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Women Mentors and Co-Conspirators–we all need them!

Joan and her pal Dorothy used to make up poetry together.  Here’s one of their less successful but more amusing efforts.

Joan on March 1, 1939. Doesn't she look swanky?

Joan on March 1, 1939. Doesn’t she look swanky?

Monday March 12, 1939, Age 16

            …. [A]s Dorothy was at typewriter and wanted to write, I decided to make up a super-modern poem  so we did…Dorothy types by the hand-finger-search-method, much as I think and so we got along fine—for a while…it was super modern and I dictated lots of dots and no capitals…here is how it went….


i hate them…

brutal, inhuman, repulsive, lowly…

my soul shrieks discreetly….


i am a goldfish in a deep grey ocean

tests are quicksand..they are eating away my soul…

horrible, ghoulish, suffocating…



Isn’t it beautiful….I think so. When we were done, Fraser sang out Iliadically, “Sing, Goddess,etc.” and I got up on a table to enunciate. When Barbara shouts joyfully, “Oh, good afternoon, Mr. Jacobsen” and I leapt unagilely down. Bang…and read it from the floor…to much applause.

I wanted to call it a poem in very blank verse but Fraser said then it would have to be in unrhymed iambic pentameter so I didn’t…Anyhow, it was well received and we put it up on the bulletin board entitled “Poem in the Very Modern Manner.” Rick didn’t quite understand the “goldfish” line:

Says he: “But goldfish don’t live in the ocean—“

Says I: “Well, that’s the idea—I’m out of my element.”

He: “O you’re marvelous …You ought to do something about that.”

Me: “I shall…”

Oh, but that was cute. Me standing on the table sprouting poetry.


Joan spouting poetry

Joan spouting poetry

Much fun was had by all.

Now, I’m sure Joan would be the first to agree that this poem is not, shall we say, of Shakespearean quality.  But she and Dorothy had a fine collaboration and enjoyed themselves.  Plus gave joy to others.  Women in cahoots with each other–a theme in so many women’s lives.

Women helping women was the theme recently for me at the Story Circle Network Conference, a wonderful event that occurs every two years.  Women writing life stories and memoirs gather, sharing their stories and techniques for producing heart-felt, passionate, funny, and moving stories from their lives and the lives of women they know.

Perhaps the most moving moment for me was when young Joan was honored by one of the presenters as her mentor in the field of oral history.  Carole Garibaldi Rogers, the journalist, oral historian, and poet — and an old friend of my family — presented on From Census to Story: Bringing a Family Tree to Life. 

Carole Garibaldi Rogers, a dear friend and Joan's wonderful writing colleague

Carole Garibaldi Rogers, a dear friend and Joan’s wonderful writing colleague

As she introduced her material, she explained how  my mother Joan, a long-time member of the same writing group with Carole, had been a nurturing mentor in the field of oral history.

Women helping women– over the decades and over millennia.

At the conference, I presented on From Family Documents to Published Book and shared tips from my learning process for Home Front Girl.  One student had masses of oral history material.  How to cut it down?

I cited, as always, my mom.  Joan had said concerning her oral history interviews that there is always a story in the transcript.   You have to create a short story out of that material and make it glow.  Sometimes the person telling the story does not realize what the narrative arc of her own life is until she starts telling her tale.  Maybe it is only the editor who polishes it into a coherent narrative.  As I said, “I always listen to my mother.”

Susie teaching a workshop at the Story Circle conference

Susie teaching a workshop at the Story Circle conference. Thanks to Sallie Moffat for taking photos.

I’ve been blessed with many mentors–at Story Circle, Susan Wittig Albert, the amazing creator of the group, generous with wisdom and warm support.

Susan Wittig Albert, writer dynamo and writer extraordinaire

Susan Wittig Albert, generous dynamo and writer extraordinaire

And my pal, Laura Cottam Sajbel, who joins me in various writing gigs.

Laura Sajbel, writer pal and co-conspirator

Laura Sajbel, writing pal and co-conspirator

But most of all and always–Joan.


