Sour Cherries, Quince and Tomato Water

Pam’s Pictorama Post: The day before Thanksgiving a bag showed up with my doorman and tucked inside were two delightful little jars of jam and a mason jar of tomato water. These were sent by Liz, a colleague, friend and chef who lives in my neighborhood and has so kindly sent along such care packages periodically during the long, shutdown time. Her bag of goodies not only improved our breakfast repast, but set loose a wonderful torrent of memories shared with my mother, mostly of the yard I knew as my grandmother’s, where my mother spent most of her childhood. Today’s post is devoted to those memories.

The jar of tomato water which I am rapidly consuming.

To start, for those of you who have not experienced it, tomato water is the water you drain out of tomatoes. This is sometimes done before canning or cooking tomatoes down in recipes. The result, assuming you like tomatoes, is drink that is like a wonderful burst of summer in your mouth. Liz introduced me to this delight, made me a fan and always includes a mason jar of it. This one is yellow – and tastes of those different tomatoes. Still very yummy and a real treasured reminder of summer as we head into a darker, gloomier season.

Quince tree at The Cloisters

One jam is quince. It is my introduction to it and I like it very much. The only quince trees I ever made the acquaintance of were up at The Cloister’s garden in Fort Tryon Park. There are lovely ancient looking gnarled examples in that garden and a quick read shows that some types can live, with care, longer than a human life span, and that getting them to produce an agreeable fruit isn’t easy. Back in 2012, the New York Times was inspired to devote an article to quince trees, In Praise of the Misunderstood Quince, specifically launching the discussion around those venerable examples of the trees at The Cloisters.

The other jar was plum and sour cherry jam. This one opened a Pandora’s box of taste memory because I have not had sour cherry jam or preserves since childhood. My grandmother used to make it each year – children and their spouses and the grandchildren were all tasked with a morning of picking the sour cherries off of an enormous tree in her yard. As I was a small child I assume my memory of it as being an enormous tree may be a bit exaggerated, but I do believe it was a mature and large specimen.

The yellow ones are similar to the cherries I remember gathering.

The cherries were yellow with a sort of red blush – more yellow than the ones I found to show here but that is the idea. We collected them in plastic buckets – strangely I remember an aqua colored one in use specifically. My grandmother had an enormous, ancient double sink and she would be in the kitchen cleaning them as we brought them in. I don’t think I was privy to the process of cooking them down, but the end result were jars of cherries that would last us the better part of a year. This ideally to be spread on her own homemade bread which we consumed in enormous slabs.

A subsequent conversation with my mom reveals that growing up, when several generations lived in the house I knew as my grandmother’s, the property next door also belonged to them. (I have written about my grandmother’s house and yard twice before. Those posts can be found here and here.)

My grandmother’s house as it looked in 2017.

Mom tells me that her grandmother taught her that it was planted very intentionally, almost entirely with food producing plants to feed the family. (My mother points to this as being particular to the Italian immigrant side of the family which was her mother’s.) Great grandma did not approve of the decorative plants my mother liked – wasted effort and space. To my mother’s memory, in addition to the cherry tree, there was: an apricot, a walnut, a chestnut, something called a freestone peach (which evidently failed to produce much), and two pear trees. My mom remembers her father always keeping walnuts from the tree in his pocket to share with the occasional inquisitive squirrel who would come and take it from his hands.

An undated photograph of a wedding feast in what I knew as my grandmother’s yard. The grape arbor, in keeping with the food theme, was gone by the time of my childhood.

I remember the chestnuts on the ground there. (Of course I was very small and closer to the ground than the fruit bearing part of a tree after all.) The furry, prickly outside of the chestnuts always fascinated me, as did the surprise of the velvety smooth chestnut inside. I never developed a taste for chestnuts, my father was fond of them though and I believe we did toast them in our fireplace experimentally one winter. My dad would buy them on the street here in Manhattan where you can smell them roasting in winter even now. (Well, at least in the now before now – are there chestnuts roasting without tourists in midtown?) The chestnut tree was an odd survivor of a nationwide blight (not unlike that which destroyed so many American Elms), and mom says people from Rutgers came to study it and photograph it as a survivor.

Chestnuts in their furry wrappers.

I love walnuts so I am surprised I have no memory of those on the ground or of that tree specifically. The parcel of land to one side of the house was sold when I was still very small, although mom says the walnut tree was near the garage so not sold off as was one of the pear trees which sadly was cut down to build the house there.

Mom says she adored the pear trees and that she can remember eating pears right off of them. One tree was on the property that was sold and was cut down for the house to be built. The other of those two trees was destroyed by a lightening strike which split it down the middle, leaving only charred halves. Mom said it was like losing an old friend.

She shared other memories of climbing up into the apricot tree, which had a long, low lying branch, to read her library books in the summer. She and her friend Jackie had competitions to see how many books they could read in a summer – I did the same with my friends as a kid, must have been her idea. It was the beginning of my life-long voracious reading habit.

Despite being housebound these days my mother still enjoys the garden, in her recently acquired home on a small plot of land. Under her instruction, the yard has been planted by a patient and lovely man known only to me as Mike, with many flowering plants – however specifically and thoughtfully designed to feed the birds, bees, butterflies and wildlife she likes to attract and to watch from the windows. A garden that provides, but in a very different way.

Collaboration

Pam’s Pictoram Post: Today is something Pictorama readers really have not seen before – a true collaborative moment in Kim’s work between the two of us! While it is true that our holiday card is an annual collaborative effort (this year’s card is sitting half finished on the couch in pencil as I write, for those comics interested readers who are new to Pictorama, last year’s card reveal can be found here). Additionally, one or two of my bits of writing have been illustrated by Kim (see the appendix of Reincarnation Stories, and my own reincarnation tale – or catch it up here), this marks the first time a whole idea of mine has shown up.

The 2019 Holiday card, a collaborative Deitch Studio/Pictorama production.

Taken from Kim’s next book, How I Make Comics, these pages are an actual story of mine, told in my words, but embedded as part of a longer book length story. More or less just how it unfolds in the book, we were together one night at the Q train stop on 57th Street waiting. I was watching the rats frolic on the tracks and pointed them out to Kim. I have a mixed relationship with rats – mostly fear, but also respect for how smart they are and how adaptable.

Fair to say I take the, I’ll stay in my lane and you stay in yours, Mr. Rat, approach to our ongoing, symbiotic life in a big city relationship. Of course, having grown up on the water and beach, water rats were a part of my childhood and I was cautioned about them in a way that added to whatever fear of them I might have developed on my own. Water rats are significantly larger than their city counterparts (at first I thought city rats were large mice when I got here and saw them frolicking among the garbage pails on an alley), and our story is not about them today – although I may also have a water rat story lurking in me somewhere too.

Anyway, the real life story, which is largely accurately reflected in the book (although it takes you down the usual Deitch rabbit hole shortly after), is that I went to work the next morning, got off as usual at 57th Street and found myself reflecting on the subway rats again as I walked to my office. This story evolved quickly in my mind on that short walk and I shared it with Kim the next morning. (My early morning routine of coffee, paper reading, Kim working and our talking as well as my commute – back in the before world when I had one – has been expounded upon here. In addition, for comics fans, Kim’s process was thoroughly examined by me after the release of his most recent book, Reincarnation Stories, and that post can be found here. That post is a real companion piece to this one and if you haven’t read it and find this of interest, now would be a splendid time.)

