Archive for March, 2012

It’s not enough to gather other people’s stories. You need to tell your own, too. Today’s prompt:

What was your grandmother’s house like?

Tell us what it looked like, but don’t forget your other senses as well. What did it smell like? What sounds did you hear there – the songs she sang, the music that played on the radio, children in the school yard next door? What kinds of food did you eat there? And what did you feel? Was her skin soft like well-worn leather? Were her blankets soft or coarse? Leave your story in the comments below, or blog about it and link back so we can read along.

Oil StoveMy grandmother lived in a tiny wooden duplex in Mechanic Falls, Maine. On the one side was her sister, living in a big white house next to the duplex. On the other, separated from the back yard by a chain link fence, was the red brick elementary school where I went to kindergarten. That was decades ago, but I still dream about that house – the main floor, where pretty much everything was, including her bedroom. And the mysterious upstairs where we were never allowed to go, full of my mother’s childhood things and ominous in its dust and silence. In my dreams I try to climb the white-washed wooden stairs, but never complete the journey, held back by my own pounding heart.

The kitchen was in the back, dominated by a hulking black cast iron stove with iron plates for burners that you could lift out with a poker. She didn’t use it often – she wasn’t much for cooking. But she often made us a snack of “oil stove toast” – buttered bread laid flat on the hot burners until it was limp and hot. I’ve never seen a stove like that before or since, or eaten oil stove toast since I was a child – but I can still smell the hot iron, and even taste it, the way a cast iron skillet leaves its seasoned flavor on the food that cooks in it.

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Superhero Fantasies

Born during the Great Depression and in the shadow of World War II, is it any wonder Superman was so popular? (Source: Seattle Daily Times; March 5, 1940; p1)

Imagine a quarter of a million American teenagers living on the road, fleeing abuse, forced to drop out of schools that had closed, or just trying to find work to help their families. This was the situation during the Great Depression, when two teenage boys created “The Man of Steel.” Is it any wonder Superman became an overnight phenomenon?

In 1940, Superman was beginning to appear in newspaper comic strips across the country. It’s easy for me to imagine my grandfather at the breakfast table, 35 years old and the father of four children, reading the comics and wishing for a real-life superhero. He and his wife worked for the Volunteers of America, trying to make life better for the down and out while they themselves struggled. On the day the 1940 US Census was taken, Superman was laying a trap for thugs who were loaning money to poor people, enticing them to gamble it away, then making them repay it at huge interest rates. It was a complicated story line – Superman hadn’t yet become the Biff! Boom! Pow! type. But a mythical superhero, stronger than any evil, must have been a welcome fantasy for desperate people living with hunger, poverty, and the growing menace in Germany.

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