Tyree Nichols was creative and photography was his medium. He went out one day to take pictures of a sunset. He never came home.
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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:
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.
It’s Time for the Mummers!
2016 is screaming to a close. Who knows what the New Year will bring? One good thing it will bring is the Mummer’s Parade. I’ve written about the Philadelphia Mummers and their fascinating history and traditions in past years but I’m always learning something new. I saw the badges and ribbons pictured here at an exhibit at Lemon Hill in Fairmount Park.
At first, I thought the badges and ribbons were awards of some kind. In fact, they were Mummer identification worn on parade day. “New Years Association” is just another term for Mummers club.
Mumming is an ancient European tradition. The first modern Mummers Parade took place in Philadelphia on New Years 1876. The first “official parade” was in 1901.
To see pictures from the 1906 Mummers parade, press here.
Cross-dressing was a Winter Solstice and Carnival tradition that transitioned into the Mummers Parade without any political hysteria. It was considered good fun. And still is, as the picture below will attest. That is my husband gamely posing with some happy Mummers.
To read about cross-dressing and the Mummers Parade, press here .
For the 2016 Parade lineup and route map, press here.
The Colorful Ways of Hilaire Hiler
Hilaire Hiler was an artist. No, he was a jazz musician. No, he was a psychologist. No, he was a color theoretician. In fact, he was all of these things.
Hilaire Hiler was born in Minnesota and died in Paris. He has a Philadelphia connection having studied at the University of Pennsylvania and briefly at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. After living and studying in various cities around the United States, he left for Europe around 1919 and made a living playing jazz in the Montmartre district of Paris.
The old order of the 19th Century had started to crumble by the end of World War I. Life seemed all the more precious for those who had experienced the horrors of the war first hand. People were questioning the wisdom of old values with their rigid rules of conformity. World War I had exposed a generation of young people to places and cultures they would never have otherwise seen and it opened them to new possibilities. What if everything they had learned was wrong?
Paris was a Mecca for creative people in search of nurturing and support for their art. They could not find it at home, but the bohemian and eccentric could find community and acceptance in Paris. African American artists of the time could live and work in Paris without the constant onus of the historically ingrained racism they experienced in America. Many of the expatriates settled in Montmartre. Press here to watch a short video of Paris at that time. Press here to get some idea of what Montmartre was like when Hiler arrived. Press here for an article.
Hiler had reportedly attended the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania to make his father happy before he clarified what was important to him, embraced his artistic side and left for Paris. I have read varying accounts of Hiler’s time in Paris: That he played the piano with a monkey on his shoulder. That he owned or managed a club. That he played the saxophone. Our guides in San Francisco told us and several web sites confirm that he painted a number of murals on the walls of nightclubs in the district. But none of them remain today because when Hitler invaded Paris in 1940, the Nazis embarked on a program to eradicate what they termed “degenerate” art. Hiler’s murals were among the many works they destroyed.
Which means that the only place left to see Hiler’s murals (recently restored) is the lobby of the Maritime Museum in San Francisco. It is reported that when Henry Miller first walked into the lobby and saw the murals, he asked Hiler to teach him how to paint.
Here are some pictures.
In his later years, Hiler’s art became more abstract as you can see from his work on this site but his exploration of color and the infinite possibilities for its expression was always a central focus in his work.
As a jazz musician, Hiler used musical such as tone and harmony to describe color. “The harmonious relations of structure and order presented in a new way, in the nature of a continuum. Relations of degree, and those of geometric progression of color-form, replace relations of simple analogy—or in turn of contrast, by opposition. As the sequential relations of Structuralism design resemble those of natural growth, it may be termed organic. In this sense, it is like certain kinds of music.” (Hiler, Structuralism, London, Heal & Son, 1955). From Hiler, Hilaire Biography, download here.
This blog post only scratches the surface of Hiler, his art and his fascinating life. If anyone has additional information and would like to share, I invite you to leave a comment.
My Visit to Wolf Myrow or Thank You Nehemiah
Elwood: It’s a hundred and six miles to Chicago, we’ve got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark, and we’re wearing sunglasses.
Jake: Hit it.
OK, maybe our trip to Wolf Myrow didn’t start off with snappy dialog, but I was game as soon as a friend suggested we take a break from Clay ConneCTion 2012 in New London and head to Wolf Myrow in neaby Providence RI. “And don’t wear good clothes,” he added. I had never been to Wolf Myrow before, but I’d heard about it and was eager to go.
Some background: The U.S. costume jewelry industry was born in Providence, Rhode Island 1794, when Nehemiah Dodge, a local goldsmith and watchmaker, developed a gold plating process that opened up the jewelry market to mass production. Providence became a major player in the costume jewelry industry and, at one time, employed thousands in its factories. In fact, New England was once filled with factories from the looms of Lowell to the textile mills of Lawrence and the paper mills of Maine. Hardly any factories exist anymore but one can spot the abandoned buildings with their stone walls and multi-paned windows near the cities’ outskirts close to rivers and railroad tracks.
Wolf Myrow is a left over from those heady manufacturing days. It buys and sells jewelry findings and beads, mostly discontinued or old and items left over when a factory closes. Poking around the vast Wolf Myrow inventory gives a feeling similar to exploring your Grandmother’s attic; the sense of mystery and discovery is heightened by the plain paper packaging and boxes that hold most of the items offered for sale.
We approached the ware house from hilly street on the edge of town, parked the car on a narrow gravel driveway and entered through a heavy fire door. The air smelled musty and old. We made our way down a narrow hallway over ancient wood floors worn smooth from years of use. Then I entered the main room and felt like I had walked into a store in Diagon Alley.
It was crowded with rows of towering rusty metal shelves and every shelf was piled with cardboard boxes bearing faded type written labels. I saw a yellowed newspaper lying on a massive dark wooden counter next to an antique cast iron scale. I felt like I had walked back in time.
And everywhere I turned, I saw a door to another room. There are so many rooms that they kept the lights off to save electricity, but the light switches were clearly marked in case anyone wanted to shop there. Each room I entered contained rows of old metal shelves piled with dusty cardboard boxes.
I walked into a room and switched on the light. I felt like I was the first person who had entered that room in years. As I made my way down an aisle I stopped for no reason, pulled a box off a shelf and opened it. I saw scores of a brass stamping that reminded me of a brooch an aunt wore when I was a child, a memory I had forgotten.
When you open a box, you might pull out copper bracelet blanks. Or brass chain. Or glass pearls. Or Swarovski crystals wrapped in crisp paper packets.
Customers are required to purchase items in bulk and most things are sold by weight. If you go with a few friends, you can swap purchases with one another and come away with an assortment of products . The staff is nice and extremely helpful.
Press here for a link to the website and catalog that will give you an idea of that Wolf Myrow sells. But take it from me, there is no substitute for a visit to the warehouse in Providence. Thank You Nehemiah.
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.”
“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?”
“What was his name?”
“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.”
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