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A Gift So Nice I Got It Twice by
(77 Stories)

Prompted By Children's Books

/ Stories

The Indoor Noisy Book by Margaret Wise Brown was written in 1942. I received a hardcover copy of it in the 1950s. This  book, a colorfully illustrated story of the little dog Muffin who has a cold and must stay inside to rest,  was a gift from my across-the-street neighbor John.

John was a bit younger than I was, but we were constant companions. We spent many happy hours playing together in his rumpus room, or on the swings in his backyard, or spellbound in front of the TV when “The Mickey Mouse Club” came on. We pretended to be our personal favorites on the show: Karen and Cubby.

We went to each other’s birthday parties, and one year, he gave me a copy of  The Indoor Noisy Book. He had written: “To Risa from John” inside with a crayon. The slanted leg on the “R” was doing a high kick and the “s” was backwards. We were around 4 years old.

                                                  At my birthday party. John is standing next to me in those crazy striped pants.

The book lives up to its title: all the sounds in and around the household, from footsteps coming up the stairs, to the noises in the kitchen, to the telephone ringing, and the rain turning into sleet and falling on the roof are spelled out and illustrated. The main characters wear old-fashioned clothes and they live in a fancy house with a cook.

There is some guesswork involved at the end, with very silly suggestions about who exactly was coming up the stairs to see Muffin. I loved that book. I kept it in the room my sister and I shared far beyond the time when it was age appropriate.


John moved away when we were still quite young, and beside the black and white birthday party photos of a strawberry blond boy squinting into the sun, that dear boy who was really kind of shy, the book was the only memento I had to remember him by. As I recall, his family came back to Richmond for a visit once or twice. We were shy around each other then, having lost the every-dayness of our friendship.


My family moved several years later, and I took the book with me.
I moved out of my parents’ house when I was seventeen, and I packed the book along with my special letters and cards. It survived several moves after that, and had a spot on our bookshelf in the first little apartment my husband and I lived in after we got married.

Eventually, I read this book to my three children, who still say, “The little dog Muffin has a cold,” when they or their children are sick– even now that they are all grown up.


But the book was lost, along with everything else, when our house burned to the ground in the fire of 1991. It may not have been the first thing I mourned, but I did feel the loss. The fire happened shortly before my 40th birthday, and if there was ever a symbol of my youth . . . this was it. A silly, sweet child’s book–with my name and a backwards “s” inscribed in crayon by my best childhood friend. Treasures come in all sizes, and this one was huge–at least to me.

Several years ago, my daughter located a copy of the book on eBay and surprised me with it on Christmas.
I laughed, I cried, I read it out loud through my tears. We all loved that book.

The link to my girlhood was restored–and it made me as happy as the little dog Muffin, when he could go outside again to listen to the birds and the trucks.


Boy-Crazy in the House of Girls  by
(77 Stories)

Prompted By That Summer

/ Stories


“You can’t do that to another girl!”

Alex was really pissed. I didn’t understand why she was pissed at me, exactly. It had been her boyfriend’s idea to walk in the summer moonlight and make out in some neighbor’s yard, not mine. It would have remained a regrettable secret, but Alex (not her real name) either suspected something and bullied her boyfriend into a confession—or his guilty conscience compelled him to ’fess up. Either way, the details had come out: a few kisses in the dark and horizontal body contact with another girl—me.

What happened next: a torrent of full- blown, female adolescent fury aimed— justly or not— at me. “You just don’t do things like that in a house of girls!”

Alex had a point—we did live in a house of girls. I was sixteen in the summer of 1968, staying at my aunt and uncle’s house in a Southern California beach town. Alex, also sixteen, lived with my relatives as their unofficial foster daughter. Along with my three female cousins, that made five teenage girls living under one roof.


We girls had fallen into a lazy summer routine. As we waited for the sun to cut through the “marine layer,” we’d fuss with our hair, put on swimsuits, pack lunch. We took our time walking down to the beach—slapping our flip-flops on the sidewalk and yakking all the way.

We’d stake out a place on the sand, shed our t-shirts, and swipe on Coppertone or Sea ’n’ Ski. Walking towards the surf, we sucked in our stomachs and made sure the bottoms of our swimsuits didn’t creep up.

