my own private pennsylvania

December 9th, 2006 | Uncategorized

victorian mom

Here’s my mom, in Victorian drag, as she puts it, for her stint at the Library and Historical Museum. She thinks she looks mean in this photo, but gave me permission to post it anyway. She’s keeping me pretty busy. I had to take her to church last night. It was the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, for godsakes. Now I have to take her again in half an hour for Saturday evening mass so we don’t have to go in the morning so we can go to my brother’s house and see my nieces and nephews.

Here’s my latest PhotoBooth portrait, entitled “family zoned.”

family zoned

49 Responses to “my own private pennsylvania”

  1. DSW says:

    hehe, i recognise your mum from the book! v.strange…
    loving the portrait, that’s just how i feel when i spend too much time with my family!

  2. Silvio Soprani says:


    You have achieved high drama with this alarming piece of photo-artifice….obviously there is some major normal family equilibrium going on if you are driving your mother to church and to see grandchildren. But I can see why you would need to vent a little bit of weirdness just to keep everything equal.

    Your mother looks regal and beautiful. i especially like the fur cuffs and the effect of her glasses against her very smooth skin on her face.

    And on your previous photo, when you were wearing the hat, I liked the expression on your lips. Even in a totally incongruous hat, you look elegant.

    I was reading more about Ellen Day Hale. She has quite a pedigree. She was in her 20s in Massachussetts during that very happening 1880’s time when the Transcendentalists were experimenting and, I think, putting a vibe into society that was somewhat like our 1960s, although, being Victorians, I think they got more respect for being radical, although I could be wrong.

    Do you think that the background of the self-portrait of Hale is a Christmas tree? I know it is white, but there seem to be ornaments floating on it. Anybody?

  3. Xanthe says:

    The Family Zone. It’s tough, but hang in there, and hopefully it will be worth it πŸ™‚

  4. Smctopia says:

    The photo booth portrait looks very Pop Art.

  5. Lisa S says:

    Silvio Soprani asks about the background of the Hale self-portrait. I don’t know – some orientalist touch I think, given the period. A wall hanging? A kimono silk? I’ve always loved this portrait, but I’ve never looked at the background too closely, I get so rivited by her arogant gaze, beautiful face, long hand…..

  6. brynn says:

    You look so much like your mom! And your photo booth portrait made me laugh out loud. Ah, yes, many of us (all of us?) can relate!!

  7. brynn says:

    (And ooops, no pun intented!)

  8. Becky Asrai says:

    Your mother looks amazingly like Meryl Streep in that photo…

  9. liza from pine street art works says:

    The fun never stops with photobooth.
    Your mom looks great. Terrific outfit.

  10. fjm says:

    Your mother looks remarkably like my very beautiful grandmother.

    And I look at the photo and mourn my own Edwardian days. I might go back to that way of dressing. It did suit me, and in London you can wear pretty much anything and look fashionable.

  11. jmc says:

    How is it that you’re doing all this stuff pre-xmas? Does that release you from the xmas rituals? Is all the church-going some kind of penance for the book, or is it always like this?

    I assume others out there are, as I am, just now entering Family Zone Preparatory Mode. For me the hard part isn’t dealing with the close family members (parents, my brother, and their respectives spouses), it’s the folks that are a step or two out from that, the ones who are technically family but who are essentially strangers to me and I to them.

  12. Deb says:

    Your mother looks like a regal, beautiful woman. Now, the hat makes sense! The family zone? I understand perfectly! The picture, texture and colors are perfect for the ‘family zone’.

  13. AnnaP says:

    That coat is absolutely beautiful. Looks a little like the one I use to wear. fabric is obviously better quality than mine.
    I am allready worrying how my family of 2 children and one parent that was a family of one child and two parents last year is going to handle Xmas.

    And how are Clarice and Toni handling the happy holidays, are they at least little happy?

