Amanuensis Monday: Portrait of a Woman

 

Benita (McGinnis) McCormick (1889 – 1984)

A local Bay Area feature story from the mid-
1970s depicts Benita (McGinnis) McCormick 
with mementos from her travels.
Clipping courtesy of Suzanne Olson Wieland.

[Note:  Amanuensis is an ancient word meaning one who performs the function of writing down or transcribing the words of another.  Derived from the Latin root manu-  , meaning manual or hand, the word also has been used as a synonym for secretary or scribe.]

A few years ago, my cousin, Suzanne Olson Wieland, sent me a newspaper clipping about her maternal grandmother (and my maternal great-aunt), Benita (McGinnis) McCormick.
The paper was most likely The San Mateo Times, a publication covering peninsula news of the San Francisco Bay Area. Based on the photograph, I would estimate the article was published in the mid-1970s.  
 

A transcription of the story follows here.  (The story contains one factual error; it refers erroneously to Aunt Detty’s son as “George.” His name was Phillip, and he went by his nickname, “Bud.”

 


PORTRAIT OF A WOMAN
She Grabs An Idea…

Then Just Hangs On

Artist and businesswoman, Benita McCormick, zips through life with vim and vigor.  The secret of her zest is to grab hold of an idea in the same way one would grab hold of the tail of a donkey – then hang on.

It was shortly after her marriage to Phillip McCormick, a railroad executive with the Baltimore-Ohio in Chicago, that Mrs. McCormick began putting her ideas to work.  Prior to that she had been too busy studying art illustration and painting at the Art Institute in Chicago and the galleries in Paris and later, working on the Chicago movie censor board.

Mrs. McCormick’s method is to take a creative idea, hammer and chisel it into the commercial world and produce a going concern.

Shortly after her marriage she got the idea of teaching children to paint to music after seeing the moods created by violinists during the rehearsal of love scenes in Hollywood.

She rented a studio in the Astor Hotel in Milwaukee, where she was then living, and began to teach the children painting to the tunes of the Teddy Bears’ Picnic and the Clock Shop.  Her idea was so successful that the Milwaukee Art Institute copied her idea and installed an electric organ in their institute.

Her painting classes brought an acquaintance with the youngsters’ mothers and out of this grew her interior decorating business which was soon thriving.

The McCormicks returned to Chicago and became involved in raising their twins, Jane and George (sic).  What then could be more natural than for a young mother busy at home to decide to redecorate her dining room?

So Benita set to work.  She stripped the dining room of its five panels of wallpapered hunting dogs and began to paint.  She painted the room in oils showing the different fairytales that would entertain the children.

Article about Benita McCormick
Guests coming to the house were impressed and soon she was doing scenes for other people’s homes. One painting she did for her father, of his favorite fishing haunt, added $500 to the sale of the house.

As the children grew older and became more independent Benita turned her interest towards advertising.  She got the idea of making Christmas cards that showed the different models of cars.  And she soon had more orders than she could handle.  The result was a studio business that ran for three years.

A business enterprise that started during World War II and was to last for 16 years began when Benita dreamed up the idea of a job survey.  Her idea was to call people in their homes and tell them of the job opportunities available to them.  She would then send the prospective employe her card and have them present it to the personnel office that they applied to.

It was a workers market in those years; there were hundreds of jobs available that employers were desperate to fill.  Benita took her idea to the most conservative firm in town and won them over with a contract.

At the end of 16 years of personnel work Benita decided to retire with her husband and “have some fun.”  They made their base in San Mateo and began to travel.

They went to Europe and fell in love with Spain where they stayed one year.  After a year in California they returned to Spain and toured the Near East and the Holy Land as well.

“I’m mad about Spain,” says Mrs. McCormick, “I love the people, they’re so warm and friendly.  I like Barcelona best because it has a lot of life to it.”

It was during her stay in Barcelona that Benita became interested in applying gold leaf to statues.  She found a man in Barcelona who worked in gold leaf and became his student for five hours a day for eight months.

Professor Antonio’s studio was what had once been a stable and later the carriage house of a great mansion.  It had walls one foot thick that were pocked with cannon balls, a false floor and cathedral-high ceiling.

