Peggy and Ruth

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I just found this photo, purchased a little over a year ago. Somehow it has been overlooked, but today seems like the right day for it finally. For many of us this past week was smacked with a weather front we now refer to as a polar vortex. While it plunged our compatriots in the midwest into negative double digit weather, closing offices and schools and terribly even killing a number of people, here in New York it was just very, very cold, requiring many more layers of clothes than we wanted to wear and waddling like down covered penguins as a result.

In the midst of it we experienced something called a snow squall, which I admittedly liked the name of very much, but the experience of a bit less. I saw it from a conference room at work, overlooking the south end of Columbus Circle and within view of the southwest most corner of Central Park. We could barely see out the window and the wind was so bad it snowed upward! For a little more than an hour it poured snow and pounded Manhattan. Visions of pioneers struggling through sudden deadly storms came to mind, although we remained safe in our office tower perch. It resulted in a sheet of ice covering all the sidewalks which somehow the denizens of buildings responsible for snow removal didn’t see fit to address.

Of course my relationship to bad weather was quite different as a child, as I am guessing is true for at least most of us who experience childhood in the suburbs. For me, childhood hurricanes brought floods caused by the nearby river and had a holiday effect, a cause for excitement as water rushed around the house and under the floors, chilling them, ducks quacking at the backdoor. (I think about that now and how my mother was often home alone with us, three small children, when it happened – Dad off at work in New York or traveling as often as not. Mom was and remains, one tough cookie.)

Snow was of course the best because it resulted not only in a day off from school, but in ice skating (that same river flowed into smaller tributaries that froze solid) and sledding. Now, before I create an image of a sylvan childhood of Rockwell-like jolliness, I will state that as a child the meteorological conditions seemed to rarely result in weather that both closed school and was prolonged enough and appropriate for skating and/or sledding. It seemed to be something you were always waiting for that rarely occurred – making it all the better when it did.

Born in February blizzard, I have experienced many snowy birthdays. I will not opine on them right now, but frequently canceled birthday plans created a love-hate relationship with the white stuff. However, I do remember getting a new sled for, I believe, my eleventh birthday, and even without snow on the ground that year it remains a splendid gift that lives in memory.

While this photo was taken twenty-one years before I popped onto the scene, it could very easily been me and my sister Loren, and our cat Snoopy. We owned this very type sled and peaked caps, just like Peggy and Ruth. Snoopy was white with black cow spots, instead of this nice tabby type, and I believe Loren and I at 19 months between us, were closer in age than Peggy and Ruth appear to be. (A nod to Edward who would have shown up on the scene later in the game.) I have trouble imagining a photo of us this angelically posed – I believe most of the snow photos of Loren and I have us fighting, appropriately enough. Still, I purchased it thinking of us.

Unsurprisingly, at the moment the long-range forecast has precipitation predicted for my February 11 birthday. Last year it was a torrential, icy rain – none of the jolliness of snow I am afraid. I am working next weekend, but taking my birthday off to enjoy with Kim and cats here, snow or not, at Deitch Studio.

 

Little Red Felix

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: Today I return briefly to the topic of toys and I offer the final piece in the Christmas of 2018 haul with thanks and a nod to Kim. This little fellow showed up right around the holidays and we snatched him up. Research reveals that he is a Schoenhut, fun flex Felix. He is a smidge worse for having knocked around for the last ninety years or so. He would have had a tail at one time, made of the same (once) bendy fabric. Some of his brethren smoke a jolly little pipe, but he did not. Although I feel as if I have seen this red version before, an internet search turns him up in black and a bright lime green (shown below), rather than the red. I have a dim memory of once seeing a line up of red, green and yellow ones for sale for a princely sum, but perhaps it is false and I was dreaming or smoking something?

I knew this fellow was small, but I had thought maybe he was 30% larger than he is. I am sorry he is no longer sporting his chest sticker which would have read copyright & patent FELIX by Pat Sullivan. Despite this declaration there is something a tad off model about him, the ears giving him a slightly exotic cast. I have a large and what I think of as a more traditional Schoenhut Felix I wrote about a number of years ago in my post Felix the Poser (which can be found here) and that is what I think of as the iconic Felix toy. Mine shown below. (I also toss out mention of my post on another tiny wooden Felix, A Surprising Tiny Felix which can be found here.)

