Pam’s Pictorama Post: I am devoting today to an article of jewelry I purchased several months ago, but have only just started wearing. When I purchased it I was rarely leaving the house except to run in the mornings so there weren’t many opportunities. However, it also seems so fragile (and special) that it took me awhile to get my head around wearing it even now that I find myself putting jewelry on again more frequently.
It was sold to me by a very thoughtful purveyor of jewelry on Instagram, @marsh.and.meadow. (Heather Hagans lives in the Midwest with her daughter Opal who appears, even at a young age, to have inherited her mother’s excellent eye as they travel the US trolling for items.) I began buying photographs from her on another account, but quickly morphed to jewelry as well. I have mentioned her in a prior jewelry post which can be found here. (A very wonderful Easter Bunny pin was one item featured, shown below, which I must dig out to sport over the next few weeks!)
This type of memorial jewelry took hold in the 1800’s and exploded into popularity toward the end of the century. Queen Victoria honored the memory of her beloved husband Phillip by wearing mourning jewelry after his death in 1861 which helped to entrench the trend further. It gets very elaborate and decorative, but to the extent I am interested in it I like the most personal pieces.
I own a few other pieces of Victorian mourning jewelry. Most notably I have a larger gold brooch given to me by a close family friend. Our family histories entwine over several generations and somehow it feels appropriately like family to own and wear that piece, which does sport a superlative decorative bit of braided hair within.
I have also acquired two memorial rings (one with my initials!) as well that just sort of crossed my path, which maybe I will consider further in a future post. It isn’t something I actively collect, but these objects were so lovingly constructed I suppose I feel it honors the memories they hold for them to continue to be worn.
I purchased this item because it was especially interesting and for something that isn’t even two inches long it packs a lot of history. On one side of the piece is the inscription, In the MORP OE. I believe it is an abbreviation for, In the memory of RP OE, so probably Rest in Peace OE? OE could be another Latin abbreviation, but I cannot find reference to it. (OB for example would mean died as a bachelor according to one article I read which also said that some of these references are hard to trace.)
This side has a tiny window revealing a small snippet of hair. It is a black enamel paint on gold, the sides are crimped, as is the decoration around the window. It has a bezel for it to be a pendant and I consider this the front of the piece and the direction outward that I display.
The back, or what I think of as the back, is more unusual and very touching. Etched into the gold in tiny script it states, WBB, Jr. returned home April 1 and then below another window, this time tiny hair is tightly braided decoratively, it reads Obt April 5th…1842.AE 23 yrs. 2. mos. WBB returned home (from where we wonder) and died four days later in 1842. Died from illness? Wounds? Accident? For me it is also the notation of the two months after 23 years that is notable – each day and moment was precious and noted.
The object has an outer hinge, but the tiny window for the braided hair also has a hinge so small you don’t see it at first. It is beautifully constructed and I can only imagine how the act of engaging someone to make this, designing it, and then wearing it must have been for the owner. I hope the act gave her some solace as did wearing it hopefully.
Frankly I am somewhat puzzled by my desire to own this piece, although it is undeniably beautiful it is sad. There was just something so poignant about it and how lovingly constructed and designed it is however that it reached out to me. I think for me these pieces are a reminder not only about honoring those who are gone and remembering them, but to remember to embrace the moment of today as well. Meanwhile I am the willing steward of them for this period of time.
Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: The purchase of this film still allows me to return to a favorite topic today, the films of Frank Borzage and in particular one of my favorites the 1929 film, Lucky Star. My original 2014 post can be found here, but as of writing now I can share a link for the entire film which can be found here. That post was inspired by the purchase of another Lucky Star still and one from another Borzage film, Back Pay. (For Borzage fans who may not know, a great restored version of Back Pay recently became available and as of writing it can be found here.)
This morning I was puzzling through my fondness for this film. Visually, the setting which is a wonderful mix of artificial and realistic and paints its own world is part of it. It is undeniably bleak, but there is something about the self-evidently constructed ponds, paths and buildings that seem to put my mind in a pleasing place. We know now that these sets at Fox were in use morning and night, a young Janet Gaynor was working day and night there on two films at one point and you wonder when she might have slept or ate a meal.
