Mom was fond of telling the tale of how she came to California from Minnesota as a bride and “saw the palm trees and the mountains and the ocean and thought she’d died and gone to heaven.”  And then there was the remembrance about teaching school in Rustad, Minnesota in the early 1930’s and “making $65 a month and buying a fur coat and going to the world’s fair in Chicago.”  Imagine that.  She also described the coat as having a “Fitch collar” and so we always teased her about the Fitch collar without really knowing what that meant.  I assumed that she didn’t actually mean she had a full-length mink, but she had a stylish but perfectly nice wool coat with a fur collar.  And Fitch I believed,  must have been a style of the times, named after a place or person – like an Eton jacket, or Nehru for that matter.  So Fitch was probably a celebrity of the moment.

It occurred to me to do a bit of google and wikipedia on Fitch after all these years, so imagine my surprise when I just discovered that Fitch is ……..POLECAT!  Yes.  Polecat.  She was so proud of her polecat coat.  A polecat in my recollection is something of a smelly, nasty animal who hangs out in swamps.  And indeed, I read that it is larger than a weasel but smaller than an otter and related to ferrets.  And yes, they are accused of having an unpleasant musky odor and their fur is called “fitch” or “foul mart”.  It was indeed the lower priced fur of the 19th century and so just perfect for the young teacher who makes $65 a month and goes on a trip with her chums to the World’s Fair.

To be fair, the subject of the following declaration – “Why you dirty, lowdown, lying ……..” was also considered an important part of the fur market and even showed up in a print by Gustav Klimt entitled “Polecat Fur” which shows an equally stylish portrait not unlike the one of Harriet.

And she was always stylish.

Yes, we always went to Tijuana - here with Jennings

Another of her favorite aphorisms was – “I’m famous for my sweaters and earrings”.  And of course, if she had amended that to begin – “In our family …….”,  it would certainly have been the God given truth. So you can see why she was confounded by having an only daughter who simply wasn’t the fashionista that she was.  When she was 97 she was still admonishing me to put on makeup and earrings.  And when that didn’t work she would trot out something like – “Noelle and I think you need more color”, as if I might take heed if there were two against one.  But she adhered to her principles to the end, always wearing at least three rings and feeling positively naked without her earrings.

Rings, Sweaters, Earrings, White Zinfandel!

Grandma Marie often called her daughter Harrietta and almost always referred to her as Lady Astor.  So that’s what we called her too.

Front page of 90th Birthday Book by Kevin Harris

You can imagine why Jennings Johnson from Hickson, North Dakota took one look at her at a softball game (she was the catcher) and told his father – “That’s the girl I’m going to marry!”

Harriet Sylvia Pederson Johnson, 1928

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3 Responses to LADY ASTOR

  1. Sue C. Thomsen says:

    Ahhh, Harriet was as beautiful outside as in, and you look just like her. Jennings was a looker, too! I am so delighted that I got to meet your mother a few times and what a fabulous lady she was. I see where she has influenced you in all the right ways. How fortunate you were to have her for most of your life but also know it still hurts to lose her. You are her greatest creation and a wonderful testament to her inner beauty. Blessings upon her, you, and all who loved “Lady Astor”…xoxo

  2. Maryanne says:

    We all loved Aunt Harriet, she was so much fun and always game for something to do. She would have every day of our visits planned with something always exciting. I was always amazed at her big hoop earrings, and of course, the stylish capri pants she wore so well! She aged so gracefully, at her 90th birthday, she did not look a day over 60. We were so lucky to have her for so many years. I am glad you were able to spend quality time, whenshe moved up to you and Robert. I must add Robert was so good to her, he treated her like a Queen, or I should say Lady Astor! Keep her great spirit alive!

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