Pam’s Pictorama Post: As my schedule would have it, I find myself here in New Jersey with mom on these days leading up to Christmas this year. While I miss being home with Kim and kitties just before Christmas it is an unusual treat to be in NJ and spend these days with mom and in the area I grew up in.
It is very cold here – as it is across the country today. I decided I would hazard a run with some layers (down vest under my sweatshirt) and I will say I didn’t see many of my brethren today – not even the dog walkers were out between the holiday and the cold. The winds of last night were hard on outdoor holiday decorations – many were flattened or visiting the neighbors. And in fact it was the wind that made me cut my run short today. I forgot that my iphone hates the cold and it ran through all its charge – last winter I was in the habit of keeping it tucked in an inside pocket to avoid this.
Yesterday morning, by contrast, it was a humid 59 degrees and I stripped down for my run into neighboring Red Bank. While these were not the streets I lived on when I was young, I drove constantly through these areas and I wrote recently about my teenage and early adult years in this downtown area. Still, I am surrounded by memories as I jog through this area, decorated now for the holiday.
I found this photo above here at the house. It was Christmas 1969 and my sister Loren and I are shown among Christmas morning toys. (She is the older one in braids.) The enormous black and white bear was one of her gifts, I believe Loren had that bear into adulthood. I remember him in her room. No idea when he departed.
The bear came from FAO Schwartz – that epic purveyor of toys. The reason for his presence in our lives is no longer remembered now. I asked mom. She tells a funny story about having asked an actor bachelor friend to “pick it up” for her. Ha! Evidently he didn’t enjoy being a mule for a larger than life bear. His name was Al Viola and I am not sure he ever forgave mom and dad. Mom says that a few years later he gave up his dreams of acting in New York and returned to his native Texas, fiance in tow. She didn’t take root in Texas however, although the story as mom knows it seems to end there.
We are shown in a house in Englewood, New Jersey which we grew out of not long after this photo was taken. The huge stone fireplace was a focal feature and I remember it well. I also remember the bedroom I shared with Loren which had a corner of casement windows, something I have aspired to ever since. It was a tiny two story with just our bedroom, my parent’s room and a bathroom between upstairs. Other than the fireplace, a screened porch and a beautiful rock garden in the backyard were the memorable features. Also, we were across the street from a park which seemed enormous to me as a small child.
If I felt slighted by no mutually commanding stuffed animal I don’t remember, and I don’t remember what I did received that Christmas. There may be another photo, in color of that Christmas, of us in color and I am hugging my dog Squeaky so maybe that is where he made his debut although my memory is he was given to me another way.
Christmas and my birthday are days that remind me most of my sister Loren. She liked to get the day started early and as kids she was always climbing on me to wake up before dawn so we could go get our parents up. Loren kept the practice up in adulthood and if we weren’t together she’d call me at an obscenely early hour. I can’t wake early on Christmas or February 11 without thinking of her.
But this year I keep mom company. Her litany of caregivers are here and come and go. We are a fairly well oiled machine at this point. Mom, as is her habit, ordered enough food for an army which I just spent a half an hour fitting into the fridge – there is an art to this. There will be plenty to eat tonight, tomorrow and to take home tomorrow night. Cats are running around madly – they are comfortable enough with me now to chase each other madly through my bedroom all night long. (They are heavy footed for small cats and sound like miniature elephants – the occasional thunking throw down.)
So, layered up against the drafts of the house, wind whistling around the corners of the house, I watch television with mom and Elaine who is taking the holiday shift and with us throughout now – how nice that she is willing to make that sacrifice. A hibiscus tree has been decorated with battery operated lights to make them twinkle at night. The cats are napping and right now that sounds like a good idea.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: I have devoted a number of posts to the cooking of my maternal grandmother, Anne Wheeling, an Italian American who was one in a long line of great cooks in a family of them. (A few of those posts, some complete with other recipes can be found here,here and here.)
Like today’s post, some of these have been devoted to the recreation of recipes from my childhood. Meanwhile, I have not written nearly as much about my father’s mother, Gertrude Butler, however I did write about her recently when I found a photo of her I didn’t remember having seen. (That post can be found here.) Gertie, aka Tootsie, Butler was a tiny powerhouse of energy.
When it came to food hers was more of a utilitarian variety than Grandma Wheeling’s and drew on a more limited menu. Our Sunday meals there were generally based around a soup and a rotating choice of roasted chicken, brisket or the occasional turkey. There was often a noodle kugel which was for some reason anathema to me and never crossed my lips! (I wasn’t a picky eater as a child and rarely in full revolt. I don’t know what it was about noodle kugel which made me defiant, although I can’t say it calls come hither to me even now. I remember the smell of it cooking vividly.)
As I mentioned in my earlier post, my grandmother worked hard six days a week in the family dry goods store. In retrospect that she produced a full meal for us on the seventh day and was always perfectly turned out, often in a brocade dress as I remember – I think I get my love of clothes and jewelry from her; she liked some sparkle. Her Sunday meals were nothing short of a miracle of commitment and love. I know now from experience that the soup could (and should for maximum taste and texture) be made well in advance and refrigerated or can easily even be frozen. She clearly made it earlier in the week or at least on Saturday. (The alternative to this soup was a quick matzoh ball one which I hope to perfect an eggless version of as well – stay tuned.)