In this story an impoverished young woman is mentored by a war-damaged WWI soldier in a sort of Svengali-esque remake of her. Ultimately his love of her ultimately eliminates all obstacles; this is the sort of perfect Borzage pathos leading to a love conquers all ending. In my opinion Bozage is at his best when given this sort of material and clearly he had a pretty free hand over the making of it. He’d give you a glorious wrap up with a sad ending if he had to (I’m thinking of his A Farewell to Arms as one example; you need to find the unedited version if you are going to watch it – makes a lot more sense including his ending), but he was in his glory building to a happy ending against all adversity.
This photo is from early in the film, in the pre-War day to day world of the far reaches of a nowhere backwater. One of the through lines of this story is the way World War and ultimately change comes even to such a remote corner. Here Janet Gaynor is a wily and feral child to Charles Farrell’s relatively sophisticated adult. The lighting is dramatic and bright where it hits in high relief. The ribs of the poor elderly horse stand out and as does the fence. There’s something about Charles Farrell’s hat which is a tip off that the change he is going to undergo has begun.
I can cheerfully tell you that there are definitely other scenes from this film which, should I be lucky enough to find photos of, I would snatch up in a heartbeat. Should that come to pass I assume I will likely pass those onto Pictorama readers as well, understanding of course, that some of you may not share or understand my enthusiasm. However, the last part of the film takes place during a long scene in the snow and I would love to own some of those so I could lose myself daily in the wonderful silent film world of Frank Borzage and Lucky Star.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today I am pausing to post about one of my mentors who died earlier this month at the age of 89. Her name was Judy and although it saddened me deeply to hear of her passing I know the past few years have not been good to her, pandemic even not withstanding, and she must have hated that.
She had left her beloved Manhattan, whose sidewalks she had pounded for years and whose museums, theaters and concert halls she had frequented, for a retirement community out of state and near one of her daughters more than ten years ago. I saw her subsequently but her health during the years of her retirement has not been great in general despite having been a very robust senior. We had kept in touch through cards and occasional calls until my calls seemed to confuse her about 18 months ago.
As long-standing Pictorama readers may know, I worked at The Metropolitan Museum of Art for thirty years before taking my current position about five years ago. (My post dedicated to leaving the Met can be found here.) For several decades of that time I worked under Judy until, after her semi-retirement, she spent another several years working for me in one of those twists which I use as an example of management challenges I have faced when asked. As it happens, she did not actually hire me, but inherited me when she took up her position at the Met. My previous assignment was winding down and she was coming to start a new program. I remember thinking I would stay long enough to give it a try and see if I liked it which we joked about decades later.
There are many things I could say about her wit, intellect and elegance. Always ready to discuss politics or the latest production of a play, she was a remarkable woman and an enormous influence on me. Her voice continues in my head today pertaining to certain things and we were so close for so many years that an avalanche of condolences have come my way since news of her death was made known.
An attorney turned fundraiser, Judy had exacting standards which fit well into an organization which prized itself on world excellence. It created a high bar that I in particular as the person working most closely with her, assumed quickly. Whether it was a point of grammar (it was an office where grammatical discussions ensued on a regular basis and worn copies of Chicago Style would cross reference with a book of Met style and occasionally someone would site The New Times) or where page numbers should appear in a document, she had definite opinions. Pre-computer I sat with a thesaurus and a dictionary on a shelf over my desk which I would refer to continuously. (They remain there although mostly ceremonial at this point and of course inaccessible there over the past two years of working from home.)
It should be noted that a graduate of Smith college she had worked at different jobs (I believe she wrote for the early television show Omnibus), but was newly enrolled in law school when she was unexpectedly widowed. She was left with two young daughters and chose the difficult path of completing law school to support them. When I met her, Judy had left the practice of law and found her way into the newly developing area of fundraising called planned giving which focused on the tax advantages of philanthropy and estate planning.
