Category Archives: Obsessions

Reunited and it feels so good

Original draft 2016. No changes

I met him in 6th grade. I had a bit of an major on-and-off crush on him throughout the rest of my public school years. We were friends — probably the only real boy who was also a friend I had at that time. The last I remember seeing him was when we both attended the community college in our hometown. I was waiting for the bus (I didn’t get my driving license until I’d graduated college) and he was either waiting for the bus or walking to his car. We chatted for a while. It was, if I remember correctly, a nice chat. We reminisced then that was it. I never saw him again.

Over the years I’ve wondered how he was doing and tried to find him on the Internet. I never had luck — his was a common enough name. But I had a stroke of luck earlier this week when a mutual friend of ours (someone else I’d tried to find online and ended up bumping into at a mini-reunion for our high school class) said she wished she could find him. I searched “firstname+lastname” + Elgin Illinois and came up with an obituary of/newspaper article about his grandfather in which the person in question was quoted extensively. I tried again, but used his full first name and the rest of the search terms. That brought me to his father’s obituary which listed the person in question as living in a town in New York. Searching on that brought me to a website of a Yoga instructor who shared the name of my friend.

After looking though his site I was pretty sure it was him and called my other friend to tell her I think I’d found him. I sent off an brief, apologetic email asking if he was the “firstname lastname” who used to live in Elgin, Illinois.

The next morning I got a response. It was him and he seemed genuinely glad to hear from me. He asked for the contact info of our other friend and said to give her his.

Our friend was delighted and has reconnected.

My work here is done…

This actually leaves only one person I’d like to reconnect with left. George Phelps who used to live in Colombia, Maryland and spent some time in London in the late 1970’s, I am looking for you.

Hyman Herron’s Spelling Book


On my desk sits a 1906 beat-up copy of Reed’s Word Lessons by Alonzo Reed, A.M. The front endpapers are covered in childish writing: numerals 1-9 and the initials H. H. in small and large writing. The end endpapers have more writing: the number 15 in three places, Hyman Hernw, the name Patty and, in much nicer handwriting the words confectionary, confederacy, corb, coterie, dau, and daguerriolyn (which doesn’t seem to be a word). On a page that may have been reserved for notes is the name, Hyman Herron. Hyman also wrote his name on the edge of the book, across the pages.

The book itself is a spelling book for “the higher primary, intermediate, and grammar grades”. It contains 289 lessons starting with the “long a as in hate” and ending with prefixes and suffixes.

I don’t know when Hyman used this book. Perhaps when he was 15? I don’t know how this book came to be sitting on my desk. But below are some clues as to who Hyman Herron was.

Hyman was born in New York City to German (Prussian) immigrants, Issac and Fannie Herron on either December 25th or 26th in either 1895, 1896 or 1897, depending on what source you believe. His sister, Esther, was born in New York when Hyman was 2. By 1900 the family had moved to Elgin, Illinois. They lived, along with an Irish family, at 58 State Street, Elgin, Illinois. In 1910 they lived at 115 West Chicago Street in Elgin, which seems to be the Beckwith Building, built in 1888, according to Google Maps. Hyman’s father’s occupation is listed as “Fruit store” in the 1900 Census and Confectionary in the 1910 Census. Issac died October 23, 1910.

In 1917, Hyman registered for the draft. He was 21 and lived at 411 Prospect Street in Elgin and worked as a chauffeur for W. A. Kerbru (?) in Elgin, Illinois.

Hyman lived as a roomer at 310 Spring St. in Elgin, Illinois in 1930. The homeowners were George H. and Addie E. Rutledge. Dr. George H. Howell, a dentist, was also a roomer at this residence. It is possible Hyman paid $18 for rent. The home was worth $10,000 according to this Census report. His listed occupation is “Shipping Clerk” at a thread factory, which later information suggests was Collingbourne Mills.

In 1940, Hyman was still a single at 43, living at the Kelly Hotel in Elgin, Illinois. and was still working for, probably, Collingbourne Mills.

In 1942, Hyman again registered for the draft.  He was 45, living at the Kelly Hotel and still working at Collingbourne Mills. Harold Rule, also of the Kelly Hotel, is listed as someone who would always know Hyman’s address. Hyman’s telephone number was 6086.

