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.   

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!