Trophies

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Fair warning, you Pictorama readers who have followed these posts for a bit know that occasionally I fall out of my self-designated lane of discussing toys, photos, early Felix and black cat items, and instead head down a tributary which is another which is purely personal. That’s what we have today. I wrote this a few days after Thanksgiving, although I am sending it from Arkansas where I have been on business this week. I am posting it as we start the inevitable countdown to Christmas and New Year holidays. All around, it is a time when family is at the front of mind and this post has been scratching at my brain for awhile.

Some of you who follow me on other social media have been privy to bits about of my parents selling the house I grew up in New Jersey, moving first to a house they rented (briefly) and finally into an adorable, little house in a town adjacent to the area I grew up in. As someone who tends to put emotional currency in objects that exercise was especially difficult at times. Many items were lost or damaged making me crazy – although I guess others were found or discovered too. Ultimately, I focused on just a few items and attempted to ensure those survived the tousle of moving. Among the items were my sister Loren’s (oddly fragile) rugby trophies from her undergraduate years at Princeton. My sister, who died in 2003, had her share of awards – she was a PhD in mathematics and had a pile of academics achievements, some of which are memorialized in plaques and certificates that decorated the walls of my parent’s house. Perhaps some of those were more important to her than these which resided in her old bedroom at my parent’s house, on display on the dresser there but these are what I held onto.

Loren played rugby during her undergraduate years at Princeton. Very athletic all her life, she was full of restless energy and it was often said among us in the family that if she didn’t do at least two different work-outs a day she would drive you nuts – swimming and biking, running and lifting, tennis and so on. My mother says that from the time Loren was old enough to get herself out of bed she would roam the house at night, a reality my mother evidently learned to put up with early on or she never would have slept again herself. An older Loren would practice her violin way into the night each evening and we all became accustomed to being lulled to sleep that way. (I on the other hand was the family sleep champion and evidently slept through the night the first day my mother brought me home from the hospital – prompting her to wake in a panic thinking I must have died, or so the story goes.)

Captain of her cross country team in high school and involved in as many sports and teams as the schedule of each season would allow, rugby was new to Loren when she arrived at Princeton, but she took to it quickly. If I knew how she landed on rugby, I don’t remember now. Her academic schedule was very rigorous though and perhaps the schedule was one that suited her.

I believe that it was during my senior year in high school, her sophomore year, that I visited her and spent the weekend. I went to my first and only rugby game – and loved it! It was fast paced, bloody and muddy as I remember it. Loren was a good size and very muscular, but her co-captains and some of the women from the other team dwarfed her much to my surprise. She held her own on the field though and I cheered her on in scrums. There was robust drinking by both teams after the game, which I believe Princeton won. As for me, I got an advance taste of collegiate life. I was under no illusion that I would or could follow her to Princeton. I was never as academically gifted as she, but nonetheless the visit gave me a taste of anticipation for college life as I applied to schools and mapped my own future.

So a few months ago, out of everything I took out of my parent’s house and secured the safety of, I took these two rugby trophies to a friend’s house for the duration of the move. I have yet to install them in the room now designated for Kim and I when we visit, but when I do it will feel more like a second home to me too I think.

 

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Esther and Houtas

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: A recent delving into and wading through old cat photos online has produced some unusual purchases in the form of mostly snap shots. I assumed that was what I was purchasing when I acquired this, but much to my surprise, although it had been pasted into an album, the black photo album paper has torn away on the back to reveal that this was indeed a photo postcard. It was never mailed and written in a neat inked hand on the back is, Esther & Houtas sitting on the wood pile. Ground is covered with snow. I went to the trouble of looking up the name Houtas. I do believe that is her name (it is neatly written) and was able to find some nodding acquaintance to it on the internet. I assume it refers to one of these girls – who I further assume are sisters – as opposed to that nice gray kitty one is holding.

