Saturday, August 20, 2016

Paradise ponders...

Paradise ponders...  We had a relatively quiet day today – it was kind of relaxing to have no medical appointments. :)  I've spent a few hours today scanning photos and commenting on them.  Lots of memories; some happy, some sad.  I used a few tissues today.

This afternoon after the grass dried off (heavy dew last night) I went out and mowed.  The yard around the house is basically destroyed by the construction work, so I'm not doing anything at all with that.

I cooked a nice lunch for Debbie and I.  I'd picked up a slab of sturgeon at the grocery a couple of days ago, and today I baked it in butter and onions, with dill, lemon, and pepper for seasoning.  It was delicious!  Seafood is going to figure more prominently in our diet going forward, as it's a good food for Debbie's needs – and we both love it.  I sense a growth in our seafood cooking repertoire in the months ahead. :)

The sunflowers on the north side of my shed are beautiful right now.  Some of them are 8 or 9 feet high!

More memories...

More memories ... from mom's photo collection...

First up is a young man named Demmy (I've forgotten his last name).  The lab dated it December 1977, which is when I got out of the U.S. Navy after having left home six years before.  My dad started volunteering for Big Brothers in the late '60s, and had been paired with several boys with no dad.  One of those, while I was still living at home, was a kid from the Trenton ghetto, a young black boy.  I've forgotten his name, but I'll never forget how terrified he was to be on a farm.  That poor kid only felt safe in the known quantity of the ghetto.  That pairing didn't last long.  Sometime after I left home to join the Navy, my dad was paired with Demmy – and that lasted quite a few years.  From conversations with my dad, I know that he (my dad) found this relationship quite fulfilling, but also frustrating at the same time.  I met Demmy a couple of times when I was home on leave.  I have no idea what's become of him. 

This cutie is my cousin Sandy Over, the daughter of my mom's sister Betty and her husband Bill.  The photo is undated, but I'm guessing it's from the early-to-mid 60s, as I knew her when she was older than in this photo.  I believe she's a year or two older than I am.  Her family and ours visited each other a few times a year; they lived not so far away in northern New Jersey.  Aunt Betty had a slew of kids – 10 or 12 or so.  Of that crowd, two stood out for me: Sandy and her sister Patty, most likely because they were reasonably close to my age.

Here's my brother Mark again, in an undated studio portrait (school photo, perhaps).  What a devilish expression!  I'm guessing he's 7 or 8 years old in this photo, which would place it in 1968 or 1969, not long before I left home.  That makes sense, because his appearance here (not including the fancy duds!) jibes with my memories of him when I left.

My cousin Buster is at left.  He's the son of my Aunt Lillian, my mom's sister.  I have no memories of either Buster or Aunt Lillian, and I'm not sure why.  We must not have seen them often, because I can't dredge up any recollection of them at all.

Finally, here's a photo of our home on the farm in Robbinsville.  This is looking at the west side of the house during a snowstorm.  The photo is undated, but from the paucity of landscaping and the dark color, it has to be before 1958, when my dad painted the house a lighter shade.  The picture window (left 1/3 or so of it is visible) was the centerpiece of our living room.  It overlooked a planting and the forested creek valley, and my mom's bird feeders.  Visible on the top of the smaller window is the hanger hardware for the “storm window”.  This was a second window, a single pane of glass, that together with the primary window provided a bit of insulation in the winter.  Storm windows were a positive thing, but nowhere near as good as today's double- and triple-pane windows.

More memories...

More memories ... from my mom's photo collection...

First up is one I never expected to find: a photo of my Uncle “Donnie”, my mom's brother, from when he was in the Marines during the Korean War.  The photo is undated, and my mom wrote on the back “bridge Donnie Marine”.  He's on the wing of the bridge of a U.S. Navy ship.  The telescope and signal lamp are standard Navy issue, both still exactly like the ones I saw in the Navy 20 years later.  At the top right you can see the (also standard) antenna mount; there would have been a whip antenna rising from it.  The odd looking cabinet in front of him is a signal flag cabinet containing the numerous flags used to communicate ship-to-ship – a system that is, amazingly, still in use today.  I only recall seeing my Uncle Donnie a few times, but he and my mom talked fairly frequently.  They were quite close when they were growing up.  Uncle Donnie was a bit of a black sheep in the family – he was (I'm told) a serial philanderer who repeatedly was caught cheating on his first wife.  My dad told me that when in all-male company, Uncle Donnie was fond of telling stories about his escapades in the (perfectly legal) whorehouses of South Korea.  Uncle Donnie made it even worse by marrying another woman (in Florida) while still married to his first wife (in New Jersey).  As a consequence he was a wanted man in New Jersey, and couldn't safely visit for years.  This photo was probably taken around the time I was born, but he doesn't look much different than my memories of him.