For me, beach life meant freedom and a world apart. I had no real responsibilities, no obligations, and got no push-back from anyone. My aunt and uncle let me do my thing. So if I acted a little wild, I knew they wouldn’t stand in my way. We didn’t have a curfew; we didn’t need to be specific about where we’d be or when we’d be back or who we hung out with.

Unless we hung out with another girl’s boyfriend.

By my actions, I had violated the unwritten code of cohabiting teenage girl behavior. I could’ve made the argument that Alex’s boyfriend was eager to stray with another girl into the night, both of us acting more daring, more brazen and maybe a bit crazier than we would have in the sensible light of day.

The truth is, the languid rhythm of the beach town brought out a side of me that was untethered and reckless. I had my reasons for acting out: I was trying to get over a bad break-up. Why not flirt with every boy I met? I didn’t have any better ideas.

I’d been in a long-distance relationship with a boy I met at summer camp the year before. When summer ended, we sustained our romance with phone calls and bad poetry.

He came to see me at the beach, since he lived nearby. At the end of the evening, we had a nasty fight.

“Are you calling me a liar?” he asked. (I was.)

“Then get out of my car!” (I did). I told him I never wanted to see him or hear from him again. Ever.

He laid rubber in the driveway and drove off. Good riddance, I thought. Then I burst into tears.


My cousins threw a party a couple of nights later. Five girls attracted a lot of boys. We danced to the Beatles, the Temptations, and Marvin Gaye on the dimly-lit patio. When the slow dancing started, I looked in earnest for a partner. So many prospects: tan, blonde surfers with long hair and sexy smiles.

But the one who caught my eye? Jack (not his real name either):  a skinny kid with a mouth full of heavy metal. He had a slow smile, brown hair that hung over one eye, and long, graceful hands.  And there you have it—a love-sick girl, hoping to get her groove back, somehow drawn toward a kid still in junior high. In a house of girls, in a beach town, under the moonlight on a cool summer night, strange, unpredictable things can happen.

Jack. Me. My cousin’s room, with the door closed. Happy hearts beating fast; metallic kisses and slow hands. After about an hour of this, he reached for his fly and politely asked, “Want me to …?”

I said. “Uh, no…that’s okay.” God, he was adorable.

I felt happy when I was with Jack.

And when I wasn’t with him, I’d ask myself if I was nuts.


A few days later, Alex’s boyfriend and I started talking and the next thing I knew, he had me by the elbow and we were out the door.

As we walked around the neighborhood, the conversation turned to love. Or maybe it was sex. I can’t remember exactly. But he was certain he could teach me all about it. I didn’t like him that much and I didn’t really think he could teach me anything worthwhile, but again—it was summer, the moon was full, and I was in a boy’s arms and could feel his heartbeat as he pressed himself against me and slowly brought me down to the ground. Was I insane?

We might have been caught in the act by a cranky neighbor or a slobbering dog. Or his girlfriend. Before things really got out of hand, I pushed him away. “We should stop now and go back to the house,” I said, “before Alex notices we’re both gone.”

I had an inkling she was the jealous type and should’ve thought twice before doing anything to incur her wrath. I certainly wasn’t going to kiss and tell, and I assumed her boyfriend wasn’t an idiot.

I assumed wrong.

Under duress the next day, he told Alex that we’d been out together, which was technically true: we had been “out,” and we were together. After her sorry excuse for a boyfriend slunk out of the house, Alex fired off the “house of girls” diatribe.

She shook her finger in my face. “You just don’t do those things—how could you?”

My heart rate accelerated, my face felt hot, my knees shook. That afternoon’s guacamole rose in my throat. No one had ever come at me like that. I wanted nothing more than to hightail it out of there—and escape the comeuppance I undoubtedly deserved. Time to go home and back to my less-fraught real life.

At the end of my boy-crazy summer, I learned some lessons about life and love—the hard way—in the house of girls.

The $64,000 Question by
(77 Stories)

/ Stories

Who was Harold Mendelson?

He’s a guy who grew up in the Fillmore District of San Francisco and went on to become a famous actor and game show host. He was also a lifelong buddy of my father’s. You never heard of Harold? But does the name Hal March ring a bell?

