Posts filed in: July 2006

Strange Collection

comments: 26

MantleWell, I know, this is kind of weird and all over the place for the living room mantle — casserole dishes, teacups, canisters and vases — but that's kind of how I'm feeling lately. Scrambled. I look at it all/myself and say, "Is this working?" Too bad if it's not — best I can do today. Hmmm. Lots of odds and ends in life right now, between tying up things at the shop, planning something new, continuing with what's not changing, finding time to enjoy the process of change (er, okay — trying). I'll get there. Deep breath. Maybe the polka dots/cookware/mustard yellow (and perhaps even this metaphor) is all working after all. Who knows. I'll know when I look back at it, next month, I think. For now, just gotta keep moving. I can do it.

Great Weekend

comments: 27

WeddingI love going to weddings. I always get choked up, though. This time I didn't get that bite-your-lip feeling during the ceremony but during the slide show they played just before the ceremony of their engagement pictures, pictures of them playing around out at a farm on Sauvie Island. This couple is about 21 years old. So young. The sweetest people.

I've been thinking about weddings because Andy's and my ninth anniversary is this week. I usually botch the anniversary present (and most other presents) to him. I wish, I really, really wish that we had way back when embarked on a routine that would have included the traditional anniversary gifts. Ninth is pottery. I, of course, want the big white Le Creuset dutch oven. Is that pottery? I don't think so. Iron. Darn. Should've gotten it for the sixth. Oh well. Anyway, need to think about good present, quick.

BreakfastpresentsBlair and Stephanie came on Sunday morning with lovely presents — adorable pin cushion and tiny dollhouse treasures, as well as book (started it last night, B, and miracle of miracles, I like it! Thank you! Phew, 'cause I couldn't sleep [having slept half the day, see below]! ). It's always so great to meet bloggers and discover that they're just as wonderful in person. Andy helped me by making waffles for the girls, and smoked salmon. I made Ina's basil frittata (just finished the leftovers of that for breakfast this morning, in fact). I love having people over for breakfast.

BreakfastThere's this illusion that, after breakfast, everyone will have the rest of the day to do something else, when in fact I went into the living room for just one quick second to sit down and wound up falling asleep. By seven, after I'd fallen asleep and woken up about four times — each time I woke Andy was watching either Miss Marple, Poirot, Barnaby, or Monk — I was so ready to head for bed. We were supposed to have gone to the antique expo in town for the weekend, but actually never made it out of the living room, or, in my case, off the sofa. Great weekend.

Pretty Prezzie Parade

comments: 22

Window2My friend Ellen sent me a pretty little present from Cath Kidston in L.A. yesterday. Now I have my very own C.K. mug, which looks so pretty on my kitchen windowsill next to my coconut essence and my gingham vase. And beside the ivy, which needs to be watered every four-and-a-half minutes. Now I just need to wash the windows (as if). . . .

Window3So many pretty presents have come recently I finally took a bit of time to photograph some of them this morning. I always feel kind of funny about posts like this as I know they seem very boastful somehow, but I don't intend them to be, honestly. Every time someone sends me a little present I still just feel like they've made a mistake somehow, and must have meant to send it to someone else. But since I do open each one in a frenzy of delight and recycle the boxes immediately, you know, before the givers have a chance to come to their senses and ask for them back, I figure it's the least I can do to say "thank you" in this blatant, mine-all-mine way.

JamJam, from Maize, when I went mental about summer. Also this adorable bluey Pyrex dish and a little lacy hankie. So loving these little Pyrex dishes lately. So good to keep little stuff in around the studio. Did people actually bake tiny loaves of bread in the things? That would be cute, too, though I expect you'd need about a half dozen, or so? Anyway, homemade jam — I really want to make some myself, but failing that (as I certainly will, given my track record lately) I'll just eat Maize's. Yummy. And Kelly sent some darling vintage linens that will look perfect with jam accessories.

PortraitThis I love, from Christine. A little portrait. My neck really looks like that, too. I wish. Nevertheless, I think I will wear my hair that way today. How cute is this picture. I've hung it above my sewing machine so "I" can act as a scarecrow to guard my thread from naughty cats. Thank you, Christine. What a sweet thing to do. Anna and Janet sent some awesome buttons, too, that now live right below this rack. And Princess Lisa sent fantastic craft supplies from NYC. My studio, and I, are thrilled with all new additions like these.