Ours were careers that would span the dawn of the computer age and my early office eventually boasted one of the two fax machines for the Museum (that thing was loud and it used strange heat activated paper), followed by and a series of nascent computers and early attempts at email where I think we all had AOL accounts briefly. (I also transitioned from messages taken on note pads for that purpose to voice mail over the years!) We worked through a period where she hand wrote documents (on lined legal pads of paper) and I typed them on a word processor before we graduated to all having personal computers. Her handwriting was unbelievably neat or this would have been more of a chore. I rarely if ever had to ask what she had written, even when she was editing a document.
Within a few years our work and systems burgeoned and I was ambitious and took on all opportunities to turn my hand to additional areas. Therefore, in addition to my work with her I was running a growing annual giving program and special events such as dinners and receptions for exhibition openings, while we continued to work together on estate giving, creating complex contract templates and proposals. She was somewhat proprietary over my time and well, me. However she understood and applauded my ambition, and Judy knew that the best way to keep someone like me was to give me a lot of variety to learn from and keep me busy. I continued to work with her because I did learn from her and understood how valuable that was.
It wasn’t long before Judy evolved into den mom and chief confessor extraordinaire to the entire office and even a swath of the Museum. Given the closeness of my relationship (I used to quip that I spent many more waking hours a day with her weekly than with my now husband Kim) I would be tempted to say that she was a second mom to me, but she understood that I already had a wonderful mom who I am very close and our relationship was very close but definitely different.
When she retired I accepted the mantle of office good cop and chief sympathizer to a large degree although not a mom myself, never quite rising to the level of den mother. (Running my own office now I am keenly aware that I don’t get to be that person any longer as I am now required to be bad cop as well and keep the show running. I do miss my primarily good cop role at times.)
Judy was a fairly observant Jew and working with her pulled me closer to my (half) Jewish roots, reminding me of or teaching me about, aspects of the religion. She is, perhaps, the only person I know well who kept kosher. She taught me about the lesser celebrated holidays and some of the details of the better known
Every year at this time Judy would bake endless batches of hamantaschen for Purim. These are butter cookie pockets filled with thick jam in flavors like apricot, prune and poppyseed. Judy had a few recipes up her sleeve (we disagreed on the specifics of making matzoh brie as I remember and sadly I never tasted her potato latke that I understand were excellent), but by her own account didn’t love cooking.
Her hamantaschen production was her annual contribution and she made enough that tins of it would appear in the office each spring and soon it was legendary. In early March people would start to wander by the office with a weather eye for the day they would appear. She always secured a special tin of them just for me, heavy on apricot, and upon her retirement I ended up with it. I cannot see them in stores without thinking of hers. (The tin stayed with me and is the photo at the top of the post. I opened it today and discovered I had squirreled all sorts of Met related bits in it including several tin types and a nice plastic elephant that used to grace my desk.)
She guarded me like a momma bear over the years and I joked with one of her daughters via email that they must have felt like they had a third sister during those decades. I witnessed the wedding of her younger daughter (where I met a friend of hers who is a minister, Liz Wheeler, who ultimately married me and Kim) and waited with anticipation the birth of numerous grandchildren. Family always came first for her and her daughters and grandchildren were truly her proudest accomplishments. In turn, over time, she met my father and sister when they made their way to the Museum periodically and she knew the inner workings of my family and friends intimately as well. She was among those who saw me through the death of my sister toward the end of our time working together.
In addition to being exacting, Judy also had a hot temper and although never in all those years did she lose her temper with me, I did witness a number of remarkable skirmishes over time. Those who know me well understand that I have a hard and fast rule that I will not work for anyone who yells at me. I worked in kitchens early in my career and decided that I had had enough yelling for a working lifetime. There was one occasion, at the end when she was part time and working for me, when she came to me very angry about something and I told her that I thought she was being unfair and why, and maybe it wasn’t really me she was angry at. To her credit she accepted that; it was the closest we ever came to a real argument and I suspect was mostly about the shifting sands of time she was experiencing.
