Migration — You Can’t Go Home, Part II

July 31, 2008

Well, I arrived at the historical society in a rage, just as I used to when I visited my parents on the weekends. But this was a Wednesday morning. Main Street was jammed from end to end. Cars filled all the parking spaces. People were backing out into oncoming traffic blocking the right lane, and making left turns into parking spaces lots blocking the left turn lane. And it was only 10:30 a.m.
The garment I went to examine was white, maybe cotton batiste, but it felt rather too stiff and opaque for that traditionally soft sheer fabric. It had ruffles at the cuffs, a double at the hem and cascades from the neckline to the waist. Machine made lace trimmed the ruffles. The tucks at the shoulders and the tiny buttonholes were also machine-stitched. The thing – definitely a nightgown – was made for someone huge. It came almost to the floor on me (5′ 6″ plus 2″ heels) and could have fit a 200-pound woman twice around. It would have been way too big for my mother even at her heaviest, and she was the only woman in the family tall enough to wear it.
The initials embroidered on the left just below the tucks were AR or KN, which meant nothing to me. I’ll post a photo once I get it resized.

Anna Louise James and Bertha Harriet Lane

Then one of the volunteers mentioned that the woman had purchased it at a sale at the drugstore after Kim and Garth Meadows had owned it, so it’s possible the nightgown came from her family. But she also bought a broken gold bracelet with the initials ALJ, who was most definitely my great-aunt the pharmacist Anna Louise James who ran the pharmacy from the 1920s to the late 1960s.

The folks at the historical society gave me the contents of the trunk that had been at the Chisholms – some patterns, a couple of letters, and two photos, one of Frank Chisholm, probably at Tuskegee, and the other of Helen’s class at Florida State Normal and Industrial College for Colored Students, now Florida A&M, holding a banner written in Latin. I can read the words but have no idea what they mean. I’ll probably send the stuff to Emory University, which houses the Frank P. and Helen Chisholm Family Papers.
While at the historical society I bought a copy of The Faces and Places of Saybrook. (No link because I bought the last available copy.) Discovered some rather distressing errors: Someone changed my grandmother’s name from Bertha to Bernice and elsewhere someone, perhaps the same person, changed my grandfather’s name from Peter Lane to Peter James. But overall it has a great deal of the wonderful history of Saybrook.
I was in a much better mood when I left but disappointed that I couldn’t get into the barn to see the trunk. The humidity had swollen the doors, and I wasn’t strong enough to yank them open. Plus I didn’t want the neighbors to call the cops because they thought some woman was trying to break in.
From there I went on a little shopping spree. Actually looking for slippers, but glory of glories on my way to the shoe outlets in Westbrook I discovered that Ann Taylor Loft has just opened an outlet store! And even better, they were having a scratch-off sale! Shoppers receive a card and the cashier scratches off the card at checkout showing an additional 15, 25, or 50 percent off. I got 25 percent off on two pairs of pants and a sleeveless sweater. Never did find slippers, but my raggedy wardrobe is now less raggedy.

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