Return to Thorpe Abbotts

My Father served in the 100th Bomb Group during the Second World War and was stationed at an airfield in Thorpe Abbotts, England.   After he completed 35 missions, the Army shipped him to a hospital where he learned how to talk again.   Then he started his life over.

He never wanted to return to Thorpe Abbotts and I can’t say I blame him. But I had always wanted to visit the place that must have changed him so much.  I finally got to visit Thorpe Abbotts on my last trip to England.  And I felt closer to him than I have ever been.  Strange that it took a visit to such a far away place to feel this way.  I made the  journey for me, but I had returned for him.

 I caught a train from London at Liverpool Street Station on the Norfolk line and traveled to Diss, the station closest to Thorpe Abbotts.  A few years ago, I found a stub a train ticket stub for a London to Diss journey in my Father’s old wallet among some family papers.  He had taken the same route from Liverpool Street Station when he returned to Thorpe Abbotts after a leave in London in March of 1944.  

Thorpe Abbotts is a country village surrounded by millions of acres of farmland near the east coast of England.  A perfect place for an airbase and there were many  of them up and down the English coast.  Before World War Two, Thorpe Abbots had a population of about 40.  When the airbase opened,  the Americans station there increased the population  to 3,500.

Now it is a quiet village again and the rich and valuable farmland  has been given back to the farmers to grow crops.  

Here are some pictures:

11.ViewfromControlTower6

09.UniformsandJackets10.ViewfromControlTower1944

07.TakeOffProcedure

06.OldRunway05.ModelofBase203.InsideControlTower02.FlakJacket

01.FieldsAroungTA

08.ThorpeAbbottsRoad

The tall structure on the left side of the road is All Saint’s Church.  Some members of the 100th Bomb Group were married there.  Many more had funeral services there.

If you are in the area, try to visit Thorpe Abbotts and the 100th Bomb Group Memorial Museum,  started in 1977 by the locals.

 

My Grandmothers’ Christmas Legacy

My Grandmothers Emma Montgomery (nee Peterson on the right) and Mattia Aleo (nee Moceri, left picture)  had several things in common even though the worlds they came from were so different. Emma’s mother died around 1896 when Emma was ten. Mattia’s father died when she was seven-I estimate this was around 1901 or 1902. Both girls left home within a few months of their respective parents’ deaths to assume positions as servants or companions to wealthy families.  They were paid only in room and board, but their absence meant that their families had one less mouth to feed.

Emma lived in Southern Ohio and Mattia lived in Sicily. Emma met her husband-to-be a few counties over from where she was born; Mattia met her future husband in America where she had come to find work so she could send money back home.

Emma met her husband at an ice cream social; theirs was a love match. Mattia’s marriage was arranged by a match maker when her older sister and brother-in-law decided it was time for her to marry.  Both women  were married before the  United States entered the First World War and raised their children during the Great Depression and the Second World War.  Times were hard and life’s uncertainties took their toll on both families.  When my mother and father married, they brought this history to the new family they made. Our  family life could be stressful and unpredictable.

But one thing sticks in my memory: for some reason, the strife died down during the winter holiday season. I think this is because my parents felt safe at this time of the year. This tells me that their parents also felt safe during the holiday season and were able to create a temporary haven for their families. This is another tradition they handed down to my parents.

I remember that the safest I felt as a child was during the Christmas season. The craziness of the world was kept at bay and the adults seemed happier and calmer. My family was not big on extravagant gifts, but there were always decorations,  family and the smell of Christmas cooking.  This was part of my Grndmothers’ legacy-one I treasure.

Recipes are another important part of family tradition. We had Emma’s Brown Bread  and Mattia’s biscotti  every Christmas. Here are their recipes.

Mattia’s Biscotti

Three cups flour, one and one-half cups sugar, one-half teaspoon salt, four teaspoons baking powder, one teaspoon vanilla, eight eggs, anise seeds.
Beat eggs and sugar until well blended. Add vanilla. Add flour, salt and baking powder (I just dump it in) and mix until blended. Pour into eight by fourteen inch pan which you have lined with a piece of buttered wax paper. Sprinkle  liberally with anise seeds. Bake at 350 degrees until baked through, twenty to thirty mintues.
Remember this is not a cake so it will not rise very much and will seem a bit rubbery.
Remove from oven. Flip pan over on a work surface. The cake should fall right out. Peel off the wax paper and cut cake in half crosswise. Cut each half into long biscotti-sized pieces. Place back in pan cut sides up and return to oven set at 250 degrees. Leave in oven until the biscotti achieves  the desired level of hardness. If you have a gas oven with a pilot light, you can choose to leave the biscotti there overnight.

Emma’s Boston Brown Bread

Combine two cups boiling water, two teaspoons baking soda, one cup raisins. Let sit until warm. Cream together two tablespoons of unsalted butter, two cups sugar, two eggs and one teaspoon vanilla. Add two cups white flour, two cups whole wheat flour and the water/raisin mixture. Beat well. Add one cup chopped walnuts and mix to incorporate.
Fill four greased and floured #2 cans two-thirds full. Bake one hour at 350 degrees. Let stand in oven one hour after baking. The batter will rise about two to three inches above the top of of the cans. The bread should slide right out of the can although you will probably need to loosen the bread from the sides of the can by running a knife around the bread.
A #2 can will hold about one and one-fourth cups batter and give the bread room to rise. If you don’t want to use a can (this is an old recipe-people didn’t worry about doing this in the old days. The original recipe calls for “seeded muskets.” I don’t know where you would get raisins with seeds these days), you can try mini loaf pans. The bread is done when a toothpick inserted i. the bread comes out clean.
This bread is good sliced thin and spread with butter. It’s even better with cream cheese.

