Category Archives: Obsessions

Hyman Herron’s Spelling Book

On my desk sits a 1906 beat-up copy of Reed’s Word Lessons by Alonzo Reed, A.M. The front endpapers are covered in childish writing: numerals 1-9 and the initials H. H. in small and large writing. The end endpapers have more writing: the number 15 in three places, Hyman Hernw, the name Patty and, in much nicer handwriting the words confectionary, confederacy, corb, coterie, dau, and daguerriolyn (which doesn’t seem to be a word). On a page that may have been reserved for notes is the name, Hyman Herron. Hyman also wrote his name on the edge of the book, across the pages.

The book itself is a spelling book for “the higher primary, intermediate, and grammar grades”. It contains 289 lessons starting with the “long a as in hate” and ending with prefixes and suffixes.

I don’t know when Hyman used this book. Perhaps when he was 15? I don’t know how this book came to be sitting on my desk. But below are some clues as to who Hyman Herron was.

Hyman was born in New York City to German (Prussian) immigrants, Issac and Fannie Herron on either December 25th or 26th in either 1895, 1896 or 1897, depending on what source you believe. His sister, Esther, was born in New York when Hyman was 2. By 1900 the family had moved to Elgin, Illinois. They lived, along with an Irish family, at 58 State Street, Elgin, Illinois. In 1910 they lived at 115 West Chicago Street in Elgin, which seems to be the Beckwith Building, built in 1888, according to Google Maps. Hyman’s father’s occupation is listed as “Fruit store” in the 1900 Census and Confectionary in the 1910 Census. Issac died October 23, 1910.

In 1917, Hyman registered for the draft. He was 21 and lived at 411 Prospect Street in Elgin and worked as a chauffeur for W. A. Kerbru (?) in Elgin, Illinois.

Hyman lived as a roomer at 310 Spring St. in Elgin, Illinois in 1930. The homeowners were George H. and Addie E. Rutledge. Dr. George H. Howell, a dentist, was also a roomer at this residence. It is possible Hyman paid $18 for rent. The home was worth $10,000 according to this Census report. His listed occupation is “Shipping Clerk” at a thread factory, which later information suggests was Collingbourne Mills.

In 1940, Hyman was still a single at 43, living at the Kelly Hotel in Elgin, Illinois. and was still working for, probably, Collingbourne Mills.

In 1942, Hyman again registered for the draft.  He was 45, living at the Kelly Hotel and still working at Collingbourne Mills. Harold Rule, also of the Kelly Hotel, is listed as someone who would always know Hyman’s address. Hyman’s telephone number was 6086.

Hyman’s mother, Fannie, died March 23, 1962, and is buried in the Elgin State Hospital Cemetery. Her gravestone also contains the numbers 771.  Interestingly Fannie is listed as Lena in the 1900 census, but Fannie in 1910. It could be two different women, but the age seems the same.

Hyman’s grave marker indicates he died on June 22, 1975, was buried in Mount Hope Cemetery, in Elgin, Illinois.

This leaves me with more questions — how did Issac die? Why was Fannie at the Elgin State Hospital? How long was she there? Was she also Lena or was that another wife? What happened to Esther? Did she marry? And how did this book end up on my desk?

The only connection, besides Elgin, is Collingbourne Mills. My grandfather worked there as a traveling salesman when he met my grandmother. Perhaps he knew Hyman Herron from work. Hyman was about 12 or 13 years older than my grandfather. My grandfather probably worked at Collingbourne Mills in the early 1930s. Did he give my grandfather the book? Or perhaps there was no connection and this book ended up at my mom’s house with a bunch of other stuff from an antique store.

At least I’ve given Hyman and his mother (and sister and father) some thought today.



Where’s the coffee? Where’s the pie?

In 1990, back when I still read newspapers. Back before kids, I read an article about a new television series in the April 30 Washington Post. I trusted Tom Shales, the journalist who wrote the article because he’d never led me wrong when it came to entertainment. Maybe it was because he was born in Elgin, maybe we just had/have the same tastes in television.

