Saturday, October 18, 2014

Today's Fun

As I may have mentioned, I’m clearing out old papers, and a couple of weeks ago I found this 1876 document.  No idea when or how it came into my possession but I know why I kept it – it’s about a mortgage loan between
                                      DARIUS PALMER
and – here’s where it gets really delightful –
                               COLUMBUS LOVELY.
Also enjoyable -- that semi-literate addendum extending the loan.  It contrasts nicely with the law clerk’s more polished wording and penmanship but I guess it got the job done.
There is, of course, no reason to hold on to this but I couldn’t bear to throw it out, so I posted it on eBay ten days ago.  As the folded document fits nicely in a one-stamp envelope, I even offered Free Shipping. 
       There was just one bid, there’s just one person in the world who wants this, and today they found him !!   He lives in Levittown, PA. 
       My Paypal account (so handy for Internet shopping) is all of $5 richer.  And -- over the years I’ve had a few interesting chats with eBay buyers, so I emailed this guy to ask if he is by any chance a banker or lawyer who might want to frame this and display it.
       If you’re not using eBay, you’re missing some fun and games.  Trust me – it’s user-friendly.  If I figured it out you can too.  I never even had to consult a grandchild.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Answer to Comment

In case you don't read the comments --
First response to the post about my war-time job as a teen-aged journalist asked -- was my job taken over by a man when the war ended?  And my immediate reaction was
"Who even noticed?"  We were all so eager to make up for the four years we'd lost, most of us couldn't wait to get married.  Where do you think all you baby boomers came from? and why the 1950s were so contentedly suburban?.  My recollection is hazy, but I believe the Feminist Movement didn't raise our consciousness (mine anyhow) until those babies started leaving the nest.

Pink was Big in the '50s.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

My Career as a Stringer

I was a teen-aged stringer.
In 1943, with all the young men away at war in Europe and the South Pacific, girls could go for just about any jobs they wanted.
     My cousin in Boston, drafted after one semester of college, had sent me his Introduction to Journalism textbook. And having memorized the whole book, as soon as high school was out in May I walked confidently “down-street” in Penn Yan and talked to Sidney Ayres, editor of the village's weekly newspaper.  He hired me on the spot, not only as a full-time reporter, but also as – thrilling title -- the Yates County Correspondent for four city dailies.
     I brought in my prized possession, a portable Royal typewriter that had no keys for the numbers one or zero (capital “I” and “O” served instead.) Sid squeezed in a battered little desk out by the job printing presses in the back room, and I was a journalist!
     Each story was written first for the Penn Yan paper, deadline Wednesday noon for publication on Thursday.  (One of my first assignments was keeping in touch with the hospital on Wednesday mornings to see if anyone was going to die in time.)  Then, if the item seemed important enough, I wrote it with two different leads.  One was intended for the state edition of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the other for that city's Times-Union.   With each I typed a carbon copy, and those went to the Elmira paper and – if I remember right -- Geneva.  I do know my deadline was three in the afternoon, when some copy left town on the Greyhound bus, and the rest went, I believe, on the five o’clock train to Rochester.
      I remember interviewing an old man who had piloted steamboats on Keuka Lake, and taking his picture with the paper’s Speed Graphic, with its 4 by 5-inch film pack.  For that article Sid gave me a by-line; in those days by-lines were seldom awarded and it was my first.  I remember being sent to interview a brand-new war widow only a few years older than I was, talking in her kitchen while she fed her son in his high chair.  All of this, of course, on foot.  I had no license, no car, no gasoline ration. 
     I remember counting the coded blasts on the fire whistle that told where a blaze was located, and seeing all the shopkeepers on the two blocks of Main Street dash out for a little excitement as volunteer firemen.  I remember being sent out on D-Day, sixth of June, 1944, to write about the village’s reaction. It was a beautiful sunny day, and all the church doors were open.  Inside, people simply sitting in the pews or kneeling, nothing going on, not a sound.  Silence.