As it would happen, it is a story of rat reincarnation. I will confide that Kim has frequented told tales of his friend since childhood, Tony Eastman, who kept rats as pets at one time and what excellent pets they made – smart and likable. (A special memorial nod to Tony who to our great sadness died very recently.) The downside of this ratty relationship is that rodents cycle through their lives at a very fast pace. Now, on one hand, if they didn’t the human race would rapidly be overtaken by them with their prodigious reproduction and cunning survival instincts. On the other hand, as Kim points out, it makes it a bit sad to become attached to them as pets. Just as you get attached, they die. I was thinking of that when this story came to mind.

Preview of How I Make Comics, by Kim Deitch. Copyright, Kim Deitch.

As a student of reincarnation, I got to thinking – you have the sort of classic prisoner in a cell with only a rat who he befriends. Sadly, the rat dies – as rats and I guess we all do – and he is bereft, hesitant to invest his affections in the next one that comes along, yet finally he does. Ultimately that one, and the next one, die as well, but slowly his affection and time invested in teaching the rats is rewarded by increasingly smart generations of rats because in fact it is the same rat, reincarnated. They are gaming the evolutionary and karmic wheel by cycling through rat lives with dispatch. Eventually, the rats surpass him on the wheel of reincarnation and when he ultimately dies, he becomes an elevated rat, now under their tutelage.

Preview of How I Make Comics, by Kim Deitch. Copyright, Kim Deitch.

It struck me as a particularly Deitchenian story so I shared it with Kim the next day. Although intrigued, at first he was reluctant to do another reincarnation story, but then it took root in his imagination and to my surprise he decided not only to use it, but to use it as I wrote it out – and here are two pages from it, for your preview pleasure!

There we have it – a rare view into the inner workings of Deitch Studio. As Kim just reminded me, I have to some degree, in his words, been back-fielding on his work for years – I had forgotten that the title of Reincarnation Stories was my idea. I have always approached this thoughtfully though. After all, as Kim Deitch’s biggest fan, I had no desire to change anything – to damage it unintentionally with my influence. However, years spent together, living a largely Deitchian world existence in this one-room apartment, was bound to have an influence. And today, for the space of a post, we pull back the creative curtain for the speculation and erudition of Pictorama readers.

Felix’s New Jersey Parade

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: It is pure coincidence that I just purchased this 8×10 Felix balloon Thanksgiving Day parade photo just a week before the holiday this year, but the timing was right. As someone who constantly sorts through Felix minutia I see many photos and copies of photos of Felix parade balloons. Many are pretty common, but occasionally one jumps out at me as this one did. (I blogged about some interesting Felix parade balloons from Portland, Oregon and that 2014 post can be found here.)

Turns out that this photo is from the Newark, New Jersey Bamberger’s Thanksgiving Day parade. It came from a New Jersey album, and was identified within the album as the Bamberger’s parade in the 1930’s, according to the seller. There is indeed deep lore about the rivalry between the Garden State’s claim on the first Thanksgiving Day parade and the Manhattan counterpart. Those laurels are frequently claimed by Macy’s here in New York City with their parade in 1924 premiere – and there is no evidence to support a Newark parade before 1931. In reality though it was evidently Gimbels in Philadelphia that lays claim to that title zipping in first by launching theirs 1920.

As a Jersey girl born and bred I can tell you that growing up Bamberger’s was a retail pillar in the state. In particular, it was the anchor store for the large mall in our own area – the Eatontown Mall – which continues to limp along today. That mall was the site of many of my teenage adventures after being a fixture of serious shopping, such as back-to-school shopping, of my childhood.

Additionally, cousins of my mom’s worked at Bamberger’s throughout their entire adult lives, and it was an extra treat to go see them at work when I was a kid. I remember a period when Patti worked in the jewelry area and I want to say, strangely, that her mother Grace worked in the book department, at least for awhile. (Department stores had book departments – the world was a different place.)

Patti continued to work there her entire adult life as did Grace, for decades after it was consumed by Macy’s, Bamberger ultimately losing that longstanding battle, long after his own day of course. (During the course of the pandemic, Patti celebrated her 50th year of working there – and was promptly laid off. So much for employee loyalty. Although of course Macy’s is fighting its life as well in this ongoing pandemic retail morass.)

Back in March of last year I wrote about a pair of early Felix balloons from a stereocard which I ascribed to the Macy’s Day parade but looking at this photo now I wonder. That post can be found here and the photos below.

Felix stereocard. Pams-Pictorama.com collection

There is nothing written or printed on the back of this recently purchased photo, but my guess is that even if it had not been identified in the album and by the seller, this street is easily identifiable as Newark of the time. I particular I love the shot of W. T. Grant Co. across the street. This was another childhood favorite and known to us simply as Grants.

Our branch of Grants was in the town of Red Bank and although it was down the street from the Woolworth’s it held a deeper affection for me and we frequented it more often. I still have a smell memory of our Grants on Front Street that I cannot describe, but in general I would say it was redolent of new paper, but spiked with fabric and plastic, the smell of new stuff or as that registered in my childhood.

I suspect part of the appeal of Grants was the inexpensive toys that our child-sized patience could be purchased with and which made shopping more enjoyable for all. (I know Woolworth’s had a luncheon counter, but cannot remember if Grants did. My mother rarely if ever patronized either counter and instead took us to a small lunchroom on the same block. She would always point to the wax fruit in the window and tell us never to eat in places with wax fruit in the window, however this was an exception. It became a long-standing family joke.)

A search on the history of Grants says they opened in Massachusetts in 1906 as the first 25 cent store. And while I believe we also had a Kresge’s nearby I have no real memory of it – and a J. J. Newberry’s nearby as well. The 1960’s was the final hey day for the five and dime stores which largely died in the 1970’s and finally the ’80’s. For whatever reason, we frequented Grants the most and it held a special place in my childhood affections.

This photo also has a nice shot of the National Variety Stores across the street, lucky children in the big second floor window with an excellent view. I am fond of the architecture of that storefront with its faux peaked and homey roof in front.

From where our photographer stands we are immersed in a sea of men’s fedora’s – somehow it feels like all the kids are across the street, but maybe we just can’t see them up in front on this side. I also point out that the folks acting as Felix’s keepers, are also dressed up in Felix suits with enormous masked Felix heads. Onlookers are dressed up against the November chill. Our weather this year promises a rainy high of sixty, but you never know with Thanksgiving in the Northeast – can be balmy or snow.

Bamberger’s Thanksgiving Day parade. Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

As we all know by now, 2020 will go down in the history books as kicking off our Covid holiday season, just unfolding before us now in real time. It will be, I believe, only the third time in my life I have not been in New Jersey for the holiday, Thanksgiving being my favorite holiday. However, the virus rate is so high there that we are concerned we would bring infection to my mom as part of our mass transit travel.

