Thursday, May 15, 2008

A Pretty Girl Is Like A Melody

Until I started this article, I hadn't really thought of my Mother as a school girl, as the 14 year old bobby-sockser you see in the photograph to the right. She was just Mom. I took her intelligence for granted. As most children do, I took everything about her for granted.

She placed a very high premium on education and had a tremendous amount of reverence for the written word. The written word was sacred she always said. When I took down her high school yearbook and started to look through it for this article, I realized there were no autographs on the autograph page. Typical Mom, she would never have written in a book. They're sacred after all.

I've had her Bayside High School yearbook for many years, but I've never really looked at it, looked at the high school girl that was my mother. I guess I've thought I knew everything about her.

I'm looking more closely now, trying to be an objective researcher and historian, trying to suppress that familiarity born of being her child that kept me from really knowing my Mother the person. Looking at her the way others saw her or knew her.

Each entry in the Triangle Yearbook, Class of 1942, was accompanied by a saying - Gentle of speech, beneficent of mind - Desiring success, you shall have it. Some of the entries sounded a bit forced, as if those writing them really had to work to come up with something to say about the person pictured.

Bayside High School
32nd Avenue and 208th Street

Bayside, New York

My Mother's saying was - A pretty girl is like a melody, from the 1919 Irving Berlin song that had become popular again at that time. It didn't sound forced to me. It sounded as if the person writing it actually meant it. She was a pretty girl and she certainly came from the house of melodies (Carnegie Hall). At least, that is what I choose to believe.

Yearbook Entry

I wasn't surprised she was in the History and English Honor Classes, she was always a great homework resource, but I was surprised at all the sports; volleyball, tennis, and small games (whatever that might be). The only sport she discussed that I can remember was fencing and it's not listed here. Perhaps she had given it up by her senior year. She also had three years of Latin and spoke German. She had taken German, she said, so that she could talk to Papa. Papa was Louis Salter's father John, her great grandfather. So as a child I learned to sing German Christmas songs and say a phrase "telling others my name and asking if they spoke German."

She must have approved of the saying beside her name, because she was a member of the Triangle yearbook staff. She would never have allowed it to be printed if she didn't approve. Mother's that little thing in the middle of the picture below. Were you ever so young or so small? Somehow I thought you were born - well, my Mother.

Triangle Yearbook Staff

The yearbook also contained a Class Prophecy in which my Mother was prominently mentioned.

Rustling silk, shimmering velvet . . . Evening in Paris . . . immaculate white shirt fronts . . . shiny black top-hats . . . sables slung carelessly over shoulders . . . soft golden lights, a buzzing stream of chatter--all the glamour, suspense, and excitement of a gala Broadway opening night.

Not an ordinary opening night, mind you; not even Orson Welles, that fond memory, who has since gone to his eternal rest (onMars), was ever able to assemble such a sparkling galaxy. And no wonder. For that new bright light on the dramatic horizon is none other than that famous producer, Tommy Emma, preenting an original venture, which, according to advance press reports whould be the first on your "must see" list. And quite naturally too, for the whole show is studded with alumni of the Bayside High School.

While the audience is getting settled, let's take a look at the playbill "Variations on a Theme":



Aaron Ladman at the piano


featuring Janice Hamilton,
internationally known
Chorus led by Veronica Kern


Spanish Serenade
Pat Zarth, vocalist

Tropic Tempos
Dances interpreted by
Gloria Cutting and
Harriet Waite

Glee Club under direction
of Jimmy Lynch

The Cast
The Poetess . . . . .Bette Taylor
The Hero. . . . . . .Ken LaBarre
The Villain . . . . .Harry Gardner

Play written by Joanne Michelson
Produced and directed by T. Emma
Settings designed and executed by
Jane Reynolds
Advertising by Regina Reckholder
and Margaret Cahill
Fire Notice: The exit indicated
by a red light and sign, nearest
to the seat you occupy, is the
shortest route to the street. In
the event of fire or other emergency
please do not run--WALK TO
Joe Badger, Fire Commissioner.

With the conclusion of the first part of the show, we find ourselves at intermission time, and, having nothing to do, we follow the carpeted footsteps into the buzzing lobby. Familiar faces begin to emerge from the sea of sables, velvets, top-hats, and shirt fronts. Behold the famous society matron, Lillian Uppity (nee Greene), admiring the celebrated diamond necklace of Joyce Van Sniff (nee Lenz), who in turn is being guarded by our master detective, Bob Bingham. . .