My First Quilt


I did not plan to make this quilt.  I wanted new quilts or comforters for my bedroom but could not justify buying new ones when the old ones were perfectly fine and I was just tired of the way they looked.  Then I started searching for the perfect duvet cover.  I didn’t see anything I liked.  Then I saw quilts I liked in a catalog and thought about making a patchwork design duvet cover.  I started dreaming in patchwork and going on line and looking at quilting supplies and fabric.   That’s when I got the idea of making quilts for my bedroom using the old comforter as the insides.  Have I ever done this before?  No.  But the Internet is full of blogs and tutorials with information on how to do things.   I read and watched videos.  A lot of videos.  I read books.  The main idea I came away with is that a beginner (me) should start small.  It was then that I remembered that a baby was due in our family in a few weeks and, if I put the (sewing machine) pedal to the metal, perhaps I could make a baby quilt.

What about the fabric?  I knew the little Tater Tot was a boy.  I had some great fabric I found at Jo-Mar in Philadelphia, along with some Bohemian Chic   style tablecloths bought at deep discount.   Not appropriate for a baby boy quilt.  So I went looking on line and saw all these kits and jelly rolls and charm packs  with gorgeous color coordinated fabric meant to be cut and sewn together.  But that didn’t resonate with me.  This project wasn’t about recreating someone else’s idea; I wanted to create my own palette and  I wanted to recycle fabric.  So I  bought old clothes at thrift stores, and raided  my small fabric stash and closet.  A co-worker gave me fabric that belonged to her late aunt who had made baby quilts for her family.  That seemed appropriate to use. I brought everything home,  washed and dried it, ripped out the seams in the clothes and ironed everything. 

Plumpton helped me to “audition” the colors.  He took his job seriously!

                                                                                                                               

I decided to make the quilt five (six inch) blocks across and down and to have blocks on both sides.  Because I intended to do the quilting on my sewing machine and didn’t have a walking foot, I used a baby blanket for the inner layer.  My first step was to cut out 50 blocks, arrange them in two sets of 25 and sew each set together.

One side sewn together.


After I completed both sides, I sandwiched the baby blanket in the middle using spray adhesive to hold everything in place and smoothed out the layers.  I put in a few pins for added stability.  Then I started to machine quilt.  It was here that tips from two friends came in handy.  I had watched one video where the quilter  started machine quilting from an outside corner.  “No,” instructed Jeri Beading Yoda, “You start from the center and go out.”  And since I had never machine quilted anything,  Susie B recommended I practice on some cheap fabric first. I’m glad I did.

I used a modified zig zag stitch because I knew my quilting was going to be crooked and this stitch would sort of hide that.

 

After quilting, I trimmed everything square and sewed on the binding.

 

Here I am machine stitching part of the binding.  I did it over  about three times before I was happy with it.  I ended up machine stitching one side of the binding and hand sewing the other.  You can see this technique here

They say you should sign the quilt, so I did.  I thought it was important to mention that I sewed it on a machine that had belonged to baby’s Great Grandmother Vicky.  It wasn’t until after I signed the quilt that I remembered that Vicky had  made me a beautiful quilted jacket  on the very same machine. 

 

Here is the finished baby quilt.

The Story of Nomge


One theme I try to address in this blog is how  the history of world events (think of the history taught in schools) and personal and family history affect the creative process. The story of Nomge’s creation is an example of world events and personal  history converging into art.  In Nomge’s case, however, the world history is  African-American history which is still not uniformly taught in schools as the integral part of American history  that it truly  is.

Nomge is the work of Philadelphia artist, teacher and activist Maisha Sullivan-Ongaza, who first traveled to the African continent to visit  Nigeria and Kenya more than thirty years ago.  That trip was the first of  a regular series of travels to countries throughout Africa that  she continues to this day.  Along the way,  she developed a vast expertise in African culture and history that she used as host of a local radio program,  “Fertile Ground.”  But sometimes the most important journeys we make are the inner ones.   I think that’s what led Maisha to create Nomge.

Most artists have  the itch create.  Sometimes this urge kicks into overdrive:  ideas that might have laid dormant within the artist for years start to resonate and insights seem to come from nowhere.  Materials such as fabric, metal or beads might start  “talking” and telling the artist how to use them.  The experience  often makes the artist feel like an  external force has taken control of  her and that she is more instrument than artist.  The process can seem almost religious, but I think  it is  a result of ideas, memories  and emotions lurking in the subconscious and spewing forth almost uncontrollably at the point when the artist is ready to give them a voice or form.  I don’t think my rationale makes this process any less miraculous.

Four years ago,  Maisha  decided to have her DNA tested  to learn  about her African forebears.  She found out that her that her maternal ancestors were Bamileke people who came from Cameroon, a little country tucked next to Nigeria on the West coast of Africa.   Knowing the country your  ancestors came from is something many people take for granted.   But for those  who have lived all their lives with a with a hole in their family histories,  the discovery can generate powerful emotions and, for those who have the courage, an invitation to embark on a path of self discovery.   Art can help the process because it is a constructive,  therapeutic way to express feelings.  And all over the world, it is a traditional method of paying homage to an ancestral legacy.

From what Maisha told me, I can’t help but believe that at least some of  these elements came together and compelled her to  create the Cameroon-inspired Nomge who is named after one of the more than 250 ethnic groups who live there.

 Maisha started with a “T” shaped wood armature and anchored it in an old Gullah  basket she lined and filled with plaster.   She sculpted Nomge’s head and arms with  Ultralite Sculpey colored with pigment.  Nomge’s hair is a combination of cocoanut shells, heishi, bauxite shells, and strands of Maisha’s own hair. Maisha  obtained the vertebrae beads on her first trip to Nigeria.  She does not remember what animal they are from-possibly a snake. She stained them with walnut ink.  Nomge’s necklace is made from African trade beads.

Maisha made Nomge’s body soft so she could bead on it, and she used beads from her travels  collected over the years. The bronze pieces are from Nigeria. The coin on the front with the hole in the center  (see top picture) is from 1957 when Nigeria was still a British colony. 

