Gotham Writers Workshop Assignment

I recently completed a creative writing course through the Gotham Writers Workshop.  The following short post is the updated draft of the third week’s assignment for Individuality.  It is a rant piece on something I hate.

Sand

I hate sand.  I have always hated sand.  When I was a child, my mother would take my siblings and me to the beach at Breezy Point.  Only in her late twenties, she would haul her five children out of Brooklyn in a station wagon full of towels, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and beach toys.  Once at Breezy Point she would first take me out to the beach, spread out a big blanket and place my three-year-old butt in the center.  Only then would she go back and grab the rest of my siblings with one of her girlfriends schlepping the gear needed to keep five kids, all under the age of 7, entertained for a day at the beach. Mom would not worry about me wandering off my cotton island in the sand.  I hated the feel of it burning my feet, on my skin and in my hair. I hated the taste of it in my mouth.  Most kids bring pails and shovels to the beach, I brought a hand broom and fought my first battle in the sand.

I still hate the texture, the way it gets into everything, and never seems to go completely away. It collected in my boots, scratched my glasses and never really shook out of my desert camouflage uniform. It concealed explosives and absorbed blood, the stain from either only lasting a few hours before being covered. Giant storms of it would blow and envelope everything in its path.  The sun could not completely penetrate the huge clouds rolling across the desert. Sand could steal the horizon and any sense of safety I had retained.  The taste of it was always in my mouth, I breathed it in and coughed it up.

I hate that it took a body as quickly as a bullet took a life.  I hate how it covered mass graves and weapons caches.  Even when heavy equipment was brought in to move it, you knew it was only a matter of time before the sand would undo all the effort to displace it.

No amount of washing those uniforms seems to be able to get rid of all the sand.  Even now,  14 years later, I can pull out the big plastic bags in which my combat uniforms are stored, and I will still find the powdery off-white substance that fuels my nightmares. It makes my skin crawl.

Everyone laughed at me and thought I was weird when I was three years old because I would go to such lengths to avoid contact with sand.  Forty years later, I remembered what I knew as a very young boy. I have no use for sand.

 

Serendipity, Thy Name is Goat

The text of the email read as follows: “Don’t ask how I got to your page but I may have what you are looking for…..”

Sometimes the universe surprises me.  Something amazing happens, and I have no explanation for it.  My father would call that a miracle.  I will call it serendipity.

We all have icons in our lives.  Some are more obvious than others.   Growing up in the largest of the five boroughs in New York City,  I could point to structures such as the Brooklyn Bridge, the Williamsburg Bank Building or the Cyclone as being Brooklyn icons.  But, there are more personal icons.  Those are things that may be small and significant to a neighborhood, a block, or a family.  Examples in my life included the letter “F’ on the front end of the subway train that serviced my neighborhood.  The F Train was transportation to adventure. It would take you to Manhattan and, with a change of subway line, would take you anywhere in the city.

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Panthers of Prospect Park (3rd Street Entrance)

The Panthers at the Third Street entrance to Prospect Park guarded the approach to a different universe in my imagination away from the traffic and buzz of my neighborhood.  (They are not lions! Google it if you don’t believe me, I’ll wait.)

And then there was Fred Goat.  I have been on a mission to find a photo of Fred Goat since last October.  That tasking came from my godmother, my Aunt Anne.  This post is, in fact, my third on the subject.  The other two posts are:

To summarize, Fred Goat was a logo that adorned the side of the turret on the building at the corner of 3rd Avenue and Dean Street in Brooklyn.  In the 1940’s and 1950’s, my maternal grandfather would encourage his daughters to say good night to Fred Goat as they passed by on the journey from my grandmother’s family home on Dean Street to their home in  Park Slope.  The tradition continued with my siblings in the 1960’s as we made a similar journey home from the venerable old brownstone on Dean Street to our home on 4th Street near the park. As a child, I would look at that castle-like structure, and I would imagine it was ruled over by a goat named Fred.

 

 

My search for a photo had yielded me various shots of the exterior of the building, but none had an angle I wanted with Fred on the side of the turret. I worked with the Brooklyn Public Library, the NYC Municipal Archives, the New York Times and other potential sources of the holy grail of Fred Goat photos.  But my efforts went unrewarded.

That is until last night. I noticed that an email had arrived in this blog’s admin account as I was working on some old family photos.  The text of the email read as follows: “Don’t ask how I got to your page but I may have what you are looking for…..” I took a look at the name of the sender, and I knew the universe might be up to something.  I replied to the email hopeful that I was about to be reunited with an icon from my past.

The email was from the great, great, great granddaughter of  Fred Goat (the entrepreneur, not my mythical goat).  I don’t know how she stumbled on my blog.

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Courtesy of the Goat Family

Perhaps, one of my 23 subscribers let it slip that I was looking for a photo of her family’s old business in Brooklyn.  My subscribers are, after all, a very exclusive and influential group! I would like to know how she stumbled on me, but I promised not to ask. So this me, not asking.

Just before ten last night, another email came in with two photos attached.

Ladies, Gentleman, and exclusive and influential subscribers, I give you Fred Goat!

