Rainbow Moon; Wishing Seat

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: There’s a first time for everything and today I claim a Pictorama first. Our featured photo is one of my husband Kim and his brother Simon. Family photos make occasional entries here, although usually a few generations back and until now always my family. However, Kim’s currently working on a story that involves his Mom, Marie, and her Mom, Kim’s grandmother which means a number of family photos have wandered out of storage and into the apartment for perusing. (See last week’s post here for a pencil detail of the story which also boasts an elephant bank I recently purchased.)

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

This photo would be Pictorama perfection even if it wasn’t of a young Kim and Simon, which of course does make it that much more interesting. Moon photos are a bit of a sub-genre of the Pictorama library, although it is a competitive market and so I tend to only buy those when opportunity presents itself. (For a moon photo or two you can look early posts here and here.)

Deitch Studio Collection.

I am crazy about this weird rainbow moon with its big lips, staring eye and bushy eyebrow! Kim looks like he’s having a pretty good time and Simon looks a little less sure. (I can’t blame Simon – it would be fair to be terrified of this as a small child perhaps.) Wishing Seat is painted in wavy letters behind them.

A careful look and we see that the “rocks” are all concrete and in a wavy design like hard clouds. There’s a nice little bench to perch on for your photo however and you can lean back against one of the rocks. There are trees behind them and a nondescript bit of greenery up front. The photo is a bit torn on the lower right corner – it looks like it was in an album and removed.

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

Kim’s already growing into a lanky build that will define him going forward, his hair already thick but cut short so mastered for the moment. Simon will remain a bit shorter, his hair straighter here at least. Kim thinks this would have been taken in about 1951 making him about seven and Si about four I think. (Sadly, Simon died recently and his passing was noted in a post found here. Youngest brother Seth yet to be born.) They were living in Detroit at the time, but Kim speculates that they could have been there or on vacation elsewhere. Car vacations were far flung affairs according to him, so there’s no real way of knowing. It was unidentified on the back so I put some notes in pencil for future generations.

It goes without saying that the moon is eerily and almost comically Deitchian in its demeanor and one can’t help but wonder if a young Kim’s brain was busy recording it and tucking it away for future artistic anthropomorphic cartoon contemplation.

Women on Bikes

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Today’s photos came from a collection clearly belonging to a single person or family, parts of which were being sold on IG recently. The photos centered largely around the woman on the front of the motorcycle in the photo on the left. There were numerous photos of her, all with the same great smile and general enthusiasm for what she was doing. I chose this as an especially good example and the other just because all these women driving motorcycles of a certain period are appealing to me.

These photos have no notations on the back and there is no evidence that they were in an album so I guess it could have as easily been a shoebox of photos. There were lovely photos of her at various ages – with dogs and horses, sporting trousers, climbing trees, mugging with friends, at various ages over probably several decades; a life well-lived. They were being sold by my Midwest maven, @missmollystlantiques.

I was sorry to see this group of photos broken up, but by the same token couldn’t really quite justify the whole lot of them in my collection either. So I chose these two as sort of stand alone and noteworthy to add to the Pictorama library and bring to you.

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

I don’t know much about motorcycles so I can’t comment on the makes or models. Hers as above seems to have sort of saddle bags for transporting stuff hanging off the back wheels. Her older passenger, perched on the back, looks decidedly less comfortable, her hair tied in a scarf, practical shoes and ankle socks. Taking mom out for a ride? Our driver is wearing a spiffy height of style forties jacket, trousers and some sort of mannish oxfords.

The second photo, I believe, is one of the same motorcycle with a different driver. She has taken the sartorial styling to an even higher level and her trim fitted jacket is over a shirt with a collar like a men’s button down. Her hair is a differently exacting style of the time, practical in length but a bit iron clad too.

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

I have written a bit before about how changing transportation impacted the changing face of the American woman through the early decades of the 20th century – first by bicycle and then with the early days of the automobile (as written about in my post in the series novels The Automobile Girls which can be found here) and the role that mobility played in their growing independence. These motorcycles or motor bikes seem to have a wartime efficiency about them and one can imagine them being pressed into the sort of wartime service a young woman might have taken on in her own town or city.

I have written before (here) and recently shared again, a photo of my young father at a time probably a bit later, with a rickety motorcycle he would take on an adventure across the country. It would give out in California and require that he hitchhike back.