    

The leather shoulder  pouches are inspired by Gri Gri from West African culture.  Gri Gris are talismans normally filled with prayers and protecting, healing herbs like Echinacea and golden seal. The Gri Gris on  Nomge’s shoulders contain the names of Maisha’s ancestors and children. There is an African saying, Maisha told me,  “Thanks are due to the shoulders who hold the head high.”  The Gri gris are meant to honor her ancestors without whom she and her children would not be here to contribute to the world.

The smaller Gri Gris on Nomge’s sides contain the names of the children Maisha works with in her program along with  lemon rind and honey, because life can be bitter  and it can be sweet.

The various bone pendants and amulets belonged to Maisha’s late husband.  The red leather ( stained to age it) comes from a jacket that Luther Vandross owned and wore on his “Power of Love” tour.    Maisha’s friend Dzinga was Luther’s first cousin and gave Maisha the jacket after he died. It has found new life in Nomge.

Maisha didn’t buy any new materials to make Nomge. “She wouldn’t let me,” Maisha laughed, ” Every single time I went and  tried to get new beads for her, she wouldn’t let me!  I would get lost or have car trouble or something else would happen. It was her way of saying ‘You don’t have to go all over to find me. Whatever you need in life is already here. Everything you need is right here. ‘”

Nomge’s final instruction to Maisha was that she would be finished in 2010, and she was.  Maisha put the last bead on her on New Years’ Eve, 2010.

I suspect that Maisha  carried Nomge inside for years until the series of events she related to me ended with Nomge’s  arrival in her house on New Years Eve, 2010.  It must have been a joyful event when Maisha welcomed Nomge home.




The Fabric Workshop: A Philadelphia Treasure


 

I recently had the opportunity to see an exhibit at the new home of the Fabric Workshop and Museum .  It’s a roomy, comfortable space that takes up several buildings on Arch Street in Philadelphia.   You no longer have to climb flights of stairs to get to the exhibits and it’s conveniently located on across the street from the Philadelphia Convention Center.

The current exhibit, New American Voices II showcases the work of  four invitational artists-in-residence: Bill Smith, Jiha Moon, Robert Pruitt and Jim Drain.    New American Voices II was definitely not the visual version of a string quartet; it was the work of four soloists, each of whom chose different media and themes to express a unique point of view.   The FMW  tries to showcase artists from across the United States with varied backgrounds and perspectives and encourages them to work with materials they might not have used before.  From what I saw the FMW accomplished its mission and it looks like the artists enjoyed the process.  The exhibition had so much to offer that I can only hit the highlights  in this post.  To get the full flavor, you must see it for yourself.

 

South Korean-born Jiha Moon’s mixed media wall pieces combine collage, sewing, painting, and screen printing with an Asian color aesthetic.   She makes  plentiful  use of Asian and American popular culture symbols and much of her work reminds me of traditional Asian embroidery, not because of any needlework she might usem, but because the designs are expansive and flowing.  Much of her work consists of fanciful pieces that incorporate images from folklore and advertising , but she showed her serious side in a work that appeared to explore the tensions between North and South Korea.     The piece below, which is a little different from the others, features pin cushions, ribbons and beads.

                                       

Jiha Moon

Jim Drain’s huge (and I mean XXXXXL) colorful  machine-knitted dolmen sleeve sweaters remind me of  the big suit David Byrne wears in Stop Making Sense, and fantastic Noh costumes.  I suppose they could be worn, but they were displayed on stands that let the viewer examine every nuance of the designs.  A two-dimensional picture cannot convey the surprises that jump out as you circle the sweaters.  The colors shift and there are lots of subtle details and embellishments.   At first, the color choices appear to be mostly random but on further examination, you realize that every skein and thread works with everything else in the sweater.  Nothing is there that doesn’t belong.

 

Jim Drain

What fascinated me most about Robert Pruitt’s work was his use of period cameras to photograph members of a fictional African-American family to depict ancestors from years past like you’d see in a family album.  Now that’s attention to detail and real dedication.  For me the most powerful photograph was one of a young woman wearing a grass skirt and what appears to be a European colonial officer’s dress uniform jacket.  The golden shoulder cord is replaced by rope that appeared to be a noose.   Pruitt also uses  traditional African symbols and imagery pulled from contemporary urban America.   I found his work  disturbing and compelling.

Robert Pruitt

Bill Smith’s mechanical sculptures meld engineering and art in a way that any fan of Jules Verne or Nicola Tesla would admire, but his inclusion of organic objects like Emu eggs and feathers along with organic looking plastic forms that resemble jellyfish or brain synapses takes his work out of the realm of Steampunk into another world that seems really strange (or is it strangely real?)  Along with Emu eggs, he takes water, magnets,  quirky copper wire, electronics and computers to fashion  several interactive contraptions that manage to look organic, old-fashioned and futuristic all at once.    When walked up to one sculpture,  the Emu egg started to spin, the wires started to sway and the room  filled with a low humming sound.  Then projectors started flashing images onto the white walls of the gallery.  Amazing.   Here’s a video of a similar device he designed and built.

New American Voices II runs until the Spring.  Admission is only $3.00 but you can  donate more if you like.    Treat yourself to this exhibit and the ones planned for the future.  We are so lucky to have a venue like the FMW in Philadelphia.  Let’s support it.

For more pictures of the artists’ work, press here, here, here, and here.