New York World’s Fair 1939

Recently, the New York Times reported about a couple who collect memorabilia from the 1939 New York World Fair. You can read the entire article here.

Dr. Roy Goldberg at left and Keith Sherman at the right next to their plaster model of a statue from the 1939 World’s Fair in Queens. Credit James Estrin/The New York Times .

Dr. Roy Goldberg at left and Keith Sherman at the right next to their plaster model of a statue from the 1939 World’s Fair in Queens. Credit James Estrin/The New York Times.

Dr. Roy Goldberg and Keith Sherman collect everything from menus to scrapbooks to posters.  Even a plaster model of a statue shown at the Fair!  The original, full-sized statue, “Riders of the Elements,” stood on the Avenue of Transportation.

"Riders of the Elements" at the 1939 New York World's Fair

“Riders of the Elements” at the 1939 New York World’s Fair

The Times quotes Louise Weinberg, the manager of the archives at the Queens Museum concerning the style of such sculptures.  “It was of its time and, I think, futuristic….It was in the genre of many of the other sculptures that were done at the time. They grew out of futurism and Art Deco and a streamlined style. They were rooted in traditional sculptural ideas, but they were far-reaching in their aspirations. It was all about building the world of tomorrow, which was the theme of the fair.”

Poster advertising the Fair

Poster advertising the Fair

The Fair opened 0n April 30, 1939.  In this video clip, Franklin Delano Roosevelt opens the Fair, aware of the world’s political tensions.

Unlike the eyewitness in that clip, Joan clearly saw how the war influenced the New York World’s Fair in 1939 which she visited the week World War II began in Europe.  She had spent the summer at camp. The  Fair was advertised to young people as an especially appealing way to learn.

Joan would graduate from high school in 1940.

Joan would graduate from high school in 1940.

This photo was taken the day the Germans crossed into Poland–only when the photo was snapped, no one in the countryside of Michigan was aware that the violence had begun.

Joan at summer camp on September 1, 1939. You can see what wrote exclamation marks after the date.

Joan at summer camp on September 1, 1939. You can she wrote exclamation marks after the date.

She writes in her diary that night.

Age 16, Friday, September 1, 1939[1]

I have been reading about the [World War I] dead and am thinking how awful it must be for a mother—or a father—to know their grown son dead. After bearing and bringing through childhood to the prime of his life a son—to find that all this is futile, that all this is ended—all vain. That he died before he began to be himself. To lose a child must be in a deep sense far worse than to lose a husband. It must make one lose the sense of continuity. . . . A husband dead means that you are, in a way, dead—but to lose a child means you lose immortality—that you shall not go on. . . .

[1] Ironically, Joan wrote this entry before she knew World War II had begun on this day.

The futuristic style of the Fair is reminiscent of another 1939 classic:  The Wizard of Oz.

The futuristic style of the Fair is reminiscent of another 1939 classic: The Wizard of Oz.

Then she and her mother take the train to New York to visit the World’s Fair.  This Fair Newspaper from Monday, September 4, 1939 tells what happened at the fair on the day Joan writes the poem below.  If you look at the articles in that link, you can see that museums like the Louvre in Paris, National Gallery in London, and Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam ask the Fair to keep the treasures lent for the duration of the Fair until further instruction.  The museums fear for the safety of their treasures should they be returned to a Europe at war.  To read much more about how the Fair became politicized, read this fascinating piece here.

Article from the first week of World War II, showing how the Fair reflected the world's turmoil.

Article from the first week of World War II, showing how the Fair reflected the world’s turmoil.

While at the World’ s Fair, Joan writes this poem, reflecting on the conflagration begun in Europe.

Age 16, September 4, 1939[i]                                                                                          

                                         New York World’s Fair 1939

We shall remember this peace -

This caught moment of half-night beauty

Music – and a night bird blinded by the spotlight

That same light which has just flashed

Following it as it moves.  On a white cloud

Music – the last rose of summer chimes so sweet

I am afraid I shall have to forget it

Or die, not hearing it again.

The pylon gleams and the sphere is pale blue in the night

White shall be this memory forever, I think.

