There is nothing better than a gigantic used-book sale, where you could spend a whole Saturday happily digging. I always expect to come away with a wheelbarrow’s worth of reading.
I don’t always expect to come up with a window into my grandparents’ lost everyday life, but that’s what I found at one book sale.
The window was Daddy Danced The Charleston, a vintage cultural memoir by Ruth Corbett, a veteran ad-agency artist. She also had a huge stash of memorabilia – a perfect source for her history of everyday life, circa 1920-1940.
Writing in 1970, Corbett aimed Charleston squarely at her daughter, a miniskirted mod-squader who giggled at flappers and raccoon coats. “Maybe she’ll laugh at her getup in 1990!” groused Corbett in her introduction. (No kidding.)
Corbett’s book resurrects vanished fixtures of everyday life, such as:
• full-service grocery shops
• irons you had to heat on the stove
• vacuum-tube cash-carrying systems in department stores
• oleomargarine you colored yellow with the capsule in the package
These are the details that bring old family stories into clearer focus. Corbett’s book is like the missing text to some of my family photos. Here’s the inside scoop on marcel waves, middy blouses, “Terry and the Pirates” and Fibber McGee’s closet. (If you ever had a mom or grandma tell you your room looked like “the inside of Fibber McGee’s closet,” you now know it wasn’t a compliment.)
Who knew that George VI’s unexpected accession to the British throne touched off a wave of coronation fever that swept everyday fashion in 1937, sparking a vogue for tiaras and brass coronet buttons on blouses?
And who can resist white-hot, now forgotten celebrities like the “girl diva” Marion Talley, “youngest lady to ever trill on the great opera stage”?
I can’t. And the book only cost me a dollar. I guess I got a pretty good deal.