“The air was cool at night. I stretched out my arms in the moonlight and flew. I raced and raced in the cool night expanse, on the largest stage in the world. Around me the mountains ribbed the sky. Under my feet lay the beat of a full symphony orchestra.”
— Agnes De Mille, Dance To The Piper, pg 174
This excerpt below is from a letter written by my father to his parents and siblings in Detroit. You can see my mother hanging up clothes and my father smoking during that same time, up in the header photo.
2130 South Hobart Blvd. #4 Los Angeles, 7, California September 2, 1944
It’s Sunday afternoon…hot as usual…Everything goes along about as usual (the poor get poorer and the rich get richer)…
We went to the Hollywood Bowl last night to see the incomparable “Ballet Theater”…Russian Ballet by S. Hurok. The Bowl is way out in “West h—” from were we live. It took over an hour on the street car to get there… and the last mile took about half of the time… the street-car would move about an inch and wait for ten minutes and then move another inch. We were late…as usual… but in plenty of time to see all we cared to see. The Bowl is a dished out place down in between some mountains…with thousands of seats rising up the mountain sides in front of the stage. The place was jammed! We had the cheapest seats, naturally, which Doris purchased through the Red Cross for a slight reduction…but by climbing over the backs of the seats…very undignified…we managed to sneak into the next higher priced section..where we could see the performers… after a fashion…the section where we belonged …ran on and on…up the mountain…and the people on the stage must have looked like little ants or something…which was just as well…considering the nature of the performance. The dancing was about what you would expect Pee Wee, Gladys and Barbara to put on after a week-end of rehearsal out in the barn. Romeo and J. went on and on for hours…The people sitting next to us…who apparently had never heard of Shakespeare…decided the dance must be about an Egyptian princess or something. “Fancy Free” which was supposed to be terrific…dragged on and on and on…long after the dance was finished. All in all it was quite an evening. We left before the last extravaganza in order to catch a street car before the mob…ran a block and a half…and finally caught what they humorously call street cars out here..and made our way home…
I thought of this card when I saw the prompt for this weeks Sepia Saturday. There is no kiss but there is water and a boat. Reading the card made me remember that I had written up my trip to Norway years ago, I didn’t have to write it from scratch. Hence this post.
This article first appeared in Catalyst Magazine in the Summer of 1990.
In June of 1981 I was 34 years old, three months pregnant and on my way to spend seven weeks in Norway with my then ten-year-old daughter Jilo. I left behind my husband Jim and three younger daughters, Ife 8, Ayanna 5 and Tulani 2. There were also several milk goats and a flock of laying hens on our 5 acres in rural Simpson County, Mississippi. It was my first time outside of North America.
I had been corresponding with Sister Peg Dunn, a nun, about our mutual interest in Sigrid Undset, Nobel Prize winning Norwegian author of “Kristin Lavrensdatter.” I had become intrigued after reading that she wrote her novels while raising six children. Sister Peg arranged for me to attend the International Summer School at the University of Oslo. Jilo and I traveled to Norway with her.
It is now 1990, nine years later. I’m 43, the yet-to-be-born-baby is 8 and Jilo will be 20 in June. We now live in Michigan. The goats and chickens are gone, but we’ve got rabbits and the garden grows larger every year. When I think about that trip these are my memories, excerpts from my journal and from letters I wrote home.
I remember wondering if those men wearing fatigues waiting to board my plane were hijackers. The pain in my ears as the plane descended. Hearing Danish spoken over the airport loud speaker.
June 16, 1981, Airport in Denmark Dear folks, We are drinking orange juice in Denmark and waiting for the plane to Oslo. Ten hours is a long ride! Only two more hours of dark and I am sleepy. More soon. Love, Kris
I remember the marigolds and petunias in the window boxes of the apartments and houses everywhere we went. Walking up0 five flights, seventy steps to the apartment we stayed in. Looking out of the kitchen window at the grass, women hanging out wash and children playing in the yard below. Walking, walking and more walking.
June 17, 1981 Wednesday, Oslo, Norway Dear Jim, We are staying with the lady poet that I met in Chicago. She gave me 2,000 koner ($400) in the bank here. Jilo and I walked all over and never got lost. Everyone does speak English so far. Women wear backpacks instead of carrying purses. Tomorrow the three of us will take a train to Trondjem – a seven hour ride, where we’ll stay in a youth hostel until Monday. I miss you. Love, Kris.
I remember taking the train to Trondjem. How at one point, everybody (except us) got up and turned their seats around to face the opposite direction. How tired we got of the bread and salami and bread and salami and bread and salami, we had packed to eat. Mistakenly jumping off of the train before it pulled all the way into the station and then having to jump over the wires and cables to get to the station.
June 19, 1981, Dombas Norway Dear Jim, We are staying in a valley surrounded by snow capped mountains tonight. We walked a mile or more from the train station to the hostel with our backpacks. Was I glad not to have a suitcase! Love Kris.