     After a few weeks, the elderly journeymen in the back room offered to teach me something about printing.  They promised to show me type lice, which nested in between lines of metal linotype slugs.
      “You have to look close,” they said, “bend right down and we’ll pull the slugs apart so you can see them.”  And of course, as soon as I did, they slapped the column of slugs back together and I got a faceful of ink and cleaning fluid.
      “Now you’re a real printer” they chortled, and wasn’t I proud!
     I believe Sid paid me $15 a week, the equivalent of perhaps $200 today.  And in addition, he showed me how to bill the Rochester papers as a stringer.  Each day I’d scan my parents’ copies.  With any luck I’d find something of mine, to clip (alas, without the headline) and paste in a long rolled-up strip.  At the end of the month I’d stretch a string the length of the roll, measure the string, and send in the roll with a bill for ten cents a column inch. 
     Why I wasn't instructed to just measure the roll of paper itself, I have no idea, but I’ve always assumed the process was what made me a stringer.
     I never got to see the glamorous press rooms of those Rochester newspapers, and I spoke with an editor just once.  As September approached, I telephoned (my first long-distance call!) to tell the state editor someone else would be taking over till next spring; I was leaving for college.  And he said – it was one of the most wonderful moments of my life –

“It has been a pleasure receiving your copy.”



Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Whichever You Prefer

The book has a delightful cover (which is NOT a portrait of  Jane Austen, no matter what the Rice family maintains – but that’s another story) and Barnes and Noble has nicely published this British work, first printed in 1905 – which last bit they don’t exactly lie about, but the date is pretty much hidden at the very end of the jacket blurbs.
There's the 1905.
No mention of 1905.

Fairly good book, actually.  Scholars haven’t discovered much that’s new about Jane Austen in the past century anyhow, and the Edwardian prose style is interesting.  So I get to Chapter Five, which is going to discuss The Six Novels.  The Author begins by criticizing “what purports to be a book” recently published (1905, remember) that summarizes the plots of the novels.  And she compares anyone who’d try to read Austen that way with a lazy diner who would rather gobble – say – hamburger, instead of coping with the challenge of a good rib roast.
Well, what she actually wrote was “…the laziness that prefers hash to joints.”

The phrase did give me pause.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Present is a Different Country

I dressed carefully for the marathon film festival – well, okay, what I did was I wore slacks (perhaps the preferred word is “pants” these days) instead of jeans. That’s what passes for dressing carefully now.  And I went a bit early, to leave time for chatting with friends who’d show up there.  Same expectations for the box lunch that would break the four-hour film.  (It was edited down from a German TV series about five young friends and how they change as they go through World War II.  Gripping.)

So here’s what happened:  the auditorium was completely full -- of people I didn’t know.  So was the supper room.  I never saw a single one of them before.
Come to think of it, who did I expect to see?  Norm is gone.  Jeanette is dead, so’s her husband.  Leon isn’t getting around much at 96.  Ruth is at rehab healing her hip.  Now that Danny died, Jean is moving out of town to be near her daughter.
All the BFFs I ever had ignored the “forever” part.  Esty’s gone, so is Dottie, and Betty, and Hilda, and Muriel. (It’s pleasant to type their names, though.)
Sitting there, I was struck with an odd feeling from so long ago, when I was a kid during the Depression and we moved around so often. It’s a weird sensation and I’d forgotten it. In that auditorium and at the supper tables, I was invisible.
I was a stranger.  I came from out of town, from a far country.  And the place where I came from is called Old Age.


Friday, September 19, 2014

First Money I Ever Earned

     In 1938, at the height of the Depression –  for our family the depths -- we were, as my mother used to say dramatically “two weeks away from [applying for] Relief”.  And then my father finally got a job again ! !  as superintendent of a clothing factory that was the largest employer in a little Upstate New York village.
     Daddy had seen the world – orphaned at 10, he bummed around the Northeast from one older sister’s home to another, in cities like Montreal, Boston, Buffalo, New York, Portland.  But the rest of us had always remained in a tight-knit city circle of relatives.  I had 21 first cousins in the Boston area.
     So that summer we were suddenly cast out into the wilderness.  We rented the back half of a Victorian mansion next to the Catholic church.  And the landlord’s son greeted me with “Want to go picking?”   Rready for anything, I said “Sure.”
     Early next morning, a big farm truck pulled up in the driveway.  My new friend (could his name have been Wilbur?) helped me climb in back and hang on to the wooden slats that formed the side walls, as the truck racketed around the village picking up kids.
     Half an hour later we pulled into the lane at the Fullager farm and jumped down.  I was equipped with a wooden quart basket that tied around my waist and another empty basket that fit into it.  Then, as the sun beat down, we were turned loose in the raspberry patch.  Homer’s son patrolled the rows, collecting full baskets and punching holes in the cardboard tags we wore on strings around our necks.      More than three-quarters of a century later, I still have my tag.  On the back is Mrs. Fullager's reckoning at the end of the day?  end of the week?  end of the harvest?  I think it was 53 quarts at 3 cents each, and 8 quarts at 4 cents.  Black raspberries paid more, because they scratched your hands. At any rate, it came to $1.91.  First money I ever earned.  It looked like a lot to me -- and it was.  Buying equivalent today (I just looked it up) $32.22.  Not bad for a 12-year-old's first job. 