When after her retirement I had taken on a large part of the management and administration for that office and then eventually was lured away from the Met to run my own office, she marveled openly at my ambition. She had never wanted to leave her area of fundraising and was shocked but very proud of my subsequent accomplishments, such as they were.
I got a call last Sunday from a former Museum colleague while out running errands telling me of the paid notice in the New York Times announcing her death. Shortly after the call ended, I looked in a window as I continued on 86th Street and these trays of hamantaschen were on display. I thought to myself that it was like a wink from Judy as she went on her way.
Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Today’s card is a bit faded, but nonetheless a great addition to the Pictorama collection. While I am pleased to have acquired some outstanding photos of folks sporting Felix Halloween costumes and Felix (and Mickey) in some great parade shots (some of those can be seen in posts here and here) I believe this is the first Mardi Gras Felix photo I have acquired.
Identified at the bottom as being from New Orleans La. February 21st 1928 I checked and confirmed that this was indeed Fat Tuesday, the kick off for Mardi Gras, that year. It is a photo postcard which was never mailed and there is nothing else written on it. (Fat Tuesday is of course the celebration on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday when eating and drinking reaches a frenzied peak in order to tide you over through the period of Lent.)
All participants are in similar, mostly, black masks and all wear jolly hats in addition to their costume and a close look identifies that they are all women. While these clowns, in their silky costumes, in the front are perfectly lovely, it is of course the group of three wearing these early grinning Felix costumes that won me over. It should be noted that a close look reveals that there is a fourth participant wearing a perfectly great black cat costume on the end.
Neither of the occasions I was able to make brief visits to New Orleans were during Mardi Gras and many years ago now. While I wouldn’t be surprised if my work eventually takes me there again I unwittingly stumbled onto a Fat Tuesday tradition at Dizzy’s, the jazz dinner club associated with Jazz at Lincoln Center, this year.
Alphonso Horne’s Gotham Kings make an annual Mardi Gras appearance at the club and this year it could only be described as a raucous and joyous celebration of their return to Dizzy’s on Fat Tuesday after a two year online hiatus. When one of Alphonso’s trumpet players was unable to make the gig he engaged four others for a total of five on stage. Trumpet players called to each other from locations across the room as they emerged from the audience, kicked the show into gear and made their way to the stage where they joined the rest of the band and a tap dancer. (I do love a tap dancer!)
The performance was capped off by the vocalist C. Anthony Bryant singing What a Wonderful World. The tune is far from a favorite of mine, but there wasn’t a dry eye in the house that night. (You can see a variation of the band performing it – in a Manhattan apartment – on a Youtube video here.) So while it is unlikely that I will make Mardi Gras in New Orleans next year, I know where I am likely to be.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: It’s a sunny Sunday after a dreadfully rainy sleety snowy Saturday here in New York City. So I sit down to write with the sense of optimism that prevails on a sunny day after a rainy one.
Meanwhile, I have had this item in my possession for months now where it has perched on my desk, waiting to see what role it will play and what it will contain. I spotted it in a background shot of items being sold by @missmollystlantiques and she was willing to sell it to me. I especially like its glass top where the 2 cent price is posted. 2 cents!
Pictorama readers know I cannot resist a good box. My post on a Krak-R-Jak Biscuit (also purchased from Miss Molly, the post can be found here, as I am one of those folks who still mails cards. The appeal of a box is like catnip to me – I’m equally bad about cabinets. (A post on one display case I bought a few years ago can be found here.) Things that can contain things seem like a win-win to me and I can always justify their purchase in my mind. For some reason I am convinced I always have space for them.
A quick look at the Nestlé history reminded me that it is a Swiss company. Shortly after college I was working in a kitchen at the Drake Swiss Hotel in midtown and little Nestlé bars with the hotel’s logo proliferated so it shouldn’t be news really. I think it was the first time I had considered Swiss chocolate as an export. The company’s history starts with the merger of two makers of condensed milk and baby food in the 1890’s. The chocolate production and a role in the birth of milk chocolate, so says their site, follows in 1904.