I remember not being afraid to walk around at any time of the day or night. The long days. At midnight it was dusk. Riding the train through glacial mountains. How low the clouds were. Seeing a waterfall in the mountains. Gudbrunsdal Valley. How hard it is to strain to catch a work you understand in a new language. How it is even harder to come up with one and say it. My discomfort at entering the World War II Museum of Resistance and being greeted in, surprise, Norwegian by the welcomers. How they saw my expression and tried French then, to my relief, English.
June 21, 1981, Monday, Dombas, Norway – journal entry.
Jilo and I walked around Dombas in the morning. There was a field full of the biggest, bright yellow dandelions I have ever seen. Someone was growing tomatoes under plastic covers…there were bus loads of middle-aged German tourists. Can’t help wonder what they were doing during WWII.
June 23, 1981. Wednesday. Oslo, Norway – journal entry.
A warm sunny day. Today we went out to Blinern University on the trikk (subway). Took a tour of the campus. Met a friend of Sister Peg’s for lunch in the cafeteria, Liv. She has a research fellowship here. Is married and has an almost two year old son, Mangus. She had taught a few years in Chicago. Had read and seen “The Women’s Room” on TV recently. Especially remembered the part where the woman is trying to quiet the two children and put them to sleep and the husband staggers out going to his mother’s where he can “get some sleep.” She said the wife should have thrown one of the babies at him.
We walked home, a half-hour, pleasant walk through a camomile covered field. At dinner preparation time (Jilo cooked) we blew the stove fuse and couldn’t figure out how to change it so had to eat cold leftovers.
Then we caught the trikk to another friend of Sister Peg’s. She lived in an apartment made from the second floor of her parents’ house. She taught English to adults and Norwegian emigrant children. She also had seen “Women’s Room” and liked it, although she said, it didn’t deal with the problems of her generation. She told us about the social discrimination against emigrants, poor people on the east side of Oslo (where the tour buses never go) and different dialects in Oslo and having her passport stolen from a basket she carried in the store. Those things didn’t used to happen, she said. She had been going to Poland. There was a candle on her table and along with wine, coffee, chocolates, nuts, coffee cake, Christmas cake, butter and goat cheese. Jilo drank solo (grape pop) She gave Jilo a snowflake pin and showed her a bunch of English books. One poetry book included the poem “Give you son forty licks, beat him when he sneezes.” She told us how she used to drag her younger sisters around by their feet when she was left in charge and they would act up.
I remember watching Ethiopians playing soccer in the field of camomile. Celebrating Jilo’s birthday in the mountains with whipped cream topped apple cake. The Folk Museums with old, old houses, stave churches and guides dressed in national costume. The festival day at school with the fiddler father, singing mother and dancing daughter. How they seemed to really be enjoying themselves. Eating lefse, roumergroten, flat brod and brown goat cheese, Jilo walking and riding the trikk all over Oslo, by herself, not speaking Norwegian and never getting lost or having any trouble.
June 29, 1981, Monday, Oslo – journal entry.
Today began cloudy and rainy but ended up nice and sunny. Met a Californian in the laundry room. A student from last year passing through, doing her clothes and reading Don Juan. Trying to lose her past. She asked if I’d found rules to live by. I told her my sister had. She also mentioned the fox in “The Little prince” and being responsible for what you love.
I remember the children’s party. Organized by a Mexican married to a Norwegian and a Bulgarian. The kids tossing balloons around. The Bulgarian complaining about her young chuildren catching colds so often at day care and balancing the children, her ex-husband and job. The Mexican singing “Las Mañanitas” for the son of a Norwegian woman who worked in the kitchen. Hearing the Royal British Wedding on television in another room while I washed clothes.
July 3, 1981, Friday. Oslo – journal entry.
Started out a very sunny, warm day until after lunch, ended up being cold and rainy. Jilo and I went with some students to the theatre. Before the play started a tall man came up and said that he should have written a synopsis and did I know the story? Then he started telling it to me. A fairy tale about a princess, a would be prince who had to get three feathers of a dragon to win her. Very good…I even understood a few words. The theater was old and big. We had to to to a small room up in the top or the play. Afterwards we went in the cold rain to a kiosk and got sausages, french fries and ice cream. We had agreed to talk only in Norwegian. Whew! I was cold with a dress, bare legs and sandals. But a good evening and it’s nice to be back in the room and warm!
July 2, 1981, Oslo Dear Ayanna, This morning the Norwegian woman who cleans my room, washed the floor and was speaking Norwegian to me about my flower, but I couldn’t understand what she meant. I guess I have to study harder. Love, Mom.
I remember realizing that the woman had put a saucer under the plant for me. Walking to the park past a mental hospital. The man people told me had been brilliant who stepped from one square to another square for hours at a time all day long when they let him out of the hospital. Seeing topless sun bathers. Vigelandsparken Sculpture Park with nude statues of all stages of life but, strangely I thought, no pregnant woman. The garden section, blocks and blocks of tiny houses for drinking coffee and eating cakes, surrounded by flower and vegetable gardens of those who lived in apartments. The strange feeling of living where Nazi soldiers had lived when they occupied Norway. Hearing my mother’s laugh coming from a group of students gathered on the steps below my window. Watching day by day as a young man worked on repairing the stairs…the girl that came and watched him, talked to him. just wanted to be with him.