VintagedaisiesThese are darling. Vintage daisies from Lauren, in the most adorable wrapping. Where is everyone finding their adorable tissue papers? I wish I'd taken a picture of all of the papers. But I didn't. Also a lovely floral collage from Cindy, who makes lovely things. It's funny how your tastes change through time, isn't it? I hadn't thought about daisies much until recently, really not until I saw that daisy invitation in the summer '06 issue of Martha Stewart Weddings. Unfortunately, there isn't a picture of it, but if you've seen that issue you probably remember the thing, because it was totally perfect and charming. It made me think of Page Marchese's wedding that was featured in the magazine probably ten years ago, when I was engaged and studied those issues with feverish obsession. Her wedding had a subtle '60s/daisy/yellow theme and was just darling, and has always stuck in my mind. Anyway, more daisies for me. So sweet.

BearsNow, these. Oh dear. From Whitney. She went to an estate sale in Illinois where the peeps had been dollhouse and miniature-train types. These three bears with their porridge and their chairs are bitty. Like, smaller than 1/12th scale — sort of 1/12th-scale doll-toy size. They must be from the '60s or '70s I would guess. Their bowls are the size of the little circles that fall on the floor after you've punched holes in your paper.

BittythingsAnd these, too, from the same place. The vintage bathtub, pedestal sink, birdcage, egg basket, teacup and saucer, and the cake. Oh, the rose cake. On its own paper doily. Click on this image, if no other. See the cake. Covet the cake. It's gorgeous. I also got an adorable pink plastic baby stroller sized for a bitty baby from Laura. Must. Work. On. Dollhouse. Immediately. Cannot find the time to even open the box lately, which is sitting right over there. Right over there, while I type this, tempting me. Soon, my love. I promise. I have thank-you notes to write first. Must. Make. STATIONERY!

Thank you, everyone. Goodness gracious. It feels like Christmas in July. Thank you!

Lemon, Sage, and Daisies

comments: 19

Daisydinner2My girls' daisy dinner last night was very lovely, and I was glad. Ina has taught me something — she only ever makes two things herself when she is entertaining. I didn't know you could do that. I made a lemon-stuffed roast chicken, Nigella's potato gratin (which is utterly sinful — you boil potatoes in cream, milk, garlic, and onions, and then when they are seconds away from turning to sludge, you dump the whole thing into a casserole dish and pop it into the oven for a few minutes to get a bit crispy on top — think this one is from Nigella Bites), simple salad, and some special, decadent pastries from Zupan's. I was going to make cupcakes but as the day started heating up it seemed too hot to turn on the oven. Apparently I forgot that the "roast" part of "roast chicken" requires the oven to be on for an hour and a half. Yes, it was very hot in the kitchen. The pastries (by Joseph's) were so beautiful, and so delicious. Sometimes when you get pastry from the store, especially cake, it looks beautiful but doesn't taste that good. This was raspberry-mango buttercream cake, lemon cheesecake, and buttermilk tart and they all tasted as pretty as they promised.

Daisydinner4Today I must get back with the program, and tonight Andy has two free tickets to see Pirates of the Caribbean. I fell asleep not once but twice during the first one, so . . . I hope we're going to the early show. Either that or I hope we're going to the theater with the cozy seats. Tomorrow is a wedding of one of the sweetest, most beautiful girls I know — I've seen the dresses and this party oughta be gorgeous, to boot. And Sunday, I'm very, very, very, very excited to meet Blair and have her and Steph over for brunch. I think it's shaping up to be a great week after all. . . . Phew. Close one.

Why I Don't Write Historical Novels, for Instance

comments: 23

DuckitOh man, I so realize I am in serious danger of taking up permanent residence under the bell jar this week. Those letters, coupled with the Woody Guthrie biography (sad, I thought) last night on OPB — good grief. Having my daisy dinner party tonight, thank goodness, which got postponed from Saturday when I found myself living exclusively in 1945 and couldn't get out. I cannot even tell you how distracting that was — I really felt like I was in some weird wrinkle in time. I took myself out to dinner alone at a Chinese restaurant after work on Tuesday night, intending to read my brand new Vanity Fair, which I thought was in my bag and would help me re-enter the 21st century, since I seemed to be having trouble doing so. What was actually in my bag, what was the only reading material in my bag was a copy of a 1951 needlework and crochet magazine called The Workbasket. I could not believe it. I'd forgotten that I'd cleaned out my bag. I begged the waiter desperately for a newspaper, a newspaper dated July 11, 2006. The only ones he had were in Chinese. I gave him a panicked stare, then sat and ate my salt-and-pepper squid and read The Workbasket with great petulance. I absolutely cannot eat alone without reading. I think the waiter and the hostess were so shocked that someone would show up for dinner alone (this was the kind of gargantuan restaurant where you routinely see tables of twelve, next to other tables of twelve, all members of the same party) that they seated me directly across from the only other guy in the whole restaurant eating alone. He didn't have anything to read either. He played with his Blackberry, and I felt like I could not comfortably sit there and stare into space, being right next to him as I was like that. So, once again, I found myself reading about ladies' clubs, boiled icings, and the latest in doily fashion. I seriously thought I was going to walk out of the place to discover I was wearing a circle skirt and a cashmere twinset. Aaagh.

