Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Eve

Slowly we sang it

The red-robed sopranos
spread out among us
and the altos
and the basses
all among us
singing slowly

Ivory candles
tapered to halos
on our faces
silver halos
in the dark gold night
lighting the grand
brass pipes
and the worn
wooden pedals

Slowly we sang it
and the silent night
never seemed so holy

Monday, December 15, 2014

Something Saved

The manila envelope was labeled Photographs. Certainly not unusual in my house, where my father's photographs vie with mine for the title of Most Ubiquitous. After four or five years of scanning my dad's prints and negatives, you wouldn't think I'd find any more photographic surprises, but they still pop up.

The best ones are photos I don't remember ever seeing, and this envelope contained a bunch of them: my late cousin Terry blissfully dancing with Dave at their wedding . . . my stepmother's father's family portrait from Scotland at the turn of the 20th century . . . my dad's older cousin Peggy in a bathing costume that included high button shoes . . . my grandmother with one of her sisters and their mother. And a snapshot of a young woman I didn't recognize. She was attractive, and held a dog on a leash. On the back was a note to Lucky (my grandmother) from Babe (her daughter).

"You're so much like Babe." I heard it most of my life. Babe (whose real name was Estaire) was my father's younger sister. I was very young when she died, and have only two vague and disparate memories of her: One, in her Manhattan apartment, watching some sort of gold metal revolving Christmas display, its movement triggered by a candle flame. Babe was swathed in fur, ready to go out somewhere. In the other, we are at her Patchogue, Long Island, summer house, and she's showing me her tiny vegetable garden, pointing out how carrots grow underground.

We didn't look alike—she inherited her father's black hair—but according to my dad we had the same laugh, the same sense of humor, the same way of talking to dogs, the same tendency to get emotional. I believe it. For one thing, she and my dad were close. For another, I know I inherited some striking personality characteristics from her mother.

Her mother. My grandmother. "Lucky."

Dear Lucky,
Thought you would like to have this—last picture I took of B.J.
Best love,

Until this morning, I had never seen her daughter B.J. all grown up. The initials stood for Barbara Joan, whom I've written about before. I wrote a poem about her, too. She was 20 years old when she died. My daughter Gillian was 25.

I looked at Babe's note, written with a fountain pen in the red ink she favored . . . the strong, attractive handwriting . . . the painful stumble on the word "last" . . . the "best love." I imagined her effort to make her writing look normal on this occasion. I saw th and g just the way I write them. I felt what she felt. All of it. Everything.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Conversations With Joey

Occasionally I post on Facebook about interactions with my 3-year-old grandson, Joey. It's usually easy to make them concise (because they usually are concise!). But here's a longer one from today.

We were at the piano, and as usual he knelt on the bench to peer at the sheet music and "read the directions," as he says. Most of the time they instruct him to sing "Old MacDonald" or "I Dropped My Dolly in the Dirt" (black-key song), but this time he said we should play a tune about Jack.

"Who's Jack?" I asked.
He explained that Jack was on the ice and fell.
Ah, I thought. This is a book someone read to him, maybe at the library.
I asked if Jack fell through the ice, and he said yes.
"That's terrible!" I said. "So dangerous."
"Yes," he said gravely. "It's very bad."
"So did someone rescue him?"
"No," he said.
"No??" I wondered what kind of book this could have been.
Then he had second thoughts. "The fireman came."
"We have to play Jack on the piano," he reminded me.
"Jack has a song?"
"It's not a song," he said, clearly trying to be patient with ignorant Grammy. "You play it on the piano."
Oh. Okay.
So I played a few bars of Dylan's "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right."
"Yes," Joey said. "That's the way it goes."

Later, as we sat down to read a book he looked around the living room. "Where's your boss?" he asked.
It sounded like "boss," but I didn't think that could be it. "My ball?" I asked.
"No—your boss," he said.
"My boss?"
He nodded.
"What's a boss?" I asked.
"A boss is a mom or a dad," he explained.

I told my son about this, and he said they had no idea where Joey got the word, but he uses it often.

And then as I posted on FB today, we read the book. Every line (I mean *every* line) prompted a "why" question. After 26 pages of this, I asked, "Why do you ask 'why' so many times?" He thought a moment, and then replied, "Because I need to talk."

