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Florence's Family Album: Sewing Up a Story
By Florence Holub
The first day of September began shrouded in a cold, gloomy drizzle. Though rain is usually a nice surprise in our otherwise dry summer and fall, I did not welcome it on this day, for it was the morning that the September issue of the Voice appeared, hot off the presses, for us Noe Valley folk to pore over. Nevertheless, with undampened spirit, I donned my favorite rainy-day garb, a fake-fur outfit guaranteed to attract attention, and ambled down the hill to the Noe Valley Ministry.
There in the foyer, I thumbed through a copy of the paper to make sure that my September offering had been included. Then I picked up an armful of Voices to deliver on what I refer to as my paper route. My route has grown over the years, as many of my friends and relatives have learned to love the Voice, and I am happy to make sure they receive a copy. Also, whenever I mention someone in my column, they often look to see their name in print and are so impressed with the overall quality of the paper that they express a desire for regular delivery.
For example, two years ago I had my first of two cataract operations done by Dr. George Hamilton at Kaiser Permanente on Geary. I wrote about the experience in the Voice, mentioning my skillful doctor. Naturally, Dr. Hamilton was pleased with the article, but he liked the other stories, too. Later, he asked how he could receive the paper. I said, "How about through me -- I'm a great paper girl!" (Now, don't all of you write and ask to be put on my list. Subscriptions are only $20 per year, $10 for seniors.)
Each month, after I do my rounds on Hill, Sanchez, and 21st streets in Noe Valley, I take the 24 bus line to Post and Divisadero streets, where I leave a paper at the front office of Kaiser's Eye Care Department. Next I board the Geary Street line, which takes me to the Sixth Avenue transfer point and the 44-O'Shaughnessy, which delivers me to my second stop, the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park.
There, one copy goes to Ann Karlstrom, director of publications of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Then I head to the docent's office, where I leave copies in the mailboxes of a few of the interested ladies in the Docent Council.
This time, as I was leaving the museum, one of the guards grinned and pointed to my cloak, saying, "Great vest." Whenever I wear this furry garment, comments like "great vest" and "nice coat" punctuate my trip, even though my distinctive rainwear is really too long to be a vest, and unlike a coat it is sleeveless. It does, however, resemble the rust-colored coat of an orangutan, and it sheds water off the long hairs much like that jungle animal's fur does. My vest (see drawing) could be described as outrageous, but when worn with a turtleneck, pants, and beret -- all black -- it takes on a slightly more dignified appearance. At least I hope so!
But last month I was happy for its protection as I walked back out into the rain at the 44 bus stop. Two young ladies who were waiting in the bus shelter regarded my garb curiously. One of them said, "I like your vest," then asked where I'd found it. I told them I'd made it, and after a few more words and smiles, we offered our hands and introduced ourselves. Their names were Thoa and Patima.
Thoa and Patima then suggested that I could make these vests for other people, too. I told them that I had originally intended to do just that, back when I was a teenager in the 1930s. Because I could sew pretty well and had a flair for design, I envisioned a career as a fashion designer. That is, until I learned I would have to move to Los Angeles -- the fashion center of the day -- and leave my friends and family behind. Instead, I decided to become a fashion illustrator, to work for those city businesses that needed artists to make their clothing look attractive in their ads in the daily papers. (Believe it or not, there were five newspapers competing at the time: the Examiner, Chronicle, CallBulletin, S.F. Daily News, and the Shopping News, now the Independent.)
After spending three and a half years taking classes at the California School of Fine Arts, I felt ready to go to work, and began pounding the pavement with my portfolio. I obtained a few freelance jobs and then finally was hired by an Oakland department store, H.C. Capwell's, which was similar to the Emporium on Market Street in San Francisco.
Since we were both working, my man Leo and I decided to get married in the summer of 1941, and I continued on my job until I began experiencing morning sickness. Knowing that children would be the most important creation I would ever be engaged in, I resigned from Capwell's art department to prepare for the coming of our first child, then our second and third -- events I wouldn't trade for anything!
The girls at the bus stop asked me if I sewed clothes for our sons. Only when they were too young to object, I laughed.
Leo's photograph accompanying this column shows the first long-pants suit I sewed for one of our young sons. I think he liked it. I will not identify which son it was, because it might embarrass him. Besides, all three of my boys looked alike as children!
I also sewed the red velvet dress I am wearing in the photo. Both of these outfits were conjured up without a pattern. (I'm known for my reluctant-to-follow-directions nature.) We wore them to the Swede-Finn colony's 1958 Christmas Fest at Dovre Hall on 18th Street, now the Women's Building.
Over the years I kept taking art classes to keep my brush strokes strong, so that when the boys were old enough, I could go back to fashion design and illustration. But when the day finally arrived, the camera had almost completely replaced the paintbrush. But no matter, drawing and sewing have remained two of the joys in my long and happy life.
Since the two girls waiting for the bus had not seen the exciting Chinese archaeological exhibit then on display at the Asian Art Museum, I pulled a Voice out of my tote bag. (I'd written about it last time.) When Thoa saw the name of our paper, her eyes widened and she asked if I lived in Noe Valley. She worked there, she said, at Cover to Cover on 24th Street. Our lively conversation was then interrupted by the arrival of the bus.
I got on and sat in the front section, reserved for seniors, and the girls moved to a seat farther back in the bus. After crossing the park, the bus stopped at Ninth and Irving, and as I glanced back, I saw them about to leave by the rear door, smiling and waving, with their words wafting over the riders' heads, "Goodbye, Florence!"
Perhaps I will never see them again, but I will always remember our warm encounter in a cold bus shelter on a rainy day.
In conclusion, I dedicate this column to those two delightful young ladies. You see, I had left home that morning without a clue as to what my next column would be, and before I finished delivering my paper route, I knew exactly what I'd like to share.