I probably would have watched it anyway because it was the brainchild of mastermind David Lynch — a director whose works Dean and I liked. We’d seen a presentation of some of his very early works at a local (now long-gone) art theater, and we saw pretty much anything he’d done that far (except Dune).

Dean and I loved the first season of Twin Peaks. Our next door neighbors also loved it and we’d often watch episodes together, drinking damn fine, and hot, coffee and eating pie. We even had a Twin Peaks dress up party for the final episode. My friend Totty came as the Log Lady. I don’t remember who I dressed up as. Too bad that was before smartphones with cameras because we would have definitely taken photos.

Back then, I don’t think I knew anyone else who liked Twin Peaks. Certainly no one at school. There was no Internet on which to discuss each episode with strangers. (at least not in our house). We just liked it, talked about it among ourselves and when we did run into someone who’d seen the series we’d talk with them about it.

We bought the DVD set when it came out and Clare got into the show, so much that she took it to school, then Olympia (not far from the filming location) and shared it with friends.

On one trip to Olympia, we visited North Bend, Washington where parts of Twin Peaks was filmed and ate pie and drank coffee at the Double R and posed for photos in front of the Great Northern Hotel and it’s nearby iconic waterfall.

Needless to say, we (or rather I) followed with interest the rumors about the revival Twin Peaks series. Totty heard about the series and suggested we get together to watch the first episode. We were not able to watch it the night it aired, so we planned on watching two episodes the week after. Totty brought an apple pie she’d baked and I made some coffee. We settled down to watch the revival of what had been our favorite television series 25 years ago — and possibly still was our favorite.

Well… the owls are not what they seem. If someone had been secretly filming us our expressions would have gone from happy expectation to confusion to bewilderment to disappointment to sadness. As the credits rolled for the second episode, Totty remarked that it sure was not what she was expecting and said, “Where was the coffee? Where was the pie?”

Damn right — where were the coffee and pie? Where was the charm?

Dean and I watched episode 3 a couple nights ago and, after some strangely Eraserheadesque scenes, it got better. I am not giving up on the series, I am just going to go into the rest of the episodes with much less expectation.

Mary Hamilton: Apparently our favorite artist

Dean and I were first introduced to Mary Hamilton’s work when we went to Pittsburgh’s annual “A Fair in the Park” when we lived in Pittsburgh. Her artwork was on the poster advertising it and we picked up a free copy while there (it turns out she does the posters most years). That could have also been the year we bought a print — but since we were poor back then, I don’t know how we were able to afford it. It is possible that once we were settled in Alexandria and had a little spare cash we went back to Pittsburgh and bought our Wolves Dining Out (Observed) print. That also must have been the year we bought the cat print for Neal and Marie. Anyway — we first heard of Mary Hamilton in Pittsburgh in 1984 and fell in love with her linocuts. Ms Hamilton’s work is whimsical, magical and colorful and it appealed to both Dean and me — which is very rare. We bought the Wolves, Dining Out (Observed) directly from her and she told us to make note that the wolves were eating peas and were very messy eaters.

The year I was pregnant with Clare, and we were paying a visit to Neal and Marie in early summer, I wondered what we could bring them for a host/hostess gift. We both wished that we knew where to buy a Mary Hamilton print since they loved the cat print so much. I did a bold thing (for me — I hate talking to strangers on the telephone) and called the telephone number on a card that came with my Wolves Dining Out (Observed) print. The next thing I knew, I was talking to Mary Hamilton herself. She told me that the only place nearby that I could purchase her work was at P Street Gallery in Georgetown (now closed, alas). So I did another rare thing — I drove to Georgetown, parked the car and bought a framed print. This one was of two children in a tree. Marie loved it — maybe Neal did too, I don’t know. It is possible that Dean went to P Street Gallery with me at a later date and we bought our “The Invitation” print. Otherwise, I don’t know where it came from.

