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Discover Your Mother

April 12, 2017

 

 

 

 

My mother, Ellie Purcell Dunn, grew up in the glamorous but pre-air-conditioning Palm Springs of the 1930s and 40s. She's in the foreground of this photo, part of a Life magazine shoot about the good life in Palm Springs. It's 1949, she's a freshman in high school, and she and her friend are "demonstrating" sand sailing, which was briefly a thing then.

 

Her real life actually wasn't glamorous. Her dad was a dentist,and her mom was raising four kids. Money was tight, the town was tiny, with not much to do, and the summertime heat was miserable. To my father and their children and grandchildren, she looks gorgeous in old photos, but she says she never felt that way and was "too skinny," despite drinking lots of date shakes to try to get a figure. She went off to Los Angeles to a Catholic girls' boarding school at 16, a generally miserable situation, and then had the absolute time of her life as a sorority girl at USC in the 1950s, marrying my father a few months before graduation, as was the norm in those days. They wanted a big family and they got it: six kids in rapid succession, all of us now in our 50s, with fifteen young-adult kids between us. She had time for nothing but child-raising for 30 years.

 

Her passion at age 14 was the movies, especially sweeping, romantic ones. To this day she's a big fan, seeing more movies than most of her kids, and reading more novels and biographies as well. What she didn't know then was that she would take up painting in middle age, work very hard at it for decades, and see her creativity blossom in her 70s and 80s. She still has a thing for that sweeping romanticism that she did at age 14.

-Colleen Dunn Bates, Publisher, Prospect Park Books

 

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