My Word!
Number 6, February 1973
Front Cover

The Cover

A half-tone silk-screen of a pencil sketch I made from a newspaper photo. I had a photo-engraver make a half-tone transparency of the sketch and from it I made the photo screen. From there, it was just brute strength and awkwardness for some 400 odd copies. RSW

A University for the People

On August 4, 1972 there was a story in The Evening Star about the District of Columbia Public Library leaving the building it had occupied for 69 years for a new home. The story said that at the time of its dedication by President Theodore Roosevelt it had been described by a local paper as “a little marble palace… fairly glistening in its purity and elegance.” Then the article went on to say, “But in the intervening years the old dame’s beauty has faded.” “Old Dame” indeed! She is only a couple of years older than I and I need only half close my eyes to see her as she was when I knew her best – a very lovely teenager.

Perhaps because it was a gift of Andrew Carnegie, but more likely just because it was the custom at the turn of the century, the building has been done in the grand manner. The facade, in the Italian Renaissance style, was elegant, it did look like a “little marble palace.” The interior with its high ceilings and wide, white marble stairways was equally impressive (‘…though beautiful,” wrote the Librarian in his Annual Report some years ago, “[it] is badly planned…”).

The once lovely lawns and flower beds of Mount Vernon Square are no more, but what I shall always remember whenever I think of the Carnegie Library is still there – the long, semi-circular granite bench at the entrance. And what stands out most vividly in my memory are the words carved in it – how many times I must have read them – “A VNIVERSITY FOR THE PEOPLE.”

Page 1

George Webb, my best friend, took me to the Carnegie Library for the first time. We were not more than ten or eleven, but we were both omnivorous readers and we spent many happy hours in the Children’s Room. As we could only take out three books at a time, their selection was a matter of some moment because my visits, at least, were somewhat limited. “We’re not made of money, you know,” my mother would say. (Street-car fare was six tickets for a quarter.) My most reliable criteria for selecting interesting books was a well worn binding. Selecting books on this basis led me into some new and wonderful fields.

One day George and I ventured a little timidly into the Adult Department and when no one challenged us – no one even noticed us – we deserted the Children’s Room for good. Now I began to read books that did not always agree with what I had learned in school. It was exciting and I began to read more critically. Looking for worn bindings, I came to know such different authors as Richard Harding Davis, Book Tarkington and Upton Sinclair.

Now the first two are innocuous enough, but Upton Sinclair! The sheltered life I led had not prepared me for The Jungle or King Coal. Ultimately I read all of his books that the library had on its shelves and that included The Brass Check, The Profits of Religion, and at least two or three others. To Mr. Sinclair must go a large measure of credit (read “blame” if you prefer) for my having moved to a position somewhat to the left of center in both politics and religion at an early age.

Then one day I discovered the Technology Division. Oh what wonders that spread before me! Literally thousands of books that told how to do everything under the sun – boat building, plumbing, glassblowing – you name it, there was a book, often many books, on the subject. I roamed through the stacks sampling books at random and as a result, by the time I was 14 I had a wealth of what most people might call “useless information.” All was grist that came to my mill so from my reading I was able to discuss with some intelligence, such diverse subjects as the construction of ocean going yachts (I was a great dreamer), horse training (at that time I thought the horse the noblest work of God), and gem polishing (I had my practical side too). But I was not long content just to read about how things were done – some things I just had to do. Take beekeeping.

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A more unlikely interest for a city-bred boy would be hard to find, but in some way I chanced to pick up a book on the subject – it had a beat-up cover, I suppose – and by the time I had finished it I was hooked on beekeeping. I had always thought bee hives were dome-shaped things made of straw. I found they were very accurately made boxes with frames hanging in them in which the bees built their combs, raised their brood, and stored their honey. Of course, I learned a great deal more and in the process I convinced myself I must have a colony of bees. In a magazine intended for commercial beekeepers, which I found on the library shelves, there were the advertisements of firms that sold hives and other beekeeping paraphernalia and, most important, those of firms selling bees. (Bees are sold by the pound.)

