A sampling of articles about Vondy from the July 2007 issue of The Fossil
(Selected from the volume of the same title published by C. A. A. Parker from Saugus, Massachusetts in 1925.)
How strange and old the city looks tonight
The dancers flitter to the self-same notes
And yet how old, how old and strangely still
I love the rushing crowdedness of things!
I love the cry of vendors in the street,
I love the clamor of this busy life,
Black Sheep we called him, just because he strayed
From out our fold of proper things,—the things
That we called proper,—sought new ways and found
Them tracking over hills and through wide fields
Full-grown with tanglewood and underbrush.
Black Sheep! Because he was not ever bound
—Four years upon the sea, and five beyond
We knew that he should join the Escadrille.
But when the little word came home today
An eerie whistle in the fog tonight
Brought it all back—that one last time you came
Limping to port. I heard you making light
Of all the danger you had struggled through
With your gay laugh, and call me by a name
That was a sort of secret with us two.
I almost felt that you would come again.
But suddenly it all was very plain:
It took that whistle in the fog tonight
Before you came the springtime was to me
A time for trees to bloom, for birds to mate;
But now I stand on tiptoe, hope and wait,
And thrill with all its glad expectancy.
Before you came the warm hours tarried long;
And feel the passioned throb of autumning
For you are flaring sky and burning plain
I would not have you know I love you dear
By any little softly spoken word,—
Such idle words as careless loves have heard
From my own lips and treasured half a year.
Nor would I have my touch mean more to you
But O my love, some time the words will come
I would be to you
The burning desert,
Intense with a fierce white heat,
Parching your throat,
Searing your eyes,
Scorching through your body
Like a flaming torch
I would be to you
When this brief summer time is spent
I shall come here to sit
And dream how happily it went
And ponder over it.
For I shall love this tangled hill
And though our paths wind far apart
What other wistful eyes your eyes have sought,
And when and where it matters not to me;
Enough that when they seek mine hunger-frought,
They burn with kindled fire eagerly.
What hands have fluttered through your ruffled hair
Why need I care for that, or grieve for this,
He runs his restless fingers through my hair
And looks into my restless eyes to see
If he can find within them anywhere
A hint of ecstasy,
And he does not know that he is reading there
Longing for other fingers in my hair.
(Reprinted from Lee Hawes's The Gator Growl (whole no. 68) for April 1959.)
On a winter's night, in a chic Washington salon, a group of adults, otherwise sane, was talking a strange lingo studded with neologisms. An intrigued novice, ears flared, caught one recurrent term in the web of verbiage, like the equivalent of the letter E in a Grand Naval Code. He suddenly boomed, "Who or what is Vondy?" Incredulous laughter issued from initiates present, for it was unbelievable that anyone in the amateur world did not know who Vondy was.
Had the questioner attended a NAPA convention, he would have known that even in Tasmania Edna Hyde MCDonald is known automatically as Vondy. Had he been to many conventions, he would have heard Mrs. McDonald edify banqueteers by reciting the Genesis of her trademark (from von der Heide, her original family name). Only the late great Edkins was permitted to call her Edna.
Vondy has been a planet in the amateur solar system, principally in a National-Fossil orbit, since 1909. She is loaded with laureates, has held most of the National's offices one or more times, and is a veteran convention attendee. Occasionally she tells close friends she is not going to the convention. She doesn't like the city, or the hotel (ask her some day about the bathtubs in Boston's Hotel Essex). Or she is impatient with the antics of amateur journalism's motley herd. But she is always there. As a friend has observed, "Wild dogs couldn't keep her away."
At any convention she is dominant but not domineering. She need not seek center stage because she has met or corresponded with more amateur journalists than anyone else—except Willametta. For years the willing prey of visitors to Manhattan, she has collected many anecdotes. One of these glows with the patina of many tellings: When a young, bearded Shakespearean actor escorted her—a reluctant Juliet—to her Brooklyn home, the fatherly conductor, knowing her as a commuter, said nothing. The next morning he asked, "Where'd you find Jesus?"
She has seen the National in its peaks and valleys. The four-person Niagara Falls convention of 1928. The Smith-Haggerty renaissance of the early '30's. An empty treasury in 1949, when Ralph Babcock printed an issue of The National Amateur on a proof press in a Kansas rooming house. The current years of treasury funds in three figures and an interest-bearing Life Members Fund.
She has seen its captains and kings arrive—and depart: Truman Spencer, Tim Thrift, Ernest Edkins, Edwin Hadley Smith, Vincent Haggerty. She has seen Ralph Babcock and Harold Segal, boy printers and bad boys of earlier days, turn into dignified ranch householders and fine printing craftsmen, and Helm Spink change from an elderly adolescent to a young elder statesman. She saw the era of "Boss Cheeseburger" Lindberg come and go, and has been publicly patient with a raucous Heins.