This photo has a timeless quality, and it isn’t until we look closely at those wooly tights and button boots that we realize how old it probably is. Those matching, layered wool dresses and heavy tights look a bit itchy when we consider them seriously, but were probably just the thing for that cold day – no need for overcoats. These girls seem a bit mismatched as sisters, but my own sister and I did not look more alike than this – she of very curly hair and I of very straight.

I have no idea where this card is from or where it was taken, but this spare snowy landscape could stand in for my childhood in New Jersey. This big woodpile is more substantial than the one we generally had out back, although during the course of my childhood we always kept a sizable pile of logs. Much of the cord wood was purchased each fall, although some of it came from limbs that had been trimmed off of our own trees, or as the sad result of a tree that had reached the end of its life and had to be cut down. My mother was always very responsible about the trees and their well being. They were tended to by professionals no less than annually. I personally would have been reluctant to play on the woodpile however, as it was the likely home of mice and even the occasional water rat who wanted a pied-à-terre on dry land. Perhaps for that very reason it was something of a favorite spot for the cats. Although as I remember, some form of wild catnip also grew in the gravel driveway near the woodpile and our enormous cat Pumpkin used to go into rolls of ecstasy over it in the spring. That would have added to the appeal.

The house I grew up in had two enormous fireplaces although we generally only used the one downstairs in what we called the family room. If I ever buy a house a working fireplace will be a must. (I have met New Yorkers lucky enough to have functioning fireplaces in their apartments, but I am not the sort of person who lucks into outdoor space, fireplaces or rent controlled New York apartments. It think it is a skill you are born with, like the ability to hold your breath underwater for a long time or whistle well and on key.) I am endlessly fascinated by fireplaces and will do what I can to migrate to them at restaurants or bars this time of the year. I will settle for gas fires, although there’s nothing like real wood, with the smell, popping of sap, steaming of moisture and the sighing and rolling of disintegrating logs. Oh such bad news for the unsuspecting insects and spiders who took up residence in those logs!

My parents recently moved to a much smaller house, on a cute little patch of property one town over from where I grew up. The house does have a small fireplace, which works at least in theory. These days my mom and dad are too elderly to mess with a fire, even with fake, store bought logs. However, I just promised them the Christmas gift of an electric space heater that looks like a fireplace to ease the drafts in their new house. If I like it maybe I will find room for one here in our tiny New York abode as well.

 

Minnesota 1925-31

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: By now frequent readers probably know that there is a period and type of cat photo I am drawn to. I suspect that my aesthetic mystifies some folks, even Kim politely shakes his head over the occasional choice. There is something however, endlessly appealing to me about daily life in the time several decades before I appeared on the scene in the early 1960’s – of course generally around those photos which feature cats. These photos, usually taken in the front or backyard, range from the well-kempt but modest, to rundown and occasionally even well-heeled. Somehow though photos from this period of the early 20th century, though consistently unassuming and by definition amateur, speak of cozy home lives and pets beloved. This yard with this trim little house in the background is no exception. The chimney, coming off the sloping roof, draws our eye upward while the foreground of tamped down soil follows it down. (One suspects that a lawn would have been a luxury that these folks had no intention of indulging in at that time and location.) The back porch boasts something that might be an outdoor icebox (?) and something next to it that I cannot quite figure out, but storage for something perhaps? Everything is very tidy if worn.

These two women, one clearly dressed up in her cloche hat and good coat, while the other is older, in her house apron and looks as if she has just joined us from the kitchen for this quick photo, endeared themselves to me when decided to scoop up these kitties in order to have their picture taken. That good looking dog got in on the action as well, although turned away from the camera, as if he knows he isn’t the primary focus of attention for now but not to be forgotten. The black cat doesn’t even have Blackie’s tiny white star on his or her chest, from what we can see he is indeed coal black, fluffy and with big interested eyes looking out at us. (Sensible people not fearing this black cat.) He seems more patient about being held for this photo than his counterpart, the white and spotted cat, who is conveying some annoyance (and probably dropping white hairs all over that black coat) with the woman asking him to pose. These women could be mother and daughter, but that is not the impression I get. If I was going to venture I would say cousin or niece – perhaps even sisters who have a number of years between them. However, there is a strong resemblance around the nose.