     When the raspberry harvest was in, before the truck took us home one last time, Mrs. Fullager invited all of us into her big sunny kitchen, and treated us to – well, I remember two kinds of cake, and there must have been lemonade.  Years later, in more than one British movie, I saw rousing scenes of the traditional Harvest Home Celebration a Landlord would host for his workers.  I’ll bet her hospitality was a direct echo of that. 

Down but Up to Date

Fully certified by the Green Burial Council!
At the OASIS senior center I recently finished a four-session course? -- workshop? -- seminar? (I dislike that latter term) -- at any rate, it was about Cemeteries and was more fascinating than you might imagine.  We ended up with a bit about the latest movement, which is known as  Green Burial.  It omits lots of traditional funeral stuff, including memorial stones.  So what if you want to find Grampa's last resting place and commune with him for a bit?   That's easy -- you will have his
                                                    GPS co-ordinates.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Company Again

Just realized I haven't posted in more than a week -- as you might have guessed, company again.  Don't touch that dial! -- we'll be right back.  Ever notice that when they say "we'll be right back" they won't?   That's when you're in for a flock of commercials.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Delightful Title

In today's mail, the fall calendar from a local hospice organization.  They offer courses on topics like Tai Chi for Parkinson's, 100 Days to Successful Aging, Wisdom Practicum Discussion and Senior Pilates. The class I just have to tell you about, though, is about pre-planning one's funeral (" issues...price guides for five different plans...")  It's offered by the non-profit Funeral Consumers Alliance, founded 1957.  Class meets for just one session, tuition cost is $6, and it meets on -- oh heck, September 5.  That was yesterday, so we both missed it.  But the best part, anyhow, was the course title:
Shop Before You Drop

Monday, September 1, 2014

Cirque de Sole

     This may be the first time I've needed to tell you about something from the morning newspaper --  forgive me, but it's a real Hey-Doris! item and I have nobody else to yell "Did you see this!" to.
     It seems that hundreds of Sneakerheads paid $20 each to attend a convention here yesterday -- the Cirque de Sole.  While some limited edition sneakers sell for a few hundred dollars each, it's evidently the after-market that really counts.  Yesterday here, one collector paid $2,500 for some sneakers ("trainers", to you Canadians), and another rejected $6,000 for a pair of Nike Air Jordans made for the rapper Drake.  One organizer described the subculture as "the intersection of collectibles and fashion."
     Don't know why I'm so surprised.  A few years ago here, I was looking on the Internet for an illustration to go with my memory of wearing shoes fastened with a buttonhook (also associated in whispers with abortions back then) -- and I ran into a thriving Buttonhook Society, with meetings, conventions, display case exhibitions...clearly there's an organization for just about any obsession you can imagine.
     That set me to wondering about the possible value of my son's tattered Converse hi-tops, circa 1967, that hang on that nail by the furnace.  But when I went to take a picture for you, I discovered to my horror that the nail is empty!  Someone must have stolen those, somewhere over the years.  I'll bet they've been smuggled out of the country.  They'll probably show up at a convention in Zurich next year, priced at who knows how many thousands of euros.

This would have been BEFORE -- and I'll never be able to show you AFTER.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Those four jars of peanut butter and the four tubs of cream cheese (okay, only three are left now) represent fairly pedestrian shopping this summer on the part of my visitors.  But when it comes to vinegars, this house’s collection has definitely been enriched by some classy recent additions.
I can understand the kids not trusting the inch left in that old bottle of plain white vinegar on the right.  For all I know it dates back to the 1950s.  So  whoever feels the urge to make a salad trots off to our biggest tourist attraction, Wegman’s (Niagara Falls is second biggest.)  But they don’t seem to trust each other either, so we end up with yet another yuppie acquisition.  Raspberry, organic, Modena, wine, distilled, Tuscan, balsamic – how many things can one do with vinegar? 
When I gathered them to put away together, they looked so attractive I just had to show you.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Recovering From the Kids II

A couple of years ago I reported here on how long it takes to recover from the out-of-town visitors: things like changing back the controls on the clothes dryer, the car’s side mirrors, the microwave’s night light – locating the hair dryer and searching for my very best spatula (which, by the way, never did turn up.)  But this time there’s a new one, and it’s baffling.  My car – my new car – is now speaking German. 
I hadn’t yet figured out how to decipher most of the icons and menus on the super-modern dashboard – in fact I was toying with the idea of just sticking on some bits of black tape and ignoring the more puzzling stuff.  But now – as I re-adjusted the rear-view mirror and pulled the driver's seat forward – I discovered that somehow or other a new difficulty has arisen.  Appended herewith a few illustrations from the radio dial:

I have no idea who did this, and I can't figure out how to get English back.   Every time I press a button or move a lever, something unexpected happens.  I am damit verbunden.