The Invitation
The Invitation

Now we have this thing called the World Wide Web and I can find her work on Google Image search, Pinterest, Facebook, and elsewhere.

Somewhere, perhaps at P Street Gallery, I bought a box of greeting cards with Ms Hamilton’s prints on them. I only gave them to very special people (or Dean since he could give it back to me if I wanted it) because I loved her artwork so much. I recently came across the 4 remaining cards and plan to get them framed either individually or as a quartet.

I am not sure of the reason for this post except to show off our collection of Mary Hamiltons. I’m also thinking of planning a trip to Pittsburgh in early to mid-September to maybe buy more…

Mr. Tumnus and me

4 black and white images of me holding Mr. Tumnus
Mr. Tumnus and me.

Back, a very long time ago, I enjoyed shopping at K-mart. Our family would drive to the K-mart either on the East side of Elgin, or another local K-mart — perhaps one in Meadowdale, if there was one there. Anyway, my memories of shopping with my parents at K-mart are all pleasant. We’d usually stop at the deli and pick up a sub-sandwich. I liked the ham they put in their sandwiches, and remember the bread being tasty. I even liked the raw onions and processed orange cheese they put in the sandwiches.

I didn’t often buy anything with my own money on these shopping trips, but remember one purchase when I was in my late teens. I remember walking along one of the main aisles — the area where they kept their seasonal specials — and stopping, mouth in an “o” shape, eyes wide, possibly making an ahhhhhhhh! sound of pure joy. I saw a display full of 16 or so inch bronze-colored ceramic fauns at the low, low price of $20. It may not have been a blue-light special, but it was something I could not live without. I picked one up, hugged it and placed it gently in our shopping cart.

“It’s Mr. Tumnus!” I announced to my family. “From Narnia. And I am buying him!”

Because my parents knew about my obsession with The Chronicles of Narnia, they did not try to talk me out of buying the statue. And I don’t know if it was then and there that my dad came up with his nickname for the statue, but I can just imagine him telling the check-out clerk that his daughter just had to have Mr. Numbnuts. (I do remember Dad calling the statue “Mr. Numbnuts” when he was helping us pack up my Elgin apartment for the move to Pittsburgh.)

Mr. Tumnus traveled with me from my parents house to my first apartment, to Pittsburgh, to two houses in Alexandria, then finally to his last home, Bethesda. He stood in the gardens of several of those homes, but  because he was not made out of weatherproof material, he eventually disintegrated into a white powder. He was too far gone by the time we moved to Bethesda to stand next to the gas lamppost in our front yard.

For years I looked for a similar, more weatherproof, version of Mr. Tumnus, but never found one I could afford or one that looked like my Mr. Tumnus. I no longer plan to replace Mr. Tumnus — that obsession has gone, but I cannot help looking for Mr. Tumnus when we visit garden stores or pass places that carry statues.

I thought I’d never see him again until I opened an old book I found at my mom’s a few years ago and found a photo booth set of photos of me and Mr. Tumnus. (Likely taken at K-mart the day I found him.) He’s over there, to your left — with a long-haired pig-tailed youngster that used to be me.


Chasing Amy*

Dean isn’t the only one in the family with obsessions. I have them too — mostly about meeting authors. I wrote about my obsession with Phyllis Reynolds Naylor a couple of times, but never really explained that the real obsession was that I could possibly be walking in Bethesda and pass her on the street or in the grocery store because she actually lived in Bethesda. Back when I was following Neil Gaiman’s blog I used to imagine bumping into him somehow, someday — not at the National Book Festival where he’s been an invited author many times, but maybe if I ever traveled to Minneapolis or something. I mean, it could have happened…

Well, my latest obsession about meeting someone sort of famous lasted about 5 years or so. A while back (like I said, 5 years or so) I was searching for something involving Bethesda on Google and came across a blog written by a young mother who, it seemed, lived in Bethesda. I read her blog and recognized places she talked about (the Trader Joe’s with the crazy stupid parking lot and the Pier 1 store not far from Trader Joe’s where she once dropped some packages and a passerby ignored her [I wouldn’t have done so, I vowed]).