Meanwhile the Macy’s parade will be without live audience this year – the Jazz at Lincoln Center hall hovering over Columbus Circle, usually a prized viewing spot, will be empty. While we are never in danger of going hungry in this apartment, I admit to a somewhat lackluster culinary response to the two of us eating alone here, although I will try to rally. Some pumpkin ravioli lurk in the freezer to this end.

Like so many others this year, instead we will have a Zoom visit with family – my mom, cousin Patti and our friend Suzanne. We plan to give them a tour of the new bookcases in the apartment and ask the grand-kits (as my mom calls the cats) to join us. Blackie always enjoys a good turn on camera for Zoom (ask my colleagues and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Board – Blackie loves Board and Committee meetings in particular) so we are counting on him. Cookie is more diffident, but I think she’ll come to the party too.

Whatever way you are spending your Thanksgiving this year, every best wish for a happy and safe one from us here at Pictorama and Deitch Studio.

Up a Tree

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Luckily for this little fellow, although we find him up a tree, a careful look shows he isn’t too high up off the ground to easily find his way back down. Most of us cat loving folks have at some point in life found ourselves standing under a try calling to a kitty (Here kitty, kitty!) and trying to persuade him or her to negotiate the trip down, which is always much harder than the trip up, gravity being what it is.

Hence, I guess, the metaphor of being up a tree – and in reality we’ve all found ourselves up a tree at one time or another, needing to negotiate our way down without falling flat on our noggin. Without getting too clever about the metaphor, generally a cat goes up a tree for good reason however – think dog for example – and needing to get down from a tree is far better than what chased you up there in the first place. Something to consider indeed.

I especially liked this card because at the top in a careful hand it reads, This is kitty Beall, taken by Mrs. Beall – out in our backyards. E.A.M. The postcard is addressed to Miss Grace Ethel Kingsbury, Braintree, MA 115 River Street. (In that order oddly – the street name and number at the bottom.) The postmark is obscured and the only thing I can make out is Fergus Falls MINN. The date is illegible, but luckily the folks in Braintree also stamped it as received at 9AM on July 14, 1907. (In high school I had a boyfriend who came to New Jersey from Braintree and the exoticism of the name of the locale stuck with me all these years. Stephen O’Shaughnessy. He collected and restored old cars. As a result we were always getting stranded somewhere when the cars would break down or the gas gauge turned out to be broken. The charm of tooling around in an MG from from the 1960’s balanced against this annoying flaw. Although we remained friends, I’m sorry to say I ultimately lost track of him. He was a very nice person)

Kitty is a nice tabby and I wish E.A.M. had shared his or her name. Puss is looking right at the camera and it is a good shot. There seems to be a bit of rope tied to the tree and I would hazard a guess that it is a clothesline. If you look carefully there are some blurry house at some distance behind this yard. For July the yard and tree are looking none too lush so perhaps the photo was snapped at another time and the postcard only used in the summer. It looks more like the sort of November day I see outside my window right now.

Growing up we had indoor/outdoor cats – roaming in and out more or less on demand. This did result in some lost cats and at least one unfortunate incident with a dog which ultimately lead us to keep the kits entirely indoors. The town followed with some ordinances that endorsed this and where mom lives now is very much about keeping your felines inside or in your own yard (yeah, try that some time with a cat), and not letting the cat out when you come and go is a mantra at mom’s house now.

Alas, a life of adventure versus the pleasures of indoor life and leisure is now the choice for kits in Monmouth County. My guess is this little fellow enjoyed a fair share of both in his glory days, back at the dawn of the 20th century.

French Felix with Jean Mitry

Pam’s Pictorama Post: For readers who feel like maybe there has been a lot of wandering around in these Pictorama posts lately, I have a very Felix-centric post for you today. I scooped up this single page a few weeks ago. I don’t read French so I pressed our friend Rika Deryckere into service and she was kind enough to do a splendid job of translating this for me (and Pictorama readers) as presented below. Thank you Rika!

Much to my surprise, it is a philosophical opining on our friend Felix the Cat by the French theorist, critic and film maker Jean Mitry. Mitry (1904-1988) has a small bio on Wikipedia citing him as the first person to take French cinema out of the club and into the university. He authored several books, film philsophy, critique and semiotics, and was the co-founder of the Cinémathèque Française. There is an annual award in his honor at the Pordonne Film Festival, given to individuals who have distinguished themselves in recovering and preserving film heritage.

This page was carefully removed from wherever it appeared and has come to me with no indication of the magazine it was excised from. Some of my more erudite film readers may know a lot more about this and I invite you to share if you do. It was certainly my introduction to it. I love the way it is illustrated and some of the non-Felix cats intrigue me.

Detail from Deja Vu in All Waldo Comics, Felix and Waldo make their plan.

Meanwhile, in a strange nexus of worlds, Kim points out that the passage where Mitry talks about Felix dividing himself into many and then coming back together brings us right to Waldo’s origin story. It is found in Deja Vu, most easily found in the collection All Waldo Comics.

There it seems Felix (yes, Felix), working for the CIA at the time, recruits Waldo and under Felix’s tutelage somehow the nine lives of cats becomes multiple Waldo – who in turn need to be dealt with in Waldo-Deitchian fashion. Hence, for those of you who have wondered, the reason that Waldo sports a #1 on his chest, as he is the original…and the universe here at Deitch Studio spins merrily forward! I share a few sample pages above and below from that story – and then onto the translation.

Early color reprint from Deja Vu

****

Le dessin animé

The Animated drawing

Félix – le – chat

Felix the cat

La gloire des vedettes est menacée. Un être étrange est apparu. Plus malin et plus simple, il s’est emparé du cinéma en sautant à pieds joints au beau milieu de l’écran.

The glory of the stars is threatened.
A strange being appeared.
Smarter and simpler, he took over the cinema by jumping with both feet into the middle of the screen.

Tache d’encre tombée du pinceau de Patt Sullivan, il s’est étalé sous la forme d’un chat. Ne me demandez point pourquoi on le nomme Félix, nul ne le sait et lui il s’en moque. Personnage important il n’écoute que lui-même, agit à sa guise, suit sa fantaisie, sans avoir de compte à rendre à personne.

Ink stain from Patt Sullivan’s brush, it sprawled out in the shape of a cat. Don’t ask me why he is called Felix, no one knows and he doesn’t care. An important character, he listens only to himself, acts as he pleases, follows his fantasie, without being accountable to anyone.

Il vit à l’ombre du pinceau curieux qui l’entraîne dans les plus folles aventures et le rattrape au vol après avoir fait mine de l’abandonner. Cependant il n’est jamais en peine de quoi que ce soit.

He lives in the shadow of the curious brush that takes him on the craziest adventures and catches him in flight after pretending to abandon him. However, he is never at all worried about anything.

Etre surnaturel, il trouve toujours toute ressource en lui-même et possède la faculté d’agir sur sa personnalité.

Supernatural being, he always finds every resource in himself and has the ability to act on his personality.