Elliott Butler in an undated photo. Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

(I purchased another early motorcycle photo from the same source. That photo is below and the post can be found here.)

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

Meanwhile, there exists somewhere a wonderful snippet of early film of my maternal grandmother and grandfather on their wedding trip to his parents in the midwest (Missouri) on a motorcycle of this period, perhaps a bit earlier. Unfortunately I do not believe there is a still photo image. I saw it many years ago now but my grandmother, a young woman from an Italian immigrant family whose family had settled on the East coast shore town where I was eventually born, looked game for the motorcycle ride but maybe had misgivings about the trip to meet her in-laws. (I have written about her part of the family based on some photos here and here before.)

Her new husband, Frank Wheeling (who was eventually to be my Poppy), had the mind of a gifted engineer which was frequently employed with the tinkering with and building of engines. Not surprising that a young Frank had a motorcycle and I bet it ran like a charm. Boat engines and their building and repair his strong suit which supplemented his income later in life. That the catch from fishing and hunting helped feed the family during the deepest part of the Depression and after.

He’d met my grandmother, Anne, while traveling on a dog racing circuit – no idea what he was doing for them. They settled on the East coast in the shore town where her family was and where I would eventually be born. Poppy could build anything, fix anything and eventually went to work for Bendix where he worked until his untimely death by heart attack in his fifties.

I regret I haven’t spent much time on a motorcycle – it seems a bit late now as I don’t even drive a car. However, I do understand the appeal and I will say the motor bikes that are suddenly popular do have a certain appeal for me.

Girls, Chickens and Kitties

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I feel like it has been awhile since I have had a straight ahead photo post and this is a worthy entry, just in as grabbed off of eBay recently. (This is the first of several – there has been some action on the photo purchase front.) The card was never sent and there is nothing written on as clues about when it was taken or about the girls in it. Their clothes and hair make me think early 20th century.

The girls are so lovely with their pretty matching cotton dresses with big collars and cuffs, their hair pinned up loosely. Each clutches a kitty and a chicken which by any way of thinking is an odd combination, however all the animals seem unperturbed (despite one squirming puss) by this. The chickens actually seem pretty cheerful and sit up contentedly, fluffy and alert, in the arms of the girls.

The cat with his or her back to us (stripes and spots) looks like they would prefer a firmer grasp, but the proximity to our feathered friends does not seem to be especially on his or her mind. The other puss, a nice tuxie, seems fairly content, less squirming there and looking lovingly at the little girl holding her.

My guess is that these are all special pets of the girls and are used to spending a fair amount time together. What lucky little girls to have such nice playmates! It appears like quite the idyll. I think I would have liked tea parties with pet chickens and kitties as a tot.

The girls appear to be twins and fairly identical from what we see here. They look very happy with their pets in this sort of riotous garden, roses at their feet. Sadly the photograph is a bit overexposed (I have done what I can with some electronic magic to improve the quality some) fading out entirely into the sunlight at the top. The edges of the image are soft and add to the dreamy quality of the image and gently yank us back into the pleasant world of this long ago summer day.

British Black Cats

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Kicking off the holiday weekend with another lucky black cat post. I am, for the first time in several years, typing this out on a laptop while seated on a bus for work, in this case heading for the final concert of our season in East Hampton.

I’m not traveling with the orchestra – who are making a long trip in from Ontario, I think, and out to Long Island tomorrow – but instead I am on the Hampton Jitney which, for those of you not familiar with it, is a sort of luxe bus experience from Manhattan out to the Hamptons. (That is if a bus can actually be luxe – I happen to be of the opinion maybe not so much, but I am a bit of a bus hater.)

I myself would have probably opted for the train on this holiday weekend, but easier for my host this way so we are crawling along the LIE as I write. (In the end I could have flown to Paris in the amount of time it took me to land in Wainscott from the Upper Eastside today.)

View from the lovely home I am staying in, East Hampton.

So, now, onto the the kitties. This is an interesting early photo which I purchased on eBay recently. It did come from Britain. It  originated Britain (a land where black kitties are celebrated as lucky, unlike my own native land) and is early but with no indication of age. It is a cabinet card, mounted on ancient faded bit of cardboard and obviously it had the misfortune to spend some time in the sun and we can see those fade marks as well.

However, for me it doesn’t take away from the extravagant portrait of these two kits which was done with great care. Charles XII and Nigel the Raven are carefully posed, to the extent you can pose a cat. If you look closely you will notice that kitties are carefully tethered on leashes. No kitty chaos in the studio with cats on the loose.

