Mystery Strips

The whole group purchased. Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Today I have a clutch of photo strips which are something of a mystery to me. They appear to hail from the Midwest via @MissMollyAntiques, a temptress seller of photos and other goodies from that part of the country whose acquaintance I have recently made on Instagram. Recently my insomnia started to align with her late night sales and what follows is some blog posts upcoming (not to mention a serious impact on my bank account). At least one of those future posts will be sporting another unusual variation on early photo process.

With some pennies to provide a sense of scale – these are much smaller than photo booth images.

Devoted Pictorama readers might know that I have a bit of a mania for photo booth photos and that I cannot pass a booth – a functioning one hopefully, many is the time broken ones have eaten my money – without dragging Kim in and having our pictures taken. (There is a photo booth in the basement of a restaurant on the upper west side which I frequent, located next to the restrooms, and it annoys me I have never tried it, however I am always there on business and never have time. I hope they have not gone out of business before I have another chance.)

Kim and I pose at a random photo booth.

My very first post on this blog was devoted to photo strips of us by way of introduction. (That post can be found by clicking here.) It is interesting that I have no corresponding desire to take selfies, in fact I am not sure I ever really have. It does not interest me.

Oh the hats! Pams-Pictorama.com collection.
Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

I have collected the occasional photo booth photo of other folks, including a lovely Christmas gift from my brother in-law Seth of some kids who appear to have thought ahead to bring their Mickey doll along. (You see that photo and can read the post here.) However, although I have a volume or two devoted the subject, it isn’t an area I collect deeply in. As Pictorama devotees know, my gig is mostly souvenir photo postcards of a seashore or carnival variety, posing with an out-sized Felix, cheerful or tatty painted background behind. It is fair to say though that I am interested in these fellow travelers, even if I don’t own a number of them.

These two strips seem to be the same two men with the top photos first of one, then the other. Pams-Pictoram.com collection.
Pams-Pictorama.com collection

I had never, however, seen photo strips as early as these appear to be. Based on the attire I would say these are from the 1900’s; printed on a very light paper, not ferrotypes or tintypes. (The extraordinary hats sported by some of the women are a study unto themselves! The men all quite natty – people dressed up for these; it was still an event.) A quick search on the internet confirms that photo booths, although invented in Germany in 1889, they did not hit the United States until 1925 when a Russian immigrant named Anatol Josepho (nee Josehowitz) set up shop on Broadway in New York City.

This one is different – same photo three times so maybe not the same process? Lower quality as well.

There appears to be only a few references to or examples of this style photo when I search online. While I do not know, my guess is that it is unlikely they were produced by a photo booth predating the 1925 one, but instead were somehow executed by a photographer followed by a fast process for developing. (If there is anyone reading this out there who knows about this particular process please let me know. I am very interested in early process photography and would love the answer to this riddle.) The examples I have found online were all the horizontal fashion, none were vertical like my gents here.

Pams-Pictorama.com collection

Much like tintypes or photo booth photos, the quality is all over. One sort of assumes that it just depended on when the photographer had last changed the batch of developer he was using. It is sort of interesting that several are mostly of one person with a final photo adding one or two more people.

Pams-Pictorama.com collection

I believe these are an answer to a question which has long scratched at my brain which was about how people made photos that were suitable for the lockets that were popular about this time, lovely fat silver and gold ones on long chains. It never seemed likely that people were taking larger photos and cutting the faces out. Just seemed too hard – although recently I did come across the image of an early photo with a heart shaped excised which I assume was a result of such a project. I also realize that I have a post devoted to a page of collaged photos from an album I purchased and wonder if those were trimmed from photos like this. (It can be read here.)

This one is sort of saucy! Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

Although I have eyed these lockets for years, I never purchased one. Years ago, I once went into an antique and vintage jewelry store with the actual intent of purchasing one – I had seen them on an earlier trip – and instead came out with my cat Zippy. The owner had rescued a batch of kittens and he was a final one, sporting a bad eye which never entirely healed, needing a home. Sitting on the counter just below the aforementioned lockets, he literally jumped into my arms. Locket was never purchased, but Zips, one in a line of tuxedo cats, lived a long feline life.

