Catching the Post

Pam’s Pictorama Post: This postcard was waiting for me when I got back from New Jersey last night. I bought it on Etsy from a dealer in Britain and it took so long to get here that I had forgotten about it! It’s a very British card with that red mailbox, a suggestion of a lamp post, and of course some fog. This black cat who has slipped on his bum has dropped a cigarette in the process. He’s a great pose – all akimbo – tail like a third leg, his pink tongued mouth agape.

Verso of the card. Maybe you can decode this better than I have?

The card was mailed and is postmarked Hastings, January 6, 1922, sent in the evening mail 101 years ago. It was sent to Miss Lulu Crosse, 158 Castle Hill, Reading Berks. To the extent I can read it, it says, I am so sorry not to have acknowledged your pretty calendar dear Lulu but have only just found it in our drawers where all our presents were put so it must have slipped out of the parcel I thought you might like this as it slightly resembles John. Such a lovely dog. With love, L.S. Dog?

As it happens I had the rare (and suburban) opportunity to hand the postman a bill that needed mailing yesterday as I had just finished putting it together when he arrived to drop a parcel and a bunch of flyers in the box affixed to the front of the house there. Could you take this too? I call that service!

Sunrise run at Mom’s this week.

I am learning that some of mom’s bills (taxes and sewer thus far) come with little coupon tabs that need to be included in the payment back. For some reason these local town affiliates have resisted auto withdrawal and in the case of the taxes you have a sheet of these dated tabs you must remember to pull off on a not-quite-quarterly schedule and pay. This is, in my opinion, a bit maddening and fraught with potential disaster as I take over helping mom with these tasks.

The main drag in Red Bank. I think there’s a post office in the other direction that I could check out.

The postman visit was especially good timing as I had recently discovered that the post office closest to mom within walking (running) distance is closed for what appears to be an indefinite time as someone drove through the front of it. Housed in a nondescript little shopping center it’s hard to see why this occurred – weirdly accelerating forward? Misjudging the front of the parking space? On the phone? It was the middle of the day – as it happens a friend was there shortly after.

In addition to the post office, the shopping center houses an A&P, a liquor store, and a really splendid homemade ice cream emporium that I have already made numerous visits to with my friend Suzanne. There is a large Dunkin’ Donuts and although we have nothing against donuts, instead we tsk tsk over the memory that a splendid and much beloved stationary store made its home there for many decades and was pushed out and so we don’t stop there.

Meanwhile, there is a nice looking sort of glorified diner, but I haven’t had reason to eat there yet because in an ajoining parking lot is my favorite lunch place, Tavolo Pronto, the home of the great sandwich, among other things, so I come often to this enclave when in Jersey. If I so inclined I can go to the bank, have a massage or get my nails done there as well. Really many essentials of my local NJ life are housed there or nearby including Mexican, Chinese and Japanese take-out or restaurants – a short run or medium walk from mom’s house.

Sickles the farm market, also sells flowers and I snapped this there the other day.

It would seem I won’t be using that post office for an indefinite period of time – a couple of months have already gone by. I am impatient and just think, Fix it already! How hard can that be? Meanwhile, there is another post office more or less equidistant in the town of Little Silver – oddly mom lives at the nexus of four towns, Rumson, Fair Haven, Red Bank and Little Silver – I can hit all four easily in an average run.

Waitress at Edie’s – a favorite watering hole that is a bit hard to get to or park at.

However that post office requires transversing several obscenely busy roads and I don’t generally don’t run on them. This keeps me from frequent visits to Edie’s Luncheonette (which I wrote about recently here) and our local farmer’s market and gourmet shop, Sickles, on foot. And although the idea of running through the Sickles farm property temps me, dealing with these busy streets does not. Perhaps I should consider the Red Bank post office as I run there periodically as well.

Sometimes, if I know I will be back in Manhattan soon, it is easier to tuck the mail in my purse and bring it home, to a city where mailboxes and post offices within walking distance abound.

Home: Part Two

Home is a topic which is much on my mind these days. As Pictorama readers know I now spend part of each month in New Jersey, near where I grew up, with my mom helping out there now that she is in failing health.

I have always had a cat-like desire for routine and part of that is being nestled in the same place as much as possible, with my things around me for comfort. Even as a small child my mother would comment on my determination to make a space mine and settle into it.

Sunrise from the apartment in Manhattan.

As I have gotten older that also means Kim and the cats most of all – home is where the heart is after all. While I have enjoyed some of the work travel I have done, being uprooted from them and home has always been done a bit grudgingly.