This portrait was the produce of J. Russell & Sons, Photographers and they are qualified as By special appointment to His Majesty The King. The studio had locations at 17, Baker Street, W 80 (?) and 13 High Street Windsor. They were active from the 1850’s through the 1940’s, quite a long run. So these were some high faluntin’ felines.

A handsome Blackie Butler basking in the sun recently. You can see a little white badge on his chest if you look carefully.

Unlike the unbelievably handsome Blackie Butler, Charles and Nigel have no visible white spots. Now, whose to say if a nice white spot couldn’t be found on the tummy of one of these pusses, or even one hidden under a leg. Kim has a theory that because people are superstitious about all black cats that almost all have had a bit of visible white bred into them. However, my mom has a boy named Beau (Beauregard Butler) who is as thoroughly black as these two cats appear to be.

Beau Butler (of the New Jersey clan) a very black kitty indeed.

I can’t say that C and N look like they are enjoying their turn in the limelight; they would very much prefer to be curled up at home in the sun on their favorite pillow – and of course they couldn’t know that I would be admiring their glossy beauty a hundred or so years later. Being cats, nor would they care.

Little Photos

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Today I have two lovely little photos which were sent to me with packages from Rachel @wassail_antiques. I discovered Rachel’s business on Instagram during the quarantine period and I have written about the wonderful bits of jewelry I have purchased from her – mostly British items from the earliest part of the 20th Century – a parallel universe to what folks were wearing in this country. Similar yet somehow very different. (I have written about these purchases here, here and here for starters!)

Rachel is a gifted photographer and the images of her items always tempt. In addition, the packing upon arrival is always lovely and heightens the feeling that a gift has come in the mail. Several folks I buy from include some early photos or cards in their package (some shown above), but I always feel that Rachel has handpicked the ones she sends me, knowing my aesthetic predilections and interests. Two are shown here today. Neither has any identifying information on the back.

My favorite of these is the young woman with cat and dog. I imagine that this is a boat she is on, but it is possible it is some sort of pier seating near the water. I like her plaid trousers and of course that she has scooped up this nice stripped kitty of hers as well as her faithful dog companion. The water of course and some sort of cliffs behind her. Kitty and dog seem to be looking at something off camera in another direction, however she smiles for the camera.

Photo that came recently in a package purchase from @Wassail_Antiques. Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

The other is also wonderful although a bit harder to see. A little girl perches on this soldier (my guess is her father’s) knee along with the canine companion who poses on his hind legs. They are in a brick strewn yard with a tatty wall behind them, conceivably from Blitz bombing.

Pams-Pictorama.com collection via @Wassail_Antiques

I have written about my quarantine and later pandemic pin purchases – a strange affinity for insect related items and also celestial, moons and stars, shooting comets, a pattern in my buying emerging slowly over several months. My fantasy life seemed to envision that I would return to the work world wearing jackets and that I would decorate the lapels with multiple pins of each – fly and butterfly pins, moons and stars. A yearning for the natural world? I have no idea. I had shown an affection for bees prior to the pandemic – bless their little organized hard working hearts! (My Queen Bee ring made for my by @murialchastanet_finejewelry shown below.) These pins were new affinities however.

Slowly this spring, the vision began to emerge as a reality. In fact I wear fewer jackets than I used to and the pairing is a bit more complicated than anticipated. However, the beaded butterfly pins (I wrote about these pins, made by British soldiers in internment camps during WWI, in a post here) have been a huge hit, although the celluloid firefly is a sure favorite. (That one came via Heather @marsh.and.meadow.) I recently acquired this nice fly below from yet another dealer (@therubyfoxes) at the same time I purchased a jewelry box from her (I wrote about the box in a post here), and it is perfect for somewhat subtle pairing.

Jewelry, personal collection.
An immediate favorite! Celluloid fire fly.
Beloved butterfly pins that have been very popular this spring.
Another package and photo!

What I had not anticipated is that in general I wear less jewelry than I used to in general. A strange shift in my vision of myself. One ring suffices where several used to routinely live. I have barely worn a bracelet since returning to the world – such as I have returned. However, I purchased two recently so we’ll see what happens.

Prior package from @Wassail_Antiques, cards instead of photos!