The last rose of summer is too beautiful, I fear.

Even the wind is white.

Some day they shall dig up this circle

Row upon stone row of seats  –

And the molded screen and the broken figure

Atop this tower will be half-gone — or all

And the lights ungleaming

But they shall know we passed.

They will wonder perhaps who sat here

What motley crowd idled — it is we here

In our colorful rest that they shall wonder if

The red flag flying and the stalwart figure atop

May still remain in tatters.

But I — this girl in the blue dress and Juliet cap –

I will be utterly disappeared.

Uncurled from the stone seat and unlistening then -

To any music – even this last rose chiming

Even then, though even then, when they ponder these ruins

And this place is ivy-grown and mossy,

Even then, though,

I think we shall remember this peace.

[i] “8:25 P.M. Written while listening to music in the outdoor amphitheatre of the Russian exhibit.”

Newspaper article from the time Joan was at the Fair.

Newspaper article from the time Joan was at the Fair.

Dearest Dimples: letters from a saucy sailor

Dearest Dimples: letters from a saucy sailor


This is from Norah’s diary–the diary of the English girl writing the same time as Joan is in the USA. This entry has some romantic intrigue!

Originally posted on Socks for the Boys!:

‘Dearest Norah’: as March runs into April, Jim takes the lead in stepping up the level of intimacy with his sixteen year-old correspondent. He teases her with his suggestion that her favourite (unnamed) radio star is chosen purely on account of his good looks, unlike his own choice, Bruce Belfrage, famous for his masculine stiff upper lip, calmly carrying on as the bombs fell on Broadcasting House.

He imagines (wrongly) her hair colour in his cheeky signing off:

1941 3 24 Mar0001 (2)

Jim to Norah, 23rd March 1941

Jim to Norah, 23rd March 1941

‘I try to picture you, Blonde about 5’6”. Please forgive such a short letter but I have been travelling all night but I like to answer your’s so I can receive one from you. I also wish you free from raid’s, and will now close and sleep with you in my thoughts. I remain, yours friendly, Cheerio Blondie? Jim. “Smilin Thro”’.

Norah must put him right…

View original 748 more words

The Morrison Writing Factory

Last fall I gave a talk at my favorite library in the world: my hometown  Morristown and Morris Township Public Library in Morristown, New Jersey.

Morristown and Morris Township Public Library in Morristown, New Jersey

Morristown and Morris Township Public Library in Morristown, New Jersey

So many high school friends of mine came, and fans of my mom, Joan, author of Home Front Girl, arrived in droves–even in wheelchairs.  It was really amazing.

Tony Boyadjis and I reading "Frazier" and "Joan"

My high school pal and fellow thespian, Tony Boyadjis, and I reading “Frazier” and “Joan”

The reporter, Lorraine Ash, did a beautiful job summing up the event.  You can read her article here.  What really touched me was how she also wrote about my mom’s other books, as well as my dad’s “seminal textbook,” Organic Chemistry.  Since everyone in our family has published books, my mom called us “The Morrison Writing Factory.”

Hubbub after the talk

Hubbub after the talk

Those words still ring true. After the physical copies of Home Front Girl:  A Diary of Love, Literature, and Growing Up in Wartime America, written by my mother Joan and edited by me, arrived in fall 2012, the kids eagerly each grabbed a book.  Chatter and delight.

“My name appears twice,” crows Sarah, who is not only mentioned in the Acknowledgements but also credited with the book jacket photo of my mom and me.  While Jim had taken the photo, Sarah touched it up and focused it in that magical way only experts on Photoshop can (more on her expertise in other posts).

The Authors of Home Front Girl outside of Joan's house and Susan's girlhood home in Morristown, New Jersey.

Meanwhile, John gloats about how I describe him in the Acknowledgements.  “She says I’m ‘tender-hearted!’” he triumphs in a distinctly untender-hearted manner.

John, Sarah, and Susie reading Home Front Girl around the dining room table.

Then we all settle in to read while Jim prepares dinner.  All are intent on the book.  Occasional banter bubbles up about some word or line of Grandma’s.