Therefore, a new paradigm that pulls me out of my usual and sends me off to Jersey periodically has been a bit painful really. Although now over the past year I have pressed that into a sort of pattern as well it is somewhat less jarring. It is always hard for me to gather myself to leave on a Sunday night when I just want to stay curled up on my couch. I have my great indulgence which is the ride I take in each direction, comfort Aussie Shepard on my lap for pets, which allows me the luxury of travel on my own schedule.

Cookie when she helped me with the Christmas card recently.

I keep a suitcase lightly packed, but mostly I have clothing, toiletries and running apparel there. Like me, my laptop has to be disconnected on one end and reinstalled on the other. On the other side of the trip is mom’s little Cape Cod house, a bedroom for me which the cats there only cede to me with great reluctance. I gave everyone a peek at Peaches in last week’s post which can be found here.

To be frank, mom’s cats are not enamored of me as a group. Beau, an enormous pitch black cat, allows me to pet him, but mom’s other rescues are skittish and generally not for petting which is disappointing. (I recently wrote about Stormy, cat of mystery, here.) I miss Cookie and Blackie’s affection when I am gone.

Milty and Peaches enjoying the open door last summer.

My morning routine there is to have coffee with mom very early, 5:30 or 6:00, before heading out for a run if weather permits. I schedule myself this way because early morning is the best time with her as she starts the day. I make a large pot of coffee in a percolator identical to the one in New York and which all of mom’s caretakers is now enamored. Mom can no longer drink it, but appreciates the smell as it perks. I make a good pot of coffee.

Wooded running path in Monmouth County.

I generally keep my run to around 4-5 miles in New Jersey. I run more slowly there – lots to look at and also I jog slowly over many types of terrain. Although the majority of my run is through a sort of sidewalk suburban heaven, through neighborhoods and sports fields, I also run through a heavily wooded area, over wood chip paths, over tree roots and past the occasional deer. People nod and say hello in New Jersey, unlike in Manhattan where you never much do that, but dogs here are more likely to lunge for me than jaded city pups. I see endless bunnies and chipmunks abound, cats watch me from porches and dogs bark at me from behind fences and windows. There’s even a rooster on my route although I have not heard him in awhile.

While stretching outside upon my return I take an inventory of the outside of the house and anything that seems amiss or needs attention. It is remarkable to me that one day you can look at the front steps and realize that the railing needs paint and is starting to fall apart at the bottom, that gutters need attention or the driveway has a sag. Recently I realized that there was a huge air leak under the front door despite a storm door in place.

Mom’s house in the snow.

Mom’s is a track house built in the 1950’s – identical ones probably dotted the neighborhood at the time although her prime location near three schools, endless sports fields and small shopping area, has converted most of the lots to considerably larger homes. Her house, originally quite small, had an addition of a main bedroom, bath and an area bumped out to enlarge the kitchen. It now has four bedrooms, two in the dormer upstairs, and three and a half bathrooms. As it nears its seventh decade I can see that maintaining it is difficult, but more attainable than the houses of more than a hundred years that appeal to me aesthetically.

As an apartment dweller for my entire adult life, the actual reality of home ownership has been a rude awakening as I take over some of the responsibilities for mom’s house. Mike the yard guy, the rat exterminator, David who paints, Fitzroy who does odd jobs, Larry who helps with the computer – mom holds the reins still on all of it but slowly I am starting to engage.

Upstairs room where I work.

I am generally there on workdays so my return home is usually followed by a quick breakfast and then to my “office” upstairs in one of those bedrooms. I try to have a proper lunch time when I am with mom (my friend Suzanne often picks me up and we hit a great restaurant called Tavalo’s for the best sandwiches I know) and I attempt to end my day no later than 6:00 at least for meetings. During times of duress, the same friend will offer up a glass of Prosecco with cheese and crackers at the end of the day, bringing it upstairs if I don’t surface.

It amazes me that our apartment in Manhattan is so much quieter than mom’s house. While there is a roster of caregivers coming and going throughout the day and night, it is more the folks tending to the house’s needs and a litany of visiting docs which makes the small house feel like Grand Central station at rush hour. (I have written previously about mom and her caregivers in a post that can be found here.)

And then, before I know it, time to pack back up and head home to Deitch Studio. Much like at the beginning of my trip, there is a tug to stay here too, the gravitational pull of staying where I am, but now at home in both places.

Festive!

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Just a quick note and a ho, ho, ho to you all. It was a quiet start to the day here in New Jersey. I decided to give myself a break from running today after my efforts yesterday when it was only 8 degrees out.

Nonetheless I was up early and putting the coffee on. My coffee has become a great favorite among mom’s caregivers – I perk a mean pot and am well set up for it down here with a pot identical to mine at home. I wish you could smell it.