Tatty

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Tiny though this photo is, a small poof of the smell of time gone bye wafted up when I removed this from the plastic holder this morning. This one might fall into the category of a photo only I could love, but so be it if true. Somehow the scrappiness of the Felix, the photo and the small child all work for me here.

There is evidence that this photo was much beloved. It shows signs of having been pinned up somewhere at one time and the edges are heavily worn and reinforced by tape at the corners. If I had to guess I would say it has spent time in a wallet. There is no inscription on the back so any information about this little girl is lost. I am glad that it has come to reside in the Pictorama collection.

The little kid, holding a pint-sized Felix doll, is wearing a white smock over something slightly longer and with sleeves showing from underneath. As I look at it closely I am on the fence about if this is a boy or a girl. My original thought was definitely girl, but as I spend more time looking at it I am unconvinced. To my eye Felix looks like he wants to leap from his or her hands and charge ahead. (And yes, of course I own a Felix much like this one, as below. Mine is missing an ear sadly, but let’s remember, he is an old, old guy.)

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Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

The yard shown is a bit bleak. Not surprisingly the photo comes from England and this is the backyard of a typical row house there. No lovely little British garden here however, at least not in this corner of it.

As I write and consider this photo I wonder if the idea of carrying a photo in a wallet has already disappeared entirely. Cookie and Blackie as kittens grace my the front of my phone and I see them, looking like tiny aliens, every time (hundreds of times, these days even more) I pick up the phone. Perhaps that is today’s version of a photo in your wallet.

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Blackie and Cookie perched on my chair shortly after arriving here in 2013.

 

My father carried photos of us kids, prom photos of me and my sister Loren; Edward shown as a small sprout digging around in the gravel driveway. At least those were the last incarnations I remember him having with him. (As I remember, there was a pre-cursor photo of me in second grade with long hair pulled back and a gap tooth grin – I am unsure of what the counterpart photo of Loren was, and Edward would have been an infant.)

These pictures resided tucked into a caramel colored, long, fat, leather wallet he carried for decades – not the type of wallet that had room for display as such, but I would see them flash by occasionally when he was looking for something. I took it for granted that they were there – the three of us each in our own photo, frozen in about 1980. My own wallet – also leather but black and red, is stuffed with credit and various loyalty cards, is remarkably and perhaps sadly photo-free.

Pretty as a Picture Pair

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This pair of Felix-y photos just rolled into Deitch Studio yesterday in time for a post today. (I loosened the strangle hold of the bunker days money diet for a few photo purchases this week. Enough to entertain, but not enough to put us in the Poor House – we hope.)

These pictures are the exact proportions of photo postcards and I thought they would be. I can’t help but feel that in some way they were influenced by that look, but these are printed on regular photo paper and had been placed in a photo album. Nothing is written on them aside from the notation of age 21 on the one.

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I cannot give many kudos to the person behind the camera on these. The composition, especially on age 21 is lousy and cock-eyed, the exposure in the other all burned out at the top. In some ways these are photos only I can love, further evidence is that I was the sole bidder. Originally I was only going to purchase the better of the two, but ultimately decided that these should enter the Pictorama collection together.

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Both young women sport large bows in their carefully curled and waved hair which makes them appear younger – although the doll clutched in the hands of the one I peg as the older of the two contributes. (The large hair bows make me date thee as taken in the late 1920’s or early ’30’s.) I think I would have put her at more like 16 or 18.

From what I can sort out they stand on a bridge of sorts which connects to a pavilion running perpendicular. Therefore, I am guessing that this is some sort of resort and perhaps my friend Felix and the baby doll were prizes of some kind. Poor Felix! No one seems to be paying much attention to him and of course that is a bit unfair, almost a hundred years later it is he who rescues these photos from obscurity.

