Noe Valley Voice February 2003

Florence's Family Album
Some Thoughts Upon Turning 70

By Florence Holub

It was Jan. 25 [1990] that I turned the final corner of my 60s, full of health and energy, and entered my 70s, asking myself what I had learned in all those years--what bit of wisdom I had retained that was worth passing on. So here it is: I believe there is a justice in this world, and I'm convinced, mostly because of the unpredictable course my life has taken, that the force dispensing this justice has a wry sense of humor.

Back in the 1930s, we schoolchildren were urged, early on, to perfect our skills and make choices that would prepare us for our eventual life's work. But girls had it harder than boys--jobs for females were limited to salesgirls, nurses, teachers, or housewives.

As I went down this list, I felt only discouragement. Sales meant handling sales slips, and math was not my strong point; nursing was out because the sight of blood made me faint; teaching I rejected when it became clear that I could not even train my cat. As for becoming a housewife, I knew that, with my lack of interest or talent in the kitchen, I would probably (and deservedly) achieve old-maidhood.

My sensible mother urged me to take classes that would prepare me to earn a living as a stenographer, so I followed her advice and gave it a try. After one year, the teacher called me aside to make a deal. She informed me that if I would drop the course, she would give me a B­, but that if I persisted in pursuing this career for which I had no aptitude, she would be forced to give me a D. I took the B­ with no regret.

Shortly after this, my mother died, and I attempted to take her place as a housekeeper for my father and brothers. Since all I had ever really wanted to be was an artist, I was very fortunate when, during this difficult period, my father agreed to finance my further education in art. I attended the California School of Fine Arts from 1938 to 1942. And there I met the young and attractive Leo Holub, with whom I have shared almost 50 years, most of them in Noe Valley.

In the early '40s, I came across the following ditty in the Ladies Home Journal (by a poetess whose name I have forgotten), and I have retrieved these words from memory again and again over the years: I'm careful of the things I say/I keep them soft and sweet./ I never know from day to day/Which ones I'll have to eat!

The reason these lines have stuck with me is that I've had to eat quite a few of the statements I made emphatically in my youth. As a matter of fact, everything I vowed not to do, I eventually did.

Going down the list now, I realize that I ended up working for years as a salesgirl in my father's paint store, a job that improved my math. Then, of course, my marriage to Leo took place despite my failings in the kitchen, and the challenge of raising my active little boys helped me to develop first-aid skills--as well as a tolerance for the sight of blood.

In the teaching department, I have volunteered as a docent (from the Latin word docere, to teach) for more than a decade, giving schoolchildren tours in art and science at the de Young Museum and the Academy of Sciences.

Fifty-six years ago, when I escaped from stenographer's school, I thought I had left the uncooperative keyboard behind forever. But the wheels of justice turn slowly, and here I now sit, struggling over the typewriter, trying to force my wooden fingers to produce a few comprehensible pages for the Voice. (Don't get me wrong. I still love doing it, just as I love drawing the illustrations to go with it.)

But art--something our children became aware of at an early age--is the glue that has held the years together.

Our boys were quite young, in fact, when comic books began to replace traditional storybooks, and as parents, we attempted to discourage them by feeding them into the fireplace (the funny books, not the children). But our offspring soon figured out what was happening to their pulp collection, and devised a subtle but effective plan: they presented us with an issue of Mad magazine, and asked us to read it before making a judgment.

In that issue, the hero, Alfred E. Newman, became a famous and successful artist by painting on canvas with chicken fat! The story was so outrageously funny that from the sound of our chortling, the boys knew our fiery campaign against comics had come to an end. (To this day, however, we are reminded of the collector's value of those irretrievable issues.)

I have often been told that Beth, the 9-year-old daughter of Linda and John Mickelson (my nephew), is much like me, and I can see the similarity. Unlike those children who complain there is "nothing to do," Beth will go to the desk in her room and, with her paper, pencils, and brushes, spend hours creating a world of her own, as I often did.

Two years ago at a family gathering, Beth occupied herself drawing on a paper napkin with a felt pen. When she had finished, she presented me with her work--a picture of me titled "You" (reproduced on this page). It really looks like me, and in my hand she has placed a paintbrush, the classic "attribute" of an artist.

I guess this is evidence--at least in the eyes of another artist--that I achieved my lifelong ambition after all.