Laurel and Hardy this morning.

Kim is on his way – traveling with my dog friends Cash and Penny. He is coming for the down and I will head back to New York with him tonight. As a result I am starting to gather all my bits which are spread over mom’s house after four days here.

Keeping an eye out for Hobo. So very cold we’d like to make sure our stray cat friend has a good meal. He stopped by the day before yesterday for a meal and inhaled three cans.

Hobo noshing earlier this week.

Yesterday found a friend’s wife just returning from the hospital so we packed up a whole lot of Christmas dinner (mom had ordered enough for an army – really!) for them to have food for a few days. He is so kind to my mom that it was a great pleasure to do something for them.

Mom has CNN blaring as always, although I have Laurel and Hardy on the television in the bedroom for some holiday relief. Holiday reports are coming in from friends all over which is nice to hear. Eileen, cold in Vermont, Eden and Jeanie warmer in California.

The eating has commenced (biscuits! First round) and a second pot of coffee perking in advance of Kim’s arrival. mom’s cats are sleeping off their first meal of the day although not sure Stormy has braved the fray.

Christmas cat breakfast.

So Merry Christmas to you and yours from all of us here at Pictorama and Deitch Studio.

Edie’s and Other Jersey Delights: Part Two

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Yesterday, the first part of this tale was devoted largely to the downtown commercial area near the town I grew up in, Red Bank, New Jersey. Now close enough to mom’s house that I can run there, I toured it a bit the other morning, noting the changes since I lived there and also its nascent resurgence since the pandemic. (That post can be found here.)

Today I pick up my story on Friday morning, having been promised a trip to Edie’s Luncheonette for a breakfast post-run. A friend from high school was visiting from the west coast and staying with a friend. The three of us made a plan to have a late breakfast there.

The exterior of Edie’s in a photo found online.

Edie’s is notable to me because it was one of my father’s regular haunts post-retirement. (I touched on Edie’s in a previous post which can be found here.) For some reason Dad staked out Edie’s as his own and for years would eat there, usually breakfast sometimes lunch, several times a week. Weirdly, I had never set foot inside before this Friday morning. Timing was always wrong when I visited my parents back when Dad was still driving and also it seemed like his own hangout. It is close enough to Mom’s house now that I could run there, but that would mean walking home after eating and as someone who is always looking to maximize my running miles, running to breakfast generally doesn’t work for me. (It would be a short run or a long-ish walk.)

A favorite photo of Dad on Mom’s wall.

However, this little sliver of an establishment which has always piqued my interest is perched on an equally tiny smidge of property, hovering at the edge of a ferociously busy street. The tiny triangle of property it sits on merges with an equally busy street just below. It has three impossibly small parking spots in front which you may not use – there are multiple, dire towing declarations. As a result, cars tuck themselves creatively in all manners of illegal spots all around and can be found there all day most days. We parked in front of someone’s house a block away and made our way across the treacherous street.

Old cemetery in a small churchyard next to Edie’s.

The little one-room cottage restaurant has houses to one side and behind it, but on the other side is a church and a very old cemetery. A brick wall protects it from the traffic pounding around it – the cemetery is the tip of the V where traffic merges. It is all a very strange intersection of many things, which I have considered as I drove by over many decades. It would seem that the Edie’s building, one of the oldest in the town of Little Silver, dates back to 1849, starting life as a housing for a tenant farmer, but it is better known for its stint as a general store and post office starting in 1889. In 1928 it begins to morph into a grocery store and then a sandwich counter, and found its true calling as a restaurant in 1970 when it more or less arrived in its current incarnation. (An interesting detailed history of the building and restaurant can be read on their website here.)

Some original details can be found inside, such as a built in craftsman style sideboard in front of the kitchen which fascinated me. Edie’s has a long menu, mostly many variations on omelets, burgers and sandwiches – you can get a peanut butter and jelly sandwich there, or a cup or bowl of daily soup. The fact that you can order Pop-tarts made me laugh. Nothing fancy folks, just the basics.

Pop-tarts and cold cereal! Edie’s will make up a school lunch for you according to their menu.

Mom reminded me that Dad’s order included two eggs over medium and rye toast. I’m sure it also included bacon and knowing the man I suspect he wasn’t entirely a stranger to the french fries. I settled on the eggs, rye toast and cottage fries in his honor. I left the bacon to my friend Suzanne, despite sentiment I am a vegetarian. She had bacon with a “small” stack of three enormous pancakes that looked righteous indeed. Randy split the fries with me and ordered the same eggs. I will say, the simple order of eggs was done to perfection.

My breakfast!

