“Take It on the Chin”

Image of a Studebaker like “Teresa”

“Mother decided to drive it right home from the store,” Jane recalled in August 1928 when Daysie Hall bought the boxy Six -Cylinder Special. They named the Studebaker “Teresa,” but before Dickie had even seen it, they had an accident on the less-than-perfect roads. Autos still had no turn signals or rearview mirrors, driver’s licenses did not require a road test, and danger might appear from any direction. Jane had been with her mother as they headed down Washington Boulevard in Manhattan Beach towards their house. Suddenly another car smacked them “on the front wheel end” until the fender “didn’t look like part of the car.” Insurance covered the cost of repairs. For several days afterwards though, Daysie’s side was very sore. Although her philosophy was to “take it on the chin,” the accident was the least of her worries.

At some point in 1928, Daysie Hall began to fight for her life. In correspondence with her older sister Rose Hicks she never used the medical name for the mysterious scourge that filled the hearts of patients and doctors  across the world with dread.* Instead, they both referred to the malignant tumor in her right breast as “Cappy.” Daysie’s interest in Christian Science, her love for her children, and her sad memories of how doctors had failed to save her late husband, discouraged her from seeking aggressive treatment until March1929 when she entered the hospital in Redondo Beach. By April she had been transferred to the California (Lutheran) Hospital on South Hope Street in Los Angeles. After several radium treatments, Daysie could report that “Cappy has noticeably decreased although he looks very formidable.”

By early summer, Daysie was home again – supported by codeine until the doctor ordered her to stop taking it. Still in considerable pain, she listened to the radio and tried to walk a few steps every day: “I have regained the reflexes in my knees so I am gradually getting better and better e’en tho at times the slowness of the procedure overcomes me and I almost explode – the last remnant of the tempestuous ego which broadcasts through this frail human body,” she confided to Rose, who had covered all her medical bills and now paid for a nurse named Maggie and a housekeeper.

But what about Jane who was clearly on an emotional roller coaster, exhilarated by her success as a young author and devastated by her mother’s illness? Rose asked her niece what she needed. “What do I crave? For Mother to get well – and stay well. I want that more than anything else in the world,” she answered. But  just “so you can get a ‘line’ on my frivolous nature, these are my minor and comparatively unimportant cravings: to write a bestseller when I’m in my teens; do more ice-skating; a water wave every week; a checkerboard bathing suit, and a horse like Silver King. Don’t want much do I?”

1927 Lobby Card Fred Thomson and Silver King

Rose had never heard of “Silver King” and was likely not a fan of the late silent movie star Fred Thomson or his clever pale grey hunter. Whenever possible Jane escaped into dark movie houses and daring adventures with “Silver King.” Her aunt encouraged her feminine side and sent Jane dresses– one in dark blue silk with bands of yellow and red, and a second with a matching jacket in flowered orange chiffon. As Jane began her sophomore year there was still hope that a miracle could save her mother.

*See James T. Patterson, The Dread Disease: Cancer and Modern American Culture. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1987) on Cancerphobia and shifting attitudes towards doctors and cancer in the early twentieth century.