Our irrepressible, irreplaceable Helen may have departed our little ajay world on September 7, but those of us who remain to mourn our loss can agree that she has willed us more than mere memories.
Although intensely devoted to AAPA from the moment of her arrival in 1938, just two years after the founding of that group of lively youngsters, Helen with husband Sheldon later found time to slash an indelible mark across the records of NAPA as well.
But, as much as Helen loved her association in AAPA and enjoyed her activities in NAPA, we find it safe to observe that both she and Sheldon held a special affection for The Fossils. For, while both Helen and Sheldon garnered many laureates in both AAPA and NAPA, the ones to which they most aspired were granted by The Fossils. As we leaf through the pages of the awards chapter in the recently published 100 Years of The Fossils, we see mention of the duo at almost every turn, attesting to their contributions to the Fossils and, as a result, to the entire realm of our beloved hobby.
For example, devotees of Howard P. Lovecraft will be forever in debt to Helen for her extensive biography "The Phenomenon of H.P.L." which occupied ten 9 x 12 pages in The Fossil, vol. 5 (no. 154) for July, 1957, and for which she received The Fossil Literary Award. But the crowning, maybe everlasting achievement, was her participation with Sheldon in supervising the publication in 1957 of Truman Spencer's masterpiece The History of Amateur Journalism. No small accomplishment this, considering the fact that The History rests in at least 80 academic libraries and still holds an attraction in the used book market.
But even before this memorable milestone, The Fossils in 1955 had awarded the Wessons the Gold Composing Stick "for exquisite Craftsmanship in that Labor of Love which is Amateur Journalism." Helen cherished this token to her dying day, and we are happy to learn that daughter Pamela will see to its preservation.
(These remarks given by Mr. Vaglienti at the 1998 AAPA convention are reprinted from Robert Lichtman's letter of comment in Vegas Fandom Weekly no. 84, http://www.efanzines.com.)
[Webmaster's note: the complete text of the remarks are available on the American Amateur Press Association's coverage of the 1998 convention.]
Very early in 1938, a mere 17 months after George Henry Kay and his ragged band of rebels founded the American Amateur Press Association, George, then serving as Secretary, received an inconspicuous piece of mail postmarked from an odd-sounding place in New Jersey. The postmaster in the community of Little Falls, Minnesota, was used to seeing Kay receive and send more than the usual volume of mail for their average citizen, and certainly more than the previous local Linotype operator. In his position as Secretary, George received mail from all parts of the country, and even overseas. He had no trouble separating this envelope from the normal junk mail, as it had first class postage of three cents. Junk mail in those days wasn't all bad—there might be something from the Kelsey Company in Meriden, Connecticut, Turnbaugh Service in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, or even Johnson and Smith in Racine, Wisconsin.
Upon opening the envelope, George found an application for membership, a credential and the usual fifty cents dues. He rarely recognized the name of new applicants for membership unless they were members of another association. The name on this application was quite uncommon—certainly nothing like Smith or Jones. He did, of course, recognize the name of Sid Cohen as the person suggesting this applicant for membership. Sid was from Brooklyn, New York, and then serving as Second Vice President. Along with the application was a question: "Do you allow girls to join?"
Most of you know I am talking about Helen A. Vivarttas, then of Weehawken, New Jersey. Secretary Kay obviously immediately recognized a true jewel and published the credential, a short story titled "O'Malley's Kid," in his February 1938 issue of American Journal. The story won the Fiction Laureate for 1938, and so was launched the 60-year, and still counting, career of Helen Vivarttas Wesson in organized amateur journalism.
(In his letter of comment, Robert Lichtman also notes Helen's longstanding membership in the Fantasy Amateur Press Association, which dated back to 1946. In recent years, Helen had contributed Pendragon to FAPA. A new issue of Pendragon was in preparation at the time of Helen's stroke, and Robert is still hopeful that it can be completed and distributed if the incomplete copies can be recovered.)
From Siamese Standpipe no. 23 for April 1952.
Upon a cold and wintry day,
He's writhing there upon the wall,
He's fierce and gruff and fiery wild,
Beneath his lair we stalk his track.
From Siamese Standpipe no. 28, May 1954.
At the last Fossil Reunion that we attended before returning to Japan in 1952, I told the members gathered that they had only to hang on for one more year and I would be eligible to join—"and I just love to kiss bald heads!" So consider this a trans-Pacific salute on your bald spot, Fellow Fossil. I was dismayed when the Fossils changed the membership requirement from 30 years' to 15 years' activity in Amateur Journalism (as I interpreted it.) As I had joined the hobby in my teens, that left me little to aspire to, and I don't feel old and venerable at all. Nobody gathers at my feet while I rock away, spinning tales of the glorious past of my beloved hobby...probably because my present full-speed-ahead publishing activity doesn't give me a chance to sit down except when we're collating.