We jammed ourselves into the small room and made our way to seats at the counter. There are only a few tables that can accommodate more than two people and since it was a holiday weekday the place was at close to full tilt. Our perch was a good one though and I got to view the action behind the counter and there was plenty of hustle. I worked a counter like this back in high school and it was a hard job that I remember fondly.

The full counter on display, tables tucked everywhere.

All too soon, breakfast had come to an end and Edie’s had emptied out until the lunch rush. I snapped a final picture and out the door to we went, to wind our way back across Rumson Road.

Mirrored sideboard way to the back. Edie’s ready for the next shift, lunch.

From the Tiny Acorn…

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I saw these earrings the other day and my father immediately popped into my mind and I bought them. They come to me via an endlessly elegant purveyor of vintage clothing and jewelry in Great Britain who is known to me as @WillowHilson on Instagram.

It is with some great and ongoing sadness that I accept I am unlikely to ever have the chance to admire her windows in person and walk into her shop in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire. Actually I should be relieved because if she was a short subway ride away I would spend an absolute fortune on clothing, let alone jewelry and handbags. As it is, even online only the inability to try things on keeps me in check on clothing – that and the fact that she seems to turn up many items that run about a size smaller than I anticipate needing. However, once in awhile I give in and purchase an item or two from her photos. A lovely clutch came in this shipment too.

A recent window view of Willow’s shop. These photos of her window come out weekly along with a video of the process of creating them.

When my dad was young he had a small film company he called Acorn Films. I remember asking (in that way kids have), Acorn Films? In response he said, From the tiny acorn grows the mighty oak! It was the first time I heard that and it stayed with me and I have been known to quote it. The quote seems to be English in origin and go aways back.

The earrings in question.

As I run these days, I have started seeing acorns underfoot, especially where I run in Jersey, although Central Park and Carl Schurz have provided a few too. I think of dad every time I see them as well. I assume the local wildlife is happily consuming the bounty – squirrels nibbling away, storing them for winter. I don’t know what else might eat them, chip monks perhaps? My mom has a large colony of those guys. I see the acorns in the streets and on the sidewalks so I assume those are not ones that oaks will ultimately grow from.

In the city they mostly appear a bit stunted and the ones I picked up today are green. I read that the acorns are falling earlier this year which is why many are green, immature. Evidently the heavy rains we had recently probably caused this, although I gather that it can also happen if a tree happens to grow in an inadequate setting. I figure squirrels here in Manhattan are consuming them, but I have a hard time imagining that the rats or mice bother with them, however who knows what a resourceful rodent might munch?

My father was not a man prone to optimism so in retrospect it was an interestingly hopeful thing to name his nascent company. The acorn is a symbol of unlimited potential, that from a modest beginning something larger might grow. For me it is a sign of renewal, like the pomegranate, and of course autumn.

Small acorns in abundance and various states this morning on my run in Carl Schurz Park.

I don’t know too much about the specifics of his film company. I think he had some space over in the west 40’s, but maybe a tad higher or lower. I have the dimmest of memories of him pointing to a building once and saying it was up there indicating a corner window. I was told he paid for his equipment and to live the rest of the year by filming races at Monmouth Park in the summer for ABC locals news. I don’t know if there were ever any other colleagues or partners.

In his possession when he folded the company was film he had shot for a documentary on drug addiction which he never finished. Family life and a bustling job as a full-time news cameraman for the national and international bureaus of ABC took the place of this more creative work.

There is also a story my mother tells, not my father as I remember, of him interviewing and filming Anias Nin who famously refused to be photographed after a certain age due to an excess of vanity. (This stunned and even fascinated me as a child – I had never conceived of such a thing.)

Their agreement was that Nin would view the footage and if she didn’t like it he would destroy it – which he was ultimately forced to do. I’m not sure how dad met her – or wiled his way enough into her good graces to be given the chance. Meanwhile, evidently, mom was have a great time hanging out with Daisy Alden during those interviews and also occasionally in the kitchen during fancy parties dad was filming. I imagine my mom, much like me, occasionally shaking her head and saying, you need to understand, I’m just a girl from Jersey.

For now, I will sport my acorn earrings this fall always keeping in mind that we are never entirely sure which of the seeds we plant will take root and grow.

Scent

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Some Pictorama readers know that I was among the folks who lost my sense of smell when I got Covid a few months back. It slowly returned, patchy at first, as did my coordinating sense of taste which had disappeared with it. Over time I could suddenly smell the river again during my run and found that I wasn’t just guessing when I salted the soup I was making as I habitually taste tested it.