Changeant selon les événement, grand ou petit, terrible ou misérable, il se promène au milieu d’un monde créé pour lui.  Héros d’un univers magique, incarnation du miracle et de la légende, le voici qui s’élève sur le bout de petits pieds et lance par-dessus la balustrade des nuits un bonjour en copain à son grand frère Charlot. Mais, Félix, avantagés par les facultés invraisemblables de son aventure, évite d’une pirouette les cataclysmes les plus épouvantables, — mieux, il s’en sert pour triompher de ces ennemis en les retournant contre la logique.

Changing according to the event, big or small, terrible or miserable, he walks in the middle of a world created for him. Hero of a magical universe, incarnation of miracle and legend, here he rises on the tip of little feet and over the balustrade of the nights says hello as a friend to his big brother Charlot. But, Felix, favored by the incredible faculties of his adventure, avoids the most appalling cataclysms with a pirouette – better, he uses them to triumph over these enemies by turning them against logic.

Et celle-ci, la ridicule pipelette hargneuse qui vous oblige à se décrotter de toute poésie avant de rentrer chez soi, si fière de sa raison, loge étriquée, monotone et sans air, la méchante logique disparaît dès qu’elle le vois poindre à l’horizon.

And this one, the ridiculous surly blabbermouth which forces you to get rid of all poetry before returning home, so proud of its reason, cramped, monotonous and airless, the evil logic disappears as soon as it sees it dawning at the horizon.

Car Félix porte avec lui tous ces petits lutins espiègles que l’on nomme insouciance, féerie, irréel, imprévu, mystère-du-temps-présent, esprit-de-contradiction. Et la mégère rentre dans sa tôle car il est, lui, le champion de la liberté et de la fantaisie, son ennemi triomphant.

Because Felix carries with him all these mischievous little elves that we call recklessness, fairyland, unreal, unforeseen, mystery-of-time-present, spirit-of-contradiction. And the shrew comes back to his senses because he himself is the champion of freedom and fantasy, his triumphant enemy.

Il a battu en brèche les vieux préjugés asthmatiques, les convictions ancrées dans leurs tanières de certitudes comme les crabes dévoreurs de poissons.

He shattered old asthmatic prejudices, convictions anchored in their dens of certainties like crabs that eat fish.

Il est vainqueur. Et quand il paraît au coin de la page blanche, il se demande sous quel aspect il va se mettre en scène afin de mieux pouvoir tourner en ridicule les choses que nous croyons immuables et qu’il se charge de transformer malgré elles selon son imagination ou son caprice.  

He is victorious. And when he appears at the corner of the blank page, he wonders in what aspect he is going to stage himself in order to better be able to ridicule the things that we believe to be immutable and that he is responsible for transforming in spite of them according to his imagination or his whim.

Je me souviens de l’avoir rencontré au carrefour d’un village en quelque lieu de féerie nocturne. La drame rôdait sous l’aspect d’un chien râgeur, amant de la belle.

I remember meeting him at the crossroads of a village in some fairy-tale place. The drama lurked in the guise of an angry dog, lover of the Beauty.

Surprit, Félix tombe, mais il se ressaisit bien vite. Il veut vaincre, il veut être plus fort que lui-même. Et voici que s’opère le miracle : il se dédouble, il se multiplie et devient plusieurs «  lui-même » qui tombent à bras raccourcis sur le chien jusqu’ à plus soif.

Surprised, Felix falls, but he quickly pulls himself together. He wants to win, he wants to be stronger than himself. And here is where the miracle takes place: it splits, it multiplies and becomes several “itself” who fall with short arms on the dog until the end.

Après quoi tous les petits Félix seconds, satisfaits de leur rôle, rentrent les uns dans les autres et redeviennent l’unique Félix-le-chat.

After which all the little Félix’s seconds, satisfied with their role, fit into each other and become the unique Félix-the-cat again.

Et Félix possède toutes choses aussi bien que lui même. Il est dieu.

And Felix owns all things as well as himself. He is god.

Il agit sur tout et sur tous. Il n’est pas de désir ou de volonté si apparemment impossible ou invraisemblable qu’il ne puisse satisfaire, et qu’il ne satisfasse.

He acts on everything and everyone. There is no desire or will so seemingly impossible or implausible that it cannot satisfy, and does not satisfy.

Triomphe de l’illusion, de l’arbitraire, de l’acte libre. Triomphe de la poésie dans ce qu’elle a de plus secret, de plus inattendu.

Triumph of illusion, of arbitrariness, of free action. The triumph of poetry in its most secret, most unexpected.

Seul au monde, Félix peut dire : « Je m’abstrait, donc je suis », et je suis quand je veut, où je veux et comme bon me semble.

Alone in the world, Felix can say: “I abstract myself, therefore I am”, and I am when I want, where I want and as I see fit.

Poète surréaliste, plus fort qu’aucun autre, il vit son propre rêve. Il jongle avec les étoiles et transforme tout à son image. Aperçoit-il la « belleé tout en haut de l’Inaccessible » dans les nuages, si haut, si loin qu’il ne puisse y parvenir?

Surrealist poet, stronger than any other, he lives his own dream. He juggles with the stars and transforms everything in his image. Does he see the “beauty at the top of the Inaccessible” in the clouds, so high, so far that he cannot reach it?

Que feriez-vous à sa place? Eh bien, il attrape son regard, son regard qui fixe sans cesse ce joint si haut, l’accroche à une branche d’arbre et poursuit sa marche élastique sur ce fil conducteur.

What would you do in his place? Well, he catches her gaze, her gaze wish is transfixed, joins so high, hooks it to a tree branch and continues its elastic walk on this common thread.

Il se sert même de ses points d’exclamation et les transforme à dessein en massues, en patins à glace ou en ailes d’aéroplane. Il est le magicien de notre temps, et s’il s’est emparé du cinéma comme du reste, c’est pour s’en servir selon sa fantaisie de poète vagabond, humoriste et philosphe, selon son bon plaisir …

qui est le nôtre aussi bien.

He even uses his exclamation marks and purposely transforms them into clubs, ice skates or airplane wings. He is the magician of our time, and if he has seized the cinema as well as the rest, it is to use it according to his fancy as a wandering poet, humorist and philospher, according to his good pleasure …
… Which is ours as well.

Jean MITRY.  

Miss Pat: Pam’s Bedtime Reading

Pam’s Pictorama Post: It is hard to believe that it was only a week ago that I sat down to write about Miss Pat’s adventures in the juvenile series written in the first years of the 20th century, the first being published in 1915. After an announcement about the Presidential election was made I detoured and spent Sunday considering my deep affection for the voting process in our country. It’s been quite a week, but I don’t mind sinking back into thoughts of the early 20th century via fiction this morning. I hope you will grab another cup of coffee and join me.

The years between 1915 and 1918 in our country’s history have always interested me. The teens were years that seemed to hold great excitement in this country. Technological advancements abounded – photography change and improves rapidly and gives way to moving picture films – bicycles become early motorcycles and automobiles push horses out of the way. It was a wonderful, bright world and it just seemed to get better and better.