Dessert was marble loaf cake from the bakery where she also purchased her rye bread, or a simple yellow cake she made herself with thick chocolate icing. (There were black and white cookies, but those we took home. Another favorite of my father’s, I was still buying them for him right up until he passed several years ago and I wrote about that here.) After the rather extravagant Italian indulgences of the other side of my family her fare was more simple. However, this soup was a favorite of my dad’s and Grandma taught mom to make it early on.
It would seem that despite or maybe because of her family cooking pedigree mom somehow made it into marriage with only nascent cooking skills. (There are stories about her cooking her first steak and leaving the label on by mistake – and a chicken cooked with the neck and giblets still inside.) Somehow learning from her mother in-law was less fraught I guess. It was a family business to her mother who was, I think, rather no nonsense about it although she softened with age and I frequently watched her in the kitchen for hours.
Grandma Butler had a bit of a mania about healthy eating and mom recently reminded me that she would lecture at great length about the benefits of the chicken in the soup, the eggs in the yellow cake, etc. Grandma was a firm believer that one should not have beverages while eating, it would dilute the nutrition somehow, but there was alway rye or black bread and butter on the table.
This soup was utterly ubiquitous in my childhood. Once the chill of fall set in rarely a week would go by without a pot of it simmering on the stove, containers of it filling the fridge or freezer. The childhood version of the soup always had chicken (or turkey) as the base, the remainder of a dinner the carcass would be thrown into a pot to start the soup. My father liked to add saltine crackers or preferably La Choy Chow Mein Noodles to a bowl of it. I had not actually thought of that in many years. The mixed dry soup beans used to come in a single long convenient bag where somehow they weren’t mixed but in sections.
Tootsie’s chicken based version was incredibly thick and would always need water to thin it after being in the fridge. If my vegetarian version has a flaw in my mind it is that I cannot make it as thick which may not be seen as an issue to all – everyone may not want it thick enough to stand a spoon in. Depending on how thick you like it, play around a bit with the amount of beans and how much you use the blender on. I like to think she would have approved of this vegetarian version – they were Jewish so it was never made with ham or bacon.
So find yourself a week with frost in the forecast and make this soup a day or so in advance. As with most of my soups, toss in whatever vegetables you have – leftovers included. You’ll have enough for about eight servings. Let me know how you like it!
Soften onion, carrots, garlic and mushroom (celery if using), allow to cook down and brown some. Meanwhile, rinse the beans, trim the green beans and the potatoes. Add the green beans and the potatoes, after those have softened, add the beans. I stir the dry beans continuously and let them cook a bit.
Deglaze the pan with the vermouth or wine and make sure to use a wooden spoon to scrape the pot. Add the stock and allow to come to a boil. Season to taste with herbs below or your own preference, keeping in mind that this vegetarian version probably requires more salt and seasoning than you might typically use. (I use more herbs than my grandmother would have I am sure. I didn’t have flat parsley in the house or I would have added and I think it would be nice.) I used a marash red pepper, but cayenne will do. Let it stay at a soft boil for at least a half hour, adding water if necessary as the beans absorb the water.
At this point I would let it sit for at least an hour, or even more preferably – this soup is best if it sits overnight in the fridge. For a thicker body to the soup a third or half can be blended using a blender or immersion blender – make sure to remove the bay leaf however! I think this is a more satisfying texture, thicker.
1 medium size rough chopped onion
carrots, cut about 1.5 inches, about 2/3-1 cup
garlic, to taste
halved green beans
chopped celery (optional)
chopped Italian (broad leaf) parsley (optional)
new potatoes, 1.5 inch chunks, about 1.5 cups
1 cup split peas
2/3 cup lentils
2/3 cup barley
64 oz. vegetable stock
vermouth or wine, half to two-thirds cups to deglaze the pot
dill, oregano, bay leaf, basil, salt, red pepper to taste
Pam’s Pictorama Post: I don’t know why, maybe because it is fall, but I have everything bagels on my mind. As far as I can tell, among bagel eaters, there are those of us who will always grab the everything first and those who are frankly horrified by their existence. I guess there are folks between, not sure though.
For anyone who somehow does not know, an everything bagel is one that is covered in a baked in layer of salt, poppy and sesame seeds, garlic and onion. Yum.
As I reflect on it, my memory is that my family emerged into bagel awareness slowly. After all, our WASP town in suburban New Jersey wasn’t exactly a bagel producing mecca. I do remember there being a Jewish bakery, Friedman’s, where we would pick up loaves of rye and black bread every weekend, but they were not bagel makers. (Marble cakes like the ones my father’s mother favored they had, my father’s black and white cookies which you can read about here were also procured there as were my sister’s mocha iced birthday cakes.)
At some moment, which I can no longer pinpoint, bagels became weekend fare in NJ too. My father, who grew up on bagels here in Manhattan, was however among those who could not abide everything bagels. I must have discovered them when I moved to Manhattan myself after college and transplanted the preference to my NJ visits. Dad, who would generally pick up a dozen bagels when picking me up at the train station in NJ, would have mine put in a separate bag – so as not to infect the other bagels.
