Monday, February 6, 2012

While most Americans with the Y chromosome, and many without, it were watching the Super Bowl, I was sorting through a pile of papers. And yes, I spend lots of time sorting through papers. Whenever I see an unsorted, unfiled pile of paper, especially with an assortment of print, handwriting and drawings, I am overcome by the urge to sort, file and puge. Papers and books beckon to me like heroin to a junkie, like Thunderbird to a wino, like one-armed bandits to a gambler, like holy water to a saint. Or you might call it a benign form of OCD.
Whence this particular pile of papers?
In the basement of the parental house (the very same basement I have plumbed and mined before for artifacts, and will again) there is a tall wooden cabinet (actually there are several tall wooden cabinets, but this one is green) that was there when my family moved into the house about fifty years ago. Before that my grandfather lived there, and until sometime in the 1930’s, he lived there with my grandmother. Then in the mid-1930’s she left piles of her unsorted papers in the deep drawers of this tall green wooden cabinet, and moved out and never lived there again.
So on yesterday morning I filled a couple of paper bags with these unsorted papers, and brought them back to New York to keep me out of trouble while CSB watched large men in impossibly tight pants run around a field in Indianapolis, an area once inhabited by the Lenape and Miami tribes, a fact which always causes confusion when a Miami that is not in Florida is mentioned.
Here are some of the delectable items gleaned:
• Prospectus for the Happy Valley Association, founded by Annie Besant 1936
• Prospectus from the Sufi Movement, NY Branch
• Several copies of The American Theosophist, 1932, 1933
• Two copies International Psychic Gazette

• A flyer advertising Swedish Massage and Corrective gymnastics in Miami, FL
• Stationary from the Hotel Astoria in Leningrad
Acte de Concession Perpétuelle de terrain de Cimetiere, regarding the sepulcher for Constant Toissaint Lévêque, my great-grandfather, in the department of Manche, in the Arrondissment of Cherbourg, in the canton of Guettehou, in the Mairie of St Vaast-la-Hogue, made to my grandmother in April of 1931, signed, stamped, and stamped again by the notary of St Vaast-la-Hogue, upon receipt of 10 % of 450 francs.
• An article about St. Louis Estes and the many children he fathered in his 70’s.
While most of the papers make some kind of sense, I am often bewildered by the articles that my grandmother chose to neatly cut from newspapers or magazines, and save. What interested her?
Why did she carefully remove the article and accompanying photograph about the 72 year-old St. Louis Estes, the dentist and raw food advocate who was so pleased with himself for having sired numerous children in his later years? He and his much younger wife spawned ten children in 15 years. Their arrangement was that she named the girls (Esther, Dimple, Natasha, Suzanne and Dixie Lou) and he named the boys (St. Louis II, III, IV, V, and VI). The Estes’s employed the last surviving member of the Silesian royal family, Prince de Vigni, to tutor their children, who exclusively wore bathing suits all year round. Luckily for them, they lived in southern California. St Louis claimed to have been bald before switching to a raw food diet. But now he has wavy silver tresses.
There is nothing intrinsically unusual about this story. There is only the question of why she saved it. Did she know St. Louis Estes or someone like him? Did she find him appealing? What did she think of a raw food diet? I assume that, as a Frenchwoman, she would not approve. Would she have preferred to have more than two children?
I can’t answer any of the above questions. All I can do is Google St Louis Estes, and learn that though he lived to be 75, in interviews he lied and claimed to be 15 years older than his true age. After slipping and falling by the swimming pool in 1951, Dr. Estes went into a coma and died. The autopsy report cited “Malnutrition” as an auxiliary cause of death.

Another tiny piece of paper, a short paragraph that fluttered into view after three quarters of a century inside a dark drawer, was titled “Use for Afterbirths”. It described how most animals eat their own afterbirths, and how Dr. Charles McKhann of Boston “gave a placentophagy a new twist” by extracting substances from the placenta and then using them to inoculate children against measles. That is certainly the first and only time I have encountered the word placentophagy, and discovering a word like that is better than the Super Bowl any day.


Mary Barrett said...

This post is incredibly interesting and evokes images of childhood and teenage visits to your home. Why didn't we go into the basement??

118 Degrees said...

I would have loved to have known your grandmother, her collection of materials sets her apart from others of her time for sure! and your family line, would love to know how any of these forward thinking thought were passed on through your family...