Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Peeling back the years

Beside me is a composition notebook, wirebound with a thick black and white cover. Written in blue ink on the cover label, is her name.  On the line beneath her name, the subject, Spelling.  I am not sure how long the journal served its intended pupose but at some point, she scratched that out with a red pen and above wrote PRIVATE Please! Won't you keep out?  Thanks an awful lot!!!!!!  (Six exclamation points behind that thank you!)  As best as I can figure from the contents, she was 16 when she changed the purpose of the notebook.

Between its covers is a world of discovery for me.  On the inside of the front and back covers, she affixed small blue envelopes which are stuffed with party invitations, graduation announcements and so very many dance invitations.  Staten Island Academy Sophmore Hop, December 21, 1940 and Pomfret School Fall Dance, November 7th, 1942, to name two.  Her dance cards are full, on every line a name is written beneath the printed column heading, Order of Dance.

You are cordially invited to a
to be given
on March 30th
at nine until one
Kindly reply to Nancy Buck
41 Sunrise Terrace

Much much later, I would know that Nancy as my Aunt Nancy.

My mother filled the notebook with Christmas card lists, lists of the movies she had seen, and gifts she received for birthdays, Christmases, graduation.  She included one of her Christmas cards from each year, glued to its own page in the notebook.  Who says Merry Christmas?  Betty Oxholm, of course!  Her highschool graduation announcement is in the notebook, along with her tennis, basketball and hockey game schedules, with notations on win/loss and points.  A Congratulations card from her parents, We are very proud of you.  Love, Ma and Pa.  I know that card must have meant the world to her. 

This morning I discover a few things I'd not seen before.  I unfold an award certificate from the Navy Relief Fund Tennis Tournament, in which she won the girls' singles at the Silver Lake Tennis Club in June, 1942. Clipped to the certificate is a newspaper article under the headline, Betty Oxholm Wins Girls' Net Title. The article includes this description:  Hitting the ball with power and fine direction off both forehand and backhand, Miss Oxholm was never in any trouble as she swept through the title.  Another newspaper clipping focuses on her field hockey team, defeated but once in two years.  Of her, the article says, Outstanding on the Academy team was Bety Oxholm, centering forward, whose hard-hitting skillful stick handling and fine passing work contributed much to the success of the team.

(You GO Mom!)

On yellowed and crispy sheets of notebook paper are handwritten letters from friends and suitors, folded and slipped between the journal pages.  Letters from girlfriends and a few boyfriends discussing the suitability of certain suitors, one ending with Don't share this with anyone, for obvious reasons. Whether or not she shared that particular letter with anyone, I do not know, but she did keep it for the rest of her life.

My mother left behind a suitcase filled with notebooks such as this one.  Dance cards, invitations, journal entries, letters, photos, schedules.  She wanted for the two of us to go through it together, but we never did.  To my eternal regret, we never did.  Much of the contents will forever be a mystery to me, left to my imagination to color in the gaps, imagine the answers to my questions.  It's a bit like watching a foreign film, subtitled in a foreign language.  Still, the contents are magical to me.  They are a connection to a young woman I never met and yet have loved all of my life.

This morning, two years after my mother's passing, I light a candle in her name and drink coffee from her Vassar College Class of 1946 mug.  I spend the morning going through a notebook, opening, unfolding, touching, admiring, learning more about this woman I knew as my mother. It is but a small look into who she was before she met and married my father, before she became my mother. She was a powerhouse of enthusiasm for life, of grace, and of sporting, social and educational pursuits. And she loved to dance. I smile now thinking about that. She always loved to dance.

Mom as a young woman  DSC_0112


Anonymous said...

awesome read. what a find!

ghost said...

has it really been that long? my thoughts are with you, alison.