Florence Broadhurst, Her secret & extraordinary lives
Growing up in a working class home during the late 1950s and early 1960s, wallpaper was all the rage. My sister and I retain a fondness for this inexpensive, decorative touch, even though we may employ less of it as we age. But, decades ago, we loved to pour through books and books of wallpaper designs when there were retail stores that specialized in this home accent, long ago.
This Australian woman born in 1899 seems to have been imbued, at birth, with a drive to create, unlike anyone I have ever read about. Beginning as a young girl, she created multiple, imaginative lives seemingly from nothing. With her family background rooted in the Australian cattle “wilderness called Mungy Station,” she became known across Europe and America as a stage presence singing and dancing with drag queens in the early 1920s to a Bond Street couturier known as Madame Pellier, along with a British accent.
It is the wallpaper designs interspersed throughout this handsomely produced book, that move the story forward. Her last reinvention as a high-end wallpaper designer gives her life the gravitas and accolades deserved as their intricacies are explained with care and detail by O’Neill. The patterns are stunning. For an artist, this is where the story lies – her creativity, her formidable personality to promote and believe in her art form. Yet, her ending is as tragic as any mythological figure diminish does not diminish her contribution.
I come to this place
of vast and verdant meadows
where sapphire sky meets
the horizon’s muted line;
Wildflowers give way before me.
Tina Hudak Ⓒ2019
For further reading on the tanka form of poetry, these two websites offer much: a clear explanation and historical context.
Thirteen years. The end of this path is so close, this one I have been following for thirteen years. Sometimes with a skip; others, heavy-footed, I have remained true and faithful. All the while, that is until very recent days, I have remained unaware of this. How could I not have noticed that on this path, day in and day out, week after week, year after year, I was walking with a delicate and premeditated step? I who pride myself on being so present to others – to relationships. So spontaneous and straightforward in my responses – for others. Yet, here I am – in this place, with these people – each foot in front of the other, one parallel to and rubbing up against a firmly constructed wall. Each step was taken carefully. All built for safety. All built with a blindness to the truth.
Age has brought me a reluctance for new emotional attachments. In my early years it was all about emotion and the events that filled my days, weeks, and years as they whirled me around and around. I was pulled hither and yon. Heartbreak and joy. Love and hate. The quiet, centered path seemed elusive. Too predictable. Too mundane for the likes of me. Youthful hubris. But, oh, how aging can change one’s perspective on this.
Middle age allowed a talent, previously submerged, to blossom. I am a builder of walls. Subtle walls. Ones not easily discernable to the eye. Here, at this place, with these people, time was on my side. With a stable marriage, children grown, the family and friends firmly set into my life’s minutes and hours, I could build walls unobtrusively. All was in its place. All was predictable. All, mundane. My life had quieted down. For the sake of staying safe, I began to build.
Now, living in the mists between middle and old age, and an age when the narrowing of life is called for with the letting go of “livelihood,” one that I earned daily alongside these people, I find it is not so quiet after all. I find the wall between work relationships and home relationships – the wall that I had tended to relentlessly through thirteen years – has fractures. Small ones, true, but there they are. As I walk away, with the view garnered from distance and age, they are clearly visible to me. I am at a loss.
Those tiny, defensive fragments that have chipped away and fallen. Those miniscule perforations are now causing chaos in my construct. You see, just as a mouse can squeeze its life through a hole the size of a pencil, the love from my work relationships is forcing its way to the other side. The ordered side. It is compressing itself and pushing through the best of my defenses. It is causing unpredictability. It is causing instability. It is causing heartache. Through the words written in notes from my students and their parents, my teachers, my colleagues, from the warm embraces of the kitchen and maintenance staff, to the silent packing of stuffed animals, sea shells and pinecones, and books, always books, adorning my shelves – through all of this, I feel adrift in unfamiliar territory. Finally. At last, here is a loss that I worked so hard, for thirteen years, to fend off. It has arrived despite duplicity between my outer and inner selves.
So, you see, my wall is worthless.
It is crumbling from love and generosity.
And I, regardless of my sustained arrogance through all the years with these people, understand throughout every minuscule particle that I have forged to fend off such a blow as this, that no wall can stand the force from the human heart.
Dedicated to every student and all those who taught, administered, & worked alongside me during my tenure at St. Albans School.
This slim book is powerful. The opening third holds this power as it is Olsen’s personal narrative told at age fifty without self-pity, without artifice. With her achingly honest outpouring the author establishes her credentials through experiences that are so visceral in her telling, that your heart aches. She has gone through it all–racism, depression and alcoholism, rape, self-loathing, and a painful divorce. The remainder of the book focuses on how she endures these trials and then, her efforts at transformation. Judith Herman, in her book Trauma and Recovery, simply states: “Trauma inevitably brings loss (118).” Olsen’s trauma and subsequent loss are substantive.
Transformation begins with honesty and Olsen honors Alcoholic Anonymous and their Twelve-Step program as is its due, along with varying styles of meditation and healing retreats and their rituals. She honors her children, her friends, both new and former. Her story comes from her direct experience. Yet, she never loses her earthy and oftentimes, humorous approach.
She does not pontificate. She shares. Unflinchingly.
A steadfast theme throughout the book and demonstrated through the “Suggested Reading” and “Bibliography” (worth perusing!) is hard work. It shows grit. By and by, the reader meets a sober, self-caring, and giving individual who remains engaged with those she loves, and with the world.