Eulogy: Memories of a Life



Rosemary Montgomery, the sixth of John and Emma Montgomery’s eight children, entered life on October 2, 1920. She was born into a world where cars were referred to “machines,”   most people didn’t have indoor plumbing or electricity, and American children  died of blood poisoning and diphtheria.  Women were a month away from voting in their first  U.S. Presidential election and people with vivid memories of the Civil War were still alive to talk about it.  Primitive radios went on the market just a month before Rosemary was born and a month later, radio station KDKA broadcast the election of  President Warren G. Harding with a signal so strong that my Father swore some people picked up the broadcast in their dental work.  Remember, this was before the F.C.C.
On July 15, 2010,  Rosemary Aleo died in a different world.    She had seen the development of antibiotics, the birth of commercial aviation, the rise of the Internet, and had traveled to places as diverse as the Great Wall of China and the Pyramids of Egypt.  She  also lived through the Depression and World War II while five of her six brothers served  in the armed forces, and  endured 42 years of marriage to my Father without killing him.  The latter was a bigger accomplishment than you’ll ever know.
After my Father died,  Rosemary was never quite the same.  She  isolated herself, but she looked forward to my visits.  My Mother loved to talk and a little wine made her talk  more.  She talked so much that she ended up telling me the story of her life, or at least the parts she thought I should hear. I’m glad  had the presence  of mind to record her.   Now you can get to know Rosemary as you read some of the highlights in mostly her own words, with pictures.

“ When did my parents get married? My sister was born in 1907 so they probably got married in 1906.  This was around the time Dad tried out for the Cincinnati Reds. My father played semipro ball. He was a catcher.  He wanted to be a pro ball player but things didn’t work out because he was married and had a child or two and things were too uncertain. He had to make a living.”

“They thought it would be a good idea to move to an industrial town because there would be more work.  Dad went to work at the National Cash Register Company in Dayton, Ohio.  It was a great place to work.  I don’t know what he did there.  They lived in downtown Dayton next door to a Jewish family named Thal.   The Thals were orthodox and they wanted someone to light their candles on the holy day (Sabbath) so my mother used to do it for them.”

“This was Hillside Cottage where I was born.   My brother Jim was born  there too.   I remember when Uncle Jim was born.  He was born in that house and I could remember my Aunt Birdie coming to take care of my mother because babies were born at home in those days.  She was very stern and I didn’t like her.  She frightened me but she was a wonderful woman.  I didn’t know what was going on.  I was  only two years old.  He was born in January, 1922.  And I can remember wetting my pants and it was cold and I can remember going into this room and there was my mother in bed with a little baby and she told Aunt Birdie, ‘Put her in bed with me.’  She put me in bed with my Mother and that was really nice.”

“After that we moved  the Beck house on Salem Pike in Ft. McKinley which was closer to town, but this was not  Dayton.  This was still country.   I started first grade at Fort McKinley school. I was 6 years old.   Miss Castle was my teacher.  My mother used to make me little dresses and pants to match with little cuffs and one was up and one was down.  She said,  ‘ Do they go up or down,’ and I said, ‘ I don’t know,’ and she put me out in the hall.  I didn’t like her.”

“We went to Sunday school every week almost. My mother made us go.  What kind of clothes did we wear?  Oh, we were dressed up.  My brothers had their knickers on and their knee socks Johnny and Jim and Dick.  I probably wore a dress with a collar and a bow tied in the back and shoes like Mary Janes.  I probably wore it in a Dutch Bob with bangs at that time.  My father cut my hair.  He was a good barber.”

“When I was a little girl in grade school, I used to have to wear ankle shoes  laced up.  They looked ugly  to me they looked like boys shoes.  Why did we have to wear them? Because that’s what the kids wore.  They wore long underwear and stockings over the underwear.  The clothes were comfortable but I just didn’t like them.  I used to get out of the house on the way to school and take the long underwear and roll it clear up to here (knee).  I didn’t like to wear long underwear.”

“My mother  used to bake bread in a coal stove.  We kept the coal outside and a  chicken coop,  too.  Mom put the coal in the stove with a little shovel and lit paper with a match and got the coals hot.  We  had a Franklin stove in the living room-a great big iron stove.  Once the stove got good and hot, all you did was add a little coal.  They banked it at night.  During the winter we got dressed around the stove.   The bedroom was cold and if you had to go in the middle of the night it was cold.  I have used an outhouse on a cold winter night.  You had to put your coat on and  it was too dark to read. You didn’t have  street lights in the country.  When it got dark, it was black.”

Ulrich Avenue off of Hillcrest was the first house I lived in that had plumbing and electric lights.  That was quite a treat.   We had our first telephone.  I was about nine or ten. I can remember going to Hawthorne Elementary School and I was a city kid then.  It was  close to town.  You could walk to downtown Dayton.  The day we moved in,  my brother Johnny got up in the bathroom and ran water in the tub because he’d never seen a bath tub.  He was going to take a bath.  The water was cold but he was going to take a bath anyway.  He splashed around in the bath.  That was funny.  We weren’t used to that because we always had a bath once a week in a great big bathtub in the kitchen and I think each kid got bathed in the same water because you had to heat it on the stove.  The four younger kids  would get a bath  on Saturday night- Johnny, me, Jim and Dick.”

“My brother Johnny was a daredevil.  Why, he used to bungee jump when he was a kid.  Oh, God, he used to go down to Wolf Creek.  Now, I never went near Wolf Creek because I didn’t venture that far from home.  Wolf Creek was a river and he and his friends used to go to Wolf Creek and he and his friends climbed up a great big high tree and got a rope and dangled it down and they would get on that rope, jump out of the tree and jump into the water.  He took me down there once and they had a tree house in the tree and he showed me and he jumped out with that rope and he landed in the river.  It scared me.  He said, ‘Don’t you tell Mom.’  John and I were, I don’t know, maybe 10  when we took the truck out. It belonged to a radio store that my brother Don worked for and he would park it in the garage. We’d take that truck and ride up and down Hillcrest Avenue, then bring it back and park it. We did it a few times but not too often.”
 