I sent for their catalogs, then pored over them to see just what I would need as a beekeeper. Besides a hive, bees and a queen, my list included a bee veil (a screen-wire contraption that covers the head and shoulders), bee mitts (long-sleeved to go well up on the arms but leaving the fingers exposed so one can work more effectively) and a smoker (this last was very important; smoke, if not too hot, tends to quiet bees when one is working with them).

There were a couple of other minor but necessary items, but even this minimal list came to more than twenty dollars, a sum of some consequence to my family in those days. Perhaps my father was convinced by my earnestness or he may have thought the project justified itself because of its educational value – I do not know – but I did not have to put up the argument I had expected; he readily agreed to finance me. At the time I was surprised, but now I realize I underestimated him.

I ordered everything, arranging to have the bees shipped after I had time to set up the hive and prepare for them. In due course, the postman brought my bees. (Did you know bees are mailable?) I put on a bee veil and mitts, stoked up the smoker, and then, armed only with my book knowledge, I opened the package and put the bees in the hive. I suppose I got a sting or two – I don’t remember, but certainly there was no disaster.

Everything went about as the books had led me to expect. When, later that summer, my mother set the first honey from my hive on the breakfast table, it was a proud moment for me. In today’s terms, my encounter with beekeeping would be rated a “valuable learning experience,” I am sure.

I have no doubt that my success with beekeeping led me to experiment in teaching myself other skills. Over the years, with the aid of books, I attained some mastery of the crafts of cabinetmaking, patternmaking, machinist,* weaving, silkscreening, tailoring, ceramics, and finally, printing. Modesty** forbids my detailing the degree of expertise I achieved in each of these fields but you, gentle reader, can judge my printing for yourself.

It would be unfortunate if I left the impression that a knowledge of a few skills was all – or even the most important thing – I got from the Carnegie Library. It gave me – or helped to develop – a lifelong habit of reading and that has benefited me in more ways than I can count.

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I am the last person to minimize schooling and formal education, but the fact remains, most of what I know I have learned out of school and most of that has come from reading. At my age, that’s probably as it should be.

Many years ago in a discussion group at church I heard a New Englander say that he had always been proud of his home town because it had refused to accept a Carnegie Library. I was shocked at the mere thought! Whatever Mr. Carnegie may have done (and he lived in a time when business ethics left even more to be desired than they do today) I was thankful then, and I am thankful now, that Washington didn’t turn him down. For me, and I am sure for thousands of others, the Carnegie Library has been, and I shall always think of it as, A VNIVERSITY FOR THE PEOPLE.

* To be completely accurate, it should be reported that I had elementary courses in these three trades at McKinley Technical High School. However, from books, I increased my knowledge of them sufficiently so that I have been able to use it as a basis for earning my living for nearly half a century.

** Modesty is a curse. As a young person I suffered terribly from it. As an adult I have made a mighty effort to eradicate it from my personality. But as may be seen, some vestiges remain.

The Richest Man in the World

In my mind, Andrew Carnegie’s name had always been associated with Public Libraries but I had not realized how many libraries he gave (2509) nor what a small part of his total philanthropies they represented (less than one-sixth). A very interesting article, “The Rich Man’s Burden,” in the October 1970 issue of American Heritage tells how, sometime before 1890, he gave the first library to Dumferline, the Scottish town where he was born; and then, in 1901, after he had sold Carnegie Steel to a group headed by J. P. Morgan for $480,000,000 (making him the richest man in the world) he set out to give away the bulk of his fortune. It was quite a task, as in those pre-Income-Tax days his wealth accumulated almost as fast as he could give it away. I commend the article to you.

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Many a Journey
by Lea Palmer

It was destined from the beginning. Theresa, a restless, adventuresome child with momentous motivations, would cross the rolling seas and seek to learn of people, places, and persuasions. With unmatched wit, enthusiasm and affection, she was to inspire and influence many lives with her profound determination to successfully complete almost impossible tasks.