While I try to limit my bagel intake in order to maintain my waistline, I still manage a consistent diet of them, if in toasted bits over time rather than a whole one gobbled. Here in New York my affection bounces between Bagel Bob’s on York Avenue (who saw us admirably through the pandemic without pause) and Tal on 86th Street. There are other worthy entries in the neighborhood, but those are the closest and best.
In New Jersey, one of my mother’s care givers supplies the house with some that are very credible entires too. Winsome has registered my everything preference and buys extra for me to take back to New York with me after my regular visits to mom. There is a gentle irony in the migration of bagels from New Jersey to Manhattan, but it is a lovely thought and I appreciate the gesture so much.
Recently I noticed everything bagel hummus (the above sprinkled in a light layer on top of the container) which gets my seal of approval – but even better, little jars of “everything” which can then be sprinkled on everything from hard boiled eggs to sandwiches. Not surprisingly, I am a fan and at this moment there are no fewer than three jars in various states of consumption.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: Many ongoing Pictorama readers know that my father, Elliott Butler, was a career cameraman for ABC News. Therefore, news of all sorts has been digested by my family in a variety of fashions but with great gusto over the years. A background of television and radio news is among my earliest childhood memories.
The radio news issued all day and into the evening from a large (12″x18″ ish?) brown box of a radio which sat atop of the refrigerator in each house we lived in until the last, when somehow it magically disappeared. It was on an all-news station almost all of the time, at least until my sister was old enough and tall enough to occasionally turn it to music. Back it would ultimately go to the staple of news however. (My mother allowed my sister her way with music in the car more often, but oddly I have little or no memory of every changing either. It was easier not to get in the middle of their minor tugs of war I guess.)
In those years television news was consumed mostly in the early evening and again later at night. It was viewed on a scratchy black and white television at first (I have vague memories of the landing on the moon viewed on the smallest and almost impossible to see little portable television). Occasionally we would watch a different television channel in an attempt to see my father filming a major story for his channel. A very large man, 6’5″, he towered over most of the other folks. He always wore a distinctive hat and these made him easy to spot.
As a small child I thought I would grow up to be a journalist. There is a photo of tiny tot Pam dressed up like a reporter which is on display in Mom’s house. I may take a picture of it and add it to this post when I am there later in the upcoming week. I held onto this thought as a possible career into adolescence, but it faded as my interest in visual art grew over time. I don’t think I would have been well suited to it in the end and I think it was mostly a response to wanting to be like my dad.
A whole post could be devoted to my father’s work wardrobe which was devised with a stunning combination of practicality and his mother’s underlying sartorial sensibility. I look at images of how cold it is in the Ukraine and I know my father would have been there sporting an Eddie Bauer long down coat which covered even his long frame (the size of a sleeping bag to a young me) and down trousers to match for extreme cold. Layers of long underwear and wool (he was religious about wool socks in winter cold and for a quiet man he could nonetheless preach their virtues and how wool keeps you warm even when wet), would have been topped with a wool (itchy) watch cap on his head.
In warmer weather he favored safari suits for their myriad pockets which light meters and other tools of his trade might be stuffed. Years of standing outside for hours a day helped fine tune his work clothing to a perfect pitch.
Dad bought for quality as well as practicality though and he liked shopping, unlike my mother who frankly has barely ever noticed what she wears as long as it is temperature appropriate and not confining in anyway. (My mother has a hatred of pantyhose which is well documented in the family. You could sometimes coax her into a pair of tights if weather permitted, but an event which required pantyhose of her roused her ire immediately. She often threatened to just strip them off and leave them on the sidewalk as she had seen stray pairs thus on the streets of New York. My mom imagined women like herself who couldn’t take it another minute.) I inherited my father’s love of clothing and fabrics although in terms of style and design we differed some.
My father was equally at home in a suit and owned a fair number of them. There are things he never wore – shorts and cotton or linen suits number among them, as was any fiber that wasn’t natural. I believe this impacted my own opinion of what men (as in boyfriends and eventual spouse) should wear. He had specific ideas about my attire and I wish I had asked my sister if he tried to impress these on her as well because oddly I don’t remember that he did, but no one ever really told Loren what to do.
The background of radio news helped my mother gauge if my father might be called away or kept at work. It was local New York news on the radio in those days although we always lived in a New Jersey suburb. My mother’s brother, John Wheeling, worked for CBS radio and so that was the radio station of choice. (He had a variety of jobs writing, producing and on-air, a few years in sports at the end of his career. He once did an on-air report on a hurricane from our house, surrounded as we were by flooding waters.) As I said, we were a news family. Between the commute and his schedule we rarely had dinner with dad and I was always surprised by my friends who had set dinner hours for when their father would come home from work each day. Other than weekends and vacations it was a novelty to find him home in time for dinner with us as small children.
Dad woke to a clock radio of also tuned to news, loud enough to wake the whole house at least briefly. I too still wake to a clock radio, but with the more soothing sounds of WQXR classical radio although hungry cats have sometimes gotten to us first.
