Treasure Chest Thursday: There Was an App for That

Phillip C. McCormick (1892 – 1981)
Benita (McGinnis) McCormick (1889 – 1984)

Phillip Columbus McCormick,
circa 1914.
From the scrapbook of Benita (McGinnis) McCormick.


My great-uncle, Phillip Columbus McCormick, who always loved the Spanish language, must been smitten with it during the trip that he and my great-aunt Detty, Benita (McGinnis) McCormick, took to Mexico in 1937.

But unlike many people in the 21st century who rely on electronic applications, or “apps,” to aid with translating and pronouncing foreign words, Uncle Phil used something more basic and tangible. And in this age of hardware and software updates and crashes, his handy little tool happily endures to this day.
One day while in downtown Mexico City, he visited an American bookstore and stumbled across a small, cloth-bound phrasebook, Spanish for your Mexican visit. It was authored by Frances Toor, an American anthropologist who wrote several books on the Spanish language and Mexican culture. It contained everything he could have needed in his travels.


This small book, written by American anthropologist
Frances Toor, contains chapters on culture and language
for the traveler and the expat living in Mexico.

Ms. Toor geared the book toward expats and tourists, filling it with helpful vocabulary and relevant chapters, such as ordering food, visiting the doctor, asking for directions, and haggling for souvenirs. Her short, chatty paragraphs about the people and various practical situations could easily put newcomers at ease.  She even included pertinent, full page advertisements before each chapter for local businesses, such as restaurants, hotels, and jewelry stores.  While the ads must have helped defray publishing costs, they were probably among the few English-language ads for places and services that British and American tourists would have needed – and found –  during their stay.


The inside cover page bears the name of its owner,
“P. McGinnis       Mexico City  8/30/37”


I don’t recall Aunt Detty ever trying to speak Spanish, or for that matter any other language.  She would have left that to Uncle Phil.  Indeed, she was proud of his gallant efforts to carry on a conversation in Spanish, as it helped them make friends wherever they went.

Of particular interest to Uncle Phil would have been the chapters on bookshops and recreational activities, as he was an avid reader and golfer and loved to watch bullfights.

I can imagine him calling his artist wife’s attention to the ad below for A.C. Garies Almacen de Pinturas, or Art and Paint Store, in Mexico City.  Aunt Detty never traveled anywhere without recording her impressions artistically, and knowing where to find good paint supplies would have been at the top of her list for shopping.


Advertisements such as the one above at right, not only reassured
visitors to Mexico that there were goods and services available
that were just as good – or better, in many cases – than some of the
things they would find back home.
This small volume, measuring about 4″ square, was the right size to fit nicely in Uncle Phil’s coat pocket.  It is still in good shape, and though its pages are gently yellowed with age, it remains a sweet reminder of a young man who long ago leafed through it many times during this and subsequent visits to Mexico (and eventually Spain), in that universal desire to understand and be understood.
Copyright ©  2014  Linda Huesca Tully

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