Back in California, Benita applied her newly learned gold-leaf technique to making coats of arms.  She first became interested in shields because she thought “it was a nice thing for people to have pride in their families.”

Like all her ideas, this, too, has become an enterprising project with Benita making coats of arms for families and newly formed businesses.

And the McCormick’s coat of arms is “Without Fear.”

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Copyright ©  2015  Linda Huesca Tully


Travel Tuesday: The Exotic and the Mundane in Mexico City

Benita (McGinnis) McCormick (1889 – 1984)
Phillip Columbus McCormick (1892 – 1981)

Gilbert Cayetano Huesca (1915 – 2009)
Joan Joyce (Schiavon) Huesca (1928 – 1987)

From the Many Branches, One Tree treasure chest, this 1966 photograph celebrates the spring visit of my great-uncle-and-aunt, Phil and Benita (McGinnis) McCormick, to Mexico City, where our family was living at the time.

Cover of the folio containing a souvenir photograph of my
parents’ and great aunt and uncle’s dinner at the Mauna Loa
Restaurant, Mexico City.

 

Souvenir photograph of dinner at the Mauna Loa Restaurant
in Mexico City. Left to right:  my parents, Gilbert and Joan
Huesca and my great aunt and great uncle, Benita and Phillip
McCormick.  Spring 1966.
My parents, Gilbert and Joan (Schiavon) Huesca, took them to dine at the legendary Mauna Loa Restaurant at 172 Hamburgo Street, in the Zona Rosa neighborhood of the Federal District.
 
The Polynesian-themed restaurant was considered by many to be quite exotic in its day. It later burned down, but its former customers and fans still talk about it today, and you can view photos of it on the Critiki blog. Indeed, my parents and my aunt and uncle shared fond reminiscences of their beautiful evening for many years.
 
The rest of the McCormick’s visit was much more mundane. Some days after their dinner at the Mauna Loa, my parents and youngest sister travelled on personal business to Brownsville, Texas.  Brave souls that they were, Aunt Detty and Uncle Phil stayed and babysat my other two sisters and me for the week.
 
Uncle Phil used to walk to our elementary school to pick us up at the end of the school day. Though in his 70s by now, he remained energetic and relished his daily walks through the city, nonplussed by the high altitude.  One afternoon on our way home, he took us into a candy shop to look at all the treats.

It was Holy Week, and the shop, like most others in the city, was sporting a colorful window display of its most festive creations and goodies in anticipation of Easter Sunday.

 

As only children could do with a loving uncle, we talked him into buying us half the candy store.

Well, maybe not that much, but it must have seemed that way to Aunt Detty when we got home, licking our sticky fingers and chasing each other around the house on a sugar high. There went her chances of getting us to eat our dinner that night!   

 
As she regarded us with exasperation, I wonder if she recalled the words of our late grandmother and her sister, Alice (McGinnis) Schiavon. “Nana” once joked to my mother that having four little girls was like going on a wild adventure with four little monkeys.
 
Luckily for us, Aunt Detty couldn’t stay angry for very long. Hours later that evening. with Uncle Phil nearby in his chair with his pipe and newspaper, my sisters and I sat at her knee, breathlessly listening to her recount one of her Irish fairy tales in a dramatic brogue.
 

Monkeys never had it so good.

 

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Copyright ©  2015  Linda Huesca Tully

Sentimental Sunday: Keeping the Lord Company in the Dark

Benita (McGinnis) McCormick (1889 – 1984)
Phillip Columbus McCormick (1892 – 1981)

Phil and Benita (McGinnis) McCormick’s love affair with Spain began in 1960, when they arrived for a couple of months and ended up living there for a year, making some of the best memories of their lives.  Benita – my great-aunt Detty – also created some of her best art there.  In her untitled ode to Spain below, she painted a loving picture of the country that captured her heart and sparked her imagination.

Iberian Peninsula at night, NASA,
International Space Station, December 4, 2011
Creative Commons; in the public domain
 

 

My husband and I used to wonder
About this nocturnal activity of a people.
It puzzles most visitors,
But we think God loves it.
Picture, if you will, El Rey de los cielos
Gazing nightly upon our dark, revolving earth.
All is stygian
Except for a little glimmer
Around New York. 
The Americas are asleep.
Then, gracefully, España spins slowly into view
And warms His heart.
For there below, stepping gaily but with authority,
Heads high, spines straight, toes pointed,
Under the gleaming lights
Of every town and city in Spain,
Pass a proud and beautiful people,
A whole nation of night-walkers,
Laughing and talking
To keep the Lord company in the dark.