While always happy to consume it, as a child I nonetheless admit I found Nestlé a poor relation to my true heart’s desire Hershey; the hard working denizens of Pennsylvania would be glad to know I am sure. I liked the crunch (that model appeared in 1938) added to the Nestlé bars however, but they had a more delicate flavor than the robust explosion of a Hershey bar. I did go through a period of affection for Kit Kat bars, also made by them, while living in England. Again, it was the appeal of the crunch – great with a cup of tea for a pick me up in the afternoon.
Frankly it has been a very long time since I have eaten either, the chocolate I am more likely to encounter these is a wider variety. Bags of Lindt, both milk and dark chocolate, have come my way as gifts recently; my mother has boxes of sugar-free chocolates at her house (surprisingly good, especially if you stick to the nut filled and caramels), the occasional organic bar from Whole Foods crosses my path. In fairness it should be noted that my diet does not allow for the unabashed eating of chocolate however, having found that eating chocolate leads to ultimately eating more chocolate, leading to more of me.
Despite my childhood loyalties, this tin tickles me. Your 2 cents could buy you a plain or almond “block” of chocolate – two sizes shown on the side of the tin, nuts making the smaller (fatter?) bar. Sadly only one of the painted sides is still in relatively good shape, jolly red and yellow paint. For some reason the magic of reaching into the glass top container and pulling out a chocolate bar is still evoked when I look at it. Perhaps that is why I have had trouble filling it with any of the mundane flotsam and jetsam of my desk. I am thinking I may take it to mom’s house in New Jersey where I am still constructing a home office for the days I am there. The accumulating pens and post-its may take up residence there, but the images on the tin tickling a desire for a treat.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: Many ongoing Pictorama readers know that my father, Elliott Butler, was a career cameraman for ABC News. Therefore, news of all sorts has been digested by my family in a variety of fashions but with great gusto over the years. A background of television and radio news is among my earliest childhood memories.
The radio news issued all day and into the evening from a large (12″x18″ ish?) brown box of a radio which sat atop of the refrigerator in each house we lived in until the last, when somehow it magically disappeared. It was on an all-news station almost all of the time, at least until my sister was old enough and tall enough to occasionally turn it to music. Back it would ultimately go to the staple of news however. (My mother allowed my sister her way with music in the car more often, but oddly I have little or no memory of every changing either. It was easier not to get in the middle of their minor tugs of war I guess.)
In those years television news was consumed mostly in the early evening and again later at night. It was viewed on a scratchy black and white television at first (I have vague memories of the landing on the moon viewed on the smallest and almost impossible to see little portable television). Occasionally we would watch a different television channel in an attempt to see my father filming a major story for his channel. A very large man, 6’5″, he towered over most of the other folks. He always wore a distinctive hat and these made him easy to spot.
As a small child I thought I would grow up to be a journalist. There is a photo of tiny tot Pam dressed up like a reporter which is on display in Mom’s house. I may take a picture of it and add it to this post when I am there later in the upcoming week. I held onto this thought as a possible career into adolescence, but it faded as my interest in visual art grew over time. I don’t think I would have been well suited to it in the end and I think it was mostly a response to wanting to be like my dad.
A whole post could be devoted to my father’s work wardrobe which was devised with a stunning combination of practicality and his mother’s underlying sartorial sensibility. I look at images of how cold it is in the Ukraine and I know my father would have been there sporting an Eddie Bauer long down coat which covered even his long frame (the size of a sleeping bag to a young me) and down trousers to match for extreme cold. Layers of long underwear and wool (he was religious about wool socks in winter cold and for a quiet man he could nonetheless preach their virtues and how wool keeps you warm even when wet), would have been topped with a wool (itchy) watch cap on his head.
In warmer weather he favored safari suits for their myriad pockets which light meters and other tools of his trade might be stuffed. Years of standing outside for hours a day helped fine tune his work clothing to a perfect pitch.
