I’m so grateful to Trilla Pando for the provocative questions she asked me about creating Home Front Girl. The interview is now posted here. I hope you enjoy it!
Monthly Archives: August 2013
My dear friend from junior high and high school, Beth Carroll, told me about a wonderful girl’s book 3 years ago, shortly after my parents died. The book was Beany Malone by Lenora Mattingly Weber. I had never heard of it, but she said it was great. And if Beth says a book is good, it is!
So I ordered it for my (then 14-year old) daughter, Sarah. But I only got around to reading it this week. It’s one of those books you stay up until 1 a.m. to finish. After everyone was sound asleep, I sat deliciously alone in the living room, propped up by pillow and read every blessed word until the end. And then I wanted more!!! And guess what? It’s a series! Not only is there Beany Malone, there are 13 other books featuring her and her delightful family.
The first book in the series, Meet the Malones, came out in 1943, while Beany Malone, the one I read and second in the series, appeared in 1948. World War II is still reverberating for this motherless family of four teenaged and twenty-something children. Beany is the youngest at 16, her brother Johnny is a senior in high school, and Mary Fred is a freshman in college–but having woes finishing up high school chemistry and getting rushed by a sorority. The oldest child, Elizabeth, is the one most directly affected by the war. She is 22, the mother of 3-year old Martie. Her husband, Don, has been overseas. Just shipped back, he is mysteriously not able to return home. We soon learn why.
Beanie is always trying to help make people’s lives better–but her generous interference sometimes backfires. She calls Don at a hospital on the West Coast and pleads with him to return; Elizabeth just can’t bear being without him. Of course, none of them realize why Don is delaying his return.
Beany is the only one in the household when Don returns at dawn. “Beany stood there stupidly, her sleep-fogged mind trying to adjust. Don? Elizabeth’s Don? This thin, sick-looking man, hanging shakily onto his crutches? This wasn’t the erect, broad-shouldered Lieutenant McCallin who had walked down the chapel aisle under crossed swords with Elizabeth. This wasn’t the pictured Lieutenant McCallin whose eyes twinkled out of the picture on Elizabeth’s dresser. This was a thin, drained-faced, crippled soldier” (151).
Don has to have his leg amputated below the knee. When Beany and Mary Fred visit Don in the hospital, they are sobered by the handicapped men they see. Beany thinks, “‘The war isn’t over for these men. For the rest of you, yes — but not for them. These are the ones who are still paying'” (174). Then they see a “small-town boy” with “a metal vise affair that held his neck rigid.” He waves to them and says, “‘Hiya Babes! If we’d known you were coming, we’d’ve baked a cake.'” The girls laugh and wave back.
Beany reflects, “The wolf call and the ‘Hiya Babes’ had said better than any words the attitude of American soldiers. ‘We can take it and go on from here. We still like girls and fun. We’re down, but far from out.’ The two girls, without realizing it, were marveling at the same thing over which all the nations of the world had marveled. At the ability of ‘Yank’ soldiers to wisecrack through thick and thin. At that superabundance of humor which was typical of American men and which carried them through not only the thickness of tragedy, but through the thin monotony of hospital days as well” (174-5).
Weber wrote this just after the war, when disabled veterans would have been a common sight. Not everyone of “The Greatest Generation” made it home–and certainly not everyone came home in one piece. Surely teenagers were thinking about this–and seeing it in their daily lives. Perhaps a father, husband, older brother, boyfriend, or cousin had been injured in the war and a girl had to live daily with helping a family member with his injury. Rather than a sunny, unrealistic view of war, Weber paints a picture realistically, though with a characteristically practical philosophy that is ultimately imbued with optimism.
I’m thrilled that Image Cascade Publishing decided to reprint these wonderful books by Lenore Mattingly Weber. Here is more about Lenore from their website where you can purchase this series or other fascinating girls’ series from the past.
If you want to know what kinds of things girls read decades before now, this is the series for you!
Someone at a reading said that she knew my mom wrote the entries in Home Front Girl, but it’s so sophisticated, some might not believe it. I know it is hard to imagine, but she really wrote such beautiful words. First of all, she came from an intellectual family—although her parents were “working class” or “lower middle class”, they loved poetry and literature. They met at an adult education school in a poetry class. So Joan grew up with poetry and valuing it. Then she loved to read, especially poetry. She had no tv to distract her. AND she was a writer—worked on the newspaper and wanted to be a writer when she grew up. All that combined together to make her the perfect observer of the world stage as well as her own private world.
