I spend my days looking at the possessions people saved from their past. I wonder: will future generations see our Target tee shirts and H&M hoodies as the charming artifacts of a bygone era? Will we even consider our possessions worthy of being saved?
Here is the story of a woman’s life that can be told by the clothing she kept.
Before we go any further, have a look at this:
It’s a velvet bustier type garment, embroidered in gold thread, and was the bodice of a Hungarian court gown. It belonged to a woman named Lya, born in Hungary in 1920. Lya’s life story encapsulates a time and a place in 20th century history and it reads like a wildly romantic if improbable novel.
Here are a few more pieces of traditional Hungarian dress that Lya saved. These are part of a headpiece worn by women after marriage:
And this was an apron style garment worn over the front of a dress:
Lya’s childhood must have been a prosperous one. She studied ballet, as did many European girls of a certain social class. Clearly, there were elegant occasions to dress for; this is her mother’s suede evening bag, decorated with marcasites:
Toward the end of the war, when the family lost their farm and their money, Lya escaped to Scotland. There, she continued to dance and she became a nurse, supporting herself by working in a psychiatric ward. She also took up flying in gliders as a hobby.
Our resourceful heroine then emigrated to the US, heading for New York on the Queen Mary. As in any great novel, she crossed paths with the titans of the day. By some coincidence, Winston Churchill was on the same voyage. She had promised to perform a ballet for him, but a storm on the high seas kept her from dancing. Churchill presented her with roses anyway.
In New York, Lya reinvented herself as a textile designer. She was one of the first members of Mensa, the club for geniuses, where she became friends with the writer Isaac Asimov. She also met her future husband, a Russian emigre who worked with the Manhattan project, the group of scientists who developed the first nuclear weapons.
There were many elegant evenings out, occasions that required full length kidskin gloves, a gold evening bag and some fabulous costume jewelry:
In her later years, Lya and her husband retired to Florida, joining many thousands of other older people, all of whom carry their own novel within.