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

A Week of Gravestones

As many of you know, I'm a volunteer gravestone photographer, uploading pictures of mostly local cemeteries and graves to—over 2,700 photos so far. Because I have Raynaud's Syndrome and can't work with bare hands in the cold, this is seasonal work for me.

Last week I set out to fill one photo request at a relatively small cemetery, and take some random photos at the same time. I told myself this would be the last cemetery outing for the year. FindAGrave had 25 interments recorded, and only five of them had been photographed. When I arrived, I realized many more interments had gone unrecorded. I started taking pictures, all the while keeping my eye out for the requested name. I get in a zone when I do this, stopping only when my back hurts. This, unfortunately, doesn't take very long, but I still arrived home with over 100 gravestone photos.

The usual procedure goes like this:  I put a photo on my monitor and check FindAGrave to see if someone already covered this person. If not, I create a memorial on the site, listing the deceased's name, dates, and any additional information I might have, which usually isn't much. I add the photo—or two photos if I have a shot that shows the whole stone and another that makes the inscription easier to read. If it's obvious that two or more deceased are related, I link them.

This time so many of the stones were so old and worn that I started Googling what I could read of the names and dates to see if someone had included these people on family trees. Because so many people are tracing their family histories, there's a ton of information online now, and I had success in almost every instance.

I found myself learning more than I needed to know, because it was all so interesting. I made another trip to the cemetery, coming home with over 100 more pictures. I found parents of some of the deceased I'd already listed, and children. And siblings. I was inspired to make a third trip. Each trip was followed by a day or evening of photo uploading and research. It consumed my week. I added almost 300 names to FindAGrave, and more than that many pictures, and in the process I learned more about the people buried in this cemetery than I ever thought possible.

Unfortunately, and I suppose predictably, their stories were often sad.

The mother of three who made the noon dinner and then hung herself in the woodshed. Her 14-year-old daughter who found her mother and then died herself a year later. The 3-month-old twin girls who died within five days of each other. The 4-month-old I had to list as "Baby" because she hadn't been named yet. The little boy who died one day before his first birthday. So many other children, lost each time diphtheria or another illness swept through our county.

Sometimes while working on FindAGrave I'd click randomly on one of the little photos honoring someone out of my area. That's how I learned about Permelia Elathae Durfee Clark and her husband, Thomas, of Michigan.

Permelia and Thomas married on Thanksgiving Day 1863. They eventually became the parents of four children. Three of them died in infancy, and their surviving child, Grace, died giving birth to her first baby. A year after that, Permelia died, and 11 months later Thomas wrote this diary entry. It moved me deeply.

"I am writing these closing lines on Christmas Day 1894. I am alone in the house from which they were carried to their final resting place. The dog which my daughter loved lies at my feet. The clock which Aunt Lucy gave my wife ticks on the shelf. The flowers they cared for so tenderly are sitting on the windows. Much of the furniture is arranged as they left it. Their handiwork is around me wherever I turn my eyes. The passing holidays bring again in review all the years we spent together. I had passed my 29th birthday when I married Permelia, I have passed my 60th now, and although it is never safe to say with absolute certainty, if I had my life to live over again I would do this or avoid that, yet I think "yes" I feel "sure", that if I stood again by her side as I stood the morning of my wedding day, and all my life with her had been revealed as it lies now recorded in the memories of the past, I would take her hand in mine and join my life to hers just as gladly as I did then. With the light of that revelation illumining my path I would welcome the joyous experiences as they come. With a clear understanding of the responsibilities which that relationship involved I would strive to discharge them better than I have done. I would accept the pain and disappointment and sorrow as bravely as I might, but my hand should not tremble nor my response be less clear because of that revelation, than it was then ,when all our future was concealed" T.S. Clark 12-25-1894

Friday, October 31, 2014

Halloween (a short-short)

The house had seemed so stunningly sophisticated when you first arrived, with its vast spaces, tall white walls and acres of black carpeting. But now, like everything else about this babysitting experience, the house is just so uncomfortably unfamiliar. And noisy! At first you blamed the scratching sounds on trees—it had to be branches scraping against the windows—but later you remember no trees surround this house on top of a bare hill.

