Friday, September 26, 2014


I have a small collection of old catalogs, including several from Sears (late 1800s to 1920s) and one from Charles William Stores, a mail order company in New York; I have, too, a bunch of old magazines and newspapers, and I can find amazing details in all of them.
Last week, after posting the photograph of the Gould kids in their pup tent, I started wondering about tents a century ago...and here’s what I found in those old publications...

In the early 1900s, the choices were more varied than one might think: Miners’ Tents, Hudson Tents, Wedge Tents, Concession, Play and Lawn Tents, all made of “water-resisting duck” cloth, and all supported by an oftentimes bizarre combination of “wood pole, metal frame and line.”
          There were tents in stripes and/or solids; tents with “a handsome scalloped curtain all around at the top of the walls,” tents with the walls themselves “arranged so that each can be rolled up separately, or used as an awning.”
          “Never,” one ad exclaims, “roll or fold tenting while damp or rainy for fear of mold or decay!”

By 1929, the choices in the Sears catalog were nearly out of hand.
“We Offer the Greatest Tent Values in America” screams the banner headline on a two-page spread.
          Honor Bilt Umbrella Tents, in beautiful olive green color, shed water like a duck’s back. 9x11 feet for $39.95.
The Highway King was Forest Green; it had a height of 6’2” at eaves, 8 feet at center pole. It also had a waterproof duck floor sewed into the bottom of the tent. $23.95.
There were ventilated tents, white duck tents, play tents; bug-proof tents equipped with marquisette curtains to keep out mosquitoes; small, medium and large tents with collapsible steel center poles and stakes, awning poles; tents with eight guy ropes and rustproof tent pegs.

 But the best of all were the “Tourists’ Tents,” popular for “week-end trips” in the family automobile. These were 7x9-foot tents with two windows and sewed-in front curtains; additional front awnings could be drawn over the top of the car (see photo) to help support the tent and, one presumes, allow for extra space in the seats of the car. $15.95.

I look at that arrangement and shudder.
All things considered, I think I’d rather stay at a Motel 6, thank you.

Friday, September 19, 2014


Here we are, the Gould kids, in 1948 or 1949.
John and I always called this our “pup” tent – a variation on the term “dog tent,” which was American English for what Brits and Aussies apparently call a “shelter-half.”
I don’t know why it’s called a shelter-half – or a pup tent, for that matter.  I asked my neighbor, who’s nearly 90 years old and was in the military; he said  it has to do with each soldier carrying half the stakes and poles so when they paired up, connected their ponchos and draped them over the center pole, they had a full tent!
He also thinks that “dog” is an old slang term for a soldier...and that maybe it all does make sense when you add it up!
Anyway, I’ve promised him a Milky Way candy bar if he’s right (his favorite), so let me know.

There’s something sweet about this photo...
...not because it’s of me (I’m teeny) and my brother John (slightly less teeny, but still small). I know this was taken at my grandmother’s house in Boston, and I know that the tent was a Very Big Deal when we were little...
...I remember the smell of it, especially when the sun warmed the canvas: a kind of damp, musty smell (which must have put my brother’s asthma into overdrive, but I don’t remember that happening). And I remember lying inside it with my head facing out, smelling grass and dirt; I remember our cocker spaniel, Ferdie, barking at it, convinced it was an intruder of sorts; I remember, too, my father, crawling in with me and spending the night once—my first camp out!
...but I digress.
...the sweetness has to do with a time and place long gone by, an age of wonder and promise and youth, and that lovely border of iris in my grandmother’s back yard; a sudden understanding that I inherited that love of iris from her, and, to this day, have borders and beds of it in my own back yard, sixty-five years later.

Friday, September 5, 2014


I spent a couple of days looking at the Sepia Saturday prompt – the photo of the hurdy-gurdy man and his little monkey – wondering where I’d seen it before.
          I knew I hadn’t, of course.
          But there was something familiar about it, something that just grabbed me by the neck and wouldn’t let go. I thought about it all Thursday and Friday morning while doing errands, doing laundry, cleaning house.
          I kept going back to my computer to look again at the photo. It wasn’t the man in his soft hat and jacket (with lovely hands), and it wasn’t the little girl with her handkerchief balled up in her fist and her arm pulled tight across her chest...
 was the monkey.
It was something about the monkey.

And then I remembered.
          I went dashing up the stairs to the second floor closet where the boxes of family photos are stashed, and went to work, and found what I was looking for inside of ten minutes.

This is a photograph of my grandfather’s cousin, Jessie Collins Gould, who was born in Newton, Massachusetts in 1885; she’s on the back porch of the family cottage in East Boothbay, sitting in a rocker in her white summer dress – all lace and frill – with a locket around her neck and a white hat perched jauntily on her head.

I’m expecting thunderbolts for saying this, but...

...she looks like the monkey.