To L.R.L.

 

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today’s blog post is about a bit of a mystery item. Last week I visited mom in NJ and was pawing through some recently unpacked items. With the move they made a little over a year ago, followed rapidly by my dad’s illness and ultimate death, there has been little time or energy for dealing with the boxes, furniture and whatnot stored in the garage and basement of the tiny house. A burst water pipe and a mouse colony setting up shop in both demanded that we shift our attention and energy to this project however. My immediate concern was the family photos (some which may show up in future posts) but this odd object also found its way to me and I brought it home for further consideration.

My mother doesn’t remember it and her inclination was to think that it wasn’t a family item and that my father picked it up randomly somewhere. My father loved silver, especially early American silver, and so it is very possible indeed that he purchased it at one of his beloved garage sales. Dad would go off happily on weekend mornings, sometimes driving somewhat far afield, and hit a series of predetermined sales, marked in a local paper, at various locations throughout the county, an excellent, much worn local AAA map book residing on the floor of the car, always at the ready. Yep, no denying that I am his daughter – no news to Pictorama readers that I inherited his love of digging through the detritus of others to discover gems.

His route completed and appetite enhanced, he would treat himself to a breakfast of bacon at a little luncheonette called Edie’s. (Edie’s probably deserves its own post as a tiny little eatery which somehow has survived with virtually no parking on a hugely busy road in an entirely residential area. My father adored it.)

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The purchase of silver abounded from these forays and I (yes, in my studio apartment where these days I rarely do more than open a box of pizza for friends) own a full set of sterling flatware as a result. Having said all of that, this is an unusual item even for him although perhaps it came along with another item and he kept it. This appears to be a single napkin ring, silver but unmarked, leading me to believe it is perhaps coin silver. (For those of you who didn’t grow up around the antique obsessed, that is an early, lower than sterling silver alloy which reflect the same proportion of silver as is in coins.) The fact that it is unmarked also confirms some age as at some point labeling silver with its content became law.

While an early silver napkin ring is not at all unusual (although as noted, a bit odd for dad to have purchased on its own) the interesting thing is the engraving. It is hard to see, but the engraving reads DTA to LRL. (I apologize for the lousy photos, but anyone who has tried to photograph silver without distracting reflections will appreciate the problem.) While monogrammed silver napkin rings abound (because of course why wouldn’t you want your initials on a napkin ring?) the idea of a dedication on one is truly odd. I searched the internet numerous ways and didn’t find another example of this sort of dedication on a napkin ring, nor on anything except jewelry.

I did find another item very similar, identified as an Edwardian napkin ring, with the name Lucy written in script. It was on a site that was no longer accessible which appeared to have sold silver. Full names as monograms are less common than initials, but you do see some when searching such things online. Did DTA give LRL a full set of rings, now lost or at least separated for all time? I assume so, but it seems a mystery I am unlikely to solve, even as I try to imagine being seated at that long-ago table with heavy napkins in their engraved holders. Meanwhile, this single ring has come to reside among the toy cats and other curios here at Deitch Studio.

Dad’s Day

Pam’s Pictorama Post: So, I have been arguing with myself about this post and whether or not I was going to write it. This is fair warning to anyone out there who doesn’t want to read a somewhat downbeat Father’s Day post, this one probably isn’t for you. It is the only thing on my mind though as the marketers (everyone from my drugstore to where I buy my running shoes) remind me to think of my father today – and he remains very much on my mind. It’s a small story but seems to be the one for today.

As those of you who have followed this blog (or my and Kim’s real lives) know, my Dad died last August, just shy of a final birthday and after several painful months in hospice. As you lose people in your life, especially to illness, it gets hard as the year spins closer to the anniversary and there are landmark dates or, for me, seasons that remind you of where you were in the previous year. I wrote about bringing my father ice cream on Father’s Day last year (in a story that remains a bit amazing even to me that can be found here) so I know exactly where I was this time last year, although the early summer weather had been telling me for weeks.

I remember that these were the last few relatively good days he had. And I have a clear memory of sitting next to his bed, eating ice cream and him suddenly asking me if this job that I had taken at Jazz at Lincoln Center was going to work out. He always enjoyed hearing about the ins and outs of my work life – the travel I did and the people I met. It tickled him that, like his career as a cameraman, I enjoyed my work and it took me all over. He was proud and marveled that he had a daughter in business as he would say.

