Monday, July 21, 2014

What I started to tell you about Elizabeth

I just spent a fruitless half hour scrolling over digitized old slides to find that one of our long-ago cleaning lady Elizabeth -- WHY haven't I labelled those photos?  You'll just have to picture for yourself a smiling wiry little woman, about my age, which would mean in her 40s when she came to us in the 1960s.  She once told me her name was really Elsbietta, or something along that line.  She had emigrated with her husband and young children after The War, under some program that re-settled DPs -- stateless Displaced Persons -- in the United States.  And eventually I discovered she came from the same town in Lituania that my mother had left a couple of generations earlier.
But that's not what I started out to tell you. 
Elizabeth came in once so downcast, I had to ask what was the matter.  Well, said Elizabeth, you know that amber is our national jewel.  And last Saturday night, she'd had a party to celebrate her husband's new American citizenship.  (I'd done the same thing when Norm, born in Canada, "got his papers".)  And during their party, someone went into Elizabeth's bedroom, opened her top drawer and stole her collection of amber.
A few years later, Norm and I are on a bus tour of North Africa, and in a marketplace we see a really nice amber necklace.  It's priced ridiculously cheap, and our tour guide immediately bargains it down even further.  Can it be real?  And finally -- for something like $3 -- it's worth the chance.  We could take it home for Elizabeth.  Back at the hotel, we rub it to see if it will pick up bits of paper -- no way, no magnetism, no amber.  What we had was excellent plastic.
It looked a lot like this.
So we're home, I unpack, the necklace sits on my dresser.  Elizabeth shows up on Monday, admires the "amber".  I explain that we wanted to give it to her but it turned out to be fake.  "Can I have anyway?"  asks Elizabeth.
So here's what I started out to tell you.
Elizabeth dies.  Norm and I go to visiting hours at the Funeral Home.  The coffin is open, there she lies in a dark silk dress and guess what?  I whisper to Norm "That's the necklace we bought in Morocco."
Her husband hears, and he hastens to reassure us:
"Oh, we don't bury it!  We just trying to decide should go to the daughter or the daughter-in-law?"
She never told.

So we didn't either. 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Hang on, Gang!

More scintillating posts will make their way here sooner or later -- just not right now.  I'm not quitting, just having a lot of company and waiting for something to happen.  Do dip in every now and then just to check.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Page-Turners

It’s three-quarters of a century since I stayed up all night finishing a book I couldn't put down.  In the summer of 1939, I hid out in the bathroom with Gone With the Wind.

Just did it a second time, 75 years later -- well, in bed, not in the bathroom.   The book is Orange is the New Black.  If you haven't read it -- highly recommended.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Needle and Thimble

       What was it like during the war, Grandma?  For one thing, there was a severe labor shortage and girls could get just about any job they wanted.  You’re probably too young to remember Rosie the Riviter (“that little frail can do/ more that a male can do/ Rosie – brrrrrrr – the Riverter!” )
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D2E613J9m0I
        I was a paid camp counsellor at 16 and a reporter at 18.  Then -- with the war not long over -- with only a bachelor's degree I went right into a position as the journalism department at a small college, paid extra to live in a dorm as “house mother” to boot.    
       Anyhow, what brought all this on was something Amy found while we were researching the 1944 issues of the Penn Yan Chronicle Express the other day.  My father was superintendent of the clothing plant that was the village’s biggest employer.  He died more than 60 years ago, so it was a delight for me to find a little classified ad he must have written -- it sounds like him.  Shows you how hard up he was for workers:


I do like the factory's phone number -- 424

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Spoiler: Cryptogram Solution

Perhaps you  remember Ralphie -- how excited he was to send off the Ovaltine label and wait for his Little Orphan Annie Decoder Ring to arrive -- and with what anticipation he took down the secret message at the end of the radio show and sat at the kitchen table to deceipher it.  And the let-down when all it said was
                              "Be Sure to Drink Your Ovaltine!"
I'm remembering Ralphie because I was so excited to find a cryptogram in my high school notebook -- a secret message with exclamation points!! -- that I'd written? copied from somewhere? perhaps in 1942?  I couldn't wait to solve it, spent a happy and absorbing time at it yesterday, and this is what I found --
This war is a titanic world struggle in which the life and future of our country are at stake! The Nation needs your help!  Buy defense stamps and bonds!


