Tuesday, February 7, 2017

One of the lighter moments...

...of my mother's funeral last summer was when my Uncle Ed, who's about 85, recalled mailing his dirty laundry home to Chicago from college in Colorado to be cleaned and sent back in the 1950s. (This guy, by the way, completed college after a stint in the Air Force where you surely must do your own laundry, right?)

While he seemed to think this curious practice was as natural as dropping off your shirts at the corner dry cleaner, we all got quite a hoot from this. "How did you do it, Uncle Ed? Did you pack it up in some box and schlep it down to the local post office? Ha ha!" (Although I'm sure no one used the word "schlep" -- it was an Irish funeral.) "How much did it cost in postage? Wouldn't it have just been cheaper -- and easier -- to do it yourself?" "How long was the turnaround time?" "Did anyone else do this, or were you the only one?" These queries were all shouted out between loud guffaws and belly laughs while my uncle maintained his composure as if we were the ones who were eccentric.

Lately I've been reading Elia Kazan: A Life, after reading this in Robert Gottlieb's memoir Avid Reader:

The most complicated, interesting, and challenging man I was working with toward the end of my years at Knopf was Elia Kazan.

Although I could recognize the qualities Irene had alerted me to, I found him almost painfully serious and raw. When he decided to write his autobiography I paid Irving far more money for it than it could possibly justify, but I never regretted it: "A Life" is one of the most remarkable memoirs I've ever read, and certainly the most gripping and revealing book I know about the theater and Hollywood. Even more extraordinary are the passion and integrity with which Kazan tries to understand and expiate the dark passages of his life and to chart the harrowing struggle he waged in order to become his true self. 

How could you not read a book like that? One of the most remarkable memoirs Gottlieb has ever read? And he's read hundreds, perhaps thousands! (That's Kazan with Marlon Brando on the set of On the Waterfront at the top of this post.)

I'm only about a hundred or so pages into it so far (it's a monster -- almost 700 pages!), but it's a pretty good read. Imagine my surprise, though, when I came across this passage about Kazan's time at Williams College in the late 1920s:

Through all those days, I had one enduring friend, my mother. Every Monday I'd mail my soiled underclothing, socks, and shirts home in a laundry bag, and she'd mail them back, fresh and clean. That was the event of my week, the arrival of the laundry bag on Friday.

WHAT? My Uncle Ed wasn't the only one who did this? Didn't people have access to washers and dryers before I was born?

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