This photo sure brought back memories – a boat load of very nice ones.  These are the Shepard kids, from a family of dairy farmers with a beautiful spread near the Quabbin Reservoir in central Massachusetts.  We met the while we were both camping somewhere in the Western U.S. (my memory says Crater Lake, but I'm not sure that's right).  We all hit it off right away, and we saw each other quite a few times.  They visited our farm at least once, and we stayed with them a couple of times.  Wonderful people, they were.  I've often wondered what happened to them all.  Massachusetts has to be a challenging place to have a dairy farm...

Here's a nice color photo of my brother Scott from March 1960 (according to my mom's note on the back.  He was kinda cute back then, wasn't he?  It's been all downhill since then. :)  He would have been six years old then.  I don't know the context for the photo, but it looks like the photos that our school used to have taken.  It's definitely in a studio; my parents would never have been able to get the lighting right.

Finally, here are a couple more photos of my youngest brother Mark.  Neither of them is dated, nor are there any notes on the backs.  The one on the left is a studio shot, perhaps a school photo like Scott's above.  He looks older in that photo than my memories of him.  I left home (to join the U.S. Navy) when he was nine, so I suspect he's at least ten in that photo.  I don't know what the hell is going on in the photo on the right.  Purple pants, a dress, a hat from a bad science fiction movie, and colored feathers?  What is that?  And a saxophone?  If he played any musical instruments, I don't remember it.  I just did an image search on Google Images, and it looks like that is a mummer costume.  This is an element of human perversion that until now I have been blissfully unaware of.  Thanks a lot, Mark.

Update – Mark's response:
New years day
34 degrees
Marched 7 miles in the freezing rain
In pink feathers

More memories...

More memories ... from my mom's photo collection.

This one brings back a mix of happy, funny, and sad memories.  The young man in the photo is Joe Trembula, my best friend in my teens.  He was the son of Lithuanian immigrants, Josef and Freda Trembula.  His dad eventually bought an acre or so of our family farm, where he maintained a beautiful garden.  After I joined the U.S. Navy in 1971, Joe and I lost touch.  Through my mom, I learned of a series of tragedies in his life, culminating in his suicide about 15 or 20 years ago.  As a kid, Joe was cheerful, ambitious, and possessed of a spectacular drive.  He was also quite consumed by thoughts and ponders of right, wrong, honor, and dishonor.  Some of this I know came from his dad, who was quite an old-fashioned man.  One example that illustrates Joe's character is his decision to build a canoe, at age 15.  He got his dad's permission to use their basement for this purpose, and then went to work.  He did it “right” by his measure.  That canoe was framed in solid oak, planked with 1/2", 7 ply clear (no knots) birch marine plywood.  Those materials alone would cost a fortune today!  The canoe was flat-bottomed, but the sides curved.  To get the oak frame to curve, Joe built a steam cabinet (from scratch!) and bent the four oak longitudinal beams.  Where the beams joined, he hand-chiseled mortise-and-tenon joints.  In oak.  When he had the entire frame perfectly fitted (all joined without screws or glue), he drilled hundreds of pilot holes for screws, took it all apart, glued one joint at a time, clamped it, then screwed in brass screws.  He drilled all those holes by hand, with an old-fashioned brace-and-bit.  Then he screwed in the screws with a hand screwdriver, so as to minimize the chance of stripping a screw.  If he damaged a screw's head, out it came to be replaced with a new one.  When all the wood work was done, he fiber-glassed the outside of the canoe with three layers of very fine fiberglass cloth.  That damned canoe weighed over 200 pounds when he finally finished it.  It was practically indestructible – we teasingly called it his “Polynesian war canoe”.  He and I took several multi-day trips in that canoe, most memorably a trip down a river in the New Jersey pine barrens all the way to a harbor along the New Jersey coast.  I often think about Joe, wondering why his life turned out the way it did.  As a kid, I always thought he would become a famous, accomplished man – his energy and drive were overwhelming...

