Our Christmas Novel….er….letter
Our Christmas Novel….er….letter
My Grandma Fern had a friend “from Home” (meaning Grant Iowa) who she had a sort of Christmas Present Armageddon with every year. She’d receive a huge box with dozens of wrapped presents, and she’d send off something similar. Most of the things were just tiny knick-knacks – even freebies. The lady’s husband owned a Chrysler dealership, so things like promo pens and calendars were included. I’m sure my Grandma did the same with trinkets from Montgomery Wards where she worked.
Anyway, I can remember helping her open all those individually wrapped presents and being just amazed at the variety of stuff, from a nylon slip to a coffee cup exhorting us to “See the USA in your Chevrolet” to a stationery set with some sickly-sweet painting of puppies or flowers on the cover.
Even to a kid who LOVED to get presents, this seemed just a tiny bit over the top. As an adult I know now it’s a story of two people who were proving to each other every Christmas that the Depression was over, their sharecropper times were done, and they had riches beyond measure, enough to share.
In the summer of 1923, my great aunt Sibyl Ungrodt, traveled west from Illinois with her new husband Ralph. On their way to the great city of Portland Oregon, they traveled over the “terrible mountains” and along the amazing Columbia River Highway. There, they stopped and purchased some postcards from a nice man at Crown Point.
She kept those cards throughout her life, even after selling their home and furnishings and living the lives of vagabonds in the 1960’s, becoming snowbirds in Mexico and Arizona. Ralph had a massive heart attack on a beach in Mexico while fishing in the surf. Sibyl flew back to Oregon, buried her too-young husband, and began life as a widow.
She found good friends and began following the PGA tour, becoming one of “Arnie’s Army” a devout fan base that followed Arnold Palmer around the country. She also was a big fan of collegiate basketball and had season tickets for OSU, I remember being impressed that one of the star players jumped to get a loose ball and landed in her lap.
A smoker all her life, it was no surprise to anyone but herself when she was diagnosed with lung cancer in the 1970’s. I remember my Mom repeating what Sibyl said when the doctor told her the news, “but I quit smoking a month ago”. I don’t know why, but I find this plaintive and so sad.
Without children, and my Mother being her only relative nearby, she ended up moving in with us for her last few months of life. We were stupid teenagers and felt it was an intrusion. I’m sure I felt little sympathy for her. Not that we treated her badly, just that we sort of ignored her presence. I feel guilty about that now, especially knowing how much it must have hurt this immensely independent woman to need our assistance at all.
A strong and athletic woman with a gravely smoker’s voice and a true zest for life, living in a time of wasp-waists and perfect 2-child families, she was an amazing lady and I’m sorry I didn’t get to know her better.
So, here I am with these postcards by Cross and Dimmitt. They certainly aren’t a rarity, as nearly everyone who traveled through the area in the early 1900’s purchased a pack, and many survive. They still have meaning to me and I’m happy to share them here.
A little history on Mister’s Cross and Dimmitt:
Arthur B. Cross partnered with Edward L. Dimmitt to sell real photo post cards of the Columbia River Gorge, Mt. Hood and Portland. Cross opened his Electric Studio in Portland in 1909. Dimmitt was born in 1881 in Columbia, Missouri. In 1909, Dimmitt was first listed in the Portland City Directory as a waiter. In 1914, he began working for Cross at the Electric Studio. In 1916, they became partners and named their business “Cross & Dimmitt”.
Cross & Dimmitt sold post cards off the running boards of their Model T at Crown Point as the Columbia River Highway was under construction. A set of 20 views, which are fairly common today, sold for $1.
Their business grew and they built a post card stand at Crown Point. In the 1920s, they set up a studio at 72nd and Sandy Boulevard in Portland. Cross died August 6, 1940 and Dimmitt died on April 26, 1963 at the age of 82. He had managed the Vista House for 40 years. (from http://www.pdxhistory.com/html/post_card_history.html)