Throughout these years she has acquired a sense of mission and an imperturbability reassuring to many, maddening to some. When National members met to plan the 1949 Brooklyn convention, she said, "I am the most prominent amateur journalist in metropolitan New York." Her remark stemmed from conviction, not from braggadocio: her clear-sightedness seldom stops short of herself. When Jean Harler wrote her now famous attack on the Inner Circle, Vondy was sure she was the prime target.
Publicly she meets slings and arrows with aplomb if not with indifference. In 1952, when Earle Cornwall was appointed historian, and then jettisoned by a president afraid of openly opinionated originality, Vondy sleekly accepted the post. The next year she sat quietly at Jackson while the outgoing president, in an extraordinary performance, took the floor to criticize the work of her historian. When Vondy's history of the 18-vote, fourth ballot administration was printed, only the ultra-knowing detected the arrowheads dipped in whipped cream. At another time, when criticized for omitting quotation marks from a portion of Scripture used in a poem, Vondy said nothing publicly. Privately she observed, "Everyone should know the Bible is in the public domain."
She once said of a friend, "She considers plainness a virtue." Vondy herself is neither plain nor flamboyant. She dresses well, not ostentatiously. Her tailored suits and dresses run principally to shades of tan, rust, and brown. Accents are always carefully chosen costume jewelry and a capacious purse of good leather. She is a chain-smoker, drinks sparingly.
She is at home with anyone, anywhere—on a flooded subway, in a plush hotel, in the Michigan pines, or in a Mexican restaurant. Her unruffled composure in all circumstances suggests the words cosmopolite and sophisticate. But they imply a veneer she does not possess. Warmly human, she is a woman of the world who tolerates codes of conduct in others that she would not adopt for herself. She never tries to reform Babcocks or crackpots, or to assume a "Mother-knows-best" attitude toward younger amateurs.
Vondy has written for the professional as well as for the amateur press. She collaborates with her husband in writing for house-organs, and has written fiction for a Canadian syndicate. As a result of dealings with hard-to-please editors, her eyes stay dry when do-gooders wail that our literary novices must be kept in cocoons, safe from critics. Ironically, she is not an incisive critic herself.
She has written both prose and poetry for the amateur press; her many laureates were won in numerous classifications, living and dead. A collection of her poems, "From Under a Bushel," was printed in 1925 by C. A. A. Parker. As the introduction says, this volume is "a marvel of tender and epitomized lyricism," in the first-person-singular, drink-life-to-the-bitterest-dregs, I-have-loved-and-lost-and-loved-again, chins-up-against-the-shifting-gales mode of Edna St. Vincent Millay. Her frequent poetry in later years has reflected the pressing events and eventful pressures of the modern world. "Question," 1957 laureate winner, glooms with the shadows of concentration and slave labor camps.
Vondy has published journals under seven different titles. She is best remembered for Bellette, a mimeographed periodical packed with the chattiness and informality of her personal letters. When Ernest Edkins joined her in its pages to bring informed criticism to the National, some members, always hostile to anything less than full approval, agonized. Bellette has been in drydock for years.
For Vondy good citizenship in the amateur world is more than paying dues, reading journals, attending conventions, publishing, or winning laureates. It is quietly taking over the Secretary-Treasurer job in 1954 when there was talk of super deluxe official organs, association-financed mailings, and other Cadillac uses of a Chevrolet treasury. It is providing life memberships, without fanfare, for some overseas members who had difficulty in paying dues because of currency restrictions. It is nurturing the idea of a Life Members Fund, started by Cleveland's Harry Martin in 1950, into a fiscal silo should the lean years come again.
Amateur Journalism has not been all of Vondy's life. She has many other interests and friends. For many years she was secretary to a prominent lawyer-philanthropist in New York. And she had the responsibilities of a faculty wife when her husband, now retired, was a professor of English at New York University. Mr. McDonald, once a National member, now views his wife's ajay activities with ironically amused indifference.
Vondy, however, is unlikely to give up these activities, even though the amateur world she knows today is not that of a few decades ago. Gone are the early days of the association, when conventions were more boy-meets-girl affairs than they are now. Gone too are the parliamentary maneuverings of the Edwin Hadley Smiths, the Edward H. Coles, the Ed Suhres. But she has neither gone into sullen retirement nor cried havoc. Nowadays she occupies herself at conventions with minute keeping or just keeping quiet while free-versifiers and other Philistines murder Robert's rules of order and the traditions of the National.
It is in the evening, at the prebanquet inner circling in someone's hotel room, that in the words of Pope, "At every word a reputation dies." Attired in a well-fitting evening or cocktail dress (she wishes more women would dress for the banquets as she does), Vondy talks volubly and epigrammatically of amateur affairs in which she has figured, and announces that she will publish another Bellette.