Dad bought for quality as well as practicality though and he liked shopping, unlike my mother who frankly has barely ever noticed what she wears as long as it is temperature appropriate and not confining in anyway. (My mother has a hatred of pantyhose which is well documented in the family. You could sometimes coax her into a pair of tights if weather permitted, but an event which required pantyhose of her roused her ire immediately. She often threatened to just strip them off and leave them on the sidewalk as she had seen stray pairs thus on the streets of New York. My mom imagined women like herself who couldn’t take it another minute.) I inherited my father’s love of clothing and fabrics although in terms of style and design we differed some.
My father was equally at home in a suit and owned a fair number of them. There are things he never wore – shorts and cotton or linen suits number among them, as was any fiber that wasn’t natural. I believe this impacted my own opinion of what men (as in boyfriends and eventual spouse) should wear. He had specific ideas about my attire and I wish I had asked my sister if he tried to impress these on her as well because oddly I don’t remember that he did, but no one ever really told Loren what to do.
The background of radio news helped my mother gauge if my father might be called away or kept at work. It was local New York news on the radio in those days although we always lived in a New Jersey suburb. My mother’s brother, John Wheeling, worked for CBS radio and so that was the radio station of choice. (He had a variety of jobs writing, producing and on-air, a few years in sports at the end of his career. He once did an on-air report on a hurricane from our house, surrounded as we were by flooding waters.) As I said, we were a news family. Between the commute and his schedule we rarely had dinner with dad and I was always surprised by my friends who had set dinner hours for when their father would come home from work each day. Other than weekends and vacations it was a novelty to find him home in time for dinner with us as small children.
Dad woke to a clock radio of also tuned to news, loud enough to wake the whole house at least briefly. I too still wake to a clock radio, but with the more soothing sounds of WQXR classical radio although hungry cats have sometimes gotten to us first.
For most of his career my father traveled to news locations across the country and the world. First using film which would need to be developed before going on air, grabbed by three in the afternoon by messengers who would get it back to the newsroom, then moving to video and finally the ability to send it via phone lines and satellite for broadcast. News bureaus did not exist robustly across the country and the world in the early days of news and he would travel, frequently by car but sometimes by air, on a routine basis, storing up a list of restaurants and stores he liked to visit in towns across the US and occasionally countries he went back to visit later.
As a media consuming family, transistor radios and portable televisions multiplied around my childhood home. I was very attached to both and have memories of carrying a small Sony radio around with me, not to mention hours spent in front of a small black and white (also Sony) television in my room.
His work was of course occasionally dangerous. He covered riots at a time when the news wasn’t seen as friendly or potentially necessary documentation of an event. He hung out of helicopters and traveled to areas of political unrest. He knew colleagues who were killed while on the job in war torn areas and he was smart to take his safety seriously. I cannot watch television news without worrying about the crew in dangerous situations. In my mind my father is always among them.
In his retirement he himself became very attached to radio news – an amazing fondness for NPR and also a show called Car Talk notable since he had little interest in the mechanics of vehicles. Sometimes I would find him returned from a trip in the car, sitting in the driveway until some story or segment ended. In the last years of his life he would be peevish about CNN and how often their stories repeated on a loop which he would nonetheless watch. Meanwhile, my mother has in turn become a CNN addict and it is on the television in her house constantly. Her flatscreen television so large I believe I can see the pores on the news anchor’s faces.
After a year of Covid and election coverage frequenting our television I banned CNN and television news in our house to try to regain a sense of proportion and sanity around ongoing current events. I continued to consume my news primarily from the newspaper – I have subscribed continuously to the New York Times since I was in high school when I accepted a special subscription offer which continued through college. Although I still subscribe to the hard paper, like most people I read it mostly online these days. During the pandemic delivery times got later and papers were left in our lobby so it wasn’t possible to read the hard copy over breakfast as is my habit any longer. Online access allows me to investigate other news sources as well and I think if I had more time I would subscribe to the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal daily as well.