Anyway, feeling much more 2006 now, and wanted to say a heartfelt and very contemporary thank you to everyone who left comments on the store closing — I really appreciate those. If you are a Typepad blogger, you probably know that Typepad was down for maintenance yesterday, and deleted a whole bunch of comments that were made during that time — so sorry about that. I can't believe how nice the people that read this blog are. Where were you when I was thirteen and my entire school hated me (yes, Lorraine Schalk, I'm talking to you here). Thank you for all your kind words, honestly, though I'm starting to wonder about the antique market thing. Given my apparently extremely sensitive response to the past lately, I'm beginning to think I should, like, stop estate saling and take up hip-hop dancing, get a cell phone, and shop at Costco like everybody else so I can at least maintain, if not seek to improve, my already wobbly pace in the present day. Dude. Seriously. Get a grip.

Goodbye, Ella Posie

comments: 89

ShopimagefulGetting stuck in the lettery past almost made me forget that things will be changing around here in the near future! Today it is official: After a lot of thought, we have decided to close Ella Posie, our little shop in Portland. This photo was taken a couple of weeks after Ella Posie opened in our first location. I've always loved this picture.

Although I'm a little sad to leave the shop, I'm so looking forward to moving back into my studio and focusing on Posie and my own product line full time. Posie is my true love, and I've missed having time and energy to lavish upon her the way she deserves. She has patiently been waiting for me to come back and play. Ella Posie will officially close on August 5, and sometime this fall I also plan to start a small booth at Monticello Antique Marketplace where I can offer some of the vintage beauties I've been collecting for a while. I am really excited about all of these new things.

Thank you to all of you — especially those of you not only from Portland but from around the country and the world — who read this blog regularly and have come to our shop over the years. Your interest, enthusiasm, support, and friendship has meant more to me than I can really figure out a way to say, and you know I'm rarely at a loss for words. . . .

So I'll just say thank you. You're the very best pals a girl could have.

The Second Group

comments: 40

Typedletter2Monday afternoon. Perfect weather here. Seventy degrees and sunny. I have Ivonne's Cherry Coffeecake in the oven and a sleeping corgi at my feet. Life here at the Paulsons' in the summer of 2006, my friends, is good.

Nevertheless, all the letter reading of the past few days has left me pensive and a bit melancholy. It has been hard to stay detached from this story, I must say. I have found myself distracted from my other things and drawn repeatedly back to the pile of envelopes until this afternoon, as I try and summarize things, just for my own peace of mind, I guess. Many people who commented seemed surprised to hear that I was not going to keep the letters; I don't think you'd be surprised if you'd read them. They are quite intense. I'm not sure exactly what I'll do, but I have done a bit of research and have found a couple of people in the family and will contact them directly first, to see if they are interested in having the letters returned. If not, and with their permission, I will donate them to a historical society. But, not just yet.

The second group of letters are written mostly from around 1950 through 1961 between a mother, Hazel, and her son, Roy, with several from Roy's sister (the aforementioned Clara, though she is only referred to as "Sis" or "Sister," and signs her own name this way consistently). These letters are related to the first group by the vaguest of connections — Hazel is Ray's (of Mary-and-Ray, from yesterday's post) aunt, though that is never specifically mentioned, and I only figured it out when I could see that Ray's mother Muree was writing to Hazel and talking about "Ma," — the mother they both share. Ree (Mu-ree) is also mentioned several times in Hazel's letters, and one time Clara says something like "Mother paid Ree the money she owed her so at least that's over with." Not a huge ton of affection between these two sisters, Hazel and Muree, from what I can tell. How all the letters wound up together I'm not sure. Of course, I could easily be wrong about all of it.