July 19, 1981 Lillehammer, Norway Dear Jim, We did get out alive from Sigrid Undset’s bed and house. It was very strange. Reminded me of one of those Public TV mysteries where suspecting travelers are taken in and treated kindly by weird folk who later murder them in their beds. I discovered how Sigrid Undset wrote a Nobel Prizewinning novel “while raising six children.” She left the two step-daughters in Oslo and moved to Lillehammer with her two young sons and a nursemaid. There she wrote the first book of “Kristin Lavernsdatter.” She was tired after this because she had to keep interrupting her work to cook, clean, etc., so she brought tow more old houses. One small one for her husband (an artist) to paint in when he came out from Oslo and one for herself to work in. It is this one that we slept in and it is connected to the original house by an added on corridor. She also hired several maids and a cook., in addition to the nursemaid. She then left the kids and the servants in the original house and proceeded to write her masterpieces. She later had a third child and for many years later served as a foster mother to two Finnish war orphans…Her daughter-in-law, Christianna, was odd but very talkative and nice to us. She gave me two children’s books by Sigrid Undset (in Norwegian) and she got her young neighbor to drive us out to Undset’s grave about 15 miles away. There was a weird little man, about her age who she referred to as “the young man.” He tried to be pleasant, spoke no English and was always leaping around smiling. One time he was supposed to open a bottle of wine and he couldn’t find the corkscrew. He kept popping into the room and finally she sailed out after him. I expected to hear a loud smack as she boxed his ears, but she found the corkscrew and opened it. I could understand a lot of the Norwegian they spoke and that was encouraging. I had given up hope. Love, Kris
I remember how awful it felt to be back in school studying Norwegian and how much I felt I was missing by sitting in the classroom when real Norwegians were all about talking real Norwegian and wonder still why I kept going to class.
July 22, 1981 – journal entry.
Homework very hard. Feel overwhelmed by busy work. Decided to skip class tomorrow and go on field trip with another class. Miss Jim. Interviewed by the newspaper, Aftenposten. Very poor English by reporter, better by photographer, nonexistent Norwegian by moi. Rather embarrassing. Jilo got us some Norwegian deodorant. It doesn’t work a bit.
I remember the lady from Denmark who sat next to us on the plane ride home and talked about how bad things were getting, she had to lock her doors now when she left her house, not like the old days. How dirty everything looked when we got back to Chicago and how good it was to see my family and eat home-cooked food again.
St. John’s Congregational Church Springfield, Mass.
210 King Street
November 21, 1945
It’s Thanksgiving eve…Doris is out to the Ballet with Mrs. DeBerry. We were planning to go but some of my folks are trying to organize a “Community Council of Negroes” and they called a meeting for tonight and I thought I’d better be there to see that nothing was pulled off… and when I arrived on time (for once) there was nobody present but me and another po’ cold Negro… and eventually two or three more showed up…but not the man with the key to the building so we adjourned without a meeting. It was just as well that a way since I am interested in organizing a “similar” Council under the N.A.A.C.P. sponsorship…and that can’t be accomplished until the new president takes office December 1st.
Everything goes along…Our kitchen is now furnished except for the Frigidaire…The Ladies Progressive League finally got the “Breakfast set” in…and another lady contributed an electric wall clock..and other little nick nacks for the kitchen. The guest-room is furnished with a bed and dresser…and the rest of the equipment is “on the way”. Before Louis gets here and reports…I’d better mention that the house is still as empty as a barn….The living room has nothing in it….and the rest of the house has the uncoordinated look which a house has without curtains…drapes…pictures…n’ that…but its livable…and our credit is exhausted…The treasurer hands me my check and I hand it to the white-folks. I guess I mentioned the couch we bought for the dining room…It’s “light oak”…modern’ n’ that… and sort of goes with our dinning-room outfit…we went down-town to get a studio couch that could be used as a bed for company… but saw this marked down from $129.00 to $89.00…and it being what we wanted (and couldn’t afford) we couldn’t resist a bargain…and put a nickle down on it.
