Dear President Eisenhower


Acknowledgement of service obligation signed by Elvis Presley on March 24, 1958, to indicate that he understands that his total service obligation (both active and reserve) is 6 years., 03/24/1958 - 03/24/1958

U.S. National Archives

Elvis got that haircut at Fort Chaffee, Arkansas. There\’s a nifty tourist shrine to the whole event at the Fort Chaffee Barbershop Museum. But that\’s not the point, really. The important thing is that, in a fit of tween desperation, Linda, Sherry, and Mickie felt impelled to write the only man who could stop this G.I. haircut madness:  The President.

Letter from Linda Kelly, Sherry Bane, and Mickie Mattson to President Dwight D. Eisenhower Regarding Elvis Presley
U.S. National Archives

I don\’t know whether the best part of this is imagining the three of those girls working this out at some slumber party, or whether the best part is that through a series of offhand decisions, their letter became a U.S. National Archives document. In perpetuity, no less.

Historical Typecast: Sweetheartin’

Fresh Ribbon

Meet Melinda Parker. Sometime between 1936 and 1940, armies of writers and photographers with the Federal Writers’ Project and the Folklore Project were sent all over the U.S. to collect personal histories. Some are strictly informational while others, like this one, contain recorded narrative. Sometimes the interviewers are identified, but not this one. Melinda Parker’s voice is the only one we hear.

From American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1940, housed in the Library of Congress. The collection is vast, containing

“2,900 documents representing the work of over 300 writers from 24 states. Typically 2,000-15,000 words in length, the documents consist of drafts and revisions, varying in form from narrative to dialogue to report to case history. The histories describe the informant’s family education, income, occupation, political views, religion and mores, medical needs, diet and miscellaneous observations. Pseudonyms are often substituted for individuals and places named in the narrative texts.”

Not all of the documents are online. Not all of the states are represented, including Arkansas. I have managed to find a small collection of WPA/Federal Writers’ Project documents house at the University of Arkansas as “WPA: Early Settlers’ Personal Histories of African Americans in Arkansas.” Sadly, most of these are thin on narrative and heavy on “report.”

I’m just thankful Mrs. Parker’s voice was recorded in these anonymously typed pages.

Reading the Minutes

Fresh Ribbon

I’ve been more than a little busy. So much so that only today have I given a closer look to some of my junk shop purchases from the recent Fordyce, Arkansas side trip.

I found this day book in the only downtown shop with a closed front door. Down here, that means air conditioning, although once inside we found that the AC had in fact just quit and the nice woman who owns the shop was frantically making calls. Since she only had the one fan by the cash register, a closed door, and 103 degrees of south Arkansas sunshine baking us like a pie in there, we speed-shopped.

I found the day book sitting on some old magazines, flipped through the empty pages, and figured a half-dozen delightful uses for it. Not bad for two dollars. Steph found something that wasn’t overpriced, so we quickly paid for everything and ran for the functioning AC of the car.

To be truthful, I was so excited about the two typewriters I’d bought earlier in the week that I didn’t check the rest of my bounty until today. The day book is actually not empty. There are a few pages here and there scribbled in and there’s the faintest hint of a name and purpose on the inside cover. What I’d bought were some hastily-written minutes from the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, circa 1940. Clearly, this secretary-recorder was temporarily filling in for someone else. There’s a hesitancy and lack of detail. It was also (gasp) written in pencil.

Now, I don’t know much about the DAR in other parts of the country, but down here in Arkansas it has a rich legacy of unofficial (and occasionally, quite official) racism. Only women from the best families belonged to the DAR, women who married well and whose important husbands sometimes jaunted out late at night in white sheets.

I know this because my great-grandmother Minnie Mae was a card-carrying member. She was The Doctor’s Wife in a small town called Stamps back when logging and oil were the rage. It was also in the same time and town where Maya Angelou knew how the caged bird sang. Although my grandfather did spend more than a few late nights out, I suspect he was mainly attending medical emergencies or the pool hall. I don’t know. Luther went to his Great Reward before I was born. I knew Minnie Mae. She was something else.

I doubt Minnie Mae ever met the doodling secretary-recorder from Fordyce, even though it’s only an hour away. She was a controlling woman with a fine house and six sets of china who preferred to do her own hostessing, thank you. They might have met at one of those DAR state get-togethers in Little Rock, though. It’s likely some of these women took out the good jewelry and made the train trip.

What all this means is that I have an open invitation to membership. So does my daughter, and if she only bears sons then we’ll be the end of it. The DAR has had seventy years to change since this day book, but I suspect the ladies aren’t ready for the likes of either one of us. The Daughters of the American Revolution will have to work their genealogies and give out those scholarships and whatnot without our help. Not that they’d let us in, legacy or not. Out of the 46 chapters still active in Arkansas, every member listed has “Mrs.” in front of her name.

(Eleanor Roosevelt’s letter of resignation to the DAR. Click on the picture for more.)

Again, maybe it’s a Southern Thing. Maybe I’m dead wrong and the DAR’s become all progressive and inclusive and politically correct. Maybe.

Not bad, buying a bit of Southern feminine history for a couple of bucks. Maybe I’ll use the empty pages to write in a few “minutes” of my own.

Someone Needs to take this On The Road

Fresh Ribbon
(click to enlarge)

Yes, it’s a portion of the original On the Road scroll typed frantically by Jack Kerouac back in 1951. With a little pharmaceutical aid, he was able to slam the novel out in three weeks. The scroll, by the way, is on tour and probably lounging around Dublin right about now.

I won’t go on and on about Kerouac or On The Road. Most women I know (of a certain age) find the book fairly appalling and Kerouac even more so, but Kerouac is not the point here. The scroll is. It’s morphed into an art installation and by the miracle of technological wizardry, a very large typecast.

The thing is, I know a lot of people who can slam out a novel in a month. Maybe they aren’t all Kerouacs, but they do it and there’s a die-hard group of Luddites blowing the top off the NaNoWriMo word counts via manual typewriter every year. You know who you are.

While taking a little paper-grading break today, I hopped on Ebay and found the perfect ditty for a NaNoWriMo Typewriter Brigader. Or for a Kerouac wannabe, makes no difference. It’s a big roll of three-part carbon paper – that’s one original copy to keep and two canary copies to send ’round to the art installations in Dublin.

Eighteen days left on that auction, and a chance to make a legend. Who’s up for it?