For most of his career my father traveled to news locations across the country and the world. First using film which would need to be developed before going on air, grabbed by three in the afternoon by messengers who would get it back to the newsroom, then moving to video and finally the ability to send it via phone lines and satellite for broadcast. News bureaus did not exist robustly across the country and the world in the early days of news and he would travel, frequently by car but sometimes by air, on a routine basis, storing up a list of restaurants and stores he liked to visit in towns across the US and occasionally countries he went back to visit later.
As a media consuming family, transistor radios and portable televisions multiplied around my childhood home. I was very attached to both and have memories of carrying a small Sony radio around with me, not to mention hours spent in front of a small black and white (also Sony) television in my room.
His work was of course occasionally dangerous. He covered riots at a time when the news wasn’t seen as friendly or potentially necessary documentation of an event. He hung out of helicopters and traveled to areas of political unrest. He knew colleagues who were killed while on the job in war torn areas and he was smart to take his safety seriously. I cannot watch television news without worrying about the crew in dangerous situations. In my mind my father is always among them.
In his retirement he himself became very attached to radio news – an amazing fondness for NPR and also a show called Car Talk notable since he had little interest in the mechanics of vehicles. Sometimes I would find him returned from a trip in the car, sitting in the driveway until some story or segment ended. In the last years of his life he would be peevish about CNN and how often their stories repeated on a loop which he would nonetheless watch. Meanwhile, my mother has in turn become a CNN addict and it is on the television in her house constantly. Her flatscreen television so large I believe I can see the pores on the news anchor’s faces.
After a year of Covid and election coverage frequenting our television I banned CNN and television news in our house to try to regain a sense of proportion and sanity around ongoing current events. I continued to consume my news primarily from the newspaper – I have subscribed continuously to the New York Times since I was in high school when I accepted a special subscription offer which continued through college. Although I still subscribe to the hard paper, like most people I read it mostly online these days. During the pandemic delivery times got later and papers were left in our lobby so it wasn’t possible to read the hard copy over breakfast as is my habit any longer. Online access allows me to investigate other news sources as well and I think if I had more time I would subscribe to the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal daily as well.
However, the outbreak of war in the Ukraine combined with long days spent with mom now, has drawn me back to watching television news, witnessing those horrors has continued even upon my return home. My diet of news television increasing again as I worry about those delivering the news as well as the events they are covering.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: Some on-going Pictorama readers may have figured out that I am an Aquarian, a February girl, my birthday tucked in next to Lincoln’s and a kissin’ cousin to Valentine’s Day; amethyst is my birthstone and I am a water sign. Although I do not go deeply into astrology I have given a lot of thought to my relationship to water which has informed much of my life although sometimes I wouldn’t say I actually have an affinity for it as this story bears out.
I grew up on a river, close to the Atlantic ocean, and these days we live with a view of the East River where I run most mornings now. (IG followers see my running journals, @deitchstudio or Pams-Pictorama, where I share some of the views of the water as well as my slow progress, impeded in part by falling and breaking a few fingers on Memorial Day. I have written about my endeavor to start running over the past year which can be found here, here and here. Reconnecting with the life of the waterfront has been wonderful over this past pandemic year and I appreciate it as much as the much needed exercise.)
I was taught to swim as a tiny toddler, in a pool in Sea Bright, New Jersey (a neighboring beach town I have devoted a few posts to which can be read here and here) and I took to it reasonably well. I have never been a great swimmer, unlike my sister Loren who was all swim teams and life saving, however I was at the beach and in the ocean and pools constantly between the ages of about six and twenty, so I guess I did it well enough to stay afloat and get where I was going.
Living on the river as we did floods were a constant part of our lives. At first we had an adorable little house on a narrow spit of land in Sea Bright where the river ran hard and fast into the bay on one side and the ocean was on the other. Without the sea wall the walk from one to the other would have taken ten minutes. It is a cottage that lives on in my imagination, a nifty little mail order home from Sears, it was sea sunlit and smelled of salt and sand.
We only spent summer weekends there so I was not subjected to the ongoing floods of suffered by year round residents, threatened as it was by both sides when tides rose. When I considered moving back there as an adult my parents were loathe to have me deal with the flooding, which while endurable as a summer beach cottage would have been more problematic 365 days a year, so instead I settled in Manhattan.
While still a tot my family moved full time to the shore and our first house in Rumson was on the (aptly named) Waterman Avenue. Just around the bend from the Sea Bright-Rumson draw bridge, we lived on a fast moving part of the water as it merged into the bay, teeming with boat traffic in the summer. Our view was of downtown Sea Bright across the river and the ocean just beyond and we were within walking distance of the beach. (My adult dream life takes me back there occasionally, enduring hurricanes and even tidal waves.)
Each year fall and early winter would bring hurricanes and quickly we learned about the days we would be picked up from school early, the car would be parked on higher ground where it would be safe and we would prepare for the high tides around us at home with streets that turned into ponds or sometimes raging rivers. (Sadly, I believe a hurricane did pre-empt Halloween one year.) Occasionally we kids would be left with my mom’s parents in Long Branch, an inland part of the neighboring town where my mother grew up, but she would generally return to Rumson to weather the storm and keep an eye on things. She recently described one of those evenings spent in bed on the second floor of that little house with the walls quaking with water and wind.
