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.