Coming to Victoria, after a short stay on the Canadian prairies, alone except for a new found friend, her first efforts gained her a position as a housekeeper in a large, beautifully appointed home for elderly, well-to-do guests. With some practical knowledge of cooking, she soon developed skill in catering which, in time, prompted a venture into the guest home business. After many struggles, her small, hard earned investment grew to a financial success. For the first time since leaving home and homeland she felt safe and secure.

Then came a visit by two sisters from England, evoking nostalgic dreams of old scenes and surroundings. On an impulse, she sold her holdings and followed her sisters back to her birthplace. A year later, with time on her hands, she found she missed the milder climate of Victoria, but her friends even more. She determined to make it her permanent home, so after an absence of 18 months she returned to Victoria.

Again setting up a new enterprise, she was approached by a neighbor with an invitation to join an amateur group of players. Intrigued by the idea, she accepted and, in accepting, she opened before herself a whole new career, one she had dreamed about as a child when her mother boarded the performers from a nearby London theatre. At that time her instinct to learn and emulate roles and mannerisms had been recognized and encouraged by troupers from that famous old school called vaudeville. Now she was to develop into that towards which she had been unconsciously moving.

Many stage people have a force of personality which is called stage presence. Theresa had this gift. She could kick off her shoes, drape a scarf around her shoulders, and with natural grace improvise a dance that fitted her fancy of the moment, in the next breath change to a beguiling cockney maid or charwoman in hat and apron.

No doubt in her training period Theresa suffered butterflies, frustrations, and depressions, but her drive for perfection – which makes the difference between the amateur and professional – conquered these pitfalls. To her, the only purpose was to excel beyond what could be expected of her and, before she laid acting aside, she had captivated many audiences in Victoria and Hollywood with her sincere, outstanding performances.

Upholding her belief that everyone has the freedom and opportunity of directing one’s life to one’s own desires, she does not believe in too much coddling of self or in pampering people. To her, life is a challenge that must be met with courage and confidence in the ultimate goal.

Few are born, like Theresa, with the gift of making people laugh. She simply and naturally presents without effort or ego, all that has stayed with her of the past years, making new things familiar and familiar things new. And while perhaps time has dulled the sharp edges of joys and sorrows, a capacity remains to enjoy every new experience that appears on the stage of life before her.

In her company one cannot remain a doubter, pessimist or scoffer. A bus trip with her beside you is a highway to a whole new world of experience. An evening together and your worries become so small they are the non-worries they really are. Your triumphs are hers, also your defeats, though never as bad as you thought.

Theresa enjoys her role of friendly confidante, of carrier of good cheer, a sturdy oak in time of trouble. Her love affair with people, places and professions is unforgettable and unquenchable. In this, the golden time of life, Theresa continues to receive the well earned love and respect of that select circle of friends she considers her “family,” to which I have had the honor and privilege to be selected.

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All in Garamond!

Before Xmas I dropped a few (?) not-too-subtle hints and as a result we are able to present My Word! using Garamond exclusively for all body material. (The recipe was printed a long time before Xmas.) It looks great! Thanx, Santa. – Bob

Whatever Happened to the Front Porch?

Today one scarcely ever sees a new house with a front porch but sixty years ago no self-respecting architect or builder even thought of putting up a house without one. The size of the porch on a house told a good deal about the affluence of its occupants. The wealthy had “verandas,” wide and inviting, overlooking spacious lawns, but even row houses in the city had something that passed for a porch. The most modest form, called a “stoop,” was only four or five feet square, entirely of cast iron and usually without a roof over it. Nevertheless, on a summer night, it was a place to escape from a hot house.

There was a standard “porch rocker,” a sturdy thing with a woven or slat seat, that could take a reasonable amount of exposure and abuse. For those who could afford it, there was somewhat fancier “wicker” furniture which might include a sofa. What elegance! Then there was a porch “swing.” These were very popular with young set. Indeed, if there were a young lady in the home a swing was almost a necessity. It was a favorite spot for courting couples to “spoon.”