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From the Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

In many ways the color and size of this little guy appeal in particular to me. I am sure if he was my childhood toy he would have probably suffered a loss of limbs and maybe even fragile ears from too much love and carrying him around. The universal practice of carrying toys around by children both fascinates and frightens me, although obviously as noted I too certainly did it. I was thinking about this on the elevator to the Q train the other morning. I never take the elevator, but it was there and I was late for work and in a rush from the gym. As I squeezed in, next to me was a little girl of about four who was crying (I came in late to the scene so I do not know why she was unhappy) and I noticed that grasped in her hands was a number of small toys – four or five, plastic animals of characters, not familiar to this adult Pam. Notably and for an unknown reason she ceased crying as soon as the doors shut.

It must be the toy collector in me, but my immediate reaction to seeing children on the streets of New York grasping their beloved toys is anxiety that they will drop and lose them, and I reflected on this while the elevator carried us down its single flight. After all, it is the sad fate of many toys, found on the streets and subways of New York and it is tragic to imagine the loss of a treasured toy.

 

Ratters and Mousers

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Sadly there are no tracks on what this photo is about. I know only that it comes from Great Britain. The image has a cut out quality, as if the negative had the background trimmed away before printing – a few drawn lines added after the fact and I’m not sure I’ve seen that exact process before. I do want this velvety cat costume for my own and wish I was getting a better look at it. (I constantly search without success for early cat costumes, as evidenced in Kim’s Alias the Cat.) I am, as I have stated as recently as yesterday’s post, a sucker for a nice pair of cat ears and a tail. (That post can be found here. Also an alert to regular readers that I will be exploring animal imitators and in particular Alfred Latell – whose popular post can be found here – further in the near future.)

The seller pegs this card as a version of Dick Whittington and his cat which seems like a fair enough guess. The Dick Whittington story is based on a ballad from the 1600’s where Whittington sells said cat to a town that is rat-infested for the obvious denouement. As per the internet, I understand that Dick Whittington is a real historic person, but no evidence about the cat’s ratting prowess – or as Wikipedia says, that he even owned one. (We, here at the cat loving Pictorama, will assume he did.)

The reality of rodent extermination by our cats is a difficult and unpleasant one. While it is at least an unconscious hope that our darling kitties will keep the mouse and (gasp) rat population down in our abodes, you frankly do not look forward to them bringing you the carcass, or leaving it for your approval. At best it would perhaps happen behind-the-scenes somehow. There is something distinctly disturbing about seeing your loving cat, who sleeps with you perhaps at night, with a dead or struggling animal in its mouth. My sister used to find mouse heads (yes, oddly just the heads she reported) lined up on the staircase as a sort of totemic gift from her cat Milkbone, an especially good mousing tuxedo. Loren had a very old house and she made peace with the mouse part parade, ultimately embracing and applauding Milkbone’s enthusiasm for her job rather than be run over by rodents. Most of us remain conflicted at best.

Growing up at the beach as small children we were frequently cautioned about water rats there, residing in the jetties. Large enough to kill a cat my mother would say and that they would leap if cornered. (We were also warned away from approaching the feral colonies of cats that also lived in the same jetties, tough enough to co-exist with the rats and not to be toyed with, beyond domestication even in my mother’s kindhearted opinion.) Our home was perched on a river and our cats, while mostly interested in the catching of small shrews more than mice, occasionally took a water rat on. The smell of the resident outdoor cats helped to keep them at bay. However, when the cats became indoor critters the exploding rat population became more of an issue.

Mom was right – those outsized water rats are much bigger than their city counterparts, as are country mice and shrews. When I first moved to Manhattan I thought the rats I saw in the street were large mice – and some of the mice I encountered in the restaurant I worked in seemed no bigger than large spiders. Meanwhile, if I have not made it clear, I am absolutely standing-on-a-chair-screaming (like a cartoon character) scared of mice and rats – I understand it is not rational. Therefore, in self-defense I acquired a cat as soon as possible upon arrival in New York City; Otto, the first in a long line of my feral tuxedo cats. To my knowledge she never got anything larger than a water bug and most of my NY mousie (and ratty) encounters took place either outside (think subway tracks, restaurant kitchens) or at the Met – yep, suffice it to say it is a very old building in the midst of Central Park. I have long believed that, like the Hermitage, they should house cats to patrol their basement.

As I write this Cookie is playing with a favorite bright green (otherwise) life-like mouse toy, tossing it about wildly, practicing her craft in hopes of one day employing it. We here at Deitch Studio continue to hope otherwise.

