Back

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I am sitting with a rather delightful pile of toys and postcards at the moment, in part thanks to the fact the on the Saturday after New Year’s my back went out and I spent most of the next ten days on my back in bed or propped up with pillows on our couch. This lead to a lot of television watching – I am very caught up on home renovation shows and TCM’s December programming; reading – finished all the Frances Hodgson Burnett adult novels I currently have access to and have moved onto the more obscure of her children’s fiction; and, lastly, spent a lot of time (and ultimately money) trolling ebay. So Pictorama readers will be in the clover with posts in the coming weeks. However, today instead I focus on the subject of my back.

I come from a long line of troubled backs. My father was 6’5″ and carried the weight of a small child in camera equipment every working day of his life. This combined with driving long distances, also for his job as a cameraman for network news, meant that periodically his back would blow and he would be recuperating for weeks. As noted above, Dad traveled a heck of a lot for his job and so, in some ways, aside from his summer vacation which was usually 3-4 weeks at a stretch, the most we saw of Dad for long periods was when he was recovering from one of these debilitating events.

However, over the duration of this recovery I reflected on poor Dad’s misery with his back. Being such a large man, my mom couldn’t possibly really help him get out of bed or out of a chair. His preferred chair for these spells was a very old Windsor rocker which, if it was summer, we would even move out into the yard for him to sit in, packed with pillows. That was once his back was good enough to walk at all, bent over but somewhat mobile, and sit in any chair. (I happen to be the current owner of this chair, which is suffering from a broken leg. Nevertheless, I also confess that after this recent incident, this choice of chair mystifies me somewhat. It is NOT what I would have chosen to sit in even if it wasn’t broken.)

Because of the ongoing problems, his back seemed to  have a feather trigger and I can remember it going out once when he reached for the salt at dinner. My mom always ribbed him about how it went out just as he began the project of changing the storm windows to screens one spring and she had to complete the onerous task. These were family lore about dad’s back. The worst (and most family famous) episode was during the Bicentennial when he was in Rhode Island for work, hanging from the rigging on a tall ship, camera on his shoulder when (perhaps not surprisingly) his back went out. I cannot imagine how they got him, and the camera, down in one piece but they did. He then had his colleagues pack him in pillows in his car, more or less immobile and he drove himself back him to NJ. As I remember, he was home for weeks on end that summer. In the rocking chair, in the backyard during the day, us kids, cats and dog, satellites of activity buzzing around him.

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A photo my mom recently found and gave to me. Probably taken of Dad at work at about the time I describe, mid-seventies. Apologies for the bad reproduction!

 

My own back woes harken to early adulthood, when cooking professionally, and a fall down a flight of basement stairs on the job (you’ve never really lived until you’ve cooked in a New York City restaurant in an old brownstone-type building and run up and down basement stairs all day) precipitated learning that I had arthritis in my lower back and hips. In my case it ties out as inherited from my maternal grandfather, who I called Poppy. Sadly treatment was limited in Poppy’s day and when he was still quite young his spine fused, and when I knew him he walked permanently bent at a 45 degree angle. Even worse, the years of cortisone treatment combined with a heart condition killed him when he was only in his fifties, about my age now.

Treatment has changed and improved radically since then with the advent of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and even over the course of my adult life with biological drugs on the market now. I amaze that I see commercials for cures for psoriatic arthritis now when for years I did not know anyone else with the disease. Are there more of us or are we just better known?

For all of that I have never before put my back out in the traditional sense before. This siege seems to have been brought on by business travel compounded by more than a week of solid evenings at work, frequently standing for several hours at each. Eventually the Christmas holiday arrived and Kim warned me it was a critical mistake when the day after I decided to (at long last!) turn our closets over, bringing up bins of winter clothes from the basement and sending the sundresses down in their stead. I sensed trouble with my back and tried to stay the tide by having a massage that Friday. (Kim has been very thoughtful by not saying he told me so – he did tell me so, more than once! This is something I love about my spouse.)

Saturday I was enjoying the Vija Celmins exhibit at the Met Breuer. She is an extraordinary artist and so glad I didn’t miss it! Anyway I was loving the exhibit when at some point I sat down – and realized that getting up wasn’t going to be all that easy. Pain!

I got myself home and there I stayed through into the New Year. (I tried a brief trip to the office but couldn’t make a full day.) Suddenly I was in the land of my forefathers and walking bent, unable at times to fully straighten. I thought a lot of about Dad and Poppy!

Ocean 1975 by Vija Celmins born 1938

Ocean 1975 Vija Celmins born 1938 Purchased with assistance from the American Fund for the Tate Gallery, courtesy of the Judith Rothschild Foundation 1999 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/P78336

 

I tried the usual remedies – Aleve, hot rubs, ice packs. A visit to my trainer who used a massage gun on me which with some stretching helped a little, but the spasms began again almost immediately. The doc was reluctant to use muscle relaxers and told me to keep on with the Aleve. A friend suggested acupuncture and I was surprised I didn’t think of it sooner. I had received acupuncture treatments on and off since the onset of the arthritis although have not been in a few years.