And now the hum. A threatening hum, as if too much electricity coursed through the house. It’s beginning to drive you nuts. You need a TV on—any channel—or a stereo, but you don’t see either downstairs. They don’t watch TV, you think, but they must like to talk on the phone. In the living room sit four old-fashioned looking phones, red ones, with the dial on the base.

Thinking about a snack, you head for the kitchen. The refrigerator is stainless steel, huge, expensive, and empty. One small glass jar sits on a shelf, its contents black and forbidding. The rest of the fridge is bare. What do these people eat? you wonder. And how do they afford all this? What do they do?

You realize how little you know about the couple who hired you. When they called, you were grateful for something to do. Your parents were out at a Halloween party. They didn’t want you trick-or-treating because you were getting over a cold. Tonight’s temperature had dropped down to 22 degrees. The woman on the phone said her name was Eva somebody—Brown, maybe?—and her neighbor had given her your name. She didn’t say which neighbor. She didn’t mind that you had a cold.

An unwelcome thought takes root and grows. You didn’t pay attention to the route the couple took to get here, and you don’t even know what they look like. They picked you up wearing Halloween costumes. You thought it was odd they were both dressed as Death. You asked how they could see through those black hoods to drive, but they just chuckled. The man said his name was Dolph.

I can’t stand this place, you think. It’s so weird! You find yourself pacing the downstairs and searching the blank darkness outside the windows for a light, any kind of light. You left a note for your parents, letting them know you were babysitting, but you gave no names, no address. You can’t remember where your parents said they’d be. Your friends are probably all out trick-or-treating.

The baby. You decide to go check on the baby. You can’t remember if they told you if it’s a boy or a girl. Why is it getting hard to remember things? The hum is louder upstairs. Which room is the baby in? The first two doors open to empty darkness. You go on, clinging to the anticipation of baby warmth, little body curled in sleep, blanket-sleepered bottom in the air.

Finally, a room with a night light. A crib stands in the center, a little mound under the blanket. But the room is frigid, the crib rail like ice under your fingers. The hum is so loud you can feel it in your chest. You turn down the blanket to find a pillow underneath. And beneath the pillow . . . there is no baby. There is no body. Just bones.

You tear down the stairs, beginning to sob. A phone! You grab one of those red phones. You’ll call 911 and then run out the door as fast as you can. You put the receiver to your ear, but instead of a dial tone, a voice speaks, deeply pleased and chilling: “I’ve been waiting for you.”

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Other Important Topic: Beauty

Ha! "Beauty" is something I find more amusing than interesting most of the time. An exception was my teens, of course, when I put some effort into mastering the art of wearing three shades of blue eyeshadow. And my twenties, when we lived in Manhattan, and I loved thinking of myself as sexy and sophisticated. But in my thirties and forties, raising children in the country, I had no time for makeup, nor interest in it, and if I did give it half-hearted try, it just looked silly.

This attitude changed in my fifties, but not dramatically. However, by the time my sixties arrived I realized makeup was my friend. And when I had cataract surgery and no longer hid behind glasses, I needed to make the best use of it. (That is, once I got over the post-cataract shock of seeing my aging face in all its HD detail.)

Makeup, especially eye makeup, makes such a difference in how I look that I've had to keep a rein on it, always aware that I don't want to channel my inner clown. (I don't really have an inner clown. I don't like clowns. But you know what I mean.)

This morning I tried Maybelline's new eyebrow mascara (Eyebrow Drama). I like it! My eyebrows have turned into an iffy mix of blonde and grey (like my hair), growing in various directions (not like my hair). I bought the Blonde shade of this product. I was concerned that it might be too light, but it's a good shade for me. Looks very natural, and somewhat tames the direction of the hairs. I filled in here and there with pencil.

I recently tried Bare Escentuals mineral powder, which is not new, but new to me. They offer a matte product, but I bought the original (on eBay, best price) along with a Kabuki brush by e.l.f. A zillion YouTube videos demonstrate how to apply it. Although I've always gone for a matte look (moisturizer plus powder, no foundation), what I like best is that it's not matte. The finish has a subtle glow to it. Doesn't look old. At least it doesn't in my bathroom mirror, which has the best light ever: not even one wrinkle can be detected in this light!