Benita McCormick

 
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Copyright ©  2015  Linda Huesca Tully

Treasure Chest Thursday: We’ll Always Have Barcelona

Benita (McGinnis) McCormick (1889 – 1984)
Phillip Columbus McCormick (1892 – 1981)

Married couples often have a private word or catchphrase, born of shared experiences and rich with meaning.  My great-uncle and great-aunt, Phillip and Benita (McGinnis) McCormick’s catchphrase was, “We’ll always have Barcelona.”
“Las Ramblas” depicts a Sunday afternoon on the famous boulevard in Barcelona. My great-aunt Detty, Benita (McGinnis) McCormick, painted this as an ode to the year long sojourn she and my great-uncle Phillip McCormick spent in Barcelona. Oil on canvas, 1970.
Those of us who loved them during their 50-plus years of marriage knew that of the countless places around the globe they had visited, nowhere else resonated with Aunt Detty and Uncle Phil more than that captivatingly proud, complex, and progressive land of Gaudì, Dali, and Picasso.
Barcelona was many things to Phil and Benita.  It was a retreat that offered them respite from the pangs of separation as they watched their children become adults and reclaimed their own lives.  It was a haven of inspiration, offering new ideas and methods of expression to an artist and an art lover who welcomed growth and new ideas.  And it was a seat of romance, where Arab and Roman influences danced gaily with the Catalan culture and rekindled their passion for life and each other.
As time passed, all it took to elicit a nod and a knowing smile was for one of them to repeat that storied phrase, summoning in an instant those memories of their glory days in Barcelona.
In 1970, some ten years after their extended stay there, Aunt Detty painted a tribute to the city that stole their hearts. Titled “Las Ramblas,” it is an 18″ x 24″ oil on canvas depiction of various groups of people, from lovers on a park bench to little girls in their First Communion veils and dresses to their parents gathering with their families on the famous Barcelona boulevard on a sunny Sunday morning.
“First Communion Sunday in Barcelona.”  Inspiration for her later oil on canvas
painting titled, “Las Ramblas,” this was painted by my great-aunt Detty, Benita
(McGinnis) McCormick. It is reminiscent of Degas’ style. Her writing in the
lower left hand corner notes the title and her name, “Benita E. McCormick.”
Watercolor, circa 1970.
Their daughter, Jane (McCormick) Olson, gave me the painting many years ago.  A couple of years before she died, she gave me another, smaller painting, this one a watercolor, of the same boulevard.  It seems that Aunt Detty had painted it first but was not entirely happy with the result, so she stored it away in a trunk for many years.  Both paintings hang on adjacent walls in our family room.
First Communion Sunday, the watercolor above, focuses on a group of little girls right after their First Communion and is reminiscent of the motion and pattern of an Edgar Degas ballerina portrayal.  Unlike its later version, Las Ramblas, its mood is brighter and more impressionistic by way of its lightly-brushed figures and pastels. The day feels warmer, hot even, with a flat light on the ground and surroundings.
By contrast, Las Ramblas has a more complex combination of shadows and light. The time of day seems later than the one in the watercolor. There is more subtlety in the details and gradation in the colors, with just a hint of a light blue sky beyond the sunlight-dappled canopy of trees. The activity is more varied; while the little girls first catch your eye, your find your gaze traveling diagonally toward the flower stand in the lower right hand corner, up to the center where the men in white suits stand as their wives talk, and then finally resting on the young people on the bench who seem oblivious to everything but each other.
I have always loved this painting the most of all my aunt’s works. Every time I look at it, I wonder about the stories behind the people and marvel at how they seem so connected.  Though I have yet to visit this charming city, still I am drawn into its busy, charismatic boulevard where untold surprises await.  I can almost hear the lilt of my aunt’s voice beside me as I weave my way through a sea of faces and a cacophony of sounds – life at its best.
Thanks to Aunt Detty, we too, will always have Barcelona.
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Copyright ©  2015  Linda Huesca Tully

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday: Visiting El Greco Museum

Benita (McGinnis) McCormick (1889 – 1984)
Phillip Columbus McCormick (1892 – 1981)

Toledo, about an hour’s drive from Madrid in central Spain, was one of the excursiones requisitas,  or obligatory stops, for my great-aunt and artist Benita (McGinnis) McCormick.  She and my great-uncle Phil made a pilgrimage to the Museo del Greco during their year-long Spanish sojourn in 1960, to view the master’s dramatic artwork and see a replica of his Renaissance-era home.  
 