At one point, Sarah says, “I say ‘purdy good’ just like Grandma does here.”   She seems pleased to find this link between herself and her grandmother.  Little does she know how many more there will be that she will discover!  Beyond how everyone thinks she looks like Joan.

The quiet grace while reading Home Front Girl

At dinner Sarah tells about how, when she couldn’t fall asleep the night before, she created a television series in her head about a post-apocalyptic world.  John pipes up suggestions and soon–they’re off to the races. Creating, describing, fashioning dialogue.

A new generation of what my mother dubbed our family, all of whom write:  The Morrison Writing Factory.

Propaganda Posters for WWII

The National World War II Museum is an amazing place.  So warm and welcoming.  Veterans of the war greet you as you enter.  And the exhibits, films, and artifacts are unique.  I had a wonderful time doing book signings of Home Front Girl there twice.  Currently they have a fascination exhibit on propaganda posters of World War IIl.  Look at the amazing ones they feature here.

Dancing with Frank: January 1941

Dancing with Frank: January 1941


Nora is like Joan’s English twin. Nora’s great niece is writing about this wartime diary. This entry: wartime dances!

Originally posted on Socks for the Boys!:


 1st January 1941: Went to Hemington with Ma.

 2nd: Snowed

 9th: Bombs dropped at Diseworth and Wilson.

10th: Helen, Ma and I went to Long Eaton to buy coat for M.

13th: Washing. Good day.

15th: Started school. Kath form captain. Raids.

18th: Ma went to Dr about her hand.

19th: Very deep snow.

22nd: New Tec boy from Diseworth Robert Lee Warner

24th: Frank & I went to dance.

25th: May Twells married.

Norah is more tweet-like than ever at the start of 1941. The weather is bitter, so cold  that Marsie needs a warmer winter coat. The latest local bombs have dropped on the starfish sites located at the edges of the villages of Diseworth and Wilson.  A New Tec boy is her latest crush and…

View original 2,171 more words

Presidents’ Day: Celebrating Washington and Lincoln in the ’30s and ’40s

Today is Presidents’ Day.  You can follow a slideshow about all the presidents here.

When I was a kid, we celebrated George Washington’s Birthday (February 22nd) and Abraham Lincoln’s Birthday (February 12th) separately.  They also did in the 1930s and 1940s when Joan was a girl.

D. W. Griffith produced a film telling the biography of Lincoln in 1930.  It was written by Stephen Vincent Benet--a Pulitzer Prize winning author much beloved by Joan. Here is the movie in its entirety.

Joan writes about both presidents Washington and Lincoln when she is sixteen years old.

Sunday February 12, 1939

            Well, here is Lincoln’s birthday again—and surprise—I haven’t written a poem about it.  Usually, you know, I write a poem regularly about every holiday we get out of school for—and even some we don’t.  Oh well.  I always liked Lincoln better then Washington…

She does seem more interested in Lincoln. He shows up a lot in her diary.  After the war is well underway in Europe and North Africa, Joan reflects on the passing of life.  This passage she wrote when she was 18 years old.

Thursday January 26, 1941

            Beauty is unbelievable, isn’t it—all things superb, all tears for loveliness, all sweets, and all colour is in her…Oh beauty, nothing is as real, yet as unbelievable as beauty! —I’ve been standing at the kitchen window while the Tales of Hoffman played on the radio, watching the large snowflakes drift over the roofs…the church tower dim and grey and the sky like the grey-white sea…Oh beauty. 

You can listen to the Tales of Hoffman just like Joan as you read on.

            Perhaps the world is changing and we shall never get it back the same…But I think the things to be remembered will be different from what we think now.  I don’t think so much I’ll remember Dik, Larry, meteors I made so much noise over—but rather the sweet friendly face of Clyde Johnson, laughing with me in Harpers [Library]—Or Bud, singing “Auld Lang Syne” with his Bear’s grin.  The funny unsophisticated people.  The dependable ones we laughed warmly at.  Calvin—running his fingers through his hair…Oh friendly, lovely world…Every quiet day is equal to every day of comet glow…Sweetness of world…I’ve been to church today too:  “Whosoever drinketh of the water which I give shall never thirst.” Twice this afternoon they played “La Golondrina” on the radio and I recaptured from its notes Joe picking it out on his mandolin that first mad day on the station wagon, later in quiet night….Unbelievable quiet…oh world!  (This was life, this was living).