In these times, American women first rode bicycles, then drove automobiles and suffragettes fought for the vote. (I wrote about one series devoted just to women driving, The Automobile Girls and it can be found here.) It was all evolving quickly it seems and I always feel a sort of giddy excitement radiating from it. For me 1916 is the pinnacle of this sensibility, all the hope and enthusiasm peaks – then 1917 comes, the US enters WWI, the 1918 influenza epidemic follows and the second half of the teens is a much more somber time. (Of course we’ve spent much time recently considering the epidemic of ’18, an attempt to read the tea leaves about our own Covid situation.)

By Ginther via the Bucks County Artist Database. Is that a black cat on her lap?

The first three volumes of the series, Miss Pat and Her Sisters, Miss Pat at School and Miss Pat in the Old World were all published in 1915. They aren’t long, but I assume they were written in the years before and the contract received for three at once.

Because it is the most accessible, I was able to obtain Miss Pat at School first by downloading it on Project Gutenberg for free. It appears to be the most popular volume and original copies and reprints are available. It is worth noting that the site Goodreads has been useful in figuring out the order of the books and how to acquire them. As noted in the first post, there is not so much as a Wikipedia entry about Pemberton Ginther or the books.

Arguably this second voulme, Miss Pat at School, it is the best volume and a fair place to start if you aren’t a completist like I am – Ginther clearly drawing on her own experience at art school makes it more vivid. The Manhattan art school they attend is very reminiscent of The Arts Student’s League (which I attended briefly in the late 1980’s and in my life in the great before I walked past it on my way to and from my office daily), although I do not believe it is ever named as such. It is co-educational, unlike Moore College of Art which we know Pemberton Ginther attended, but she also took classes at the Philadelphia Academy which was probably a great deal like the Art Student’s League here.


Illustration for Miss Pat at School, by the author.

It is a classic book of its type – filled with dress up balls worthy of a Busby Berkley production by description; minor scholastic intrigue around a prize which the eldest sister, Elinor (whose nickname is Norn, never heard that name before and just love it), is hugely talented and who is a prime candidate to win.

These three young sisters living in New York alone and going to art school were clearly just on the edge of respectability for the times. They are orphaned and under the charge of Norn, who is probably about 18 or 19. For me these books are about that edge and the reality of the pressures of remaining respectable that women in particular at the time faced – as combined with the realities of making a living and being young and alone in the world.

Illustration by the author from a later volume, Miss Pat at Artemis Lodge

Many references are made to the specifics of the first novel and a great deal of plot that occurred in it and I was peeved I was reading them out of order. However Miss Pat and Her Sisters turned out to be harder to obtain. I was eventually rewarded for my diligence with a fairly inexpensive copy on eBay as I was unable to find it online.

Miss Pat and Her Sisters presents the three young women, recently orphaned at the death of their father, their mother longer deceased. We never get the backstory on either parent, nor their demise and find the three young women under the care of the eldest, but it is Miss Pat the middle sister, who engineers much of the plot and displaying the necessary pluck and drive to move the story.

The girls have inherited a lovely house, located in a small town which seems to be somewhere in northwestern New York state, from an aunt they didn’t know (is always good to kill off people no one will much miss), but sadly no money to maintain it. The book follows their endeavors to make money which include: candy making (hard work, but successful until someone steals the business out from under them, nefarious man!); giving music lessons; starting a library (also successful, but no one did the math to figure out that it wasn’t going to make enough to save their bacon); and taking in boarders – you can imagine how that might work out.

Drawing or illustration by Pemberton Ginther currently on sale on eBay.

Staying on the right side of being respectable is a large paradigm of this book. They feel they cannot let anyone know they need money which adds difficulty to earning it – being impoverished and without family evidently reflected poorly on young women at the time. Unlike ambitious young men their stories of self made fortune, women had fewer avenues.

Therefore, despite their enterprise their fortunes are ultimately largely turned by the appearance of a lost twin brother (yeah, we never really find out why or how they were separated so no spoiler alert there), and ultimately a marriage change their financial fortune. This of course is largely the only way women at the time really went from rags to riches. All in all, this volume only vaguely pays off on the promise of the delivery of the entire backstory. It disappoints in that sense.

The third volume, Miss Pat in the Old World, (this volume is available for free on Google Play books) takes them on a ship voyage to a Europe which turns out to be on the verge of war – sending them home abruptly. This volume has some marked racism so a heads up there. It is in part an interesting glimpse of the almost real time account of war beginning in Europe. I have to wonder if it reflects an actual experience of the author – it has that sense about it. In many ways I found it the thinnest of these. There are some passages of fairly wonky European history filling it out. I must say the ocean voyage was the most interesting part for me – the ship leaves Manhattan and makes a stop at Atlantic Highland, NJ near where I grew up and where I recently landed by ferry.

Miss Pat and Company Limited (also available for free on Google Play) returns us to the ancestral home, Greycroft. Miss Pat is back at her money making schemes and this time takes to raising chickens with mixed results. Norn has gone off to live in Manhattan with her husband to pursue a career as an artist, and this satisfying volume concentrates on Miss Pat and her younger sister, Judy (or Ju as she is known to family) residing in the aforementioned family home. Having removed the direness of her need for funds allows for a bit more fun in the enterprise. Miss Pat is able to glory in her pursuits and I feel well launched for the second half of the series.

Acquiring these books has been a bit difficult to map. I have a reprint of Miss Pat’s Holidays at Greycroft (book five, this in a reprint version I paid up for – they are available in a spotty way in reprinted paperbacks), Miss Pat at Artemis Lodge (book 6) safely tucked away on my iPad from Project Gutenberg, and Miss Pat’s Career (book 9) sitting on my desk. Original volumes can sometimes be found on eBay, or for significant amounts on other used book sites, but not consistently – in this sense Judy Bolton they are not. While waiting I began an entirely new series from the same period, centered around another orphaned but plucky young woman named Ruth Fielding, more to come on that.

Found this volume at a flea market a few weeks ago and started at the beginning of the series which is available on Google Play. I am excited for the period descriptions of film making.

However, even though they are quick reads I believe I have my bedtime reading more or less set until the beginning of the New Year – alleviating the daily concerns of 2020 before heading to the Land of Nod each night and setting me up for better dreams. I highly recommend it. Seems that Pemberton Ginther wrote a few other series and something called The Jade Necklace seems to have been very popular. I think between Ruth Fielding and these I will make it well into 2021, armed at bedtime no matter what the world decides to throw my way.

On Bake Sales, Lining up and Casting Away

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today I thought I would be writing about the adventures of Miss Pat and the joys of juvenile fiction, however today turns out to be a brief segue. For obvious reasons, over the past week I have had a lot of time to reflect on my particular, long-standing affection for voting. Please know I write this post in the most non-partisan sense and ruminating on the concept, act and how it takes place in our Yorkville community here. Spoiler alert – this is mostly a hometown post, a stroll through our town, New York City.

When I consider voting, there is the metaphorical aspect of it – participating in the process and fulfilling the mandate of being a citizen in a democracy. Women voting is a recent enough development – in the big picture – that I personally cannot imagine taking it for granted.