They have been 15 years of ajay personalities, joys, achievements and heartaches. Amateur Journalism has been the core of my life since I learned of it; and when I become a famous Somebody, and my press agents write my autobiography, it will be inseparable from the hobby. I may as well write it now...a girl's-eye view of the American, National and Fantasy amateur press associations.
My Dad had one desk drawer in his den which was a pirate's treasure cove to me. Apparently I was permitted to open that drawer just a few inches, because I have memories of a jumble of old coins; rare stamps; medals for such as the Century Run, ACC of N.Y.; Masonic Awards; game warden badges and medals of the Audubon Society. Later, when I finally went through the entire drawer. I found in back every Father's Day card and other greeting I had ever drawn, a letter with a ghost story (written at age 8) and another short story (age 10) written for St. Nicholas Magazine. My Dad's encouragement in every creative talent I had (and some I didn't possess!) was perhaps the greatest single influence at work in this history.
It was not the poems published on the King Arthur page of the Hudson (County, N.J.) Dispatch that mattered, but much later, the satire that appeared on the Amateur Page of the New York Journal-American which caught an ajay's eye. "Drop Your Compact—The Boys Will Fall, Too" is not a headline that would escape Sid Cohen. I received from him a bundle of strange little pamphlets, none of which interested me. (I have been consistent in my disinterest in United APA affairs ever since.) Over a year later, 1938, another batch of these strange little papers caught and held my attention because these had personality.
As I used to clip coupons and send 10 cents and a box top, because I loved mail (I am still a mail-call clock-watcher), I invested the 50 cents and sent my name in...to the American Amateur Press Association...hoping that nothing nefarious would result. I received promptly an encouraging letter from Secretary Kay, and replied with the requested credentials—a batch of short stories—and a letter which I shall always remember: "Do you allow girls to join?" For a long time I was the only girl in AAPA, and the pride of holding my own in a man's hobby is still with me. I refuse to piggy-back on even my ajay-husband.
George Henry Kay, "father" of AAPA founded in 1937, is a Midwest bachelor with a stomach complaint and a deep wariness of women that was later to blind his eyes and lose him his Galatea. My enthusiasm was just what the AAPA needed at its inception, and Kay, with his hands at the reins, yet let me have my head. In 1939, my second year in AAPA, I became Manuscript Manager, the next year President; and those were my happiest years in the hobby. My contemporaries who remember will agree that this was the heyday of our teen-age enthusiasm and activity. My year as President was marked—whatever the issue—by strident leadership, and of it Historian Bob Kunde wrote: "The Vivarttas administration has been without doubt the most successful in our brief history."
During that period some of our best ajays were sharing my enthusiasm, and these friendships are still treasured by me. Most notable of them was Bill Groveman, then publishing Printer's Devil. To me, although he became a father recently, Bill is still the 13-year-old whose absorption and zeal matched mine in intensity; but whereas mine was effervescent, Bill's was dead-serious. His letters, written solid from edge to edge of the paper, were so light I sometimes wonder if he used a typewriter ribbon in his machine. They were crammed with news and views and plans, which culminated in the first meeting of AAPA's first local club, the Metropolitan Chapter of AAPA, at my home in April 1939. I was elected President and Bill Secretary.
The Metchaps were my first personal contacts in ajay. Bernice McCarthy (now Mrs. Helm Spink) turned up for the first meeting, I remember. She had a substantial background of activity in the hobby, including Happy Daze, but I didn't know that; and since AAPAns and NAPAns were foreign races to each other, our interests led off on tangents at that time.
Frank Miller, Echoes, attended one early Metchap meet, with Bernice and Bill at my home, and I don't believe any of us will ever forget the quiet, blue-eyed Yankee who magically held our attention. Frank was well-rounded in the hobby, and though we disputed many points, I must admit that I profited, sometimes against my will, by his check-rein on my naive activity before his untimely death. It was Frank, as Mailer, who perhaps saved my reputation in ajay by returning to me the insufficient copies of the rubber-stamped juvenile four-pager called the Dark Horse. (Only one copy remains, mislaid someplace.) I was indeed a dark horse, and judged by that childish effort, nobody would have bet on me in the Ajay Sweepstakes!
By the time the Metchaps, publishing the Metropolitan Amateur, had outgrown home meetings, so to hold the first AAPA convention in July 1939, and further Metchap meetings, we obtained a room in the Hudson Park Branch of the New York Public Library. Dad escorted me to our first meeting there, and I am still teased about my huge cartwheel hat, which Contributor likened unto an umbrella.