You can hear La Golondrina here and read a translation of the lyrics here.

            …British have captured Derma. All the faery-tale cities of the world—are real…Derma, Tobruk.  Oh world. 

…P.S. They reenacted the play they gave the night Lincoln was killed.  I was weeping for all the people dead.

The Assassination of President Lincoln *from left to right: Major Henry Rathbone, Clara Harris, Mary Todd Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln, and John Wilkes Booth

The Assassination of President Lincoln
*from left to right: Major Henry Rathbone,
Clara Harris, Mary Todd Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln, and John Wilkes Booth

A short while later, Lincoln’s Birthday arrives.

Wednesday February 12, 1941

            Hello!…Well, Lincoln’s birthday.  Stayed home alone and read “Das Abenteuer der Neujahrsnacht” for German…. Heard Wilkie[1] on radio tonight…Wants lots of aid to Britain….

Wendell Willkie

Wendell Willkie

Gabriel Heatter.  He always has that way of making you think “Tonight’s the night: –“These are the days”.  Anyhow, Franco has just met Mussolini…is to meet Marshall Petain tomorrow.  Rumours of peace between Italy and Britain.  Italy badly needs it—or so we’re told…’Nuff of Europe….

[1] Wilkie an unsuccessfully as a Republican for President in 1940.  Gabriel Heatter was a famous radio announcer.

Gabriel Heatter.

Gabriel Heatter. “There’s good news tonight” was a catchphrase of his.

You can listen to him announcing WWII news at this site where he talks about the “Latest Nazi Claims.”

All is not gloom and doom.  Joan manages to retain her sense of humor.  Weeks after Pearl Harbor,

Photograph from a Japanese plane of Battleship Row at the beginning of the attack. The explosion in the center is a torpedo strike on the USS Oklahoma. Two attacking Japanese planes can be seen: one over the USS Neosho and one over the Naval Yard.

Photograph from a Japanese plane of Battleship Row at the beginning of the attack of Pearl Harbor.

Joan writes about running into a beau, Bill Knisely.

3:15 AM Sunday Morning Dec. 21, 1941, Age 19

            After teaching today went to bookstore to get stamps.  Bill was quite flustered and gave me $1.25 change for a dollar.  I gave it back.  Me and Lincoln.  Later he called up and asked me out for tonite, but I had a date already.

The “he” asking her out for a date was Bill, not Lincoln!  Joan’s sarcastic reference mocks herself, while referring to Lincoln’s extreme honesty–”Honest Abe.”

Her jokes continue despite the oppression of the war.

Thursday February 12, 1942

            School even today.  Lincoln’s birthday, of course, but it’s not supposed to be patriotic to have holidays now.  Wartime, you know…Tomorrow Mr. Ashford is going to set off an incendiary bomb in Phy Sci [Physical Science]. If I don’t reappear, you’ll know why.

In February 1939, Joan had commented on how she had not written a poem in commemoration of Lincoln’s Birthday. But she did compose one a couple of weeks later–  an impassioned poem that seems to sense the coming war.

Feb 24, 1939 written when Joan was 16.                                                                                                 

They say that Arthur shall return again

And Joan of Arc to lead the troops of France,

But who shall come once more to us?

Dead is Lincoln and the white mold creeps

Upon the tomb of Washington asleep forever.

Arthur could not drive Caesar out

He was not yet come when Romans ruled.

Nor could young Joan rid Hun from Frankland,

She had not yet been born in Donremy.

Hear me!  Our dead are not yet entered life

A young man shall rise up to lead us yet.

Wait till the time shall come and we shall find

A burning youth with blood-red banner leading us.

Joan of Arc, Joan's namesake and much beloved heroine

Joan of Arc, Joan’s namesake and much beloved heroine


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