I was just over a year in my job responsible for fundraising at Jazz after thirty years at The Metropolitan Museum of Art and it was a fair question. In fact the challenge was at times overwhelming me, a real tiger by the tail, and I did wonder what on earth I had done in taking it on. However Dad spent those last months of his life worrying about me and my brother and asking for reassurance about the future. I would tell him that I would make sure my brother and mother were okay and would take care of everything.

So I was tempted to lie and gloss over it, but in the end, I told him the truth – it was very hard and the jury was still out on whether or not I would pull it off. A challenge is just that and you might fail. Sometimes hard work and sincerity weren’t enough and I just didn’t know yet. He was never much of a conversationalist, which was made worse by the labored breathing of his illness, so he nodded his head, listened and thought about what I was saying.

A year later a lot has happened and as these things do, the job got harder and more difficult before there were any signs of it getting better and that only very recently. Somehow though, through a dint of unstinting hard work and some good luck in these last weeks, we are starting to see some traction. It is possible that after two years of unrelenting effort there is some real daylight as I look around. With the help and hard work of some many people, a sense of order is starting to prevail. I have learned a lot and Dad would be pleased I think – I can see a nod of approval. Meanwhile, I will be eating ice cream later today in his honor.

Cookies and Ice Cream

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Pam’s Pictorama Post: It is a tempestuous red and blue dawn on a lovely, cool July morning in the aptly named Fair Haven, New Jersey. I am sitting in bed eating a bagel and drinking cold coffee accompanied by my father’s cat, Red, with Dick Powell as The Singing Marine on TCM to keep us company. The bagel is a very reasonable one, although it has a vegan spread on it instead of butter – mom didn’t know I would be coming so only her own vegan offerings are available. I have a miserable chest cold, but despite that this would be a perfectly lovely perch if it wasn’t for the fact that I am here because my father is dying.

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Red, my father’s constant companion, is my host cat when I visit

 

Most of my experience with dying has been of the fast and furious kind, starting with people dying young, mostly in accidents. Then when my sister Loren died of breast cancer, the actual end was upon us suddenly somehow, even after seven years of struggle. Dad on the other hand, is going by inches – slipping just perceptibly more one day or week, but then finding a new plateau. It is painful to watch and not the way anyone would really chose to go. After an especially bad dip I came on Friday, despite the chest cold. I found him mostly lucid, but falling into unconsciousness.

The nurses and hospice folks are gentle with me, preparing me for the obvious. They are all very nice people – as I said to a friend yesterday, the nicest people you never want to have to meet. First spring then turning to summer weekly visits to see him and his slow, but steady decline, and offer support to my mom. It is sad and difficult, but undeniably inevitable in a way my sister’s death at 40 was not.

My early visits home were accompanied by chocolate for Dad. I brought whatever I thought might tempt him a bit, sending chocolates online, bringing chocolate bickies from London after a trip. As he transitioned to in-patient hospice care I shifted to a favorite of his since childhood, black and white cookies. I remember being introduced to these first from my grandparent’s house in Mamaroneck, New York. Those visits were spotted with the large black and white cookies with slightly sticky frosted icing, and slices of marble cake, bottoms wrapped in yellow paper – the taste of either brings me back to long Sunday afternoons of my childhood. Dad remained a life long fan of the black and whites (a friend in college called them moon cookies which entertained me) and Penn Station offers a reasonable, if packaged, version that he likes and I pick up on my way through to NJ Transit.

***

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My father has always loved ice cream. It was an open family secret that you could almost always talk him into an ice cream junket. If you were driving on a trip, pulling off at an exit for a Howard Johnson’s sundae was always an option, and more successful ploy than asking to stop for the bathroom. In our New Jersey town, an evening trip to the local Dairy Queen was an easy coax.

As spring turned to summer his condition worsened. Father’s Day approached and he had asked for ice cream (something more satisfying than the little cups offered with his lunch and dinner daily as per my instructions). A good friend frequently picks me up at the train to take me to visit him, I knew that week she could not. While it wasn’t at all logical it kept scratching at my brain that there must be a way to get ice cream from Manhattan to him somehow, but I failed to figure it out.