In the summertime folks lived on their porches. On the street where I lived, at four o’clock, as though on signal, the ladies would come out, drop into a rocker, and start to do some sort of needlework while they rocked sedately. They would have changed from their “house dresses” into something fresh that looked cool – though with all the corsets and underthings women wore in those days I don’t see how they could have been. (Of course, “cool” had a different connotation then than it has now.)

From time to time the ladies would go in the house to check on the progress of dinner. By a little after five the men began coming home from work. As soon as they could shed coat, tie, and collar – and don’t forget, these poor things were wearing stiff collars – they sat out on the porch to cool off and read the evening paper. If the porches were close together, as they were on our block, conversation was easy with next door neighbors and there would be a good deal of visiting back and forth.

About five-thirty the ladies would disappear and in due course, one by one, the porches emptied as the families were called in to dinner. Dinner over, folks reappeared and, with the children playing under their watchful eyes, they might sit out till long after dark. Without even electric fans, houses stayed pretty warm, hot really, for hours after the sun went down.

How different today! The automobile, the widespread installation of electricity in homes, the movies, and more recently, television and air-conditioning have all contributed to changing our lifestyles. And, as a result, the Front Porch, once an American Institution, has gone the way of the buggy whip. RSW.

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We are indebted to Bill Gold for the following item. His popular column, “The District Line,” is a daily feature in The Washington Post. This vignette of the contemporary scene appeared in his May 10, 1972 column and is reprinted here with permission.

These Modern Times
by Bill Gold

She drove into the Belle View Shopping Center just south of Alexandria [Virginia], found a parking space in the lot, and parked her car in it.

As she stepped out of her car, it could be observed that she was an attractive woman of perhaps 35 or 40 attired in blouse and slacks. What could be observed next was somewhat unorthodox, even for these times.

She took off her blouse, under which she wore a bra. Then she took off the slacks, under which she wore a girdle. Then she reached into the car, pulled out a dress, and put it on.

Then she put a leash on her dog and strolled off with him toward the shopping center.

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Oatmeal Wafers
by Louise B. Williams

This is our most requested cooking recipe. A friend gave it to Mother over 60 years ago. Originally a rolled cookie, it is easier to make and more delicious as an “icebox” cookie. Slicing the rolled oats (which may be either the regular or “quick” variety) gives them a textured appearance similar to shredded coconut. A neighbor to whom I have given some cookies said, when she returned the plate, “I was surprised, my husband loved them and usually he doesn’t like coconut!”

“Perhaps,” I replied, “That’s because the coconut was oatmeal.”

1 cup butter*
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
2 ½ cups oatmeal
1 ½ cup sugar
1 egg
¼ cup milk
2 ½ cups flour

Recipe Page 1

Melt butter, add sugar and cinnamon. Beat in egg, add salt and milk. Mix in flour and oatmeal. Divide dough into two equal parts and place each on a piece of wax paper about 18” long. Now shape each portion into a “brick” approximately 1” x 2 ½”. Each of these will be between 12” and 14” long. Wrap in the wax paper and chill thoroughly or freeze. Refrigerated, the dough may be stored for a month, frozen, even longer.

When ready to bake, use a heavy, sharp knife to cut into slices 1/8”, or less, thick. (Press knife through dough rather than use a sawing motion.) Place slices on an ungreased cookie sheet at least ¼” apart as wafers tend to spread a bit in baking. Bake in 375 degree oven for ten to twelve minutes – until wafers brown slightly. Loosen them from the cookie sheet as soon as taken from oven as wafers will stick if allowed to cool on the sheet. If inadvertently allowed to cool, they may be released by holding the sheet over a very low flame just long enough to warm it.

* Butter is recommended, not only for the taste, but because it becomes harder than margarine when chilled and enables one to cut thinner slices.

Recipe Page 2

My Word! (and welcome to it) is published for circulation among the membership of the National Amateur Press Association but there are a few non-members to whom, for one reason or another, copies are sent.

The Silver Shell Press
Robert S. Williams, Jr.
Chevy Chase, MD 20015

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