The church is going along nicely. Sunday morning attendance is holding up…and quite a few visitors are dropping in. We have seven new members waiting to be fellowshipped in. I’m trying to get fifteen before having an “in-gathering”. The members are trying to make us fat with their Turkey dinner invitations …We ate out twice last week…great BIG ELEGANT dinners from soup to nuts n’ that. We are also eating two Thanksgiving dinners out this week. One tomorrow, Thanksgiving…and another Saturday with a family who have all their celebrations on Saturday when the father can be home from work. We are still “ORGANIZING CRAZY”… We are organizing the entire church into “activity-groups ” of eighteen members each…About 25 or more groups. These groups will meet monthly…The group leaders will “encourage the participation” of their members…check up on financial obligations (collect back dues) etc. and will raise their group-financial quota of $100.00. They will, at least make it possible for more people to actively participate in the church program. We are also organizing a Men’s Brotherhood consisting of all the men in the church. They, too, will meet once a month with a Forum or banquet. or something “interesting”. I’m trying to gradually get everybody DOING SOMETHING…and they seem to like the activity. We had a recital at the church last Friday. It was sponsored by the Choir. The girl is studying at Julliard in New York and use to sing in the Choir. Her father is on the Standing-Committee n’ that. The admission was $1.20 which made me fearful… but a goodly crowd was out…and the girl got her $100.00 and the church cleared about $100.00 so everybody was happy. (See enclosed Program)
We went down to hear Hazel Scott Monday night at the Civic auditorium. It was jammed and packed….and she rocked them. all of my members were out in a body…I didn’t recognize the scoundrels in them furs and diamonds..all sitting in the five dollar seats. AND IT WAS RAINING CATS AND DOGS. Doris is taking a class in “Make-up” at the Springfield Playhouse…and I had to go by for her…and we had to run about ten blocks in the rain to the auditorium.. A sailor and his girl sat next to us…During the first half of the program he sat with his head down on his knees…I thought the music was just too much for him…Just as she got to the Modern music…he heaved once or twice…and turned out the balcony…(I was sitting next to him)…The woman sitting in front of him liked to died…and she came just that close to being drowned … it was a sorry mess…His girl friend was LOYAL …and I do mean LOYAL …she stuck right with him…as we good neighbors fled in wild panic…wiped his face and helped his stinking hulk from the room…We enjoyed the program, however…The critic here was a little critical…she played too fast…had too heavy a hand…etc. with which I agreed…but anyhow… she sho’ rocked Springfield one time! The Negro “Ministerial council” asked me to preach their Thanksgiving Sermon…But I had already agreed to say the Benediction for the White Folks at a city-wide Unity service at the civic auditorium. Negroes do love to have their own little affairs. They were all invited to participate in the downtown service….but they preferred to have their own “segregated service”.
The women’s missionary division of the State Congregational Conference is going to meet at St. John’s Church next week…to learn of our great work…and to consider possible expansions. We are getting ready to receive them with open arms…and dreams of a parish house for them to chew on…
Church Choirs from here, there and everywhere are holding forth at our church next Sunday afternoon…at a Thanksgiving Vespers…Should be quite an affair.
Tell Louis and Hugh the girls having been notified of their coming are champing at the bit…with impatience. One little girl said she’d hold up announcing her engagement until she had a chance to look them over…’cause after all. We are EXPECTING THEM on the morning of December 1st. the last dinner party we went to (last Sunday afternoon)… had places for them all set-up…The good lady understood they were coming that week-end.
This is part 2 of the letter from November 10, 1945. Part 1 talked about the Fellowship Dinner. This part is about other things they were involved in – Missionary Society meetings, NAACP meetings and invites to the family to come on over.
Friday afternoon the Missionary Society had a meeting…They had a round-Table discussion on International Problems…and had me…DeBerry, and the Methodist preacher to talk. They had the white ladies from the Congregational Association here, also. We had quite a meeting. I undertook to explain the RUSSIAN SITUATION and why we good Christians should be sympathetic toward Russia…and stop WORLD WAR III before it starts. We argued and argued. DR. DEBERRY AGREED WITH ME! (Even in front of the white folks) Doris head like to bust…(She don’t like white-folks) I “spoke freely”… there are times when “Uncle Tom” just got to go. My good Missionary Ladies were so happy that their pastor wasn’t afraid to argue with the White Ladies their head’s like to busted. It was a very good meeting… the best the Missionary Society has had for a long, long, time. Even the young girls were out serving and that. They asked me to speak at the college. The International College is located in Springfield and several of “our young people” attend. So everything is going very well…I don’t know how much good we’re doing…but we’re having a lot of fun…and its interesting. It’s a little TIRESOME, however, in as much as we’re rushing about on some “important business” all day and far into the night. Doris claims to be exhausted…but she’s getting fat on confusion!
We went to the N.A.A.C.P. annual meeting (we joined this chapter)… Our buddy was elected President. It was a mess. We like to died at the folks…fussing and fighting. Dr. *****, Mrs. *****’s friend is a weird psycho-neurotic personality who has devoted his life to fighting DeBerry. He tried again (been trying for fifteen years) to take over the N.A.A.C.P. …. and failed again. My church members make up a good working majority of the N.AA.C.P. Both president and secretary are my members.
Well, so-long. I hope Louis can run down for a week-end!! Seems like Henry or Hugh could make that run with him! and GIRLS, we’re planning quite a round of events for Christmas-week. You must be here. I can’t promise that you’ll get married the first visit…but a New England Christmas should be interesting! Most of the people are nice and mean well. (Even those who are a little stuffy) And why doesn’t Daddy retire…instead of falling up and down the stairs. Mama, tell him to retire and get it over with. You know when we get something on our mind like that we ain’t no good ’till we do it. Retire and get a new car and he’ll be O.K.
