Happy Birthday Grandma!

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This coming Sunday, April 8th - Easter Sunday, would have been my Grandmother’s 102nd birthday. I can hardly believe that it’s been eight years since she passed away – where does the time go? I can still hear her voice as clear as day, especially the way she’d answer the telephone or shout for me, my sister, or my Mom – mixing all three of our names together until she found the one she wanted, and then bellowing that one name alone for emphasis. She was funny, tough, bossy, and very stylish. I still use all of her cooking supplies (and I like to think my food tastes better because of it,) and I love setting the table with her wedding china. I also have her cookbooks, which while caked with a million ancient batters, hold the secrets to classic mid-century party fare like aspics and ambrosias. I also have her red fox fur collar, which ingeniously has a pin on the inside to attach it to any coat. The collar is probably about fifty years old, but it still looks like brand new. I always love vintage pieces, but this one is family vintage – showing the long, proud, lineage of style in our family. The red fox collar, a few pieces of costume jewelry, and these pictures are the "evidence" I have left of her own fashion and style - it makes a case for a stylish family tree.

And on that note...I bring you my Grandma: Ida Anglebeck Haughey.

This first picture must have been from around the time my Mom was born - maybe early to mid-1940s? I love the rich print on the dress, as well as the gathered V-neckline and gathered sleeves. I wish I could have seen the rest of the dress! I also love that this is a studio shot, obviously taken to mark some milestone. It's funny that today we don't do studio portraits unless it's at school, or when the little kids are in their new Easter outfits. Studio portraits were normal in the early part of the century, and there is a part of me that wishes we could go back to this polished tradition.

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Ida (at right), Grace (top), Eileen (left), Grandma Nellie holds baby Anita - don't know the dog's name, and I'm guessing this is about 1913-1914 - love the hair bows!Eda Maria Anglebeck was born on April 8th, 1905 to Nellie and Fred Anglebeck, their first of four girls. While her name was Eda, this later morphed into the more Irish “Ida” when she met my grandfather, Joe Haughey. Despite this, her sisters and cousins continued to call her “Edie”. The younger three girls were Grace, Eileen, and Anita, each just 22-months apart, and between the four of them, one can only imagine the squabbles that must have run through the household. But there is one thing no one knows for certain: which one was the most beautiful. My Mom says it was Grace, with Eileen running a close second, but my Grandma always held her own, and Nini seemed to have more beaux than could be counted. So, who is to say?

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This picture is one of the few we have of all four girls together. I love it because of the finger-waved hair, and also the dresses. I love the large plaid on my Grandma (center), as well as the beads on her & Eileen (bottom). This is actually a funny picture becuase  our Aunt Nini (right) always had blonde hair - at least in my lifetime. While she freely admitted that "blonde hair comes from a brown bottle," this is the only picture I've ever seen of her with her natural hair color.

Of course, I am partial to Gram, but for more than the obvious reasons. She always claimed me for her own, saying rather cheekily: “you look like me, and was beautiful…" We certainly do look alike (so much so that a family friend now calls me "Little Ida",) - I didn't ever notice, but now that I've grown into my features it's definitely there. These pictures show her to be a role model too: I see how my Grandma made the most of her beauty, which was both glamorous and flawed. (The reason she didn't like to smile in pictures was due to imperfect front teeth that didn't get remedied until many years later. I have an old photo-booth strip of her and my grandfather who clearly loved to make her laugh, despite her best-resistance to hide the crooked teeth.) She was tall, big, muscular, and athletic, but knew how to choose looks that flattered her and enhanced her strongest features. Despite the imperfections, she walked with a very attractive certitude and grace. She also seems much more occupied with having fun than worrying about her looks!

We also seem to enjoy a lot of the same things. I love the pictures of her in Yosemite, Santa Cruz, or the Russian River where she would go with friends as a teenager. Every time I go to Yosemite I think of her being there, watching the Firefall, going on the same hikes with her girlfriends that I go on with my girlfriends. It’s true, Ida seems to have been one of the original California girls. My Grandma frequently went to Yosemite, probably staying at Wawona or perhaps Curry Camp with friends. The pictures always show them wearing  knickers, jackets, long scarves, little berets, and these great, tall lace-up boots for hiking or the snow. Looking at them, I wonder if they'd look very different from today's average Marc by Marc Jacobs girl...