  14. DeLand DeLakes says:

    AB- Wow, you were right in “Fun Home”- your mom can pull off that Victorian dominatrix thing remarkably well! Love your photo booth pic. πŸ™‚ I’m going to Arizona for over a week at Christmas with my entire family on my Mom’s side- I’ll probably wind up feeling a lot like how you look!

  15. Dianne says:

    It was the Feast of the Immaculate Conception

    Conception 8th December, birth 25th December? HUH? Oh, well, if Jesus can be the result of a haploid birth (I’m just assuming that god doesn’t have chromosomes) why not of a 17 day pregnancy? Or is it a 1 year 17 day pregnancy?

  16. Duncan says:

    I’d guess that the Immaculate Conception refers to Mary’s immaculate conception, not Jesus’. But I escaped the Catholic lifestyle early on, so I’m not an authority on that point.

    Chromosomes are godless atheistic science. They didn’t have ’em in Mary’s day. 9-)

  17. mlk says:

    The Immaculate Conception refers to *Mary’s* having been born without sin, as the Catholic church believes that the Son of God wouldn’t have been born of a sinful woman. that never made much sense to me — wouldn’t there have to be a whole line of women, maybe even men, who were sinless?

    can’t imagine that even the Mother of God would be born of sinners, by that argument.

    I agree that Alison’s mother looks regal and beautiful, not mean. And that Alison has captured the look of the ‘family zone’ (at least as I’ve experienced it in my family!). guess she’s found some of those special features that other bloggers mentioned earlier πŸ™‚

  18. pd says:

    The celebration of Xmas was placed in late December by the Bishop of Rome in the 4th century, for political reasons. Internal evidence in the gospels suggest it was more likely spring.

  19. tallie says:

    i’m telling you, photobooth is the most addicting feature ever.

  20. AmyA says:

    Am I the only one who sees this last entry as a cry for help?

    For Goddess’ sake, Alison, get yourself to a queer bar, or somewhere else that doesn’t make your head explode!

    Or am I just projecting my own pre-holiday/family angst?

  21. PentacleGoddess says:

    I… don’t think you are. Heh.

  22. Mame says:

    I recently had to go to a baptism class at the local catholic church with my sister bacause I am the godmother of one of her daughters. The woman teaching the class asked the little conference room which was abt 2/3 filled with people why the catholic church had baptism. Of course my sister and I, after years of CCD in the very same building, answered to cleanse the children of original sin. We were then told by the woman leading the class that there is no longer any such dogma as original sin….well, I for one am glad but confused. First of all,I thought it was sort of a silly dogma..but, well, I am no one’s idea of a mass goer, but my sister goes a fair amount and neither of us had heard that they decided original sin was no longer a problem.

    I guess it makes the Feast of the Immaculate Conception obselete.

    But I don’t know. Anyone know what’s going on with original sin?

    Please update.

  23. Kat says:

    this takes the discussion completely off course, for which I apologize. I know, however, that I’m not the only one who reads this blogs who loves books, paper, and drawing/writing implements. For those of us who still love to do things by hand, check this out:

  24. silvio soprani says:


    Good for you for diverting us from focusing on original sin on a beautiful morning like this! (At least it is in Maryland.)

    But first, just want to say that I am still recovering from when the Church un-sainted Saint Philomena, sometime in the 1970s, I think. I too did not know the doctrine of original sin had been nullified. (Are we sure this is true, or are we just taking the word of the Religious Education instructor? After all, only the Pope is infallible. And somehow I can’t see this current Pope giving in to the concept of there being no original sin.)

    But back to fountain pens. What a great article! I remember in senior year of high school, my English teacher (a nun) sat me down and told me that I needed penmanship lessons before I went off to college, because no professor would bother to read my handwriting. I stayed after school once a week with her and she taught me to write in italic with an “osmeroid” pen (calligraphy.)

    You know, there is an old fashioned fountain pen store in my town and it does a booming business. In fact, there are even fountain pens now with the Harley Davidson logo on them. (And I thought this was odd until I realized how many middle aged male lawyers are now using motorcycles recreationally. Nothing wrong with that…you just don’t immediately picture them when you think of a Harley.)