Even though he went on to appear with George and Gracie and Jack Benny, he never forgot his San Francisco roots. I used to have a yellowed copy of a Screen magazine that featured photos of Hal and the old gang from the City. My dad is in one of those pictures, along with other guys they went to Hebrew school with.

I do have another picture of my dad and his pal Hal, this one taken at The Golden Gate International Exhibition of 1939, on Treasure Island in the San Francisco Bay. A couple of good looking dudes. My dad  would have been twenty years old here.

Hal, after he went Hollywood

According to Wikipedia: When it first aired in 1955, The $64,000 Question “almost immediately beat every other program on Tuesday nights in ratings. Broadcast historian Robert Metz, in CBS: Reflections in a Bloodshot Eye, claimed U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower himself did not want to be disturbed while the show was on and that the nation’s crime rate, movie theater, and restaurant patronage dropped dramatically when the show aired. It earned the #1 rating spot for the 1955–56 season, holding the distinction of being the only television show to knock I Love Lucy out of the #1 spot….”   The show had a good run, before the game show scandals changed everything. One other interesting side note about the show: Dr. Joyce Brothers also had a good run on The $64,000 Question. Her area of expertise was…boxing!

But while I’m on the subject of game shows, I must include this photo of my son when he appeared on Jeopardy! earlier this year. That’s another story for another time…

Life Off the Fast Lane: Staying Home with kids by
(77 Stories)

/ Stories

When I got pregnant with my daughter, I worked at the law school on the UC Berkeley campus, known then as Boalt Hall. I described my position there as “petty bureaucrat,” doing payroll and other administrative duties. It so happened that nine women on the staff became pregnant that year. Rumors circulated among staff that we would do anything to avoid the new dean, or that maybe it was “the water,” but the nine of us had due dates scattered  throughout the year. Mine was last, in December. All the other women planned to return to their jobs, but I had had enough of it and looked forward to staying home with my baby. Little did I know that I would not be able to actually stay home with her for real until she was four months old. I’ve written about her stay in the UCSF Intensive Care Unit before, so let us leap ahead to those post-hospital days when I finally got to be a SAHM.

I’d been working and going to school  from the time I turned 18. When I finally earned enough credits to graduate from Cal, I was 25 and pregnant. Not working for a while seemed like a very good idea. My husband got his first job as a lawyer about an hour south of where we were living, and we moved two weeks before my due date. We had barely settled into our San Jose rental when we went shopping for a car seat and other baby necessities. I remember standing in line to check out and having someone shout, “You’d better hurry!” They weren’t wrong: I went into labor the next night.

Being a stay at home mom wasn’t something I had always dreamed about. In fact, I thought I never wanted to have children, afraid I wouldn’t be a good mother. But something clicked when I turned 25, and all I wanted was a baby. I hoped I’d have a boy because I didn’t trust myself to be a good mother to a girl. So of  course I had a girl–and a girl who immediately demanded my full devotion to her well-being.

I stayed home with her as she grew healthy and strong, doing all the things that young mothers do: play groups, trips to the park, lots of stories, fun adventures with other young moms with kids her age. And that was fine. When she was 18 months old, we moved back north to Oakland, and I had a brief period of employment which meant finding day care for her. It felt weird to be away from her, and my job was thankfully short-lived. When my second child came along, I was at home full-time with the two kids. This was in the ’80s, the era of  “having it all”  for women–with very little recognition for women who chose to opt out of the rat race for a few years. These were the “and what do you do?” years, when saying you stayed home with kids meant the small talk at the party was over and you were left standing alone next to the 7-layer dip. On more than one occasion, I tried to impress a stranger at a party by telling them who had been on “Sesame Street” that day, then feeling my husband tugging my arm to save me from a conversation that had already begun circling the drain. Sad.

Did I go to graduate school with a two-year old and a five-year old  just to spite those snobby  women in their suits and expensive haircuts? Or did I finally realize that five years was probably long enough to feel less than. Whichever it was, after five years I went back to school. I did homework at night after the kids went to bed, and raced home from my morning class in time to get my daughter to school on time. Lucky for me, my school had a fabulous day care center for students’ children. I don’t know how I would’ve managed without it.