I rarely turn on the TV in the morning anymore, but one day I happened to catch the Today Show when they were talking about John Frieda Luxurious Volume Mousse. They said staff members raved about it. So I bought it on Amazon—cheaper than driving to Walmart. It really is a nice product. It reminds me of stuff they use in salons; never stiff or sticky. The can says "Transforms Fine Hair." My fine hair, once so thick, has become fine and thin. I wish the transformation included hair growth, but one can't have everything.

Oh, and one more: NYX Nude Matte eye shadow in Bare My Soul. It's taupe. Looks blah, a dull brown, in the case. But I love it for daytime because it looks so natural, like an actual shadow. Lavender can have the same effect.

What is it about October? Last October I posted about a bunch of beauty products I tried after reading a magazine article. And now here I am back again to talk about other products I was inspired to try. I hope I'm not getting desperate.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Money, Money . . .

Based on the numbers I heard on the news the other night, credit-card debt is pretty astronomical, and in many cases it's coupled with a complete lack of retirement savings. Scary.

I have a theory that says electronics have seriously messed with people's spending. I'm old enough to remember when not every family could afford a TV. Then VCRs came out, and everyone had to have one. Stores popped up all over the place renting TVs and VCRs. And of course everyone was renting movies, and some were buying them too.

I remember being wheeled to the operating room for some minor surgery I had, and the two orderlies—ignoring the patient completely, of course, engaged in an animated discussion about all the movies they owned. That was at the start of the video revolution.

These days, we've come so far from VCRs. TVs have gotten huge, and often hugely expensive. The smaller ones are relatively cheap, but not many people want smaller ones. We are offered 3D TVs, smart TVs, DVRs, laptops, tablets galore, and smart phones. Of course this is coupled with data plans, DSL charges, and cable bills. This can add up to megabucks, but still there's a prevailing feeling of entitlement. Not only does everyone want to "keep up with the Joneses," as we used to say, but they want their kids to have all this stuff too. It's no wonder so much of the country is in debt.

My own bottom line is that I'm grateful to be frugal. At this point in my life, I don't know how I'd manage otherwise.

Monday, September 01, 2014

As a PS to my Beany Tale.....

Bean Arch #2, erected this year and doing well!

Saturday, August 09, 2014

A Beany Tale

I'm an enthusiastic grower of green beans. My three bush varieties are just about finished, and my pole beans are too small to pick yet, so when I saw a sale on magnificent green beans at the supermarket today (labeled "Locally Grown") I snatched them up.

They were green-bean perfection: Perfectly straight, perfectly cylindrical, uniformly green. They looked like they'd never come within 20 ft. of a Japanese Beetle. From the length of them, I assumed they were pole beans, but they didn't look like anything I'd ever grown. I was curious, and started thinking about how I could get in touch with the grower so I could find out the name of the variety.

But when I snapped off the ends I realized these beans were lacking something: tenderness. And after they were cooked I lost all interest in identifying them, because the other thing they lacked was flavor.

I suspect they're one of those tough varieties that sellers grow because they hold up well in transit. Or maybe they hold up well after being commercially canned, because I detected a little of canned-bean flavor even though they were relatively lightly cooked.

So I'm glad I didn't pay much for them. And I know my Kentucky Wonder pole beans will be well worth waiting for.

And no, I'm not returning the remainder of the package to the store. Because after all, flavor is just . . . a matter of taste. ;-)

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

A Juicy Tale

Do you juice? Have you ever juiced? Did you juice at one time--like for about three days--but gave it up? Judging from the number of slightly-used juicers for sale on eBay and Craigslist, a lot of people get excited by the idea of juicing, but don't sustain the level of interest necessary to incorporate juicing into their lives.

Back in the 1970s I paid over $200 for an Acme juicer. I became a binge juicer--no surprise, because this is how I do a lot of things: binge sewing, binge rug hooking, binge decluttering, binge-watching some of the TV series I missed back when everyone was watching them once a week. You get the picture.