 

 

 

Bonzo Family Photo

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This is another photo that was churned up and to the top of a pile during the hasty construction of my current “office” – a spot directly behind Kim, just large enough for my work issued laptop, an iPad and a waving good luck kitty. (My affection for these lucky cats was documented in a post that can be found here called Come Hither Kitty.) My desk, such as it is, consists of this area cleared off on an old drawing table of mine which has previously been dedicated to housing the archival holdings of Pictorama. Blackie immediately attempted to claim this “new” space and he and I compete for it daily. Much like nature, cats seem to abhor a vacuum. He is particularly enamored of the chair which rolls between the computer installed on Kim’s table and my new digs.

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The ever persistent Blackie.

 

This photo was discovered and purchased because of the nice sized Bonzo dog perched to one side – although the teddy bear on the other side is shown to much better advantage. I believe this card came from somewhere in Europe, although I know even with postage I didn’t pay much for it. The juxtaposition of this fairly staid trio of elders posing with these toys interested me. Given their attire I would guess that it was taken in the 1930’s. Bonzo would have ascended to his height of popularity at that point – although it is still hard to explain his and Teddy’s appearance here. Coincidence? Beloved toys? Family mascots?

The photo came out of an album, glue and paper are attached to the back, but nothing is noted on the back. I assume they are family – the man and the woman closest to the teddy bear look very much alike but the three could be siblings and sit, solid citizens that they are, in descending order of height, left to right. Other family photos hang on the wall behind them. Not to be unkind but they are somewhat humorless; for all the world they do not look like people who would pose for a photo with Bonzo and Teddy. However, all these years later, we do like them for it.

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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Howdy Doody

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I think I would have wanted to grab up this photo wherever I might have run across it. However, this image is actually of my uncle and was among the cache of photos I discovered in New Jersey last week, referred to in yesterday’s post. I knew the familial tale of my uncle entering the Howdy Doody look alike contest, but if I had seen the photo I did not remember. It evidently hung in my grandmother’s house, so I must have seen it as a child and just can’t recall.

Nor do I remember Howdy Doody since it went off the air in 1960, before I was born. There was an early 1970’s resurgence of interest in it that I vaguely recollect from being a small child, but why anyone would be interested frankly mystified me from what I could see. My own childhood was not without television puppets – Kukla Fran and Ollie made appearances and Mr. Rogers Neighborhood was deeply beloved. (Full disclosure, watching the recent documentary on Mr. Rogers on an airplane recently I wept openly the entire time. There was a Danish couple next to me who were clearly concerned about the state of my well-being. Strangely however, many people have reported the same reaction.)

Puppets eventually morphed into muppets and the world got Sesame Street. Although my younger brother watched Sesame Street and therefore I know it well, I was a bit long in the tooth for it myself. However, I recently went to a performance at Dizzy’s where Wynton and Elmo had a conversation and played together. I had forgotten all the music was jazz – turns out I remembered all the music! The Jazz at Lincoln Center orchestra will have an anniversary tribute concert to the show in the fall.

For Kim’s generation though Howdy Doody was the real deal. Kim has frequently opined that, despite his father Gene’s involvement in television, he was never able to leverage a spot in the Peanut Gallery on the show. Kim did make numerous childhood and teenage appearances on a variety of kids shows – The Magic Cottage, Allen Swift was a family friend and there was his show Captain Allen among them. In addition, Gene utilized a flipbook Kim made to illustrate the persistence of vision which Gene showed on national television – so it was natural that he would aspire to a spot in the audience of the Howdy Doody show. (Meanwhile, Kim has just told me that the flipbook was on display at the Museum of Modern Art for an exhibit on UPA – however, sadly it seems to have been subsequently lost.) Kim has touched on early television and cartoons in numerous stories he has written and drawn. (Most obvious of course, The Search for Smilin’ Ed and Boulevard of Broken Dreams. Those can be found here and here.)