Hyman’s mother, Fannie, died March 23, 1962, and is buried in the Elgin State Hospital Cemetery. Her gravestone also contains the numbers 771.  Interestingly Fannie is listed as Lena in the 1900 census, but Fannie in 1910. It could be two different women, but the age seems the same.

Hyman’s grave marker indicates he died on June 22, 1975, was buried in Mount Hope Cemetery, in Elgin, Illinois.

This leaves me with more questions — how did Issac die? Why was Fannie at the Elgin State Hospital? How long was she there? Was she also Lena or was that another wife? What happened to Esther? Did she marry? And how did this book end up on my desk?

The only connection, besides Elgin, is Collingbourne Mills. My grandfather worked there as a traveling salesman when he met my grandmother. Perhaps he knew Hyman Herron from work. Hyman was about 12 or 13 years older than my grandfather. My grandfather probably worked at Collingbourne Mills in the early 1930s. Did he give my grandfather the book? Or perhaps there was no connection and this book ended up at my mom’s house with a bunch of other stuff from an antique store.

At least I’ve given Hyman and his mother (and sister and father) some thought today.

 

 

Where’s the coffee? Where’s the pie?

In 1990, back when I still read newspapers. Back before kids, I read an article about a new television series in the April 30 Washington Post. I trusted Tom Shales, the journalist who wrote the article because he’d never led me wrong when it came to entertainment. Maybe it was because he was born in Elgin, maybe we just had/have the same tastes in television.

I probably would have watched it anyway because it was the brainchild of mastermind David Lynch — a director whose works Dean and I liked. We’d seen a presentation of some of his very early works at a local (now long-gone) art theater, and we saw pretty much anything he’d done that far (except Dune).

Dean and I loved the first season of Twin Peaks. Our next door neighbors also loved it and we’d often watch episodes together, drinking damn fine, and hot, coffee and eating pie. We even had a Twin Peaks dress up party for the final episode. My friend Totty came as the Log Lady. I don’t remember who I dressed up as. Too bad that was before smartphones with cameras because we would have definitely taken photos.

Back then, I don’t think I knew anyone else who liked Twin Peaks. Certainly no one at school. There was no Internet on which to discuss each episode with strangers. (at least not in our house). We just liked it, talked about it among ourselves and when we did run into someone who’d seen the series we’d talk with them about it.

We bought the DVD set when it came out and Clare got into the show, so much that she took it to school, then Olympia (not far from the filming location) and shared it with friends.

On one trip to Olympia, we visited North Bend, Washington where parts of Twin Peaks was filmed and ate pie and drank coffee at the Double R and posed for photos in front of the Great Northern Hotel and it’s nearby iconic waterfall.

Needless to say, we (or rather I) followed with interest the rumors about the revival Twin Peaks series. Totty heard about the series and suggested we get together to watch the first episode. We were not able to watch it the night it aired, so we planned on watching two episodes the week after. Totty brought an apple pie she’d baked and I made some coffee. We settled down to watch the revival of what had been our favorite television series 25 years ago — and possibly still was our favorite.

Well… the owls are not what they seem. If someone had been secretly filming us our expressions would have gone from happy expectation to confusion to bewilderment to disappointment to sadness. As the credits rolled for the second episode, Totty remarked that it sure was not what she was expecting and said, “Where was the coffee? Where was the pie?”

Damn right — where were the coffee and pie? Where was the charm?

Dean and I watched episode 3 a couple nights ago and, after some strangely Eraserheadesque scenes, it got better. I am not giving up on the series, I am just going to go into the rest of the episodes with much less expectation.

Mary Hamilton: Apparently our favorite artist

Dean and I were first introduced to Mary Hamilton’s work when we went to Pittsburgh’s annual “A Fair in the Park” when we lived in Pittsburgh. Her artwork was on the poster advertising it and we picked up a free copy while there (it turns out she does the posters most years). That could have also been the year we bought a print — but since we were poor back then, I don’t know how we were able to afford it. It is possible that once we were settled in Alexandria and had a little spare cash we went back to Pittsburgh and bought our Wolves Dining Out (Observed) print. That also must have been the year we bought the cat print for Neal and Marie. Anyway — we first heard of Mary Hamilton in Pittsburgh in 1984 and fell in love with her linocuts. Ms Hamilton’s work is whimsical, magical and colorful and it appealed to both Dean and me — which is very rare. We bought the Wolves, Dining Out (Observed) directly from her and she told us to make note that the wolves were eating peas and were very messy eaters.

