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Archive for January, 2012

Today marks the beginning of the Year of the Dragon. This year, I’ve been thinking a lot about my grandmother, Florence Kiley Culkin, who was a dragon and loved Chinese New Year. She went to a Chinese New Year party every year and would distribute the party favors to her descendants born in the year being celebrated. (I was very upset when I broke the little porcelain rooster she sent me). The first piece of writing I ever published was about her.  It first appeared in the anthology Ladies, Start Your Engines: Women Writers and Cars and the Road (between pieces by Emily Post and Patti Smith!).   Middlebury Magazine later ran it in a slightly altered form.  (It used to be online, but apparently Middlebury took down some older issues–hopefully it will be back eventually). The essay is about, among other things, her red convertible, my El Camino, and the fact that, given our similar personalities, it was better to be born in 1969 than 1916.

My grandmother was perhaps a frustrated dragon, who might have liked to do something else other than live in upstate New York as a mother and housewife. But as you can see in the pictures below she was always stylish and was a lot of fun.  The pictures don’t show how smart she was, but she was that too.  She graduated from the Normal School in Oswego when she was 18, then taught during the school year and earned her B.A. during summers at Syracuse.  Here is some advice she gave me: “Smart girls don’t have to get married.  Always make your own money.  Spend your birthday money on something fun, not anything practical.” Wise words, all.

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