How can I reconcile the young woman her friends thought was destined for sable, diamonds, and society with the woman who stood in our backyard in Missouri wringing the chicken's neck that was about to be dinner. I can't, I really didn't know her.

She went on to graduate that year and from there went directly into a four year degree nursing program. Until I read her yearbook I never knew that nursing had always been her goal. What was it that made your decision such an obvious one for you? There are no nurses in the family.

Graduation Photograph

It was just a month shy of her graduation from nursing school when something happened that changed my Mother's life forever. War! The father and brother she adored had both enlisted. There was a parade down Fifth Avenue, a drive for war bonds with handsome young men in uniforms marching down the famous avenue. She told me there were soldiers who had been wounded that marched as well.

She was hanging out a window on Fifth Avenue waving as they marched by, when she was struck by the fact that she had to do something to contribute to the war effort. The next day, she dropped out of nursing school and enlisted in the Army. She did not go on to graduate, something she regretted all her life.

This wasn't the end of her education, she continued to take classes, even after I'd left home. She was one of the most intelligent women I've ever known, but there's so much more I should have known and I don't.



Blogger Lisa / Smallest Leaf said...

I'm glad that you took the time to look a little more deeply into the life of your mother. It always amazes me how little we know about the generations before us - even as family historians, and even the generations meeting our own so closely!

Thanks for sharing your "research" into your mother's life as a young woman. It has inspired me to do a little bit more of the same.

Small-leaved Shamrock
A light that shines again
100 Years in America

May 16, 2008 at 1:33 AM  
Blogger Lidian said...

fM, that was absolutely wonderful, I hate sounding like I am gushing but I absolutely loved your post about your mother.

My mother was a Queens girl, from Woodhaven (though went to HS in Brooklyn) and went to nursing school too. She entered nursing school because the war had started...the reverse of your mother. Came back from college in the midwest to do so.

May 16, 2008 at 7:21 AM  
Blogger TERRY SNYDER said...

You wrote, "Somehow I thought you were born - well, my Mother."

I think that it sums up quite well how most of us think of our mothers. We tend to forget that they were people with their own lives long before they were our mothers.

I love this piece, and your own introspection on how you have seen your mother in the past and how you see her, now that you have searched for clues on who she really was.

May 16, 2008 at 7:15 PM  
Blogger footnoteMaven said...

Thank you all for getting it!

I was really quite ashamed of myself after I wrote this. How could I know more about my great grandparents than my own parents?

And I was your typical judgmental teen, so hard on my Mother. It must have been very difficult for her to leave New York City for a farm in Missouri.

But I didn't know what she had or who she was, so I didn't understand what she lost.

I still don't know enough!


May 16, 2008 at 7:41 PM  
Blogger footnoteMaven said...


You honed in on my favorite line!


Since I love your writing, your gushes always amaze me!


You are so right!


May 16, 2008 at 7:56 PM  
Blogger Jasia said...

fM I just love the photos of your mom, especially the first one of her walking out of the school building. It could have been a poster for the movie "Grease". Great period photo!

I'm lucky in that my mom was around for me to ask all the questions of after I got bit by the genealogy bug and I have 5 hours of audio recordings to listen to whenever I want. But you know, it still isn't enough. There are still questions I want to ask her and I often ask myself why I didn't think to ask her this or that.

Great writing!

Your BBF in Michigan,

May 17, 2008 at 6:06 PM  
Blogger wendy said...

Wow! I was so sad reading that your mom dropped out of nursing school until I read the next line - that she enlisted! Do you have any pictures to share when she was part of the Women's Army (right?)? She must have always followed her passions - that's how you made me feel reading this.

May 19, 2008 at 5:42 AM  
Blogger footnoteMaven said...


I am so grateful you have some of your Mother to cherish and share.

I continue my search in the hope of becoming a better daughter.


May 19, 2008 at 4:08 PM  
Blogger footnoteMaven said...


You can see my Mother in uniform in the article "There'll Be No Hell For Dogs."

And I loved your grandparents' letters. Nice job!


May 19, 2008 at 4:19 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

A vert niece post, the photo's look great I graduated in 1943 so it's all familiar- just wish like everyone, could ask just one more question from my mom, I never asked her about herself?? reading these post are is changing that, thank you

May 22, 2008 at 8:09 AM  

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