I did go to work after earning my degree (and having a third child mid-thesis), and that last kid got less of me, but had the benefit of the family village of his helpful big brother and sister, and dad. I worked part-time until the fire in 1991, then made a career shift–which meant more course work and other opportunities.

Those early years are precious to me now, although sometimes it seemed like pushing a rock up a mountain every day, with a pile of laundry waiting at the top.

I ran across this photo the other day, when my daughter was supposed to “dress like a mom” for school.

I swear, I never dressed like this. I was in jeans and a t-shirt, usually barefoot. At the end of the day, my neighbor and I would pour ourselves a glass of wine and play Boggle until it was dinner time.

The featured image here, taken at the hospital on 6/6/86, has been re-enacted several times by my three grown kids: two pouting while one holds the newest addition to the family.


Were We Destined to be Glassholes? by
(77 Stories)

/ Stories

I felt inspired to write something about an exhibit I saw at the very wonderful Oakland Museum of California recently. In a little, low tech mock-up garage within the California History gallery, I discovered an homage to the innovators of Silicon Valley: photos of the HP garage, the Steve Jobs garage, the first big tech campus in Menlo Park– and shelves stacked with  plastic milk crates full of  motherboards, cables, and other paraphernalia  from the early days of computer technology. There were even some of the early personal computers on display.  Don’t they already look like dinosaurs? Those boxy plastic things with their tiny screens and green font? So much has changed in such a short period of time.

Along with the bits and pieces of computers, museum-goers had an opportunity to contribute to the exhibit. This sign caught my eye:

How has your life changed because of computer technology?    

Visitors were invited to add comments using state-of-the-art low-tech materials: pencils and paper. The handwritten comments  were then clipped onto a cable strung between the boards on the “garage” wall.
Some of the comments are heartbreaking (repetitive stress leading to job loss, elimination of jobs, less human interaction), and some are humorous (not getting to practice one’s penmanship). Incidentally,  how is your handwriting these days? Mine used to be very good, and now. . .well, it’s gotten pretty sloppy. Cursive? Another dinosaur.

To illustrate how Twitter and Facebook have infiltrated our patterns of communication, I whipped out my phone and took this picture:


Note: This comment gets an “Amen!” in addition to 2–no, make that 3–“Likes” and one hashtag: #yes)

Got questions?What do you want to know?

Extra points for writing in cursive!

It’s true: the bar bet is dead. Arguments over the name of  “that guy who was in that thing” you saw ten or fifteen years ago are also a relic of the past. A couple of clicks replace hours of brain-racking. Imagine  how much mental energy we save by not having to think and remember. Thanks, Google.

Right after I saw this exhibit, I read the article by novelist Gary Shteyngart in the August 5, 2013 issue of The New Yorker. He wrote “O.K., Glass: Confessions of a Google Glass Explorer” after having won a Twitter contest run by Google in search of “the first batch of Glass Explorers.” He quickly becomes a head-jerking, temple-tapping rock star in the eyes of people who figure out that the pair of odd-looking glasses he has on are Google Glass.  The caption under the photograph of Shteyngart wearing them: “I hear that in San Francisco the term ‘Glassholes’ is already current, but in New York I am a conquering hero.”

No stranger to the technological capabilities of his iPhone, Shteyngart describes how his phone had become a “frightening appendage to a life of already sizable anxiety. . .a sadistic life coach constantly reminding me that, whatever I was doing, there were more fascinating things to be done.” He had transformed into “an occasional rather than a voracious reader, a curator of my life rather than a participant, a man who could walk through a stunning national park while looking up stunning national parks.”

It didn’t take long for him to warm up to the Glass, though. The urge to “tap and slide at one’s touch pad and make circular motions with one’s head can be overwhelming.”  Take a picture, find the closest Thai restaurant, send a video: all the stuff you do with a smartphone and more. So much more.  Camera, microphone, touch pad, projector screen–all right there in your glasses. Imagine.

Some time after visiting  this exhibit, I walked through the Union Square area in San Francisco. Tourists gather around the square, the cable car turnaround, and the large department stores, mostly shivering in their seasonally inappropriate clothing. Several times, I found myself behind a slow-moving flock of young men or women, walking three to four abreast on the sidewalk, eyes down, thumbs flying, oblivious to the flow of pedestrians jammed up behind them: a common sight everywhere we go these days. Classic cellphomaniac behavior.  In the same issue of the magazine as the Google Glass article, there’s a cartoon showing people crossing a downtown street, tapping long white canes in front of themselves, while they stare down at their phones.