Here is just one of the many beautiful passages Joan writes:
Friday, June 30, 1939
. . . Thursday the 28th was the dinner-dance. . . . I came horribly late to dinner, but ate the ice cream anyhow. . . . It was at the [Hotel Shoreland] at 55th and the Lake. . . .
After dinner we went downstairs where they had chartered a room. . . . It was all decorated up—with red and white balloons everywhere and a slippery waxed floor and pictures of the school and copies of the Midway and so forth all over. . . . It was open to Aunt Polly’s farewell address—it made me feel almost sad. . . .
I wore my teal blue dress with the pleated skirt—very sheer stockings—my black suede and gold belt and my black suede pumps!!! You should have seen me. And I just had a permanent so my hair was absurdly short and frivolous looking. . . . And I had my little blue net hat sitting over my curls like an idiotic Juliet.
Anyhow, it was just wonderful!! Just wonderful!!! They played a radio and some records and Olly asked me to dance. Almost all the boys had dark coats with white flannels like in the movies or the magazines. So we danced for a while and then they opened the French doors and Bill Russell asked me to dance with him and we danced out on the veranda. . . . The trees were waving faintly in the night breeze and we could see the moon over them. The lake was dim and shiny and people came out on the fire escape to watch. Some other couples were dancing out there, too, by then . . . I felt so transferred, so aristocratic, so dream-like—dancing in the night on the veranda of the Parkshore Hotel in Bill Russell’s arms . . . just like in the movies. . . . I remember when I was very young, I thought heaven was a beautiful ballroom with women in light dresses dancing with men in evening dress and that I was a little girl watching them through the French doors from the palms outside. . . . That was my idea of heaven, gleaned, I suppose, from an early movie . . . I don’t know. Anyhow, I thought of that, dancing outside then—and smiled a little for that little girl, watching from the trees. . . .
And that was my flight at aristocracy. . . . Well . . . it’s all over now . . .
The book reminds us how wise young people can be. We don’t always credit teens or pre-teens with having depth or sophistication and reflection in their thoughts and that’s so wrong! They deserve credit for having the potential for deep and philosophical reflection, as we see here.
My mom was a girl when she created her diary. One of my favorite magazines is also girl created — New Moon Girls. It’s a magazine written entirely by girls! It also has beautiful artwork by kids as well. I used to get a subscription for my lovely daughter, Sarah, until she moved onto The New Yorker.
New Moon Girls is now an interact social media site with all sorts of features: including Changing the World, Body and Feelings, Arts and Culture, and even Games.
The magazine is wonderful because is doesn’t succumb to the worst of cultural pandering concerning young women. Rather, it is respectful, supportive, and challenging in the best way. As the magazine description states, “Our bi-monthly magazine is 100% advertising-free, highest-quality content for girls age 8 and up! You won’t find diet advice or popularity contests here. New Moon Girls magazine is about helping girls discover and honor their true selves, engage in meaningful pursuits and dialogue, and express their voices in ways that matter.”
It’s an amazing organization — where else can you find a magazine with a “Girls Editorial Board (GEB) made up of girls age 8 and up from the U.S., Canada, and the U.K.”? Do check out this page with lots of information about Partners who can help girls and their families.
The July/August 2013 Issue [Our Favorite Places] features a lovely review of Home Front Girl. You can read it and my suggestions on writing your own life here.
I also participated in a Live Chat on July 30th hosted by the girl reviewer, Julia Rockwell. I’m so grateful to her for everything! Here is the transcript of that fascinating chat: NewMoonMorrisonchat. Thanks for participating, everyone!
Joan also participated in several publications, though not a magazine by girls, for girls like New Moon Girls. Joan also loved writing. When she was 14, she worked on a “newspaper” for English class.
Friday the 13th of May, 1938
. . . Yesterday I handed my English project in—it was a mythology newspaper, rather cute, I must say. “Zeus Sued for Bigamy,” “Apollo on Sit Down Strike—Objects to Daylight Savings,” “Pegasus Wins Olympic Derby.” And I wanted to put “Mercury Freezes” in, but I didn’t. I put a picture of Pegasus on it and wanted to paste it in art. I asked Mr. Johnston for paste and, oh gosh, he said he’d paste it for me (he thought it was for art). At first when I explained, I thought something awful was going to happen, but I’m still alive. Mrs. Hellman read the newspaper to class and said it was good and showed a fine sense of humour. Hmm? Hmm! That’s me!