And I am enough of a nerd about all of this to have reveled, to some degree anyway, in the nitty gritty examination and descriptions of vote classifications recently, as the news media while searching for new speaking points over a long haul of many days of vote counting, dug into the strata of what votes are counted when and how, rules that vary by state. I am deeply satisfied at the extraordinary voter turnout in the recent election. Voter apathy always greatly saddens and troubles me. You don’t have to agree with how I vote, but quite simply in my opinion you should exercise the right to vote.

However, I also actually like the very act of voting. I deeply miss the voting machines New York clung to for a very long time. These antique metal boxes, with their pull-string privacy curtains, had lovely little colored levers you would push, ticka-ticka-ticka, you would pull the big metal handle into place your vote was counted. It was somehow very tactile and satisfying – you really knew you had done something when you pulled that lever.

Not an actual New York City machine, but these were the style we used for many years here.

Having been away at college for my initial voting years, my first in-person voting location, back when I lived on 85th Street here, was a small German Church a few blocks away on 84th, between First and Second Avenues – some services still delivered in German for the elderly residents of Yorkville, or at least this was the case, I have not checked in recent years and that population may have dwindled away. Voting took place as it does, in a sort of multi-purpose room as shown below, with the small stage at the front where I always somehow imagine Christmas pageants taking place.

Kim and I have frequently wandered into jumble sales held there over many years of living here. Often there is one associated with a small block street fair to celebrate Oktoberfest or the Steuben Day parade, oompah band playing outside while beer, bratwurst and hot dogs are happily consumed. In the before days – no block parties or street gatherings during the course of our pandemic fall.

Interior of Zion St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Yorkville

After moving to our current home on 86th Street, Kim and I voted in a school nearby on 88th Street for many years. There was usually a PTA bake sale going on (ignoring some arcane law which may prohibit such things) and I always loved the feel of it. You would see neighbors, out of their usual context of your halls and elevators, sans their usual dog on a leash, looking for the same line as you to wait in. It was set up in a high school gym so you had that sense memory too.

While I enjoyed the sight of the bake sales I usually eschewed them in favor of stopping by a great bakery that used to be on First Avenue, Glaser’s. They were in the same spot on First Avenue and 88th Street since 1904 and given the photos they displayed, it looked exactly the same. Three women, one younger and two elderly, all sporting degrees of Irish accents, waited on customers, tying white cardboard boxes of pastry with the red and white string I remembered from my childhood baked goods, as produced by my non-baking paternal grandmother on Sundays. They only transacted with cash and were pleased if you produced exact change which was deposited in an enormous old metal register like the ones you see on American Pickers, after they dutifully added your purchase up on a separate machine or by hand. You were issued a yellow handwritten carbon copy of a receipt from a pad.

Interior of Glaser’s Bakery

Glaser’s was a bakery that still produced mocha layer cakes – my sister’s unusual favorite choice of birthday cake since childhood and a dying breed of cake – an excellent black and white cookie, and a really superior apple turnover. I met my neighbors down the hall there for the first time, waiting in a long line for Thanksgiving pie pick-up. Judy had her dog Pica and I offered to keep an eye on the sedate canine while Judy had her turn inside. A few days later we realized we both lived on the 16th floor of our building.

Election Day however was more likely inveigh me to invest calories in one of their trademark homemade sugar doughnut – these always seemed perfectly right for an early November morning. I used to buy boxes of these cake-y treats for my staff at the Met after long nights working events at the Museum. No matter how late we had been there the night before the expectation was expected that you would be your desk at 9:00 the next morning – homemade doughnuts made that seem a bit less awful and was a thank you for their hard work.

I went to Glaser’s often enough to be known there, but not so often that I was a regular. Their Christmas cookies melted buttery in your mouth and I would order boxes in advance to bring to holiday gatherings and to drop off as a holiday thank you to various people. Sadly Glaser’s closed a few years ago now, lines circled the block in the last days to have one more go at their treats.

When I worked for the Met Museum Election Day was a holiday (it was made so at JALC for the first time this year) and I would usually vote in the late morning after the before work rush and before the lunchtime one. As someone who enjoys the whole process I vote in every election – even those with no major issues or candidates. I vote in all primaries and was among the few who showed up for them this year – pandemic and Biden’s candidacy meant folks did not bother.

I remember that I had in fact voted in a special election the morning of 9/11, among a small smattering of people, which meant I got to work extra early that morning, those result ultimately canceled as a result of the attacks.

Our voting place was moved to a church a block away a couple of years ago. It has a lovely yard with a garden I have always admired and I suspect that the actual church is one of the most beautiful in the area, although I have only glimpsed the interior. I used to make daguerreotypes in the garden, hauling my tripod from my darkroom on Second Avenue. No bake sales associated with voting there sadly. I admit that I like it a bit less, but still find it charming in its own way.

Holy Trinity Church on East 88th Street

Kim generally accompanies me to vote in the more substantial elections – Mayor and President. He and I voted early this year – a well publicized first for New York. (Initially I got the date wrong and we made what turned out to be a trial trip to 75th Street.) It held little if any of the charm of my usual voting experience, but a four hour wait on a chilly November morning, slowly moving around a block (and around again) had its own frisson of interest and was certainly memorable. Kim read one of my Judy Bolton novels and I listened to a historic novel about Britain the 1920’s on my iPhone. In the chill I began to fantasize about making a seafood pot pie which I made the next Sunday. (Instagram followers will recognize these photos as I tracked it all in real time posting.)

Within the first hour of our wait, when we thought it was moving quickly! I took this photo over Kim’s shoulder as he reads The Half Cat Mystery.
Initial and somewhat messy attempt at seafood pot pie made the next weekend.

As it turns out it was unnecessary, so many people voting in advance that we could easily have voted on Election Day. A conversation with a Jazz at Lincoln Center Board member who lives in my neighborhood confirmed that there was virtually no line – he still votes at the school on 88th Street. When I told him I missed voting there he bought me chocolate chip cookies from the bake sale and left them with my doorman.

Due to the pandemic the folks working at the voting location were younger than usual and that was sort of nice to see. We were hand sanitized and six feet apart – separated to the point of my almost losing track of Kim at one point, but his cowboy hat enabled me to locate him. Ballots are now fed into scanners, no ticking of metal switches, alas.

Seeing the entrance at last after almost four hours.

Partisanship notwithstanding, to see New York, and in fact the country, so actively invested in an election that there was literally dancing in the streets here when results were announced; the extraordinary election turn out despite the pandemic; and watching the process unfold in a determinedly ordinary way, despite sudden national examination and spotlight, deeply pleased and moved me.

I have long imagined that should I eventually make my way to an active retirement period of life that I will work at my voting place, becoming one of the no nonsense, bespectacled, cardigan wearing elderly women who authoritatively tells you where your line is or how to fill out your ballot, some chocolate chip cookies dotted with M&M’s, tucked in my purse for later.

Miss Pat: the Prelude

Please note: I wrote this earlier this morning, before the news about the election being decided. Whatever your affiliation reader, I hope you will join me in a sense of relief that we as a country voted during a worldwide pandemic and that the system held, votes were counted and we have come out the other side. Let’s hear it for democracy!

