Remembering Mina

Genealogy is a pastime that many people pursue with a gambler’s passion. Addictive, the sport can lead posterity into an endless funnel of personal discoveries and historical finds. But I’ve never been one those people… until recently. When my grandmother died in 2020, the castoffs of old family photos found their way inadvertently into my hands and an insatiable curiosity soon followed. “Who were these people ?” I wondered. Several ancestors sparked interest for an immediate research project, but at the top of the list was my great-grandmother, Erma.
In celebrating her birthday month, I thought it would be fun to share the accomplishments and anecdotes of a woman who loved life and everything in it.

Erma Reynolds

Born in Newark, NJ, Erma Eleanor Schoop shared her August 15th birthday with a very famous emperor. Perhaps you’ve heard of him ?

Napoleon Bonaparte

She was the daughter of a Methodist minister and moved frequently as a child, wherever her father was assigned a parsonage. Spending family vacations at Chautauqua Lake, NY, was a favorite memory of Erma’s. So much so, that she often traveled back to the resort community throughout her life, usually bringing her friends in tow.

Chautauqua Lake, NY

Having settled in Columbus, OH, during her senior year of high school, Erma went on to enroll at Ohio State University at a time when most women did not go to college.

During her years at college, Erma visited her brother and his wife in Florida and attended a dance at a hotel. It was there that she met a citrus grower named Bob Reynolds. Romance ensued and they knew they wanted to be married. So Bob travelled to Ohio to talk things over with Erma’s father. Although agreeing to the union, her father had one caveat: “She has to graduate from Ohio State first !”

She indeed graduated and the couple married on July 18, 1928. Miraculously, her wedding gown remains in the family. Although it has yellowed from decades bygone, the flapper style dress is still in fairly good shape despite a few tears in the lace overlay. My cousin, Allison, modeled the dress recently during a photoshoot at Bok Tower Gardens.

My cousin, Allison, modeling Erma’s wedding dress.

Of all the questions that darted around in my mind, the most pressing query I had as I began my research on Erma surrounded her involvement in the P.E.O. Sisterhood.

Ever since I was a child, I would hear stories about how Erma served as the Florida state president from 1958-59 and was very active in her home chapter, U. My search produced fruitful results. In reading through one of Erma’s many diaries, I discovered that she was initiated into Chapter U on May 3, 1938 ─ just a few years after the chapter had been formed. Almost all of her life she was an active member, even attending the International Convention in Philadelphia in 1952.

Erma (far right) with her fellow friends and P.E.O. sisters at the train station, traveling to the International Convention in 1952
From left to right: Mary Hamilton, Eunice Hurst, and Esther Wise

It was strongly because of Erma’s involvement in P.E.O. that I, myself, wished to join the Sisterhood and serve as my chapter’s president. Knowing that I have nearly fulfilled the second portion of that dream would surely make her proud.

Faith was a cornerstone of Erma’s life. She was a longtime member of Beymer Methodist Church, which served as the site of her daughter, Eleanor’s, wedding in 1956. Just look at those clothes !

Eleanor, Bob, and Erma

Erma was a world traveler. And more extraordinarily, she was a world traveler when jetting off to far-flung destinations was not nearly as accessible as it is today. Sojourning with close friends and family, she made several trips across the United States and also visited exotic locales including Norway and Scandinavia, most of the European Continent and Britain, Australia and New Zealand, Brazil and South America, the Caribbean, and Canada. Her thoughtfulness was personified by the many presents she brought back to her loved ones.

Writing was also one of Erma’s passions, and in 1976 she saw her book “The Fabulous Orange” published. As a history of citrus cultivation, processing, and marketing, it is truly… “fabulous !”

While she was known as a beloved mother and a good friend to her friends, there was something else that Erma loved in addition to her friends and family that cannot be overlooked. She loved jewelry; all kinds, the real and the costume. Anything that sparkled tickled Erma’s fancy.

She may have adored jewels, but she never dressed in excess. Her style was quiet and tastefully done with just the right amount of accessories. Recently, I made a visit to the cemetery where Mina (the name all of the grandchildren called Erma) was laid to rest, modeling a dress from my mother’s closet that closely resembles the style my great-grandmother would have worn.

