My Mother, The Typist

May 12, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

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Ruth Ware '29 FlapperIn honor of the Mother’s Day celebrations across the land, I want to pay homage to Ruth Ware, the quintessential Flapper when she graduated on the eve of the Great Depression from Radcliffe College–a school known in her day as the “Harvard Annex.”  (Just an aside, but now women graduate from Harvard…)Ciji - Rught & Maggie pals

We have long heard stories from friends like Maggie Richardson (on right, slanted hat–a newspaper woman in the 1940s and later editor for the Women’s Section at the old Los Angeles Examiner), that Ruthie may have been “one smart cookie,” but never let an approaching exam keep her from a good party at the Harvard Law School!

4.5The daughter of wealthy parents in Chicago, her graduation present was a trip around the world on an ocean liner, arriving back home October 1. On October 29th, the Crash of ’29 hit with such force that her father, who had invested most of his money “on margin,” lost the majority of his investments and, eventually, control of a washing machine company of which he was then president. distribution-of-bread-and-coffee-to-needy

As breadlines became a common sight on city streets, the family moved to a cold water flat on La Salle Street.  My grandmother reportedly had a nervous breakdown, my grandfather, who’d moved to Seattle to establish an insurance company, died mysteriously in a hotel, and Mom’s kid brother was told there would be no college education in his future.

220px-Telephone_operators,_1952Ruthie immediately talked her way into a job as a switchboard operator in the Chicago law firm run by the father of her then-boyfriend—a charming young buck who immediately dropped her and married someone else.  During those next tough years, my mother kept her mother in food and shelter and helped pay the tuition for her kid brother to remain in the Parker School, a posh private high school she’d also attended. Fortunately, their great uncle housed her brother while he earned his own way through a teacher’s college in Missouri.Mom in Radcliffe play, 1920's_NEW_0001

Certainly, the 1930s were a far cry from my mother’s carefree 1920s when she wore stylish cloche hats, danced the Charleston all night, and appeared in amateur college theatricals (Ruth is second from left).

But lest we get too dewy-eyed at this juncture, it’s important to note that my mother was certainly no sentimentalist. This was the woman who, as Captain of the Girls Basketball Team, played the championship game with a broken arm!  And as regards the annual celebrations of the mothers of this world, my mother considered Mother’s Day a “Hallmark Holiday, created solely to sell greeting cards–an idea the industry sold to their cronies in Congress.”  No fluffy, romantic was Ruth Ware. True grit describes her best.Ciji - Dad Ciji Mom Chicago 1954

Her life story was a common one for women who were in their maturity in the 1950s: she ultimately became a wife and mother–and typist for my father, Harlan Ware, whom she met–where else?– at an office Christmas party.


By the time the two became engaged, my dad was launching into a successful career as a writer of films, short stories, radio dramas, novels, and ultimately television (though he hated the medium).  He was of the opinion that writers–“to be real pros”–had to be willing to write anything and everything that could support a family of five, not to mention a couple of hangers-on relatives that traveled in our wake….Ciji-Ruth Harlan Pals in nightclub 40s_NEW

But was my mother merely the one who typed the final copy of whatever manuscript my father had on deadline that week?  During their nearly forty years of marriage, she was right by his side, absorbing the sights and drama of their life together in Hollywood, and later, Carmel-by-the-SeaWas she just the scribe who dutifully corrected his spelling and punctuation and never added or word of phrase of her own?  Could this very brainy lady resist making a suggestion or two, or thinking, as she typed, typed, typed everyday upstairs in his office when he headed out to walk the Carmel Beach with our dog to clear his head, that a paragraph or two needed some serious editing–and then just do it?

IMG_0349Having lived myself for nearly four decades with a fellow writer, I cannot believe she didn’t collaborate with him in some significant ways.  Over the years, Tony and I certainly have, exchanging our work, making sometimes unwanted suggestions scribbled with our proverbial red pencils, but always admitting to each other afterward that what we’d produced was better for having been looked over by two sets of eyes before “the world” could make its critique.Ms. Ruth Ware Grad

My father often said that he was stunned he’d wooed and won a woman of such major intelligence and classical education–and he adored her. I remember him gazing at her one time when we were in the car, motor running, waiting for her to close the garage door.  He said that day, “Marrying your mother was the luckiest thing that ever happened to me.”  Was his statement purely personal, and had nothing to do with his profession?  Hmmmmm…

Sadly, both of my parents died when I was in my twenties, and because I, too, became a professional writer, I probably mention my father far more often in casual conversation than I do my mom.

However, I think it’s about time I gave my mother her due. If she had lived in a different era, she could have been CEO of Facebook.  Really.  She was that sharp. And I have no doubt that–as writer Irving Stone‘s wife admitted after the death of the author of Lust for Life and other bestselling tomes–I suspect Ruth Ware did a lot more than just correct Harlan Ware’s typos.

Ciji-Ruth Ware Chicago CUSo Hallmark Holiday or not, Happy Mother’s Day, Mom….I salute and thank you for your high standards and demands for excellence, your mid-Western good sense, and your amazing grace under pressure.

Mother’s Day Kudos to “Storytelling Moms”

April 29, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

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IMG_0198Recently my son sent me this wonderful photo of my daughter-in-law reading to our two grandsons.  As an author myself, and the daughter, granddaughter, and niece of professional writers, I say hats off and a huge thank you to all the “Storytelling Moms”–and Dads–who take the time to share their love of literature with the next

However, Mother’s Day is upon us on May 12th, and this is by way of honoring the women in children’s lives who offer writers like me the inspiration to just keep typing!  So here’s my heartfelt tribute to women like…

michelle_obama_at_marys_center_for_maternal_and_child_care-300x200…our country’s First Lady.  Not only has Michelle Obama used her own Bully Pulpit to urge us to be mindful of healthy eating, she has been tireless in her promotion of literacy and the joys—and necessity—of reading to our kids.reading-to-children

And let’s remember to show our gratitude to the women across the country that not only read to their own children, but—as teachers—read to nation’s children nearly every day in the classroom.  For youngsters who may not have anyone else in their lives taking the time to read to them, these are the people who often provide the spark that ignites a lifetime of literacy.

8MARYALTAFFERapI also appreciate the celebrity moms like the singer Madonna who show by example that reading to their kids can never begin too early…or stop too soon.

Reading to children has been around along time, of course.  Just have a look at  this wonderful portrait by the American painter Mary Cassett (1844-1926) who created a number of lovely images of women with books in their hands, surrounding by young ones.  A friend of Edgar Degas and other French Impressionists, Cassett emphasized the intimate bonds between mother and child and she did a remarkable number of works that are variations on this theme.cassat-reading-to-children

2013-04-01T165804Z_775578721_GM1E94202HN01_RTRMADP_3_OBAMA-2So on this upcoming Mother’s Day, let us pay homage to all mothers (fathers and grandparents, too) who consistently read to their offspring–and even to their canines, as you see here with First Dog, Bo!

Not only do they create the readers that authors like me aspire to please, but their efforts most often result in the molding of that most wonderful creation: a literate human being!


That Summer in Cornwall is Ciji Ware’s latest novel that deals with good moms—as well as the other kind…