But let's just say I got it right. This second group of letters, then, is to Hazel's son Roy, not Ray (and not Ree). Roy sailed for at least these ten years with the States Steamship Co., a fleet of lumber vessels based out of Portland and traveling mostly to the Philippines. It's hard to tell how old Roy is from his letters, but his handwriting is so formal and childlike it's hard to imagine that he is much out of school when they begin; nevertheless, it hardly changes over the five years he writes, so I guess that's no clue. There are dozens of letters, mostly from his mother to him, with many from his sister, and many written by both of them together. (One is dictated by Hazel and typed by Sis while Hazel waits for her perm to set.) Sis/Clara is married with two little girls; she and her mother spend a lot of time together, as evidenced by their repeated references to each other throughout the letters. They are a hardworking, very kind pair, and are quite close. All three seem very close; there is never any mention of a father, and Hazel and Roy have different last names, so I'm not sure what that's about. The letters are interesting in their one-sidedness — they are made up almost entirely of the details of Hazel and Sis/Clara's (and the little girls' — rarely is Sis's husband Harry mentioned, but when he is it with regard to him working the night shift, or working around the house) daily lives. Often letters will be interrupted by things happening while they're trying to write — children needing to be put to bed, someone having to run to catch a bus, a visitor dropping by. They so clearly attempt to keep Roy involved in the prosaic happenings of their lives that it is hard to imagine what they must have thought life was like for him, at sea for weeks at a time. His letters are so empty of personal detail, anecdote, or emotion; consistently they appear much like this:

"Dear Mother and All,
     "Will arrive at Yokohama this afternoon about two o'clock to take on bunkers for about 6 hours will leave around 8 o'clock tonight for Singapore another week or so before we will arrive there.
     "How is everyone find I hope.
     "We had pretty good wether coming over. Suppose to be three months maybe longer.
     "Right now is raining to beat heck.

"Your Loving Son Roy"

Always, though, they are signed "Your Loving Son Roy" or, sometimes, "Always Your Loving Son Roy."

Hazel's letters are, by contrast, full of affection and conversation and a total lack of affectation. It often sounds exactly like she is talking to him in real life. There is almost no sort of formalized, letter-ish voice about them. Many of them are typed on a manual typewriter, and it is clear that she and her daughter share it, and take it back and forth between their houses, a couple of miles apart. In October of 1956, Hazel has all her lower teeth pulled out in preparation for having dentures made. She writes in great detail about the procedure, and the diet of mushy food she must eat, Sis's little girl's birthday party the weekend before:

"Will try and finish this now I was getting so hungry I went a fixed me a big bowl of chickednoodle soup and some graha m crax. as I was out of bread and will get sometonite when I goout to mail you letter. Well the sun went down clear hope she comes out in the A.M. the same way. I think I told you in the last L. Evy had her Party 2 wks ago Sat. She had 10 girls and her and Sally made 12 at the table. She called me then and said G. Ma I set the table and put all the cards and all the trimings on it sure looks Pretty. Sister make cupcakes and frosted them with pink and white. and put a candle on each one and they were lit and each on took theres home AS there was to much other things to eat at the table. She made red punch 1 gal. and those girls drank it nearly all she said. . . ."

She closes almost every letter similarly:

     ". . . Everything thing is all ok. here. so dont worry about me Ill be all right soon. Justtake care of your self and eat plenty. An The Good Lord is always with us Son and every thing will work out all rite, when you carry that thought in mind at all times the same as I do. Well I don't have anymore news I can think of now. and I dont here it raining so I will put on my big coat and run over on 49th. and put this in the mail box and it will go out 9pm.
     "Ree said to tell you she sends her best. just called. and Aunt Fanny . said the same. and Of course Sister and H. and then Evy. and Sally both send U. Roy there love.
     "I will close for now and hope to hear from you soon. Be sure and rite me Son. God Bless You And Keep You Always

     "All My Love.

I had such affection for Hazel (or "Fern" as she is often called, just to complicate things) by the time I'd read everything she'd written to Roy — her gentle, reassuring manner was so devoid of worry, or loneliness, or any kind of obvious longing that would upset him. It is obvious, too, that her letters are very important to her  — toward the end of them I started to realize that she probably really enjoyed writing the litany of her daily routines as much as she enjoyed keeping him informed. She has several addresses over the years, all around my neighborhood; for several years she works as a caretaker for a wealthier family to whose house she must ride two buses. Several times she mentions ships coming and going, and often there are newspaper articles cut out of the Oregonian and tucked into the envelopes about other ships in the fleet leaving and coming into port — she is knowledgeable about the company and Roy's constantly changing ports of call. Often she signs off with "Be seeing you Son," and always "All my love, Mother" or some variation. On every letter, even sometimes after the signature, she writes, "God Bless You And Keep You Always."