” The older boys all left  home within two or three years of each other, around 1929 -1930.  I was about 9 or 10 years old. My oldest brother Dave left home first and went to Detroit because I guess there was work there, then Maurece left and got married.  Things were so bad during the Depression that  Uncle Don thought that he would help my parents by joining the service.  There was no work. He joined the Navy and he made a career of it. Uncle Bob used to do a lot of things.  He went out to Utah,  drove a big truck out for the Mormons and started to go to school out there.  He was sort of a vagabond.  He traveled all over the country.  He rode the rails.  Freight trains. ”

“Later, we  moved  to Riverdale, which is a neighborhood a little bit north of downtown Dayton between the Stillwater and Great Miami Rivers. Our house was a big double house and the levee was right in back .  It was a short walk from downtown Dayton.  You crossed the Main Street Bridge and you were at the Monument which is the beginning of downtown Dayton. We moved there when I was thirteen in the eighth grade. This was the worst part of the Depression.  My father worked as a machinist for General Motors and was out of work for six months while we lived on Stillwater.  Don had  that  job with a radio store driving a truck and delivering radios and if he had a  radio  he didn’t deliver that day,  he’d bring it in the house.  No one had radio before; it was all new.  It was heaven.  We listened to the music and the programs.  Finally Mom and Dad were able to afford one.  What I liked best was the music.

 

“I started Steele High School when I lived on Stillwater Avenue and I lived there  until I got married.  Wanda Witherspoon was my good friend in high school and we were going to the library to get some schoolwork done one night.  Early evening,  It was dark.  And we were coming down Third Street by the Home Store and we were walking along and this man came up to us. He had a black  overcoat on.   Now,  Wanda Witherspoon would scream at anything and she screamed  at him and we took off and we ran like deer to get to our trolley home.  I’ll never forget that,  What did the man do?  I don’t know what he did.  We didn’t look back to see.  That was terrible.  We were about 16 or 17.  I told my mother,  She said, ‘There are fools out there like that.’  I didn’t tell my father.  I’d be ashamed to tell him anything like that.  But that was funny.”

“My first job out of high school was working as a clerk in a neighborhood dime store. During the war, I went to work for General Motors on an assembly line winding stators for motors. I hated the place. I volunteered for the Red Cross during the war. A lot of people volunteered. I wrapped bandages for wounded soldiers once or twice a week. I did it whenever I could. Everybody did everything they could to help. I wanted to join the service and become a nurse, but my parents didn’t want me to. They had five sons in the war already and they said that was enough. Jim joined the Navy. Dick was the youngest and enlisted right out of high school and was stationed in the Pacific.  He was disappointed that he never saw any action, but my other brothers told him he was lucky.”

“What was it like going  food shopping?  You went in and you had ration stamps.  They were probably mailed to us,  And you got so many a month and if they didn’t last you were out of luck. Coffee and sugar and butter were rationed and there was a scarcity of a lot of things, I can’t remember what they were.  Meat was rationed, too.”

“Bob was intelligent, probably the most intelligent brother I have.  He was going to Officers Candidate school for a while but he thought what am I doing this for and he quit and went to Cooks and Bakers school.  He was in the African theater and he was in the European theater.  He was  in Germany the same time as Johnny who was in the infantry.   Bob rode for several days right up to the front where Johnny was fighting,  and found him in a house.   Bob walked in and my brother Johnny was sitting there eating out of a quart of cherries a woman in the household had canned.    I guess Johnny thought he was seeing a ghost.  His brother was standing there in front of him.  Bob was in it for five years and thought he’d never get out.  They were both sent to hospitals for nerves.  John was a lot worse.  He was first wounded April 12,   1942 or 1943. April 12 was his birthday.   It was awful.  You have a knock on the door.  And you open up the door.  And there’s a military man standing at the door.  He handed a letter to my mother, ‘We regret to inform you.’  She didn’t know whether he was dead or wounded.  He told me about when he got hit the first time.  He was in the infantry. I guess the Germans were chasing them and he got hit in the head.  And he came to a stream of water — like a little creek running.   He took his helmet off and put his head in the water and he said the water was running red with blood.”

“They didn’t send him home after he was wounded the first time.  He went back in the infantry.  It was not as bad as the second time.  I don’t know what happened the second time.  I can remember when he first came home he’d wake us up in the middle of the night having nightmares and moving the furniture across the floor.  He fell down the stairs one night and broke the window out at the end of the stair case.  It was terrible, you know, it was awful.  What could we do?  Couldn’t do anything.  They did all they could to help him in the hospital.  He worked during the day.  It seemed that on the weekends he had to get away.  He had a boat.  and he went up on lake Erie alone one weekend in 1959-1960 and got caught in a storm and drowned. I know the war was responsible.  He did drink I guess maybe too much.  None of my other brothers drank, but  no one ever held it against him.  That was the thing that calmed him down.”


“What effect did the war have on my family? You’ll never know.  My father was not a thin man but during the war he couldn’t eat.  He weighed 130 pounds and was about 5’8.  My poor mother.  It was a constant worry. It just never left.  You don’t know.  You knew that they were over there somewhere.  Are they going to come home or not?  So many didn’t.  We were lucky.  We were very  lucky.  I had close friends who lost sons and brothers.  My friend Margery  who lived down the street  her youngest brother Donny, and he was such a sweetheart, such a handsome guy.  He was so young.  He was in the Navy and his ship was bombed and he was on it with many other Navy men.  I forget the name of the ship.  It was sad.  Yeah, those were awful days.”

