This is an image that I made for my digital magazine project, WöM, by harvesting images from my mother’s collection of 1940-60s women’s magazines. This was the era when it was cool to get your feet X-rayed in the shoe store and use spray-on bandages, when the world would be created a better place by chemical companies, and spending money made even women a part of the grand new world — especially if she wore high heels, cooked a lot of meat, smiled in spite of her corset, and cleaned her toilet in heels.
The magazines eventually let me imagine my mother’s experiences, and imagine her as a (not just my mother) human being. She always got angry if someone dropped by unannounced because of her shame at whatever “state” the house was in. If one of my friends went into a room she didn’t want them to go in, I was in trouble, because she thought it was my job to police them. This would have been a little more reasonable if she had informed them which rooms they were not allowed to go in. Once, my mother was in an agony of rage (How could you? Don’t you know how I feel????) because I had opened a door and an uncle was there and he saw into the utility room.
I didn’t, of course, know how she felt, but I tried very hard to guess, from moment to moment. In my mid-twenties, when I came back to visit, I found I was still watching her face at mealtimes to know if there was some emotional storm there that would be blamed on me, and that I would believe was my fault; I would have to try, somehow, to change the weather. It took me a long time to learn that her emotions were not my fault, and I stopped watching her.
I sometimes did try to fit into my mother’s shoes. A pair of her rust-brown pumps are the most painful shoes in my experience, even though my feet are slightly smaller than hers. This must have been the way a lot of women tried to fit themselves into the 1950s. The shoes are very pointy at the toe, and very curvy in the rear, and they are completely rigid in form, the leather backed by a woody lining that makes sure what’s inside isn’t seen, or ( horrors!) change the shape of its mold.
Also, with each step, you walk on a nail. A stiletto is really the name of a narrow Italian dagger.
I still wear my mother’s dresses on occasion, and they still make me think. As I get older, what I think has been changing.
This image, too, means something quite different to me now, than it did when I made it. In October, it will be my 8th anniversary of receiving my final clear CT scan after 8 months of chemotherapy. I only recently found out what, exactly, these scans are – a large number of stacked 2D cross-section X-rays. Why didn’t I know this before? Perhaps because the term “CT scan” is not very descriptive. If people knew how many X-rays they were undergoing per minute, they would be even more frightened than they are.
The pot scourer part of the image is appropriate. Makes me feel raw.
BOOKS– Oh, I’m losing track, after this long summer of kids and travel and moving and camping and renovations…
Testament of Youth Vera Brittain
Everyone should read this to know what war is. Vera Brittain lost her brother and all the young men she knew in World War I, and joined as a VAD ‘nurse.’ Trained a mere six weeks, she saw as much ground up human flesh as any soldier.
The Insidious Dr. Fu-Manchu Sax Rohmer
Crackers, racist, the 1913 male id — or is it ego? Entertaining as sociology. For God’s sake, Manchu! Kill the heros finally, so they can stop escaping your dungeons in order to lengthen the book!
Did people really think some members of the so-called “yellow” races had nictitating membranes?
The Boys in the Trees Mary Swan
An unusual book, tracing the shudder that goes through a small town after a man annihilates his family. The author does not attempt to imagine him beyond the age of about 9. The book works, but is this man’s head really a place no one can imagine? Is this one of those things impossible in literature because people will not want to read it so publishers will not publish it?