Kim has been devoted about accompanying me on most of these weekends to offer moral support. However, on that particular weekend I was traveling alone and hopped a cab at the train station. For those of you who live in suburbia you may understand that a local cab is nothing like one in Manhattan. Instead, it was a broken down Chevy sedan, driven by a guy about my age in cutoffs and flip flops. (I have frequently found myself in a cab with  someone I went to school with – while this was not the case, but could have been easily enough.) The cab had torn upholstery, hemorrhaging stuffing where I installed myself in the backseat.

I gave the address and the name of the facility which has sufficed to get me to there previously as this is a relatively small town. Having lived there most of my young life I know the area well, but he took me in a direction I didn’t know, a fact that dimly registered in my distracted mind as I settled into my own thoughts,  preparing for my visit and what I would find.

When I snapped to attention I realized that I was at a strange intersection, and as I was formulating an inquiry to get us where we needed to go, the driver turned around and asked me in a cheery voice, “Would you like to stop for ice cream?” You can imagine my amazement. I said, “Excuse me?” Him, “Yeah, there’s a great place for homemade ice cream just about 200 yards from here.” “Well, yes, actually I would love to, but your a cab driver, are you sure you don’t mind?” “Naw, it’s fine.” Me, as we pull into the empty parking lot next to a tiny white building that houses what turns out to be a family owned business, “Can I get you something?” Him, “No, I’m good.”

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Ryan’s Ice Cream, Tinton Falls, NJ

 

So off I go, into this small white box of a building which has evidently been here for decades, attended by a high school student in summer job mode, the wares – more than a dozen large containers of homemade ice cream, taking up the length of the store. I purchase a medium order of chocolate chocolate chip for my father and a small cookies and cream for myself. Dad’s medium size ice cream was a bit unreasonably large, but happily he ate every bite much to my surprise. He hasn’t been able to eat nearly as much subsequently, but I keep bringing it. He’s partial to chocolate on chocolate, but likes vanilla with bits of Heathbar in it too, a blatant rip off of the Ben & Jerry’s flavor. Clearly ice cream will be more or less the last thing to pass his lips.

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Part Two: I think we may have passed through all the possible good stages, these are the last days I guess. Dad is uncooperative, stubbornly blatantly so, refusing to take his medication or talk to me. Gone is the gentle joshing of a few days ago about who is bossiest in the family and maybe the tiniest mouthfuls of ice cream. He will only take a few sips of this or that. Dad, a few weeks shy of 88, has fought his death, with every fiber – blood clot in the leg, a raging infection, congestive heart failure all topped off with N Stage COPD – he has worked his way through nine lives in the last few weeks alone, rising again and again like an unlikely phoenix.

Just two days ago he was telling me he was thinking about getting up with his walker the next day. (This extremely unlikely given the state of his leg, but who am I to be discouraging at this point?) So, I sit, with the stubbornness he has willed to me, at least equal to his own – I always say doubled by that I inherit from my mother. I play early jazz on my computer, then classical music. He’s never been a fan of music in particular, but I think it is a nice change of pace for him and he might as well hear something other than the tv if we aren’t going to talk. Or rather if he doesn’t want to listen to me prattle on as our conversations have been one-sided for some time now. I have given up on reading to him from the New York Times.

As for me, if I am not here I am fretting about not being here, when I am here I worry about my inability to do much, to engage him. I have foolish thoughts about how other people are probably better at this than me – my self-inflicted burden for being competitive in every aspect of life and finding my own perceived inadequacies when left alone to my own devices. I reflect on how my father has actually always been good at just being there – never too chatty, but always willing when called upon to drive or sit somewhere he would do it, if silently, but without restlessness. I tell him stories about this now.

There are other things to be said about my father, but for now I will just say a few. A camera man for ABC News for his entire career, honored with two Emmy’s, nominated for a third, he was a man who loved his job and deeply embodied it, staying with it despite the physical nature of it, camera rig on his shoulders, until he was almost 70. By no means perfect, his current illness brings out an periodic belligerence – hard although I think it unfair to expect someone in his current situation to have be perpetually cheerful. His 6’5″ frame has long been folded into this bed, still massive, but shrunken. Always a silent man, he once joked that it tickled him to intimidate the occasional man I brought home. Perhaps in the future I will write more about him, the good and the bad, but for now these are the things I think about.

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Dad died on August 11 and I sent six pints of ice cream to the hospice, with his and my thanks.