 

“I got a job at Rike’s and after the War,  I worked my way up to the fine jewelry department.   I sold   diamonds and watches.  I loved it. What did I do for fun?  Well, I bowled and I went with my friends to different places, my friends at Rike’s. We traveled some. We went out to Indianapolis one time to see Sonja Henie which was nice.  We used to go to movies and we used to coffee klatch every Monday night at my friend Edith ‘s, the floor supervisor.  We worked on Monday night until nine o’clock and then we all met at her house and had coffee and dessert and sat around and talked.  It was nice.  We were a close-knit group in the fine jewelry department.  Just fine jewelry no costume jewelry!  That was great. I liked movies.  There were some good movies too I think with Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire and things like that, and Merle Oberon and whose the English actor? Lawrence Oliver, Wuthering Heights.  And Gone with the Wind.  I never got enough of ‘Gone with the Wind.’  I think I saw it three or four times at the first showing.  Then there was Jeannette McDonald and Nelson Eddy in musicals.  ‘Maytime, especially.’  I forget the story.  Anyway, it’s about a girl and the movie traces her life from her youth to old age and when the time comes for her to die, she just sits under a tree and just fades away.  And I thought wouldn’t that be a lovely way to go, just arrange yourself under a blooming tree and fade away like Jeannette McDonald in ‘Maytime.’ “

“You want me to tell you the story of how I met Dad?  There was a girl who lived next door to my brother Johnny and his wife Jean.   Anne was a very nice girl.  So Johnny wanted me to go with her to Bott’s  Dancing  School.  People went there to take dancing lessons.We went there one evening and I felt like a fool.  It reminded me of girls who went to bars and hung out.  Oh they did! I didn’t.  Maybe I went into one once with friends, but I didn’t like it.  Anyway, it was nice at Bott’s, because there was no smoking and no drinking. It was strictly dancing. Did I like to dance?  Oh yeah, I liked to dance.  Was I a good dancer?  No not very good, but I liked it.  So we were standing there and I was feeling, well not very good, and your Dad came over with a guy I went to high school with named Owen. I kind of liked him in high school.  But I never dated him and was shocked because I hadn’t seen him for quite a long time.  I don’t know whether he knew Dad or what,  but they were together.”

“Dad told me later Owen said, ‘I want that one with the dark hair’ and Dad said ‘No, I’m going to ask her to dance  you take the other one,’ and that was Anne.  So Dad danced with me to ‘Some Enchanted Evening.’  I didn’t think he was very nice.   I thought God, he smells like garlic.  Wisecracking and making corny jokes. He couldn’t dance very well.  Well enough but not too great.  He had taken dancing lessons I found out later.  But anyway, we danced  and after we danced Vance and Dad asked Anne and I to go  out.  That was right before Christmas and they asked us for a date for New Years because Dad was going home to home to Wilkes Barre for Christmas.  This was 1952.”

“But I think we went out once before that to Suttmiller’s nightclub in Dayton. I think Anne and Vance were with us.    Anyway Dad met a guy there who was from Wilkes Barre.  Danny Martino who changed his name to Danny Martin, and he happened to be with a girl I went to high school with and she was a singer.  Audrey was her first name. They came to our table and sat down with us.  And had a drink or something. Danny was someone Dad knew from his musician days in Wilkes Barre.  He was playing at Suttmillers and Audrey was singing ‘I saw Mommy kissing Santa Claus. ‘ That song had just come out.”

“What did I think of Dad at that point?  I didn’t think anything of him, I really didn’t.  We made a date for New Years Eve.  Why did I make a date with him if I don’t think anything of him?  Well, I though it would be better than sitting at home.   Ha Ha Ha!  I didn’t dislike him.  So anyway, Dad wanted to go to Cincinnati, to Castle Farms which is a famous nightclub.  But my Mother said, ‘No, I don’t think you should go out of town.’  So we went to the Graystone Ballroom in downtown Dayton and  had a good time on New Year’s Eve with Ann and Vance.  Vance had a convertible.  I may have worn a black dress with white sequins.  Nothing real fancy.  We danced and then I guess we went out or eat or something.  Did Dad and I talk?  Yes we talked.  How was his dancing? Not good.  They  had a live band.  What were some of the songs that they played? Of course that was after the war.  I remember ‘Begin the Beguine. ‘  Dad came on pretty strong. He liked me.  He did.   How could I tell? I don’t know. I just don’t know.  It just seemed like he did.  So anyway, Mom and Dad  invited him to our house for dinner.”

“This was about 2 months later.  I’d had several dates.  My father didn’t say too much.  My mother talked to him, and she asked him,  ‘Do you drink?’  He said,  ‘Yes, my mother drinks, my father drinks, my sister drinks, we all drink.’  My mother was a member of the WTCU, you know, I don’t know what she said, whether she just laughed or what. Then he said we don’t drink and get drunk, but it’s in our culture.  Dad was funny, I drink, my mother drinks, my father drinks and my sister drinks Ha Ha Ha!”

“Dad had given me a diamond engagement ring.  It was a short time from the time we met to the time we got engaged.   Maybe a couple of months.  We met in December of 1952 and I had my ring in February 1953.  I had a fight with him before he asked me to marry him.  It wasn’t a fight; it was a disagreement and I thought, ‘The hell with this guy, he’s nuts.’  We were dancing at the Civilian Club at Wright Patterson Air Force Base.  And I thought, well he’s ,you know I couldn’t dance with him because he had two left feet.  Your father danced the suede right off of my shoes.  I got mad and he got mad too and that’s when I first learned that he had a temper, and I made up my mind that I wasn’t going to see him anymore.  But then we sort of ironed that out.  I don’t remember how we did it, but we did and we danced and we got so we could dance together pretty good.  Probably ironed out that night.  I think we agreed to take dancing lessons together.”

“It was strange to travel from Dayton to Wilkes Barre to meet his family but I could tell that they was a nice family and that they were good people.  In fact, Dad’s Mother sat me down and talked to me, and I’ll never forget this, she said there are a lot of Italian people who are very very bad.  She says that there are a lot of Italian people who are good and she was telling me that they were good. And I appreciated that.  I thought that was very nice of her.    She wanted me to have a good impression.  I think of that,  I’ll never forget that.  There was a lot of prejudice, but my brothers and my sister all liked your Dad.  They liked him.”