In the early years of pursuing acupuncture, late 1980’s, it wasn’t that easy to find someone and I got a referral to Dr. Ching Y. Ting from a colleague in the Asian Art Department at the Met – she had curvature of the spine which gave her back trouble. I saw Dr. Ting for several years. He spoke little English and smoked constantly. (So much for acupuncture resolving that habit!)

His operation was housed in a two bedroom apartment in an enormous white brick building in the East 30’s. Broken into a labyrinth, it was a rabbit warren of cubbies where numerous treatments were ongoing at the same time – ticking egg timers for each treatment luring us all to nap during treatment. Assistants coming to our rescue when our timer dinged. In addition to the cigarette smoke, there was always steaming tea being consumed and instead of heat lamps the heat in the apartment was turned way up, creating a steamy, smoky, exotic atmosphere which was just short of terrifying to my 23 year old self at first.

Dr. Ting was a very good doctor and I saw him as frequently as I could afford to, but sadly he died suddenly several years after I started to see him. (I heard that he just fell over after a family banquet at a restaurant in what was described to me as a good way to die.) Subsequently, I briefly saw some of his colleagues (treating an arthritic toe) over near Penn Station; followed eventually by a woman in the West Village (extremely capable, during an episode of frozen shoulder) whose location was inconvenient; and finally (during the second frozen shoulder) Eileen Chen who I turned to this time. She, like Dr. Ting, is a doctor fully versed in Chinese medicine. Her uptown location has closed, but she is still operates an office on 57th Street, which as it turns out, is about a block and a half from where I now work.

Eileen was unavailable over the holiday week for my emergency treatment so I saw a young colleague of hers, Hilary Zelner. I was unhappy about changing docs under the circumstances, but ultimately Hilary has done an excellent job, her style patient and chattier than Eileen, and she gets the credit for having gotten me back in shape. Needles have piled high with each of my treatments, more than I ever remember before. She mentioned how they vibrate and grow hot to the touch in my back.

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If you’ve never had acupuncture my experience is that it doesn’t hurt in the way you might think it would. The needles themselves going in are so thin you barely feel it if at all. However, the purpose, in the simplistic way I understand it, is to release energy and clear the path of flow. As nerves are activated there is occasionally a shock – more surprising than actually painful – although the ongoing movement of energy does hurt, as do some needles. You lie down, face down in my case, on a massage table and generally remain very still. The needles, after their placement, stay in for 20-30 minutes in my experience. She used a heat lamp on me during the duration of the time the needles are in.

I spend the 20-30 minutes in the dark, considering how I got my back in such bad shape and how long it will take to repair – and how not to do it again! You can feel energy traveling up and down your body. No sleeping during these treatments! I have thought about Dad and Poppy and wondered why Dad never tried acupuncture. I have thought about work and about what to make for dinner.

In all, the treatments, have been uncomfortable and exhausting, but after two (long) sessions I saw amazing improvement. I completed my third last night, preceded by a session with their massage therapist (new to me and entirely different from any massage I have had before; I haven’t made up my mind what I think yet), and I came home like jelly. Today I tackle a gentle work out at the gym and see how it goes. However, just in case, I also go back to Hilary on Friday!

 

 

 

Brooklyn Bound

Pam’s Pictorama Post: This morning we will abandon our horrendously messy, currently under renovation apartment and to head to Pratt in Brooklyn for the Comic Arts Brooklyn (CAB) festival. We will be setting up at a table and I will be in my wife-fan mode selling some original art and t-shirts while Kim is signing copies of his new book Reincarnation Stories. (He will be in a conversation with fellow cartoonist Nina Bunjevac later today as well and the past two weeks have been peppered with interesting online communication between them as they prepare.)

We are frankly relieved not to be spending the whole day in our over-flowing, packed to the ceiling with boxes studio apartment! (For those of you who may have missed the earlier installments on the work in our apartment I whined eloquently about it last week in my post which can be found here. The work continues apace and we are now living with the fridge in the living room and using only a hot plate and toaster oven to cook. Slowly you forget that you ever lived without everything jumbled in boxes around you and that you didn’t do dishes in your bathroom sink.) The prospect of two meals out an not made in a toaster oven is cheerful.

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Our apartment earlier this week. Arg!

