55 posts categorized "History"

Memory is like

A bit of snow outlines out the patterns / New Jersey / January 2009

“When I look back I know that, in spite of my desire to reveal the truth about myself, I am adjusting and altering the meaning of this history: memory is like the puppet master who makes the marionette move a little differently every time he takes up the strings. What I am now is not the way I shall see myself 10 or 20 years from now, and if I am foolish enough to try and write another story of my life, it will not be the same as this.”

~ an excerpt from The Grotto by Coral Lansbury


The Jersey landscape going north / New Jersey / Jan. 2008

This morning driving north to central Jersey where the landscape changes. A slow climb through gentle hills. Long vistas of trees and fields. An old barn with sheep grazing in the cold morning air. A funeral for the father of an old college friend, Jane's father. A modern church with floor-to-ceiling windows at each corner that invite the Jersey landscape inside. Even the gray winter views are comforting and lovely. A family with four young children sit beside me and immediately one wants to know, Where is God? I later learn that they are neighbors who visited frequently; the children loved to play with the buttons that controlled the hospital bed and were an energetic and welcome counterpoint to the inactivity of a man who suffered from Lou Gehrig's disease. The priest reads the well-known quote from Lou Gehrig's farewell speech (“today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth”). But then he continues reading from the speech: “When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed — that's the finest I know.” An accurate description of Jane's mother and how she has cared for her husband for seven years. As the mass closes the pianist begins to play the 2nd movement of Antonin Dvorak's Symphony No. 9 (New World Symphony). It is the only piece of music that I distinctly remember from a music class that Jane and I took in college — we sat in carrels in the music building listening through heavy earphones. The music seems to hang in the air above us and then drift out slowly and easily across the barren fields.

I'll remember when the lilacs bloom


A young Mr. D served in WWII in the 3rd Army Anti-Aircraft Coast Artillery / Dec. 2008

I think of the people that come into our lives for a short period of time but leave a lasting impression — both for who they are and for how they make us feel. Mr. D was an older next-door neighbor. He liked to sit on his porch and listen to the radio and nap. He talked about the things he had done in his life including working at a Stetson hat factory in Philadelphia and running his own deli. And in the way of older people, he griped about how the world had changed since he was young. A Jersey boy who loved to get his hands in the dirt, his prize plant was an exotic banana-leaf plant with huge leaves. He loved helping me and would offer his skills, no matter what I was doing. A thriving lilac bush in my yard that he planted and watered faithfully during a dry summer stands as testament to his skills. One year he and his wife helped me plant tomatoes. He would dig a hole exactly the right size, add Miracle Grow and put the plant in. She would compress the dirt around the plant's roots just so, using her hoe. I was awed by their skills. I danced at a party celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. After several years they moved and we kept in touch only sporadically. A call last week let me know that Mr. D had died at the age of 86. I felt the loss for his family and for myself. He thought I was special. He was always glad to see me. Can we ever have enough people like that in our lives?

Appointments to keep in the past

Today we celebrate another in a long line of Jelisava-Elizabeths / New Jersey / Nov. 2008

“And might it not be, continued Austerlitz, that we also have appointments to keep in the past, in what has gone before and is for the most part extinguished, and must go there in search of place and people who have some connection with us on the far side of time, so to speak?”

~ Austerlitz, W. G. Sebald

The swish of her sari

Colorful Sari cloth forms the lining of my Houndstooth jacket / New Jersey / Nov. 2008

“It is the sounds we hear as children that shape us.

It is the snap-crush of spices under the heel of my grandmother's hand. It is the slip-splash of her fingertips, sliding fish into turmeric water. It is the thwack of her palms, clapping chapattis to life on her flat stone, a perfect circle, every time. It is the swish of her sari, the click of her knitting needles, the tap-tap of the soles of her feet hitting the soles of her sandals. There lies my grandmother's Morse code.”

~ Sadia Shepard writing in her book: The Girl from Foreign, A Search for Shipwrecked Ancestors, Forgotten Histories, and a Sense of Home


Mitza called to tell me that today would be Barba's 100th birthday. This isn't a picture of him, but is an image that looks like him that I've had for years it captures his spirit and sweet smile. He was my great-Uncle and Jelisava's youngest son (in the local Croatian dialect, "Barba" means "uncle" and is also a term used to address older seafaring men). Born in Camden, he worked on ships and told wonderful stories. One of my earliest memories is of Barba taking my older brother and me to the park near his house in Philadelphia. His love and affection for me is one of the little miracles in my life. / Remembering Camden NJ in 1908

What shall I give? and which are my miracles?
To me the sea is a continual miracle,
The fishes that swim — the rocks — the motion of the waves — the ships with men on them,
What stranger miracles are there?

~ Walt Whitman (an excerpt from Miracles; Leaves of Grass)

Good land to fall in with


In the shadow of the Wildwoods sign on Rio Grande Ave. / Wildwood, NJ / June 2008

“A very good land to fall in with — and a pleasant land to see.”

~ The first recorded description of the Island of Five Mile Beach (the present-day Wildwoods); written by the English navigator Robert Juet in 1609

Even before the English arrived, the Lenni Lenape Indians (also called the Delawares) spent summers at Five Mile Beach. They cut two trails through the dense forest (the wild woods?). One was a continuation of the mainland King Nummy Trail that began at the north end of the island and stretched southward. In the middle of the island, it met another trail that entered where the Rio Grande Bridge was eventually built (via The Wildwoods Historical Society). King Nummy was the last chief of the Unalachtigo Tribe, a branch of the Lenni Lenapes (via New Jersey History's Mysteries). Unalachtigo means “people who live near the ocean.” 

A bridge between


Suspended somewhere between my past and my future worrying that my bridge is in need of some serious maintenance . . . I wonder is my bridge made of hand-cut stone or the latest hi-tech materials? / A bridge between Camden and Philadelphia / March 2008

“ . . . every single person constitutes within himself a bridge between the past and the future . . . ”

~ Daniel Mendelsohn in The Lost, A Search for Six of Six Million

Center square


William Penn atop Philadelphia's City Hall / Philadelphia, PA / April 2008

Philadelphia's grand French Second Empire City Hall building (one of the five squares in William Penn's original plan for the city) has over 250 relief and freestanding sculptures. All were created by Alexander Milne Calder. “The most famous sculpture is that of William Penn. The statue of Penn stands thirty-seven feet tall, and weighs twenty-seven tons. He is the tallest sculpture on top of any building in the world. His five-foot long hand is pointing northeast towards Penn Treaty Park, where William Penn made a treaty of friendship with the Native Americans in 1682. The hand appears to be making a humble gesture of blessing and welcome.” (Virtual City Hall) See a scale image of the statue from 1892 here.

Explain it to your grandmother


Happy Birthday Grandmom / Baltimore, Maryland / circa 1920

“Most grandma's have a touch of the scallywag.” 

    ~ Helen Thomson

“You do not really understand something
unless you can explain it to your grandmother.” 

    ~ Proverb