Susan Lynn Meyer

For Readers of Skating with the Statue of Liberty: Mr. Quong’s Hand Laundry

In Skating with the Statue of Liberty, Gustave gets his first job in America working as a delivery boy for Mr. Quong’s Hand Laundry.  This comes pretty directly from my father’s life–he too worked for the Chinese laundry across the street delivering packages of clean laundry on a giant tricycle.

I wish I had a photo of my father on the delivery tricycle, but his family had just come to America and I doubt if they even had a camera at that time.  But here is what delivery tricycles looked like:

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Lots of new Chinese immigrants worked in laundries in the 1940s.  It was hard, exhausting work and involved very long hours.  Most recent Chinese immigrants couldn’t speak much English.  They didn’t have much money to start businesses with, and they faced racial discrimination in America.  So many of them found that working in laundries was the best available job.

 

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Using an abacus to calculate prices in a Chinese laundry.

Some European-American laundry owners got upset about the competition from the Chinese laundries in the 1930s.  In 1933, they got a law passed in New York saying that all laundries had to be owned by U.S. citizens.  (And Chinese immigrants at this time could not become citizens.)

 

An organization called the Chinese Hand Laundry Alliance was formed to fight this law.  They succeeded in getting it repealed.  The Chinese Hand Laundry Alliance continued to fight in other ways for the rights of Chinese Americans.

 

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Ironing. Notice the little girl with the ice cream cone.

In Skating with the Statue of Liberty, Mr. Quong has a “Hand Laundry.”  A “hand laundry” was one where all the clothes were ironed by hand–and that was a lot of hard work too.  Can you imagine how hot it must have been, in those days before there was much air conditioning, working in a laundry in the summer?

 

 

Delivering on a heavy, clunky delivery tricycle was hard work too.  Gustave gets tired out from doing it.

 

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Arthur Leipzig, “Ideal Laundry,” 1946. The Jewish Museum of New York.

By the 1950s, there weren’t nearly as many Chinese laundries anymore. Laundromats with coin-operated machines were becoming common.  The children whose parents had operated the hand laundries went on to have different lives from their parents.  Many studied hard and were able to go to college because of the labor and sacrifice of their parents. So more kinds of jobs became available to them as adults than had been the case in their parents’ generation.

 

Posted on 06/26/2016 06:21 pm | Leave a comment

Writing Prompt Friday

I post writing prompts here on Fridays.  Most will work for fiction writers and memoirists and for both kids and adults.  To surprise yourself, when you are ready to commit to writing, scroll down past the photo for a writing prompt!

blackcappedchickadeeTN

 

Fiction writers: Write a story beginning with the following sentence.

“You’re too little to use the tire swing,” I said, grabbing the rope.

 

Memoir writers: Write about a memory involving your younger brother or sister or another younger acquaintance.

 

Posted on 06/10/2016 05:00 am | Leave a comment

Writing Prompt Friday

I post writing prompts here on Fridays.  Most will work for fiction writers and memoirists and for both kids and adults.  To surprise yourself, when you are ready to commit to writing, scroll down past the photo for a writing prompt!

 

blackcappedchickadeeTN

It’s graduation season!

Memoir writers: Write about a memory of a graduation or of the events (such as family gatherings, prom, prize ceremonies) surrounding graduation.

Fiction writers: Write about a boy who comes upon a mysterious diploma while clearing out the attic.

 

Posted on 06/03/2016 05:00 am | 2 Comments

Writing Prompt Fridays

I post writing prompts here on Fridays.  Most will work for fiction writers and memoirists and for both kids and adults.  To surprise yourself, when you are ready to commit to writing, scroll down past the photo for a writing prompt!

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Fiction writers:

Write a story involving a character who has a chronic illness and also an unusual ability.

Memoir writers:

Write about a memory of your own illness or someone else’s.

 

Posted on 05/27/2016 05:00 am | Leave a comment

Writing Prompt Fridays

I post writing prompts here on Fridays.  Most will work for fiction writers and memoirists and for both kids and adults.  To surprise yourself, when you are ready to commit to writing, scroll down past the photo for a writing prompt!

IMG_2576

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s a special Friday today–it is Alternative Reality Day!

Fiction writers:

Write a story from the point of view of a character who is distinctly unlike you.

Memoir writers:

What if?  Imagine how your life would have gone differently if something important had been different.  For example, what if your parents had divorced when you were small?  What if you had grown up in a different city?  What if the birth order of you and your siblings had been different?  What if you had had a flat tire on the way to a job interview or the senior prom?  What if you had been turned down by the college you went to?  Hold everything else in your life constant, but imagine what might have happened if something significant had gone differently–and write out an episode from that different life.