This same quiet verve extends into other after-hours sessions, particularly at those American conventions where attendance by sensation-seeking Nationalites has become a vogue in recent years. You will find her wherever there is relaxed, informal talk and an audience for her rich, anecdotal experiences in ajay. An outstanding example of her adaptability is her affinity with the Beat Generation as exemplified in the younger members of the American, whose conventions are usually a long night's journey into day. If the good companions of the halcyon days, the Burton Cranes, the Tony Moitorets, are gone, they can be replaced, if vicariously, by a Jim Lemon, an Ed Kenney, a Wes Wise.
Basically, however, her heart is with the National. At a United Convention in New York the late Joseph Lynch attacked National policies, particularly those of its official editors. When Vondy rose to speak, she scrapped whatever she was going to say and in a rich voice, slightly raked with emotion, presented a spirited, moving defense of the National and its traditions. It is a paradox that this devotion has not brought her the National presidency. At Roanoke in 1952 she could have been elected almost by acclamation; in any year she could have it for the asking. Perhaps she declines it because of memories of losing it more than 35 years ago, when campaigns were bitter and personal. Or perhaps she feels that after her many years as an amateur journalist the presidency would be anti-climactic, the unwanted beginning of an unwarranted end. To Vondy this would be unthinkable, for to her the National, though not necessarily a way of life, is an important part of her life—from 1909 to eternity.
(Reprinted from The Fossil (whole no. 164), January 1960.)
The important milestones of amateur journalism are those achieved by its individual members rather than by the hobby as a whole. This is because amateur journalism is more than an institution and less than an art: it is predominantly an adventure in human relations. As such, it imposes demands and offers rewards on the basis of personal achievement—which is why amateur journalism has its golden ages and its periods of aridity: times when there is an abundance of striking personalities and others when there are none.
In these terms, quite the most important event of 1959 was the jubilee of Mrs. Edna Hyde McDonald in the hobby. Fifty years of Vondy is a proper occasion for jubilation, best appreciated if one thinks instead of the cheerless prospect of 50 years without Vondy! Just the cancellation of her volumes of The Fossil from the file of this august journal would be a dolorous loss. To remove all trace of her Bellette—that piquant ma'moiselle who followed a period of literary dowagers and elegant litterateurs—would be to torture history beyond recognition.
And these perhaps have been the least of her contributions. A loss I personally could not sustain would be the obliteration of all memory of her poetry. In her poetry—the quintessence of thought and feeling in a rarely perceptive woman—Vondy has enriched the lives of all of us. Her poetry reaches up from the profundity of the soul into the simplest forms of expression, which is the accomplishment of all true art.
But the literary achievements of Edna McDonald, high as they go, are not the only, and perhaps not the most remarkable, aspect of her influence on amateur journalism. It is the presence of Vondy herself in the amateur scene—a tireless matriarch to whom youngsters take problems as delicate as their sex life and elders the enigmas of living—that has enriched the experience of amateur journalism for so many.
To out-of-town amateurs, for more than one generation, Vondy has symbolised New York itself, where she has presided over the amateur scene for at least 30 years. A trip to that city of thin, sublime bridges, and tall, aspiring buildings has meant for the amateur journalist a visit to Vondy, either in her apartment on University Avenue with its ghost of an academician or in the nooks where noisy New York keeps its few silences for talk and romance. Vondy is the presiding spirit in either of these scenes, for her quiet, captivating personality shines naturally against the big-city background. She is not a girl of the greenwoods to take start at the intrusion of strangers or strange ideas; and she is not a woman of Main Street bounded by the implacable Main Street morality and convention. She is essentially a free citizen of the world—of the world of ideas and spiritual concepts; and New York is her home because New York is as much of the world as she can have without a life of travel.
It seemed peculiarly appropriate to me that Vondy recently should have had a job with the United Nations, for Vondy has always represented in amateur journalism the "one world" concept—the one world of ideas, hopes and dreams in which men live when the shovel, the spanner or the ledger can be put aside. The bearded actor, the cub reporters, the cocktail-clinking sophisticate, the aging printer and gardener, the rooted housewife dreaming of the empyrean: all these are of Vondy's world if they only have sapience beneath even the dullest exterior.
Vondy in a sense is a timeless woman—almost an ageless woman. And this is because she has never lived on the surface where time commits its parodies, its inevitable theft of youth. She admits to having been "rearranged somewhat" by the years; but this simply an outward change. The woman within the physical body has resisted time with an elixir that purifies the perceptions and keeps mentality at the vigorous pitch of potboil. She even desires the wonderful and foolish things of youth but with the discretion of one who now stands at one remove from their urgency.