I gather there were multiple cartoon jockey entertainment tv shows in his youth and Kim credits Howdy Doody with introducing him to silent films. I remember Bob McAllister and Wonderama best – also Bozo the Clown – showing cartoons, but the idea of silent films on those types of shows seems exotic and wonderful. And I do remember the prizes on Wonderama (if I remember it was just sort of a lottery thing and a kid in the audience just won them, but I could be wrong, maybe they did something to win them) and therefore I can only imagine the sort of longing that must have been created by the haul proffered for the winner of the Howdy Doody look alike contest!

I looked for a full list online and that was unfortunately not available despite references to it. Kim remembers that there was a film projector among the loot – clearly this would have been at the top of the list for a young Kim Deitch with his budding interest in animation and film. I imagine the list was drool worthy indeed and clearly my mother’s younger brother, John Wheeling, was not immune. It wasn’t a time when a lot of photos were casually taken in their family so a certain amount of planning (wheedling) must have gone into even getting this 5″x7″ photo I imagine.

Hake’s auctions, eBay and sites now make it possible to have a good look at some of the merchandising and premiums from our childhoods and much earlier periods. Some hold up quite well – the Little Orphan Annie and Buster Brown rings – Captain Midnight’s Mystic Sun God ring brings a premium still. There’s something thrilling and deeply satisfying about actually seeing photos of all those things. I enjoy those sections of the Hake’s catalogues very much. (For a stroll through my enjoyment of these catalogues see an earlier post, Ode to a Toy Catalogue, here.)

 

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Captain Midnight Mystic Sun God ring

 

Sadly, Howdy Doody merchandise and premiums do not hold up to 21st century light of day! They are plastic, cheap paper and of a lower order. I offer a brochure of their premiums and some of the higher end examples below.

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However, being the beneficiary of the toy laden munificence of exotica proffered for this contest was not the fate of a young John Wheeling. Despite his very credible photo, needless to say he didn’t win the contest. Little Billy Oltman, shown below in Life magazine, won the 1950 contest, besting more than 17,000 rivals. He is younger than my uncle and it is said his mother enhanced his freckles to increase the likeness to the (rather dubiously homely) famous puppet. One can’t help but wonder if perhaps some sort of a fix was in. Of course it is a bit late for sour grapes almost seventy years later.

Oltman Howdy Doody Magazine

Yummy Tummy

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This is an actual photo, not a photo postcard, which weighs in at only about 3.5″x 3″. It was taken from an album which it had been glued into, black paper stuck to the back. It is an interesting photo when studied – the woman in the background is wearing a fully long dress, as I guess the woman with the cat is although that is a bit hard to see. This dates it early in the 20th century. Meanwhile, a man with a cap, somewhat obscured, is seated behind the woman and cat.

Of course I have purchased it because of this wonderful tabby. He appears to be an orange tabby – which means he is likely to be a he as Google informs me that males outnumber female orange tabbies about 80% to 20%. This photo has an interesting immediacy. When it is blown up large you can see that what the woman holds is a toy on a string, not food which was my immediate thought.

I have had close association with several orange striped cats in my life. My mother has a rather magnificent one named Red right now, who was devoted to my father and who presents his toys and acts as ambassador cat when I overnight in New Jersey.  Pictorama readers my remember my childhood cat Pumpkin, an enormous and dog-like kitty who used to follow me to the bus stop in the morning growing up. He was much larger than this fellow, but had an amazing fluffy striped tummy and tail. He would roll and display his tummy in a come hither way – and then chomp down on your arm with all his considerable force when you tried to pet him. Bad kitty! We had to warn guests and even delivery folks not to be taken in.