At some point I stopped juicing. This was before we had eBay and Craigslist, so the juicer went into my pantry and eventually became invisible. I almost never watch infomercials of any kind, but a few years ago I turned on the TV in the kitchen and there was Jack LaLanne, vigorous and fired up with enthusiasm at age 102 or whatever, demonstrating his juicer. Truly, he was like the best preacher you've ever heard, except instead of the Bible he had his hand on a kitchen appliance. Instead of sin he decried processed foods. And instead of prayer he offered us carrots, apples, and romaine lettuce.

This is great, I thought, and I own a juicer! But with the zeal of a recent convert, owning a juicer wasn't enough. I wanted my kids to own theirs too. I didn't order any from the infomercial, though (frugality trumps zeal); I went to Amazon, my go-to retailer, and bought a Jack LaLanne juicer for my son and his family for a lot less than the TV price, plus a Waring Pro juicer for my daughter and hers. Then I got my juicer out of the pantry and ran some vegetables through it.

The LaLanne juicer was still in its box when I read through some online reviews and learned it's an absolute bitch to clean. I offered to sell it and replace it with a different brand, but my son semi-tactfully suggested that I simply sell it. No replacement, thanks. As for my daughter's, I assume it's still in the box. Unless she sold hers too. My own enthusiasm waned before long as well, and the juicer made its way back to the pantry. (I think it went there on its own.)

Then last year someone recommended the documentary "Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead." Icky title, but it certainly grabs one's attention. I loved the movie (you can watch it here). If Jack LaLanne was a preacher, Joe Cross is Paul the Apostle. I started juicing again immediately. Every morning I would set out a large plate and fill it with juice makings: carrots, greens, celery, part of a beet, a piece of apple, a wedge of lemon, a chunk of ginger. It made about 16 oz. of juice, and that was my first meal of the day. I observed a dramatic increase in my afternoon energy.

After a couple of weeks I also observed that the juice was a little hard on my gut. I was seeing an acupuncturist at the time, and she thought it might be difficult to process all those nutrients at once. She suggested I juice every other day, making a smaller quantity, and eating something along with it. She also suggested that I chew the juice, but I ignored that part.

This time I've kept it up, to the point where my sturdy Acme started showing signs that it needed a new blade. I bought one, but wasn't able to install it properly. Perhaps the Acme is too old. Maybe I could have looked harder for a different blade, but I realized I now had the perfect excuse to get a Breville juicer just like the one Joe Cross used in the movie.

It arrives Friday, FedExed from Oregon. I bought it (slightly used) on eBay. Cheers!

Friday, June 06, 2014

Sweet Rocket (Dame's Rocket, Hesperis)

In case you don't know what it looks like, this is it. It wasn't planted here; it arrived on its own. It all began with some seeds I intentionally planted in a perennial bed, but the self-sower long since outgrew that.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Note to Amelia Phillips, Who Died in 1884

I know you were born in Prussia, though I'm not sure when, and moved at some point to London with your husband, the tailor Jacob Phillips, your son Phineas, and daughters Harriet and Esther. I'm not certain when you came to America, but in 1860 you were living in Norfolk, Virginia, with Harriet and her family, which at that time consisted of her husband, Herman, a chiropodist, plus 2-year-old William, and 8-month-old Ophelia.

At some point you and Jacob settled in Baltimore, Maryland with Esther and her family. Esther's husband, Charles, was a cigar manufacturer who shared a business address with Jacob's tailoring shop. After Jacob died, probably in 1868, you moved to New York City with Esther's family: Esther, Charles, and their children:  Isidore, Lena, Jacob, Harry, Minnie, Phineas, Oscar, and Bertha.

Two years after you arrived in Manhattan, Harriet died. By then she had five children, ages 18, 17, 14, 13, and 7. The youngest three, all boys, were placed in orphan asylums—the older two in Cleveland, Ohio, and the youngest, Jacob, in the New York Hebrew Orphan Asylum. I hope Jacob went to New York so you and his aunt, uncle, and cousins could visit him. I don't know why the other two boys weren't placed there with him. And I don't understand why all three weren't able to live with relatives instead. So sad.

Herman said he worked all day and couldn't take care of them. He paid $100 to $150 each year for their care, and died himself 10 years later at age 58.