The last letter from her is dated in November of 1961, to Roy at port in Vietnam. I believe that Roy came home to live in Portland with his mother until her death, sometime in the late '70s, I think. Sis/Clara lived in the house where the estate sale took place until recently, I guess — I don't know. There is one letter from her on vacation, written to Roy in 1987 at the same address at which he lived with Hazel, and it's one of those fill-in-the-blanks "Lazy Lettergrams": Dear Ray, I am writing to you from Victoria. I arrived here on Wednesday and I wish I was staying longer / richer."


I'm piling all the letters back together — separated and organized — and putting them in a box. I'm not ready to let them go yet, but I will do it soon, and get on with my own life. It's been an enormous adventure and privilege to have read them. I drive around my usual routes so differently now, somehow — "Hazel lived there, she mailed the letter there" — I can't explain it, but I'm sure you know. I'm going to take some of Andy's love letters to me and tuck them away somewhere in this house, for someone to find, just in case, someday, someone might be wondering. . . .

The First Group

comments: 51

I'll just start by saying that today was a really weird day. I woke up with a really achy kink in my neck and shoulder that just didn't go away all day and made my whole body feel uncomfortable. My foot, strangely, was also aching — possibly because of the weather, which was hot, hot, hot — and I was just feeling generally out of sorts. I finally turned on the air conditioner around 6 p.m. and started to relax. My mind was awash in names and dates and places and voices.

I read all of the letters yesterday. It took me forever to get them organized because, as I mentioned, they were all split up in different bags. There are around one hundred altogether; the first, written in July 1935, is from a landlord discussing potential rental of a beach cottage ($1 a day, 50 cents extra for electricity). The last is a xeroxed Christmas letter, dated December 1988. The authors are many, the recipients mainly a few members of what looks like two different but related families. Eventually, toward the end of the afternoon, and with a notebook on which I scratched drafts of family trees, I parsed out the relationships and moves — not to mention the handwriting! — that made up their story. Part of their story. It was surprisingly difficult to figure out who was who, actually. Several people used nicknames or middle names, and a whole group of letters was signed "Mother" or "Sis." I read probably twenty letters from Sis, and saw her referred to as "Sis" by her mother another fifty times, before I figured out from one letter only that her real name was Clara. I believe it was she who lived at the house of the estate sale, since some time in the '50s.

The letters were essentially broken into two groups — the first group, from about 1941to 1952, is mostly letters to one family, many from a young man named Ray who writes to his parents in Portland (his mother, I ultimately deduced, was Clara's mother's sister). They start in the spring of 1941, when he is a freshman at the University of Oregon in Eugene. Though he writes again a couple of times while in army training, there are no letters from him while he is overseas; it isn't until he returns to the University of Oregon in 1946 that he writes again to his parents. This first letter, from April, 1941, is a giddy scramble of happiness as he excitedly tells his parents about a visit from some of his Portland friends. It is particularly poignant as it is the only one written before the war:

"Dear Mother and Dad,
     "Boy, and how are you. I am in a very happy mood with reason to be. Guess what! I had the very happy experience of having a whole car load of guests come all the way from Portland, just to see little me. . . . I spent the most enjoyable Sunday that I have spent since I came to college. . . . The crowning glory was the beautiful summery weather that spring term at Oregon is noted for. I was surely glad as anyone of the 6 had never seen the campus before and I wanted them to see it as beautifully as possible, and it most assuredly was. They were so much fun to see. I'm happy in the thought that any of my friends would want to spend 5 hours (both ways) driving in a hot automobile just to see me for a period of 4 hours. No foolin' I'm highly flattered to think that these kids would drive 242 miles just to spend the afternoon with me. Well, maybe they enjoyed the drive.
     "Saturday I got a postcard telling me of their visit. It said, quote, we are coming down to see you . . .
     "Well, I didn't have anything to say to begin with and I have used up an entire page in saying it so please excuse me as I must to bed.
     "As always Your Loving Son,

"P.S. May I again say that I have had few if any happy experiences that could surpass my joy and appreciation of the wonderful time I had today. The only black mark on the entire day was that I only had 2 cents and therefore could not pay any expenses. I owe those kids so much that way in entertainment that I fear I shall never be in a place to return the compliment."