“We got married in April 1952 in Dayton by a justice of the peace. I don’t remember where,  Some private office.  Just Dad and I were there, and a couple of the people who worked there were witnesses.  We did not want to have a big thing.      We lived in his apartment after we got married.  Dad said that my name was Horowitz, that I was Jewish.  I’ve been asked already if I was Jewish and Dad introduced me as Horowitz or Lipschutz, something like that!  For a long time you know I was Jewish — I didn’t let on!  But anyway, that was funny.   You know, I’ve never been sorry.  Dad was, you know, he was  a character at times I could have killed him.  In the long run I knew that Dad was stable and I could count on him.  He was like a rock.  But Dad was all business and we talked a lot before we got married.  We talked about what we wanted out of a marriage.  We wanted children, we wanted a home. we wanted to save and get ahead money wise.  We both agreed on that.  We got started on the children right away and we didn’t care.  We were glad and we was happy.  A scant 8 months later, your brother John was born. “

“We lived in a section of Dayton called Splinter City. It was very hard that first year because I lost my Mother. When did I learn that she had cancer?  I’ll never forget it.  I’ll never forget that day.    The next day the day after Thanksgiving 1953. My family, my brothers and my sister  and a couple of my brothers came to my house and they told me.  They knew, but they didn’t want to tell me because I was pregnant, you know.  When  John was born,  we stopped at my parent’s house on the way home from the hospital so she could see him.  I didn’t live too far from my mother.  Well, you had to drive, but anyway they had just moved into this new house.  And it was nice and my mother never got to enjoy it.  She only lived there six months.”

“What my last dance with Dad?  Our last dance was in Little Rock in October 1993 at 8th Air Force Reunion.    We sat there and I didn’t think Dad would ask me to dance and I wouldn’t ask him because I knew he was sick with lung cancer.  But when they started playing “Begin the Beguine” he asked me to dance.  We only danced one dance that night.  It was the last time we danced together.”

The above are excerpts from conversations that took place in 1995 and 1996.

14 Years Later

I am sitting with Rosemary in the Alzheimer’s Ward of the Watermark in Philadelphia.  She knows she has a daughter named Martha, but she does not know that I am Martha.  I ask her, “What were John and Martha Like when they were little?”
She answers, “John was good, but oh, that Martha!”
“Was she bad?”
“No, but she got into everything.”
“Why, was she curious?”
“Yes!  About everything!”
“She still is.”
“Who was your father?” she  asks me.
“John- Giovanni,” I reply.
“And your brother?”
“John Vincent.  He’s married to Barb and Domini is their daughter.  Your granddaughter.”
“Do you have any children?”
“None of my own, but Ken has a son named Maxwell, my stepson.”

“How did you know I was here?”
“A little birdy told me.”
“Was he blue or red?”
“Blue.”
“What was his name?”
“Plumpton.”
“That sounds familiar.”
He’s my cat. Do you remember a cat you had when you were little named Monty? A gray striped tabby?”
“Snowball,” she answers, “Fluffy white dog.  My brothers were always bringing dogs home.  They would bring them into the kitchen and My mother would throw up her hands.  Did you know my Mother?”
“No, I answer, “She died before I was born.”
“Did you know any of my brothers?”
I tell Rosemary about her parents, her brothers and sisters, and her life before she came to the Watermark.

“Do you have a license?” she asks when I am done,  “Do you do this for other people?  How do you know all this?”
“You told me.”
“I told you?”  She sounds astonished.
“You are my Mother.  Here. Let’s look at our hands.”  I hold my right hand next to hers so she can see how much they resemble each other.  She looks.  A light goes on behind her eyes then shuts off.  She takes another look.  The light goes on again and shuts off again.  I put my hand in my lap.

“I have to go soon Mom,” I tell her.
“You be good,” she cautions me.
“See?” I point out, ” Only a Mother would say something like that. That means I have to be your daughter.”
She looks startled.  The light goes on again.
“Does this scare you?” she asks.
“No,” I reply, “You can’t remember things, but there’s a good side to it.  You can’t remember the bad stuff that used to eat at you.  It’s gone.”

She stares ahead as if thinking and then looks at me.
“What will I dream about tonight?” she asks.   I wonder if she thinks I know the answer.
“You’ll have wonderful, happy dreams,” I respond. I don’t know why, but it seems like the right thing to say.
“Wonderful, happy dreams.”

Several friends and family members have asked how they can contribute make a contribution in Rosemary’s memory. For information, press here.

 

 

To see more pictures, press here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Memorial

My father graduated from high school in the middle of the Depression.  When  war seemed likely, he enlisted and was finally assigned to Diss England as a member of the 351 bomb squadron, 100th Bomb Group, Eighth Air Force.  He said later that this was the first steady job he ever had.

My father’s sentiments on his wartime experiences are best exemplified by the following episode:  In 1992, the movie Memphis Belle came out.  Memphis Belle was about the Eighth Air Force and I thought that my father might want to see it.   I asked him if he was going  and he  sneered and muttered something under his breath.  This was my father’s way of saying no.

I asked him why.  “God dammit!” he exploded, “How the hell could they make a movie about that?  If it was realistic,  all they could show would be a crew of young guys crapping in their pants for two hours!”

In later years, I related this story to  a retired air force corporal who flew fighter planes in China and Burma during the Second World War, and in Korea and Vietnam,  “Your father was right,” he told me.

My father (left) with his brother and sister before he left for boot camp.

Kearney, Nebraska

His lucky flying charm

At Thorpe Abbots

A B17  and autographs of the crew

His reward for surviving

His last reunion

Amulets, Talismans, Polymer and Wire

There are two new books that will enhance the library of anyone creative.  Both  show you how to elevate non precious material into art imbued with special meaning.

The first one is  Amulets and Talismans by Robert DancikI took Dancik’s class on cold connections last year  and put the book on pre-order as soon as I could.  I was not disappointed.  The book is crammed with information on cold connections techniques,  and full of ideas on how to take ordinary objects and showcase them in original, one of a kind pieces of jewelry that  tell a story that could be about the wearer, maker or materials themselves.