Generally those storms were a lark, the flood days, at least for us kids. My mom would put on her waist-high waders if she had to go out when the squall calmed, but the water had not yet receded. (Dad was usually at work in the city or traveling for his job at ABC News – it was the family joke that he missed just about every major flood we had.) Sometimes the flooding was just annoying, occasionally it was significant and memorable, but mostly it was just part of the fabric of my childhood, accepted as part of the way things were – the same as having cats and dogs and a green Plymouth station wagon.
Eventually we moved to a larger house several blocks away, but perched on an inlet of the river which was further protected by a small island between the mouth of our “pond” (which went by both names Oyster Bay and Polly’s Pond – I never could find out who Polly was and the oysters were sadly long gone when we got there). The natural barriers and somewhat higher land meant not just calmer waters, but less flooding on a regular basis. Hurricanes still meant flooded streets, but even water in the yard was less common.
Although flooding impeded daily life less, we weathered a few significant and memorable storms in that house. My parents were ultimately dislodged from that home by Hurricane Sandy and the shifts in water tables which brought the first water into the house we ever had – even then it only filled the garage, but destroyed the water heater and even warped the wooden floors with so much dampness under them. With the advent of every hurricane we have, I offer ongoing gratitude that my mom, now alone, is tucked away, relatively far inland in a tiny home in neighboring Fair Haven.
All this to say, that history behind me, these days I live on the 16th floor of a high rise building on the upper Eastside of Manhattan and while our river views mean we can get with some high force winds in a storm, in general flooding is not something we often consider. Living on the top floor of a building which is more than a half century old means that our water intrusion generally comes from above, or occasionally from aging pipes. (Our building was re-piped several years back – a true horror. I thought I had written about it, but alas I cannot find it as a link for your consideration.)
Kim and I have experienced leaks in almost every single possible area of our compact 600 square foot abode – water has come from under the kitchen sink, it has worn through pipes and leaked in the bathroom walls. On occasion it has poured from incorrectly installed pipes in the ceiling near the windows and onto our books. As I write today, the ceiling near the windows sags from another mistake in design after the re-piping fiesta and the wall under it is soggy as well, all pending repair in the foreseeable future.
Most notably, a new front has opened over my current work at home desk set-up as a result of the recent Hurricane Ida. As it turns out, after a lifetime of preparing conscientiously for storms and fretting about them, when one finally came along to bite me, there was no real warning or preparation. Normally a storm that has hit land and traveled over it for several days means no more than some stormy days by the time it arrives. A storm that has gone back out to sea can pick up speed again and be a threat, but Ida, while she packed a wallop when she hit New Orleans and Texas, didn’t seem to be a threat as she winded her way through the Midwest and up to the greater New York area.
As the somewhat desultory rain of the day turned harder into the evening, I became aware that the wind was blowing hard enough to make me glad that the building had installed new windows – although they could certainly still shatter in high winds. However, it was a call that I got from my doorman at 10:00 at night that worried me. Our building basement had several feet of water in it already and the elevators were not functioning. We were not to go to the basement and be aware that the stairs on the first floor would be slippery.
Morning dawned and the news was appalling. The death toll climbed steadily throughout the day – people trapped in basement apartments and in raging flash floods. Horrible stories. Meanwhile, several feet of water remained in the building basement although the elevators came back online in the morning. (We were told that the water simply poured in from the windows and the street.) It was several days before we were allowed to begin investigation of the storage locker we keep down there, shifting seasonal clothes kept in bins, household items that have gone out of vogue or use for a time and not much but some artwork.
As it happens, we found some interesting stuff and I will devote tomorrow’s post to what we found (art by both Kim and me) and rescued from that rapidly molding enclave.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: My mother is not a collector, I inherited the gene from my dad and from his side of the family. His mother loved to attend auctions here in the city and stuffed their house with carpets, furniture and trinkets. She loved costume jewelry – in many ways I am her successor. My father was an accumulator as well, garage sales, auctions. He was a man who liked stuff. While there were no toy or photograph collectors, I’m sure Pictorama readers realize that this is the category I fit into – and at least in this way I take most decidedly after the paternal side of my family. (I most recently wrote about Dad’s passion for silver in a post here.)
My mom on the other hand is not especially interested in things. She can be discerning about what she likes and prefers, but generally speaking my mother just lived among the stuff my father accumulated without being especially engaged with it or the acquisition of it. This is not to say she didn’t enjoy a trip to an antique shop or flea market – she would pick up this or that. However, she does not possess a deep affection for the items of the world, nor the acquisition of them.
A scientist at heart my mother’s passion lies deeply embedded in the natural world. As a result I grew up with a cheerful allotment of pet cats, dogs and fish. (Two past posts addressing this roster of pets and my early life can be found here and here.) We had a vegetable garden which she planted and tended and we lived on a river where we enjoyed a passing parade of waterfowl and aquatic life. Her father was a devoted fisherman and repaired outboard motors and made fishing lures for extra money, so she knew the waters of the area well. Much of the idyll of my childhood I have shared with Pictorama readers was shaped by my mother’s views, knowledge and interests in the nature world of the seashore where we lived.