Edgar Allan Martin descended on us from Connecticut, and his appearance was in perfect character with his exceptional talents in all media of the Weird. A tangle of raven hair surmounted a long, thin, rather cadaverous face with green eyes. His mad titter revealed rather fang-like white teeth, vampirish as his Lycanthropic Press, and his long thin fingers were as talented playing weird music on the library piano as they were cutting weird illustrations out of linoleum blocks for his Contributor. (Here began, I believe, my linoleum block work.) I shuddered at the thought of meeting him in the dark, but I delighted in his zany friendship. (Meeting him almost a decade later, my "weird" impression vanished—beautiful blond Madeleine has fattened him up so that he now appears almost human, but thank Yuggoth the mad laughter remains to punctuate our infrequent gab-fests.)
Mike Phelan, an Open Road boy, publisher of the Katydid, and Bill Haywood, Topix, joined the Metchap circle. Mike has been for many years a stalwart in the AAPA, an informal, college-bred roamer in corduroys and sweater, one of those men whom other men respect. Bill was a dry-witted Yankee whose emergence from his cocoon of social introversion into ajay society changed his life completely. His unexpected broadmindedness and insight, and his caustic wit have never failed to amaze me, a Yankee myself. I found in him the necessary ajay companionship I needed. (It was this friendship which led to other "complications" in our lives; for when the time came that Burton Crane invited both of us to his 1941 APC meet, my mother's disapproval could not surmount Dad's assent and Bill's obviously fine character. It was the first APC meet for both of us, and at that meeting Bill met his Matilda, and I fought my first fight with Sheldon Wesson.)
As National conventions go, the American's first convention, sponsored by the Metchap in New York City in 1939, was a childish affair run by babes innocent of parliamentary procedure. However, it was an optimistic start and an encouragement to other teenagers in AAPA to hold their own conclaves. AAPA members were more widely scattered in rural areas than NAPAns, and being younger could not afford travel expenses (and frequently could not get parental consent for long trips). Bruce Smith, Four-Star Sports, did come from Wisconsin and the personal contacts whetted his appetite for more. He is now editor for a Midwest trade journal, so the time he spent on the hobby was never wasted. Apparently he agrees, for he is still an active AAPAn.
Throughout the hobby years of 1938-41 chronicled here, I had been publishing 11 quarterly numbers of American Dawn with Erich Werner, a college student in Michigan. We were indeed stiff-necked and idealistic as the young and unworldly are, but the laureate-winning Dawn and our success in coediting sparked many such ventures in AAPA. This yielded heavier and meatier bundles than that association or NAPA has ever achieved since—especially considering the fact that the membership list was half an association norm.
A highlight of editing the American Dawn was Erich's trip to the East and his surprise visit to my home where he was warmly welcomed. He was an extremely tall, thin-faced blond Nordic, with washed-out blue eyes which revealed the serious intelligence that counter-balanced my light-hearted bubblings. We were both thrilled at actually coediting one issue together, and our partnership continued until a most strategic time...the Dawn folded due to financial pressure on Erich at exactly the time Wesson ventured the idea of my coediting a paper with him.
It was my first correspondent in Amateur Journalism—Bob Kunde—who introduced me to Erich with coediting in mind. Bob printed the American Banner and was also idealistic and earnest in his love for the AAPA. Although he was only a name on paper to me until 1951, his round handwriting transmitted a personality which made me resent his typewriter later on.
His Banner Awards stimulated literary competition among us almost as much as the official quarterly laureates. I still have one of my Banner Badges, but the dozen annual and quarterly laureates I won mean nothing now, for the AAPA never issued laureate certificates which would have given permanent meaning to the honor. Though his activity has diminished considerably, Bob today heads the NAPA. But to me, especially since he has no current publishing personality, he is still pages of round penmanship, increasing activity and enjoyment with his topical discussions.
About this time, Hempstead, Long Island, was a center of ajay activity. Groveman and Levin were joined by Tom Erhard of the mad East Coast Earbender, and by the Smith Bros., Bob and Bill, the Cough Drop kids. Willard was quietly active in AAPA until he dropped out of ajaydom altogether; but Bob (Sour Notes, At Random) was the glittering extrovert, the printing playboy of AAPA and then NAPA.
The AAPA Hempstead Convention held at the Smith home in September 1943 was a riotous success. President Haywood, with whom I coedited a mimeo'ed Welcome Mat, tendered official greetings. Gabby Gabaree, Nutmegger, contributed his Mortimer Snerd hilarity, abetted by Paul Jackson, and Walt Strombach, Kinks, whose latest issue is a girl. (Nothing would please me more than to welcome Smitty, who attended a fairly recent APC meet with his wife and infant son, back to the hobby where he belongs, and where he has made life-long friendships.)