Characteristic of the essential Vondy is her one intense dislike, her one intolerance perhaps. She cannot abide stupidity and ignorance. Virtue is sufficient to the time and the occasion—and foibles are the endearments of human relations. So Vondy is the better for a prejudice or two; and in these at least she copies nature in rejecting the duds and the weak. Here she allows herself her one emotional extravagance and will sizzle with an excoriating wit at the expense of some dullard, especially if he has added the unpardonable sin of boorishness. Buffoonery, pettiness, mistakes and stubbornness she can accept; and envy and jealousy she can understand, for she has received them. But stupidity, and the rudeness it sometimes engenders, are beyond her comprehension.
The human being without wrath is lifeless; the woman without wrath has not been born. Vondy, in whom eternal woman dwells and flowers up in poetry, is wrathful for the best reasons, not the inconsequential ones that so often bemuse us men. It's an understandable reaction that flings away in anger from the ignorant; for in our society they are the wilfully ignorant, rejecting every enticement that the hobby, that the modern world itself, offers to curiosity. This is what surpasses Vondy's understanding, and indeed the understanding of most of us: the desireless state of not knowing and not caring to find out. It's evidence of an alienness that goes far deeper than language, creed or custom; and alienness of mind, or an alienness of condition, which Vondy with the best of intentions cannot penetrate. These people would be among the few outcasts from Vondy's "one world."
To see her in her world one should view Vondy from several standpoints.
Ernest Edkins once remarked that one of Vondy's greatest accomplishments was to be loved by other women. I am inclined to doubt that, for women are constitutionally opposed to giving much love, faith or charity to their own sex. Their acquaintances among other women may be wide and often rewarding, but when it comes to the deep bonds in which love and friendship are intermixed women are essentially worshippers of the opposite sex. (Men, on the other hand, generally give their deepest respect to fellow men and are inclined to treat women shabbily.) So I do not see Vondy as more than superficially popular with other women. There are exceptions, of course; but if Vondy is to find her true assessment as an artist—as a being—it will be a man who gives it.
Beneath the exquisite femininity of her are many masculine traits, or traits that have appeal for the masculine mind. There is her essential mental quality which establishes her values—mind over matter and, in its place, spirit over intellect. There is an evident quality of fairness which prefers debate over doubtful issues to emotional appeal or denial.
Vondy is unusually tolerant, allowing a place in the sun to all but the most patent stupidities of attitude and belief. She has, also, the strength of heart to hold beliefs in suspension, neither affirming nor denying them. To resist an appealing dogma often requires more strength than to accept the convenient staff it offers; and Vondy can achieve this difficulty of eyeing what she might like to believe with equanimity.
Then there is vanity—another traditionally masculine trait. It appears just occasionally in her own recognition of her talent. Most men will be able to understand this because they are so susceptible to it themselves: but to a woman in a woman it is usually unforgivable.
During the war, Vondy remarked that life without men would be hell. I can imagine Du Barry or Josephine saying the same thing, not because of what they were but because of what they wanted—life in a man's world. Vondy has no preference as such for men over women: she has preferences for certain people. And it is apparent that she has found more fellow spirits among men than among women. There is no doubt that she is welcome in a man's world. The impact Vondy makes through her letters and other writings is not primarily that of a woman. Except in her love poems, where necessarily she reflects the possessed rather than the possessor, she appears as a person first, as a woman second. The original allure is of a subtle and intelligent mind; whatever impression might come afterwards is relegated by this first and increasing awareness of the seeker, the debater, the seer. It is Eve certainly; but Eve in the maturity of her role as man's companion. Vondy could be, I imagine, that paradox in nature, the perfect via-a-vis in a Platonic friendship. For such a woman not to be an outcast among women is a tribute to her tact and fair play.
It is this quality of Eve that I would choose as (oddly enough) her Achilles' heel. "She thinks like a man, but alas! she feels like a woman" was Byron's comment on Madame de Stael, a person of many conquests and much influence in Napoleonic France. Byron's description, to some degree, explains Vondy. There is no figure more arresting than the woman who exercises a man's values and builds on to them the best of the feminine contribution. It is rather like having the best of two worlds and is a role no man could ever occupy. But for one fatal flaw it might achieve the sublime. Unfortunately, it requires a spread of effort in two directions at once, towards the masculine and towards the feminine, which essentially are poles apart. Perfection (as we incompletely understand it) is the result of desperate concentration on one goal only.
For the very fact of her versatility Vondy falls short of the ultimate. In her poetry she goes furthest, fixing sweetness on life's decay and endowing the simple act of observation with prophecy. But though her poetry may murmur urgently at the immemorial ear, it does not engulf the imagination entirely. It is suggestive, stimulating and beautiful; but it is never an exhaustion of all our faculties, which the richest in the artistic experience occasionally is.