 

I come from a long line of the mercantile. Irving and Gertie Butler (my paternal grandparents) owned a store, Butler Dry Goods I believe it was called, in Mt. Vernon, New York. My dim memory of it was a store that sold all sorts of bits and pieces, but mostly clothing essentials – underwear, sneakers, and basics, not fashion. My childhood was filled with nylon babydoll nightgowns from the store in the summer and flannel pajamas in the winter. It also supplied us with Danskin mix and match twin sets of stretchy shorts, shirts and pants in bright colors. (When I think of myself or my sister under the age of ten this is what we are wearing. I had a bit of a love hate relationship with these twin sets and was usually jealous thinking my sister’s were better for some reason, but you do a lot of that in general being a younger sister.) I want to say there were some toys in the store, but I do not have a clear memory of that and it seems like I should. (Did I get some of my boxes of Colorforms from there? Bags of plastic cowboys and Indians? I cannot say for sure.)

 

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My mom opened a more contemporary version of that emporium in New Jersey in the 1970’s and called it The Village Store. I remember that better of course and even worked there on occasion. Her version was largely the same sort of practical clothing, but some jewelry and a few other things that came in over the transom. It was on the strip of beach community within walking distance of our house, Sea Bright, near the drawbridge and next to a bar and the post office. (I opined on the town of Sea Bright and Wiseman’s – the kissing cousin of the dry goods store – the paper goods store. It was the cornerstone of the community and I wrote about it in a post that can be found here.)

In addition to my link to these successful sellers in days of old, I have a restaurant and a bar restaurant on the other side of my family. Tending bar, short order cooking, is the same selling skill set really. All this to say, if genes have any say in this process I have the bona fides for chatting and selling.

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A bad photo of an undated photo – cousin Frankie Cittadino as short order cook at the family bar in Long Branch, NJ. 

 

I guess it is fair to think that fundraising is a type of selling so perhaps I have not strayed far from my ancestors. At a minimum it employs a similar skill set. Today I take up the mantel and watch out CAB, I will be manning the sales of all things Kim Deitch. We are picking and packing up our bags now and I’ve got a great t-shirt just for you – see you there!

You Oughta Be in Pictures

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I now realize that I did a sort of lousy job taking pictures of these photos when I came across them while unpacking things at my mother’s a few month’s back and I apologize for that. These photos are large, at least 8″x10″, and both are matted the same and set in blond wooden frames. (I cropped them because my photos of them were uneven and a bit cockeyed – they are in reality more of a matched set.) These pictures are of me and my sister as tiny tots – apologies to my brother as he wasn’t born for another six or so years. I am the younger of the two, in the playpen, and my sister Loren is sitting on some steps, looking a bit like one of the Little Rascals in her slightly grubby looking garb.

Without knowing it for a fact, I assume that these were taken by my father. Pictorama readers know that dad, Elliott Butler, was a cameraman for ABC news for his entire career. Ironically this meant that there weren’t that many photos he took of us as kids because he was never content with the simple snapshot. Photo taking with dad involved a panoply of light meters and carefully considered compositions, and my memories of it are of the somewhat tedious variety of standing around as a subject – especially frustrating as a child, but the family tradition continued into adolescence.

The end result was that he didn’t bother with all the truck and nonsense that often and, like the shoemaker’s kids who go shoeless, we do not have all that many photos of us as small children. Despite all of that, somehow he captured us here pretty much in our native state of kid-ness.

This pair of photographs hung in my parent’s bedroom as long as I can remember. (Another set were in my grandmother’s living room and I was reminded of that recently. It popped a small bubble of memory in my mind, but I can’t say I really remember it.) These hung over a bureau – above a television at one time as I remember, but on either side of an antique mirror in more recent memory. (Many years ago I was flying home from Russia when my photo, which had already hung in the spot for decades, fell off the wall. My mother, who barely suppresses a superstitious streak, told me she was a nervous wreck until she heard I was safely on the ground. Luckily me and the pilot of my plane were ignorant of this incident.)

While retrieving these from a leaky garage before they could be ruined, I piled up a few others and perhaps we’ll get future posts on those. Most memorable are the photos of my mother and her brother John, also large, framed professional photos taken when they were in high school. These have the skillful hand coloring of the period. Ironically those I remember distinctly from my grandmother’s living room, hanging on silver-gray wallpaper with a design of green vines. I used to stare at them in fascination and try to mentally equate them with the adults I knew at the time.

I think Kim and I agree that I do not make a case for an extremely attractive child here. As he put it kindly this morning, I grew into my looks. On the other hand, Loren looks very charming here with her wild curls. Knowing my sister and her restless energy, it must have been quite a coup to get her to sit still as long as it would have taken to achieve this photo.

Anyway, I rescued these, cleaned them up a bit and set them up in the room I stay in at my mother’s house. As it would happen, they sit on an old bureau of my father’s, on either side of a television and I will be glad to see them each time I visit.

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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.

