Friday, July 22, 2011

She became Mrs. Harry Hawkins

And I'll bet you guessed it, didn't you. By the time of her wedding, she was the Society Editor (yes, in those days there was such a thing) of the St. Joseph News Press. She wrote about the comings and goings of the rich and famous, and the weddings of the debutantes and the grand parties of anyone who had a grand party. She had a circle of young lady friends, all of whom had already gotten married, and she asked them to be her bridesmaids--and to wear their own wedding dresses. It must have been quite a sight! I am presuming her sister Ada was her maid of honor, and have no idea what she wore, as it could not have been a wedding dress, since she never married. I don't have any photographs of Helen's wedding, but I am sure she was a beautiful and radiant bride.

If you are wondering what happened to Mr. Washburn, her other fiance, I can tell you: He married a lovely woman named Nina, who bore him two children, Wallace and Gertrude, and eventually wound up in San Mateo, California, getting rich in the meat packing biz. Wally died as a young man, but Gertrude and Nina had a house built in Berkeley, next door to the one my Aunt Quail had built for herself and her mother. Helen and Nina were fast friends,and played Canasta almost every afternoon. The world is indeed a strange and wonderful place. But I digress. (You will find that I do that a lot.)

The New Mrs. Harry Hawkins on her Honeymoon
Back to the newlywed Hawkinses. Because Harry worked for the Canadian Pacific Railroad at the time, he was able to take his bride on a wonderful honeymoon to Lake Louise in Banff. On their wedding night, my grandmother told me, she took one of her boots off, and then, with a bit of a devil in her eye, demanded that Harry remove the other one. Well, he knew right away what his life would be like if he gave in to that demand, so he refused. She refused to remove it herself. She wore it to bed, she told me, and later she had the grace to be ashamed of herself. I imagine that the picture above was taken before she realized what a jerk she had been, judging from the expression on her face. Harry is in the original picture, too--he is standing about three feet to her right, and there is a bottle of--I presume--whiskey on the ground between them, wrapped in brown paper.

Wearing a boot to bed didn't hold Helen back any--or Harry either, apparently--for, nine months to the hour of their wedding later, a bouncing baby girl was born to the Hawkinses, now living in Spokane, Washington. This was my Aunt Quail, whose given name was Helena Ann; this name was used only on her driver's licence--everyone always called her Quail.

Helen and Quail Hawkins, 1905

My Grandfather Harry was a sweet man, but never very prosperous. Helen had to work, and so she got a job on the Spokane Spokesman-Review. I would really like to dig into that newspaper's archives and see what she wrote. I know what she wrote about: again, she was writing about the rich and famous, in the paper's Society pages. In those days, Spokane was at the end of a rail line, and all the great artists of the time, from musicians to ballet dancers, came through on their tours. She interviewed them all, from Ephraim Zimbalist, the violinist, to Anna Pavlova, the ballerina. Her pen name was Hannah Hinsdale, after her grandmother, whose pet name was Hannah.

She became Society Editor, and told me some great stories about her days on the paper. One of these is my particular favorite: She formed a group of intellectual friends called The Serious Group of Little Thinkers. This group met on Sunday evenings, and on one occasion, she told me, she had interviewed Paderewski, the world-renowned pianist, and invited him to her home. She had several children by then--I don't know how many at that time, but eventually there were seven--and had left strict instructions that the piano keys were to be cleaned, in case the maestro were inclined to play. All went well, and after the evening was well underway, Paderewski sat down to play. It is too bad I can't show you the grimace and gesture my grandmother made in telling this part of the story, but I shall try to give you the idea: She put her hands out as if playing the keys, drew them up sharply, rubbed her right thumb across her other fingers, and made a face like she had eaten a green persimmon. "Peanut butter," she quoted the august man. "Peanut butter." Wet cloths were hurriedly brought forth, and keys and pianist were wiped down. Then, the music began, and all else was forgotten until the evening ended. As Paderewski departed, Hannah apologized once again for the sticky keys. "Ah,no, Madam," the great man said with a bow, "it is I who should apologize to you, for calling attention to it."

Hannah Hinsdale, in her 30's; a publicity shot
Among the things my grandmother did while working for the Spokesman Review and later the Seattle Times was start the Junior League (at least in Spokane, and perhaps also in Seattle) although, as a working woman, she could not belong to it; she did something wonderful enough for the Colville Indians that they adopted her (and her family) into their tribe, giving her the name Wa-Witz-Ka-La, the Meadow Lark; and she introduced a grieving widower named Ben Kizer to his second wife, whose name I think was Mary, and they produced a daughter named Carolyn, who grew up to be a famous Pulitzer-Prize-winning poet. And she had a baby every two years from 1905 on, except for one four year break (she was out of town, working in Seattle, at the crucial moment) until 1921: seven children in all, and nursed every one of them. Yes, she had help, but still--that is some record. She told me people would stop her on the street and give her advice about the latest birth control method, but every time she tried one, she got pregnant.
Left to right: Harry, Jr; Mark; David; Hannah, holding Dick; Quail; Harry
At the Seattle Times she wrote the Dorothy Neighbors or Prudence Penny advice column (these ladies were in competition, and I don't remember exactly which one worked for which Seattle paper, the Times or the P-I--they each wrote sort of a combination Heloise and Dear Abby type columns, and like Betty Crocker, did not exist). She was undoubtedly a whiz at this sort of thing, what with all the experience she had working, meeting all sorts of people, and just plain living. One of her stories stands out in my mind; she told me this one when I had a new baby and was fussing with bottles and sterilizing rubber parts on the stove, having just stopped nursing the kid. She was at her desk at the paper, typing away, when the phone rang. When she answered it, a frantic female voice on the other end of the line howled, "My nipples are melting! What shall I do?" "Back away from the stove dear," was the sanguine reply. Then she hung up. She never understood, she told me, why they didn't fire her on the spot. If I ever write a real biography of my grandmother, and I have toyed with the idea from time to time, I am going to call it Back Away From the Stove.

Yes, of course there is more--but it will have to wait until next time. ---Nan

1 comment:

  1. I'm the webmaster for St Lawrence County (NY) Historical Association ( On November 20, 2014, there's going to be a program about your great-grandmother, Helen Hinsdale Rich. ( If you could get in touch with me (joe at makowiec dot org) I'd appreciate it.