Joan also worked on the newspaper in high school and college. Various zany things happened. I’ll include just two. The first is from when she was 16 and a student at U-High [the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools].
Wednesday, January 18, 1939
. . . Well—made deadline in Midway office by writing till 6:10. I am promoted on masthead to “feature writer.” Very newspapery atmosphere there—typewriter pounding, scribbling of pencils, people running in and out with hats on—and much yelling, “How many words did you want?” Also competitive noises from the next-door Correlator office through skylight. Oh—such is the life vita dulcis.
 The school yearbook.
 Latin for “sweet life.”
Then a few weeks later, Joan writes,
Wednesday, March 1, 1939
Today was the Midway deadline and as Midway office was crowded, Fraser and Bruce invited me into the French room where Bruce was editing “Potpourri”—so I went to write and bite my pencil and Rosalind Wright came along to chaperone or something. They three talked French while I scribbled or tried to—finally Rosie left and I continued; they started to talk about my hat in French as I gathered from “Joan’s chapeau” or something of the sort. . . . They said it was “de trop” and so forth which unfortunately I could translate—of course it was a little screwy.
Finally we got put out of French room—wandered into art room and studied modern results of p.e. (progressive education), limbs floating around, etc. Oh well—Bruce draped himself up as some Roman in a green tablecloth affair and we all howled heartily till we saw the cleaning man was spying on us. Then Fraser and I began to discuss the Second Oration (our outside reading) which is decidedly not a subject for mixed company.
Midway office was still crowded so I retreated in Correlator office where Kenneth was typing. He has a unique method of bouncing paper off typewriters but I won’t go into that. I swore I’d be quiet as a mouse and started out to do so. Fraser and Bruce came in—talked to me—I tried to be quiet but no can do. Fraser began to recite his Greek something or other and Kenny shouted vainly, “Quiet!” Then Bruce finally retreated and Oliver came in to write his sports page—got along O.K. for a while, then Dick came in and tried to figure out his pet ambition which was the “Inquiring Reporter” question this week. Then we started to talk about the assembly today and he wouldn’t let me answer anyone else, which got Oliver mad and delighted Kenny.
Says Dick: “Listen, I’m speaking to Joan. Please be quiet.”
Oliver: Glare, glare.
Me: Gulp, gulp.
And so on . . .
Then we started on ambitions again (Kenny had given up by this time) and no one could think of anymore till Kenny said, “To seduce Mae West,” which nice little girls didn’t talk about when I was young, so I gulped and continued to smile brightly and changed the subject (more or less). . . .
Finally Kenny put us out, as he was going home. I turned in my article and Dick lugged in my coat from the deserted Correlator office. He put it on me too and as it was the horrid seventh grade relic (as my other’s at the cleaner’s) all the holes showed gorgeously. . . . Oh well. . . . Someday I’ll be a genius. Bruce wants to be a psychiatrist (I can’t even spell it!) but I wouldn’t let him examine my brain though Fraser said I wouldn’t miss it. (Grrrr.)
 Presumably because of its references to unpleasant subjects.
Finally, on a personal note, I am indebted to Helen Cordes, Executive Editor of New Moon Girls.
I met Helen the week both our husbands began teaching at Southwestern University in 1993. We were in a bank and, as I recall, she had a baby with her–a baby who is now studying in graduate school with (coincidentally) my nephew. My husband and I joked that if we wanted anyone to home school our children it would be Helen. But she was busy with her own kids!
Many thanks to Alison Twells for this lovely tribute to my mom’s book–she is working on her great aunt’s wartime diary — Joan’s English “twin.”
‘Got my hair set today. In my opinion, if I had hollower cheeks, I’d be a perfect double for Garbo.’ This is not Norah Hodgkinson writing, but fourteen year-old Joan Wehlen from Illinois, in her diary entry for 3rd May 1937.
The daughter of Swedish immigrants, Joan was born in December 1922, and so was two-and-a-half years older than Norah. Like Norah, she was from a socialist family. She became a scholarship girl at a college attached to Chicago University, where she went on to study anthropology as an undergraduate in the 1940s.
One of the delights of discovering Home Front Girl are the similarities in Joan’s and Norah’s interests, preoccupations and the general giddy tone of some of their diary entries. This shouldn’t surprise us, of course, but I enjoyed all the more Joan’s comments about school and family life, films and classical literature, the colour of her lipstick, her crushes on boys (‘BBB in B’: the Beautiful Blue-eyed Boy in Biology).
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