Margate Felix

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Yes! Kicking off this Deitch Studio weekend with a new photo postcard purchase of Felix posing with a pint-sized friend. Since I collect deeply in this area I can cheerfully say with some certainty that I really overpaid for this card, but sometimes you just have to do what you have to as a collector and of course each of these cards is singular. (I assure you I have bitterly regretted every one that has gotten away from me.) Also notable, it is the very first time in all these years I have purchased one of these cards from a US source. Every other one I own has come from Britain, Australia (Katoomba!) or (I believe) New Zealand.

Compared to many others in my collection, this photo suffers a bit from exhausted chemicals in the making and has faded. Somehow however it has become more atmospheric and this little girl in her white frock and falling knee socks, holding Felix’s paw-hand, is sort of emerging out of the image at us. Behind her we can make out a white hatted woman (or taller child) in the white cotton beach garb of Britain in the 20’s, carrying some sort of lap rug. There are other blurry figures behind her and the outline of the tall buildings that surround this beach area.

Posing on a black cat chair at Margate. Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

I have several photos of Margate’s summer pleasures past in my possession, most notably numerous ones of a giant cat chair one could pose on as well. A few of those posts and photos can be found here and here, although there are many so shop around in the archive for others.

The Felix in today’s pic is a low-rise model if you will, a pint-sized version whose pointy ears just come up to her tiny shoulder. (Many of my photos show this size Felix as opposed to the much larger ones I think of as “life sized”, closer to the size of a midget.) At a glance I don’t think this particular Felix is represented in my collection – he has a rather singular appearance – his face is rather tidy and his arms are very long! (My theory is these were designed this way to encourage people to throw his arm around them perhaps?) I imagine the arms on Felix were somewhat moveable and the head probably swiveled and turned a bit for posing. I generally prefer my Felix-es with a slightly more maniacal expression.

Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

This card was never mailed although the inscription on the back also endeared it to me. In a faded script it says Taken at Margate 21st of Aug 24 and below Our Alana 2 years old 23 Months To Gran Daddy at USA. So it must have been put in an envelope or package and mailed to our shores all those years ago. It has a pinhole from where it spent time thump tacked up on a wall. It is faded and tattered but those are signs of having been beloved I think.

Margate photo postcard. Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

As this card creeps close to its one hundredth summer since it was snapped at that sandy beachside resort, I am reminded that simple summer pleasures have remained largely the same. On that note, it is time for me to throw on my running shorts, finish my ice coffee and get out for a run as this beautiful June morning beckons.

Verso of today’s card.

Three Little Kittens

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: It is a feline photo day today here at Pictorama. As it happens only a month ago I featured another kitten card of three kits (that post can be found here). Today’s card was mailed on August 1, 1911 at 9 AM from Norfolk, Connecticut. It was mailed to Mr Ralph Lanton, 2070 Colby Street, Bradford Mass.

The back reads, Norfolk Conn, July 21, 1911. Dear Ralph, I am sending three more kittens to keep Fluffy Grey company. They were taken from life by the lady where we are staying. We hope to see you…(illegible) Uncle Mill and all are at Bantana. We go home a week from today. With love Grandma B.

I am a bit surprised to find that that this is not a professional studio card, although these three little guys look like three of a kind with a shared origin now that I think about it. Funny to catch them sitting together like this though – posing. Cats like to congregate though and even our two will occasionally be found sitting next to each other this way, on display I always think. At Deitch Studio it is by the apartment’s front door for some reason.

Cookie and Blackie in an uneasy together state on our bed.

Given the nursery rhyme three kittens seems like an obvious number however I am having trouble remembering a time when I lived with three growing up. We somehow seemed to jump from two to more.

Mom and I were whiling away some time going over early family cats recently and I believe there was Snoopy (our first most beloved cat, white with cow spots, who was my very most special friend), then Zipper who my mom took away from some boys at a laundry mat who were tormenting him. He was so tiny and malnourished that he was in danger of slipping between the seat cushions of our old station wagon that day and I was in charge of making sure it didn’t happen on the way home.

A recent photo of Hobo Kitty ambling over for dinner recently.

Zips was a tabby who became quite the king of the hill in our neighborhood later in his life. At some point after, I was given a kitten from a friend’s litter, an orange tabby I christened Pumpkin. I carried him around as a kitten (and later as an enormous cat) and in turn he followed me faithfully like a dog thereafter. (He had a tendency to bite everyone else however.)

