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