Ethel Myers related in Cook's Ghost no. 1 the objections of her Victorian mother to her receiving letters from people unknown to her personally. So, too, my mother had objected to his "pen-pal club" I had joined. Though she met the youngsters who came to meetings at my home, and later the young people I met through the hobby, and approved of them individually, she continued to disapprove of journalism as she had my high school and church clubs, and regarded my hobby as a waste of time. Twice I had been offered a professional newspaper job I was particularly suited for, and twice she made me turn down this magical opportunity. Though it was obvious I'd been born with a silver typewriter in my mouth, my mother's antipathy grew into an obsession. The reasons lie not in Amateur Journalism but in my mother.
The issue reached a climax when I started college, also a "waste of time." At that time I came of age to marry without parental consent, and so I chose to wed Amateur Journalism. I learned with dismay that, despite Dad's tacit approval, my mother was purloining my mail—presidential mail concerning official business. In tearful desperation I turned to her family, and a solution evolved which still has its hilarious aspects. My cousin owned a millinery shop about 15 minutes' bus travel from my home. I was to receive my official and necessary mail care of Rone en route to college evenings. Days when I did not have classes I managed the trip anyway, stuffed the letters into my two-way-stretch, and managed my administration from my Dad's architectural office where I worked as his secretary (though he was innocent of the address subterfuge) or at Columbia U. The expression "turtle in her girdle" still evokes smiles from the few in the know.
The war broke and decimated the ranks of printers who had grown up in the hobby and were now of an age to replace the press with the bazooka and M-1 rifle and Grumman Wildcat. Kay resigned as President early in 1943 and I again became President. With an energy that amazes me now in my moments of lassitude, I held together the AAPA which scattered to every Theatre of Operations. The American Ajay Hostesses were organized, and since there were not enough girls to write to the third of the membership that needed mail-hostessing, I recruited my girlfriend at Columbia, Vivian Chatfield. (Later Vivian herself entered the WAVES, and Hiram Ira Swindall, designed of the AAPA seal, once of the Horned Toad but then of the Army, returned her "hostessing" in kind. They now live in Texas where he is a printer, she an ad writer, son Peter a schoolboy.)
The servicemen were charged dues, to assure us of their continuing interest. However, in return, they were pelted with mail and First Class bundles of journals they published in far-off places, including a cooperative, GI-AJ. They got their money's worth back in morale, and I felt I was doing my Canteening with those I loved most and knew best.
When Ed Wall of the aptly titled Wallpaper followed me as President, 1944-45 and 1945-46, the boys complained of non-receipt of bundles. The matter was investigated even up to consulting Ed's Senator, and bounced right back to Mailer Irwin O. Brandt.
But to retrogress several years...Burton Crane had confided to Sheldon Wesson in 1941 that he wished Helen Vivarttas, former President of AAPA, could get to an APC meeting, but (wrong for once), "she's about 35 and a nurse or something at Columbia and might not be able to attend."
"Oh well" stated APC Secretary Sheldon Wesson, a mere upstart of six months in the hobby, "we don't want any old fuddy-duddies at APC meetings anyway."
He acknowledged our introduction at the August meeting at Crane's by lifting his left eyebrow and turning back to the imposing stone, scarcely a proper reception for Madame former AAPA President. Further complications set in when Groveman evidently decided that Wesson might lure me from AAPActivity, and built him up as a National wolf lurking outside the AAPA fold for unwary Little Red Riding Hoods...or Li'l Red Devils, as 'twere. That nom de plume, incidentally, was the result of Haywood-Wesson jesting at my expense, but I made it pay off later, in my publishing activity—a four-pager printed by Wesson in June 1942, with a Haywood-drawn masthead.
So I was quite surprised when little me was favored with a letter-questionnaire that Fall, gist of which was what night would I cut classes for a date? I answered that I'd cut classes for no man (certainly not for a NAPAn, after all the vitriol George Henry Kay had poured out against the rival association) but that I had a study night I was free. We went to a movie. He put his arm around the back of my seat, and I bounced away to the very edge. (No National wolf is going to make passes at an AAPAn!) The arm withdrew and stayed withdrawn. I did not know that it was Wesson's first date with a girl, and he was convinced he'd offended me, and felt as unsure of himself as only a 19-year-old can.
Things might have stalemated indefinitely, with the ajay feud between us our only mental contact, when my mother inadvertently stepped in and revealed him in the cliched true light. Briefly, she intercepted an ajay note of his and telephoned him, asking his aid to have me ostracized out of ajaydom. Troubled, Wesson phoned me at work, and on a Park Row bench I explained. I learned then that he wasn't the brassy personality, the empty glamour boy that his National front presented. He was, indeed, as nice inside as any AAPAn I knew!