That must have been the brief moment we went from three to more and between us, frankly I don’t think my mom ever went down to three again. We were getting there recently, three younger rescues and an elderly cat named Milty, until the arrival of Stormy recently. (Read about Stormy’s arrival at the Butler enclave here and here.)

Mom’s cats lining up by the door to see if Hobo is arriving. They are peevish that an outside fellow is getting some of their food! From left to right, Gus, Beau, Peaches and then Milty looking at the camera.

And these days I have my own New Jersey cat project, a reprobate of a tom, torn ear and lumpy fur, who I have christened Hobo Kitty. I check in on him via mom when I am back in New York to see if he has shown up for his occasional meal of two cans of cat food, inhaled with great gusto. We know that Hobo will remain an outside guy, but I like to make sure he gets a good meal if he stops by. He gives the rat population hell too while he’s there. I keep a sharp eye out for his visit, generally very early morning or evening, and feed him. My mom says he is trap savvy so even getting him trapped and released is unlikely.

An early appearance of Hobo Kitty with his doppleganger sister from another mistah Peaches.

Recently back from a few days in New Jersey I can attest that her cats are very nocturnal and have the habit of racing madly through the small house and up and down the stairs nightly. (Like tiny elephants I say.) I have a feeling that Stormy is leading these nightly rants and raids and she has a habit of meowing distinctly as she runs around.

Most recent photo of Stormy before she has taken to hiding during the day.

For those of you who have been following the Stormy story she has left her safe cage and now hides with unique cunning during the day. Mom says she sees her in the kitchen late at night, snacking and visiting the litter box. I found her sleeping in a drawer I pulled out from under one of the beds recently. She raced off and that is the closest I have come to a true sighting.

Today in closing a special shout out to Kim as it is his birthday! Happy Birthday sweetie! Many happy returns of the day.

Siblings

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This photo postcard turned up this week and looking at it more closely made me laugh this morning. It is a fairly pristine photo postcard, nothing written on it and it was never used, a uniform bend along the bottom like it was in a book and that part stuck out.

The bench these girls are perched on is nice and of course Felix makes a highly desirable prop, a big composition one that was a popular prize at fairs, but also seemed to make their way into the world in large numbers. (I recently considered an early film still with an actress holding a white Felix, like an albino I guess?) The background here leaves much to be desired however and seems wholly inadequate both in purpose (why is it so low?) and in overall unattractiveness with its sad, feeble and faded windmill.

Felix has been handed over to the younger of the two of them and I am not sure that is sitting well with the older of them. She has something in her hand too, a top or a ball, which she has disdained to show us, hand curved around it in an artificial way. Clearly she has been instructed to put her arm around her sibling and from the expression of annoyance (and perhaps even irony) on her face this is all heading somewhere bad, maybe soon or perhaps later, but an eruption nonetheless. The younger of the two seems oblivious however, although as Kim said, it is a photo of a relationship and how it will play out over the next fifty years so she will certainly catch on over time. In a phrase – watch out!

They are both precisely and carefully dressed so I am assuming this is a photographer’s studio, rather than a photo taken at a resort or fair. White dresses, white socks pulled up and turned over, they are very neat with hair carefully combed.

A recently framed photo of me (left) and my sister in an unidentified backyard. We are sporting rare matching outfits which I do not remember owning so maybe they didn’t last long?

There are many photos of me and my older sister from about this age so I can appreciate it I guess. These days my mom is ensconced in a comfy chair, near a sunny window off the kitchen, with a photo frame with revolving images next to her and they catch my eye while I am there, snatching me back in time when I least suspect it. I have to lay claim to the original photos. These photos help my mom live happily in the past part of the time, me too when I am there. Occasionally new ones find their way into the mix.

It’s a somewhat random cross section of pictures that have ended up in the slideshow. I gather just one of many boxes handed over to the friend who loaded it. Toddler us, baby photos of my brother, a trip to Italy I took with my father, some photos of my uncle at a variety of ages from adolescent on, numerous cats we have lived with, the house where I grew up. A recent photo of my mom’s aide Winsome shown with her two granddaughters, all dressed beautifully for a recent wedding, winks through the mix. The photos of Loren and I with my father’s parents are the real time capsules for me, so very long gone are they now. Somehow I can still smell the flowers in her garden and hear the bees buzzing around us.

Photo of my sister from high school on a table at my mom’s house.