Well, you-all know all the news (I told you everything over the phone)…but you-all should have been at the Fellowship Dinner!!! We (the Committee) started setting up the “dining-room” Tuesday evening. They ab-so-lute-ly refused to believe that there would be more than 150 people present… “Ain’t never had more’n 150 people.” they said…and that was that. So I had to start “setting-up” for the other 150 myself. A few of them… not wanting to hurt the preacher’s feelings… humored me and helped …We set up every old piece of table there was in the church …The supper-tables only seated about two hundred including those we had to fix with improvised legs and that…we then used the Sunday-School tables ( a little-low in as much as they were for the primary department!!) and the Sunday School Sand-box with a cover over it…and everything we could find. All of the time we were a-fixing my officers would “console” me by saying that “It just can’t be done even if 300 people did come…which they wouldn’t… We’ll just have to eat in shifts…and go up stairs for the ‘meeting’.”I tried to explain this was a FELLOWSHIP supper and there wasn’t going to be no “Church-meetin’ wringin’ and twistin’!!! But somehow they couldn’t hear me. They been a itchin’ for a “meeting” ever since I got here so they can argue about what happened eight and ten years ago and all get mad all over again. Things are going along too peaceful for them…Everybody is too happy and contented. Well, finally we got set up for about 285. I dragged some more tables out into the corridor at the foot of the steps and told them to set them up too…They drew the line there, that was just foolishness. There wouldn’t be over 150 people…and we had already set up for 285…and now the preacher was trying to set up little tables out in the hall! Well, I put chairs around them anyhow… I had insisted that we borrow seventy-five extra chairs from the undertaker. The women then set up the tables…and Doris and one of her buddies went wild with crepe-paper around posts and that. Then I took out all of the little “money-saving sixty watt bulbs” and bought a whole new set of 100 and 150 watt bulbs…and then some of the ladies brought flowers… and Doris brought her candle-sticks and candles n’ that…it began to look like a banquet! AND EACH STEP WAS TAKEN OVER GOOD PESSIMISTIC MEMBERS DEAD BODIES…BODIES WERE STREWN EVERYWHERE BEFORE WE GOT THROUGH. The man who was to cook the dinner was my buddy, however. He took my word for the number of people. I told him 300 people and he prepared for at least 300 and just went on carting in truck-loads of provisions while the rest spread gloom. We (me and Doris) got through “preparing” as though 300 were coming about 6 o’clock and rushed home to take a bath and rush back.
We got back at 7 sharp. A member stopped and picked us up as we waited for a bus or we would have been late…AND THERE WERE CARS FOR BLOCKS AROUND THE CHURCH…We could hardly get in! The dining room was already full!!! And people were lined up on the stairs trying to get down…and sitting around in the social room waiting for their turn. The Committee had just “gone all to pieces”!!! The lady who was in charge hasn’t recovered yet. Dr. and Mrs. DeBerry were sitting off in a corner looking big-eyed. The speakers table up front on the stage was empty. (Dr. DeBerry was to speak of “St. John’s History”. I collected the DeBerry’s …The Senior Deacon and his wife and the Treasurer who were to sit at the speaker’s table and set them down and then acted as head-waiter. I crowded people in where it didn’t look like another sardine would fit. The CHAIRMAN of the committee had about five girls (UNTRAINED) to serve!!! Other girls and men “VOLUNTEERED” and gradually the food began to issue forth in a growing trickle from the kitchen. The people were very nice about everything..Actually I think it was a better FELLOWSHIP dinner because more of the GUESTS had to pitch in and help…Well, finally we actually seated about 325 people. Some would eat and then get up and help serve the others. The place was JAMMED and PACKED. We had some group singing. Oh YES. The treasurer sat next to me on the platform whenever I could get to the platform…and even as we were eating dinner he “ADVISED” me that it couldn’t be done, we’d have to adjourn to the church auditorium for the “MEETING”. I told him we’d do it over my dead body…Finally we were all eating and we had group singing…Our Choir Director is a large uninhibited woman just made to lead group-singing…then we had a couple of numbers by two girls…and then Dr. DeBerry talked…He made an excellent talk…Told them little anecdotes about the church…and what a wonderful person I am…and how they had to get behind me and do what I said…and how the Lord had guided him to Springfield …and had guided him in his work…and when he had to put down the burden had guided me here to carry on, etc. etc. He struck just the proper light tone…and the proper PEP MEETING approach…Then I ANNOUNCED and THANKED…Those who had distributed tickets…those who had agreed to be Group-Leaders…and told ’em we’re going to build a parish house…buy a Moving-Picture Projector etc. etc. The Sunday School Superintendent showed them the Slide projector we just bought…(They were impressed). I introduced the CHEF and he made a little testimonial speech about the church being the best church in New England…and The Chairman of the Committee thanked those who had helped..and we sang Old-Ang-Syne (I ain’t even gonna try to fix this one!) and then Fellowshiped for a while. Everyone had a good time…Dr. DeBerry said there were people out who hadn’t put foot in the church since he left…etc. etc. Almost our entire membership was present. The men stayed and took down the tables etc. Some wanted to take up an offering but I refused.