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I suspect many of us have found or continue to seek ways of comforting our tired brains, bloated as those brains are these days, with bad news and uncertainty. Pictorama readers know that one of the paths to calm for me has been baking. (An expanding waistline has sent me to exploring soups and stews more recently – more to come on that.)

The act of making something from dispirit parts, the smell permeating the tiny apartment while cooking, and the lovely, nourishing end product are balms for a frazzled Pam. (Some of my baking posts can be found here and here.) I sometimes wonder what Kim makes of suddenly having a wife who not only now makes two out of three meals a day (I took over lunch recently and we are consuming simple but thoughtful ones), but is fully re-exploring her atrophied cooking muscle. Generations of cooking ancestors are having a field day with me. The days of heating up pre-made dishes are largely a memory here.

Meanwhile, although I have continued my work out via video with my long-standing trainer (shout out for Harris Cowan – love you!), with limited time and no access to a gym my cardio has sadly fallen away. I admit that I never liked it as much as lifting, but it was built into a routine and if nothing else my body misses it.

Early morning on York Avenue this week.

I attempted to cure this ill with walking up our 16 flights of stairs (part of Kim’s regime), but never found it really satisfactory. This week I have started an attempt to reclaim some early morning time from work (yes, I am one of those people whose work hours have more or less consumed all my waking ones) with walks along the East River. The opening of a long-closed gate which leads from Carl Schurz Park to a path down the East side has served as my destination thus far. The East River, sparkling with morning sun runs along one side and the speeding cars on the FDR are on the other. Now that I have told you all about it perhaps it will help me maintain my resolution as the weather turns foul.

Impressive pigeon gathering a few mornings ago in the park. I have a video that runs for a full minute, walking past these pigeons.

The other way I clear the thorny issues from my mind is my bedtime reading. My bedtime reading is separate from my audio book listening (what I listen to when I exercise or am stuck waiting in line somewhere which happens increasingly these days) which runs to contemporary novels and some historic fiction. Nothing you would be embarrassed to be seen reading in public, but nothing too trying to the frayed nerves. (I have a friend who made me laugh recently when she said she only reads historic non-fiction because she knows how it ends!)

Bedtime reading has been juvenile fiction from the early 20th century for quite awhile. It certainly predates my quarantine reading, (posts about Grace Harlowe and even Honey Bunch can be found here and here and date back to 2016), but I devoted the first few months of pandemic life largely to the pursuit of Judy Bolton, girl detective. I have already opined on my affection for Judy Bolton (those posts can be found here and here) and Kim has just taken them up so I am happily reliving them.

This series of 30 books has been hard to replace in my affection. Their plucky young heroine and her escapades were always good at setting me right before drifting off to sleep – mind relieved of fretting about work and world and instead thinking about the exploits of Blackberry her cat and others.

Our good friend Everett Rand, who along with his wife Goioa Palmiari, founded and edits the annual mag Mineshaft, was responsible for introducing me to Judy Bolton. It was to Everett that I turned to for my next fix. Among his recommendations were the Miss Pat series.

Written by Pemperton Ginther (nee Mary Pemperton Ginther, a name I am fascinated by so it is fortunate I am not naming so much as a kitten right now), this series of ten books was written between 1915 and 1920, a prodigious output. Ms. Ginther, more obscure than Margaret Sutton of Judy Bolton fame, does not currently enjoy so much as a Wikipedia entry, but I did find a bit of biographical data on a database devoted to Bucks County artists.

Ginther was born in 1869 and was a painter, illustrator and novelist. Evidently some of her stained glass designs still grace churches in Philadelphia and Suffolk, Virginia. She attended Moore College of Art in Philadelphia, (a woman’s college at the time and one I was very interested in attending until on one visit with my mother we found a junkie curled up in the hallway entrance to the dorm – mom vetoed it after that) and she was prolific.

A painting by Pemberton Ginther found on an auction website.

Tomorrow in Part 2 of this post, I will regale you with the joys of the Miss Pat series as I am at more or less the halfway point in the series. I know you are on the edge of your seat! For now, having just completed a Saturday morning call for work, I am going to pour myself another cup of coffee and make my way outside for that morning walk!

Felix: in the Beginning

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I have a theory that cats like to hear their origin story – that every cat likes to hear (albeit in a soothing tone, while being petted in a calming way) how they came to live with us. Blackie is bigger on this tradition than Cookie, although she is the star of the story and she likes that part, enjoying it in her own way. He settles into comfort on my lap and is lulled to sleep by it.

The story goes like this: Kim and I had spent days looking for a pair of cats and that particular day we made a last stop at Pet Smart where a rescue group, Angellicle, was adopting out kittens. (There site can be found here.) Cookie, a tiny little speck of a kitten, was clearly tired of the way this was going. She leapt up in the cage to get our attention and then, our little girl who although she likes being petted detests being held, leaped into my arms with all the adoration, cuteness and purring she could muster – which was considerable. Our boy Blackie, who has turned out to be a lap cat, was, on the other hand, very scared and could barely be held for his trembling.

After a few hours of kitten school instruction, required by the group, the kittens who eventually became known as Cookie and Blackie, were presented at our apartment by the man who rescued them. (He called them Thing 1 and Thing 2 and occasionally I still call them Cat 1 and Cat 2.) There was a third in the litter, a tabby, and he kept that kit along with an older cat he already had. He told us that a stray had given birth to the litter in his basement in Brooklyn, on a pile of fabric he kept for his clothing design business.

Cookie, true to form, came bouncing out of the carrier to inspect the new digs and Blackie, eventually peeled out of the back of it, reluctantly accepted his fate and ran under the bed for the next ten hours or so.

However, late that night I woke up to find Blackie curled up between us, contentedly asleep. My stirring caused him to wake and he had a moment of panic, but then decided it was awfully comfortable and we probably weren’t going to kill him, and went back to sleep and has slept on the bed with us most nights since.

Young and indulged tiny Cookie and Blackie on Kim’s desk.

That’s pretty much the origin story I tell them – different things emphasized for each cat – you get the idea. Kim (politely and with all due respect) thinks this is nuts, but is used to it I suppose. I have done it with each of the cats, each with their own story, and my mom does it with her cats. It’s a Butler family thing I guess. I am convinced that they never tire of hearing it. I hope I haven’t put you to sleep like Blackie!

All this to say, its good to remember your roots and to celebrate your origin story. Pictorama’s origin goes back to my boredom during the extremely long and tedious recovery from a foot surgery I had, actually not so long after we acquired Cookie and Blackie – in my photos taken in or from bed where I spent all day every day, they are still adolescent and leggy.

I decided to establish this blog as a way of organizing my nascent photo collection, especially the burgeoning collection of real photo postcards of people posing with big Felix dolls such as this one – with an eye toward maybe eventually collecting them into a book. Almost immediately I also began documenting my toy collection, another origin story there; I have been collecting those much longer. I settled on the Saturday and Sunday format for my posts within the first few weeks.

Blackie examining my foot post-surgery back in 2014.