These were the years when my ajay circle were emerging from adolescence and their horizons widened. Groveman had struck a cruel blow when he joined the National, and I had sent him forth with cries of "Turncoat!" Haywood, having met NAPA's Sugar and Spice Tillie Schabrucker at that memorable August 1941 APC meet, had also hopped the fence, understandably. I remained staunchly American, fighting furious feuds with Edwin Hadley Smith for his subsidized proselyting of select actives, and Bob Holman, Cubicle, for proselyting the Pennsylvania Chapter of AAPA en masse. It never occurred to me, cemented in AAPA as I was, that my own "loyalty" would be questioned when I up and married that NAPA whippersnapper in 1943. But it was—and by George Kay!
Pearl Harbor caught us at Wesson's APC meet in Brooklyn. When Burton came in late with the news, in his knowledge of Japan, he added: "....the poor bastards!" Having lived in Japan only five years, I still cannot see how this basically-primitive country found the temerity to attack the mighty Beikoku (literally, Big Bales of Rice).
At that APC meeting we did not realize, those of us who were most concerned, the full implications. (I had a boyfriend in the Officers' Reserve and I remember wondering if he would have to go on active duty, though I did not know what that entailed.) I certainly never thought that almost everyone at that APC meet—Segal, Smiths, Jacksons, Groveman, Wessons, Crane, Trainer—would be in uniform, even in combat, before we all met again.
Wesson signified that I was to out-stay the gang and a certain young lady who wanted to see him alone so I out-waited her, and in a Brooklyn candy store we drank chocolate sodas and laid plans to coedit a paper. The name, Siamese Standpipe, we decided upon later (see SS 1)....and here were are mailing out our 28th issue, twelve years and two sons later!
So this tale converges at the same point, for First VP Helen V. Vivarttas became President for another term, to preside over a publishing USO-by-mail, and accepted in the name of Helen V. Wesson in September 1943 (the Wessons having married exactly one week earlier than the Haywoods). Kay, the confirmed bachelor, writhed in the grave of inactivity he had dug for himself with his resignation (one of many) and toppled the tombstone long enough to wag a warning finger. That I had married was abominable enough, but a National....!!
Then Index Linton Clark stepped in. Now, it is a true picture of Linton Clark to say that he is the type who paints "Jesus Saves" on rocks. Rather, "Repent, for the day cometh." We have met him since, in our Army travels, and it was an interesting gab-fest that developed; for he has his own interpretation of the Scriptures, of the chosen Sabbath, and of the AAPA Constitution. There is no reasoning with him, but this I did not know at the time. I knew only that I was desperate for an Official Editor when Ken Kulzick, Trouvere, resigned. I never did receive an answer from Bob Kunde to my plea that he take the office, on his release by the Air Force. I appointed an Editor [her husband Sheldon—ed.] who, though he was hampered by a piggy-bank budget and uninspired country-shop printing, is talented enough in his own field to overcome these drawbacks. I shared my brand-new husband somewhat jealously with my other love.
During the brief hours Wesson had off from his military duty, he would make marginal notes on official letters, and I would attend to his correspondence later. AAJ copy was edited, proofs read, pages dummied, in whatever odd unpredictable hours the Army allowed him off. After we struggled to fill capably the offices of President and Official Editor, to have Clark & Co. cry "Dictator!" because there were two officers under one roof, was too much. That the Founding Fathers of AAPA were still sensitive to dictatorship of the UAPA (from which they had recently seceded) was no excuse for maligning our efforts so bitterly and libelously. However, the clouds burst and the Deluge was upon us. Charlie Heins at his vituperative worst cannot compare with Linton Clark's most righteous self. Nevertheless, I was elected a Director in Ed Wall's administration and Shep was re-elected Editor.
To scratch the scar of old wounds is perhaps to bleed again. So I shall say only that when, as my last presidential move, I resigned from AAPA in protest, effective October 1944, my heartbreak was quite complete, and much deeper than that caused by most First Loves. Clark's libellous filth left me no alternative. After all the years of clinging precariously to my hobby, I was finally in a position where Authority actually encouraged me, and competed joyously with me, yet all was lost. You know how emotional women can be...
During those war years I joined the Fantasy Amateur Press Association after Alf Babcock showed me a copy of Acolyte, scholarly publication of Fran Laney, a NAPAn briefly. That in turn led to Howard Phillips Lovecraft, one of NAPA's great literary figures, and renewed my interest in the Weird.
For FAPA I have published (1946-52), with Burton Crane co-editing for three issues, five numbers of The (Unspeakable) Thing of China, New Jersey, Japan and New York, totaling 148 mimeographed 8 1/2 x 11 pages, illustrated and hand-painted. When the FAPA surplus stock sale was held, TUT sold for 20 cents per copy, the others only 1 cent to 10 cents, which indicates something. I'm not sure what.
My admiration for Laney's complete lack of inhibition in his thinking and writing "unlaxed" my own mental restrictions from whalebone stays. Helen's Fantasia—of which three issues have been mimeod in FAPA's tradition of thoughts-first-appearance-second and devil-take-the-prudish—is currently fulfilling my activity requirement of eight pages per year for the limited membership of 65.