Therefore, I can only say I was shocked with Cookie and Blackie arrived here with a very canine desire to have their tummies rubbed – since kittenhood they roll over and demand tummy pets multiple times a day. Cookie in particular needs some tummy rubs every morning to start the day. She will meow and stretch and roll with happiness when you comply. Blackie also invites an occasional tummy pet, but it is as if he likes the idea more than the reality and tends to roll over after a rub or two and send you on your way with a paw push. No biting though.

Our resident cats also perch on their hind legs more than any felines I have ever known. Like the cat in the photo I have had cats that would stand and reach for something, but not as willing to perch that way, sometimes for minutes, as our Cookie and Blackie seem to be. Occasionally they entertain me with their version of cat boxing this way. (If there is anyone out there who has not seen this video of cats boxing in slow motion doing patty cake with commentary – or if you just need a chuckle – have a look here.)

Kim and I have speculated that this is a form of kitty evolution, especially the hind leg standing. Shortly after Kim and I started dating I made him a Valentine drawing of my cats Otto and Zippy, them holding forth in a riotous anthropomorphic party scene while we were out of the apartment, but presumably to disappear magically somehow as we approached the front door. Oh to know the secret life of cats!

Economical Felix

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: If you are by chance a newbie to Pictorama, you may not know that photos of people posing with Felix (stuffed ones larger than an average child, people clutching the toy form of him) make up the depth of my ever-growing collection. Even I do not entirely understand my endless fascination with these photos, but I absolutely have yet to see one I wasn’t anxious to add to my collection.

This aforementioned collection adorns the walls here at Deitch Studio – photo postcards climbing up the wall near the kitchen, across from where I sit and write at this moment, more by the front door and tintypes and assorted others near the bathroom where they get the least light of all. Kim is including some in the drawings for his next book – the one that he’s working on now that will come out after Reincarnation Stories later this year. Even I amaze at the tiny renderings of these photos in fine Deitchien style. They were giving him the devil’s own time this week, but I think they look great! I am always pleased and excited to have a nod to Pictorama in the wider Deitch Studio endeavors. (Incidentally, the pre-order on Amazon for Reincarnation Stories can be found here – always good to plug the family product.)

My collecting of these photos has long outstripped our ability to display them in our tiny apartment, but it has not impacted my desire to continue to acquire them – frankly not in the least. In fact, one of the great pleasures of this blog endeavor is to be able to look through the posts and be reminded of the photos tucked away – reminded of photos I have not seen in awhile. It was my original intention to use this blog to organize these photos – as well as the the other cat photos I have collected, including people posing with giant stuffed black cats, sometime astride them – such as seen here. I can’t really say this blog has organized anything, however I would still like to see that happen – it would be so much fun to be able to leaf through a fat book of my collection. I suppose every collector feels that way though. (Sigh.)

Today’s photo, a recent acquisition, represents a bit of a sub-genre. Somewhere in Britain, enterprising photographers who couldn’t be bothered to acquire a large, stuffed rendition of Felix appear to have made their own wooden cut-outs of him for posing, propped up with something that looks like a third leg or a second tail in each. Today’s addition appears to be the very same (or remarkably similar) Felix as another I featured in December of 2016 in a series of these so-called Flat Felix photos. (The post can be found here. The other two posts about these are found here and here.) However, the backdrop is decidedly different as you can see. The seller of the card of the two men identified it as located in Blackpool, England.

Flat Felix Three

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There was evidently a proliferation of these fellows. I throw in a third, flat Felix, for additional comparison below. If I had to draw a conclusion from these photos, I would say people were a tad less enthused than those posing with a fully stuffed Felix, but four is really hardly a fair sampling and I own so many of the others. Still, one of the joys of collecting is the ability to compare photos side-by-side. The child in today’s photo does look a bit tentative however, the backdrop painting of a fantasy park is a jollier one than in the other photos. Like virtually all of these photos, this one survives in good condition because it was never mailed, there are no notations on the back either however.

 

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So my virtual museum of images continues. I hope you continue to enjoy this rather specific photo journey with Pictorama.

 

 

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.