So this is what I mainly want to tell you: Esther's son Harry, with the beautiful singing voice, married Alice, also of a beautiful voice, and in 1903, after they'd spent some time performing together and separately, their son Harry was born. Three years later they had a daughter, and named her Estaire—Esther with a French accent. Your daughter must have been a good mother to have a granddaughter named for her.

Harry grew up, and—are you still following me?—when he was 40 had a daughter named Susan. C'est moi. Your great-great granddaughter. I was thinking of you today, Amelia, and just wanted you to know that.

Amelia Phillips' memorial on FindAGrave

Sunday, March 30, 2014

An Incident on March 7, 1903

This article is from the New York Tribune, March 8, 1903. I think it's interesting on its own, but the thing I find especially fascinating is that the performance and incident took place March 7, 1903, the day my father—Harry Luckstone's first child—was born. I hope he made it home for the birth.


Flies from Sheath and Hits Musician and Actress.

At the matinee performance of “Nancy Brown,” at the Bijou Theatre, yesterday, John C. Reitzel, one of the musicians in the orchestra, and Miss Anna Buckley, an actress, who was sitting in the front row, were injured by the fall of a heavy dagger from the stage. Reitzel was seriously hurt, but the woman escaped with a scratch or two and a nervous shock.

At the end of the first act Harry Luckstone, who plays the part of the Prince, is called on to engage in an encounter with two others in the cast, one of them being thrown to the stage. Luckstone wears a heavy Oriental dagger in his belt, and in the scuffle yesterday the handle of this weapon caught in the lace of the sleeve. The weapon was pulled violently out of its sheath.

It flew into the orchestra, striking Reitzel heavily between the eyes and then bounded off and struck Miss Buckley in the breast, falling to the floor across her wrist. The bridge of the musician’s nose was crushed in so that he will be disfigured for life, and it was feared last night that his brain might be injured.

The sight of the blood from his wound caused a stir in the audience. Miss Buckley and two or three women who had not been hurt at all fainted. The performance went on, however, which restored the audience to quietness. Reitzel was carried home.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Times Change (boy, do they ever!)

I recently acquired my high school's 1965 yearbook. That's not the year I graduated; in fact, I got married in 1965. But it's close, and in any case it doesn't matter. I bring part of it to my blog as another sort of time capsule: the way high schoolers (at least those who attended William Cullen Bryant High School in Queens, NY) expressed themselves almost 50 years ago.

The text was written by the students. If anyone has a recent high school yearbook, I'd be interested in comparing the styles. Here's a quote taken from the beginning of the 1965 yearbook:

We have acquired the incentive to try to meet all surprises and disappointments with imperturbable calm . . . 

All this is basically due to the gay atmosphere that surrounds us. The pleasant atmosphere lends itself to all those who wish to make use of it for beneficial social purposes. It is not uncommon for young love to have blossomed in the few moments that we have had between classes. Love at first sight has happened in the corridors as well as on the stairways where fortunate people leaving the cafeteria gracefully charged up the stairs to the fourth floor.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Looking at My 1970 Checkbook

I came across this 44-year-old checkbook yesterday. It looks ancient, and it reads like a time capsule.

It starts with a balance of only $218.26, and it never goes much higher than $400. We didn't have children yet, but we lived a fairly civilized life in a Dutch Colonial house in Bergen County, NJ, and spent our weekends at our little house in Pennsylvania. I've never been what you'd call a conspicuous consumer, but I'm sure I did a normal amount of spending. So here's what was normal, or close to it, in 1970.

My telephone bills, including lots of "long distance" calls to my parents in Florida, ran around $40. The electric bill was under $20 for Pennsylvania, and around $10 for New Jersey.  Four months of garbage pickup for $20. Propane for my gas range, 5 bucks. Four dollars to renew my driver's license. Five dollars to the liquor store. A whopping $26 to Bamberger's department store.

So many of the checks are startlingly small. Fifty cents for a Maid of Scandinavia catalog. A guy who made picture frames got $2. Ordering a part for my pressure cooker ran me $2.36. (I guess they didn't charge for shipping.) Someone sold me flowers for $1.60. One year subscription to the local paper for $4. Fifteen months of McCall's magazine for $2.88. (No wonder they went out of business.) Even Bloomingdale's got only $6 and change.