Since seeing the first people posing with a giant Felix photo postcard in John Canemaker’s book Felix: The Twisted Tale of the World’s Most Famous Cat I wanted to know more about them. In fact, wanted to own them. A reproduction of that one from Canemaker’s book is below.

Over time, in my photo collecting I began to stumble on them, endless variations of Felix different sizes and locations, tintypes, glass negatives and photo postcards, posed in England, Australia and New Zealand. I purchased every one I have been able to, although inevitably one or two has gotten away – and yes, I remember each one of those, regretfully!

The first Felix photo I ever saw. Not in the Pictorama collection.

Meanwhile, it is a happy day when a new Felix photo comes into Deitch Studio and this one showed up about a week ago. Although it is printed with a postcard back, the paper is lighter than I think of generally with these photos. Like most, if not all, it was never mailed and nothing is written on the back.

Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

Although most of these souvenir photos seem to be on or at the beach, the only evidence of that here are the sand pails and shovels held by the children. Felix has been set up by this lovely broad staircase, lined with stones and leading up to some flowering shrubs at the top. The rocks continue and make up the wall behind Felix.

The children are dressed up, by our standards anyway, for a day at the beach and the little girl has a bow in her hair. They both have slyly happy smiles though – and of course Felix sports his usual toothy grin. He is a fine specimen, an extra large size, almost dwarfing the children, the adult in the group. Felix offers an arm which, as shown in many of my other photos, one could wrap around oneself to get a chummier shot with him. One foot is showing a bit of wear, but otherwise he is looking well tended.

The set of wheels that intrude into the lower left corner are curious though. A careful examination shows a seat above and a platform between them – if not a wheelchair at least a wheeled chair of some sort? I wonder.

Boo!

Pam’s Pictorama Post: A happy Halloween to all! I am wrapping up my series of seasonal posts with a final nod to Halloween today. These tiny jack-o-lantern style candy cups are paper mache and may have sported handles and paper inserts – one still contains an insert. I assume they would have been filled with candy corn and the like, although frankly I am a bit unsure precisely what small candies would have been offered when these might have been new.

Pam’s Pictorama.com collection

These candy containers are miniatures of the larger ones kids carried to collect candy in. Like my cat version below, they would have paper inserts for eyes. (A post about that acquisition can be found here.) Until recently I thought these were meant solely for decoration, but recently I have seen period photos of kids carrying them for candy filling purposes.

Pam’s Pictorama.com collection

I have long desired possession of some of these Halloween wonders for my own and I have not yet gotten my hands on a large pumpkin to complete my collection. I would happily accept another cat if it had the right expression – twist my arm, you know?

My introduction to these paper mache decorations was a shop in Cold Spring, New York. A couple of hours from Manhattan on a Metro-North train will deliver you to the heart of this lovely little town on the Hudson. I used to make the pilgrimage each fall to look at the changing leaves along the river on the train north and then spend the day wandering around antique shops. One store had an amazing collection of these early Halloween decorations, all being sold for much more money than I could hope to amass at the time. It whetted my desire for them however and it is only getting sated now – this opportunity provided by my new provider in the middle of the country and due to a certain amount of internet trolling I did not previously indulge in.

Meanwhile, when I consider candy from this period I am going to guess that a fair amount of it was probably still homemade when these pumpkins were new, perhaps in the 1920’s. I just finished reading a book from 1915, Miss Pat and Her Sisters, where the author Pemberton Ginther indulges in a lengthy description of homemade candy preparation. Although I understand that somehow it was brightly colored and lots of sugar was involved I really know no more than I did when I started and don’t see it in my mind’s eye at all. Did it look like homemade Necco Wafers?

While I have certain bone fides in the kitchen and can hold my own in the world of soups, pastas, stews and even baking to some degree, candy has long failed me. (Some of my cooking related posts, cheesy olive bread and a one-bowl chocolate cake can be found here and here.) My childhood reading of early juvenile novels (which Pictorama readers know continues today) inspired me with fantasies about homemade candy making, at least pulling taffy or making fudge. However, it was a miserable failure each and every time we attempted it.

Cheesy Olive Loaf is a favorite here at Deitch Studio.

My sister Loren was usually a part of these culinary explorations which is notable because after a certain age we didn’t indulge in a lot of mutual activities. Loren ultimately became a good cook in her own right – leaning towards success with breads, another area I have not achieved too highly in – but she could get a bit experimental and was known to throw random ingredients in if you didn’t keep an eye on her – but it wasn’t her fault we failed. Our fudge, regardless of recipe, never hardened and our taffy was a sticky monstrous disaster. (May I add, candy thermometers have always seemed extremely exotic – coated in sticky, hot sugar on the stove. Why doesn’t the heat make them explode? I have always wanted to own one but I suspect it would be disappointing.)

In retrospect, I assume there are some tricks to pulling taffy we just didn’t have in our repertoire, but I will never understand where we consistently went wrong with fudge. It is my understanding that fudge should be easy – children should be able to make fudge. After multiple attempts over a long period of time we gave up on it. To this day I cannot eat fudge without duly noting our failure, tugging at a corner of my mind though.

Like many American children of the mid-twentieth century, my imagination was kindled by the concept of Turkish Delight in the C.S. Lewis book, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Perhaps this candy was well-known by the British children of a previous generation, but I have to admit this kid from New Jersey was well into adulthood before coming across Turkish Delight in person. It turns out that I like it, although admittedly it was never good enough that I imagined being inspired by it to sell my siblings into witch-dominated servitude. (However, it goes without saying that sometimes just living with siblings would have you ship them off without so much as a Mary Jane in exchange.)

I believe I was actually in London the first time I had Turkish Delight, although I think that was just by chance as I have subsequently had it here on many occasions. A plate of it came with bitter black coffee at the end of an excellent meal in a Greek restaurant. I also remember that my friend Don turned my cup over when I was done, sludgy grounds sliding onto the saucer, and then proceeded to read my future from the designs made by the grounds on the inside the cup. That was a first too – maybe the only time I have had my coffee grounds read. Anyway, Turkish Delight was the rare candy event that successfully survived the leap from the literary world to the real one.

Meanwhile, a quick search reminds me that licorice was popular at the beginning of the 20th century. (Mom and Loren were fans, I never was and would eat the red version only, if pressed. If Dad and Edward had a preference I cannot recall it. Ed?) In the day when these pumpkin containers would have been stuffed, candy corn was indeed already around, as were Tootsie Rolls and Hershey’s chocolate.

On the more homemade side there were sugarplums (also called cream filberts and later, yikes, were known as mothballs – um, talk about a fall from grace), potato candy (a homemade Depression era treat made with potatoes and peanut butter – really?), and my favorite, toffee. (I opine a bit on the delights of toffee when celebrating the purchase of this Felix toffee container below. Read that post here.)

Pams-Pictorama.com collection

Strangely it turns out that candy cigarettes have been around since the late 1800’s. I was fascinated by them as a kid and only ever saw them if they turned up in my Halloween haul. As I remember them, in addition to chocolate ones, there were ones made with white sugar and those came in lovely red and blue plastic “cases” – the candy cigs had little bright pink ends like you were smoking with lipstick on – who can make things like that up?