The back of this photo is glued to the old, black paper of a photo album. Someone has written Minnesota 1925-1931 on the back, but that handwriting appears to be contemporary. Although I don’t know, my guess is that it was taken from an album where that information was indicated and the person selling the photos thoughtfully added it. Like several other photos I bought recently, at least one other from the same vendor, a small pile of unrelated photos (presumably from the same album) were included. I am unsure how to shoulder the inadvertent responsibility for these extra unwanted photos which has been visited upon me. The sadness of unclaimed family photos tormenting you is an occupational hazard for those of us who spend our time employed in acquiring old photos. But for the pleasure of being able to spend some time basking in the reflected glow of their long-ago homesteads, I will accept the responsibility to steward all these photos, as best I can during my time with them.

Backyard

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I saw and bought this to ultimately give to a Jack Russell owning new colleague at work. I liked this little guy sporting this sort of homemade looking doggie garb. It is keeping him warm on this snowy day and he also wears a collar. Dogs rarely get center stage here at Pictorama. However, I grew up with dogs, some of you have read those stories, to the same degree as cats so it isn’t like I don’t like them. I do. I am sure if I didn’t live in a tiny studio apartment I would probably live with at least one. And although I have generally lived with medium and large dogs, I have over time developed a soft spot for small ones too. Jack Russell Terriers in particular seem like the right kind of lively canine companions – the kind of dog that likes having a job and takes it seriously. Bred for fox hunting I understand they are high energy and smart. According to the back of the photo, this fellow is Mickey II (I have a friend who has named a seemingly endless line of Poodles Pierre) at 10 weeks, and the photo was printed on December 6, 1937.

He appears to be perched on some sort of wooden storage container – for garbage cans perhaps? For some reason as I look at this photo today I get a yen for having a backyard. There doesn’t seem to be anything especially glorious about this one, but I am not sure it matters. I think any patch of outside you call your own is a special thing and something we unconsciously yearn for sometimes in the city. When you are a kid you learn every inch of it. The designated safe space to be sent out to inhabit when your parents were tired of you inside, or for some other reason felt like you should be “outside playing” it often fell to you to figure out how to activate that space. We didn’t have yards with swings or other features – in retrospect other than the river running behind it, the yards were somewhat barren growing up. I can still remember what they looked like though – the trees that we played under (none of them were climbable) and the docks with their dead fish smells – seagulls having smashed oyster shells on them heightening the familiar stink of seaweed and crab shells in a trap. Still, you always knew that life was teeming in the water just below the surface and just lying on the dock and watching the sea world below was a failsafe activity. We lived on the river in both houses I grew up in, but the one I knew best had a floating dock and the water was calmer. By that time we knew how to swim and my parents worried less when we spent time by the water.

It is only just now starting to grow chillier here in the Northeast, a fall which is being discussed for being more like extended summer this year. However, the yellow light tugs me back to my childhood as it does every year. First the light of September which reminds me of back-to-school from my earliest years – at least those are the ones that come to mind. The school smells of those hallways new to my nose which for some reason still plays over in my mind. But the light of October and early November make me think of playing in our backyard, even more than the long days of summer when I surely spent more time outside. This time of the year reminds me of being about twelve years old and just old enough to feel like I should be outside doing things. Still young enough that making forts and hideaways among the trees appealed and that’s what I remember.

This guy in someone’s backyard in 1937 makes me nostalgic for a backyard this morning. A place where you were out in the world and you could imagine all sorts of adventures, but you knew you were nonetheless home safe.