There is the mark of Eve! And thus the justification of Byron's alas! for the earth-hugging emotions of woman. They are, it seems, the one last hurdle she can never quite leap to absolute freedom.
The foregoing is my attempt to see Vondy, in the last analysis, against the whole gallant progression of life—to give her her niche amongst the colossi. But to leave mention of her talent there is to leave the picture only a fraction filled in. Elsewhere recently I have dealt with the personal joy and deep admiration that her writings inspire in me; and these feelings need to be recalled here.
It has been said of genius that it has extra sensitivity, suffering and rejoicing more than other men. In her poetry, and in some of her short stories, is the evidence of one who drinks more deeply at the Cup than most. Love has been a thing of rapt emotion—and death the burial not just of Old Mortality but of part of the poet's own soul. So if Vondy has not genius she has talent oozing from the ears. All that she writes is a delight to read; even her letters convey these further intimations of one who extracts a richness far beyond the ordinary from living.
I am hoping that there has been of late, or will be soon, a statement by Vondy about poetry: She has much to teach a new generation of poets. Poetry is about our most expendable product in amateur journalism today, flowing out like toffee from neat, meaningless machines which keep us starved on a diet of surfeit. In Vondy a poem undergoes conception, gestation and birth: it is a child of joy and anguish, but most notably of effort. In this way she mothers on it the true and mysterious character a poem must have if it is to fetch us up in wonder.
In 50 years Vondy has written less poetry than many writers will produce in a year; in that time she has written more beautiful poetry than any other present member.
Half a century is a long time for continuous attachment to a hobby. Fortunately Vondy is not exposed to the sort of fate that makes the good die young. Her kindest biographer would never suggest she has led a blameless life; and if he did Vondy, wherever she might be, would laugh at his credulousness. Vondy is pure of heart; but like the rest of us a little sinful of action. I do not know which of the seven deadly sins she has to account for in her prayers; but I know that a woman so eager, vibrant, gifted and curious cannot avoid them all.
I think, too, that Vondy is not the sort to act on sermonising or accept borrowed experience: she would have to go and consult with temptation herself—a process which, except in the irrecoverably weak, usually leads to a more enduring virtue.
In her New York eyrie, itself a Hub Club of the Amateur spirit, Vondy has found a world largely made to order. It has given her all classes of people and all blends of experience. Above all, it has given her friends, and enough friends so that none may possess her too much or limit her horizons. From this world she makes periodic excursions into the hinterland to discover other amateurs of whom she has a vast acquaintance: she once confessed to knowing personally about 200 of the National's membership of 350. But mostly they seek her out in her own environment.
There are the Edward Coles who drive down from Massachusetts and take her to lunch "somewhere out in the countryside." There was the late Maurice Moe who used to come to town once every two years or so; and then he and Vondy would sit on the steps of the New York Public Library at 42nd and Fifth and recount tale after tale until the tears rolled down their cheeks—a strange sight for even New York's hardened citizens. All would be explained, however, if only they knew that this distinguished-looking woman and her companion were amateur journalists—queer fish with the ability to create and re-create their own world in bus or den, Brooklyn or Roanoke—or even Front Room Sundays.
The desiccated atmosphere of the Front Room, a hallowed symbol of the Victorian Era, was still surviving when Vondy entered amateur journalism. The Boston Ladies—likely enough to hold a Tea Party of their own!—were a force to inhibit the brasher young folk of today's conventions. Their names are still a little awe-inspiring: Edith Miniter, Ethel May Johnston Myers, Laurie Sawyer. Vondy went to her first convention (Bridgeport 1914) chaperoned by a maiden aunt and fell in love with them. And not with them alone if the trace of lavender which the reader still can catch in musty journals is to be trusted. Some of the boys with whom she joked and wisecracked and walked home through the late lamented evenings of that era were soon to face death. On the other side of the world the sublime era was ending in the as yet muffled roar of the Great War. Vondy in those days was living the moments which later she was to make imperishable in her poetry. Even then there were Vincent Haggerty and Edward Cole, stalwarts with whom Vondy was to grow and harvest moments unredeemable among the spendthrift pleasures of life.
She was then Edna von der Heide, exotic of name and already sufficiently accomplished as writer to be carrying off the Laureates or winning Honorable Mentions for poetry and short story.
Almost from the outset she plunged into the excitements of politics. Joining the National in November 1912, she was appointed the following January by Edward Cole to the vacant post of Second Vice President. The convention of 1913 elected her Treasurer and thrust upon her the herculean task of assembling all her own records, for none had been passed on to her. The next year she was almost an official board by herself. The membership elected her Secretary; immediately after the convention she inherited the duties of Treasurer when Rheinhart Kleiner resigned the office; and halfway through the year she became Official Editor on the resignation of Hubert Reading. For a comparative newcomer it was a rigorous call to duty; and in loyalty and skill Vondy was not found wanting.