  25. judybusy says:

    Regarding the middle-aged set riding the Harley: I think it’s all got to do with marketing and image. My conservative sister and brother-in-law both ride and go to Sturgis nearly every year. I think it gives them a much-needed psychological fix from the tedium (well, I would find it tedious…)of their very conventional lives. (Married a year after high school, three kids, church activities up the yazoo, etc, etc.)I also love fountain pens. I use one to write in my journal and to write in letters and cards. It’s a super cheap one that cost about 8 bucks more than a dozen years ago. It never blots or clogs and I savor the sensuous flow of ink from the nib. I think I owe the nurturing of a particular long-term friendship in part because of the letters I write, which are inspired by the pleasure of the pen itself. (I actually email my friend to tell her a letter will be forthcoming!)

  26. silvio soprani says:

    I like buying a bottle of ink, and being able to choose the color. Although recently I tried to buy a bottle of ink and ended up having to get it at an art supply store after visiting five (I kid you not) drug store chains and a Walmart. Nobody stocks bottles of ink anymore! When I was a kid, you could find them easily at the Woolworths, or what we used to call a “stationery store.” (Do they HAVE those anymore?? Or are we just relegated to the greeting card aisle at the Safeway?) Not everyone is lucky enough to live near an art supply store.

  27. Alex the Bold says:

    I think your mom (in that outfit) looks like someone that no one, and I mean no one, would think about trying to mug.

  28. Willendorf says:

    It bears repeating: your mother is outrageously beautiful.

    Complete change of subject: Last night I dreamt I was reading the new DTWOF book. The extended story at the end of the book involved Stuart, Sparrow, and J.R. taking a trip to Venice (yes, the one in Italy). They rode in a gondola. I think Stuart was trying to persuade Sparrow that the communal living thing was over and they should go off and be a nuclear family together, and this trip was his way of sort of sweet-talking her into it. I hope that doesn’t actually happen, though, because I love that household.

  29. silvio soprani says:


    …I hope they were in a Gondola because I read yesterday that St. Mark’s Square in Venice is flooded.

  30. Duncan says:

    One more vote: your mom is beautiful. I don’t think she looks the least bit mean. (Are you telling her about all the compliments she’s getting here?)

    If the Church no longer believes in original sin — and really, Mame, *all* the Church’s dogmas (dogmata?) are silly — then why have baptism? Aside from the fact that Jesus commanded it at the end of the gospel of Matthew, and that it’s a practice rooted in the earliest churches? Not that either consideration is binding on Christians today…. Like Silvio, I’m wondering if your instructor was correct.

    pd, internal evidence in the gospels suggests that the evangelists had no idea when Jesus was born. The nativity stories are both legendary, not historical, and can’t place even the year of Jesus’ birth without a ten-year-margin of error. Matthew puts it sometime before 4 BCE, the year Herod the Great died, and Luke puts it in the year of Augustus’ census, about 6 CE. But Luke gets even the requirements of the census wrong, and Matthew is confused (to put it charitably) on so many other points that his version is not likely to be correct either.

    So, we might as well observe Jesus’ birthday on December 25, which means he shares it with Mithras and Dionysos, among many other gods. We have *no* idea what it might actually have been.

  31. shadocat says:

    Oy-all this talk about original sin is making my head hurt…I would not be suprised if the Church dumped original sin; after all, they cancelled limbo. Somewhere out there, floating in the cosmos, are millions of unbaptised babies, not to mention all the people who got hit by trucks after eating cheeseburgers on Friday…

    Alison, you are a very good daughter; not only did you help your mother clear our all her junk, you took her to mass, not once, but twice! Didn’t you just hate Holy Days of Obligation? Most of them never made any sense to me, and they always seemed to come right after a fun holiday, where I wanted to stay home, play with my toys, and eat candy. Case in point:

    1. New Years (party favors fom mom& dad- still playing with Xmas stuff.)

    2. Ash Wednesday (okay, no toys, but you have to walk around all day with that ash thing on your forehead).

    3. Easter (Need I say more?)

    4. All Saint’s Day (I loved havig the day after Halloween off, but who has time for church when there’s all that candy to eat?)