 

Posted on 05/20/2016 08:00 am | Leave a comment

Writing Prompt Fridays

I post writing prompts here on Fridays.  Most will work for fiction writers and memoirists and for both kids and adults.  To surprise yourself, when you are ready to commit to writing, scroll down past the photo for a writing prompt!

IMG_2576

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is Friday, the 13th of May!

 

Fiction Writers: Write a story about a girl who was born on Friday the 13th and what effect that has on her life.

Memoir writers:

If you have ever felt that something magical or supernatural happened in your life, write about that.  Or if not, write about a coincidence that you have experienced.

 

 

Posted on 05/13/2016 05:00 am | Leave a comment

For Readers of Skating With the Statue of Liberty: Automats

In chapter 22 of Skating With the Statue of Liberty, Cousin Henri takes Gustave and Jean-Paul to the Automat before they go to the movies.

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Horn & Hardart Automats were founded by Joseph Horn and Frank Hardart. Hardart, who born in Germany, was inspired to bring a German style of cafeteria to the United States. Together, Horn and Hardart opened the first one in Philadelphia in 1902. In 1912, they opened the first one in Manhattan. Automats were a huge hit in the United States. At one point, there were forty of them in New York City. Sadly, the last one in New York City closed in 1991.

My Dad told me that when he was a boy in New York, they never said “Horn and Hardart.” They always just called them “the Automat.”

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The restaurants were gigantic open spaces filled with shiny, cafeteria-style tables. The walls were lined with gleaming chrome and glass compartments filled with food. You put coins in, turned a knob, opened the door, and pulled out a plate with your food on it. Workers on the other side of the wall then filled the window back up.

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After suffering through food shortages in France (as you’ll remember if you’ve read Black Radishes), Gustave and Jean-Paul are overwhelmed by the massive amount of food in this American restaurant. Jean-Paul, who has been living in Paris, where getting food has been especially difficult for his family, goes a little crazy, running around and planning out what he’s going to eat.

 

Kids loved eating at Automats because they could pick exactly what they wanted.

 

My father told me that his favorite thing to get there when he was a boy and a young man was cheesecake.

 

In my whole life, I never saw my father eat cheesecake, though. When I was a little girl and he was quite a young man, he had a heart attack. He completely changed his diet, and he never ate food as fatty as cheesecake again. I saw him eat an awful lot of apples and bananas and osadie_02ranges, though! When we were kids (I have five brothers and sisters), he would slice up a couple of apples for all of us for dessert and cut the slices to look like fish, carving eyes and mouths and fins. I cut apple slices in the same way for my daughter when I became a mom.

 

But back to the Automat. Gustave and Jean-Paul are especially fascinated by the coffee machine, where they watch Cousin Henri pour coffee from what looks to them like the golden head of a dragon, although it was modeled on the head of a dolphin from an Italian statue. The coffee at the Automats was famously strong, black, and delicious. Workers were trained to dump out unused coffee every twenty minutes, so the coffee there was always fresh.

 

In a few years, when Gustave and Jean-Paul are young men, I expect they’ll be back in the Automats with their friends, drinking the coffee themselves. It will still only cost a nickel!

Posted on 05/10/2016 05:00 am | Leave a comment

Writing Prompt Fridays

I post writing prompts here on Fridays.  Most will work for fiction writers and memoirists and for both kids and adults.  To surprise yourself, when you are ready to commit to writing, scroll down past the photo for a writing prompt!

IMG_2576

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fiction writers:  Write a story where something unexpected happens when the main character tries to leap over a large puddle of rain water.

Memoir writers: Narrate an event from your life in which the weather caused significant problems.

Posted on 05/06/2016 05:00 am | Leave a comment

Writing Prompt Fridays

I post writing prompts here on Fridays.  Most will work for fiction writers and memoirists and for both kids and adults.  To surprise yourself, when you are ready to commit to writing, scroll down past the photo for a writing prompt!

hedgehogkeyboard

 

Fiction writers:  Write a story in which the main character has a run in with an animal he or she is afraid of.

Memoir writers: Write out a memory involving an encounter with a frightening animal.

 

Posted on 04/29/2016 05:00 am | Leave a comment

Writing Prompt Fridays

I post writing prompts here on Fridays.  Most will work for fiction writers and memoirists and for both kids and adults.  To surprise yourself, when you are ready to commit to writing, scroll down past the photo for a writing prompt!

hedgehogkeyboard

 

Fiction writers:

Write a story including the following elements: a banana, a lost umbrella, and a bad grade on a test.

 

Memoir writers:

Write about a time in your life when you didn’t have enough money to buy the food you wanted or for some other reason could not have it.

 

Posted on 04/22/2016 05:00 am | Leave a comment