Of that year 1914-15 Vondy writes: "This was a period when the NAPA was perhaps at its very lowest ebb. There was absolutely no money in the treasury: there was no official record of membership. Leston Ayres (President) and I worked nights, Sundays and holidays in an effort to untangle the mess, and we only partially succeeded. The Official Organ for the period in which I was Editor is a sorry disgrace; but I did the best I could what with my inexperience and total lack of data and money."
At the convention of 1915 she sought the reward of her workhorse years: the presidency. But an influence like Tammany Hall defeated her and she went down, a victim to the campaign of George Julian Houtain. The presidency she could have at any time now with affection and acclamation. But I agree with the conclusion of Verle Heljeson and Tom Whitbread that she probably regards it as an anti-climax.
Although in recent years Vondy has served the National again for half a year as Official Editor and has been its Secretary-Treasurer for a term, she has largely stood clear of the political activities by which lesser men leave their mark. The political mark is on material change; and all the great visionaries of human society seek to affect man in his thought and his life-work.
This, I believe, is the great advantage of Vondy: that she is a visionary. In moments of clear perception she can stand aside and view people, things and her own fleshly experience without any confusion of The Dream with its momentary failures and asides. People walk a little nakedly before her gaze. She can understand the little Bads that go to make the ultimate Good and not be greatly concerned over them. Such is the proper structure of tolerance. In so much of her literary product is this slightly remote and comforting impression of one who, while enjoying the immediate experience, enjoys it not too much but remains aware of higher goals and underlying motives.
Applied to amateur journalism, this attitude makes Vondy a willing participant in our conventions and even an apparently sly plotter at the caucus sessions. For some, these are amateur journalism. For Vondy they are but a facet, an amusing aside within the Dream she cherishes. That dream—that vision of a healthy, enthusiastic, creative hobby which she hopes to realize—is implicit in almost he every utterance. She wants to effect for amateur journalism not the enactment of new laws or the enthronement of new leaders but the development within its ranks of a new climate to encourage the growth of our flowers.
She knows that magazines like Far Afield, The Scarlet Cockerel, Siamese Standpipe, and in their time The Aonian and Go-Ahead, do not issue out to an audience of lazy and unappreciative souls: they are encouraged only by the prospect of thoughtful and sympathetic reception.
Writers like Ernest Edkins, Clifford Laube, Rheinhart Kleiner, Michael White—all, Vondy's friends or intimates—are not attracted to the amateur press unless they can feel an atmosphere of delight and opinion, conducive to their mental occupation. One person active in creating these conditions influences many others about her and, though her position as the pivot on which a great deal of activity turns may not be apparent, it is no less real.
When circumstances (not her own desires) propelled her into the editorship of The Fossil in 1948, Vondy, on one of the rare occasion she has let it happen, mounted a pulpit. And, rarer still for the pulpiteer, she had a grateful congregation. The editorials of The Fossil through those volumes bristle with the exhortations of a cleric to her errant flock. At times there is hellfire, often appeal; but mostly there is exemplary practice of what she so ardently preaches. Many were caught up by this refurbishing of ideals for the hobby; and the work of Edward Cole, the saviour of The Fossils, was spread farther, and even more thankfully, abroad. It is in such work as this that Vondy nowadays most nearly fulfills herself.
Every woman of whom the epithet "fascinating" has been liberally used is a woman of many parts, for this is man's way of proclaiming his enslavement to the constant variety of her—the many charms and skills and spheres of knowledge she reveals in the ripening of acquaintance. There is so much variety in Vondy that she probably has been, as the Bible says, all things to all men. It's impossible to account for her wholly by dealing with her in separate parts: as sure as a number are contrived into an outline of her another will be discovered standing apart, yet looming up like a complete image of the woman, to mock the creation one has just drawn. The only way to produce a semblance of Vondy is to see her in totality. And sought in that perspective she appears most explicably as an amateur journalist.
I mean an amateur journalist in the rare sense of one who is dedicated to the cause. For most, amateur journalism is an affair of the heart in which they are inclined to be fickle: for Vondy it has been a marriage of the deepest constancy. And like a successful marriage it forms a background to living, not limiting one's activities or interests but enlarging them with a sense of shared and enlivened purpose.
In this larger role of the amateur journalist, Vondy merges the activities that flow variously out of her occupations as writer, thinker, publisher and friend. There is even a case to be argued that the amateur journalist in her has hampered the development of the writer. Possessed of high talent, she works less for the expression of talent than for the promotion of the well-being of amateur journalism. Her head bubbles with schemes for its advancement:—books that would anthologize the best of our writings, magazines that would awaken us to our more significant literary purpose, investments that would lay for ever the spectre of financial beggary. For the truth is that Vondy is grateful to amateur journalism and the influence it has had upon her life.