2130 S. Hobart Blvd. #4
Los Angeles 7, California
March 29, 1945
We received your letter (letters)…and were very glad to get a “report” on doings on the home-front. We keep so “complicated and unfinancial” that we keep everybody writing exclusively about our problems to the exclusion of what you-all are doing n’ that.
We went out amongst ’em again Sunday. You may remember Maude and Walter Lewis from Detroit. Maude was Maude Goins, I believe, before she married Walter Lewis who lived on the West Side and ran around with Harold Glenn. She went to Plymouth. I didn’t remember either of them…I never remember people unless I know them pretty well. He said he knew Henry very well (Perhaps Henry will remember him) Anyhow, we went to their home for dinner. They have a little cottage, and two little girls, and he drives a bus (semi-elite) Valeria Tandy (now Mrs. Valeria McCreay) was there too. We hashed over what everybody still in Detroit is doing and where all those who are away are and what they are doing, etc. They like California and are planing to stay if they can move all of their relatives out here. After dinner five other semi-elite couples arrived (just like the movies … except we didn’t motor out to the Country Club for Cocktails) We played some silly game … Polino or something for pennies…My luck not being very good I lost my six pennies quickly and spent the rest of the evening calling out the cards. They played as though the future peace of the world depended on it…the women especially…not bad looking howsomeever. (Note from my mother inserted – that’s the only reason he played. leering!) After several hours of it…they began to drop out with spots jumping before their eyes n’ that…concentration always gives my people either a head ache or puts them to sleep. Since they were trying to be elite they all developed headaches. A very nice time was had by all…’cept I can’t put up with no bunch for six hours without being very weary…very very weary. (incidentally marriage has improved Valeria…or perhaps it was the baby. (I mention this so you can tell Hugh, who I believe use to “go” with her.)
We also descended upon Hollywood the other day. (See enclosed invitation) Walt Disney is trying to bust into the production of Religious films which is supposed to be developing into a little gold mine as soon as the war is over. He’s trying to “fix-up” a lot of old pictures for re-release to churches. His idea is nuts…the pictures won’t fit into any church program … but he’s going to try because he has a million dollars tied up in old pictures that can’t be released any more through the old channels. Cathedral Films is the “Big” Religious film Prodction company. They’re trying to “encourage” Disney to come on into the field because there’s not enough production going on to meet the needs of the churches. Churches have to know that films will be available before they put several hundred dollars into a projector. (I’m going to show Louis, Paul, George, Hugh, and Henry the point where we also ought to go into the production of films soon as I get home… I’ve already re-designed Louis’ garage into a sound-studio for the production of movies and film-strips…they are very lucky boys!) Anyway, we descended upon Hollywood. Reverend Galloway drove us out in his big Buick…We were late as my folks always are…and he drove like Pee-wee…with the same disregard for life and limb, I mean, but without the finese and flash that Pee-Wee displays, of course. The Studio is out from Los Angeles…where the sunshines all of the time…and the air is clear. Because they are making Training films for the army in addition to entertainment films the place was full of guards who demanded a pass every ten feet. He has a little city all his own…not so large as the other studios…but much larger than anyone would need to produce animated pictures…except for the Hollywood glamour. We passed Warners Studio on the way (see map in invitation) They were not working because of the strike. Pickets were at every gate…just like the movies. The stars refuse to break a picket-line (most of them being communists…except Eddie Brackeen who is a Republican) We looked for Peter Lorie and Sidney Greenstreet (our favorite actors) but couldn’t find them in the mobs around the gates. Disney has a super-fine projection room with a big glamorous control channel in the center of the auditorium for editing “rushes” and that…The poor preachers who were guests stumbled about as though they were lost in a world of sin about which they knew nothing…and were properly awed and amazed…and dumbfounded. They made speeches about this great new medium and the kindness of Mr. Disney who was going to help the churches with his great talents and that…very disgusting humility! In the midst of it all Reverend Galloway was darting about like a little termite trying to meet people and introduce me to the “right people as his friend, a Visual-Education expert n’ that. I got so tired of chasing after little dumpy blad-headed white men to shake their limp moist hands and leer at them that I was O so happy to meet them. Galloway, who has a considerable sense in most things, makes quite a point of this sort of activity. It may pay dividends but it’s too strenuous a life for me…I’d rather be a wall flower. Doris enjoyed the glamour…and kept interrupting the pictures and the speeches to “suggest” that we open a studio in Detroit in connection with the church. She wanted ot operate the controls, I could tell. That there Louis would have a “tinkering fit” if turned loose in a sound studio…such “pretty machines” to be fixed n’ that! I don’t think the fact that the most delicate mechanisms are sealed and should be sent back to the factory for adjustment would stop him, at least not until he broke them all up one time! Well, I suppose that’s all the news from the “ON” front at present. I KNOW that Pee-Wee and Gladys are in there fighting every minute on their own little “ON” fronts (La Moor…La-Mor!) tell Henry & Hugh I’m trying to get back to Detroit in time to build ’em a new chicken coop this Spring…THIS IS THE TIME FOR EGGS n’ that… If they don’t get “rich” now, ain’t no use talking about it later!
