Your family history defined by style...
A different generation...Biarritz, France, 1936
There's a good chance that you don't know who The Sartorialist is, certainly not if we're good friends. I wouldn't expect anyone I know to give much of a $#%t about what some random woman is wearing on the street in Milan, or what some stylish Japanese businessman has thrown together for a casual Saturday in Tokyo, but the site is really cool, and the story behind it even cooler.
The site is built on a foundation of street photography and fashion for the people. It's turned into a designers dream, the kind of man-on-the-street research that companies pay ridiculous sums for, and it's a living, breathing design template for anyone paying attention. The site's developer and singular contributor, Scott Schuman, left his fashion sales position to take care of his daughter in 2005, and he began carrying a digital camera around on the streets of New York City, taking pictures of people who had dressed in some way that caught his eye. Then he posted them to his blog...done...legend. Well, the site is fun to explore. What caught my wandering eye was Scott's references to his own family, particularly his grandparents.
Scott posts photographs of his super stylish grandmother and grandfather (wasn't everyone super stylish back then?) from their youth, and the intimate historical connection is sweet and surprising. I like the idea of seeing the same world that your twenty-five year old grandparent did. I felt something similar in Hawaii as soldiers wandered the streets of Waikiki on leave. If you get the chance, take some time and flip through Scott's masterpiece of a blog. You may shake your head at the fashion that seems to be the norm on the streets of New York and Paris, but you'll surely smile at Scott's occasional tributes to his grandparents taste and style. I do.
I don't know much about my grandparents. My Dad's father, Marcel, was an immigrant, a factory laborer, a soldier and a boat builder. He kept a garden (that could pass as a farm) and had perhaps the most cluttered garage I'd ever known...until my father decided to eclipse his own dad's disorganization. I remember he still had his helmet from WWII hanging on the wall of that garage, a small dent from the bullet or piece of shrapnel that ricocheted, gratuitously, off of the top of his armored head. That dent gave me chills when I was a child. He was gruff, sometimes mean, but he loved me, a lot, and I suppose I knew it, even if he never showed it in any traditional sense. He was a ridiculously closed off emotional creature, perhaps a by-product of the war, or maybe not. Most of what I know of him is what I've been told. He used to take me fishing but I don't ever recall him talking much. Somewhere my father has a box of old war photographs, and assorted other black and white windows to the man my grandfather was. My memories of my grandmother are similarly vague. What stands out the most was her eagerness to cook for my brother and I, usually steak and french fries, even when I was young boy, and I remember how her kitchen counter disappeared beneath piles of pots and pans and heaping clutter. She was a large woman and I can't ever imagine a time when she worried about what other people might think of how she dressed. Both my grandmother and grandfather were gone before I was in junior high.
My Mom's parents wore the farms that they lived and worked in on their backs. They were as stylish as the times allowed a young family raising seven children on whatever income a small rented farm could provide. I could speak endlessly about my Grandmother, Pearl. She watched me grow into an adult and she knew my friends and met the girls that I brought home. We watched baseball together and she marked the scores and winning pitchers on a calendar near the television. She quilted and baked cookies and knitted slippers and was practically the most definitive grandmother of all time. I still miss her. She died a decade ago, not long after one of her most loving grandchildren wed. She was everyone's favorite. We called her Gramma Fufu, even though my brother and I had dubbed her Gramfufu years earlier. Gramma Fufu was what she eventually got. She wore the cotton blouses, skirts and aprons of a farm wife, but dressed her simple wardrobe up on Sundays when she headed, faithfully, to her tiny country church. She lived a simple life but adorned it with the respect and affection of everyone.
My Mom's father, Floyd, was a fairly serious man, at times stern and certainly hard working. In photos from his youth he was slick and dressed impressively, but the Grandpa that I remember wore working denim and Pride Seed caps. He raised heavy horses, Belgians, and built wagons and tooled harnesses, and generally used his hands for what God had intended them to be used for...work. His family never went hungry, nor did they ever need a handout. He was everything you might imagine a farmer with no land of his own to be, only better. I haven't seen many early photographs of either him or Grandma, not in my lifetime. I suppose they exist, but I've never seen them.
I think it's incredible that Scott Schuman can enjoy such an imaginative and intimate relationship with his Grandparents. I wish I had the same. June often wishes for something similar. She knew very little about her father's parents, and of course, her Mom's parents lived across oceans and hemispheres, as far fro their granddaughter as seemingly possible. With luck, Zoey will enjoy all that both June and I could not. Maybe someday we'll find the photographs that tell us just where we came from, and maybe we'll find something there to explain why June likes socks so much, or why I never tuck my shirts in or don't own a suit.