 

Irving, Gertie and Ellie

Dad as toddler

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Last week I was helping my mother go through some closets and drawers in preparation for an eventual move out of their now-too-large house, the home I spent a large portion of my childhood in. In my old bedroom, in a box in the closet, we found a number of framed, old photos. I have seen them all at one time or another, but not in many years and saw them differently with adult eyes. There were requisite black and white 8×10’s of me and Loren when we were babies; my mother and her brother in hand-tinted graduation photos that hung in the living room of my mother’s family home, where I remember them until my grandmother moved out shortly before her death; and this interesting photo of my father as a toddler, holding a toy truck, with his mother and father.

I just took a quick picture of the photo with my phone so it isn’t the best reproduction. I cleaned the dust off it and while, watching the endless loop of CNN with my dad, I tackled polishing the silver frame. The container of silver polish they had was a bit ancient or I might have gotten better results, but I did get it clean enough to realize that someone’s initials which did not belong to the Butler family, were featured at the top of the frame. I’m sure it was one of my grandmother’s auction house finds – she never would have let something like initials interfere with a silver frame for a good price.

I get my collecting gene from her, Gertrude Butler, nee Rosensweig – a haunter of auctions, collector of costume jewelry which she piled into jewelry boxes I loved to dig in as kid. She was always perfectly turned out, gorgeous brocade patterned dresses of another era, hair carefully waved, make-up done and most certainly red lipstick on. Still, even with that memory I am surprised by how much of a babe she is in this photo – hair and clothes styled  to the moment, sleek and elegant, intelligent widely spaced eyes. There’s something a bit steely in them I don’t remember – but she died when I was very young and of course she only ever looked adoringly at her grandchildren.

My grandfather is a good looking man and very dapper here – more so than I remember although he was always handsome. Although I think of my father looking like him, I can see here he has a lot of his mother in him too. He is holding something between his fingers I can’t identify – not a cigarette, looks almost like maybe a piece of another toy or what you use to click the camera shutter, which doesn’t really make sense.

And then there’s my dad, Elliott, Ellie to his parents – and only to them. He is an only child although he had cousins who were close, like a brother and sister. I remember my grandmother showing me one of his long golden curls she saved. (My sister got that curly hair, but always chestnut brown, lighter than my own straight, darker hair.) This was especially remarkable because as an adult he has virtually black hair, still curly, and a dark, swarthy complexion. Ironic that he’s holding a toy truck – I can’t imagine anyone with less interest in cars than my father. He’s looking off, at the photographer, who I imagine is holding a birdie in his hand. Maybe he’s thinking about a future filled with cameras like this one.

Snapshot of Dad

 

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Pam’s Pictorama (Family) Photo Post:  You would think that given my predilection for early photos that I would have tons of old family photos, but in reality I am not the keeper of many. I found this one of my father in an old desk years ago and framed it up so as to slow the disintegration.  I have always been fond of it – as I am of the small cache of photos that I do have around. I will probably get to sharing some others over time in different contexts. (A heads up that there’s a super one of my mom surrounded by toys one Christmas morning when she appears to be about seven. She doesn’t like it however, which is one of the reasons I have it – she didn’t want it.)

This one came to mind when I was working on my other motorcycle photo posts (The Mysteries of Felix and White Cat and the Art of Motorcycle Riding) and I got it off a top (cat protected) bookshelf and asked Kim to scan it for me.  It was taken on June 18, 1952 and someone (not my father) has scribbled “eeee gads!” on the back with the date. Dad is a handsome devil (still is!) and he’s got his best JD thing going on here. I assume it was taken in Washington Heights and that this was probably the motorcycle he subsequently rode across the country. The story goes that it made it out there, but then died on him and, broke, he had to hitchhike home.

I don’t know much about motorcycles, but I figure it is safe to assume that this one was old in 1952. Since this is 1952, I also assume it is after he returned from a stint in the army, in the Arctic, filming manuevers during the Korean war – which ultimately lead him to getting a masters in film at BU on the GI Bill, and his eventual career as a camera man for ABC news.  Much of that still ahead in this photo; it’ll be about eight years before he meets my mom as well, ten before my sister Loren is born, and twelve before I show up. (Almost 19 years before my brother Edward is on the scene – shout out to Ed!)  He’s not so good on dates these days (in fact, never his strong point) so I am doing some guess-timate work. Wonderful though, to have this photo and a record of my dad poised to set off on a great adventure.