Is this, finally, what opposable thumbs have wrought?

Don’t get me wrong. I love my iPhone, even though I was a late adopter. I check it.  Often. Sometimes compulsively. But do I now have to fear becoming a Glasshole? Is this my destiny?

Will this newest gadget prove to be irresistible as we retreat further into our heads–when our link to everything is actually ON our heads? Speaking to us?

I’m not ready for that.
2021 Update:
Apparently, most people weren’t ready either. From a January 25, 2019 article in the Intelligencer section of New York magazine, entitled “The Last Glassholes,” written by Madison Malone Kircher:

“At this point, owning Google Glass is like buying a vintage typewriter you have no intention of really using. You buy it to own it; to remember a specific moment in time — and, let’s be honest, to present yourself as the type of person who is concerned with remembering that specific moment in time — by keeping that moment on your shelf.

Anyway, as one Redditor points out, using Google Glass requires a Google+ account. Google shuttered Google+ in October 2018 after a security flaw exposed the data of half a million people.”

So it goes. Glassholes, we hardly knew ye.
*Life before plug and play: UNIVAC 1232 (photo courtesy of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum)

Table Talk by
(77 Stories)

Prompted By Manners

/ Stories

My husband’s aunt was getting married at a fancy country club, and we were all invited. We decided to take the two older kids and leave the toddler at home with my sister. They got new clothes for the occasion and were drilled over and over about proper table manners for the luncheon that followed the ceremony. During lunch, I glanced at the kids’ table to observe their behavior. They spoke to the kids on their left, then switched and spoke to the kids on their right. Very proper.

Later, I asked what they talked about. Throwing up, they said.


Retroflash/100 words


Photo by Tara Winstead from Pexels

The Final Cut by
(77 Stories)

Prompted By Haircuts

/ Stories

“Do you think my hair is falling out?” my sister asked. After going through a round of chemotherapy for lung cancer, hair loss would not be unexpected. She raked her fingers through her hair as she asked, and we both noticed  the silver strands she now held in her hand. After a moment, I asked if I should book her a haircut with Noah, our mutual hairdresser.  She had followed me when I started going to Noah for my haircuts, and we both liked his gentle scalp massages, his skill with the scissors, and his ability to engage us in lively conversation while he snipped away. Noah, I knew, would do a good job–and she definitely needed a pick-me-up, especially in light of this latest indignity. We both wanted to avoid the gradual loss of her hair, dragging out the inevitable. So I made the appointment.

It so happened that my daughter had flown in from New York to offer additional support and encouragement to her dear aunt. All three of us drove over to the salon. My daughter and I stood by and kibbitzed as my sister’s already thinning hair fell in sparse bits and clumps to the floor.

Noah gave her a short, kind of spiky do, which suited her already thin– and now even thinner– face. I asked them to pose for a picture.

Then the three of us girls went to the Berkeley Rose garden to sit in the sun and enjoy each other’s company. After a short while, my sister said she was tired, so we took her back home.

This was in February, 2015.

My sister died in May, almost a week after this picture was taken, holding the hand of my grandson Sam. I miss her every day.








Natalie Sue (Susie) Elkind







Oh, The Places I’ll Go! by
(77 Stories)

/ Stories

Last year, the year of lockdown and confinement, I was finally able to achieve a longtime goal: to walk the entire Camino de Santiago–a journey of about 480 miles. And then I decided to climb Mt. Fuji, a short hop of only 46 miles. I am currently traversing the Southern Island of New Zealand, on an Alps to the Ocean challenge of 180 miles. Next up: Kruger National Park in South Africa, for another 256 miles.

Like everyone else, I’ve also been staying home.

Denied the ability to attend my beloved  aqua aerobics class once the pandemic shut down the pool, I searched for other ways to keep moving. Somehow, and I don’t remember where or when because time has lost all meaning, I discovered the Conqueror Virtual Challenge app. Every move I make, every step I take, is entered into my activity tracker and transferred to the app at the end of every evening. It’s been a great motivator to keep walking in my local parks and in my neighborhood while experiencing these virtual journeys across the world. And, when you finish, they send you a medal. What will I do with all this hardware? I don’t know. For now, I’m putting them in a special place.