As the years went on she wrote more about her family — the births of her second and third sons; the death of her father a few months after my own father’s death. She freely posted photos of herself, her boys and her husband, but I always wondered if I would recognize her or them if I passed them on the street in Bethesda. Photos are one thing — the real live person is another.

I even dreamed about meeting this blogger. I posted about one dream — where she fed us hot dogs, but have not bothered to mention the other dreams. They usually simply incorporate her as a friend of mine. Please note — while I read her blog, I do not really know her and do not pretend to know her, but try telling that to my subconscious.

So the other day when Clare was home for a few days after Superstorm Sandy hit our area she wanted to go shopping at a local mall to find some new jeans. She found a couple pairs (okay — four pairs of skinny corduroys in different colors) and we were meandering through the mall wondering where to go next when I turned around near the Fossil store and saw AMALAH! (her name is really Amy but she goes by Amalah on twitter and that’s the name of her blog). There, in the middle of a bunch of strangers was this family I’d read about 3 times a week. The whole family, was walking in the mall as if they were not totally famous. I had a few seconds to decide what I would do. Would I run up and say, “Amy! I read your blog! I am so glad to finally meet you!”? or would I just watch the family pass by without saying anything, but feeling all giddy and wanting to dance a little jig?

I chose the latter. I did tell Clare about it and pointed out each of the children by name and she thought they were adorable. (they were!)

Afterwards I felt a little let down — not because I’d seen them, but because my wait was over. I finally ran into them somewhere in Bethesda. Of course it could happen again — and maybe next time I will say something — hopefully I will be calmer then.

But really — now I have nothing to look forward to. I need a new obsession!

*No chasing was involved — it was a purely accidental encounter. Promise!


In Which Dona Admits to Loving Dozens of Men

In 1979 I spent a semester in London attending Southlands College and student teaching at a local primary school. The teacher with whom I did my teaching practice had a set of books in her classroom that I fell in love with and when I finished my student teaching, she gave me several titles in the collection. I’m pretty sure that I was the first person in Elgin to have copies of these books because they didn’t hit the States until a few years later. I remember being delighted yet dismayed to see the books being sold in a bookstore in Pittsburgh. Delighted because I could now easily purchase more of the books and dismayed because I was not unique in that respect any longer.

I used these books for lessons when I was a teacher because I loved the simple drawings, the life-lessons and the high vocabulary they offered. The books may have been small picture books, but when I did a readability evaluation on a few passages in several books found they were at the 5th grade reading level.

When my own children were old enough to care about books, I brought the books home and read to them from the books. We had fun laughing over the silly characters and the situations in which they found themselves.

The books are still in the house somewhere and while I’ve not seen them recently, thought about them the other day and made a mental note to blog about the set of books sometime soon.

Today when I saw the series of Google Doodles I knew that today was the day to write about Mr Men.

My favorite was Mr Chatterbox and I never really liked the Little Miss books. They seemed more like an afterthought to me and not nearly as funny as the originals.

Gnomes I’ve Known

I don’t know the carrying capacity of gnomes in the average suburban house, but I think we’ve reached or exceeded it in ours. I’d always liked gnomes — at least since college, but never had one (that I remembered) until a few years ago when Clare and I went to the beach with a friend and her daughter. There we bought a plaster garden gnome. I think I’d recently seen Amélie and thought a garden gnome would be perfect in our garden. He’s since disappeared. I suspect foul play.

After that gnome, I wanted a “real” one. I wanted a ceramic one made in a foreign land. I requested one for Christmas and my wish was granted. Although this gnome was made in the USA, his design is Old World according to the website from which he was purchased. The bottom of his foot says his name is Sedgewick.