Then there are the mysteries, of course:

A check for $1.98 to Libner Grains. I have no idea who Libner was, and no clue why I'd need grains. Tiffany & Co., $7.36. What could one possibly buy at Tiffany's for $7.36? A check for 50 cents to New Haven Vital Statistics.

But some things never change. In 1970 I donated to animal charities and environmental causes. And almost every page of the checkbook records purchases of books and music, music and books.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

My Navy SEALs (sort of)

I was watching a 60 Minutes segment on the rescue of Jessica Buchanan by a group of Navy SEALs, and I thought of my Navy SEALs. Well, mine weren't really Navy Seals; as far as I know, they weren't even in the military. And my situation wasn't really like Jessica Buchanan's. In fact, it bore no resemblance whatsoever to hers.

Jessica, an American, was working for a Danish aid organization in Somalia in 2011 when she was kidnapped by land pirates and held hostage for 93 days. Jessica suffered mentally and physically during that time, forced to sleep out in the open in the desert. She lost a lot of weight and developed a serious kidney infection. Then one night the Navy's SEAL Team 6 came out of nowhere and rescued her.

When they'd gotten away from the pirates' camp, one of the SEALs asked if she'd left anything behind. She said, "I can't believe I did this, but I had a small little powder bag that they had let me keep, and inside I had re-stolen from them a ring that my mom had made, and I thought, 'I can't leave it here in the desert.' [Her mother had recently died.] And so I ask him to go back and get the bag for me. And, I mean, these men are just, they're incredible. He goes back out, into a war zone basically, to go get my ring. And then he comes back with the bag."

So. About my "Navy SEALs" . . . I was 19 years old, and commuting to work from Queens to Rockefeller Center. Rush hour on the NYC subways is not for the claustrophobic or overly sensitive. Getting a seat was never an option for me. We had our choice of holding onto one of the handles above the seats or grabbing a pole. Envision multiple hands holding onto the same shiny white pole. I guess we chose our spot on the pole depending on our height. Like a lot of riders, I always had a book with me. One hand holding the book, the other clutching the pole.

Our "space" was simply what our bodies displaced. We couldn't claim any of the area surrounding us; that was taken up with other bodies. You can see why no one makes eye contact in a place like New York. We are intent on walling up our very limited territory.

Subway commuters discover that a remarkable number of people eat garlic for breakfast. They also learn that the daily shower doesn't appear to be in widespread use. You don't think about that sort of thing very much; it just goes with the territory. You can't exactly minimize contact with the other riders, but you do what you can not to maximize it.

Which was why it came as a surprise—more like a shock—that morning when a guy in back of me pushed me into the pole and yelled that I was leaning on him. Leaning on him? I turned around and he kept yelling, in Spanish now (I recognized puta). And then he ripped the pearls from my neck.

My dad had bought me that single strand of cultured pearls. Half of the strand dangled from my neck. A section of it lay on the floor of the subway car, and some of the other pearls rolled away between people's feet.

I was a city kid, but a sheltered one. I had no tough response to this attack. I felt violated and scared. I wanted to pick up the piece of my necklace, but was afraid of what the crazy man would do next. Then it magically appeared in my hand, given to me by a tall young black man in sweatshirt and jeans who gently led me away from the ranting attacker. He took me to the other side of the car, where his friends, four of them, surrounded me while he went back in search of the loose pearls.

If it happened today, I would go online to find out who they were and thank them, privately and publicly. Were they part of a college basketball team? Or maybe they were never as tall as I see them today, standing like a stockade fence between me and anything that had the power to hurt me.

But this was more than 50 years ago, long before the advent of the Internet. So they stayed with me until we reached my stop, and then, with most of the pearls retrieved, I exited, leaving them behind to disappear from my life forever. But not from my memory. My Navy SEALs. My saviors. If I were ever asked to recall a time when I felt safe, I would go there first.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

January 8, 1974

Minor domestic annoyances:

1.  Washing machine won't work.

2.  Oxtail soup (a project) turned out tasting like tomato soup a la Campbell's. Sigh.