Smoking

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Born into the mid-1960’s my parents were in many ways a modern and scientific couple. My mother evidently eschewed alcohol during her pregnancies and gave up even what was evidently a lingering, occasional cigarette – so infrequent that I knew nothing of the habit until years later, but I will get to that in a bit.

I came more or less into a world where even among my extended family there was, to my memory, little or no smoking. It wasn’t like it was an issue. Of course tons of people smoked and people came to the house and smoked. To my knowledge nothing was thought about it and never anything said. Although as I think of it, I can only remember us owning one ashtray however – it was a large blue heavy ceramic item with a swirl of color in the middle that I liked for its heft and color. Perhaps that we only had the one ashtray is telling. (I own a single one as well – a cat head with a wide open mouth. Not really surprising I realize. The awkward design is not favored by visiting smokers.)

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When I was about twelve my mother, who must have been trying to lose weight in retrospect although I don’t remember her being heavy, took both running and smoking up. I eventually learned that my mother had been a high school track champion (to my knowledge a plaque noting her accomplishments is still at the Long Branch, NJ school she attended) and the running craze of the 1970’s had renewed her interest. What took her back to the occasional cigarette I am not sure. I smelled them but never saw her smoke one. She later said she stopped again because she could taste them when she ran, even after having only a single one and a day later.

Turns out my mother had been a regular smoker in college. She tells tales of tobacco companies coming to the campus at Douglas College where they gave free cigarettes to all the students, essentially getting them hooked which of course made it a good investment. They would have had to be free because my mother, at school entirely on scholarship, often also told stories of how she had her budget calculated down to how much shampoo she and her roommate could use monthly. (In addition, mom was pre-med and eventually was offered a fellowship to do cancer research. Pregnancy prevented her accepting the position – years later she mentioned that all of the researchers she worked with developed and died of cancers.)

On the other hand, my father disliked cigarettes and I gather he had encouraged or even insisted that she stop when they got together. He was not happy when she went back to that occasional cigarette either. While he did not smoke and disliked cigarettes, after I reached a certain age he told me had had tried pot and thought it okay. This tale was tied to a wild story about the friend of a friend, an artist named Ernst Fuchs, who drove a car trunkful of pot up from Mexico. Much to my surprise at a quick internet search, Mr. Fuchs only died in 2015 at 85 – I always thought he was older than my father, but he was about the same age. I hadn’t thought of that story in years. I supply an image of one of his paintings below, one done in a style that I think my father would have liked.

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Meanwhile father drove from location to location for ABC News in a car with his crew with many of whom did smoke. I am not sure if it was that or another exposure, but it is somewhat ironic that it was COPD that ultimately killed my father last year.

I believe the pipe shown here belonged to my great-great grandmother, on my mother’s side. It was discovered by my cousin Patti who is unearthing many family treasures as she cleans out her family home which has housed at least three prior generations. (See my recent post about a photo of a turn of the century family wedding party here.) It is my understanding that this Italian ancestor of mine was a tough cookie. She was a breast cancer survivor when the only option was cutting away as much as possible of the cancer as you could and survive. She had surgery and lived a significant time beyond it.

There is something so personal about such an item and you feel that when you hold it. I am impressed by the velvet-lined case it sports and survives in. I gather from looking at it that the mouth piece must have been replaced ongoing. The maker’s tag is unfortunately faded beyond recall.

Quick research shows various attitudes toward women smoking during what I vaguely calculate to be the late Victorian period, heading toward the dawn and start of the new century. (An interesting aside, smoking jackets originated because it was considered rude for men to expose the women in their lives to the smell of tobacco on their clothing and therefore changed into jackets for this purpose. Interesting, yes?)

I know my family was not wealthy so, putting aside the feeling about female smokers of the upper class, I am left with the impression that great-great grandma would have been considered either fast or somewhat hard-bitten. From what I know I lean toward the latter. She would have come to this country as a young, married Italian woman. It doesn’t leave a lot of room for having been fast.

I knew the story about the breast cancer and our ancestor because of my sister’s research of the family proclivity when she developed it. At the time no one mentioned that our great-great grandmother had been a smoker however. Loren was not, like me she never developed a taste for cigarettes. I assume like me she tried a few, but she was an athlete and generally disliked smoking. (I never developed the habit and don’t even really understand how to smoke them since it really is different than a joint.) I doubt she smoked much pot either although we never really discussed it. Loren’s cancer was ultimately labeled as environmental rather than hereditary, although I take little comfort in that – as we shared the same environment for many years of our lives.

For all of this, there is a bit of allure as I look at the pipe in it’s case – looking at the case from the outside, it is almost as if a tiny musical instrument was going to be found within. Another tiny piece of family history today, waiting patiently all these years to be taken out, examined and considered. Even our own limited family history surprisingly tied up and full of contradictions about this particular habit.

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

 

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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.

 

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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.