 

Cat Ears

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I resisted this photo as long as I could because it was expensive, but had to purchase it. (Full disclosure: Kim has tweaked the contrast on this in Photoshop which improves it considerably.) There’s no explanation on the back of this card and it was never sent, but it does speak for itself. I must say, with perhaps one exception (second girl from the left end), as a group they don’t appear happy about what I consider to be their jolly cat costumes. And my goodness, poor #6, in his enhanced, darker costume doesn’t look happy at all. Even mom doesn’t look thrilled. It’s a glum group of kitties. (A careful look leads me to believe the adult is at a minimum related to the child whose hand she holds and #6.)

In addition to his number label, #6 is the only one sporting a nice set of whiskers and has a high contrast version of the cat suit. It is hard to see, but they do also sport tails – a pity that we don’t see those better. One set of ears was sewn to look more elfin that cat, third in. It is almost impossible to see, but each also sports a tiny horseshoe pin – pointing down I’m sorry to say, all that luck pouring out. Mom wears one too. There’s something I especially love about the line up of shoes peering out, the trouser legs sewn differently at the bottom of each. There is that reluctant version of hand holding that children do – with a complete refusal of the two on the end. Ha! Gotcha. Take that you grown ups!

Personally, I have long loved a good animal costume and I tend to think I would have been more than happy to have been dressed up like this, especially if I was #6 – I would have been jealous of those whiskers and sharper black suit if I was one of the others. A tail is a great thing too and I have often thought I would like one. For myself, I am very fond of a pair of cat ears on a hairband I own. (This combines a good hair look with, well, lovely pointy cat ears – if only I could make them move independently like Cookie and Blackie do in inquiry and annoyance.) Our cats seem to find my cat ears alarming and repugnant however.

I remember when I first got the cat ear hairband years ago and put it on to show my cat Otto – who shrank away and with an expression which could only be described as the sort of disapproval and disappointment she’d have reserved for my holding forth with a racist joke – how could you? Evidently cat ears are the equivalent of kitty black face. It also seems you have, in their eyes, been transformed into a huge monster cat. Frankly, they appear to find hats distasteful too in a similar way – although it must be said that Cookie and Blackie are forgiving of Kim’s outsized cowboy hat he wears daily. However, I get the kitty stink eye for a knit cap in winter on my way out the door.

Unlike the Metropolitan Museum, it is interesting to note that many of the folks at Jazz dress up for Halloween. I was surprised the first year, but this past year I did bring cat ears to work. I only wore them for a short time, but it is clearly one of the perks of the job.

Wedding Photo

Pam’s Pictorama (Family) Photo Post: For those of you who tuned in yesterday for my post All in the Family (which can be found here) this is a companion post. I apologize for the length, but rambling family history is a hard tale to tell in a brief and cogent way.

This fragment is the wedding photo of my great aunt Rose (née Cittadino) to a man named Al Mazza, whose wedding feast held in the backyard I decades later knew as my grandmother’s, which was shown yesterday. (I am a bit stunned by the poor condition of both of these photos, but this is clearly a case of taking what you can get. Like yesterday, this is a photograph of the photo I took with my phone.)

I never knew Mr. Mazza, who I am told was from the French provinces of Canada, but of Italian lineage, as were the Cittadinos. As it stands now I know nothing of their courtship and can only say after they were married he went to work in my family’s bar and ultimately had one child, Frankie. My great-grandfather, Nikolas, came to this country to marry Mary and I was surprised to find out that his was a fairly affluent, professional family in Italy. I had always assumed the family had immigrated impoverished. (When visiting the south of Italy a number of years ago I remember thinking it was so very beautiful it must have been hard to leave, even for the pretty coastal New Jersey town they settled in. I visited Russia a few years later and thought instead of the other side of my family, this was a tough place to live and no wonder they worked so hard to leave!)

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My great-parents Nickolas and Mary in their wedding photo, undated

 

nikolas and mary later years

Nik and Mary in later years. Mom says Nik, her grandfather, used to say, “She had her hand in my pocket even then!”