As foretold, as it returned I found that smell in particular, was a bit more messy than taste. Some smells seemed to break apart somehow. Perfumes in particular would sock my nose with overwhelming notes of alcohol or something chemical after an initial whiff of something more pleasant. I favored strong musky scents briefly, probably because they were strongest for my limited ability. I routinely sniffed the kitchen herbs as I cooked. Whiffs of dill, oregano, basil, but also spice like cumin, coriander, red pepper, ginger and mace daily.

Citrus was the last scent to come back, as well as taste. (Frustratingly though the taste of summer corn and tomatoes also lagged!) I made a practice of smelling citrus in all forms whenever I could and testing different kinds. It remained flatly unavailable to me.

As it happens the perfume I have worn for many years is a citrus scent that crosses grapefruit with something like an etrog. If you are unfamiliar with etrogs, they are a lumpy looking lemon-esque citrus fruit which is perhaps best known for being part of the observance of the Jewish autumn holiday Sukkot. While not familiar with them or the holiday first hand, I am told that my perfume is reminiscent of it with a strong lemony citrus note.

An etrog.

Somehow during the course of the pandemic I ignored the fact that I was almost out of perfume (sitting home didn’t require much) and even more notably, I missed the fact that it was suddenly hard to find and purchase. So, I have been looking around and sampling citrus smells.

I tried a pricey Tom Ford which I liked until I actually put it on me. There is something very disconcerting about not smelling like yourself and scents, those I could in fact smell over time, had an odd way of changing with my body chemistry. I frequently thought I liked something and wanted to take a shower an hour later to thoroughly get it off me.

Love the blue bottle, but this was more of an orange scent than I was looking for.

I revisited a few scents from when I was younger and was amazed at how much I disliked them, while finding them hauntingly familiar. Jasmine is one and while I still love to smell the actual plant I disliked every perfume version I tried. I wore Chanel for a period in my 20’s and early 30’s and I find it overwhelming now, although their Chance eau Fraiche was a citrus contender, but again there was something sort of heavy about it over time.

Another one from my youth – this one is also orange scented so maybe I was moving toward citrus already.

My grandmother wore a carnation oriented Chanel I believe, a pleasantly spiky scent that I have not been able to replicate, at least on me. (My very no nonsense mother tells a story of one day many years ago when I was still very little. She was taking the garbage out and suddenly she was surrounded by my grandmother’s scent. It was my father’s mother with whom she was close and she said she found it very comforting.) My sister wore Chanel too, No. 19 I think, but I don’t associate it with her. My mother has never worn perfume, but my father would bring it back for me and Loren from duty-free work related flights.

A very close entry.

I find something I think I like but then I find myself asking, do I want to smell like this all the time after an hour or so. Kim was brought into a judgement call occasionally. He had a really bad reaction to one of the early musky scents I tried. The good news was that over time I was able to smell much better again.

My beloved Green Tea is back!

I was on the verge of settling for a perfume by Diptyque (citrus but woody), when I tried looking for my Bulgari scent one more time and there it was! My beloved Au the Vert (Green Tea) unisex spray is available once again.

Mr. Softee Summer

Pam’s Pictorama Post: By the time you read this I will be heading to Denver for a conference having left at the crack of dawn. However, I leave this summery post in my place. Today’s ice cream post is a bookend of sorts to last week’s running in the heat. One advantage of running through the summer is it allows for the consumption of a certain amount of ice cream.

Long time Pictorama readers (and well, anyone who knows me) are aware that I have a serious soft spot for ice cream. In my world ice cream has no calories and if ice cream is available it should be eaten. Therefore, I generally do not keep it in the house, although this seems to have only a marginal impact on my consumption.

Ryan’s homemade ice cream. Hard to beat!

My taste preferences are eclective – I am not an ice cream snob in the least – however, if you say salted caramel my ears will perk up. But I like a soft serve cone, a bowl of strawberry from a local creamery or something more exotic at a restaurant making their own all equally.

I appear to have inherited my love of ice cream from my father and his affection for it was documented in a very popular post which can be found here. Dad was always up for a trip to the local Dairy Queen and usually had a container or two tucked into the freezer, especially in his advancing years. He went from being a plain chocolate guy to having a distinct preference for exotic flavors with bits of candy bar or cookie. I started as a vanilla girl and now like, well, more or less all of it.

The New Jersey version of my habit is largely centered around trips to Ryan’s whose homemade ice cream I only discovered several years ago. Their strawberry is epic and when the peaches ripen the peach is just heaven. Although if time does not permit a trip out to Ryan’s I might talk my friend Suzanne into a much closer trip to Carvel. When dad was alive Father’s Day and his birthday were often celebrated with a Carvel, Fudgie the Whale of a Cake. Jolly blue icing bits in the one I remember and yummy chocolate crumbly bits.