Close-up of SedgewickSedgewick (the Flickr page has his name wrong) loves to watch over plants and looks very smug when he is doing his job. I’ve noticed he looks a little unhappy when he has no plant to guard, but I’ve been told that is just plain crazy.  Here is a close-up of his face as he stands on the fireplace mantle in the dead of winter nowhere near a plant.  I think he is sneering. What do you think?

DSC_0003 A few years ago I found a box of items I’d had since my Jeremy days and one of the items was a gnome he’d made from resin. When he gave it to me, back in the 1970’s, I’m not sure I even knew what it was — and didn’t necessarily like it a lot. Now I do and have it sitting on a window frame in my office.

Gnome in front of his house Gnome abroad The next two gnomes were bought because I have little self-control when standing in long lines at Barnes and Noble. These guys were in tiny boxes on a swivel shelf near the check-out. They each came with background photos you could change at your whim to make it seem as if they were either in front of a cottage or in an exotic location.   I sent one of these to my mom’s friend, Larry, when he was in the hospital. He liked it and was a good sport about being told he resembled one.

DSC_0034 While shopping at Plow and Hearth last year, I found a sitting gnome and, of course, picked him up because I didn’t have a sitting gnome. He sat next to the antique clock on the fireplace mantle until the clock broke and was taken to the repair shop. Now he sits on a high shelf next to the Whistle Wizard and another sitting gnome that my neighbor and friend, Bob, gave me for Christmas this year. Bob didn’t know I liked gnomes, but did know I liked birds — and the gnome is holding a cardinal.

DSC_0035 The last gnome is one that my daughter made me in art class when she was in middle school. It is my only female gnome and the only other one besides the Plow and Heart one that resembles the gnomes from the Gnomes book by Wil Huygen and Rien Poortvliet. I have a copy of Gnomes, but never really liked that style of gnome for some reason. (But yhst-29404623262862_2036_4696079Clare, I love yours!)

Actually we do have one more gnome in the house. Clare bought it for Andrew for Christmas. I didn’t take a photo of it, because it doesn’t belong to me, but here’s a picture from another blog. Can you tell what team he follows?

I don’t know for sure what started me collecting gnomes in the first place — probably the Gnomes book, but there’s sure been a population explosion in recent years. I think I need to stop. I won’t throw any away, but I won’t acquire any more.

At least I say that now…

Secret Garden



You know about me and fairies, don’t you? How I really believe they exist and all? So much that I use improper grammar when blogging about them?

Well, a few years ago I bought a fairy garden for Clare. She liked it. It grew. It died and then Dean threw away all the stuff that went with it.


Recently Clare’s been thinking about that fairy garden. I saw a version of it, but it wasn’t the same — it had no house. Then, one day at an art store (of course) we found the identical fairy garden from her past and bought it, even though it was the same price as a huge canvas she needed for school (which, by the way is STILL in my trunk). (Don’t encourage your kids to get into art — it’s expensive! And messy!)

Clare planted the garden that evening and we thought it would be fun to do a time-lapse film of it growing.

It grew fast. And I think the fairies have settled in…

Vampires I have loved

Barnabas CollinsIn sixth grade my friend, Eugenia, introduced me to Dark Shadows, a soap opera that was on television from 3:00 – 3:30 in our hometown. We’d rush out of school and run to her house which was a few blocks closer to school than mine was. She’d switch on the TV and we’d be immersed in the lives of the Collins family of Collinwood in Collinsport, Maine. This wasn’t any normal soap opera. Not only was it very Gothic, it also featured vampires, ghosts, werewolves, and a slew of other preternatural creatures. Time travel was also involved.

I loved this series and thanks to it, developed an obsession for vampires. Barnabas Collins, the main vampire of the series, was such a likable character, it made vampires seem like simply misunderstood entities. I’d always had a fear of things that went bump in the night, but after getting to know Barnabas I felt that my affinity towards him would protect me from any nighttime creatures that were out to harm me. Continue reading Vampires I have loved