One Thanksgiving, several decades ago now, my mother noticed a flock of swans in the backyard and became intently interested in them. Before long she was feeding them as well as watching them, along with the geese and ducks which also made our river inlet home at the time. Eventually an injured one turned up and she found someone to help heal it. Slowly she became involved with a loose network of people who were knowledgeable and would help when an injured swan or goose would cross her path. I remember visiting my folks and finding that I was sharing the guest bathroom with an injured swan overnight. (He was a noisy neighbor that night!) Strangely (to my mind anyway) mute swans are an intensely political and controversial issue for people who live on or near the shore. Other than to acknowledge that it is, and that clearly my mom falls on the side of protecting this wildlife, it is not my intention to tackle that topic.
For today all this is to say that on that November afternoon my mother recognized and embraced her spirit animal and although she loves all birds (and in fact all animals) she is deeply and especially attached to swans. She has devoted much of her time and energy in subsequent years to caring for them and defending them with all the resources she could marshal. In recent years, no longer living on the water and now mostly confined to the house, I say she still wields a mighty phone and computer. Her now tiny yard remains a haven for song birds who attracted by and enjoy bird baths and feeders, as well as a garden designed to feed them and the insects. (I wrote a little about her gardening in a post here.)
While living on the waterfront those many years mom photographed the swans, along with geese, ducks, other birds and of course our cats. Those photos proliferated on the walls of the house and my father, the accumulator, brought her swan related items and in that way she became an inadvertent collector of swan stuff. However, when the time came to downsize into the house she lives in now she shed most of it without regret. I think she rather enjoys living a more pared down life.
Therefore, as her birthday approached this year, it was never my intention to purchase items of this sort for her. However, much like those first swans years ago, these presented themselves to me in recent weeks and I found myself purchasing first the pin and then the photo. The pin hails from the British jewelry dealer Mia (IG @therubyfoxes or therubyfoxes.com, my most recent past post of an acquisition from her can be found here) who told me that five flying swans is the symbol of the Nordic countries, swans of different types being the national birds of both Finland and Denmark. Although unmarked, esthetically it appears to be made in one of those countries. Mom was never much of a jewelry wearer and wears none now really, but I think she will like having this, perhaps on a piece of ribbon, pinned up near where she likes to sit most days.
Meanwhile, a week or so later when following a sale by my Halloween supplier, the Midwestern Miss Molly (IG @MissMollysAntiques who I gave a nod to just last week in a post here), I stumbled across this early photo of two swans and again I answered the call and purchased it for mom. There is something about the reflections in the water I think mom will especially like. Later today I will pick up a frame and tomorrow I head to Jersey to see mom, slightly in advance of her birthday later this month.
Sometimes when I run in the mornings I see geese or ducks here on the East River, flying by, and I email mom and tell her they were waving to her in tribute. It felt like these items also arrived on Instagram pointedly just in time for her birthday this year. Maybe although dad is gone, he is still finding a way to send a few swan items her way.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Pam’s Pictorama Post: As I write this I am back on the ferry, in stormy weather, heading back to NYC. Rough seas this morning and I am reminded that you have to have a good inner ear for ferry travel in this kind of weather.
We are bouncing around a bit. I am reminded of my father telling me that you never know when sea sickness will catch up with you. This before I took a trip through the Patagonia passage where I was bounced out of bed one morning with waves over the bow. I gratefully chewed up the Dramamine he insisted I bring! Yay Dad!
Meanwhile, I am going to challenge my technical expertise and see if I can post this from my phone. (Incidentally, if you were wondering no WiFi on the ferry, but I never lose a signal.) I cannot say it is a beautiful holiday weekend at the Jersey shore! Bear with me if this is a tad sloppy!
I think most people had some equivalent of the curio case that lives in my memory from childhood, and which housed these beloved objects, first at my grandparent’s house and then our own when I was growing up.
These were nearly given away when a friend rescued them for me (confusion around a great deal of stuff being sold and given away at one point in the multiple moves of my parents) and I almost cried when I saw them again. They now reside in a different bookcase, upstairs at my mom’s house.
This small collection of Inuit objects were collected by my father – I believe he purchased them when in the Arctic with the army in the 1950’s, where he was reluctantly serving during the Korean War. He didn’t talk a lot about this mandatory hitch with Uncle Sam except it was when he discovered his vocation as a cameraman; he was trained to film maneuvers in the Arctic and used the GI Bill later to study film at Boston University after he returned.
There were two stories he told in connection with his time in the army. One was that he was lowered onto ice flows to film and the only way to return to the ship was to climb up the rigging, heavy camera equipment clinging to his back. The other was that they ran food experiments on them, dying their food all sorts of odds colors to see if they would eat more or less – green bread not so attractive. When he was in the hospital at the end of his life he made some references to it. I think the hospital and being trapped in his body and at the nursing facility at the end reminded him of that time.
As for me, I have longed to touch and examine these objects since I was a small child. Obviously there is much to delight a child about these precious objects which remained in a locked cabinet and of course which we were forbidden to ever enter. I think it is probably safe to say that until I unpacked them most recently I had never actually touched any of these items.