Fudgie the Whale. I remember some of the piping as blue though…

For many years there was a Carvel near me here in Manhattan, on the corner of 85th and First Avenue, although sadly there is a Starbucks there now. I would stop in for the occasional cone, but they were too far from the office to grab a party cake there. (I did used to bring ice cream to the office at the Met sometimes, but needed to buy it closer – ice cream sandwiches did surprisingly well for delivery, re-freezing and consumption. I would also occasionally grab one or two other people and go across the street where a Mr. Softee is resident for the summer and buy dripping ice cream treats for whoever was knocking around the office on a summer afternoon.)

Mr. Softee on the corner of 86th and Lex.

Unlike people who might find the Mr. Softee tune (generally Pop Goes the Weasel) or tinkling bells annoying, it fills me only with joy. Having grown up in a wealthy suburb it was unusual for him to make his way to us and we generally drove to the Dairy Queen for ice cream, but I hear it not infrequently in the city.

Lots of interesting options although I seem to be pretty stuck on my usual these days. I used to occasionally like the ice cream bars with a coating of chocolate and nutty bits and a chocolate core.

Soft serve ice cream is still sold in the Rumson spot where Dairy Queen (DQ) was, although it has been renamed Crazees. I have not had the pleasure of trying them. In high school I yearned for a job at Dairy Queen which seemed like the pinnacle of cool. Sadly it was a much sought after job and I lacked the connections it seemed. Instead I had to settle for working at a pizza place serving my second favorite food – and consuming large quantities of it.

Still the same barn shaped building but no longer the telltale red and white. Rumson, NJ.

However, this summer has been the summer of Mr. Softee. The extreme heat and humidity and a calorie margin of error that 7 miles of running 4-5 times a week gives me has allowed me to develop the habit of grabbing Kim on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon in search of the ice cream man. A classic vanilla wafer cone with chocolate sprinkles is just right for each of us although on the hottest days you need to eat it with a certain alacrity.

Colorful and somewhat whacky options on the side of the truck.

I understand the while Mr. Softee isn’t suffering from a lack of consumer interest, the rising prices of ice cream and condiments as well as gasoline has made it a difficult living. I can only offer each one I encounter my enthusiastic summer support.

June

Pam’s Pictorama Post: So I sat down this morning with all good intentions of ignoring Father’s Day entirely. Having bared my soul on the subject of our mutual Deitch Studio illness yesterday, I was thinking more along the lines of a toy post today. However, for whatever reason with the sun streaming hard into the windows early this morning I was out of bed and drinking coffee at an obscenely early hour when I got the idea of reading some previous posts. My Dad, Elliott Butler, died back in ’18 and I wrote a post that remains remarkable even to me that year about bringing him ice cream. (That post can be found here.) It was however the one from June of ’19 that really struck me.

Dad’s buddy, his cat Red.

I find myself dividing life into the before time (pre-March 2020) and the new time after. It certainly isn’t that there weren’t problems and concerns in the before time, but somehow reams of them got shelved over the past two years as we negotiated a world that at first was rocked by a pandemic and has continued roil and roll upside down.

Ryan’s Ice Cream in NJ.

I haven’t had the time, energy or inclination to spend a lot of time looking back or digging through the concerns of late ’19 or early ’20. I remember being crazy busy with work, traveling too much and feeling vaguely like it was spinning a bit out of control. My first thought upon being told to go home for an undefined period was that I would at last get enough sleep – and I did.

However, looking back on my post of June ’19 I reflected on one of the last cogent conversations I had with my father the year before who had had one of those strange lucid moments in a sea of not knowing where he was or what was happening, where he looked up clear eyed and asked if I thought my job (still relatively new at the time) was going to work out. Just a year in at that point, I gave him the honest answer that it was tough going and the jury was still out. (That post can be read here.)

Dad’s favorite cookies, a NY Black and White, also known as Moon Cookies.

He was always very interested in my career. Working in an office, raising money for cultural organizations was all very foreign to his work life of news, constant action and cameras, but he always wanted to know about it. We shared a love of travel which our jobs supplied in good measure though, and he was proud of me and what I did, if occasionally confused by what my work actually consisted of daily.

When I read the post I remembered the conversation well. There has been so much water under the bridge since then, but I guess the main thing is that he would have gotten a kick out of what I have achieved at my job over the past few years. It has been a rough ride, but somehow our performing arts organization stayed solvent, everyone paid despite some severe belt tightening and a lot of asking for and receiving help.

Recent photo of the Met. Dad was always proud that I worked there.