The year I was pregnant with Clare, and we were paying a visit to Neal and Marie in early summer, I wondered what we could bring them for a host/hostess gift. We both wished that we knew where to buy a Mary Hamilton print since they loved the cat print so much. I did a bold thing (for me — I hate talking to strangers on the telephone) and called the telephone number on a card that came with my Wolves Dining Out (Observed) print. The next thing I knew, I was talking to Mary Hamilton herself. She told me that the only place nearby that I could purchase her work was at P Street Gallery in Georgetown (now closed, alas). So I did another rare thing — I drove to Georgetown, parked the car and bought a framed print. This one was of two children in a tree. Marie loved it — maybe Neal did too, I don’t know. It is possible that Dean went to P Street Gallery with me at a later date and we bought our “The Invitation” print. Otherwise, I don’t know where it came from.

The Invitation
The Invitation

Now we have this thing called the World Wide Web and I can find her work on Google Image search, Pinterest, Facebook, and elsewhere.

Somewhere, perhaps at P Street Gallery, I bought a box of greeting cards with Ms Hamilton’s prints on them. I only gave them to very special people (or Dean since he could give it back to me if I wanted it) because I loved her artwork so much. I recently came across the 4 remaining cards and plan to get them framed either individually or as a quartet.

I am not sure of the reason for this post except to show off our collection of Mary Hamiltons. I’m also thinking of planning a trip to Pittsburgh in early to mid-September to maybe buy more…

Mr. Tumnus and me

4 black and white images of me holding Mr. Tumnus
Mr. Tumnus and me.

Back, a very long time ago, I enjoyed shopping at K-mart. Our family would drive to the K-mart either on the East side of Elgin, or another local K-mart — perhaps one in Meadowdale, if there was one there. Anyway, my memories of shopping with my parents at K-mart are all pleasant. We’d usually stop at the deli and pick up a sub-sandwich. I liked the ham they put in their sandwiches, and remember the bread being tasty. I even liked the raw onions and processed orange cheese they put in the sandwiches.

I didn’t often buy anything with my own money on these shopping trips, but remember one purchase when I was in my late teens. I remember walking along one of the main aisles — the area where they kept their seasonal specials — and stopping, mouth in an “o” shape, eyes wide, possibly making an ahhhhhhhh! sound of pure joy. I saw a display full of 16 or so inch bronze-colored ceramic fauns at the low, low price of $20. It may not have been a blue-light special, but it was something I could not live without. I picked one up, hugged it and placed it gently in our shopping cart.

“It’s Mr. Tumnus!” I announced to my family. “From Narnia. And I am buying him!”

Because my parents knew about my obsession with The Chronicles of Narnia, they did not try to talk me out of buying the statue. And I don’t know if it was then and there that my dad came up with his nickname for the statue, but I can just imagine him telling the check-out clerk that his daughter just had to have Mr. Numbnuts. (I do remember Dad calling the statue “Mr. Numbnuts” when he was helping us pack up my Elgin apartment for the move to Pittsburgh.)

Mr. Tumnus traveled with me from my parents house to my first apartment, to Pittsburgh, to two houses in Alexandria, then finally to his last home, Bethesda. He stood in the gardens of several of those homes, but  because he was not made out of weatherproof material, he eventually disintegrated into a white powder. He was too far gone by the time we moved to Bethesda to stand next to the gas lamppost in our front yard.

For years I looked for a similar, more weatherproof, version of Mr. Tumnus, but never found one I could afford or one that looked like my Mr. Tumnus. I no longer plan to replace Mr. Tumnus — that obsession has gone, but I cannot help looking for Mr. Tumnus when we visit garden stores or pass places that carry statues.