Where do you suppose I copied that from?  It must have been earlier than 1942, because the War started in 1941.  Defense Bonds were surely known as War Bonds by 1942? -- and the posters had become a lot more emotional.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Secret Message!

Found an old high-school notebook, and it’s more interesting than one would have thought.  Here’s a page I wanted to show you – in careful script, part of a speech, florid language that sounds genuinely teen-age “…the cries of your fellowmen which strike chords in your soul…”  Aw, c’mon  -- and today I know the "which" should be "that."
Then there’s a tiny sketch of an angle of elevation; I suppose in those days we all knew what “sin x” meant.   And we were evidently getting a well-rounded education – there’s a reading list on foreign policy.  One of the authors was John Gunther (remember his books?) and another was Foster Rhea Dulles – hmm, interesting.  Do you suppose that was Their mother?  father?
But what got me excited was the cryptogram in the bottom left.  A secret message from the past!  And two of its sentences ending in exclamation points!  Was I exchanging these with a friend?  Leaving important clues for the 21st Century?  I couldn’t wait to decipher it.

On the off chance that someone out there would like to solve a simple substitution crypt, I’ll wait until tomorrow to tell you what it said.  You’ve got a head start, because it looks as if, back in 1942, I’d already found the easy giveaways – this is, the and a.   

Summer Reading

When you’re my age, you read the Obituaries.  I’ll guarantee it – ask your grandmother.  At first it’s just to see how old the dead people were – well, I’m older than that! --or -- well, maybe I can get to be that old too!  Then it gets interesting (would it count as sociology?) to see what the survivors find to say about the dear departed (though when I complimented Simon Pontin on his wife’s obituary, he said cheerfully “She wrote it.”)  Then you start looking for people you know, but after a while most people you know are already dead.
     What struck me in today’s death notices was the phrases used instead of the word “died”. Not a single one of today's 30 just plain up and died.   My attention was first arrested by one who  “Slipped the Surly Bonds of Earth”  and Google confirmed my suspicion that was a quote – poem by a pilot who died in World War II.  Others today are less literary.  “Passed on” and “Passed away” are pretty popular, and a few people simply "passed."  Today we do have “Angels took Jane home”.  Several in this group passed away “peacefully” and one “at home surrounded by her family.”  Very nice indeed.  One died unexpectedly.  No age given, but he was married 54 years, so that puts him at least in his mid 70s.   There are worse ways to go.
     Almost everyone listed today was “predeceased” by various relatives.  It’s not that I’m a fuddy-duddy about new words  -- I’m perfectly happy, for example, to friend and un-friend people.  But come on, isn’t “predeceased” about the ugliest word ever coined?
     The cheery sailor at the top of this page survived to be 94, but he didn’t get the little American flag icon one sees increasingly these days, as the ten million who served in WW II die off.  Vito Sabetta, down toward the bottom of the page, did get the flag.  His obituary lists his relatives, but all it tells us about his adventures during 101 years on this earth is one single thing.  Speaking of
D-Day, as we have been --
"He fought on Omaha Beach."

Monday, June 30, 2014

Model's Adventures Part II

A new edition of that catalog arrived  today, and it's clear that since I last wrote you about this, they've changed camera operators, or dressers, or whoever it is that prepares the models for the sessions.  Instead of everyone wearing an engagement ring (the same engagement ring), this time  we're featuring the same super-cheerful young ladies, but they're clearly Playing Around.

Take this model -- and I show you here on the left that these are all  the same young lady.



 First we see her engaged with a lovely diamond solitaire.
On the next page she's evidently broken things off -- her ring finger is bare.  Or maybe she's just an independent single woman who likes chunky gold jewelry.

And by the last page of the catalog, happy ending -- she's evidently gone back to her husband; check out the wedding ring.  I'm becoming really interested in her adventures -- can't wait to see what happens next time around.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Henry David Warns

Here's the electrician, running a handy line for plugging in the new car.  What keeps running through my mind is  Thoreau's warning -- Beware of any enterprise that requires new clothes.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