“Brabra” is my father’s sister, as are Gladys and “Pee-Wee”. Louis, Henry and Hugh are his brothers. Louis was a doctor who loved to tinker and build things and take things apart. Henry and Hugh were conscientious objectors who farmed during WW2.
The pass and the map were not included in the letter that has come down to me. To learn more about the Hollywood strike in 1945 click on the photograph to the right.
This is the last letter in my collection from Los Angeles to Detroit. The next letter arrives in November from Springfield, Mass. I wish I knew how that eventually came about. There are several newspaper articles that I will be posting that announce his appointment to St. John’s Congregational Church in Springfield. Articles, photographs and letters to come.
2103 S. Hobart Blvd. #4
Los Angeles 7, California
January 6, 1944
Guess we must be writing too often…don’t seem to leave you-all no incentive to feel communicative n’ that. We received Gladys’ letter…sounded like you-all had a nice Christmas. Everything here is about the same…except I’ve had a cold or flu or something ever since last Sunday…It’s much better now…and Doris seems bent on getting it too..kicked me out of bed this morning to phone her supervisor that she was taking sick-leave…and then woke up later (this afternoon) with a cold…which made her very angry…stealing sick leave and then really being sick. (po’ thing!)
Guess our telegram failed to stimulate the intended response…since we ain’t heard no “immediate” reply like we requested.) or did we forget the verb in our efforts to keep under the forty cent limit!) Reverend White wrote a little note saying that the church in Springfield, Mass. is vacant and suggesting that I try for it. I, having misplaced my Congregational Directory, had no way of looking up the church…and White with unconcern said nothing about the name of the church…names of people to be contacted or nothin‘. So we sent you-all “instructions” to contact White for this information…so I can get busy writing. (Probably couldn’t find him until Sunday no-how – I suppose!) A letter addressed to “Negro Congregational Church, Springfield, Mass” would I’m sure prejudice the good brethren against me. I wrote to the Congregational Board of Pulpit Supply in Boston and asked them to place my name before the officers of the church. But I have little faith in their “energy” or “ability” in so far as Negros are concerned, I had just corresponded with the Executive Secretary of the Board the preceding week regarding openings…and he sent me his best wishes and the season’s greetings. But I wrote him anyway! I wrote Reverend White suggesting that HE contact the church officers placing my name before them. But I also have little faith in his “energy” n’ that. As a matter of fact I’m not sure that there is actually any opening there! He does so love to play the Big-Shot…I would not put it beyond him to just pull a name out of a hat…or say Springfield when the opening is really in New Haven or Boston…or something else absurd. The Church in Springfield is “supposed” to be a good church…one of the old New England Elite outfits. I could probably get it if I could get to them… but without a reputation…and three thousand miles from the scene, it will be rather difficult at best. Laviscount is in Boston…but I don’t know him…and fear to contct the swaggering self-centered ilk of typical Congregational bretheren. Doris may write. She and her folks know him.
P.S. Write sometimes! P.P.S.-Do you know any Springfield Big-wigs? (Not like those in L.A.!!!) P.P.P. S . – Did Rev. Pickett of First Church in Detroit go to Springfield, Mass, of New Haven, Conn.? P.P.P.P.S. – How are Henry & Hugh doing with the new “draft young farmers” business? Still O.K. I hope!!!!!
This letter should have come before the previous post where my father writes about lecturing on his Design Theory. “Gravi” is his younger sister, Gladys who was an art student at Wayne State University in Detroit at the time. Below is a strip photograph of all the Cleages, the house on Scotten in Detroit and my parents and their apartment in LA. This is how they looked at the time the letters were written and how they were identified in the letters. If you click it, it will enlarge and you can enlarge it again which makes it big enough to see.
2130 s. Hobart Blvd. #4
Los Angeles 7, California
December ?, 1944 (note: envelope dated Dec. 20)
My dear Gravi:
I have a little problem in “Design” for you to work out for me during the Christmas vacation. (If your hectic love-life and gadding about permits of the time.) ‘taint very important, if you’re too busy.
I want you to work out some little designs (like the one you did breaking down the picture into abstract lines and masses for your first course in design…remember…you used show-card paint.
I have developed a “theory” of graphic design which I would like to illustrate. It goes as follows. All design is based upon the principle of dialectic tension and progression…moving (just as Marxian social-change…remember social-causation) from THESIS to ANTITHESIS to SYNTHESIS and BACK TO A NEW THESIS. I want abstract designs to illustrate the three stages of development and two to illustrate the proper transition between them. I will describe just what to do to design each stage as follows:
THESIS represents security…peace…calm…status-quo…the power of order… stability …etc. It is essentially unpleasant unless you are somewhat akin to a clod. It represents the Middle-class ideal…the bourgeois unconscious. it is usually used in picture of New England churches etc…There is balance…with the emphasis upon spaciousness (figures are not compactly massed)…and HORIZONTAL LINES combined with VERTICAL LINES (both boldly done. THERE ARE NO CURVES OR DIAGONAL! There can be a soft triangle but not too conspicuous (like the spire atop a church which is essentially a HORIZONTAL. ALL LINES AND MASSES indicate the STATIC QUALITY…EVERYTHING HAS TO COME TO REST! ALL DIVIATIONS HAVE BEEN SQUASHED! Simple isn’t it. You can find a picture of this sort and break it down into an abstraction if you like or just build up the abstraction.