Benita and Phillip McCormick leaving El Greco Museum.
Caption reads, “Recuerdo de Toledo – Casa del Greco.”
“Souvenir of Toledo – Home of El Greco.”
1960, Toledo, Spain.

The caption on this picture postcard is disconcerting.  While the museum is situated on land where El Greco’s home may have stood, the home within is in fact a very good replica.  It probably did not matter to Aunt Detty and Uncle Phil, who like many visitors to the museum, were presumably more awed by the excellent exhibit of many original paintings and sculptures of El Greco and other 17th century artists.

 

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Copyright ©  2015  Linda Huesca Tully

 

 
 

 

Travel Tuesday: Rebirth in the Land of Mañana


Benita (McGinnis) McCormick (1889 – 1984)
Phillip Columbus McCormick (1892 – 1981)

When a letter begins with the words, “Sit down,” a big announcement is sure to follow.

That was how my great-uncle-and-aunt, Phillip and Benita (McGinnis) McCormick, learned that their daughter, Jane, had married her true love, Eldon “Ole” Olson, in a private church ceremony in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, in May of 1960.

Reading the news in their Barcelona pension, some 5,000 miles away from home, they were undoubtedly surprised, though maybe not entirely. True, it had been easier to see their son, Bud, marry and start a family, but letting go of their daughter was tougher to do.

They had to admit that she did what they would want her to do, which was to follow her heart and do things her own way.  Besides, she had tried her best to cushion the news.

 

Did Aunt Detty gold-leaf this small statue of
the Virgin Mary? From her collection of Spanish
Madonnas, it now sits on my dressing table. 

 

In characteristic fashion, Uncle Phil and Aunt Detty rose to the occasion. Swallowing their pride, they sent her and Ole their congratulations and decided to extend their stay a while longer. And being the larger-than-life couple they were, even in their 70s, their idea of “a while” turned into a year.

Spain, a place to retreat in a moment of uncertainty as they struggled to give their daughter some room to grow, became the place of their rebirth and rediscovery.

They made the rounds of the major art museums and architectural jewels, not just in Catalonia but throughout the country and became active members of the local artists’ colony. Uncle Phil, already somewhat familiar with Spanish, began taking a conversational class so he could talk to people during his long walks through town.  Aunt Detty, always looking to reinvent herself artistically, signed on with a master artist to learn the art of gold leaf.

In a 1960 letter to my parents, Aunt Detty’s words spill out breathlessly, and she seems to abbreviate many of them to help her fingers keep up with her rapid-fire thoughts.  Here, “g.l.” stands for “gold leaf,” while “E” stands for España, or Spain:

I’ve had 6 days of wonderful gold-leaf application. Yesterday I g.l.  a little shelf. Today I do the Virgin (plaster) that I helped repair & prepared for g.l. yesterday. There is no one I know of in our country doing this gold and silver work and after we tour the rest of E, we may return here for Sept. & Oct. do do further study with this wonderful maestro – the head of the craft in Barcelona. We work in his studio-workshop – the former stables of a castle (walled – even now, if you please) and so old that even Antonio’s father, who had the place before him, doesn’t know its age.

 

I wonder if the small statue of the Virgin Mary, shown in the picture above, is the same plaster Virgin that Aunt Detty was gold leafing?  My cousin, her granddaughter Suzanne (Olson) Wieland, gave it to me a couple of years ago, one of a collection of Madonnas Aunt Detty brought back from Spain.