"The secret (she says) is that I have thoroughly enjoyed amateur journalism all through the years since 1912 when I entered the National Amateur Press Association. I have found many, sundry and diversified friends. I have come out of a shell of shyness and aloofness, and I have found love and friendship and much understanding among my contemporaries and fellow journalists. It has been a unique and educating experience that I would not trade for all the tea in China—and I do like tea."
Vondy now is in danger of becoming enmeshed in a myth, a myth to which she has not consciously contributed herself. One of its main ingredients in the nickname "Vondy" which she has worn as a unique distinction for the 40-odd years since Anthony Moitoret first dubbed her with it. Yet of this title she writes: "It should be thrown into the ash-heap. It seems inordinately silly for a mid-aged woman, particularly a staid and proper, bespectacled creature like me." She shows no desire to develop her own legend. I have enough respect for the common man to know that myths do not grow in the lifetime of their subjects without good cause. There is obviously some quality about Vondy which captures the popular imagination.
It is as hard, in trying to separate the myth from the individual, to look sideways through the mists of distance as it is to peer backwards through the mists of time. If I have confused Vondy with the mythical image of her, I plead the same difficulty as the historian who tries to disentangle Shakespeare from the Shakespeare Legend. Only the contemporaries—by which I mean in this case her physical companions—can have final possession of the truth. And they, too, will have to be of a specially discerning character.
But much of Vondy, and I should think her more genuine parts, do reach out through the distortions of distance, conveyed by her letters and published writings. For she has the happy property of being able to record herself on paper. She does not draw on the mask, as she takes up the role, of writer. She merely continues to act as herself. Her thought, skipping across the written or printed page, may delineate a fragment of philosophy or an incident from a conversation; but underlying every syllable is the personality of the woman herself. So it always seems to me that her writings are a good starting point for discovering Vondy.
I am now aware, too, of the reasons why the best appraisals of a writer's work and personality must wait on his passage out of this ephemeral existence. It takes a little more than human fortitude can stand to face the possibility of the subject him—or herself rising up like an angry ogre to confound the deductions and judgements the biographer has rashly attempted, and usually attempted out of incomplete knowledge. Thus, the remarks of the living about the living are usually exaggerated, slanted or for subjective reasons distorted in some way.
Vondy herself is aware of this position and has commented privately on the absence of any shrewd article about her, weighted with some contrary points of view to "refute all this florid display of fascination."
Anyone who is essentially honest is dissatisfied with heaped-up praise. Such a person wants most earnestly to get at the truthful opinion in which he is held; for he knows that it is rarely given the human being to impress everyone always in a favorable light. I guess that what he—and Vondy—really want is a summing up of all their characteristics in which, it's to be hoped, the good will outweigh the bad.
Now, whether I have managed herein such a beautiful sum or not I do not know. But of this I am certain: that the nicest calculation of the parts we relish and disrelish in Vondy always comes out most heavily in favor of the good and the desirable.
Vondy produced amateur journals, 1910-1959, under three different names as listed in the Moitoret Family Index of Amateur Journals:
Edna von der Heide:
Inspiration (with Donald G. Barnett), 8 issues 1914-1915
The National Amateur, 3 issues 1915
The National Official (with Edward H. Cole)
The Recruiting Feminine (with Coaralle Austin and others)
The Trail (with Alfred L. Hutchinson)
The Trumpeter (with George H. Conger)
The Inspiration ("Tribute Number"), Apr. 1917
The Boston Blade (with W. Alvin Cook), Nov. 1924
The Campaigner (with James F. Morton, Jr. and others)
The Convention Mirror (with Hazel Pratt Adams, Vera Dollman Gonder and Lucie Schneider), Sept. 1923
The Giddy Gazette (with Joseph Thalheimer, Jr.), Dec. 1920
Inspiration, Nov. 1919 and Dec. 1920, 2 issues
Edna Hyde McDonald:
Bellette, June 15, 1937-1959 (3 issues in 1938 with Ernest A. Edkins)
The Fossil, 1948-1951, 12 issues
Manuscript Bureau, 1958-1959, 2 issues
The National Amateur, 1945, 2 issues completing Burton Crane's term after he went to war
Odium, 1958-1959, 2 issues
Once Over (with Edward H. Cole)
The Wag, 1936, 1937, 1944, 1945 (with Helm C.Spink), 6 issues
(NOTE—The following story won for its author the laureateship in both the National and United Associations for 1914, the award being made by two sets of professional critics acting independently of each other. It appeared in The Blarney Stone for Nov.-Dec. 1914.)