ANTITHESIS represents REVOLT against the THESIS. It is done with diagonals (not triangles) Bold diagonals form the basis of design. Small contradictory diagonals probably in the foreground add to the general confusion. The confusion, however, is orderly because it is a design BUT EVERYTHING GIVES THE FEELING OF REVOLT or ANTITHESIS. Picture of the CITY, INDUSTRY, WAR, and POVERTY are usually designed this way to suggest the underling conflict and revolt. Do one design representing this stage.
(Inserted handwritten note by my father) “Keep the idea of one basic design merging into the next and then into the next – etc – like a circle – where the design pattern is being changed as taught by external force.”
SYNTHESIS represents the tendency of ANTITHESIS to resolve back into a new THESIS. It is the most pleasant of the three because it is a compromise having something of both. IT has something of the HORIZONTALS AND VERTICALS of the THESIS, and the DIAGONALS of the ANTITHESIS have all bee softened into CURVES. It is not so spacious as the THESIS nor so compact as the ANTITHESIS. Most rural scenes are SYNTHESIS… the rolling countryside..the soft clouds in the sky (curves) and the swaying trees…the cattle in the fields etc. all make for “SYNTHESIS” composition.
The TRANSITION between THESIS and ANTITHESIS would tend to emphasize the TRIANGLE (I think) these transitions are more difficult. Some of the stability of THESIS is maintained but the suggestion of conflict and revolt DIANGONALS is present in triangles)
The TRANSITION between ANTITHESIS and SYNTHESIS would tend to have softened diagonals which are already becoming CURVES… some would have already become horizontals and verticals (which is the result of spreading out diagonals beyond the point where they result in curves.
Simple isn’t it! you can find pictures representing each stage in that book of American Paintings… and just break down examples of each. I think the abstract breakdown would have the same FEELING (emotional effect upon the observer) as the original paintings in spite of the fact that the subject (human interest) has been lost. Incidentally this is the basis of all abstract painting! and the schools of Modernists (Cubists, Expressionists, etc.) In addition this conception should determine the artist’s rendidtion of any picture. The style he uses should be determined by the meaning of his subject. Most artists do it unconsciously but I am now in the process of bringing this great truth out into the open!
I want it for a class in CINEMATIC DESIGN because in the designing of motion pictures this unity of subject matter and graphic design is absolutely necessary…but apparently no one ever discovered it before (or why are they keeping it so secret…or don’t I read the right books!
If you have time to do them let me know. Put each one on a white cardboard and place the title (thesis, Antithesis, etc.) on each one. It would be interesting to do them all in BLACK & WHITE…and another set in COLOR (suiting the colors to the basic idea…which I would leave to you) Two sets could be done in black and white REVERSING THE VALUES IN THE SECOND SET (to prove a contention of mine that the tonal pattern is secondary to the linear pattern which would be the same even after the black and white values were reversed.) THAT WOULD MAKE THREE SETS. LET YOUR TIME BE YOUR GUIDE. SEND ME A BILL FOR THE MATERIALS. (and I’ll file it away with my other bills) Don’t take as much time with each as you took with the one you did for yourself…SO LONG AS THE BASIC IDEA IS RENDERED IN ABSTRACT DESIGN I’LL BE HAPPY. To do it myself would take twenty-years or so!
(Note written in my my mother) “Pauvre Gravi!! Beware!!! This Negro loves to see people work!! Signed, Voice of Experience.”
I can usually find a photograph to fit ever occasion in my collection. Someone doubted I could find a picture in my collection of a postman, a pineapple and Alaska. I put this together using cards in my postcard collection. I think it fits the bill. None of them are related I must admit.
Amanuensis Monday was started to encourage transcribing and sharing documents, letters etc. that we have. I am sharing a letter from Victor Tulane to my grandmother Fannie after her family moved up from Montgomery to Detroit. Soon after she and my grandfather bought a house her mother and her two sisters joined them. They had two children under 5 and my mother was on the way. Read more about Victor Tulane here and about my grandmother here.
Rents Collected Homes Bought Loans Negotiated And Sold Estates Managed
REAL ESTATE AND INSURANCE
SCOTT BUILDING 123 MONROE ST.
Montgomery, ALA., Nov. 23, 1922
Dear Fannie, I am enclosing check from this M.R. & Ins. Co; for ten dollars which the sec’y should have mailed you some time ago.
We are winding up the affairs of this company and will send you another payment on stock acct. pretty soon. I think that the company will be able to pay off it’s stock holders dollar for dollar.
I trust this will find all well and getting along nicely.
Your mother’s things were shipped yesterday. Trust they will arrive on time and in first class condition. Remember me to all the folks. Tell the kids hello! Let us have a line from you when convenient.