Three years since that post and I have a level of assurance about my work that was lacking back when he and I spoke that day. I pointed out that the thing about a challenge is there is the very real chance of failure. It was wavering in early summer of ’18 and I was still struggling a year later evidently. The tide started to shift though and luckily I wasn’t found wanting when the bottom fell out in spring of ’20.

The fight is never ending at a job where you bring in money and my exhaustion has returned after the pitched battle of these past years, although has different causes, and it hovers over me while I try to negotiate the new world. However, while the struggle remains I think I can say that the verdict is in and I have been successful which would have pleased him.

Meanwhile, I am planning on having a run (he would have thought the running thing was crazy, but would have secretly been sort of proud of it) and most certainly some ice cream with a tip of the hat to him later today.

Jersey Daughter, Part 2: Running

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today I pick up from where I left yesterday, but use the opportunity to focus on running. Pictorama readers know that about 18 months ago I started running. I have slowly (very slowly!) built my distance up to 4.5-5 miles four or so times a week, as my work schedule allows. This morning, having a bit of leisure time at my disposal, I topped out over 5 miles.

Today was overcast but warm. Rain has moved in since so I am glad I got out early. (Although it means you all are getting this post later than usual as a result!)

This contemplative area with these plaques seems to be new to me. It ajoins the church property.
Close up of one of the plaques.

Running in NJ tends to encourage me to expand my footprint a bit as I investigate the neighborhood, poking down new blocks, cul de sacs and deadends. I am confident enough in my mental map that I don’t worry now about getting lost, although I tend to keep myself hemmed in to the east and the west by major roads it is easier not to cross.

As I have said in my previous posts about running, I run slowly. For a tall person I have short legs and therefore a less than impressive stride, but I cannot blame my overall slowness just on that. My feeling about running is pretty much that I find a pace I can generally just keep up, more or less indefinitely. As if I was an automaton toy, set into infinite forward motion. I will speed up around obstacles or otherwise as needed but there is a general lope that I keep myself to. Everyone passes me – people running with baby strollers pass me – the older and the younger alike. My only interest in increasing time is a sense of efficiency about the amount of time I have to devote to running and therefore the ratio of distance to time.

First flowers of the season I spotted in bloom today!

For me running is about being in the moment which releases me from all the nagging worries that I nurse throughout the day (and night) otherwise. I focus on my stride, where my feet are falling and the music (today was largely Bruce Springsteen in honor of New Jersey) which is familiar enough to be ritual as well.

Suburban life is stretched out before me as I run here. Today was no exception. The first part of my run takes me to the crossroads of several churches and a synagogue. This morning I was treated to the church bells ringing as I started out. This church is next to a playing field and a small wildlife preserve that I circle before heading back out into a neighborhood north of here.

I ran further north and then west than usual and encountered the elementary school for the town, tucked away behind a main street but somehow on a block I think I never encountered growing up here. The Viola Sickles School is a pretty Art Deco designed building. It has a large playground and playing field behind it which I toured. Just on the other side is a pretty little downtown street of restaurants and shops on a main road. My mom lived in one of the houses on that main street which was converted to a candy store which we used to visit occasionally when I was little. Somehow I couldn’t get rid of the idea that my mom grew up in the candy store but this was not the case. I think it was a small gas station that my grandfather had at that time and before they moved to a neighboring town.

This one needs a new roof, but what a sweet little house!

The houses near the school are old and lovely. These few blocks seem to have somehow escaped the general gentrification of the area. I hope someone buys them and restores them on their tiny lots instead of tearing them down.

I loop around and head south for the most familiar part of my run which I have been saving for last recently. It is overcast and the sun alternately fights to come out and gives up. Today is one of the warmest runs I have had this winter and the temperature is hovering around 50. Robins are everywhere, as well as sparrows, cardinals and bluejays. I see a bunny with a bushy white tail – too fast for me to get a picture. Back at mom’s the chipmunks are in evidence again as well. I spy the first snowdrops of the season in bloom and snap a photo of them.

Another cute little house on this school block.

Around mile four I start to feel it in my legs a bit. I use a GPS driven running tracker now called Strava as my phone seemed to be inconsistent about recording miles. I had some trouble with it at first – it would turn itself off which was frustrating – but I seem to have gotten past that.

Strava makes me more competitive with myself despite not really intending to – can I be faster on the big inclines? Go a bit further today? It sends me electronic encouragement for each of my runs. I am a sucker for its praise.

Knights of Columbus meeting establishment.

This week I see several book exchange boxes in the neighborhood, but don’t take the time out to examine them. I do note them however for future reference. Today I realize one is in front of the Knights of Columbus meeting place. I run through the parking lot and notice these rather special benches below.

Kind of love these benches with the American flags built into the design.