He was a fruit and vegetable dealer by trade, and according to the latest census, but nobody knew just where Delsato had his place of business. In fact, as time went on, and one thing and another happened, people began to doubt if really there was any place at all. And Delsato lived—well, most of the time he lived in a little narrow stone-room on Centre Street, a little room that had one window in it, and that crossed with strong, iron bars. But when Delsato was "out" he stayed where Maria was and where the men came to "render unto their Caesar" the tribute which was his.
For a long time now he had been "out." For a long time he did not leave the place where Maria stayed. For a long time the men did not come at all. Only once Delsato went to meet them; in the big room over Tony's wine cellar. But he came back quickly and sat long by Maria and the little thing she held in her arms that night. On Saturday the men came again. There was much talking; talking that woke the baby and made Maria cry "Sh-h-h!"
"Out of my house," Delsato commanded, "out of my house, you crooks, you thieves. Leave me alone, I tell you, leave me alone." And he pushed the slinking ruffians out into the chilly night and the dark. And they went, like guilty men, who were responsible for what was happening in Caesar's house that night. And the baby died.
Maria wrung her hands under the yellow lamplight. Delsato went out. Down through the dim and deserted street he passed, head low, hands plunged deep in his pockets. Down past First Avenue, Second, Third, where the buildings grow tall and stand like spectres in the glimmer of street lamps. He turned uptown and wound his way still farther across the avenue. When the spectres loomed largest and ghastliest and the street lamps turned low and musty flickers upon them, he stopped. Anxiously, cautiously, he peered up, then down, the narrow street. Then, fearlessly, he let himself in, climbed up stairs that wound round and round in an almost perpetual circle, reached at last the perpendicular ladder to the roof, scaled it, came out on top. From his pocket he took the slender, tough rope always ready there. Quickly he fastened it round his waist and around the iron support of the cornice. Noiselessly he crept to the edge of the roof and let himself down, easily, lightly, as a monkey in the tropics swings from the tree limbs. And the lonely man in uniform, like a tiny spot down below, turned the corner unsuspectingly. Carefully the man sought and found the topmost window ledge, dexterously he unfastened the window and crawled in. With cunning stiffness he moved about and found what it was he wanted—the cashier's window. And then, slipping the rope from his waist, he went out by the door, closing first and fastening the window; closing too, the drawer from which he had plundered. Up the ladder he crept, unfastened the rope from the cornice, tucked it in his pocket and came away. The lonely man in uniform down below saw him pass quietly up the street. Back east he tramped, head low, hands plunged in his pockets, back to the room where Maria was and where the baby lay dead.
In the morning he and Maria carried it to "Brookleen." In a few days the men came again and many nights afterward all of them went out and stayed out long hours. Always, on these nights, Maria was alone—and afraid.
"Why you don't stay with me?" once she asked him.
"Shut up," was his answer.
Then there came a time when Delsato did not return. For many nights he did not come. And the men, too, stayed away. Maria did not know, but Delsato was "in" again—in the little stone-room on Centre Street. And Delsato, this time, was "caught with the goods" and "sent up."
It was nearing the Christmas season. Delsato had been nearly six months "on the Island." During that time the men had slipped, every week, his portion of their spoiling under the door of the place where Maria lived. And Maria never questioned.
The little stores on the Avenue were filled with Christmassy things. Artificial trees that glistened and shone at night; impossible toy animals and painted dolls with sawdust bodies. Right on the corner luscious cakes in green and spicy trimmings lay unsanitarily in array. Up farther, along the line of pushcarts, the big trees were already for sale. On the corner of Fourteenth a man stood, jumping toy monkeys up and down on strings. Maria stood by and watched him. She laughed at the animal's tactics. She bought one for ten cents.
Coming back to her own street again she passed by a tiny shop where, in the window, a glittering tree spun round and round on its axle. Maria went in and bought one that would not turn round. In tinsel and glistening ornaments she decked it. Under the eyes of Ave Maria she placed it. Then, with her toy animal in her hands, she sat down to glow over it. The Mother Mary looked down with sad and wondering eyes. In her arms the Baby seemed to nestle closer. Delsato's Maria stretched out her arms. "My bambina," she implored.
The door of the room was flung open. Delsato stood there. In his arms he held a bundle, soft and light. He thrust it out to Maria. "My bambina," her words were smothered in the baby's dress; her kisses rained on its tiny face. She raised her eyes to the Mother Mary in thankfulness of Her gift—the little dead baby restored to her.
Delsato stood immovably by the window, looking steadily out upon the crowded street below. A dishevelled woman, on the opposite side, was seeking vainly and frantically the baby whose carriage stood unguarded on the sidewalk.