Despite all her remarkable accomplishments, Erma is probably best remembered by her kind and easy-natured spirit. She had an infectious laugh, loved a good joke, and was hospitable to a fault. Sadly, she passed away from an extended battle with Alzheimer’s before I ever knew her. However, through the stories and artifacts shared from various relatives, her memory remains alive. My hope is to perpetuate her legacy by the same tenets that guided her life. And just like Mina, having fun along the way is equally as important !

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Art Deco Rigoletto

Even if you’ve never seen the opera Rigoletto, you are most likely familiar with the Verdi work by its famous, hummable aria, “La donna è mobile,” heard everywhere from TV commercials to Italian restaurants. While I had the chance of watching a Rat Pack, neon-bedecked, “Vegas” Rigoletto during the Met’s free streaming at the time of their shutdown, I still felt the need to see the opera “in person” at the theater, this time set in the Weimar Republic of the 1920’s. Talk about a departure from 16th century Mantua !

Michael Mayer’s “Vegas” Rigoletto
Bartlett Sher’s “Weimar” Rigoletto

What struck me the most about the new Bartlett Sher Rigoletto were the parallels to Sher’s Met production of Otello: blocky sets that felt closed off to the audience and gave the appearance of hazardous movement among the singers (watch out for the columns !). Another exasperating comparison was the inability to distinguish the lead characters from the rest of the crowd. Both the Duke in Rigoletto and Otello wore the clothes of their compatriots, with little, insufficient distinction. The costumes for the men looked to be the same in both productions ─ perhaps the budget was snug ? Overall, I felt the Weimar production was too garish and dark and was left questioning… “What’s wrong with 16th century Mantua ?!”

I always knew what I would wear before I ever had a 20’s themed opera to attend. A few years back, a friend gave me a vintage black cashmere sweater with a cream fur collar and rhinestone buckle at the waist. The tag indicated its pedigree: “100% Cashmere, Made in Scotland.” It was an instant love affair. Musing over the garment brought to mind the Silent Film era and its actresses I had seen in movies. My vision of a pale pink charmeuse gown and a black wool cloche was the surest way to bring the sweater’s former glory back into the limelight. A flapper would agree…

Louise Brooks
Louise Brooks
Anita Page

Since I knew that I was going to wear a cashmere sweater, the last thing I wanted was a long sleeve dress. That narrowed down the field of patterns. Ultimately, Folkwear’s Tango Dress fit the bill of a sleeveless, Art Deco design for my Silent Film Star look. Mary Pickford, here I come !

Folkwear’s Tango Dress

Silk charmeuse and a gorgeous wool suiting tangoed their way to 1920’s perfection ! This was my first time making a real hat, not one out of cardboard or headbands. A silk taffeta band decorated the supple cloche. With expensive fabrics and elegant finishes, these garments and accessories definitely classified themselves as ‘Couture’ pieces.

The hardest part was working on my 1920’s “slouch.” (Ouch !)

Bundled in the warmth of the sweater, I was set for the cold January day. Only my feet were chilled. To fashion a Mary Jane style shoe, I safety pinned sewn strips of black linen to the inside of my regular black pumps. Effective, cheap, and temporary ─ no need to buy new shoes !

Nearly everyone I meet fawns over the fan purse I crocheted specifically for this opera. And the best part ? The cotton lining material is printed with opera glasses ! How neat is that ?!

An Art Deco Rigoletto allowed me to venture into a decade that has never suited my fashion tastes. But as with most bouts of historical costuming, I gained an appreciation and greater attraction to the bias-cut drop waist dresses of the time. I can’t say that the same treatment applied to Rigoletto was as appealing.

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Cast and Credits:

Rigoletto ─ Giuseppe Verdi (1851)
Live in HD air date: January 29, 2022

Cast:
Rigoletto ─ Quinn Kelsey
Gilda ─ Rosa Feola
Duke of Mantua ─ Piotr Beczała
Maddalena ─ Varduhi Abrahamyan
Sparafucile ─ Andrea Mastroni

Credits:
Conductor ─ Daniele Rustioni
Production ─ Bartlett Sher
Set Designer ─ Michael Yeargan
Costume Designer ─Catherine Zuber
Lighting Designer ─ Donald Holder
Live in HD Director ─ Gary Halvorson
Host ─ Isabel Leonard