan, and everything have probably guessed, I'm one of those obnoxiously truthful, law-abiding creatures that other human beings wish to slap on a regular basis.  I don't smoke, either tobacco or herbal mixtures, I rarely drink, I pay my taxes and parking tickets with a minimum of complaint, and I do my best not to indulge in common American customs like jaywalking, cheating at cards, or squeezing the toothpaste from the middle of the tube.  

I don't even walk on the grass, at least not until it's actually grass and not those weird little greenish patches of fertilizer, zoysia seeds, and mud that will eventually become what we in New England call "lawns."

So my lack of freedom has zippedy-do-dah to do with the law.  No, I'm about to go into what I like to call Stealth Mode, when I clear my schedule, fire up the computer in the Garrett, and get to work on my next conference paper.  The next six weekends of my life will be devoted not to these diaries but to finishing up Captain America 2:  Vibranium Boogaloo! my next presentation at the Kalamazoo Medieval Studies Congress in mid-May.  I'll surface occasionally to eat, drink, go to the day job, and wave at you, my most faithful readers, on Saturday nights, but original material will have to wait until May 16th.

Rumors that I will take a couple of days off to watch Avengers:  Age of Ultron over and over and over until they drag my drooling husk from the theater and fling me bodily into the nearest locked ward will not be dignified with a response.

That's why the next six weeks of diaries will be Research Rewinds, when I'll repost an older diary for your dining and dancing pleasure.  I'll include a short introduction for those of you who might have managed to avoid these tidbits of proof that yes, I am one of the Peculiar People of Easthampton, Massachusetts, but everything else will be a rewind.

Tonight we begin with a diary from September 2013 about a movement that's managed to fly under the radar basically unchecked for most of the last half century.  Avowedly religious, conservative to the point of reactionary, and surprisingly influential, the so-called "Christian Patriarchy Movement" preaches feminine submission, wifely fecundity, and daughterly meekness.  The subjects/alleged authors of tonight's Book So Bad It's Good have all but disappeared from the Internet thanks to the dramatic, sudden, and decidedly unchristian actions of their movement's leader, but their book survives.  

It's both hilariously bad and utterly terrifying, at least if you're a woman who aspires to be anything more than a child-swollen adjunct to your husband, but anyone who wants a glimpse into the mindset behind so many of these modern attempts to turn back the clock on women's rights should venture below the 0.1 Orange Kossack Kaiju for tonight's Research Rewind:

BACK TO THE KITCHEN, MODERN JEZEBEL!
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I grew up believing an untruth, and it was all my grandmother’s fault.

Not my mother’s mother, who’d raised six boys (Julius, Oscar, Charlie, Louie, Dan, and Bob), one girl (Mum), and one extremely spoiled princess (Betty).  Oh no.  That grandmother lived until I was ten, and even as an elderly woman she was the dictionary definition of “formidable.”  She’d been the driving force behind the entire family long before my grandfather had been crippled by arthritis and a taste for bootleg beer, and she was still climbing onto sewing machine tables to change light bulbs, slamming back Peruna when she felt poorly, and bossing the fruit of her loins well into her seventies.  I can’t say I remember her all that well, but remember her I do, particularly after a second cousin told me a few years back that I looked a bit like her.

No, the grandmother who inadvertently lied to me, my parents, and pretty much everyone else was my father’s mother.  She hasn’t appeared in these diaries before because I only saw her once or twice before her death in the early 1960’s.  The only thing I recall about her is that she lived in a smallish house somewhere north of Pittsburgh, that she was partial to chintz and dark wood furniture, and that she had a couple of scatter rugs in her foyer.  I’m not sure I saw a picture of her until I was an adult, and most of what I know about her came from my mother, who hadn’t known her well.

I’m not even certain of her first name; family records refer to her variously as “Harriet,” “Hettie,” “Nettie,” or “Anetta,” which is, to put it mildly, confusing.  I do know that she was in her 30’s when she married my grandfather, and pushing forty when she gave birth to Dad in 1923.  Her age is almost certainly why Dad was an only child, and why she looks more like his grandmother than his mother in family photographs.

Dad and his mother.  Note the "spinning wheel" in the background....
The somewhat stern expression on her face is probably at least partially thanks to being rather older than the average mother of a young child in the 1930's.  She looks even sterner (and older) in pictures taken after Dad was drafted in 1943, not that I blame her; my grandfather had died of pneumonia that winter, and she had no way of knowing if the brand new blue star in her window would be replaced by a gold one before the war was over.