I had joined the National also, and as an Army wife published five hand-painted Spigots (1944-45), printing tiny ones myself on my 2 x 4 Peripatetic Press from one enclosed two-thirds typecase holding three faces of type. The deluxe numbers—printed after Shep left for European duty—boast such illustrious printers as Burton Crane and Cliff Laube, Monasticon, who actually phoned me to ask my desires on a minor point of layout!
Though I was active in publishing, writing, art work, etc., for the ensuing ten years to the present, in both NAPA and FAPA, I have sometimes felt like a Man Without a Country in ajaydom. Despite my longer activity record in NAPA, winning the 1946 Story Laureate, I am to many Nationals "that AAPAn"—or worse yet, just another printer's wife, "Mrs. Wesson." The feeling was emphasized when newcomer George Freitag, acknowledging a Spigot, wrote: "....and now that you have become his wife you are as active as anyone I know of." As a consequence I entered a period of parliamentary mischief, and amused myself by exposing the straw in the stuffed shirt of NAPA procedure. This left parliamentarians wringing their hands when I voted illegally at the 1949 Brooklyn Convention, a deciding vote for one Executive Judge. Intentionally, this pointed up the slipshod balloting method and led to a reform of the procedure.
In a fast shuffle called Redeployment, Lt. Wesson breezed through the Zone of the Interior en route from Germany to Japan, and we set type in the Brodie Shop, Helm Spink, Custodian, during the 1945 NAPA Convention at Cleveland. We extended that convention somewhat at smaller meets in Ed Cole's and Frank Batchelder's shops.
However, Wesson had been overseas again almost a year in mid-1946, and I was not happily situated. My Dad had been almost 50 when I was born, and the quiet companionship I shared with him in his den over things literary and artistic ended in an illness of the aged, which left me only a shell. Even after my momentous decision to join Wesson and Crane in Tokyo, one month dragged out to the next and still the Army refused me passage. Alf Babcock, Ernie Pittaro (Hoot Owl) Monday-noon-at-Seward's-Cafeteria Club, and met visiting firemen like Helm Spink and the Service ajays who hit New York.
Bob Smith chose then to amuse me with an invitation to paw through his collection of duplicates, and I lit out for Hempstead for an ajay day that extended over a weekend. We went to a night-club with Bill and his date, and arrived home too late for my train. Ma Smith tucked me into bed and kissed me goodnight. During my first stay in Japan I collected miniature cats for her and after returning, when we were finally settled in Levittown in 1949, I dropped a card asking to call and deliver them. Pop Smith phoned that I was a week too late...and now when I want to make someone glad, I do it in the present, for I shall never trust the future again.
It was at the 1946 NAPA Convention in Newark that Vondy had the good sense to bunk me with Jeanne Sullivan of Falling Stars. Jan and I considered putting up a sign on the door:
Wesson wrote from Japan that I sent him 104 photos, count 'em, of the Convention, 100 being of me with somebody's arm around me...Ensign Bob Smith's, veteran Groveman's and his cousin Bill Jackson's...just about the entire Convention assembled. "But I don't care," he wrote blithely, "because the other four are of Hazel Segal in a bathing suit!"
I saw little of my room-mate at that Newark Convention, for Jan was busy with her own little affairs, dancing lightly from one heart to another. Some time during that era I flirted blatantly with Ed Harler of Harler's Ferry, who does not make friends glad-handedly. Jan soon caught on that if he can like me, he can love her; if I can be happy though married, so might she. We were the only ajays invited to attend their wedding in 1949. Jan, leaving in a red traveling suit, said she wore it in honor of the Li'l Red Devil.
The inter-associational New Jersey Chapter of Amateur Journalism, publishing New Jersey Amateur was at its peak of activity when I left for Japan in 1946. The monthly meetings—weenie roasts, picnics, holiday parties—were social affairs which boosted activity and fellowship to such high levels that New Jersey became The Ajay State, a thumb-nose to those who would decry such sociabilities in the hobby.
Alf Babcock had told me that Crane, in OSS in China, had sold his 7 x 11 Bilious Bull to Tom Grimes, and that Tom, in the Marines, would sell if I made him a good offer. I wrote Wesson I was buying the press, and he answered that he couldn't make use of it and didn't want it. I bought it anyway, for myself. To this day the Griddle Press itself belongs to the distaff half, and the printer is so reminded when there is a matter of letterheads or other distasteful job work to be done.
After all that, the Army left the press behind when it packed me off to Japan in November 1946. Alf used Ferdinand (so re-named) then during our two-year stay. Meanwhile, we had bought back from Smitty the 4 x 6 Josephine he had bought from SCW previously, and so we installed our printshop in a large closet in the War Ministry Apartments. I brought some 10-pt. Garamond to Japan but forgot spaces, which came at enormous expense by mail later on. Burton called Sunday waffle-breakfast meetings of the TWAPC, which we attended in company with incidental members including a FAPAn, Mike Fern.