By January 1942, he is at army boot camp in California, and writes to his folks about a dozen times before being shipped out, to where it is not clear.

Then there are about fifteen letters written to Ray three years later, all over a two month period, and all from his fiancee, Mary, as she eagerly awaits his return home from the war. (Interestingly, Ray's initial letters to his parents do not mention her at all; it is unclear where they met, though they were both from Portland.) Mary begins writing to him at the end of August, 1945, from Lawrence, Kansas, where she works at a plant. Her letters — voluminous and articulate onionskin stacks written in her fast, sketchy hand (very unlike his careful, loopy script) are a remarkable collection of everything from the businesslike and prosaic working out of details (where will they get married, should she take the child-welfare job she's been offered in Eugene while she waits for him to get back, will she be able to find a suitable apartment for them, as housing is very tight) — to the aching loneliness of her longing for his touch — to philosophical ponderings about the war. She is an independent, practical, straightforward person in her letters; clearly she is faced with making many decisions alone and she outlines her thinking for him quite distinctly with regard to each one, rebutting his often abstract reasoning (which we hear when she literally quotes it back to him, saying, in effect, "I don't think so; I'm doing it this way; this is why; I trust you'll come around to agree"). For several letters they seem to debate whether, when he returns, they will live in Portland, where he will get a job with the railroad (and where he apparently would prefer her to take several months off to "keep house" and "get used to married life"), or move back to Eugene so that he can finish school while she works full time, having already graduated. Though she outlines her reasons for needing her own fulfilling job quite succinctly, (they do ultimately return to Eugene), and her response to his uncertainty throughout all her letters is forthright and commanding, interestingly she seems to sometimes betray a sort of "homefront" naivete that he (apparently) no longer shares. She writes:

     ". . . You are quite wise to face so clearly the factors which you feel will be involved in your return to civilian life and jobs. I think you underestimate the effect of the pressure which veterans will have in getting what they want, but that is a little beside the point. Along this line, I have never been able to understand why you had so much question as to your ability to qualify under the education clause of the GI Bill of Rights. If America did not keep faith with the laws which she had enacted, there would not have been much point in any of your fighting. . . ."

In other letters, she muses at length on her clothes, dreaming up outfits she imagines might please him, saying at one point that she knows clothes don't really matter but she doesn't think he will mind if she tries to be as pretty as possible. One very lengthy, rather dreamy letter that I love is written on her train trip from Kansas back to Portland around September 6, 1945. I've ridden this route many times myself, and I can picture her writing this, dreaming of the simple things that one longs for most when away from one's love, filling the thirty or so hours it must have taken with musings — many of her previous letters talk about not really having enough time to write (though she does write every other day or so) so it must have been luxury to sit and "talk" to him at length during that long trip, a trip that would ultimately end with their reunion, and marriage. After much discussion of "showers" (a euphemism they seem to use to discuss, politely, sex), she uses the segue to talk literally though still, somehow, quite provocatively, I think:

     ". . . Perhaps in Oregon, where climatic conditions are more favorable, I will not be so obvious, but I always feel dirty after a day's work. I used to feel pretty drippy when you called for me at the office in Lawrence. Besides if I'm going to be on a fairly heavy schedule, a shower and change of clothes is most refreshing. Thus I'd like to be able to get home and get this done before hubby arrives. It's really not important if you don't mind kissing a dirty face. Anyway, Ruth said I was a pretty speedy cook, so I shouldn't hold supper up too much.
     "Incidentally, you will find that for the most part I like to be dressed — meaning I may wear shorts and halter if it's hot, but I shall not dash about in my slip. Certainly work mornings I would dress before breakfast. Sunday may be a different affair, since I'd like to add fruit juice or coffee to your plan of going back to bed. Maybe we'd both want to have the remainder of our breakfast on a tray in the living room. In which case maybe we could both wear robes. I wonder if you have thought of what you would like me to wear evenings we planned to spend at home before the fireplace. I don't have any quilted lounging pajamas, but they would be warm for sitting on the floor and soft to the touch. There will be a lot of these evenings and I'd like to have your point of view. In line with this, I do hope you like popcorn because it makes a good combination with a fireplace and companionship. . . ."

Lump in throat, once again, and I've read it three times now.

