The thrift store find last month: six vintage Seventeen Magazines from 1974. Right now, they are eating up a substantial chunk of desk space, large format, full colour editorial and advertisements; timeless teen content that predates the internet by a generation.
The photos are sometimes quaint (the Good Time Waffle party) sometimes amazing (a super sexy swimsuit spread by Patrick DeMarchelier, well before his Vogue Magazine days). Sweet and seductive, virgin and non, the tension, even 43 years ago, is evident.
There’s an uneasy relationship with feminism, witness the November issue, Princess Caroline of Monaco pouting on the cover (“like other teenagers everywhere, Princess Caroline often wears jeans”). In apologetically small type you can also read: “Winter Sports: How to Dress”, “Boys Sound off About Girls” and “What It’s like to Join the Navy”.
February features “Young America Today” winner Debbie Bruce of Wichita, Kansas (“…I’ll stay home and care for the house. The husband provides for the house and pays for the bills.” ), Staple Gun Decorating (“it’s new, it’s easy, it’s fun!”) and the improbable “Safety Sense for Hitchhikers”. Sadly, no “Staple Gun Safety for Hitchhikers”.
February also includes the Special Bridal Supplement. Beautiful is the Bride in a Trailing Gown! (“delicate Val lace trims the bodice and bishop sleeves, runs here and there along the softly flounced skirt”). Grooms appear shadow like in the background, large lapelled with David Cassidy hair. There’s a pullout cookbook “Man Pleasing Recipes” and a “Bermuda Honeymoon” shoot showcasing “playgear” and “nightwear that’s long and gentle and romantically inclined”. It’s content rich with tips on setting up house, cooking for two, how to fall in love with a wedding ring, or china or silverware. Ads abound: cream bleach and douches, furniture and carpeting. Everything you need to start your new life together!
What caught my eye though, was the full page advertisement for Hope Chests, which are not Judy Blume sanctioned bust developers, but cedar lined furniture designed to store one’s dowry. It’s the precursor to luggage, (which I would also receive for my high school graduation). Old fashioned, mobile storage gifts that say “get ready to leave.” I wanted one. Badly.
For my 15th birthday, my parents walked me to the garage, pulled back a threadbare blanket, revealing a cedar lined chest, in which to place the treasures that would sweeten the pot once my true love came a calling.
My Dad, always one for a bargain, had gamely mended the chipped off corner with wood glue and stain. (“It fell off a truck.”) Still, it opened, and the deep cedar smelled of hope. Promise. My Future.
Looking back, it was a strange thing to want. I had yet to (and in fact would never) embroider tablecloths like my Baba. My sewing skills were lacklustre (witness the crooked eyed velvet dolphin, a Home Ec. epic fail). The chest would probably have remained empty had my mother not promised we could pick a china pattern. The same woman who didn’t have heat or running water until she started high school took me to Eaton’s.
And for the next two decades, she purchased bits and pieces of Royal Albert “Tranquility”, the foundation of my dowry. Plates, cups and saucers appeared like Christmas clockwork. Birthdays too. While my Mother’s excitement waxed at the possibility of marrying me off, mine waned. Not to be encumbered by outdated dreams, I moved out, leaving behind the china and the chest.
I lived on my own, then with a boyfriend, then out of the country and back, hopping coast to coast, a young woman in search of her future. My mother continued to amass china; a teapot, a platter, fruit nappies! She worked to rekindle the dream, I vowed I would never move back.
Which of course cued the Universe (note to self, never say never) and I found myself back in town, single and living a few kilometers from my mother. Disappointed her hope-chest-china- spell had not worked, she telephoned repeatedly, “all your wedding china is cluttering up my basement!” (Sidebar: my mother, as you may know, is a saver of string and a folder of tin foil. The china was the least of her basement worries. She was simply vexed).
In an unlikely feat of strength and stealth, she appeared at my door one Sunday morning, frowning, a box of four dinner plates clutched to her chest. She’d loaded the entire set (minus the hope chest which proved too unwieldly) into the back of her car. She had lost hope; the china had come home to roost.
I was 36 and on my own, making a living and hopefully my mark. My friends had already married; I’d attended and hosted wedding showers, purchased and wrapped many wedding gifts and said Yes to 2 bridesmaid dresses. There had been romances certainly, but I appeared unable (or as my mother suspected, unwilling) to settle down.
Convinced that happily ever after (at least in the 1974 Seventeen Magazine sort of way) was not in my future, I decided to unpack that china and marry myself.
I invited five friends and cooked up a storm: smoked salmon and whiskey, blue cheese and endive, roast chicken, citrus rice and chocolate layer cake…displayed to great advantage on the fine bone china.
People brought gifts…even my Mom, who offered a huge pepper mill wrapped up in shiny silver paper.
I hosted and we toasted good health and long life. For one Saturday night in spring I was all that. The first day of the rest of my life.
Coincidentally, that was almost 17 years ago; the turn of the millennium when millions watched the first finale of Survivor and Christina Aguilera graced the cover of Seventeen. I still have the hope chest (now reimagined as my daughter’s “Forever Box” full of tiny treasures she’s chosen to save) and of course the china, the delicate dowry deployed for birthdays or holidays and always when my Mom comes to visit. She’s stopped driving, no longer able to ambush on a Sunday morning, bearing grudges or boxes. Time has smoothed the rough edges for both of us. I watch my husband help her from the car and up the treacherous steps to our front door. “Halloo!” she calls, the Dowager of Borden, Saskatchewan, she of no running water. This more or less single mom, a product of the Depression, scrimped and saved to buy us magazines and Royal Albert China. Grand gestures amid a hard scrabble life, a life both scary and wonderful, sweet and sour. Dark and light. I can appreciate it now, as we gingerly step into the inevitable, the natural outcomes. It won’t always be this way. She won’t always be here. And in this moment, I am full of hope, utterly grateful for my Mom, my husband, my daughter… the twists and turns that brought us here, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, til death do us part.