Evidently, her hosts were equally fascinated by their older pupil:

Each day our lesson from 4:30 pm till 8 pm is punctuated by loud rings of the bell to admit some visitor, or client, to meet the “Americana.”  [The maestro’s] daughter, 14, brings her school friends and his sister-in-law came to check on me. . . . Evidently I pass muster, look harmless, and so get the welcome Española!  I love them all.

 

Aunt Detty and Uncle Phil were especially taken by the Spaniards’ slower pace of life, their philosophy that there is always mañana – another day, and that if things don’t resolve themselves right away, they will work themselves out eventually.  In the same letter to my parents, she marvels at this slower pace of life.

Joan, this is a week to the day from the start of this note…. you also know what mañana means – Mary Harlow told me that if a Spaniard says “Mañana – mañana” that really means the next day.  but life is so full here – I can understand how it takes months to get things done.  No wonder they think we do everything by “machinas” we move so much faster than they.

 

As with everything else they did, Phil and Benita McCormick wholeheartedly embraced the lifestyle of mañana.  Sure enough, they gradually accepted the idea of Jane’s being married and lovingly welcomed their new son-in-law, Ole Olson.

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Copyright ©  2015  Linda Huesca Tully

 

Wedding Wednesday: Ole and Jane (McCormick) Olson

 

Benita Jane “Janie” (McCormick) Olson 
   (1927 – 2011)
Elson “Ole” Olson (1924 – 1994)
Secret courtyard passage, Carmel-by-the-Sea
On May 6, 1960, while 20 million television viewers watched England’s Princess Margaret marry Anthony Armstrong-Jones at Westminster Abbey, Eldon Olson and Benita Jane McCormick were being married in front of two witnesses in the quaint village of Carmel-by-the-Sea.
 
Ole and Jane, as everyone knew them, had opted for a quiet wedding ceremony on the Monterey Coast, some 100 miles south of San Francisco International Airport, where they worked for Trans World Airlines. Charmed by Ole’s romantic invitation to her to spend her life seeing the world together, Jane gladly said “yes” and set off to buy herself a wedding dress.
 
Unlike Princess Margaret and her groom, who arrived at Westminster Cathedral in a royal horse-drawn carriage amid a grand entourage, Ole and Jane drove for nearly two hours down to Carmel in a little Volkswagen Beetle, accompanied by their friends, Jerry and Sue Williams.  It would have been a cool and clear spring day, with temperatures ranging between 50 – 64 degrees Fahrenheit. Once there, they headed into the picturesque Church of the Wayfarer at the intersection of Seventh and Lincoln Streets.

 

Ole and Jane (McCormick) Olson on their
wedding day, May 6, 1960, at the Church of
the Wayfarer, Carmel-by-the-Sea, California.
Inside, Sue Williams would have helped Jane change into her wedding dress, which we see here.  In her typical good taste, it was a stylish knee-length pale blue taffeta dress cinched at the waist with a satin belt, with a full skirt and a demure broad v-neck collar adorned with a large bow and chiffon-like three-quarter length sleeves.  A small pillbox hat with a short wispy veil crowned her head. 
 
This snapshot shows us the happy couple just outside the church after the wedding ceremony. Jane smiles obligingly, her veil blowing lightly in the Carmel breeze.   Ole, his arm around his bride, looks at her and not the camera, standing tall and proud.
 
Unlike her extroverted mother, Benita, or even the British royal family, Jane was never much for fanfare. For her, getting married was all that mattered, and as long as she and Ole were together, she wanted nothing else – neither a big wedding, nor guests, nor gifts.  Even the simple gold band Ole slipped over her finger acted as both engagement and wedding ring.
 
A congratulatory telegram from friends of
Ole and Jane Olson in care of the Church
of the Wayfarer, notes the wedding took
place in the afternoon of May 6, 1960.
Initially, Jane might have been apprehensive about telling her parents, Benita and Phil McCormick, after the fact. Then again, they had recently flown to Barcelona, Spain, for an indefinite stay.  She saw no reason to interrupt their stay by asking them to come home for the brief ceremony. She sat down and wrote them a letter announcing the news.