When we rebuilt our house after the fire, we designed a tap studio for my son who was in 5th grade. Adjacent to the garage, the long narrow room has a wall of mirrors, a floating hardwood floor and plenty of overhead light. My son used the room often enough to scuff the wood floor quite a bit. Since the pandemic started, my tap and exercise class went to Zoom, so I was spending more time in the room with bare, gray concrete walls and the scuffed up floor. Some time in the last year (see above for time losing meaning), I decided to get the floor refinished, paint an accent wall, and furnish the space with a couple of pieces to store equipment, DVDs, my tap shoes and other odds and ends. I researched painting on concrete and chose a very pleasing shade of blue (like Myrna Loy in “Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House,” I knew just what I wanted). While listening to “This American Life” and other podcasts, I primed and painted my blue wall to complement the new clock I’d bought on Etsy. I hung a couple of photographs on one of the concrete walls, put together the furniture I bought (both in white), and now every time I go down there to do my Yoga with Adriene or exercise with my  Zoom class, I feel as though I accomplished something that is both aesthetically pleasing and life-affirming. Also, I did a very good job with the paint and had no pieces left over when I put the furniture together. Win-win.

As the year at home began, I spent many hours on the couch also–don’t get me wrong. I knitted baby blankets, scarves, fingerless gloves, another blanket, a pair of bees

for grandchildren, and two little nurses for my daughter the nurse. This also involved a LOT of binge-watching.










Keeping feet and fingers busy during this most challenging year, I have something(s) to show for how I spent my time. The blue blanket was supposed to be my “big pandemic project.” I really thought it would take me so long to make that this whole shelter-in-place thing would be long past by the time I finished it. Little did I (or any of us) know…

A Little Dab’ll Do Ya! by
(77 Stories)

/ Stories

First, to set the scene: My dad and I are sitting on the couch on a Friday night (a Friday night that we don’t go to the synagogue for Shabbat services), and it’s time for the Gillette Cavalcade of Sports’ Friday Night Fights on TV. My dad, first in his family to go to college and get his doctorate, lived a life immersed in theater and surrounded by actors. Did two guys in shiny trunks slugging it out in in the ring in front of a noisy crowd at Madison Square Garden represent just another kind of theater to him? I don’t know the answer, but he watched the fights religiously, unless he was doing his other usual Friday night activity–also religiously, but in a different way. He may have studied the sweet science at some point, or at least he knew enough about it to call out the punches and “oof” appreciatively when a right cross or a left hook landed especially hard. Did he know the Marquess of Queensbury rules? I don’t know. Maybe he just liked watching these fights the same way he liked watching baseball. It’s a thing you can appreciate for what it is without ever having done it.

Since the biggest share of the Friday Night Fights audience was likely male, the commercials were about things for men: Brylcreem, Gillette razors, and Hamm’s (the beer refreshing). The Hamm’s commercial featured a steady tom-tom beat (DUM da da da, DUM da da da) that was the background for the jingle that began, “From the land of sky blue wa-a-ters…” One night as we sat at the dinner table, my sister and I started doing the back beat and my dad sang the jingle. We thought it was hilarious. My mom: not so much.

I think my favorite part of the Brylcreem commercial was when the male and female animated dolls appeared. I loved her long pony tail! (I cannot imagine what the real man’s hair felt like when it was completely slicked down with grease! Who would want to run their fingers through that hair?) Was he also an Aqua Velva man, or did he use Old Spice like my dad? Little girls didn’t really understand why people used some of these products if the end result meant getting your hair messed up or worse!

My other favorite commercials were for Gillette razors. There was a parrot involved, which always adds to the entertainment level. The theme song  (“To Look Sharp”)  was stirring, as demonstrated here by no less than the Boston Pops Orchestra.

Looking at some of these old commercials, it’s interesting how LONG they were. We’re so accustomed to pop-up ads and quick, to-the-point messaging, some of these old ones seem endless! But even so, many of them were entertaining and went beyond just plugging a product. I do remember singing along with Dinah Shore when she sang “See the USA in a Chevrolet!”–especially after my parents bought our 1958 fire engine red Chevy station wagon, which we proceeded to drive cross country from Detroit to the Bay Area, which is a story for another time.