In the same letter she explains her reasons for wanting a charge account at Meier & Frank ("occasionally, sales at M&F result in real savings in needed items. It is an advantage to have an acct. then for this reason. Suppose we want to send a gift to someone. M&F would wrap and deliver. It's a little impersonal but would be an advantage in a pinch. I'm not saying this is a must, but I do think it's worth considering"). She also pushes heartily for an account at the grocery store, for the milk to be delivered, and concludes, "Also, if possible, I'd like the luxury of a telephone." Interestingly, in many of Ray's later letters to his parents from school it's clear he is studying business, and knowledgeably discusses the markets; in many of Mary's letters to Ray she frets over her debt.

Surprisingly, given the fairly genial tenor of Ray's early letters to his parents, it was strange to hear their discussions about his not wanting their parents at their wedding, which Mary frenetically arranges for the day of his return. At some point, she encourages him to have a more "mature attitude" and allow their parents and a couple of close friends access to their ceremony, which she schedules at an Episcopal chapel downtown, though neither or them shares that faith, and she admits she is nervous that the minister might balk because she is not baptized. She is surprisingly unromantic about their wedding plans; it's amazing to me that they are desperate to get married the actual day of his return. Throughout the letters there is also reference to a private ceremony to they've arranged to have occur between the two of them the night of the wedding, and she searches for a place with a view for them to go to. She concludes that there are no buildings tall enough in Portland to provide the setting for what they have planned, and suggests the Columbia Gorge Hotel. She winds up leaving her parents' home in Portland after a month and going to Eugene on October 5, 1945, to start the job that's being held for her, and to wait for Ray — there seem to be many delays in his return — and the last letter is really just a note forwarding him Mary's address: "Son grab a cab and come out if you have time. I'll pay the cabbie both ways. Lots love, Mother."

No letter follows this until July of 1946, when Ray, now married, writes to his parents again from the library at the University of Oregon. Notes that follow, always addressed to his parents, come both from Mary and Ray but they are short, and usually thank-you notes for something that has been received. One particularly poignant one is the second to last, from December, 1946, which rattles along with the usual, vaguely shallow chit-chat about school; but this same envelope also includes a separate note from Ray to his mother, discussing his knowledge of his father's illness, and encouraging her not to become distressed. The next and second-to-last letter from Ray is addressed to his mother alone, in July of 1947, and explains that Mary is pregnant. In April of 1948 there follows a strangely comical letter written from the perspective of Mary and Ray's then-two-month-old twins. Lastly, in February, 1951, there is a long letter to his mother outlining the furniture arrangements in their new house in Sweet Home, Oregon.

The second group (remember Clara?) I'll save for tomorrow. It's 10 p.m. I'm completely exhausted but I had to write it down before I lost track of what I was thinking. I've already decided I won't be keeping these letters. I wish you could see them in real life, too. Okay, gotta go to bed.

Old Letters

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LettersYesterday  I spent the day by myself, making the rounds to different estate sales in my neighborhood. Estate sale-ing is always a hit-or-miss, slightly fraught experience; if it's a good one, there is a tension in the air that I find absolutely maddening, remembering the morning my parents held my grandparents' estate sale themselves, not knowing, I guess, how traumatic that experience can be for the family, which is why they're often handled by agents. I remember my mother immediately hustling us out of the house after the initial stampede of shoppers — people had been lined up down the sidewalk, waiting for us to open the door, and they literally pushed their way into the house. My sisters and I sat wide-eyed and appalled as they rushed to grab things off the walls. I doubt either of my parents had ever been to an estate sale before. It wasn't their thing, and I know it was painful for them to watch scavengers carelessly tossing things about as they looked for treasure. I think they always regretted doing it that way, but at the time it was the best they could manage, and once it started, what could they do?

Most of the amateur estate-salers I know are fairly responsible about the activity, I think; we have an appreciation and respect for the lives indicated by the wide-open cabinets exposing Sweet & Low packets, half-used Avon handcreams, piles of handkerchiefs — all now for sale. It's impossible not to enter these spaces without being reminded of one's own mortality, the impermanence of all our careful plans, efforts, and evidence. Nevertheless, sometimes what's left suggests so much. Sometimes you walk into a place and think, "Wow. She was just like me." There is a stocked pantry in a cool corner of the basement. There are sewing supplies carefully organized. There are stacks of greeting cards and letters wrapped in bundles. There is a collection of teacups and saucers obviously chosen for their spritely, delicate decorations. There are magazines saved from decades long past.