Saturday, August 23, 2014

Abbreviated Chickens

If you’ve been with us a while, you know I reported to you last year about the “free-ranging chicken breasts” on a restaurant menu.  I pictured plump happy chunks of white meat, frolicking in a green meadow, but I never could find the right illustration.  And now last night in a different restaurant --  “cage-free half chickens”. I see them hanging around outside the bars, reluctant to part from their other halves still imprisoned.
 Can't find the right picture for these guys either.  And anyhow – where’s the big deal in being cage free if you're  going to end up brick oven roasted anyhow?

Monday, August 18, 2014

Why No Posts?

Why none of these fascinating blog entries for the past few weeks? 
I think I posted awhile ago a suggestion for a sociologist's PhD subject -- my suspicion that many bloggers are people who live alone.  And this summer I haven't been one of them.  Right now I seize this quiet moment to give you my excuse:

Overnight guests this summer so far: 
Son A.
Cousin E.
Grandson A (three times, more to come.) 
Friend M's daughter-in-law and granddaughter. 
Granddaughter M.
Son D, daughter-in-law C.
Grandson N (one week.) 
Great-granddaughter A !! with her parents.
Daughter A, son-in-law M. 
Son-in-law M again, alone. 
Daughter A's friend L, with husband S.

All delightful guests, with just one common drawback -- while they're out getting bagels, people buy cream cheese.  My frig boasts four tubs of cream cheese.  Same, for some reason, with peanut butter.  Four jars, only two of them opened.
More visitors due later this week, so hang in there, gang.  I'll be back -- don't touch this dial! 

Saturday, August 2, 2014


So Thursday morning I went to a free Health Fair sponsored by Assemblyman Joe Morelle(what that means about his involvement I don't know; he wasn't there, but that's him in b&w on the brochure.)  It  was just around the corner and offered a chance to get a blood pressure reading (I'm experimenting with meds at the moment.)  Should have skipped breakfast -- there was a fine buffet set up in the back of the auditorium, fruit, bagels, the works.
Around the hall I picked up all sorts of stuff from the exhibitors -- imprinted pens, of course, Hershey kisses, and lots of leaflets.  What I wanted to show you was one booklet I brought home.  With a mournful mauve cover, this publication from the Federal Trade Commission seems to consist mostly of  "the funeral director must inform you..." and "don't let anyone tell you..." and "if they don't display the less expensive caskets, ask..."  But what made me chuckle was the sticker on the front cover.  I've met Representative Louise Slaughter, a cheerful capable woman of what seems even to me like advanced age, and I wonder if she really knows which publication received her sponsorship.  And if she does -- somehow "Best Wishes" doesn't seem like exactly the right sentiment here.  I've been trying to think what she might have said instead, but I'm not getting very far with that.

Friday, July 25, 2014


Norm died three years ago -- but I just received a cordial email from his insurance agent:

   I'd like to wish you a
  happy birthday.

Dear Norman,

I hope you enjoy your special day. May the next year be safe and prosperous. Thanks for being my customer. I look forward to keeping you in Good Hands®.


Samuel Nash
My Website

P.S. Just a friendly reminder that now might be a good time to check the expiration date on your driver's license.

Assuming Norm is indeed in Good Hands, I unsubscribed him.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Wildlife Adventures

The deer clan that hides in our big suburban block had babies this spring, and mothers are bringing their  Bambis – still dappled with those camouflaging white spots – right outside my desk window so they can be taught how to eat the hosta.

Meanwhile, Nathan just popped in from the living room to announce there’s a rabbit out beyond the willow tree.  Nathan is 15, up from Manhattan to take a serious cooking course at Wegmans.  This afternoon he borrowed my library card to take out a stack of CDs (or whatever they are,) and he's now engaged in an all-Dr.-Who–all-the-time TV marathon, with episodes going back to the 1960s.  It’s reassuring to see that on this perfect summer day he evidently spares a glance for the back lawn now and then.   I suppose he'll eat supper at the coffee table.
I wish I knew more about rabbit watching -- do those big ears denote some particular species, or do all rabbits look like that?  Any information welcome.

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 Lithuania 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?"

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


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!” )
        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.