Some were evidently taken a number of years ago, but I cannot remember what those objects were. My father always had a very good eye for art and always purchased interesting things in his worldwide travels later as a cameraman for ABC news.
These statues are familiar to me, but also new as I pick them up and examine them carefully. I have not had the chance to do more than unpack them and look them over as I put them into a cabinet here where I decided they would be safe.
I apologize for the ad hoc photos. They deserve better and perhaps I will spend some time drilling down on each object in the future. They are beautiful objects, but most beloved because of their history and what they meant to my father. As I bounce along the bay today I am thinking of him and how he would have liked this note as well as my perch on the ferry today, despite inclement weather.
Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Today I get to combine my love of early photos with family. While I was visiting mom in New Jersey last week, my cousin Patti took out a huge basket of photos we went through together. Some folks remained unidentified, but a core group appeared throughout. (I wrote about this side of my family back in a post around a photo of a very early family wedding celebration. It can be found here.)
These are entirely my mother’s side of the family, the Italian immigrants who settled on the Jersey shore and ran a series of restaurants and food stands in what was a popular beach community. I apologize for the reproduction quality – I was just taking pictures of these photos on my phone.
As far as I can tell the genesis of these food enterprises was my great, great grandfather – last name Cittadino, first name not known to me. He is shown below in two photos, with car and bike.
I especially like the one of him with a bike. Regretfully no one knew who the two hotsy totsy looking, well dressed young women were. They showed up in some other photos. None of these photos were marked and had largely at one point been in an album, but we realized what everyone does when looking at family photos which is there are a lot of people who were friends or folks they worked with who were like family, but sadly no one remembers now.
The Deli, shown below, seems to have been the first restaurant incarnation of the family. I only recently learned of this earlier version of the family food establishments. As per an email from my mom below, I gather it was a place to eat as well as the take out sale of food. Sorry to say, these two fellows in the photo remain unidentified.
My grandfather had a deli and related food sale place in Long Branch on the Main Street Broadway. Every morning he walked to the bank for day cash on the way passed the owner of the bar getting to the bank. They struck up a conversation the fellow told him he was tired and wanted out. My grandfather then struck a deal walked on to the bank and got the loan went back and gave him the cash and that was it. He walked back to the deli told my grandmother and the customers eating there at the time and agreed all would help move down the street and that is how he moved down to the building with friends and customers helping shortly after when they did.
Norwood was the name of a street in Long Branch, in fact the street where my grandmother and the extended family had a home. (I wrote about that house in a post that can be found here). As per my mother’s email, the deli and the bar that followed, were actually on Broadway, the long main drag of what was once the thriving downtown which I believe ends at the ocean where the Boardwalk once thrived. The family home was within walking distance of the Deli and Bar, I think probably 15 or twenty minute walk, of it.
The family also seems to have two food concessions on the Long Branch Boardwalk as well, one I had always heard about, owned by my Aunt Ro. However, another turned up in these photos and I am not sure who owned this stand, but the general consensus was that this was not Ro’s but another. Not sure who is pictured here either, although he resembles my great uncle Frankie, but is too long ago to be him. Perhaps the Al mentioned on the awning boasting a Quick Lunch.
The family’s bar is what is remembered best by my mom, run by her grandparents, her mom and aunts. Mom would go to their apartment above the bar after school as a small child. Although much of the family worked there – not Mom’s father, Frank, who was an engineer for Bendix. While it is always referred to by family as The Bar, it served a lot of food as well. In addition to the daily fare special Sunday dinners were offered to steady customers, all prepared by the women of the extended family. Mom remembers them cooking non-stop between the restaurant and family.
The photo below is the aforementioned Frankie, father of my cousin Patti who stays with my mom these days and found these photos cleaning out her house. I believe this shot was at the bar although I would have voted for it being one of the beach concessions. (I wrote about my sectioned blue Willoware plates which were the Blue Plate Special plates at the bar and are our everyday dishes. You can find that post here.) My mom and uncle were too young to work there, although my mother used her restaurant background to waitress her way through college later in life.
The establishment remains today, at 591 Broadway in Long Branch – currently Johnny Piancone’s, ironically also an Italian bar restaurant. I have never been – although once my father and I had pizza in the place next door which I gathered from him had been there as long as he has known my mother.
My uncle ate at the restaurant several years back and they allowed him to visit the apartment upstairs which he also remembered vividly from afternoons there as a child. I have shown the bar today below which I found on the FB page. The bar pictured may be the originally one, although I believe my uncle said it had been cut down. The restaurant appears to have survived the pandemic with outdoor dining in a backyard and I would think doing take out. It’s nice to know that it is still there, still going in its own way.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: It seems safe to say spring is finally on the rise here in NYC and this month marks six months in my experiment with running so I thought I might give a bit of an update today. February threw down some serious snow which brought me to a complete halt for awhile, however after several weeks in captivity I forced myself to head back out (with some trepidation) to see how much ground I had lost. Much to my amazement I pretty much picked back up where I left off.
For those of you who missed my earlier post (it can be found here) I started jogging because otherwise during our long pandemic period, I found myself not moving from my home desk (Deitch Studio is also a studio apartment and our single room leaves little room even for pacing), and watching as many hours melted rapidly into days. I don’t have much time and I wasn’t able to get much walking done in the hour or so I can devote to it so in a bid for efficiency I began running.