D Day in Penn Yan




So yesterday I drove down to the Historical Society in my home town, to see if I could find out what, as an 18-year-old reporter, I had written in the Penn Yan Chronicle Express when I covered D Day.  That museum must have a remarkable endowment, for niece Amy and I met at least three staff persons, and we’re talking a village of maybe 5,000 people, seat of Little Yates, the smallest county in New York state.
An obliging gentleman brought up from the basement the bound volume of the 1944 paper, and there it was -- the June 8, 1944 issue (two days after the Sixth of June; we came out on Thursday mornings).   Looks like I didn’t have a byline – there were none in the whole paper, nor could I find my name or even the editor’s on the masthead.  But I remember him sending me out – on foot of course – to report on the village’s reaction to the momentous news that the invasion of Europe had begun.
What I remember today is what a beautiful sunny day it was and how silent the whole town was, all the church doors open, nothing being spoken, people just sitting unmoving, in the pews.  Writing today, that’s what I would report – the silence, the sunshine, the air filled with unspoken fears, hopes, prayers.  My report has absolutely none of that, and not a thing I remember writing. 
I started with a quote from “a woman whose husband is overseas” and ended with one from a junior high student whose “brother is in England.”  I wrote about flags being set out along the business district of Main Street [all two blocks] and private homes.  Parents of boys in England, I reported, now understood why they’d had no mail for weeks.  The Lutheran minister said “I hope they reach Denmark soon” [lots of Danes in Penn Yan] and we carried a statement from the Commander of the American Legion, which was big in those days.
 
 



 
At the Academy, junior and senior high schools held a meditation service that afternoon, led by the Superintendent of Schools.   In a small town, though, the churches are at the heart of everything and I reported that the Methodists, Baptists and Presbyterians had held a union service that evening.  St. Mark’s Episcopal had its own, as did the Lutherans, and St. Michael’s holy hour included a rosary, prayers and benediction.      
“Penn Yan worked Tuesday,” I reported, “making uniforms, army truck bodies, task boats  [I believe those were PT Boats, maybe even Jack Kennedy's], machine parts and other war items."

Not bad for a small town.
 




 

 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

It's Electric

               I know, it's unbearably cute -- anyhow, it's electric.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Emergency Post

No time for posting today -- I'm getting a new car, which is always -- for some reason -- a big event.  So, although I do think it's a waste of time to use this fantastic medium just to tell people what one has been eating, I'll show you the luncheon dessert I just finished (mostly) -- photo courtesy of Simon Pontin, who is also showing me how to start the new car.
The brownies had something crunchy in them and the whipped cream is real.  Wait till you're my age!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Cradle



Anna, 1954, Kodachrome
If you 've been with us a while you’ll remember I posted about The Cradle – the one we ran into at the Salvation Army in 1951 while looking for a used bookcase. 
Just before that bookcase search, our neighbor, who was a Mayflower descendant, had shown me a really old cradle handed down in her family, with the names of babies carved on the underside.  Lovely tradition.  So that day we bought not only the bookcase ($2), but also the cradle ($3), though I remember thinking regretfully, “It’s really too late to start a tradition, it’s 1951 and everything has already happened.” 

Since then our family and friends have written more than 30 names and dates on the tag we tied to this cradle.  It's travelled to Hawaii, it’s been to Canada, and today it’s in Milwaukee for  Athena, who's just a couple of weeks old. Years ago her grandmother made crib bumpers when Athena’s mother slept here, but those are no longer politically correct, so this time around she made a lacy liner.

 
Athena, 2014, E-mail
Now that we have the Internet, I’ve done a little research – this cradle may not have been at Plymouth Rock, but it does date back to the 1800s.  And I'm wiser now -- I know that not everything has already happened.
 .

Friday, June 13, 2014

Real Letters

My father liked to work in metal --he made that brass plate.
     It’s hard to break the habit of a lifetime.  I still look forward to the mailman (okay, the postal carrier) every day.  Don’t know what I expect to find in the box.  Who is there to write to me?  It’s years since I’ve had a letter from any of the kids.  Mind you, that’s not a complaint – one skypes, one IMs, one emails – sometimes I’m in touch with all three in one day. 
     But I never learn – watching the clock, checking the mailbox, and then the same letdown every time, pulling out – I don’t have to tell you – nothing but catalogs, brochures, and bills.  Talk about save a tree!
     It’s somewhat better since I added back the street address to the end of my column.  Older readers  a) still read the newspaper, and  b) don’t know how to reach the web site or email address.  So now I hear from them a few times a week, and yesterday brought some excitement -- not one but two snail-mail envelopes!
     The old folks are really with it – both letters look as if they were composed on computer.  But they have everything the sixth grade teacher drilled about -- heading, date, salutation, the word 'I' still capitalized (perfect spelling and spacing if it comes to that), body of the message, complimentry close and then – it wouldn’t be right to show you -- real signatures.  In blue ink, with cursive Palmer method penmanship.
     All is not lost.  Not for a few years yet. 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Breathe