However, the outbreak of war in the Ukraine combined with long days spent with mom now, has drawn me back to watching television news, witnessing those horrors has continued even upon my return home. My diet of news television increasing again as I worry about those delivering the news as well as the events they are covering.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today I pick up from where I left yesterday, but use the opportunity to focus on running. Pictorama readers know that about 18 months ago I started running. I have slowly (very slowly!) built my distance up to 4.5-5 miles four or so times a week, as my work schedule allows. This morning, having a bit of leisure time at my disposal, I topped out over 5 miles.
Today was overcast but warm. Rain has moved in since so I am glad I got out early. (Although it means you all are getting this post later than usual as a result!)
Running in NJ tends to encourage me to expand my footprint a bit as I investigate the neighborhood, poking down new blocks, cul de sacs and deadends. I am confident enough in my mental map that I don’t worry now about getting lost, although I tend to keep myself hemmed in to the east and the west by major roads it is easier not to cross.
As I have said in my previous posts about running, I run slowly. For a tall person I have short legs and therefore a less than impressive stride, but I cannot blame my overall slowness just on that. My feeling about running is pretty much that I find a pace I can generally just keep up, more or less indefinitely. As if I was an automaton toy, set into infinite forward motion. I will speed up around obstacles or otherwise as needed but there is a general lope that I keep myself to. Everyone passes me – people running with baby strollers pass me – the older and the younger alike. My only interest in increasing time is a sense of efficiency about the amount of time I have to devote to running and therefore the ratio of distance to time.
For me running is about being in the moment which releases me from all the nagging worries that I nurse throughout the day (and night) otherwise. I focus on my stride, where my feet are falling and the music (today was largely Bruce Springsteen in honor of New Jersey) which is familiar enough to be ritual as well.
Suburban life is stretched out before me as I run here. Today was no exception. The first part of my run takes me to the crossroads of several churches and a synagogue. This morning I was treated to the church bells ringing as I started out. This church is next to a playing field and a small wildlife preserve that I circle before heading back out into a neighborhood north of here.
I ran further north and then west than usual and encountered the elementary school for the town, tucked away behind a main street but somehow on a block I think I never encountered growing up here. The Viola Sickles School is a pretty Art Deco designed building. It has a large playground and playing field behind it which I toured. Just on the other side is a pretty little downtown street of restaurants and shops on a main road. My mom lived in one of the houses on that main street which was converted to a candy store which we used to visit occasionally when I was little. Somehow I couldn’t get rid of the idea that my mom grew up in the candy store but this was not the case. I think it was a small gas station that my grandfather had at that time and before they moved to a neighboring town.
The houses near the school are old and lovely. These few blocks seem to have somehow escaped the general gentrification of the area. I hope someone buys them and restores them on their tiny lots instead of tearing them down.
I loop around and head south for the most familiar part of my run which I have been saving for last recently. It is overcast and the sun alternately fights to come out and gives up. Today is one of the warmest runs I have had this winter and the temperature is hovering around 50. Robins are everywhere, as well as sparrows, cardinals and bluejays. I see a bunny with a bushy white tail – too fast for me to get a picture. Back at mom’s the chipmunks are in evidence again as well. I spy the first snowdrops of the season in bloom and snap a photo of them.
Around mile four I start to feel it in my legs a bit. I use a GPS driven running tracker now called Strava as my phone seemed to be inconsistent about recording miles. I had some trouble with it at first – it would turn itself off which was frustrating – but I seem to have gotten past that.
Strava makes me more competitive with myself despite not really intending to – can I be faster on the big inclines? Go a bit further today? It sends me electronic encouragement for each of my runs. I am a sucker for its praise.
This week I see several book exchange boxes in the neighborhood, but don’t take the time out to examine them. I do note them however for future reference. Today I realize one is in front of the Knights of Columbus meeting place. I run through the parking lot and notice these rather special benches below.
I realize that I am already over time and distance and still have to get home. I think of one of my favorite phrases – save something for the swim back. It is true of running – and many other things too.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: I find myself unexpectedly in New Jersey today. Mom’s health took a turn for the worse and I hopped down here on Friday night.