Here's another photo with some mysteries in it.  It's obviously some kid's birthday party.  The room is the dining room of our house in Robbinsville.  The woman standing in the rear was my Aunt Marion, the wife of Donald, my father's older brother.  She nearly always looked sad or somber with her arms folded, just as in this photo.  If she's there, then my cousin Jonathan (their adopted son) is almost certainly there too – but I can't pick him out.  The lab dated the photo as February 1957, when my sister Holly would have been about two; I think she's the left-most kid.  I think that's me behind the cake; I'd have been four and a half years old.  On the back my mom wrote “I forget whos birthday”.  The date is wrong for it to have been mine, Scott's, or Holly's – so it's a mystery to me, including why it would have been in our home.  One possibility: my parents didn't have the film developed for a long time after it was taken.  Another possibility: my brother Scott was born on Christmas Day, so sometimes my parents would celebrate his birthday on another day, so that he wasn't “cheated” out of a celebration that was all about him.

This is my dad, painting the west side of our house.  The lab dates the photo as November 1958, though it's clearly not taken in the winter.  It's probably from the summer of 1958, which is the most likely time for him to tackling a big project like painting the house.  My mom wrote “Tom painting. Egads!!!” – and it is an unlikely activity for him. :)  The outbuilding visible left of him is his old chicken shack.  He built that before heading off to the war, when he dreamed of becoming a chicken farmer.  Really!  On a couple of the trips I took with him, I had several long discussions about it.  Before his wartime experiences, he relished the idea of making a living by raising chickens – mainly because it was relatively profitable but wasn't very hard work.  He taught himself how to do it, built the chicken shack, and for a couple of years raised chickens for eggs and meat.  Then he went off to war, and when he came back discovered that neither of his brothers were interested in taking over his father's holly tree business, so it was his for the asking – and he forever gave up his chicken farming ambitions.  In this photo, he's wearing his “uniform” – the clothing he normally wore to work at home.  This was a light cotton short-sleeved shirt and sturdy cotton twill pants.  Normally he'd be holding a shovel, or pruning gear, not a paint brush.  :)  That haircut was his norm, too.  Behind my dad, you can see the tall beech tree that shaded our driveway, and held our swing.

Doesn't this look like something out of a history book?  It's hard even for me to believe that this was within my lifetime!  The photo is dated by the lab as February 1957, and my mom wrote “Tom and Scott” on the back.  That's my brother Scott on the left, three years old, and me on the right, four and a half years old.  I remember those outfits – jackets and insulated pants.  Seeing that truck brought back all sorts of memories.  It's a 1956 International Harvester S100 1/2 ton pickup, my grandfather's pride and joy.  After he had his awful car accident, this basically became my dad's pickup, replaced in the late 1950s by a Volkswagen pickup.  This photo was taken while the truck was fairly new – the scratches and dents that I remember are missing.   The sign that starts with “Earle Dilatush” was replaced later with one that just said “Dilatush” and included the cardinal-and-holly logo the nursery later used.

Finally, here are two more photos of me.  The first one is dated by the lab as March 1955; I'd have been two and a half years old.  That's the kitchen of the home my parents built, looking south toward the living room.  The old Kenmore electric stove is on the left, and the serving window between the kitchen and the living room is open (you can just make out the living room's ceiling tiles through it).  The beautiful knotty pine kitchen cabinetry (loved the hardware!) is on display.  It looks like a couple of roasting pans on side, up on the counter top.  I have a top knot!  The second photo the lab dates as February 1957, when I was four and a half years old.  This must have been developed much later than when it was taken, as I can't imagine we'd have been out in a rowboat in February, even in New Jersey!  I don't recognize the boat at all.  At a guess, this was taken while crabbing (something I remember well) in a northern New Jersey bay, in a rented boat.  The boats and dock all look like the right type.  Note the old-fashioned kapok life preservers at right, and the carved wooden cleat on the deck.  Neither of them would be seen these days!  Near the life preserver, it looks like the top of a Fanta bottle peeking out – and that means that most likely my mom was in the boat, as she loved that stuff.  Next to me is the top of an anchor.  Behind me (left in the photo) is the handle of an oar.  In front of me (right in the photo) is a long wooden handle – most likely for a crabbing net.  I can't tell what I'm gripping – a bag of some sort.  Possibly it's bait, or maybe our lunch. :)  If I'm guessing correctly, then we'd have had a fine meal that evening!