   Seeing the words “Laryngeal spasm” in a newspaper headline was so exciting!   I’ve never found any useful advice on the Internet about those seizures where the throat abruptly shuts up tight.  Every scientific paper I found mentions the word “terrifying” – which is pretty accurate.  When I get one, there’s nothing to do but try to relax, which is impossible, sit or lie down in case I’m going to pass out, and wait a minute or two.  You’ll be happy to learn that so far I haven’t had a fatal one.
The newspaper’s medical column is carried Mondays on the comics page (not really a good location), written by a Dr. Roach (not really a fortuitous patronymic.)  But the question sent in by a reader looked useful – this guy started having them in his 30s, just as I did.  And the only comment he got from his doctor was “My mother gets them too.”
     Wait a minute!  Is that a standard line they teach in med school?  Because that’s what my doctor said, so many years ago.  At which point I looked at the signature – the letter came from E. L.  Oh well, I must have written to Dr. Roach, and maybe not so long ago.  For once I’m on the other end of a q&a column!  
     So what useful information did I get from the good doctor, whose email  address, which I must have used, is at Cornell University?  He says he can reassure me “that people seldom die or even lose consciousness from this.”  Do you think it’s being picky to find the word “seldom” less than reassuring?   He goes on to say that if it happens while I’m driving, his advice is to “pull over the car safely” – duh!  That’s why I already try to stay in the right-hand lane.  And, he suggests, I should then “pant”.  Last year an EMT specialist advise me to “whistle in.”   
     Both fairly difficult when one can’t breathe at all. 
     There seems to be a singing group called The Laryngospasms and here’s their melodious youtube number called "Breathe" -- it's a slightly different situation – but yes -- it includes the words “think you’re going to die.”

Thursday, June 5, 2014

I Covered the Longest Day in 1944


Seems as if I’ve written about this before, but I don’t see it when I look back in this blog, and it is what I remember every year when D Day comes around.  I was 18 then, and thanks to a severe labor shortage during The War, I was a full-time reporter on the local weekly newspaper, as well as county correspondent for four city dailies, for three summers.
   Not sure I realized just how desperate the situation was, how near England was to being conquered, that it was possible this country could lose that World War.  But even as a teenager I knew the significance of The Day, as boys my age, boys from my small town, finally waded ashore to invade the continent of Europe.
     So yes, I covered D Day.  The editor sent me out to report on the Village of Penn Yan’s reaction to the news that the invasion had begun.  How did I do that reporting, I wonder?  Certainly not by car.  I wouldn’t have a driver’s license until five years later – no automobiles manufactured for years past, gasoline rationed, tire replacements the biggest problem – for my generation, fresh from the Great Depression, even owning a bicycle was exciting. 

Silent open doors like these.

What I remember is walking the village streets on that sunny June day, and being struck by the quiet.  All the church doors were open.  I came to the Catholic Church on Liberty Street – the big front doors opened wide, dimly lit sanctuary with many candles burning, people here and there in the pews – and complete silence.  I walked to the Lutheran Church (lots of Danish immigrants in Penn Yan) – doors open, heads bowed, total quiet. On Main Street at the Presbyterian Church (where I often sang alto in the choir) – doors open, nothing happening, not a sound from the men and women sitting there.  Mostly women; the men were away at war. 
I remember it looking like this.
 

The whole town was silent, but I can still feel the waves of prayer, memories,  desperate hopes that flooded our town that sunny day. 
 
What do you suppose I wrote about it?  I have no clippings, no idea.  


 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Voice of the Chainsaw

is heard in the land, and it wakes me every morning.  The young man who bought the house next door has every right to cut down trees in his back yard, but he doesn't read this blog, so I have every right to share my heartache with you.  With every tree that falls I die a little.
During our first cordial over-the-no-fence chat, the eager householder asked me if it’s true he may cut down whatever hangs over and do I know where the boundary is?  I’m afraid I don’t know, having mostly concentrated on trying to plant stuff that would block his back deck from my office windows…  and maybe my 60-year-old foundation planting hangs over onto his lot?
                                  Oh dear.  Better get out there with a tape measure.


One good thought, though -- maybe he'll get rid of that blue paint?