As some of you know, coming and going at odd hours to New Jersey these days I have abandoned the cold and limited schedule of the ferry in favor of a car service a friend suggested. Rides with Cash provides not only thoughtful and dependable service, but Cash, a beautiful Australian Shepard who climbs in my lap for ear and tummy rubs along the way. Petting Cash, talking music with Geoff, makes the ride go quickly and calms me on my more anxious rides like Friday. (For those in the greater, NJ, NYC and Philadelphia area, you can book Jeff and Cash here.)
I arrived to find mom weak and very surprised to see me – I didn’t know I was going to be a surprise, but it was nice to see how happy she was once she realized she wasn’t dreaming. She has stabilized a bit and although still very pale from a loss of blood, she is stronger and eating well.
Mornings are my favorite time spent here and I am sure they are what I will remember most fondly in the future. There’s usually a nice hour or so when we are mostly just the two of us, before I go running and her next shift of help arrives. I drink too much coffee and she has some tea maybe. In the winter it would be dark out and I would be waiting for the sun to come up before heading out for my run.
We are beyond fortunate that we have folks helping out who have some deep roots with us and over this period these strong women have formed a community around mom as they come and go, working out a schedule among themselves. The group somehow magically expanded when we decided that we needed someone overnight after mom got out of the hospital over the holidays.
This enclave of extraordinary women, all from Jamaica, have become my mom’s society and despite her physical woes her keen interest in them and their lives continues to grow. Like family, some are closer than others, sisters rather than cousins. However, as we share meals, work around the house and concern for mom, they are our clan. (Mom is still trying to feed the world and so much take out food is ordered to be shared by all. However, sometimes I cook or they do. Recipes are exchanged.) Mom enjoys the occasional visits of their children and grandchildren and she seems to be a favorite among some of the youngest.
I get to share in this deeply feminine society during my periodic stays. Everyone is fairly interested in my professional life and invested in the success thereof as they hear me pacing around the house on the phone or on endless Zoom calls in an upstairs room, where I am perched typing now. This is its own world which I enter when I am here. The tentacles are long though and at least one among my mom’s caretakers texts me periodically with anything she thinks I should know. It was a family friend, Suzanne, who is also devoted to my mom and like a sister to me, who texted me on Friday to get down here as soon as I can. Mom had been dismissive of my change in plans earlier in the day, but Suzanne was right and I am glad I came.
The house has a new inhabit, a kitten named Stormy. For those of you who follow me on social media you saw photos of Stormy posted as we tried to find her a home after Mom rescued her recently. (Yes, despite everything Mom is still managing to rescue animals as she has her whole life.) Once trapped and brought inside Stormy has turned out to be barely out of kittenhood and has the sweetest and most winning demeanor.
Well, my Dad used to say that cats only ever come into the Butler household and none ever leave and despite a fair amount of effort on our part it seems to be holding true. Stormy has managed to become a household favorite however and even those not especially disposed to cats stop to chat with her on their way around their business of the house. Stormy is presently residing in a very large, multi-level dog cage in the living room where she can be a part of the life of the house, but not yet subjected to the rough and tumble of the other kits. Needless to say, Stormy isn’t going anywhere.
Strangely, considering she is a stray, Stormy appears to be domestic and really likes people. She enjoys being petted, ear and even tummy rubs in particular. Her fur is kitten downy and although she greets the world with a somewhat unblinking wide-eyed and concerned stare, she seems contented. She is still eating copious quantities of food and is slowly filling out. I cannot imagine what her history is – she is so used to humans and handling and, it must be said, not Stormy in the least. (She was christened as such based on the blustering winter morning she was trapped on.) For all of her placid personality and evident enjoyment of handling she does not purr. She will occasionally grab your hand if you stop petting her and she lets out the occasional silent meow or soft growl.
Having this new little critter in the house as we navigate health care issues, and a growing war in the Ukraine which blares over the television via my mother’s endless devotion to CNN, centers us a bit on something nice. We saved Stormy, but she is doing her part. She is good for us too.
The morning is now in full cry and another pot of coffee and a Saturday run is in the offing. I will probably have a little more to say about that tomorrow.