In Tokyo, I started my professional writing, for the $10 number of American Fabrics; and as correspondent for the Times of India, Bombay, and the Manchester Guardian of England; but principally for Fairchild Publications, where I became their highest-paid string correspondent. This contact had lasting influence, since Shep joined them in New York for four years and now heads their Japan Bureau. I still write professionally for Fairchild in the fashion (textile, apparel and home furnishings) field that is my second interest. However, I have convinced myself that I can hold my own in the newspaper business after all, never having forgotten the lost opportunities previously mentioned, and I am quite content to let Shep be the family pro. Laney says that his wife feels that my "writing is too good to be wasted on amateurs..." but I feel it scarcely merits the rich largesse I have derived from Amateur Journalism, which cannot be measured in dollars and cents.
Here also I entered a new phase of ajay activity. I started recruiting new members by growing my own. Sheldon, born in Tokyo and now 6 1/2, is adept at slip-sheeting, Copy-boy David joined the growing staff in Long Island four years ago, and has many times toddled the long distance between printshop and study upstairs with proofs for correcting, or illegible sarcasms about my sacred copy and widow lines.
Crane bought our 4 x 6 press and type when we left Japan in 1948, but used them only to print admission tickets to the plays which the Tokyo International Players produced under his direction. We'd get frantic appeals for cap I, B, and C sorts—to be sent airmail! It was an inkling of the future activity—or inactivity—of a personality who had done more than any other ajay to shape the lives of Us Wessons. Well do I remember his little tete-a-tete with me at the 1943 NAPA Convention in Columbus, when he sought to convince me that I could do worse than marry his protege. My mother permitted me to attend that convention, my first trip without her, not because there was a convention, but because "Helen's young man" was stationed in Columbus that eventful week and had invited me to visit him at the university where the Army had deposited him pro tem. (Vivian Chatfield, who accompanied me, ruminated on the train how I could ever say SCW talked so much when I gabbed incessantly myself. Homeward bound, she exclaimed, "Now I know—you both talk simultaneously!")
There had been many obstacles in the path of the marriage which Crane and Wesson each sought in his individual way. Many ajays have misinterpreted the emotional reunion on the sofa outside the convention room, while Rusty Comet Weixelbaum hovered near, ready to peck out the eyes of anyone who interrupted us. It was not as romantic as Rusty believed, for I was telling Wesson that it was impossible, I could not marry him. (We were married eight weeks later!)
We returned to the States in 1948, after two happy years and three issues of Siamese Standpipe in Tokyo. The ensuing four years on Long Island are a whirling blur to me. Conventions were hectic, with two babies to guard; indeed, I missed the 1950 Cleveland Conclave after David was born. It became clear that, for a while at least, I must resign myself to the distaff gallery of the hobby; and I drew little mental nourishment to sustain me during the 16 hours of housework each day which I allotted myself in an inefficient burst of over-efficiency.
Shep attended Columbia evenings and had night assignments. Weekends were fierce earthquakes of busy-ness which left me limp, and when they were expended in the hobby were too overdone. Little more was accomplished than winning the NAPA Printing Laureate in 1951-52 with Siamese Standpipe, which included the gold-and-silver five-color dragon that is the highlight of my linoleum-block carving efforts.
It was not our fault that we were not oriented well in our chosen Long Island neighborhood, but the loneliness made the days endless drudgery to me. Dad's death and other factors distressed me, and I entered a period of post-natal depression which is not uncommon but is difficult to live through. At this point, when my social and mental outlets were limited to the few APC meets I could enjoy, the hobby came to my rescue in the form of the long-forgotten AAPA.
Bob Price, first President of AAPA, for two terms, 1937 and 1938, publisher of Today's Youth and Branding Iron, had rejoined after a long period of inactivity. In a moment of beery sentimentality in the summer of 1951, he phoned me Long Distance from Pueblo, Col., that I must rejoin. Lee Hawes, of Gator Growl, also AAPA President for two terms, 1949-1950 and 1950-51, had reawakened Price and was busy working on me. Bob is a gay flatterbox, and the combination of his scandalous letters and Lee's newsy ones was just what the doctor ordered. I rejoined to earn more letters from them; and made new friends, when I attended the Cleveland 1951 AAPA Convention, in the inky Adams sisters, "old-timer" Joe Curran, and Ruth Kapusta, who this year became the second young lady to be elected AAPA President. Bob and I coedited two rolicking numbers of Houri, which he printed, in 1951-52.
However, I found my First Love had grown bald, paunchy and sexless. In other words, the AAPA itself is the one great friendship I have re-made after a lapse of many years that I have not found as spicy and enriching as I did then. The 1944 wound cut too deeply—it had amputated.