But the photos of Loren and me when we were the age of these two or not much older bring back visceral memories of the taking of those photos; the ice we were skating on, the yard where we played in the snow, the beach where we ran around, my grandmother’s backyard.

I will say that for all her very big personality, I think Loren was a more winning child in photos (always a huge smile) than this little girl appears to be. However, it is all very far in the past and we have no idea what really did happen to these girls after this.

An Abundance of Cats

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Readers here know that toys and photos of cats are the mainstays of the Pictorama collection. This pleasant pile of pusses cheered me immensely when it crossed my path. Cow spotty mom and dad kitties (maybe – they look a bit possessive anyway) mill around with three evidently all white fluffy kittens. Playing with them are these no less picturesque women in early 20th century dresses, hair piled high, brooches pinned on lacy bodices. A careful look shows other women in the background, also in summer cottons of the period.

Kittens, even in small doses, are a bit of work to live with and when our adored Cookie and Blackie entered the picture I was reminded. Less needy maybe than puppies (which seem to rank somewhere just newborn children for labor intensiveness in my opinion) kittens will still race around your house (in this case our single room) knocking things over, scratching and have their decidedly stinky and disastrous moments. Nonetheless, there is little as cheerful and charming in my mind than a pile of kitties.

The image cuts across the more than 100 years since this photo was made. Interesting to think that playing with kittens on a spring day in the yard remains the same activity it was then.

Naughty but charming Cookie and Blackie as kits, sitting on Kim’s desk – forbidden of course, but so cute!

I have only lived with a litter of kittens once in my life during what I have described before as an especially cat rich time of my childhood. Our cat Winkie escaped outside and mated before we were able to have her spade and her calico design when combined with a local tabby tom resulted in two all grays, a long thin drink of water orange stripe and a black and white tabby. They were in turn named Ping and Pong, Squash and Tigger. I don’t remember who in the family did the naming honors, but I do remember that Winks chose my parent’s closet to birth her kittens. (This after my parent’s bed had been rejected as the site by said mom and dad.)

Winkie was in turns both a very watchful cat mom and sometimes a neglectful one. She went through a period of dutifully moving the kittens from one hiding place (stuffing them under a low dresser at one point) to another because we insisted on looking at them and playing with them. Or was she actually trying to lose them? She would occasionally forget to move one with the others and said kitten would be found crying and rescued. Winkie was an unusually smart cat – barn born and polydactyl, with big mitt like front paws. She may have had a kitten abandonment plan which we continually thwarted. As soon as they were sufficiently grown she immediately forgot she had had anything to do with their genesis and generally look upon them as interlopers.

So tiny they fit together on our computer chair which remains a favorite perch.

We kept all four kittens which did mean our cat population burgeoned overnight. I believe we were already in possession of at least one other cat, another orange tom named Pumpkin. Since we lived in a house, albeit a large one, that was a lot of felines although that was still at a time when they were free range in the neighborhood, and roamed in and out of the house more or less at will. In my memory at least, a good time was had by all during this period, although our German Shepherd was probably a bit put upon, not to mention my mother who had the daily responsibility for cats and kids. (Dad traveled a lot for work and seemed both unperturbed, but also less engaged with the pet excess of those days.)

This postcard was never mailed and clearly remained evidence of a lovely day in the yard, enjoying cats and kittens.

Planting

Pam’s Pictorama Post: My mother has always had a garden. Perhaps it speaks to her largely Italian roots where there was a grape arbor in the backyard, cherry and other fruit trees and a kitchen garden for vegetables. (Posts about my grandmother’s house and that yard can be found here, here and here.) It was fertile soil (Jersey is, after all, the Garden State) and responsive to care and planting.

The Cittadino family yard at the turn of the century.

Mom also majored in zoology and botany in college which was as close as she (she a mere woman at a girl’s college) could come to a pre-med course. Much of that work in botany would come out over time, making up the fascinating accumulation and source of information my mother is. (Although of course I suppose that’s what mother’s are!)

In the first house I have clear memories of residing at, there was an impressive rock garden planted by the previous owners. It climbed up the sloping backyard and in my child’s memory was enormous – probably much smaller than I remember. One of my earliest memories is being about 3 and sitting with my mom as she worked in that garden. I think she was weeding and I picked up a handful of tiny frog as I ‘helped’ her. He jumped, we all jumped and I screamed in terror as my mom tried to explain the nature of the frog to me.