 

Rose, the bride, was the oldest, my grandmother Ann was a middle-ish child, the third of five and she appears to be in her late teens in this wedding photo. (She is on the end of the right side of the photo, holding a large bouquet of flowers, the youngest sibling, my great-aunt Margaret, or Mickey, is standing below her.) There are two brothers and they have not been identified for me, but I would guess that the older one, Phil, is in the white gloves and seated next to that absolute babe holding a bouquet and wearing a tiara, who I am lead to believe was the maid of honor. Ben, the younger brother, is probably standing next to my aunt Mickey. Phil dies young, at 36. I’m not sure Ben fared much better – this is the heart disease curse for that part of the family at work.

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The women however all live large in my memory. I remember Rose (Ro Ro to my tiny tot self) as a sort of parallel universe version of my grandmother in my childish mind. By the time I arrived conscious on the scene, my grandmother and her older sister were of a similar short and round build. Both were known for producing the most amazing and prodigious amounts of Italian delicacies. (Although my grandmother, having married a mid-westerner whose family hailed originally from the South, also mastered some distinctly American delicacies and her fried chicken, bread and meatloaf were unmatched.) In my memory, Ro was a bit sterner and more no nonsense than my grandmother, although she always had some excellent homemade cookies for me and my sister – this was before my brother was born. (Mickey, was the youngest sibling and remained wiry with red hair – she was cut from a slightly different cloth. She died over a year ago, well into her 90’s.)

As I have mentioned, aside from my grandfather, Frank Wheeling, who worked at Bendex and repaired outboard motors for a living (he was an epic tinkerer and could fix or build anything), all the men in the family, including those who married in and ultimately their sons, worked in the family bar. The women were tasked with cooking of course. My great-grandmother would have lead that effort (see my post about the blue plate special here) and in addition to the Monday-Saturday buffet, I learned recently that on Sunday, when the bar was closed, she cooked an additional midday meal that the regulars at the bar could subscribe to. Her daughters obviously helped with the endless cooking and learned at her knee. My grandmother was good with numbers and grew up to keep the books for the bar, but learned her cooking lessons well too. The bar still exists as a restaurant/bar on the site today, as far as I know. I have never been inside, but walked by one afternoon several years ago with my father.

However, Rose was the real cook to emerge from the family and she later owned her own restaurant located on the Long Branch pier, before taking a series of jobs cooking,  those included being private cook to wealthy families, and running the kitchen at Monmouth Park race track. (Where despite Rose’s eagle eye my college-age mother met my camera toting father one summer, but that is a story for another time.)

My memory of Ro was being at her house late in her life. She lived in the upstairs of a small house with her daughter in-law and granddaughter in residence downstairs, retired from the last of her positions, but commandeering her younger sisters to execute in tandem the most extraordinary holiday meals. Quite literally, the card tables set up in a line in the living room of the apartment groaned, and I believe I remember the long strands of fresh pasta drying on racks all over the apartment prior to the cooking.

When I entered my own nascent professional cooking career after college, I wondered if those shared genes were at work. I had done stints waitressing and as a short order cook, but even with that wasn’t entirely prepared for the overwhelming physical grind of that work. I came away with an even greater respect for Ro, and the other Cittadino women, who for several generations churned out those meals in addition to feeding their families – and the occasional festivity like the wedding feast shown yesterday.

The same cousin who unearthed these photos (Patti, granddaughter of Rose) has discovered a cache of her recipes. I look forward to going through them and hope in particular to find the recipe for certain Christmas cookies and bread. I am told the original recipe for Poor Man’s cake is also there – I am anxious to compare it to my recent recreation project. (The recent post devoted to that can be found here, called Having Your Cake.) Many of the recipes will sadly be of less interest to me – we are largely vegetarian here at Deitch Studio and Pictorama, and our consumption of pastry is modest. Yet I will be pleased to see them, in her handwriting, and indulge in a few.

 

ro ro and grace

Rose seated, the era I remember her from, shown with her daughter in-law Grace.

All in the Family

Pam (Family) Photo Post: As I sit down to write today I am unsure really what I want to say about this photo. I was fascinated by it when I saw it for the first time over Thanksgiving. I have no memory of seeing it before. It is a photo of a photograph which is in very bad condition and over-exposed in part (I took it on my phone and Kim has darkened it slightly for us here), but it manages to be fascinating nonetheless.

This photo was taken in the yard I grew up as knowing to be my grandmother’s, but it was a home (and yard) that at one time housed several families and generations of my family. My mother grew up in the two story house attached to it, with her brother and parents on the ground floor and an aunt, uncle and cousin on the second. One of the grandmothers lived with them there at one time too. I wrote about the house aways back when some photos of it came my way. (That post can be found at My Grandmother’s House here and I also wrote about my maternal grandmother, and her kitchen in Ann’s Glass which is here.) However, here is the familiar yard, several generations before my childhood, recorded on the advent of the wedding of my great-aunt Rose (Ro’ or Ro’ Ro’ to me as a kid) and a glimpse of this opulent, if homespun, backyard celebration.

My mother tells me that this table, impossibly long and which literally disappears into the photo horizon, is set up under a grape arbor decorated here with festive bunting, which supplied this (very Italian) family with the grapes to make wine. The arbor was long gone by my childhood, my mother says it was the victim of a jolly rodent population attracted by its bounty and the nuisance convinced the later generation of denizens to dismantle it. Every inch of the yard, less than an acre by my reckoning, was devoted to producing food for the family – fruit and nut trees, a vegetable garden, chickens. This yard, hunting and fishing, extraordinary cooking and preserving skills, kept this family fed through thin times, including my mother’s childhood which includes the far end of the Depression.

The family owned a bar which the women of the Cittadino family (at a minimum my great-grandmother and her daughters) cooked for, in addition of course to feeding and taking care of the family. When I look at this photo my mind reels with thoughts of the days (weeks really) of work that must have gone into this celebration. I would imagine that many hands helped in a variety of ways, but there’s no way to imagine it wasn’t an enormous job for those at the heart of it. As I look at it I am fascinated by how the men are grouped at the end of the table closest to us. No one has identified any of them specifically. Frankly, it looks like a tough group!

In general the men on this side of the family are dim in my memory and mind. They seem to have largely died on the young side (a variety of reasons, inherited heart issues among them) and therefore my childhood self never met them or at least didn’t know them long enough for there to be much of an impression. On the other hand, the women, an undeniably strong group of women, loom large and Ro was the oldest of that clan. I have vivid memories of them. As I unpack more of these images in future posts I will likely write more about these strong willed sisters and what I know of them.

These photos come to me via a cousin (second cousin to me) who has unearthed them as she starts cleaning out her own version of an ancestral home. She has lost her mother and significant other over the past year (the latter quite unexpectedly), and she has drifted to staying with my mother, who since my father’s death over the summer is largely alone in her house – although so many friends come and go I often think it is her own version of Grand Central Station. Nonetheless, family is different and it is a poignant reminder that it is an interesting thing, which can at times expand and contract as needed. It unfurls further than the eye can see, back into the past, and indefinitely into the future.

King of the Cat Tin Toys

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: When I started collecting toy cats, in those days prior to the internet, I assumed that someday I would eventually discover an El Dorado of wind-up cat tin toys. After all, toy cats in other forms are very popular so of course there would be a number of interesting ones, right? However, about a decade into buying toys on the internet I realized otherwise. Frankly (surprisingly) there just aren’t dozens of models of tin toy cats. Variations on this cat with a ball seems to be the primary heir apparent and I have been hunting this version for quite awhile. The smaller and more widely available version, also made by Marx (shown below swiped off the internet) is a friction toy – the same essential design of a cat and ball, but I believe without knowing for certain, that mine is the earlier model. Today’s toy comes courtesy of Santa Deitch with thanks as Christmas in January posts continue here at Pictorama.

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The Marx toy company was founded in 1919 and stayed in business until roughly 1980. (Theirs was the less than memorable slogan, One of the many Marx toys, have you all of them?) Marx was an American toy company and was certainly one of the best known in its day. They seem to have focused on tin toys (windup and friction) and the quality was good enough that even many of their early ones survive today – many variations on trains, but also some character toys depicting such favorites as Popeye and Little Orphan Annie.

Both this kitty and the smaller later version, had leather ears which universally seem to have disappeared from them. (Mine has a single ear held on with an ancient bit of scotch tape however.) It remains a bit of a mystery to me, now that I own this kitty, exactly how it worked. Sadly he no longer does work, and it is also unclear to me exactly what the mechanism was originally. I would be pleased to hear form anyone who knows. I long assumed that this was a wind-up, but there doesn’t seem to be a place for a key. If he was a friction toy (now my best guess) it isn’t clear how that worked either – or why it not longer does. His tail would have gone up and down and that he must be been very jolly indeed. I love his red ball and the graphics on him are splendid. He must have made a lot of children very happy before arriving here at Deitch Studio to entertain us.