I thought I’d never see him again until I opened an old book I found at my mom’s a few years ago and found a photo booth set of photos of me and Mr. Tumnus. (Likely taken at K-mart the day I found him.) He’s over there, to your left — with a long-haired pig-tailed youngster that used to be me.

 

Chasing Amy*

Dean isn’t the only one in the family with obsessions. I have them too — mostly about meeting authors. I wrote about my obsession with Phyllis Reynolds Naylor a couple of times, but never really explained that the real obsession was that I could possibly be walking in Bethesda and pass her on the street or in the grocery store because she actually lived in Bethesda. Back when I was following Neil Gaiman’s blog I used to imagine bumping into him somehow, someday — not at the National Book Festival where he’s been an invited author many times, but maybe if I ever traveled to Minneapolis or something. I mean, it could have happened…

Well, my latest obsession about meeting someone sort of famous lasted about 5 years or so. A while back (like I said, 5 years or so) I was searching for something involving Bethesda on Google and came across a blog written by a young mother who, it seemed, lived in Bethesda. I read her blog and recognized places she talked about (the Trader Joe’s with the crazy stupid parking lot and the Pier 1 store not far from Trader Joe’s where she once dropped some packages and a passerby ignored her [I wouldn’t have done so, I vowed]).

As the years went on she wrote more about her family — the births of her second and third sons; the death of her father a few months after my own father’s death. She freely posted photos of herself, her boys and her husband, but I always wondered if I would recognize her or them if I passed them on the street in Bethesda. Photos are one thing — the real live person is another.

I even dreamed about meeting this blogger. I posted about one dream — where she fed us hot dogs, but have not bothered to mention the other dreams. They usually simply incorporate her as a friend of mine. Please note — while I read her blog, I do not really know her and do not pretend to know her, but try telling that to my subconscious.

So the other day when Clare was home for a few days after Superstorm Sandy hit our area she wanted to go shopping at a local mall to find some new jeans. She found a couple pairs (okay — four pairs of skinny corduroys in different colors) and we were meandering through the mall wondering where to go next when I turned around near the Fossil store and saw AMALAH! (her name is really Amy but she goes by Amalah on twitter and that’s the name of her blog). There, in the middle of a bunch of strangers was this family I’d read about 3 times a week. The whole family, was walking in the mall as if they were not totally famous. I had a few seconds to decide what I would do. Would I run up and say, “Amy! I read your blog! I am so glad to finally meet you!”? or would I just watch the family pass by without saying anything, but feeling all giddy and wanting to dance a little jig?

I chose the latter. I did tell Clare about it and pointed out each of the children by name and she thought they were adorable. (they were!)

Afterwards I felt a little let down — not because I’d seen them, but because my wait was over. I finally ran into them somewhere in Bethesda. Of course it could happen again — and maybe next time I will say something — hopefully I will be calmer then.

But really — now I have nothing to look forward to. I need a new obsession!

*No chasing was involved — it was a purely accidental encounter. Promise!

 

In Which Dona Admits to Loving Dozens of Men

In 1979 I spent a semester in London attending Southlands College and student teaching at a local primary school. The teacher with whom I did my teaching practice had a set of books in her classroom that I fell in love with and when I finished my student teaching, she gave me several titles in the collection. I’m pretty sure that I was the first person in Elgin to have copies of these books because they didn’t hit the States until a few years later. I remember being delighted yet dismayed to see the books being sold in a bookstore in Pittsburgh. Delighted because I could now easily purchase more of the books and dismayed because I was not unique in that respect any longer.

I used these books for lessons when I was a teacher because I loved the simple drawings, the life-lessons and the high vocabulary they offered. The books may have been small picture books, but when I did a readability evaluation on a few passages in several books found they were at the 5th grade reading level.

When my own children were old enough to care about books, I brought the books home and read to them from the books. We had fun laughing over the silly characters and the situations in which they found themselves.

The books are still in the house somewhere and while I’ve not seen them recently, thought about them the other day and made a mental note to blog about the set of books sometime soon.

Today when I saw the series of Google Doodles I knew that today was the day to write about Mr Men.

My favorite was Mr Chatterbox and I never really liked the Little Miss books. They seemed more like an afterthought to me and not nearly as funny as the originals.