Charlie Bertsch (cbertsch) wrote,
Charlie Bertsch

Harlem Renaissance

I spent the middle of the day -- pleasurably -- participating in a graduate-student exam during which we spent a good deal of time talking about the Harlem Renaissance. That reminded me of the next photograph of my paternal grandmother I wished to share with you, taken after she and my grandfather had started a new life in the United States:

Judging by the age of my aunt, who appears to be around eighteen months old, and the fact that my grandmother isn't wearing a coat, this shot dates from the spring of 1924. Isn't her dress fabulous? I've always had a thing for women's fashions of that era. Indeed, I've always had a thing for the Twenties period.

It's been something of a mystery to me why that's the case. But I realized as I was starting to compose this entry that my grandparents' bedroom in the Pennsylvania farmhouse where they retired was practically a museum of middle-class metropolitan life between the wars. I suppose a lot of people hold on to the time when they were in their twenties, which happened to be the Twenties for my grandparents. Come to think of it, my office here at home is something of a museum of the 1990s.

Anyway, the reason that I thought of this photo during the exam today is that my grandparents settled in Harlem upon their arrival in the States. Although they soon moved to Queens, I'm almost certain that this photograph was taken when they were still living in upper Manhattan. And that got me thinking about another family photograph I scanned, in which my grandparents are dressed quite fashionably:

It's harder for me to date this photo, but imagine it's from the early years of the Depression. I love their hats, as well as the nearly-player-like expression on my grandfather's face. The interesting thing is the degree to which they continued to dress like this, if more staidly, up until the time I was a small child. My grandmother still wore dresses that conjured the pre-World War II days long after they'd gone out of fashion. It's hard to believe they were still making clothes like that, but I guess there's always a market for the attire in which a generation is able to identify itself.
Tags: archive, autobiography, family, history

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