My little brother graduates from high school tomorrow, so with that in mind, here is my grandmother Ethel’s senior portrait from the 1936 William Penn Senior High Tatler. Though I am not sure I really believe that she went by the nickname “Eth,” and though I know she couldn’t speak German well enough to converse in her father’s native tongue or to be a guiding light in Der Deutsche Verein, I am pretty sure she had plenty to say about Clio, the school literary society.
Ethel read a lot, as reading and similarly quiet indoor pursuits were encouraged by her hypochondriac mother while climbing trees, playing with dogs and other borderline risky behaviors were discouraged. At least as an adult, her reading tastes were not overly sophisticated or intellectual — grand historical sagas and popular romantic fiction were her fortes — but she read voraciously. Childhood standards like Little Women, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, Peter Pan in Kensington Garden, as well as novels her high school girlfriends gave her as birthday presents are things she treasured and kept, and many of them are on my shelves now. I feel certain that though she might never have written anything, she probably was a relatively savvy consumer of other people’s writing and she probably enjoyed having a chance to read new things as a member of Clio.
From William Penn High in York, Pa., she later went on to study business management for a year at what would later become Drexel University. Though her parents valued education, her higher studies were cut short by her mother’s 1937 death, after which she returned home to York to keep house for her father. Business management might have suited her — later in life, she helped keep the books and handle the finances for her husband’s business — but I still wonder if she ever paused a moment to think about Drexel’s School of Library Science (now, the iSchool, or College of Information Science and Technology), something that would have paired her love of reading and books with her interest in management and organization. I’ll never know the answer to that, but I’d like to think she might have, just because it would have given us that one more thing in common.
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