 

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Copyright ©  2015  Linda Huesca Tully

Sentimental Sunday: Loving and Letting Go

Benita Elizabeth (McGinnis) McCormick 
   (1889 – 1984)
Phillip Columbus McCormick (1892 – 1981)
Phillip Eugene “Bud” McCormick (1927 – 2004)
Benita Jane “Janie” (McCormick) Olson 
   (1927 – 2011)
Elson “Ole” Olson (1924 – 1994)

 

Benita Jane McCormick, known as “Jane,” circa 1960.
As happens eventually to parents everywhere, Phil and Benita McCormick must have wondered how they could have just blinked one day and looked up to find their son and daughter all grown up: living independently, working, falling in love, and starting families of their own.
 
Their son, Bud, married a local beauty queen named Ruth Kant sometime in the 1950s. Bud and Ruth had a daughter, but their marriage was short-lived.  Some time after their divorce, Bud fell in love again, this time with a young woman named Barbara Bowman. They married, had five sons, and established a home in the Chicago suburbs.

Jane went away to university in New Mexico to major in English and worked during her summer vacations as a “Harvey Girl” at the Fred Harvey Bright Angel Lodge at Grand Canyon, Arizona.  After a few years, she was offered a job as a reservations agent for Trans World Airlines (TWA) in California.  She worked for the airline in Fresno for a short time before transferring as a ticket agent to San Francisco International Airport, where she met a handsome and charming Norwegian-American TWA freight agent, Eldon “Ole” Olson.

 
This menu cover from Bright Angel Lodge at Grand Canyon, Arizona, hung in Jane (McCormick) Olson’s kitchen for many years, a fond memory from her days there as a Harvey Girl.
 
Meanwhile, by 1959, Phil, who had retired some years before, and Benita were feeling lonesome for their daughter. They sold their home in Chicago and moved to California,  renting an apartment at The Arlington at 1401 Floribunda Avenue in Burlingame, near the airport.  It was a big move for a couple entering their 70s, but they were thrilled to be closer to Jane and looked forward to seeing her often.
 
A TWA gate agent offers his hand to
Jane McCormick as she disembarks
a jet on one of her many travels.

At 32 years old, she was having the time of her life, working for a major international airline during the Golden Age of air travel.  It was the same way Phil had felt during early days with the railroad in the 1920s.

In 1960, most airports were new and clean, bright places that attracted not only business and leisure travelers but also the curious who came to see what all the fuss was about. And there sure was a lot of fuss. Large concourses displayed artistic tourism posters beckoning people to see new places. Passenger lounges offered travelers and would-be travelers enormous windows to gaze through at sleek and silvery jet airplanes that promised to take them in style to see their families, or maybe even to an exotic vacation abroad, much quicker than by rail or boat. Airline employees, usually clean-cut young men and women, wore crisp uniforms, enjoyed good pay and flight benefits, and received special training in customer service, charm, and etiquette.   

Eldon “Ole” Olson, year unknown

Passengers at the time were generally from the middle and upper classes. Decked out in smart outfits and wearing the latest hairstyles, they came to airports to see and be seen. Those traveling for pleasure were typically accompanied by large entourages of family and friends who saw them off and greeted them on their return as if they were the most important people in the world.

No wonder, then, that Jane and Ole’s courtship felt so magical, especially against this glamorous backdrop.  Ole Olson was everything Jane had dreamed of:  funny and bright, kind, attentive, and romantic.  She could not believe the similarities between him and her father.  Like Phil McCormick, Ole was fair-skinned and fair-haired and was from Minnesota. To top it off, he was a freight agent (and later supervisor of ramp services) for TWA, just as Phil had been a freight agent for the railroad.

When asked years later about those days, Ole recalled that Jane was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.  He loved her lilting laugh, the way she looked up at him through her clear blue eyes and long dark eyelashes, and the graceful way she moved through a room.  He teased her about being sentimental, but he loved her for it, all the same.

It gradually became clear to Benita and Phil that their little girl was falling in love with Ole Olson.  As she began spending more time with him and less time with her parents, they reluctantly had to admit that they were no longer at the center of their daughter’s life.

Sometimes love is about letting go.  As much as they understood that, Phil and Benita also  realized they would have to find something else to fill their new-found time.  So just months after arriving in California, they closed up the apartment and obtained two one-way TWA airline passes to Barcelona, Spain, to begin the next phase of their lives.