And to wrap this up with another boxing reference, complete with Farfel the dog, I leave you with Nestle’s Quick. N-E-S-T-L-E-S…Nestle’s makes the very best….chocolate!

The Milliner’s Daughter by
(77 Stories)

Prompted By Hats

/ Stories

My mother started making hats right around the time I became a teenager. This was not coincidental, I believe.

It was a good time for her  to find something to do. Not the happiest of stay-at-home mothers in the 1960s, she desperately needed an outlet. First she helped form a singing group of PTA mothers. Then Mom started taking millinery classes in the evenings and afternoons through the local adult school, and, once she had the basics down, let her creative instincts go wild.


She hunted around for stores that sold ribbon, trim, and fabric flowers; she got small samples of fur from my great Uncle Sam, who owned a fur salon in San Francisco. She used mink and lamb to make stylish hats for our mild California winters. Her springtime hats made of straw were adorned with flowers and ribbons in vibrant blues, pinks, and oranges.She found a shop that sold many kinds of feathers: long elegant plumes and small, colorful ones. For one creation, she spent hours painstakingly gluing pheasant feathers in overlapping rows on a stiff-backed fabric form. To help with the construction of her hats, she bought a couple of hat forms: wooden head-shaped blocks that she used to get the shape and size of her hats just right.

When I was thirteen, my family moved to a bigger house that had a walk-in closet in the hall. Bigger than a standard closet, this became her hat room. Over the years she piled the many shelves with her hat boxes, which contained the orange straw with a dipped brim; the tufted pale blue chiffon that sat like a crown on her head; the fabric pillbox she made for my sister; the black lambswool with a small decorative sword, and so many more. She made hats with sequins, with tall plumes, with veils; head-hugging cloches and wide-brimmed straw hats a la Holly Golightly.

When friends and relatives asked my mother to make hats for them, she did. Sometimes she got it right and they were pleased…and sometimes she missed the mark.


Although on many occasions my mother told me I had “a head for hats,” she never actually made me a hat. When we were little girls, she bought  me and my sister hats to wear to fancy events like weddings or bon voyage parties (we went to a couple the year we lived in New York). I don’t know what she meant by her observation regarding  my head and hats. I never got into wearing them, but I do love trying them on.

Appropriate for the Kentucky Derby?


I don’t look especially happy in the picture below on the left, but I did like the hat. And may I point out that the smiling woman in this picture with me and my sister is the famous wife of one of my dad’s Army buddies: June Taylor. My sister and I were actually June Taylor dancers (in name only) because we took tap lessons at her Manhattan studio. We are pictured here on the right with our dance stuff outside the studio. Same hat.





I’m not sure when my mother stopped making hats. After I moved away from my parents’ house, I didn’t keep track of her goings-on very much. With both daughters out of the house, my parents began doing a lot of traveling– hat-making fell by the wayside.


After my mother died, a few years after my dad, my sister and I faced the task of emptying out the house. Once again, we ventured into the “hat closet” and had to decide what to do with all those  boxes and leftover pieces of fabric and sizing, and the pair of wooden heads. My sister insisted on keeping many of mom’s hats, but we gave away several at the “trunk show” we put on.

In this picture, l to r: orange straw, with flowers around the brim; pouffy blue chiffon; blue fabric pillbox with black trim; tall velvet hat with feather and rhinestone trim; blue flower cloche with pink rose; flowered fabric with pink chiffon band, black knitted pillbox with sequin trim; maroon felt hat with long feather; something pink I can’t identify; cloche with pale apricot fabric flowers.

I wish I had more pictures of her wearing her hats, but here are a couple


Here she is at a wedding, wearing a flower-bedecked cloche in spring colors,me in that same big-brimmed number.

Wearing the blue chiffon, with my sister in her pillbox and me with a red beret






On this chart of greatest hat hits from the ’60s, I see a few familiar forms. Many of these styles were among the creations she proudly wore for years. When the times and styles changed, and hat-wearing occasions were no more, my mother’s hats were carefully nestled in tissue paper and placed in big round boxes, stacked high on the shelves of the hat closet.



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