Q & A with the Sanvidge Sisters
Q & A with Susan Sanvidge, Diane Sanvidge Seckar, Jean Sanvidge Wouters, and Julie Sanvidge Florence
Wisconsin Historical Society Press: Your first book, "Apple Betty & Sloppy Joe," came out of a book you put together for your family. What inspired you to write "Penny Loafers & Bobby Pins?"
Susan: We gave the first batch of what we called "Oshkosh Stories" (we grew up in Oshkosh, Wisconsin) to our parents for Christmas, in a small ring binder as a "gift-in-installments." We added two more batches of stories to fill the binder on Mom's birthday and the next Christmas. Most of the stories in "Penny Loafers & Bobby Pins" were already written before our first book was published.
Diane: The first book we put together for our family was a Christmas present for Mom and Dad. They were hard to buy for. They asked us to write more, so we wrote stories for two more Christmases and Mom's birthday. Our parents weren't so hard to "buy for" anymore. Those stories became "Penny Loafers & Bobby Pins."
Jean: Mom said we should write more stories after the family cookbook we wrote for our parents, so we did. I really liked the fact that our stories were very meaningful gifts to our parents. They were also a wonderful way to thank our parents for the great childhood that they gave us, and a legacy for our own children.
Julie: What better present could a parent receive than their children's written testimony to a memorable and happy family life? As my sisters said, Mom wanted more stories and we wrote more.
WHS Press: Did you find that your sisters remembered stories that you had forgotten or remembered differently?
Susan: Our ages span ten years and the age we were at the time had a lot to do with who remembered what. Jean wrote a story about early television shows, and because I am three years older, I could remember the arrival of the first "television set" in our living room, so we added my memory as a comment on her story. We did that throughout the book. It was great to have four memory banks, four perspectives.
Diane: One sister would remember something… say pin curls… and the emails would fly. "Remember Tonette perms?" "Remember Jean and her orange juice can rollers?" "Susan, did you iron your hair, too?"
Jean: Coming up with stories for our books was like opening doors to the past. One memory would definitely spark another one, if not more. We didn't always remember things the same. In our books' conversational manner, we all got to express "our version," which is one of the aspects of our book that I really like. Because this difference of memories happens in many families, I think a lot of people relate to this characteristic of our books and enjoy the back and forth banter.
Julie: Because I was the youngest and—for a time—the only kid at home, I think I spent more one-on-one time with my parents. It gave me an opportunity to hear more family stories and get to know their friends in a different way than did my sisters.
WHS Press: In your opinion, what was unique or special about growing up in the '50s and '60s
Susan: I was a teenager in the 60s, and so much happened in that one decade that people are still talking about it. Summing up what was unique about growing up in the 60s could take pages, so I'll limit my answer to two things: 1) The assassination of President Kennedy in 1963. Life didn't feel as safe and innocent after that. 2) The size of our generation—that so many kids were growing up, becoming teenagers, then adults at the same time as we were, and what that meant.
Diane: Our childhood seemed fun and worry-free. Ride your bike with the wind blowing in your hair, stay outside 'til dark, ride in the car with no seat belt…
Jean: Our life in the 50s and 60s was very different than today, although I don't know if we thought of it then as "unique" or "special." As my sisters and I wrote our stories of our growing up years, we couldn't help but notice how much things have changed. I think the biggest change is the structure and lifestyle of the family.
Julie: Our generation was raised by people who had toughed out the long years of the Great Depression and World War II. They weren't going to have their children grow up under any dark clouds of worry or dread.
WHS Press: What do you hope readers take away from "Penny Loafers & Bobby Pins?"
Susan: For readers who grew up or raised families in the Baby Boom era, I hope our book is a little bit like opening a time capsule, a little romp through our common past that will spark their own memories and make them laugh. For everyone else, I hope our book provides a glimpse of everyday life back in the 50s and 60s, when grandpa drove a turquoise Studebaker and Mr. Potatohead's eyes and nose were poked into a real potato.
Diane: I hope readers will remember their stories of growing up and share them with their parents, siblings, children, and friends. Remembering is great fun.
Jean: I hope that readers are able to stir up their own good memories of the past and hopefully share them with their family and friends.
Julie: Like my sisters, I hope that the book reminds readers of the long-forgotten lore of their own childhoods and to share their happy memories with their parents. I would love to see a few blank pages added to future printings of the book for readers to write down some of the memories the book jogged for them.