Yesterday was one of those. I wandered, slightly overwhelmed, bumping into others who were bumping into others, all of us scanning surfaces. On an enormous table were boxes and boxes of old greeting cards and various ephemera, as well as several small sealed bags filled with air-mail letters. I grabbed a couple of bags of them, along with some other stuff, and went on my way. Later that afternoon, many hours later, I went home and sat down to look at the letters. I read a couple and scanned through the envelopes. It became quickly apparent that there was a story here, one spanning several decades and at least two families. It was 3:40 p.m. I called Andy at work and told him what I'd found, and he encouraged me to go back to the sale to see if I could find the other letters. I raced upstairs, changed out of my pajamas (yes, I put them on the minute I get home), hopped back in the car and zoomed back over to the sale, which was closing in six minutes. There were two bags of letters left so I grabbed them, along with a few more magazines, and spent the rest of the day trying to organize the letters chronologically. It took hours.

Several big gaps are apparent. It's amazing to me that someone in the family didn't want these. I feel so upset that the group of them is now broken up — obviously, whoever organized the sale took stacks of letters and just split them up into different baggies and sold them off individually. I can see that someone in the family had been living at the address since the '50s. Whoever it was had kept letters going all the way back to the '30s, many written during WWII and the Korean War. They are an amazing collection of primary documents. I'll have more to say about them, I think, when I'm done reading the ones I have — I'm probably only halfway through. Perhaps many families have boxes of such letters — I don't know. Mine didn't; this is the first collection like this I've ever seen in real life.

Minty Valise (and More) for Me

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MintyvaliseHad so much fun putting together a little minty case for Jane that when I saw this one at Goodwill the other day I had to get it for myself. It was another one of those ultra-exciting moments where I spotted it, grabbed it, did a sort of cat-burglar-look-around ("Are you kidding me? Do these people not see this thing sitting right here in plain sight?"), and danced all the way to checkout. I can't tell if it's old or new, but I think new, since it's in perfect condition, and fairly cheaply made. (Update: Darling reader Gail wrote me to say that this was the free-gift-with-purchase from Nordstrom a few months ago! Hee hee! Cracked me up.)

Mintyvalise2Lots of lovely gifts have come my way the past few weeks and I want to honor them as I find places for them to live. The vintage apron above is so pretty and crisp and fresh I just gasped opening it — it's from Alexandra, who I don't think has a blog? Thank you, Alexandra. I put it on the mannequin in my room, but I'm totally wearing this tomorrow (oh, and the hat, too — KIDDING! Please, people!), when I bake something from the amazing Cream Puffs in Venice blog, which was featured on Typepad this morning, and is overwhelming me with its beauty and sweetness. Aaagh. I'm new to food blogs. I'm sort of afraid to go there, actually. I'll never get off the computer. Putting the computer in the kitchen and baking something, though — that seems like a good idea. Pretty blog.

InsidemintyvaliseThe inside of the case is pale gray. What to put inside? Pen and notebook. Camera. Contact solution. Yarn and crochet hook. Vial of cinnamon sugar, and vanilla bean. Address book. Tiny bag of coffee. Glasses. Love letters from Andy. Pictures of family and pets. Calling card. Copy of The Brothers Karamazov (Pevear translation, my desert-island book). Sock bunny. Pajamas. Tiny plastic horse. Will it all fit? Must have the pajamas. And the contact solution. Perhaps forgo contacts and just bring glasses. Click on photo to see small picture of a baby Audrey at the beach. Love that photo. I'd bring that one.

Minithings2 I think I'd stick all these little treasures in there, too. How darling are these. The princess chair is from the lively, lovely Lisa. The little wooden stove is from our shopping trip together last weekend — was it only last weekend? Jeesh. Anyway. The adorable, wonderful cakes, cake box, and flower bouquet were made by the inimitable Grace, daughter of Turkey Feathers Vicki (who also sent perfect gray fabric for more patched projects in the works — thanks for that, Vick). Nimble-fingered Grace is a genius with this stuff. She sells it on Etsy, which I check frequently to see what other bitty wonders come from those young hands. I think I'll keep it all here until I get my dollhouse put together.

Now, off to enjoy the day. And congratulations to Amelie Mauresmo who won the Ladies' Singles title at Wimbledon today! Great match. Loved watching that.

About Alicia Paulson


My name is Alicia Paulson
and I love to make things. I live with my husband and daughter in Portland, Oregon, and design sewing, embroidery, knitting, and crochet patterns. See more about me at




Since August of 2011 I've been using a Canon EOS 60D with an EF 18-200mm kit lens and an EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens.