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!

Considering the Campfire Girls: Wohelo! Part 2

Pam’s Pictorama Post: For those of you not reading this in real time (or who missed yesterday’s post which can be found here) I covered the four Radio Girls novels which were subsequently served up as Campfire Girls novels, sweeping them into a decades long series of books which has its start in the early teens of the 20th century. The organization was founded in 1910, born out of camps in Maine and Vermont and in response to the Boy Scouts – realizing it seems the need for a nondenominational organization for girls.

The early volumes that I have read appear to take place in a somewhat nebulous part of upstate New York or New Hampshire. Girls schools seem to play a role in them and these must have proliferated in a way I wasn’t much aware of, boarding schools for middle and upper middle class girls which were a mix of academics and things like sewing and music.

Cross promotion with Corn Flakes. That’s some good early fundraising going on.

Wohelo is the Camp Fire Girl pledge (short for Work, Health, Love) and serves many purposes in the novels. People shouted it in the woods when lost or searching for someone (this happens a lot in these novels) or someone might use it somewhat slyly to let another girl know you too were a member. There are songs and poems attached to it and I gather an award that the group gives at the highest level as well. As far as I can tell from the books the group was heavy on all of the above as part of their ceremonies.

There are a few warnings from the start that I should probably post on these early editions. A profound but casual sort of racism exists throughout and, despite being a movement which in a sense promoted independence for women, a young women’s goals were still largely tied out to what kind of wife she would ultimately make. I can only say that these are products of their time. I am not sure I would promote them universally without caveat to young girls today.

Brown uniform pretty close to what I wore. Would have loved those socks though!

I myself made a lousy Girl Scout – which is what we had locally in New Jersey. Camp Fire Girls was an exotic other which was not an option. I entered a Brownie Troop because I was expected to, as did my friends. I fretted about memorizing the damn chants they made you repeat (why always with the chanting? seems creepy now) wore a little brown dress, always somewhat ill fitting, and beanie dutifully to school on the designated day.

By the time I graduated to Juniors, I was even less enamored. We never seemed to get to the more interesting things in the guidebook like how to build a fire. And even then I was drawn to the early uniforms which were still available although they were in the process of morphing into bad 70’s remakes, my preference for vintage clothing rearing its head early. I liked the sash and the embroidered badges fascinated. My mother, who had made it up into Cadets during her own high school career, had been talked into be a troop leader for a small group at that elevated level and she told me that I was going to be in Girl Scouts if she was and I accepted my fate.

Close enough to my Junior’s uniform – minus the bolo tie and of course all the badges on the sash!

My friends remained in it as well and my specific memories of those middling years were that we did go to camp once – no idea where in the wilds of New Jersey. I used a sleeping bag my sister had acquired for something and had become what we used for sleepovers. It was an army green-brown and the inside was a print flannel – maybe fishing scenes? It was my sole experience of a sleeping bag until I crawled into a down version in Tibet decades later – far superior. My only real memory of camping was that it was much harder to make pancakes outside over a fire than at home and I was bad with a compass. We learned about Indian sand painting and this must have made an impression because it was brought back to me in detail when watching Buddhist monks performed a sand mandala ritual which seemed remarkably similar.

Images such as this filled me with a desire to push to the upper echelons of scouts which would provide for nifty berets, high heels and outfits that resembled stewardesses of a time already gone-by. It was mostly about the clothes for me and was not to be.

Other than that clutch of memories I know we met first in an ancient wooden building in town which was called Bingham Hall. It was probably built as a church originally and must have been used for other things, but I’m not sure I was ever much in it for another purpose. It was a single room building with a small stage and no other permanent features like chairs or pews. Later we met in a church basement and that introduced me to the smell of church basements (I come from a non-religious family and this was my only early introduction to churches at all) and that smell of cleaning fluid, paper and something else, that brings those meetings to mind immediately. As you can see, the Girl Scouts didn’t contribute much to my moral fiber or overall improvement.

Bingham Hall, Rumson, New Jersey

Nonetheless, the dawn of the 20th century was a different time and the idea of encouraging young girls to learn the skills needed to camp and to survive outside were downright controversial. It is years before women get the right to vote and even the need for more than a nominal education was a matter of debate. Very wealthy families had been sending their teenage daughters to European finishing schools and those existed in this country too. Colleges like Barnard (founded in 1889) and my own alma mater Connecticut College (founded in 1911) were somewhat experimental and controversial. One of the things that appealed to me about Connecticut College was its roots as an early women’s school which appeared to be born out of the Arts and Crafts movement and where wealthy families once sent their more creative offspring for secondary education.

An original building at Connecticut College under construction, originally founded as an all girls school in 1911.

In the first few books of the Camp Fire Girls series (as far as I can figure out the order) Ethel Hollister is the protagonist whose family pretends greater wealth than they have so she can make a good marriage match. Belonging to the Camp Fire Girls shows her another path which ultimately leads her leaving her finishing school and instead enrolling at Barnard – ensuring that she can make a living on her own – or ultimately help to support her husband as she states. Her going to college is part of the controversy making up the plot of these books and it was considered odd of her which causes some of her former friends to snub her. The series of four novels ends with most of the young women engaged or married.

There is an air of this around the early Campfire Girls and the Arts and Crafts movement seems to define its aesthetic as well as its roots in promoting the individual. In a volume from 1912 when a “camp home” is described it is in full blown Arts and Crafts style. It is therefore a bit frustrating when these independent young women drive home the point that these skills will ultimately make them better wives. This seems absurd today but is probably an important link in how women did gain their independence. These books are full of the fire of the converted however and in that sense it was a real movement.

The book series is odd in that, unlike the Stratemeyer Syndicate series I am familiar with main characters come and go. You get a few volumes devoted to a group of characters and then a new writer and new characters are introduced for the next few volumes. (Thus far all have been available on Google Play Books or other e-book sources and so far I do not own any of the actual volumes. They appear to be fairly available at low prices online from what I have seen however.) The underlying concept is very similar however and these volumes hew closely to laying out the tenants and driving home the concepts of the organization. These books are very much tools to bring new recruits to the ranks.

Silver ring for new entrants to the Campfire Girls. Man, who wouldn’t have gone for that?

Now let me just say, the Camp Fire Girls had really cool stuff. It is described so lovingly in the volumes that I began looking it up immediately and they would have sold me on the splendid outfits and jewelry alone. What young girl wouldn’t be enamored of the silver ring symbolizing their entry point as wood gatherers? Shown above in its Arts and Crafts design glory, these are available in abundance online, showing how many women had them and kept them over time. A silver bracelet was to follow shortly as they became fire makers. I am saving that, the rather extraordinary outfits and some period photos for my next post devoted to this subject.

Pumpkin Head

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Picking our very Halloween run of posts back up today, I share with you all a candy container which just turned up here at Pictorama. (May I just add that the very phrase vintage candy container thrills me?) He is an odd duck and a bit more fragile than I thought he would be. I have not yet found the best final spot for him in the new bookcase, among the black cat toys. I had planned for him to live with some of his Halloween brethren, but in addition to being fragile he rolls dangerously. Right now he is resting against one of my extremely off-model Felix toys, nestled safely into his side safely on a lower shelf.

Pams-Pictorama.com collection

Mr. Pumpkin has a few dents which can be forgiven considering his advanced age. He is marked simply on the bottom, German, and nothing else. (I don’t know how much they actually celebrate Halloween in Germany but there was a time when they were making some of the greatest Halloween items being sold in this country. Strange, right?)

Pumpkin Head appears to be paper mache, or a close relative, lined with cardboard. I can only imagine what a glorious thing it would be to show up for a Halloween party and find an army of these fellows, stuffed with candy on a decorated table! Or perhaps he was dropped into the candy packed pillowcase of some lucky child – who loved him so much he has survived the long march of time this far.

Side view, Pams-Pictorama.com collection

He is pretty friendly looking with just a touch of madness. I confess to a bit of intimidation by some pumpkin-headed figures. Even as an adult, I admit that they fill me with some unease – my idea of a horror film, being chased by mad pumpkin-headed figures, legs and arms seem to make all the difference to my psyche.

In addition to the well-documented ongoing black cat addiction, I went through a period of purchasing Halloween decorating books of the aughts and teens, originals and reproductions. As a result a brief examination of the Dennison’s decoration empire can be found in a 2015 post here. Founded as a maker of jewelry boxes in the 1840’s, Dennison’s was the first maker of crepe paper. They were the reigning king of holiday decorating for over 100 years, starting in 1897. Their Bogie Books fulfilled every curiosity I harbored about the details of early 20th century Halloween celebrations.

Original Bogie Book, Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

Even as a kid I was somewhat fascinated by Halloween of yore. I remember insisting on bobbing for apples at some Halloween party and I can only say it is perhaps a skill that one develops over time. (And clearly not one to revive in this Covid year of contagion.) Perhaps this was a regional thing and some of you readers were routinely bobbing away. My Halloweens were ones of unromantic plastic pumpkins and pillowcases for candy, uncomfortable masks of hard plastic that were purchases out of boxes and were hard to breathe in and even harder to see out of, especially in the dark – they always seemed to poke you in the eye a bit.

I am not sure if a renewed interest in Halloween items is speaking to me this year because of unexpected availability or perhaps fulfilling a different yen during this oddest of years. Maybe it is a desire to mark the changing season in a year of remarkably similar days. (My new mid-West supplier Miss Molly seems to be the reigning Queen of Halloween and has turned up a surfeit of items – she occasionally even sends me things to look at while she is in the parking lot of a flea market, somewhere in the environs of St. Louis. Seems like a glorious way to spend your weekends actually. I enjoy vicarious pleasure in her ventures.)

When I was a young adult I continued to carve pumpkins into jack-o-lanterns much as I had since I was a child, wielding the knife now however – and cleaning up the huge mess. The last time I did it was the first Halloween after Kim and I got together. What I remember best is that my cat Otto loved the smell of the pumpkin guts, rolled around in them and insisted on eating it. (Incidentally, canned pumpkin can help at cat clear hairballs out of their system. Just a kitty tip in passing.) Sadly, I did not have the foresight to document the Deitchien influenced creation.

Trick or treating in Manhattan is an odd ritual with the kids of our high rise building going door-to-door to apartments who have indicated that they are welcome. Local businesses also get into the spirit and hand out candy to the kiddies. This year, a sort of ham handed CDC recommended fashion, the building will forego and instead offer pre-filled bags to the offspring of the building. Regardless, we are on the countdown to Halloween ’20 however, and I have at least one more small Halloween treat up my sleeve to share next week.

More Change

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today is a quick post – I am on my way to New Jersey soon – seeing my mother for the first time since February and the virus outbreak. Maybe I will post tomorrow about this weekend and what it is like to travel beyond the subway for the first time. I am heading off for a rapid test in a little bit, some extra insurance before going to see her as she is in a vulnerable category for the virus.

I am experimenting with taking a ferry instead of the train. Luckily the weather has turned and today is a sunny and beautiful looking fall day. I will put extra layers on and see if I still have good sea legs – the East River, which I can see from my window as I write, is looking quite calm today. Some Pictorama readers know that I grew up by the seashore, near the ocean but on a river that flowed directly into it a short distance from our house. More recently I have been on small cruise ships and river boats on trips for members of the Metropolitan Museum when I worked there. It is always a small shock to my system though, to be on the water and the sense one gets from being in any boat.

Leaving from East 35th Street, it will take about the same time as the train, over an hour, and leave me in Highlands, approximately the same distance from my mom’s house as the train station. Highlands, and its kissin’ cousin neighbor, Atlantic Highlands, were the stomping grounds of my high school and early college summers – a dollar movie theater for second run films, lobster rolls and clam sandwiches at outdoor stands at the water’s edge. It lives large in my memory of that time.

However before I head off to the adventures of the day, I will offer this small item, purchased recently – a change purse, advertised as Felix, but in my opinion (sample size of one as a colleague of mine says), Norakuro, the Japanese Felix – my name for him. His black and red, patent leather face, winking at us, would be a prize under any circumstances, but as it happens I have an alternative version (googlie rolling eyes instead of winking ones, more worn) which I offered up in a post back in June of 2018. (That post can be found here and other posts about Norakuro can be found here and here.)

Pams-Pictorama.com, two treasured coin purses.

For me the winking-blinking eyes give him a roguish charm and the idea of putting a few hoarded precious coins in him (it could only hold a very few really), further tucking him into a tiny purse or pocket brings me zooming back to being a very little girl. I would have really thought myself hot stuff! Seeing them together delights my collector’s sensibility and somehow adds to their appeal. And yes, given the opportunity, I would indeed purchase further variations – bring ’em on!

Enjoy Norakuro and wish me luck on my travel adventures. More to come from the road.

Ocean Grove

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This snapshot popped up on Instagram for sale recently. Ocean Grove, New Jersey, is about a forty minute drive from where I grew up in Monmouth County and it immediately took me back to my childhood. Written on the back of the snapshot is Asbury Park 7-4-35. I thought this photo was earlier than 1935, and I am a bit tickled that it is July 4. I am also surprised by the coats for a July 4 at the seashore however. I don’t think I remember a chilly Fourth.

The Ocean Grove community abuts onto Asbury Park so this declaration of location is not surprising – a town called Bradley Beach surrounds Ocean Grove on the south end. For those of you who may not be acquainted with it, Ocean Grove was founded in 1869 as Methodist summer camp community. Known for its enormous wooden Great Auditorium, an extraordinary survivor of Victorian architecture, it has hosted concert performers from Enrico Caruso and John Sousa to Kenny Rogers.

Another notable aspect of Ocean Grove are the more than 100 tent-homes that are erected annually, these attached to wooden sheds providing a kitchen and bathroom and making them more substantial. There is a more than ten year waiting list for tent rental. (I would put myself down now for a summer tent for retirement, however Wikipedia notes that dogs, cats and barbecuing are prohibited, as is subletting of tents. A cat-less summer would be no fun. It is also noted that while you do not need to be a Methodist you do need to support their spiritual mission.) Ocean Grove is the longest active spiritual camp site in the country.

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As a child, the concept of the tent-houses fascinated me and I longed to see what they were like inside. The idea of a whole summer spent enjoying ocean breezes and sun dabbled days in one was fantastic.

Meanwhile, the law prohibiting cars on Sunday was equally exotic to my childhood mind. It seemed impossible – how could you close roads to cars every Sunday? Was there a place where people parked them and walked in? The fact that additionally the beach was closed on Sunday meant that this was never really a destination for weekenders from Manhattan, unless they were there for the day, attending one of the many concerts (musicians from New York and Philadelphia regularly grace the stage) or lectures held there.

Although neighboring Asbury Park was also founded by Methodists, soon after Ocean Grove, it was more like the Jersey shore’s answer to Coney Island. While Atlantic City reined for boardwalk pleasures further to the south, Asbury was the turn of the century amusement park boardwalk gem of Central Jersey and therefore a fairly easy day trip from New York City. The Convention Center and Casino offered largely the opposite sort of appeal of its religiously observant neighbor to the south. The difference struck me even as I understood it as a kid.

During my childhood both towns were largely in steep decline and neglect. The Victorian hotels were turned into SRO’s and, it seems to stick in my mind, nursing or retirement home type facilities. (Maybe we knew someone who lived in one?) During the late 1960’s Asbury was the site of race riots, documented by my father in his role as news cameraman. All this to say, I rarely went to Ocean Grove or Asbury Park growing up unless there was a specific reason. As these things do, it therefore fascinated me all the more. The architecture of the somewhat deserted Convention Center and the dilapidated boardwalk (and not to mention a really great if dilapidated carousel) always beckoned for more exploration than I was allowed.

Asbury-Park-Convention-Hall

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In young adulthood I discovered that a series of summer flea markets are offered in Ocean Grove, which I have only had the pleasure of attending once, many years ago with my father. It was perfectly splendid and I have always wanted to go back. Starting in the late 1980’s, both towns but especially Ocean Grove, enjoyed an immense renaissance and renewal. Despite knowing this my parents could never quite get over their dislike of the area and were always reluctant to go. (My mother is the same person who still sees Central Park through the lens of 1970’s urban decay and was appalled when I announced that I was going to work for the Central Park Conservancy years ago. In fact, I think she can barely accept that my whole life in Manhattan – and that of my brother – isn’t taking place in the neglected city of her memory.)

The area is not ideally accessible by public transportation (some Pictorama readers may already know that neither Kim nor I drive) so alas, it remains somewhat unexplored for me – one of those things that nags and glitters just out of reach. Summer always tugs me back to my childhood at the shore. I miss the ocean and the beach, but busy times mean that trips to Jersey are more about spending time with my mom, and less about lazy days of ocean and sand. Meanwhile, this Covid summer has deprived me of all summer Jersey shore visiting pleasures. But perhaps this means that next year I will plan a real vacation at the shore – one with trashy novels and a little too much sun – and of course well-timed around some flea markets at Ocean Grove.

Jersey Sights

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Today’s photo is one I couldn’t resist despite the price. It was one of my purchases on the Brimfield attempt at an online sale. Even with the seller coming down in price it was a bit dear. It is a tiny photo, about 4″x5″ which has the tell tale signs of a life spent in a photo album, indicated when you look at the corners carefully. It is an early photo, on brittle paper, somewhat lacking in detail with a flat cloudless sky. There are no notations on the back, perhaps because everyone knows this is Lucy, the Margate Elephant, residing in the town of that name located near Atlantic City, NJ.

Starting with a brief review of Lucy’s pretty fascinating history; this photo actually shows Lucy in her early incarnation – she was substantially renovated in 1970, a face lift which changed her appearance, and she required further significant repair after being struck by lightening, blackening her tusks, not many years ago. She survived Hurricane Sandy unscathed however which is remarkable considering the damage around her.

Lucy was originally constructed in 1881, by a man named James Lafferty who acquired a patent to make or sell animal shaped buildings for the duration of 17 years according to Wikipedia. Despite having tusks, an indication of a boy elephant, she was nonetheless dubbed Lucy at the dawn of the 20th Century. Sadly Lafferty died broke in 1898, forced to sell Lucy years earlier.

Lucy-USpatent268503_1882.jpg

Lucy was originally constructed as an observation deck for this area south of the then thriving Atlantic City, but later did time serving in turn as restaurant, business office, cottage and tavern. She is 65 feet high and weighs about 90 tons, constructed with wood and iron bars, 22 windows are scattered throughout the structure. Although marketed as a hotel, the building nearby served that purpose, until March of this year when, in spite of her federal landmark status, the old girl became an Airbnb rental by the night.

Sadly the offer seems to have commenced via a listing on the rather fateful dates of March 17, 18 and 19, 2020 (assuming Wikipedia is correct), less than a week before New York’s stay at home order began due to the Corona virus and dampening tourism in both states, needless to say. While I assume that put the kibosh on it, but perhaps some lucky folks have done their shelter in place there.

One can just about make out what must have been the hotel, behind Lucy’s back, left flank in this photo. My guess is this picture was taken off-season, no tourists teeming around her and the wooden skeletal frames of booths of some kind below her have a distinctly out of season look.

I have always wanted to visit Lucy and somehow have never managed it. Despite growing up a Jersey girl, I have only made one or two trips to Atlantic City and few of its environs, over my life. It was a good hour and a half to two hours from where I grew up, probably less as the crow flies, but also with train service that only takes you so close. We lived in a beach community so there was little reason to pursue another. As I may have said before, because my father’s job as a news cameraman required peripatetic worldwide travel, and therefore our summers were spent at home enjoying the very local beach. Family vacations of any kind were almost unheard of and I was spared the sparring and whining so often described by folks my age when reflecting on such family trips.

As we hit mid-summer I am frequently side-swiped by a desire for the endless beach days of my childhood and this year the quarantine and subsequent ambivalence about travel, let alone crowds, have exacerbated it. The traffic and discomfort are long forgotten and a string of fresh mornings with the sun glinting off the water remain, tantalizing. As a non-driver (Kim does not drive either – we are a non-driving couple) it isn’t as easy as jumping in a car and heading there.

Still, a visit to Lucy remains on my eventual to-do list, although I do not dare to dream of something as wildly entertaining as spending the night within. (The idea that she was indeed home to someone at one time fascinates me and I like to imagine that. The incarnation as a tavern appeals as well.) Lucy is an enduring bit of Jersey lore and I will look forward to paying homage to her in person one day.

Putting the Dog Before the Cart

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today’s photo is not only suffering from age, but probably from being under exposed in the first place. In person it also has a bit of solarization that photos from this period often get, almost as if the silver is rising to the surface, making it even harder to see. I knew this when I bought it (to Miss Molly’s credit she does nothing to enhance the images of the photos she sells – that doesn’t happen often, although in my hobby I come across it occasionally), but I loved the image and I decided to take a chance. It is small, the image is only about 3″x4″. So, my apologies for its inherent short comings.

This photo appeals to me because I would have adored having such a set up as a child. I have written on several occasions about employing our long-suffering German Shepard, Duchess, and my cat Snoopy in a complex series of games and scenarios. The fact that, at least as a small child, I would not have had the appropriate real estate needed to really enjoy such a contraption, I will leave aside – you need some real acreage to really sport about it something like this, but wow – you’d really be doing something!

I have long contemplated that the connection with our domestic animal friends is different when you are a small child. Is it because you are, in reality, that much closer to their own intellectual bandwidth at that point? Or are you just communicating more freely? I have always wondered. I can remember long childish conversations with them both, prattling happily along, looking deep into their eyes as I spoke, absolutely certain they understood every word.

Perhaps because of the sheer amount of attention paid to them, they would allow me to undertake all sorts of indignities that I wouldn’t dream of inflicting on my pets as an adult – trying to ride the dog, dressing up the kitty, adventures with the doll carriage and the like. My parents would intervene occasionally if things got out of hand, but generally we were left to our own devices. I would have been on this dog cart thing in a minute given the opportunity. Duchess, somewhere in dog heaven, is perhaps grateful the opportunity did not arise.

My new always-at-home life has changed my relationship with Blackie and Cookie. It isn’t a coincidence that shelters have been emptied of dogs and cats during the pandemic. They are excellent company during these days that merge into one long working day.

The daily routine of Cookie and Blackie was forged early here at Deitch Studio, formed around Kim working at home and his day. Kim and the kitties start the workday (very) early, and he is in charge of their feeding, morning and evening. (Eating to cats is, without question, the most important part of the day – a brief but glorious interlude. We have strict feeding times in an, ever-failing, attempt to keep them from driving Kim nuts all day while he works.)

Until the middle of March I was on the outer edge of this cat constellation, home on weekends, but otherwise generally in the ongoing daily act of coming and going – packing a suitcase and leaving for days at a time on occasion, very undependable. They expected it and my departures and arrivals frankly rarely rated so much as a flatten ear or a greeting glance from either.

I noticed the other day when Kim went out for a walk that the cats sat by the front door the entire time, staring at it. Waiting and willing him to return. They clearly have very little faith in my ability to open a cat food can.

Yet, I think the cats have, over the course of more than four months, completely erased my daily departures from memory. I too am now a daily fixture – if a slightly less useful one. Blackie makes his appearance in Zoom calls and demands a 3:30 cuddle no matter what else I am doing – and Cookie helps me work out daily (she likes it when my trainer, Harris, appears on the iPad for a FaceTime workout where she flirts with him a bit), and both fight me for my work chair. Kim can vouch for the fact that I talk to them all the time – Cookie tends to actually answer. She’s the chatty kit of the two.

And of course I believe they understand me, or at least a certain percentage of what I tell them – mostly encouragement about being the best kitty in the whole world!  and the handsomest boy cat! and even the occasional please get off of the desk – thank you very much! – it isn’t philosophical discussion for the most part. I will have to be home many months longer before I can perhaps find my childhood knack and we can enter into long talks about the meaning of life together, Cookie, Blackie and I.

Piercing

Pam’s Pictorama Post: In these days of multiple piercings and tattoos my memory of getting my ears pierced seems quaint. I was twelve or thirteen and I was at the mall with my cousin Patti one afternoon when I had it done – they used a piercing gun and zip, zip and there you go. I had small 18k gold studs with tiny gold balls installed in my ears. I was told to put peroxide on them morning and night with a q-tip, and to twirl them occasionally to make sure they healed properly.

It wasn’t until the next morning at breakfast that my mother noticed them. My parents tended toward the distracted and I felt like I had to more or less wave a flag before mom noticed. Much to my surprise she was freaked out that I hadn’t discussed it with her  – turns out she doesn’t especially like pierced ears. We had never talked about it and I was a bit stunned. I guess I figured they were my ears to do with what I would and I more or less told her that. I wasn’t a mouthy or difficult kid and the answer ultimately mollified her and this was a difference of opinion. We had a truce.

Meanwhile, my ears healed slowly and not without detours through periods of bleeding and infection. As soon as they were sufficiently healed I wandered into the heady world of earrings and there was a vast selection of options. Even maintaining that the posts would always be at least 14k gold (and gold was cheaper then so this was possible even at the lower end) I was able to acquire an array fairly quickly. However, suffice it to say that my ears never adapted to metal in them and I began a several year slog of on and off infections and bleeding. I last wore pierced earrings to my high school prom ending in copious bleeding, followed by yet another infection and I swore off them for life. I became a clip-on screw back earring devotee.

For the folks out there who have taken this path, you know that earrings affixed in this way are just not comfortable for any period of time, especially if you spend time on the telephone, tucked between ear and shoulder. (Yes, that is starting to seem quaint too, but for many years it was a real issue.) However, being the kind of gal who cannot resist bling and bejeweled I have collected some if not a vast number of earrings.

It was my general bejeweled-ness that probably lead the very same cousin Patti (who has no memory of the ear piercing adventure) to offer me this lovely pair of earrings she found while cleaning out her ancestral home. They belonged to my great-grandmother, the point where our mutual genes branch out from. This makes them very special to me as I have nothing else from that great-grandmother.

Not only were these earrings pierced, but they had a particularly evil pierced/screw-on combo that I gather existed in the late 19th and early 20th century. I didn’t take a photo of the back before having them converted, but I show another pair found online below – instruments of torture! How did that work? Ouch!

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My maternal grandmother’s family was never especially well off. However, since they were in the restaurant business at least the family never went hungry. (I have written about this side of my family before and one based on a historic photo that Patti found can be read here and here.) Nonetheless, there was never a surplus of money and not much jewelry has been handed down from them.

In recent years I have considered having my now long-closed piercings redone as a world of earring opportunities does tempt me. The possibility that my ears are actually allergic to gold exists, or perhaps that the placement of the original piercing not ideal. Somehow even for someone as devoted to adornment as I am, the idea of the process does not appeal to me and I have not (yet) pursued it. Having recently gotten these back from the jeweler, I will stick with sporting them for now.

 

Smooth as Glass Savings

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today isn’t quite a toy post, but I guess we could label it a premium post, which is a genre I explore not infrequently, usually in my quest for interesting cat related items. (A favorite post about Corbin pin trays depicting cat heads can be found here, and the more recent acquisition of my Feed the Kitty bank here.)

This little bank was acquired last weekend on what may be our final trip to the store Obscura Antiques and Oddities in the East Village. I was sad to learn recently that they will be closing at the end of the year, a fact I discovered via Instagram where a parade of visitors are paying their final respects and posting them. Evidently it is more a decision about wanting to do something different than about raising rents, but I was very sorry to see this as I have made it my premium choice for expeditions celebrating my birthday or our anniversary annually. A truly great day is pairing a visit there up with a trip to the The Antique Toy Shop in Chelsea. (Some of my other adventures and acquisitions at these establishments can be found in prior post here , here and here.)

It is a bit boring to bemoan how all the interesting places for poking around in old stuff are disappearing. It is just a reality of the way we live, especially in fast moving Manhattan where things seem to come in go with an alarming rapidity. But it saddens me, as poking through the detritus of lives past is one of my great joys. However, I try to be philosophical about the general entropy of retail in Manhattan.

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Obscura Antiques and Oddities in the East Village when we visited last week. I really wish I had room for Mr. Peanut.

 

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Paper Mache mask at Obscura recently.

 

On our recent visit Kim purchased this little bank and a lovely little cabinet for me (future post) as an anniversary gift. I am just charmed by it and I immediately imagined stuffing it full of change as a child – and then being faced with the quandary of retrieving the coins as there seems to be no obvious option for cashing in. There is a seam running down it, and in the case of mine there is a crack near it which makes me wonder if someone didn’t break it in an attempt to open it at the seam. I suppose the purpose of piggy banks was saving, but I have never approved of the idea that you should have to break your beloved piggy bank in order to eventually realize your savings. It seems cruel.

My own experience with piggy banks starts with a nice pig model decorated with painted pink roses. The one below is not the one I had, but puts me reasonably in mind of it.

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I also had a Snoopy one that, given the evidence and availability on the internet of the model I called mine, every child of my generation must have owned at one time. My memory was that it was actually a bit fragile and made of some paper mache material so I did not keep change in it. It was beloved though and I owned it for a very long time. I don’t think I kept money in the pig either – although both had rubber handy plugs in the bottom for releasing the change. No smashing my pig!

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As it happens I instead kept my savings in a small safe made for that purpose. It had a combination lock (with the combination written on a tag the bottom as I remember, defeating the purpose but preventing the obvious problem) and it held a lot of coins, and then it weighed a ton. My sister and I each had one, and although I kept mine for more than a decade I could not tell you what happened to it ultimately. Somehow it and the change in it were lost to the sands of time. The one below, available on Etsy, is pretty much spot on the one I owned. It is a kick to see it again.

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Meanwhile, Pittsburgh Paint was a small Pennsylvania paint company which was acquired by a glass corporation back in 1900. Therefore the slogan smooth as glass and the glass bank premium make total sense and a slogan still associated with them today. (On the reverse side of the bank it also states, Nature’s Colors in Lasting Beauty, a poetic thought.) The paint brand is still very available and the company has become one of the world’s largest corporations, PPG. I am not in a position to comment on quality of their paint except to say that my own kitchen was recently painted with Benjamin Moore and in all fairness, I had not considered Pittsburgh.

The prevalence of contemporary piggy banks found during my online search makes me assume that children are still given them with the intention of instilling a sense of thrift and savings. In a world where, according to Google, the average price of a Hershey bar is $1.60 and a comic book almost $3, kids either need larger piggy banks or to replenish them quickly. I know nothing of the economy of childhood today, but assume it involves as more folding money than coins. In a sense this is too bad as coins were nice objects to collect and own, although folding money seemed downright exotic when I was a kid.

Funny Jungleland

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I especially like the last panel where they hold cereal boxes! Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

 

Pam’s Pictorama Post: When researching my Kellogg’s Crinkle Cat (immortalized a few weeks back in my post Crinkle Cat – For Kiddies, not Kitties! which can be read here) I discovered this earlier premium and set out immediately to purchase one. I read online that this Funny Jungleland Moving Pictures book was the first cereal premium – originally given away in stores, it dates back in its earliest form to 1909. It quickly became something you mailed away for instead and it cost you ten cents. Quite a switch as ten cents was a bit of an investment at the dawn of the 20th century and perhaps that explains why so many were kept and exist today.

This example dates from 1932 and they were produced through 1936, which also gives us a hint as to the rather amazing availability of them today, a century later – I am here to tell you, if you want one of these it can easily be yours. Evidently, it is generally hard to date these as they remained remarkably similar with a few color changes to the cover – however, oddly enough, only the 1932 edition had the copyright for the current year it was issued.

One book site selling these tells me that the original copyright goes back to 1907 and I wonder if they were copyrighting the technology of the “moving pictures” or the book. I will assume they didn’t create the method or concept of the book or somehow that would come out in the telling. It is quite clever though and I think it is the other reason for the proliferation of these slim volumes even today. It’s a hoot! As you can see from the top image, the book expands with a fold-out section in the middle.

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The 1930’s and ’40’s were the heyday of cereal prizes and I opined on them a bit in the Crinkle Cat post mentioned earlier. (I do love to look at them and they ignite a sort of childhood toy lust area in my brain.) However, I’m trying to remember if I ever pulled anything good out of a box of cereal as a kid and nothing much is coming to mind, although they were still putting the occasional premium plastic geegaws in at the start of my 1960’s and early ’70’s era childhood. Even the mail-in option was fading away. Some research on the subject has reminded me of a brief period when you could, in theory, cut out a record from the back of the box and this tugged briefly at my memory. I have only the vaguest memory of testing that and failing miserably.

Via my research light on the subject I discovered that pep pins were originally cereal prizes. While that is pretty cool (extremely actually) I guess I somewhat question the wisdom of putting a pin in a box of cereal for a child to find given the general fist down into the cereal box approach most children take to finding said prize. I don’t own a Felix the Cat pep pin but I share an example below.

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As it happens, one of the things my parents were martinets about when I was small was breakfast cereal. We were a plain Jane family when it came to that when I was a tiny tot and maybe that is why there were few premiums in the offing. I am specific about being quite small because if my younger brother is reading this memories of Count Chocula and Cap’n Crunch and the like are zipping through his mind. What can I say? Our parent’s moral stance on cereal evaporated during those intervening years. By the time heavily sugar coated cereal showed up in the house I had no interest in more than tasting it, with the exception of a brief affair with Frosted Flakes and Tony the Tiger which is coming back to me. (Perhaps it was because I found Tony charming?)

Dad used to urge us to eat our Wheaties as I remember from when I was very small – strange to think of him quoting a commercial; he wasn’t the type. I wasn’t a fan of them, Wheaties, and we settled more companionably on Cheerios as frequent daily fare. I flirted a bit with Raison Bran (I added raisons to a salad the other day and that actually felt a bit decadent, but I digress), and Rice Krispies. I still cop to an appreciation for the occasional marshmallow treat made with Rice Krispies. Yum.

The variations on these plainer cereals of my youth, Special K, All Bran and the like, populated our cupboards and breakfast table. We were encouraged to add Wheat Germ to it and there was a brief Alpen period (nuts, sweeten raisons and mysterious grains) which sometimes were employed to zip up the somewhat more austere brands.

Meanwhile, I swear my father thought Kretschmer Wheat Germ was going to save the world (I do wonder if it was something from his own childhood) and he converted my sister who went through a phase of putting it on top of everything including the cookies she baked and the English muffin pizzas she would throw together for her lunch or snack. Again, I was not a fan. I share the version below which graced our breakfast table for decades. Somehow I do not remember my mother having strong feelings about any of this – which is unusual for my mother – but for whatever reason she stayed out of the cereal fray for the most part. I don’t think she was a cereal eater herself at all and seemed to be fairly nominal in most of her own weekday breakfast consumption, toast and coffee for the most part. We all might break out more on weekends. (Subsequent to reading this Kim has shared that he also hated Kreschmer Wheat Germ – had never come up before.)

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Of course, in retrospect I suspect that for the most part all that cereal wasn’t great for us and the nutrient filled promise was a tad hollow. I shudder more than a bit at the calories now and we haven’t had a box of cereal in the house in years, although I am the first to admit to a not infrequent diet of cereal dinners during the straighten circumstances of my twenties. (Although the price of cereal today may not make that an option for recent grads these days!) Nor do I wish to take on cereal lovers – calories notwithstanding I love granola in my yogurt. And of course, if the cereal industry went back to adding interesting toys to these boxes I might yet be lured back.

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