I realize that I am already over time and distance and still have to get home. I think of one of my favorite phrases – save something for the swim back. It is true of running – and many other things too.

Jersey Daughter, Part One

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I find myself unexpectedly in New Jersey today. Mom’s health took a turn for the worse and I hopped down here on Friday night.

As some of you know, coming and going at odd hours to New Jersey these days I have abandoned the cold and limited schedule of the ferry in favor of a car service a friend suggested. Rides with Cash provides not only thoughtful and dependable service, but Cash, a beautiful Australian Shepard who climbs in my lap for ear and tummy rubs along the way. Petting Cash, talking music with Geoff, makes the ride go quickly and calms me on my more anxious rides like Friday. (For those in the greater, NJ, NYC and Philadelphia area, you can book Jeff and Cash here.)

Cash who operates as a canine co-pilot to Jeff on rides to and from NJ.

I arrived to find mom weak and very surprised to see me – I didn’t know I was going to be a surprise, but it was nice to see how happy she was once she realized she wasn’t dreaming. She has stabilized a bit and although still very pale from a loss of blood, she is stronger and eating well.

Mornings are my favorite time spent here and I am sure they are what I will remember most fondly in the future. There’s usually a nice hour or so when we are mostly just the two of us, before I go running and her next shift of help arrives. I drink too much coffee and she has some tea maybe. In the winter it would be dark out and I would be waiting for the sun to come up before heading out for my run.

Sun coming up out my window here this morning.

We are beyond fortunate that we have folks helping out who have some deep roots with us and over this period these strong women have formed a community around mom as they come and go, working out a schedule among themselves. The group somehow magically expanded when we decided that we needed someone overnight after mom got out of the hospital over the holidays.

This enclave of extraordinary women, all from Jamaica, have become my mom’s society and despite her physical woes her keen interest in them and their lives continues to grow. Like family, some are closer than others, sisters rather than cousins. However, as we share meals, work around the house and concern for mom, they are our clan. (Mom is still trying to feed the world and so much take out food is ordered to be shared by all. However, sometimes I cook or they do. Recipes are exchanged.) Mom enjoys the occasional visits of their children and grandchildren and she seems to be a favorite among some of the youngest.

Photo of a child me with a younger Mom, carrying my brother Edward in this photo.

I get to share in this deeply feminine society during my periodic stays. Everyone is fairly interested in my professional life and invested in the success thereof as they hear me pacing around the house on the phone or on endless Zoom calls in an upstairs room, where I am perched typing now. This is its own world which I enter when I am here. The tentacles are long though and at least one among my mom’s caretakers texts me periodically with anything she thinks I should know. It was a family friend, Suzanne, who is also devoted to my mom and like a sister to me, who texted me on Friday to get down here as soon as I can. Mom had been dismissive of my change in plans earlier in the day, but Suzanne was right and I am glad I came.

The house has a new inhabit, a kitten named Stormy. For those of you who follow me on social media you saw photos of Stormy posted as we tried to find her a home after Mom rescued her recently. (Yes, despite everything Mom is still managing to rescue animals as she has her whole life.) Once trapped and brought inside Stormy has turned out to be barely out of kittenhood and has the sweetest and most winning demeanor.

Stormy is now a permanent member of the Butler clan.

Well, my Dad used to say that cats only ever come into the Butler household and none ever leave and despite a fair amount of effort on our part it seems to be holding true. Stormy has managed to become a household favorite however and even those not especially disposed to cats stop to chat with her on their way around their business of the house. Stormy is presently residing in a very large, multi-level dog cage in the living room where she can be a part of the life of the house, but not yet subjected to the rough and tumble of the other kits. Needless to say, Stormy isn’t going anywhere.

Strangely, considering she is a stray, Stormy appears to be domestic and really likes people. She enjoys being petted, ear and even tummy rubs in particular. Her fur is kitten downy and although she greets the world with a somewhat unblinking wide-eyed and concerned stare, she seems contented. She is still eating copious quantities of food and is slowly filling out. I cannot imagine what her history is – she is so used to humans and handling and, it must be said, not Stormy in the least. (She was christened as such based on the blustering winter morning she was trapped on.) For all of her placid personality and evident enjoyment of handling she does not purr. She will occasionally grab your hand if you stop petting her and she lets out the occasional silent meow or soft growl.

Having this new little critter in the house as we navigate health care issues, and a growing war in the Ukraine which blares over the television via my mother’s endless devotion to CNN, centers us a bit on something nice. We saved Stormy, but she is doing her part. She is good for us too.

The morning is now in full cry and another pot of coffee and a Saturday run is in the offing. I will probably have a little more to say about that tomorrow.