I came to exercise late in life, but pre-pandemic was a happy gym rat, cramming it into early mornings, evenings and weekends. (I have written generally about my workout and that post can be found here.) However, I have always been a reluctant runner. I dislike treadmills (I don’t really imagine that will have changed when I get back to them) and running was sort of a final frontier of exercise I had not embraced.
My mother ran and was in fact a high school track and field star whose records there were only broken decades later. (I believe it was the long jump she excelled at.) She ran for a brief period when I was a kid, but she had largely given it up as an adult. My sister, Loren, ran. Loren was a bundle of hyper energy that needed to be released daily in large dollops or she was impossible to live with. Therefore it wasn’t unusual for her to run and bike, swim or play tennis together in combinations daily. She ran cross country, was on the track team in high school and generally distinguished herself as she did in most things. (Loren’s college rugby career in is mentioned in a post here.)
It can only be said that I did not inherit my mother’s genes in this area and it must be my more sedentary father I take after. I frankly cannot imagine my father running – it isn’t an image I can conjure if I did indeed ever witnessed it. He was a tall man, 6’5″ and skinny in his youth, but he filled out as an adult, muscled from his work carrying camera equipment for his job daily. Still, other than a daily work out of reluctant stretches for a bad back, executed on the floor of the bedroom, there are no memories of dad and exercise.
Frankly, I run badly and I am relieved that it is very unlikely I will actually ever see myself run. I run slowly – there may be people who walk faster than I jog. My strides are short and plodding. I seem to be a different animal than many of the folks around me, boasting their shirts from the marathons they have run, bouncing, gliding and zooming along. Young, old, women and men of all ages generally make a better job of it. It is only thanks to my long time trainer, Harris Cowan (@livestrongernyc) that I have managed to ease my unwilling body into running.
However, doing something with determination even if badly, is a good foil for the narrowness of our current cooped up state I think. I remind myself to be grateful to my body for what does achieve, not critical for its failure to do it better. It’s been good to put myself up against something hard that is concrete and which can be chipped away at. Running makes me use another part of my brain and gives a rest to the thorny problems of work and what needs to be done, or what has risen to the top of my agenda for fretting. Releasing the problems for a time allows me to better work through them later I think.
Strangely and unexpectedly I have started listening to classical music, largely orchestral, while running. I run along the east side esplanade, along the water (my brother Edward reminded me in my prior post that our East River is actually an estuary) which tends to be glorious with the sun rising over it in the early mornings. I will never tire of the various moods of the water – choppy with current one day and still the next. It reminds me of the river which was always in our backyard growing up.
However, not to be too romantic about it, on the other side of me each day is the FDR drive and a noisy endless bevy of cars, fighting their way to their early morning destinations. Therefore, it is not the glorious sounds of nature I would enjoy if I wasn’t plugged into my phone. Audio books were always my go to when exercising and I have listened to some wonderful things. Yet I was finding increasingly that they weren’t right for running, distracting but not in a good way.
I switched to a music mix I had used occasionally for workouts which ran I admit with some embarrassment heavily to Bruce Springsteen (can’t take the Jersey out of the girl I guess) which did the job but was a bit repetitive. However, one day it started with a curiosity about Beethoven’s 7th symphony and the feeling I had never really listened to it. I downloaded it and decided I would listen to it while running – which I did many times over several weeks. After that I wandered over to Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony which has long been a favorite, but I hadn’t heard in a long time. I welcomed spring with Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. (Admittedly, I have pretty routine taste and I suppose if I want another challenge I could actually start learning about classical music.)
I listened to a Beethoven violin concerto and realized that after years of it making me sad after my sister died, more than a decade later now I love listening to the violin. Staying with Beethoven I was listening to a piano concerto yesterday and realized I have rarely listened to much piano at all and what an amazing instrument – one-stop shopping for a full orchestra in a single instrument. The education of my ear which I had been receiving with live music via jazz on the job in recent years, has taken a turn with classical music.
My experiment with running began with a combination of walking and running. Running as long as I could, followed by periods of walking which became shorter over time. I achieved a milestone the other day and did virtually the full run without a break. (There is a steep incline at a land bridge which I have yet to tackle at even a slow run.) I had dragged myself out that day which it turned out was a gentle spring morning not to be missed and was rewarded. For those who have followed my running via my IG stories, I am taking fewer photos now that I am walking less!
Frankly most mornings it is still sheer will that gets me into my sweats and out the door. (I wrote last time that I was doing the post simply to keep me from quitting the whole venture.) It is hard and drinking coffee at my desk or even lifting weights in the comfort of the apartment is more appealing. However, once I am out it is good for me and I am seeing spring unfold in the park where I start and end my jaunts. Earlier this week a hawk swooped right past me at eye level while I warmed up with a few moving stretches pre-run. (He was a big fella and I was glad not to be a small mammal or bird. Yikes!) Plants are beginning their persistent and riotous emergence and squirrels and birds are suddenly everywhere, feasting and frolicking. When I look back on this time I think it will be these mornings I remember best.