Sitting back and pondering this story, her story, I fall into a short reverie of the folk tale or the fairy tale that adults have put aside and labeled as “children’s literature.” Yet, it is our literature, too. And, in these myriad stories the young girl endures ordeals, herculean tasks – taking them on one-by-one until she has transformed into a woman. Her own woman. Only then can the wealth, whether it be a kingdom or wisdom, be shared.
Maria Olsen shares. With this book, she offers paths to the treasure, to you, the reader.
Publications by Maria Leonard Olsen
Not the Cleaver Family: The New Normal in the Modern American Families. Tate Publishing & Enterprises, 2016
Healing For Hallie. Mirror Publishing, 2016
Mommy, Why’s Your Skin So Brown? Mirror Publishing, 2013
Herman, M.D., Judith Lewis. Trauma and Recovery: the Aftermath of Violence from Domestic Abuse to Political Terror. HarperCollins Publishers, 1992. Print
Olsen, Maria Leonard. 50 After 50: Reframing the Next Chapter of Your Life. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2018. Print.
For a variety of reasons that may very well act as a sedative for you, dear reader, I have been unable to read fiction during this autumn. An unusual autumn. I find that this phenomenon comes and goes in my life based on reasons that thus far have escaped my understanding. Yet, I am no longer panicked by these occurrences, – a small step brought on by aging – but rather appreciative of the cycles that gently force me into alternative genre. Doors open to new worlds, new writers, and new adventures.
Ghosts In the Garden, an exquisitely crafted book with both words and images, has captured by heart. No surprise, as I am a devotee of all words “Kephartian.” As a writer from and about Philadelphia, her work is close to home – literally – my roots are entrenched deep within the Pennsylvania soil. Pondering her life, walking through the gardens at Chanticleer.
The work I strive to do didn’t give me pleasure anymore, and I was going nowhere…Can you find your purpose on a declivitous hill?(7)” and “A gardener digging at Chanticleer one found – beneath leaf mold, in between roots – an arrowhead…The past is kept where the past has been until it is dreamed back again (11).
This personal reading is balanced only by my work. I read for children. I oftentimes try to mesh my own interests with my students – all boys. It is a challenge. I love it! How to make them care about words of others – to see through the prism of history and gender – is my work. I was raised in a reading home, but not one where books were owned. They were few and the few were cared for and loved. My beloved books were birthday gifts – always Nancy Drew stories. I still have them.
There was no resisting the school purchase of Missing Millie Benson: The Secret Case of the Ghostwriter and Journalist by Julie K. Rubini. First thought,
I will never get them past the cover.
How on earth will I get them to want to read it? With interest, but low expectations, I opened this volume of the series, “Biographies For Young Readers.” Believe me. They will be interested. Millie Benson must be the best-kept feminist secret. He authorship of Nancy Drew stories is the least of what this woman accomplished. “First recipient of the Master of Arts degree from the University of Iowa, 1926.” Xylophone musician with two mallets in each hand. Student-athlete. Aviatrix. Writer. Reporter. Mother. Wife. My boys appreciate accomplishments regardless of gender or age. There will be no resistance to Millie.
But, it is Iowa. I want to go there. See the backdrop of Millie’s life. Visit Ladora. Visit the University and read her papers at the Iowa Women’s Archives. Be a Hawkeye for the day. Travel to Illinois. Chicago and the Palmer Hotel, where she was married. Margaret Wirt Benson is anyone’s muse.
Ghosts and these writers. One is the ghost; the other, attempts to uncover her own ghosts.
Kephart, Beth. Ghosts In the Garden: Reflections on Endings, Beginnings, and the Unearthing of the Self. Novato, CA: New World Library, 2005. Print.
Rubini, Julie K. MissingMillie Benson: Nancy Drew, the Secret Case of the Ghostwriter and Journalist. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2015. Print.
For twenty years as a school librarian I have encouraged reading with boys, as it is common knowledge [even with the popular press] that for pleasure, most boys read less than girls. Of these twenty years, thirteen were with boys only; cajoling and requiring boys to read, read, and read! One of my additional and ulterior motive, other than reading for pleasure, was to coax these very boys to read books written by women with female protagonists.
How better for one gender to learn to value the other than by appreciating the very talents that defy gender?
The lesson for my students and the article written for a professional journal are included here, “About Boys Reading Girl Books”. START HERE GirlBooks. With reading. With breaking down stereotypes and preconceptions about one another.
Hudak, T. (2016, June 1). About Boys Reading “Girl” Books. Teacher Librarian, 34-37.
A tender story about family – one of origin from Iran, where much of the story takes place, and the “American” family visiting. There is a highlight on the cover quoting author Adriana Trigiani who writes in a similar vein, although with Italian families. However, Bijan weaves Iranian culture, societal norms, and the post-revolution history into the backdrop of her enchanted childhood growing up in her parents’ café.
Cooking and food is central here, and in fact this slant is reminiscent of the importance of food found in novels by Peter Pezzelli. Note that there is a great and unusual bookstore in Boston that only carries all things Italian – I AM Books.
Back to this book, however, it is told from the perspectives of the Iranian father, Nod and his daughter sent to the U.S. in anticipation of events to unfold in Iran, Noor, that dominate the narrative. Yet, an array of characters offers small illuminations to anyone with a “Western” view, too, offering much food for thought; this is especially true for those referencing women under Islamic rule. It is no wonder this author left her country in 1978 and it is on my list to read her memoir, Maman’s Homesick Pie.
Memoir is my favorite genre and this novel clearly has its roots in a personal history.
Bijan, Donia. The Last Days of Cafe Leila: a novel. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2017.