This is fifth installment of the series. In this episode we ask, “How and when did the Club’s newsletters evolve, and who wrote these terrible jokes?”
Over the club’s first eight years, 1916 to 1923, four publications in booklet form were issued to all the homes (about 1,000) in the new Takoma Park development, which straddled Maryland and the District. One contained the Club’s constitution and raison d’etre; two had charts on when to plant vegetables. In 1918, the pamphlet said “It is realized that the existing (wartime) conditions will bring out many gardeners not familiar with the soil and other conditions peculiar to Takoma Park. To meet this condition, the Instruction Committee has been created. Men [with] several years‘ experience with the soil of this locality have been placed on this committee, one in each section of the Park.”
The early “News Letters” were in theory the responsibility of the Instruction and Publicity Committees but “as no one was directly responsible, issuance was not regular but was intermittent.”
In 1947, the new President of the Club, Mr. J. Wallace Talley, declared that the “News Letter” be so “in act as well as name.” Members should inform the editor of “anything of outstanding interest in their gardens. Also if you have anything to sell or desire to buy, the News Letter will be a good medium of publicity.” Questions of general interest could also be sent in.
Newsletters began to come out monthly and covered familiar topics: meeting announcements, gardening advice, requests for volunteers for the dozens of committees, welcome to new members. The most distinctive voice in the archival newsletter boxes is that of “Jake” Talley, who first appears on the masthead in the ’50s, writing a chatty rambling collection of scientific observations, announcements, goofy (sometimes politically incorrect) jokes, and social notes. They run to several pages and usually end with a few lines of poetry. Some examples:
“CAREFUL WITH THAT POWER MOWER
In 1963, says Science Newsletter, power lawn mowers took a toll of 50,000 toes and 18,000 fingers. That is a high price for being too lazy to use a hand mower. Your editor does NOT use a power mower. The boy next door cuts his lawn.”
“SMALL CHILD TO MOTHER: Do people come from dust? Yes. Do people return to dust? Yes, why do you ask? Well, there’s somebody under our bed either coming or going.”
“ABOUT THAT SEA BORN KELP touted to totally take away disease and bugs from the garden! Your editor is using it in his garden this spring, and while he does not know yet the reactions of the plants, he has noted an unpleasant reaction in the olfactory organs of man, that gives a clue as to why self-respecting bugs hunt other gardens. Don’t be too optimistic, because some bugs either have no olfactory organs or they just don’t give a hang.”
“PLEASE, PLEASE pay your dues so your News Letter editor can cease this everlasting repetition.”
“BATTLE OF THE SEXES: WSJ reports that men outdo and out purchase the ladies when it comes to gardening. Among the 40 million U.S. gardeners, men spend 7 to 8 times as much as ladies on their hobby and get more blue ribbons in shows. This item was collected by a Men’s Garden Club, and of course our Club became coeducational in 1919 and would not glory in these facts even if they were true.”
About 10 years later, Talley writes: “Your editor sometimes feels a bit frustrated by the ever-increasing restrictions on levity and humor in publications. We heartily agree with many of these… because every individual is one of God’s loved children and should not be the object of ridicule…but it does cut off a fertile source of laugh inducers…” He renamed the News Letter the “Newsette” to reflect his idiosyncratic mixture of topics and styles.
Serving as President again in 1960, Talley is all business, at least in the minutes. The job required him to address a tight budget ($353.71 on hand; $2,000 in the bank), find new storage for flower show equipment (a garage at 912 Aspen Street), remedy the decreasing interest in flower shows (he instituted a “Bragging Session” at monthly meetings to encourage members to feel good about their flowers), and search out a new regular meeting place.
“Newsettes” also reflect the social character of the club. Many couples were members, and served on the large number of committees that kept things going. Newsletters frequently reported illnesses, conveyed get-well wishes, issued birthday congratulations and told who was vacationing where. A highlight of each year was a banquet with live music sometimes provided by the members, such as the “Solos and duets by Mr. and Mrs. Earle Toense” in 1951.
“Doris Gassman moving to Florida which makes us all sad. We all love Doris and can never forget what a loyal friend she was to Grace Richmond. May God bless you Doris and keep you happy.” ”Our wishes for a speedy recovery go also to our esteemed friend, Dr. Freeman Weiss, who was seriously injured by an intruder in his home.” “The report is good on Walter Gannaway. He was taking pictures at the Rose Show on October 3rd.” Obituaries were long and thorough.
Until finally this notice in 1976: “Wallace J. Talley [sic], colorful editor of the Newsette, died Saturday, September 18. Jake, as he was popularly known, was devoted to our club and carried the burden of editing the Newsette for 15 or more years. It will be difficult for his successor to equal Jake. His specialty in horticulture was chrysanthemums. He will be sorely missed.”
Talley was also co-author of the 1970 publication “Now, Once and Again,” which chronicles “the facts” in the Club’s history—as set forth by co-author Arthur Hecht—and “other information that Talley experienced, heard or imagined.” —Diane Svenonius