If I could not find myself in AAPA again, at least I found old friends during my flash visit. President Floyd Akcerman had recruited a sailor friend into the AAPA, and that friend had left his bundle, with my current address, on a table where his brother picked it up. Shep, who put up with Price's 2 a.m. phone calls that he must answer for me, informed me with only slightly raised eyebrows that a man was on the phone who would not give his name. It was my college buddy, a reluctant AAPAn of a decade ago, now a naval air pilot temporarily stationed nearby, and could he drop around? His words are pithy and his mastery of expression superb, and I welcomed Le Roy De Marrais and his friendly Astrid as one does a sunny day during the nyubai (rainy season). Father of a year-old daughter, he edits at McGraw-Hill at last report.
Somehow I also picked up the lost thread of Edgar Allan Martin (now printing Satyric for NAPA and mimeoing Grotesque for FAPA). They, too—Ed, Madeleine and Janine—stormed our August 1951 weekend APC meet armed with their own cots and The Monster—a giant turkey which Madeleine had stuffed deliciously. They evidently liked our ranch house, for they have bought one in Connecticut.
Elliot Rubin, wife and son, also showed up, and here again I regret a good editor lost to the hobby because women just don't understand.
We packed them in 32-strong at that APC meet, and over 40 at our previous August meet when the 40-page APC News was printed, as if we knew they would be the last we'd hold for many years.
In Long Island we had one favorite "neighbor"—only 40 minutes' car travel away in Great Neck—Ralph Babcock. His ajay friendship was good for us both, and dispelled the previous opinion I'd received of him when we were all stationed at Fort Benning in 1944. Shep had been an Officer Candidate, Ralph a Lieutenant-instructor. Social advances could come only from Ralph and he offered none, though it would have been good to talk ajay. (Elizabeth "Hedy" Jordan of Wings Over Jordan had married a Lieutenant and tried to dispel our loneliness there with her hospitality. Even now I wish I were able to pick up the dropped stitch of her friendship, for I enjoyed her immensely.) Certainly it was not Ralph's fault he snubbed us, I know now, for he has gladly shared his mother's hospitality and his applesauce with us many times.
Ralph has endeared himself to me through his ready wit. At the last APC meeting at our house on LI, eight-year-old Janine Martin wanted to take a bath, so someone must remove the ice from the tub. "Is there a man in the house?" I asked, just as Ralph entered. "No, but I'll try!" he snapped back. His footnote rejoinder to Ed Cole's scholarly "APC Redivivus!" was "Printer's translation: Kleenex Pops Up, Too." And credit his title for the APC history: "The Maiden's Lament: Nineteen Years in the Cellar! Or, Why Ma Quit Heating Sunday Dinner."
But we have made three trans-continental trips, visiting ajays, and many side-trips; and I could never start to list the ajay personalities who have been more than ships that pass in the night on my life-stream.
Beloved Felicitas Haggerty...Nita Gerner Smith, born and bred in the hobby...motherly Dorrie [Moitoret]...gallant Jack Diamond...suave Heljeson...gentle Cliff Laube...dynamic Ed Wall...and though we've never met, whimsical Bob Maney, the Wacky Wabbit of Wabbit Wun; and the Cadaverous Kangaroo, Jim Guinane...and Vondy.
My first reaction to Vondy had been a very feminine one...Sheldon Wesson had said at an early APC meet that he would rather talk with Vondy than any other woman he knew. I didn't realize that he exempted me! I know now she is Vondy because she has a heart but is not maudlin, she loves Amateur Journalism without being Valentiney, and no preconceived notions clutter her mind which is masculine in its lack of pettiness.
As this history is written, we have plans for three more Standpipes this year, and copy on hand for one. Our household setup—and no commutation for Mr. Editor—gives us an enviable maximum of opportunity to enjoy the hobby in all of its facets; but we sorely miss the personal contacts from which it is obvious I derive so much satisfaction. Amateur Journalism is like marriage—never a chance for boredom. Just when things are running along perhaps too quietly, diversion pops up—like Milton Grady, who, though he has not yet found himself editorially, sparks the hobby like the electric-shock wand at Coney Island, used to get an unexpected rise out of participants in the audience.
It will be several-to-many years before I see you again at a Fossil Reunion. But some day I hope you will notice an old bag in the corner, wearing earrings big as dinner plates, and surrounded by a coterie of tall, handsome ajays. That will be Helen. (Coincidentally, those ajays will also answer to the name Wesson.)
From Siamese Standpipe no. 28, May 1954
Letters have inquired: "What, if anything, does Miss Editor
do?" To which she replies with tilted nose: "I provide SS
with wit, charm and intelligence. Wesson? Oh, he only prints the
—SS 2, 1942