Saturday, June 6, 2009

Outside of school, Grades 4 through 6

Before I ever went to Girl Scout camp, I went to a lovely camp, for a week or ten days as I recall, sponsored by our church, 1st Presbyterian in Alameda.  It was in the Muir Woods, a reserve fully worthy of being named for him.  The open-sided cabins were not too rough for beginning campers, the paths were neither overswept nor too apt to make one stumble, there were streams, there were places for campfires, and there was the sound of the breeze in the trees and the odor of evergreens (the great Sequoia Redwoods: ; scroll down to Flora for best picture).  Because of church sponsorship we had plenty of personnel.  We even did an all-day hike.  That year I also went to Daily Vacation Bible School, at the church itself, where carefully instructed day after day we made ourselves scrap books that stayed together for years and years.  We certainly were instructed; it wasn't just church babysitting.  I don't recall specific instruction, though.  Most of the actual instruction was done in the Sunday School class for 10 to 12 year olds, and, with good attendance, it was then that we received our own Bibles, stamped with our own name, KJV with onion paper and with illustrations at intervals, mostly in the OT to show the land, and with maps in back, maps including the Assyrian Empire and the Persian Empire and the Travels of St. Paul.  A bonus equal to the Gideons Gift of Languages.  I am writing without looking, but it is still with me, shelved not 10 feet behind me.  If we'd been Episcopalian or Catholic this would have been preparation for Confirmation; the Presbyterians merely questioned us to ascertain intuitively whether we were ready to become Members of the church.  My parents had been attending, too, but had not yet joined (my mother liked the handsome church and nice services—so did I, as well as the stories in the stained glass windows).  So we were called into the church office together, and the minister asked, me first, why we wished to join.  That very instant I said something and couldn't remember what, though I remember wanting to be as pious as the young Samuel in the painting by Reynolds (; the important fact was that I spoke without any conscious meaning and did not like myself in so doing.  Then the minister said to my father, And you?  And Daddy said, I think she has spoken for us all.  He certainly believed my Infant Samuel attitude.  Alarmed.  Have never forgotten it, and never ought.
Right in the center of east Alameda we had one of the Carnegie libraries, few of which remain today, and in an annex the children's library.  One advantage of wartime was that older books were kept, and one could count on one's favorites being there, trash as well as treasure.  In the former category, for example, were picture books on my famous coevals, the Dionne quintuplets, four of whom were two sets of mirror twins, and of the upbringing and schooling on the set of Shirley Temple.  But the interest in twinning in multiple births and what they did with such tiny babies before there were incubators was not so bad.  There was an English children's story about a brass bedstead with a ball that unscrewed and allowed them (I forget just how) to escape dread.  I seem to have been attracted to books that came in series: The Dutch Twins, The French Twins, and so on, Little Greta of Denmark and Carmen of the Golden Coast, which I had at home and the library had many others, Mother West Wind's Animal Friends, Pollyanna (so many sequels!), and, frankly, almost anything else, at every reading level; Susannah of the Mounties, a series about a Canadian child, Snipp, Snapp, and Snurr.  In particular, anything outdated I would check out and read.  Why?  My feeling was to get in touch with when my parents and grandparents had been young, and, not least, the children who had come to California in covered wagons.  My great grandmother Trewblood had, when she was 8 years old she said.  Also, of course, 'the good old days' is standard escapism, but at least one can follow the map on the end papers and learn something.  I am just barely too old to have read the Little House series or Betsy, Tacy, and Tib, but I was fond of Wanda Gag's illustrations wherever I found them.  I began to want to illustrate books myself.  When I got my card to use the adult library as well, though, the first thing I headed for was Sigmund Spaeth's books on vaudeville and minstrel shows and the like.  But my grandfather liked early 20c popular songs; he sang us Ragtime Violin whenever we visited and asked him to.  And I started reading those lady writers with three names, like Bess Streeter Aldrich.  As literature no better than later novels that had begun as serials in Woman's Home Companion or Ladies Home Journal.  The best thing I began to read was biographies.  Whether Mozart or Marian Anderson, presidents or 'settlers' (was it "Grandma Brown's First Hundred Years"?).  Well, I wanted to find out what a life was like.  All of this was reached on foot, usually straight up Central Ave., as well as window shopping on Park Street,  Long's, Woolworth's, and so on.  I suppose we took the car to church, but we needn't; it was only seven or eight blocks, and with fuel rationing walking was natural.
As for the radio.  I came to do rather little walking on weekends, unless to go to the movies in our end of town.  Even out of Met Opera season, there was the NBC Symphony, followed by the SF Symphony broadcast on Saturday afternoon.  On Sunday afternoons, after the NY Philharmonic, there was James Melton, there was the American Album of Familiar Music and Manhattan Merry-go-round.  Later on Sunday nights there was the Chicago Theater of the Air, operetta or abbreviated opera and, in the middle, and largely unintelligible to me, there was the talk by Colonel McCormick; I understood that he owned the paper and paid for the program, but I really couldn't follow what he said (and didn't try very hard).  This program was not always top-notch singers, but it was pretty good.  I heard Blossom Time and registered what a Schubert tune was like on Chicago Theater.  There was lots of Victor Herbert.  I think that the Bell Telephone hour, which was actually a half hour, was on Monday evening, and the Firestone, a cut below it then, though sometimes wonderful later on television.  The New York Philharmonic was midday (in California) on Sundays.  There was as yet no station, even in an urban market, wholly devoted to Classical Music.  That began with KSMO way down-dial at 1600 so that one often heard a bit of Tiajuana through it; it was better when FM became general.  Not that KSMO was awfully highbrow, either; it carried Doug Pledger's Polka Party, for example.
Anyhow, on weekend afternoons I'd curl up on the end of the sofa nearest the speaker and write to my grandparents (really to my grandfather, considering what I was writing), a running commentary of what I was hearing, with an occasional note of commendation when I really liked how something was sung or played.  I'd write five or six pages of this stuff.  By midweek an answer from my grandparents would come from San Luis Obispo; they never failed to write, and Gramps would send me bits of verse or the clipping from his versified column, Under the Cork Tree.  And, barring an excursion (but there was the gas rationing, always), I'd stuff another envelope the next weekend.  It cost only 3¢, after all, to send it.  I wonder what-all I did write.  It looks in retrospect like the making of a born blogger, of just this kind.  I do realize that there are other uses for blogs.