 

My Grandmother’s House

Pam’s Pictorama Post: These recent photos of my grandmother’s house were sent to me and brought a parade of memories to mind. To start, it is interesting that for me it is my grandmother’s house despite being the house my mother grew up in, not only with her mother, father and younger brother, but aunt, uncle, cousin and, I believe, my great grandmother at one time. Still, my grandmother was widowed at a young age, family moved out and the upstairs rented to tenants during much of my childhood. Therefore it was always my grandmother’s house in my mind. The house, I recently learned, was built by my mother’s grandfather, an Italian immigrant to this country who I believe brought his family here when my grandmother was a small child. My mother tells me that the house was built solidly with thick beams and hand hewn wooden nails that could be seen in the attic and basement, places I have little or no memory of. My mother grew up on the ground floor and her cousin on the second floor. These photos were taken from a car by one of my cousins.

The house sits on a corner. When I was a child there was a large empty lot next to it, and between the house and the lot was an enormous cherry tree. (My mother says her grandmother had the entire lot planted with a vegetable garden and chickens. She remembers helping her with the garden and collecting the eggs.) When my sister and I were little (this is before the appearance of my brother or at least when he was a tiny tot) the extended family would gather on a late spring day and pick endless buckets of cherries. Those were cooked down into preserves which found their way into cherry pies and onto toast for the entire year. (I don’t know why, but I have no memory of just eating the cherries. Odd when I think about that now because as an adult I adore cherries, but these were for cooking.) There were other big, old trees on the property, a swamp maple, another cherry. There was also an enormous hydrangea and my grandmother threw rusty nails near the roots where the iron made the flowers bloom an icy blue.  (Although I liked the white flowers too.) There were flowering plants on the porch and around the yard. I remember my grandmother as being partial to geraniums. Easter egg hunts in her yard are my first memory of snow drops and daffodils that were just poking out of the early spring soil.

Her house looks much the same, although painted a different, tan color instead of the medium gray I remember. The house next to it, which was later built on the empty lot, distracts though and it makes the house look a bit unfamiliar at first. The memorable features of the house for me were the deep, shady porch where we spent endless hours. There were wooden rockers (very comfortable) and a few scant lawn chairs (itchy and uncomfortable) and my grandmother would have us all on display for the neighborhood. The neighbors would indeed stop by, see us grandkids and hear or share what the gossip or news might be. There was a sweating glass pitcher trimmed with metal (looked like one part glass coffee pot, I have not seen one since) which would be full of very sweet lemonade or ice tea which we drank from reusable, thick molded plastic cups. My grandmother’s house had no air conditioning so summer meant the porch. (Although I guess a window unit eventually found its way to her bedroom window.) The other great feature of the house was a small windowed side entryway which my grandmother called the sun parlor. It was a catch all space and a room I always liked, but one we never spent much time in.

Lastly, there is this photo of the garage which is hard to see here, but I have special memories of that. My mother’s father repaired outboard motors, hunted, made fishing lures and was a gifted all around mechanic and handy guy. The garage contained his work area with a cement floor, smelling distinctly of petrol, motor oil and wood. In the off seasons, his wooden fishing boat The Imp sat outside next to it. I have memories of watching him and my father scraping barnacles off the bottom, sanding and painting it, gray I believe, with perhaps a little white. It seemed huge to me, but I’m quite sure in retrospect that it was a relatively small boat. There is a side door across from where the car is. The trees and hedge were all planted later for privacy – I remember it as all being open.

garage2.jpg

Also well remembered was the kitchen which, although well proportioned, was not huge, always very sunny. It somehow expanded magically, like a clown car, as we crammed what seemed to be the ever growing family around meals at that table for many holidays, but most memorably Christmas (breakfast) and Easter (brunch). My mother’s brother, John, would be telling funny stories that made everyone roar with laughter. I wrote about this a little quite a while back in my post Ann’s Glass.

However, as families sometimes do over time ours has contracted rather than continuing to expand. Folks are living in different areas, retirement, death, divorce and rifts mean there are cousins and others I have not seen in a long time. As with most people though, they all live in my memory like I saw their forty year younger selves just the other day.