I believe that this more formal sort of garden was not really mom’s taste which was clearly a bit more natural, wild even. However, presented with this beautiful garden she certainly did tend it lovingly.

In the cottage on the river where we lived until I was about 11 the soil was sandy and salty from the water. Betty dug her heels in and really did battle to make anything grow there. Through considerable grit she achieved a smattering of rose bushes and something that served as a lawn, although may have been largely well-trimmed weeds in reality. No matter, lawn was never a passion of hers.

Magnolia tree near mom’s which inspired the purchase of one for her yard.

In summer she coaxed a bay of giant sunflowers in a side yard that was otherwise a fairly no-nonsense vegetable garden. It was there that I learned the joy of bountiful homegrown tomatoes and a surfeit of zucchini, and the occasional eggplant. It was tough going though and I also remember the failure of corn and all the evergreen trees that died too. (She had had a plan to buy live trees for Christmas and plant them. As one after another died she realized that this plan would not work and bought an artificial tree instead. The practice of cutting trees for Christmas really bothers her.)

The yard was all mom’s. Dad traveled constantly for work and his schedule only allowed for occasional involvement where he worked under mom’s direction. His background as a city kid did not allow for much gardening expertise or interest.

We moved several blocks away when I was about 12 and there my parents stayed until a few years ago. Although still on the water it was less likely to flood and the soil, while not that of her youth, was definitely several notches better.

Here she planted numerous trees, which we had the pleasure of seeing mature over those decades. Because the water table was still very high, it was the willows that thrived, although there were nice oaks and maple trees too, a weeping cherry. There were some lovely old trees on the property, one outside my bedroom window housed a screech owl, foxes made a home of a dead one in the backyard. She had her tree failures – a beloved copper beech that never really thrived as I remember.

Irises in mom’s yard, but not the ones she brought from the other house.

She was serious about tree care and people came at least annually to examine, prune and make suggestions. Living in a hurricane zone it was necessary to know that your trees were fit to withstand those high winds. After the devastation of Hurricane Sandy the loss of trees in the yard and the neighborhood left it sad and denuded. These were old friends that were gone now.

In this yard mom combined flowers and vegetables. There was a grapevine and strawberries – the wildlife got far more of these than we ever did however. The tiny delicious strawberries seemed somewhat miraculous to me. Tomatoes still reigned, but herbs were what I remember most. She planted them in the ground, but also in containers. It was lovely to hop outside and snip some fresh herbs for whatever I was making for dinner.

Mom’s house when we first purchased it.

There were glorious rose bushes in a variety of colors and some stunning irises that a friend had made a gift of and which he had brought from his home in New Orleans. There were azaleas and a glorious butterfly bush. In later years, with no family to feed, mom focused her planting on flowers and plants that would attract and feed the birds, insects and wild life of the area. The result was a cacophony of birds, buzzing bees and often a half dozen bunnies in view at any time. Deer found their way there and fox. Hawks and even vultures stopped by looking for prey. The yard was a wild kingdom of sorts in later years.

Mom’s house earlier this spring.

When mom moved into her current house she had a blank slate as the previous owners had only done basic maintenance. Mom is housebound now, but has a trusted gardener known only as Mike to me. Between them they have transformed the small yard, front and back. Mom is entirely focused on flowers which she enjoys from a windowed room at the back of the house. The irises were rescued and transplanted here and she can tell you about other plants and bulbs shared by friends and acquaintances, some rescued from Mike’s other jobs when they no longer suited the owners.

I have contributed some peonies (which have come into their own this year), a hummingbird feeder and a weeping cherry and a magnolia tree are on their way to her presently as belated Mother’s Day gifts. I took a tour of the yard when I was there last weekend and it was nice to see how it has grown in. After this long year spent in our Manhattan studio apartment walking around her little paradise is better than ever.

One of the peonies I gave mom, blooming this month.

This multi-colored honey suckle reminded me of the masses of it we had growing wild in our yard growing up. Dad showed me how to extract a single drop of nectar from each – amazing! When I remarked on it mom told me it is one of her favorites and that she had asked for it. A fact I never knew.

Multi-color honeysuckle.

In order to better survey her kingdom mom has a friend who records mini tours on video. Larry does a great job and I am enjoying these too.

Having lived in a Manhattan apartment my whole adult life I don’t know if I inherited mom’s green thumb or not. Kim, with his green thumb, tends our mass of African violets and single aloe plant. I miss those fresh tomatoes each summer!