    5. Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Dec. 8th ( In my 1/2 German family, St. Nicholas Day, Dec. 6th-also my grandma’s birthday-was celebrated. The night before, you put your shoes outside your bedroom door. While you are sleeping, St. Nicholas comes and puts candy and cheap little toys in them. When the children wake up. merriment ensues. My parents didn’t even tell me what “conception” meant. I still had toys to play with and some candy left to eat: and now I gotta got to church?)

    6. Christmas (Again; need I say more????)

    I thought that as an adult, my dislike of mass would’ve tempered a bit; but on the times that I am forced to attend one (marraige, funeral, what have you) I still find myself bolting for the door as soon as I see that first poor soul lurching up to communion!

  32. Maggie Jochild says:

    Oh, my, so much to chew on. Baptists do the Original Sin child abuse dance, too — when I was ten, being molested and desperate for help, I approached the two upstanding Baptist ladies who lead the local GA troup (any former GA’ers here? a group to channel girls into missionary work). I asked them if something bad was happening to a girl and she was praying to Jesus for help (first thing every morning, last thing every night) but her prayers were not being answered, what did that mean? They jumped at the chance to explain it meant the girl either didn’t love Jesus enough or, more likely, she was so tainted with Original Sin from Eve having caused humans to be cast from the Garden of Eden that Jesus was not going to listen to her. It took me three years to stop believing them and that’s when I became an atheist for 40 years. Evil, evil doctrine.

    I remember osmeroids well. Just this year bought my first Levenger. Interestingly, a few months ago I had an argument with my godson’s father (a Geek of the first order) about whether or not my godson needed to learn handwriting — godson goes to a private school with no emphasis on handwriting. Geek father maintained that in this age of buttons, he’d never need it — just printing, myabe. Of course, Geek had had a really hard time in Catholic school learning handwriting, that played a role. But my godson overheard it and is now practicing his cursive every chance he gets, treating it as part of his art training. Funny the form rebelling against your parents can take.

    I’ll have to ask said godson about the exact (presumed) date of Jesus’ birth — I know he knows because we were watching “Prairie Home Companion” (the movie) last weekend and I laughed out loud at the line from one character that a theater has been operating “since Jesus was in third grade”. Godson wanted to know why that was funny. I tried to explain, and he ruminated that Jesus would have hit third grade around 4 AD. Then, still completely serious, he added “That is, unless he got bad grades and had to repeat a level”. Which sent me into hysterics. And more explanations of why THAT was funny.

    Don’t you think Alison’s mother, indeed, anyone on the planet remotely related to Alison, reads this blog assiduously?

    Now, here’s a question that someone, as Silvio points out, will be able to answer instantly, poof, and I won’t have to research: What children appeared in D2WO4 prior to Setpember of 1986? It’s for my novel — a lesbian character is painting a mural for her childrens’ bedroom.

  33. Alison Cummins says:

    Wiki says Catholics believe in original sin:

    The New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia says Catholics believe in two kinds of limbo:

    (However, regarding infant limbo, there was apparently some hope allowed in 1992 that unbaptised infants would be able to approach God anyway. )

    Original sin is still definitely on the table.

    One of the effects of baptism is β€œThe Remission of All Sin, Original and Actual.”

    Not that I’m a catholic or anything, I just got curious.

  34. Feminista says:

    Hello all–interesting and sometimes terrifying stories from all you recovering Catholics (thanks to Kate Clinton for that term) and other religious rebels.

    I grew up feeling very “different”–my parents attended no religious services until I was 7,when Mom joined the Unitarian Church. Some of my less-enlightened classmates claimed our family would “go to hell” because of our heathen ways. Dad left the Jewish religion behind as a young man,but retained its values of social justice;he spent Sunday mornings reading various newspapers. The good news was I was exposed to the great religions of the world,encouraged to decide my own beliefs,and have been an atheist since 16.