If you are a tool junky like me, you will relish Dancik’s ideas for making custom tools.  He shows a nifty little jump ring cutting gizmo you can make yourself.  I made one.  There are no directions, but one look at it is all you need. (If Truman Capote had met me when he first came to New York, his book would have been entitled Breakfast at Harbor Freight.)

The next gotta have it book is Ancient Modern: Polymer Clay + Wire Jewelry by Ronna Sarvas Weltman.

Weltman’s  designs have an inimitable   primitive sophistication that’s fresh and inspiring.  Her projects and instructions will stoke your creativity and have might change the way you think  about polymer clay and wire.

This time last year

The Soul of a Tree

Nak037Last week, we made the trek to the Nakashima Studio in New Hope, Pennsylvania. My in-laws made this trek in 1959 with Shari and my husband in tow.  They put a deposit on  a slab coffee table and hanging wall cabinet, and were nervous about spending so much money.  Who in his right mind would spend $300.00 on furniture with knot holes in it and cracks fixed with inlaid butterfly shaped pieces of wood that didn’t even match?

The furniture was delivered to their suburban home a few months later and they enjoyed it for the next 48 years. That furniture saw a lot of parties and family celebrations.  When Milton died, the guest book for the memorial ceremony sat on the cabinet for guests to sign.

When Vicky died, the furniture passed to Shari who enjoyed it every day of the short time she had left.  Shari longed to make one last trip to the Nakashima Studio but was too sick.  At her memorial ceremony we set a beautiful wooden box holding her ashes on the coffee table along with her glasses.

Last week, as I was walking on the gravel paths that lead from one studio building to the next, I realized that trees tell a Nak020story.  You can read history in trees if you know how.    Nakashima understood the soul of trees; he did not alter or mask a tree’s spirit with detailed carving, paint or heavy hardware.  Instead, he engaged in a dialog with it, and listened-really listened-to each whorl, knot and wormhole.  George Nakashima’s work is a reminder that imperfection has its own beauty.   If we could take those principles and apply them to each other, we would understand  that our imperfections are what make us remarkable.  And beautiful.


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We gave the furniture to family members who we hope will enjoy it for the next 48 years.

The Story of Shari’s Rainbow

I don’t like to remember people on the day they died; I’d rather remember them on their birthday. It seems happier somehow. My sister-in-Law Shari Baskin was born in Brooklyn on May 24, 1950 and died last September in Baltimore at the age of 58. She moved to Baltimore with her family in 1955, rarely traveled and worked in retail for most of her life.

Shari was known among her friends and family as generous person. Once my husband Ken admired a leather jacket she was wearing and she took it off and gave it to him. She dearly loved Max, her only nephew, and made sure his holidays and birthdays were filled with gifts. She did the same for her family and friends.  She asked for little in return save loyalty and honesty, because she always suspected that any generosity paid to her came with hidden conditions she would be expected to fulfill without warning.

Shari’s parents were good people, but damaged by their families. Shari’s mother was incapable of respecting Shari’s boundaries because of her own tortured personal history. She loved Shari very much, but she constantly worried and fretted about Shari, projecting her own fears onto her daughter in an effort to shield her from hurt and disappointment. She thought this was love, but Shari experienced it as an attempt to control, and her response was to cut herself off emotionally and sometimes physically.

Shari’s mother saw her children as an extension of herself and didn’t understand that they were separate people.  She was terrified that they would be hurt by life. She worked hard to prevent this and her efforts manifested themselves in ways she did not foresee. For example, she got frantic with anxiety and exploded into anger every time when her children took steps toward becoming independent. How many of us are afraid of success and sleepwalking through life because of a dynamic like this? How many of us are so terrified our children will be hurt that we won’t let go and we call this love?

For years, Shari only dated men who were emotionally unavailable. She never let a man get close to her until she met Ray, her life partner for the better part of fifteen years. They were both complicated people, battered by life. Their relationship was far from idyllic. But they could relate to one another on a level few people could understand.

Ray was in a motorcycle accident that left him a paraplegic in August 2007.  He was still in the hospital and Shari had just moved their belongings into a wheel chair accessible apartment when she was diagnosed with lung cancer in January 2008. When Ray died in April, Shari moved in with her mother to take care of her because she, too, had lung cancer. Her mother died in May. Then Shari began to change.

The changes weren’t obvious at first. She spent every day sitting on the porch, thinking. Ken, who relocated to Baltimore to take care of Shari, didn’t interrupt her or try to control her. He didn’t try to make her talk. He didn’t insist that she was sick and should be in bed. He didn’t get angry when she started smoking again.

And another thing happened. Instead of abandoning her, her friends lined up to help. All the favors, hospitality and gifts she had spread among those around her over the years started to come back to her. Shari never asked for anything, because she never expected to receive anything unless she paid a dear emotional price. But her friends and relatives wanted to give back and asked nothing in return. Shari was mystified, but too sick to refuse. So she accepted help for the first time in her life. And as the weeks passed, her view of the world shifted. She was recreating everything she had believed.

Shari didn’t change because her mother died. We all have the power to change and Shari was no different. Shari didn’t change because she was dying. I have seen more than one person die repeating the same insane mantras they recited though their lives. Was it religious?  I never asked her if she believed in God. In the end, I don’t know why Shari changed. Maybe it was because she accepted the fact that unconditional love can exist and under the direst of circumstances.

Even though we knew Shari’s death was close, Ken and I took her to Nags Head, North Carolina that August. Ken’s son Max and his wife Leigh rented a beach house for all of us. Shari spent most of her time outside looking at the beach and the ocean. We didn’t need to do anything. Being together was enough.

A few days after Shari died, her friends, Sandeye and Phil Jurus went to a restaurant for dinner. Both were grieving terribly and Phil prayed for Shari to send him a sign that she was all right. As they left the restaurant, Phil noticed that it had rained while they were inside, and he looked up at the sky. He saw something that he feels was Shari telling  him  she was at peace. Here is the picture he took:


This time last year.