Fortunately for her (and me), Dad came home safe and sound in the fall of 1945. His next few years were busy with college, graduate school, work, and taking pretty young colleagues to dates at gay bars jazz clubs, but he remained close enough to his mother that her wedding present to him and his bride was the neat little house in Edgewood that my grandfather had bought new thirty years earlier.  My parents fixed it up and lived there for the next three or four years, and of course they visited Dad’s mother whenever they could.

It must have been on one of those visits that my grandmother told her daughter-in-law the lie that Mum told me, and that I believed until I was well into my teens.  As I said above, I don’t believe it was a deliberate falsehood, not at all.  By all accounts my grandmother was not given to making things up, and she probably thought she was sharing a precious bit of family lore that the future mother of her grandchild should be able to pass along in her turn.  She wasn’t a genealogy buff like her cousin-in-law Kate Evans Tharp, and absent those skills she was all but certainly just repeating what she’d been told.

The lie was simple, and patriotic, and even plausible.  Mum thought it was true, and Dad thought it was true, and so did I until I actually decided to see for myself whether my grandmother was descended from the first signer of the Declaration of Independence.

That’s right.  My grandmother, whose maiden name was “Hancock,” was convinced that she, her son, and her son’s daughter, were the great-great-great-great-issue of John Hancock.

Who had died childless in 1793.

Oops.

In my grandmother’s defense, she’d probably heard about her family’s non-existent connection to John Hancock during the Colonial Revival of the early 20th century.  This was the era when middle class Americans, enthralled by the magnificent art, architecture, and historical monuments they’d seen in Europe during World War I or on the Grand Tour, were determined to explore their own glorious past.  Books like The Flowering of New England, art like Wallace Nutting’s tinted photographs of quaint cottages, wealthy collectors like Electra Havemeyer Webb finding value in cigar store Indians:  all fueled a new, and somewhat less than critical, interest in the early days of the Republic.  

Furniture modeled after 18th century originals, fashions allegedly inspired by post-Revolutionary styles, linens from the Deerfield Society of Blue and White Needlework, restored hostelries where George Washington (or Paul Revere, or even possibly John Hancock) had allegedly slept – these were only a few of the ways that early 20th century Americans explored the culture and folkways of their country.  It’s no accident that many of the living history villages that dot our landscape, from Colonial Williamsburg to Old Sturbridge Village, were founded soon after the doughboys came marching home.

A great many families, especially of the white Anglo-Saxon persuasion, were so caught up in the Colonial Revival that they seized upon the merest hints that they might have some connection to the hardy patriots of that earlier time.  That my grandfather actually had such a connection thanks to Evan Evans was a fine thing – but wouldn’t it have been even finer if his wife could claim descent from the bold, brave man who’d signed his name in large enough letters that King George would be able to read them without his glasses?

Whether my grandmother actually knew that Hancock had only had two children, neither of whom survived to adulthood, is of course impossible to determine.  My mother never questioned what she’d been told, and neither did I until I happened to read a passage in Esther Forbes’ Paul Revere And The World He Lived In that made it clear that John Hancock was not my forebear.

I wasn’t very happy to learn this.  Not only was I quite proud of being related to the man for whom they’d named an insurance company (and later a big, bland skyscraper that shed so many glass panels it had to be clad in plywood while its owners figured out how to keep the whole thing from being blown into Copley Square), I’d even modeled my own John Hancock after his.  Finding out that Mum (and my grandmother) had been wrong was a cruel blow for a teenager.

Fortunately for me, my revelation came in sufficient time for me to avoid boasting about my illustrious ancestry at college.  Smith in the 70’s may not have been the bastion of old money and older families it had been a generation or so earlier, but when one’s housemates include scions of men and women who were drinking buddies of Myles Standish, claiming descent from a childless man would have been the rough equivalent of Greg Louganis missing the springboard completely and splatting himself on the judging platform next to the diving pool.

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And am publicly apologizing for misattributing the source of the editorial urging her to run for President.  I saw it very late at night when I had a toothache, and I am sorry for my assertions in the diary, my own stupidity, and for not checking my own source.

I  apologize to everyone involved.

Have a good day, everyone.

Ellid

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