    My late husband,whose family left Catholicism when he was 12,enjoyed friendships with Jewish and Unitarian kids. And my best friend until 7th grade was also Catholic.

    I have,however,attended Liberation Theology masses in Mexico & El Salvador,gone to various Jewish celebrations,celebrate Solstices,visited Black churches,attended a Ramadan fast-breaking,and am exploring meditation.

  35. AK says:

    You, Ms. Bechdel, are ten times over a good daughter. My mother can’t bribe me to drive her to Mass. Oh, the angst of communal gatherings with cute (and not so cute) ankle-biters. While ALL my other female relatives hold a coffee clatche in the kitchen and talk *about* their children, I’m busy wrestling the on the floor *with* the children. Thank god for those kids, otherwise I would have to drink eggnog and chat with the grown-ups. Gender norming is scary.

  36. Deb says:

    A bit off topic, but I have been thinking of you while I have been traveling………….5 hour layover in San Francisco…….no free WIFI….argh….lots of shoe shine places, the toilet seat covers are always stocked and there are tons of dykes to smile coyly at!

  37. My mother NEVER reads this blog. She finds blogs trifling and self-indulgent.

  38. Maggie Jochild says:

    HEY! T
    “Fun Home” by Alison Bechdel

    Alison Bechdel calls her graphic memoir a “family tragicomic,” though the story in a lesser artist’s hands would probably have come out simply sad. The book is an investigation of her own childhood, spent in the ornate Victorian house her father obsessively restored and maintained, and the way her understanding of that childhood was overturned after she came out to her parents at 19. The return whammy, delivered by her mom, was that her father had a lifelong history of affairs with men, including some of the teenage boys in the small Pennsylvania town where their family had lived for generations. A few weeks later, her father was killed in a highway accident that Bechdel believes was a form of suicide. Bechdel’s years of drawing a serial comic strip (the divine “Dykes to Watch Out For”) have honed her ability to convey oceans of feeling in a single image, and the feelings are never simple; “Fun Home” shimmers with regret, compassion, annoyance, frustration, pity and love — usually all at the same time and never without a pervasive, deeply literary irony about the near-impossible task of staying true to yourself, and to the people who made you who you are.

  39. Maggie Jochild says:

    Oops, prior post went off without me finishing it — this just up at, at
    By Laura Miller and Hillary Frey — then the review above.


  40. Danyell says:

    ‘Told you that the wacky effects are amazing…

  41. silvio soprani says:

    “Trifling and self-indulgent…” And here we are, dredging up our pasts and letting them percolate to the top…

    Maybe that’s why the British call that dessert “trifle.” It has layers and layers and layers of stuff…depending on your taste, some good, some better…

  42. QKelly says:

    About the family trips — Forgive me for moralizing or sounding like somebody’s admonishing auntie, but I hope you can enjoy these times despite the inevitable family tensions and church. We just learned this week that my mother has terminal cancer; this Christmas will probably be her last. My visits, with all their goodness and badness and weirdness, all their wonderful ordinary family-ness, will soon be a thing of the past. Sure, we had irritable times and screaming times and hectoring times. And great times. I’m going to miss them all like hell. Enjoy your family while you can.

  43. Bianco says:

    wow… meryl streep is your mom? πŸ˜‰ fab pic πŸ™‚

  44. mlk says:

    reading this blog makes me smile πŸ™‚

    but I’m confused about blogs being trifling and self indulgent. didn’t Alison’s mother blog for a season? maybe she wised up and that’s why she stopped . . . or is it all this back chat that’s trifling? *that* I guess I could believe, but the trifling back chat’s so much fun!!

  45. My mom didn’t really blog. She wrote a column for her local newspaper, and I just posted them on a blog for her. I thought she’d get into it, but she didn’t.

  46. Marina says:

    I can’t eat most of things with my eating lifestyle. I eat by low glycemic guidelines. Are there any other foods? WBR LeoP

  47. Timoty says:

    cool blog!

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