More memories...

More memories ... found in my mom's photo collection...

First up is a photo that's a bit mysterious to me.  This one is dated by the lab as December 1955.  The house looks like the north end of our home on the Robbinsville farm – but I don't remember there ever being a fence where there's one in the photo, and I don't remember a clothesline stretching from the back porch.  It's obviously a birthday party, and that might be me behind the cake.  If it was my birthday, then this was taken in September 1955, when I was three.  I do remember the folding table and the roll-around cart, but not those chairs.  Were those really ours?  Funny how memories and the mind work.  The other six kids in the photo don't look familiar to me at all.  The man visible in the background looks vaguely like a young version of how I remember my Uncle Earle (my dad's oldest brother).  Any of my relatives care to chime in on this one?

This one is unmistakably my brother Scott.  In my mom's handwriting, on the back: “love this expression”.  The lab dates this as February 1959, when he would have been 5 years old.  He's in the same pose as a photo of me that I posted yesterday.  I have no idea why he's so happy there! :)

I believe this is me, posed in front of (I think) an English holly.  The lab dated this photo as February 1959, but from the deciduous trees in the background I'd guess it was more likely in the fall of 1958; I'd have been six years old.  There's an orchard in the background, so I think this must have been one of the older holly growing fields to the west of my grandfather's house (where today there's a group of office buildings).  These hollies were all sold when I was fairly young, and for most of my childhood those fields were either in soybeans or were pasture.

 Here's another one that's a bit of a mystery.  I'm pretty sure the two kids are my sister Holly and my brother Scott.  The photo is dated by the lab as December 1959, when they would have been 4 and (almost) 6, respectively.  The man to the right is in a forestry service uniform; I have no idea who he is.  I don't recall us knowing any forest rangers, but that's certainly the kind of person my dad would have known.  The structure looks like the base of a fire tower made from logs; these were the norm in the New Jersey pine barrens.  The trees visible could be the scrubby pines from the pine barrens, but they look more like spruce to me.  On the other hand, the rock on the ground looks like granite, which suggests somewhere in the Appalachians, quite possibly Maine (though not in the winter!).  I wonder if any of my siblings can place this better?

Speaking of siblings ... here's the first one I've run across of my youngest brother Mark.  The photo is undated, but clearly from when he was very young, so probably 1961.  In my mom's handwriting on the back is simply “Mark”.  I was 8 years old when he was born, and I have some clear memories of the event.  I remember mom getting bigger and bigger, and complaining of discomfort – she was much less fun then. :)  Then she went to the hospital, which I didn't really understand, and it frightened me.  Dad looked very harried and worried, too, and we had baby sitters frequently.  I don't remember how long she was in the hospital, but it seemed like forever to me.  Then one day a white bassinet appeared in our dining room, and shortly thereafter mom and Mark came home.  After that, chaos!  And some resentment and puzzlement on the part of us older kids, as Mark was (obviously) the focus of mom's attention for a while.

This is another photo of me, dated by the lab as April 1954, when I was about 18 months old.  In my mom's handwriting on the back is “Tommy”.  I don't remember that shower floor, darn it, so I'm wondering if this was in my uncle's house (in the rented apartment) or in the “old bathroom” of the house my parents built.

Finally, here are two photos of my grandmother Mable, my mom's mother. Both photos are undated, and in my mom's handwriting says simply “Mom”.  I can't place either of the photos.  My memories of her are very fuzzy; she didn't have nearly the impact on me that any of my other grandparents did.  She never really seemed to engage with me (I'm not sure if that's a shared experience with my siblings).  She certainly was never unpleasant or standoffish, just not a particularly intense presence.