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Ida at Glacier Peak in Yosemite - yes, that is Half Dome in the background! 1925

Ida - at right - with friends on the beach at Santa Cruz, 1922

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The famous Treasure Island photo - 1939Every time I look at the old photos of my Grandma and her sisters, I go crazy over the wonderful coats – why don’t we wear coats like this? A great coat would show you were well-dressed in those days, and you never left home without one. My Grandma prized the picture taken of her in 1939 at Treasure Island. She claimed that because of her beautiful coat and smart hat that the photographer thought she was a film star and rushed to snap her picture. Perhaps this is why I too am a sucker for a beautiful coat. I love this picture - the movement in the background, the hat, the gloves, the coat, the bag...the fur collar. Who wouldn't take a picture of this lady?

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This picture shows the family gathered in the backyard to capture some rare snow in San Francisco. While I absolutely love the coats, I love that my Gram's handwriting is on the back saying: "Dec. 11, 1932 - snow in backyard" while on the front she lists which house is which. My Grandma is in the center with her beloved wire-haired terrier, Rowdy, while my great-grandparents Nellie and Fred are flanked by Nini at left, and Grace at right. I can only suppose it was Eileen who took the picture. I'm sure her coat was amazing too...

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One of my favorites...This picture is absolutely one of my favorites - it's framed in a little corner of my apartment. It's clearly an out-take, something that would have been edited out of a digital camera, but got captured forever on the old Kodak. The composition is all wrong, but that is why it's magical. Here, Gram holds the hand of my Mom, who is probably about two or three years old. This is another fantastic coat that looks to be trimmed with shaved beaver, or some other type of curly fur; the solid black coat with the bright white of the moment is an incredible contrast. I love the brooch, her perfect lipstick, and her peep-toe platform slingbacks with a bow...clearly, it was indeed the 1940s. I love that my Mom is totally preoccupied in her own dress, but won't relinquish the string of her wooden pony-cart. The strange framing, the details, the contrast - this little snapshot captivates me every time I look at it!

As I grew older, whenever I paid a visit to Gram’s house, if she liked something I was wearing, she’d ask me to come closer so she could feel the material. I suppose it was out of habit - an easy way to determine the quality of a garment, and while a bit old-fashioned, it got right to the point. She would rub the material, and know instantly whether or not it was the good stuff. She was also entirely open-minded about the newest trends going on in the world. When I was in high school, I always trimmed the bottom edge of my jeans so they’d fray; I wore these to Grandma’s house once, and my Aunt Nini was horrified.

“Edie – your granddaughter is wearing rags! Did you ever see such a thing?” My Grandma barely looked up from her knitting to say coolly: “Well, that’s the style Nita…” This vote of confidence emboldened me to keep making the edgier style choices – at least, within reason.

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I have no idea why this fabulous pink suit did not make it to me - it breaks my heart, to be honest. It would be so chic, even today! This picture is of my Grandma and my Mom at someone's wedding, but I'm not sure whose. I love this picture on so many levels. The pink suit is an utter gem especially with the schrunchy kid gloves, but the blue bridesmaid's dress my mother is wearing is also worth noting. It's simple, sweet, and totally Sixties. It's funny how one outfit still looks fresh, while the other is so clearly of its own time. I absolutely LOVE my Mom's little bouffant with a bow though! All the activity in the background perfectly shows the wedding antics, especially the odd capture of the bride - where is she going? The whole thing looks like something out of The Graduate, or some other late-1960s middle-class-angst technicolor masterpiece. I love it.

Looking at all of these pictures, I begin to realize that there is something to be said for style being "bred in the bone." I know it is in my family, so much so that for years I simply took it for granted.  Some of us steer more toward the old-world glamour, while some of us are so avant-garde that Prada, Yohji, and V&R don’t make us think twice. I am of the first group; I glam it up, make things pretty, complete the look. I never really thought about why, but I suppose it’s because it’s a family tradition.  

Happy Birthday Grandma! Thank you for showing me how it's done... I miss you every day.