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Copyright ©  2015  Linda Huesca Tully

Talented Tuesday: Lady in Winter

Benita (McGinnis) McCormick (1889 – 1984)

Benita (McCormick) McGinnis drew this untitled
chalk rendering in Chicago, possibly in 1931.
 

With winter snow and rain storms in full force across the world this week, it seems appropriate to post this chalk drawing by my great-aunt “Detty,” Benita McCormick.

The back of this portrait contains no information to date it, but it resembles Aunt Detty’s artistic style during the early 1900s. If you look closely, you can see the outline of the thin brown wooden frame that held the portrait for decades until it fell apart in the late 1980s.  

 
The writing in the lower right hand corner of the picture is barely visible, but there seems to be a number, possibly “’31,” which could indicate that Aunt Detty drew this in 1931.  
 
The picture is untitled, as far as I can see, but I call it the “Lady in Winter.”  On the back you can see that my aunt purchased the art board at a Chicago art supply store for 75 cents.
Aunt Detty’s daughter, Jane (McCormick) Olson, gave me this picture in the mid-1980s.  I took it out at Christmastime to display on my antique dresser, across from a table lamp that also belonged to Aunt Detty and a small statue from one of her travels. 

 

The Lady in Winter, still as beautiful as she was when Aunt Detty
created her nearly a century ago, today sits contentedly on my
antique dresser, a reminder of an elegant and gracious era.

This “Lady in Winter” looks quite content here, dressed fashionably in her red wide-brimmed hat as a stray lock of her gathered-up hair catches the wind.  A matching thick red scarf gently drapes around her high neck, falling softly over what looks like a fur coat so typical of middle class midwestern ladies at the time. A steady snow swirls around her as she serenely yet confidently makes her way down the street against a stormy sky, just before dusk. Her lips slightly pulled back into a near-smile, she looks straight ahead as if anticipating a pleasant event or meeting.  It is easy to imagine her warming up the room when she walked in, turning heads with her fine features and rosy countenance.

She is, the more I think of it, rather a lot like Aunt Detty.

Where is she going?  Who is she meeting?  Only she knows. What I do know for sure, though, is that the Lady in Winter cheers me up every morning as she sits there on my dresser, reminding me that no matter what weather lies ahead, it is one’s light from within that warms the heart and cheers the soul.  


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Copyright ©  2015  Linda Huesca Tully

 

Wisdom Wednesday: Young for Such a Little While

 

Benita Jane (McCormick) Olson  (1927 – 2011)

Jane McCormick, Chicago, Illinois,
circa 1938

Of all their accomplishments, none brought greater joy to my great uncle and great aunt, Phillip and Benita (McGinnis) McCormick, than their two adopted children, Phillip Eugene and Benita Jane, known as Bud and Jane.

My mother, Joan (Schiavon) Huesca, told my sisters and me many stories about her cousins, as they lived only a few blocks from her in Chicago, Illinois. She was quite the tomboy and played mostly with her cousin Buddy.
 
Jane preferred to stay out of the mischief that my mother and Bud always seemed to make.  It would not be until many years later that Jane and my mother grew close as they discovered in each other common values and experiences as daughters, sisters, wives, and mothers.

 

At Jane’s funeral in 2011, her daughter, Suzanne, shared this poem from her mother’s leather scrapbook.  Jane had penned it at the tender age of 16. The Chicago Tribune had published it, no doubt making Jane’s own creative mother, Benita, quite proud.

Wistful and wise, the poem is subtly humorous and self-effacing, so characteristic of Jane’s personality.  It reminds me of one of her favorite childhood authors, A.A Milne, who wrote the Winnie-the-Pooh books.

 

When I was very young (almost a year ago)
And thought myself so awfully wise,
I’d sigh and smugly say,
“Aren’t children brats?” and
“What makes them act that way?”
I saw them with unseeing eyes.
 
But now when little girls are lost in make-believe
And grimy boys make cops-and-robbers’ sounds, I smile
Glad to hear that happy noise
And wish that I could lose myself, or climb a roof
And skin my knee, as do the boys – 

We’re young for such a little while.

Benita Jane McCormick
   Chicago, Illinois, 1944
 

 

(Gratefully published with permission from
Jane’s daughter, Suzanne Olson Wieland.)

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Copyright ©  2015  Linda Huesca Tully