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The Fred Goat Company, corner of 3rd Avenue and Dean Street.  Courtesy of the Goat Family

We all have quirky family traditions.  At least I hope and wish we all do. The real Goat family probably never knew what was being whispered from the back seat of a random Ford Country Squire station wagon to the logo on their building. That secret is out now.  Without ever knowing it, there was a connection between the families.  Of course, you didn’t know about us, and the younger members of my family thought you might be real goats.

Aunt Anne, here is your photo courtesy of the Goat Family.  I will start working on quest #2 (that is another story for another evening).

My thanks to K.G. for sending this along. Please know that from southern Virginia to coastal Massachusetts, my Mom, siblings, aunts, cousins and maybe some nieces and nephews are going to be saying goodnight to Fred Goat tonight.  Some are doing so for the first time.

Goodnight, Fred Goat!

Returning a Bracelet to the Wall

Jeanne and I found it about a year ago in an antique store on Maybank Highway in Charleston, South Carolina.  A Vietnam era POW/MIA bracelet with the name LCDR James Beene and a date, 10-5-1966. It was in a case with old military buttons, medals, and coins. I had worn one of these as a teenager in the 1970’s, albeit with a different name etched on it.DSCN2492

I think that I was initially bothered by seeing it in the display case with a price tag.  This was not, at least to my thinking, something that should be for sale.  After walking around the store and looking at all manner of antique collectibles, I came back to a sales associate and asked for the bracelet.   I didn’t think it was right to leave it sitting in the case.

Perhaps I should explain two things here.  The first is that the idea for these bracelets came from two college students, Carol Bates and Karen Hunter in 1969 as a way to draw attention to the missing men of the Vietnam conflict without getting drawn into the politics of the day.  (You can read more about how the idea of the bracelets became a reality clicking here:  Bracelet ).  The bracelets originally included the name, rank, and date of loss of the service member.  The idea was to wear the bracelet until the person whose name was on your wrist came home. Second, I am the son of a Naval Aviator who served on active duty and in the reserves from the mid-1950s to the mid-1970s. The name on the bracelet, James Beene, was a Naval Aviator, a contemporary of my father’s.  I spent almost 24 years as a naval officer; I feel a connection to anyone who has worn or is wearing the uniform.

Lieutenant Commander James Alvin Beene, USNR was a native of Burbank California. He was a member of Attack Squadron 152, Carrier Air Wing 16 aboard USS ORISKANY (CVA-34). On October 5, 1966, he was the pilot of a Douglas Attack Skyraider (A-1H), serial number 137610, on armed reconnaissance over the coastal area of North Vietnam. His aircraft disappeared after he entered the clouds during the mission.

I was wondering what I should do with the bracelet.  Should I try to return it to the family?  Was there a group to which I could send it? I knew I did not want to put it in a drawer and forget about it. After discussing it with Jeanne, we decided that I should bring it with me on my next trip to Washington, D.C. and leave it at the Vietnam Memorial Wall at the base of the panel that bears LCDR Beene’s name.

I know that items left at the Vietnam Memorial Wall are collected, cataloged and conserved.  The collection will serve as part of the display for a planned Visitor Center. Perhaps this bracelet could find a home in that collection.

At the beginning of July, I was scheduled to conduct a brief at the Defense Health Headquarters in Falls Church, Virginia, just outside of Washington, D.C.  I traveled to the area the day before my presentation to give me time to get into the city in the early evening.  There was a METRO station close to my hotel, so I took the train into the city and walked down to the Mall on a hot, humid evening.

I found James A. Beene’s name on panel 11E, row 48.  I carefully laid the bracelet at the base of the wall.  While there, I noticed other things left behind in memory of some of the more than 58,000 names of Americans killed or missing from that conflict.  Along the wall were a few long stemmed roses as well as a handful military medals from the Vietnam era scattered along the base of the Wall.  There were people carefully taking rubbings of names off the wall onto paper provided by volunteers.  There were veterans, in silent contemplation, lingering near panels.

I didn’t want to stay too long. I had delivered the bracelet that I had for almost a year. It was time to wander back to the METRO station at Foggy Bottom and head back to my hotel.  As I walked through the streets of Washington, I couldn’t shake the thought of the loss of all those service men and women in that conflict. Many of the families still do not have answers about their loved ones. We, as a country, owe it to those who gave their lives in service to this nation to gain as full an accounting as is possible. It is the very least we can do for those who gave the last full measure of their devotion.

 

 

 

 

 

Brooklyn Tour

It was my youngest sister’s idea. In recognition of our parents’ 60 years of marriage, we would return to where it all started. Brooklyn! The plan was pretty simple, Mom and Dad would come down from their home in Massachusetts with my sister and meet up with the rest of their children in Brooklyn. I cannot remember the last time we (Mom, Dad, and all six children) were together without spouses and grandchildren in tow.

We booked rooms at the Brooklyn Marriott and used that as our starting point for our tour.  My brother had arranged for a tour guide from Brooklyn Unplugged and a large luxury van to take us on a four-hour tour of the significant locations in my parents’ lives. Our tour guide was Jeff Stirewalt, and our van driver was a gentleman named Tito.

IMG_4002We boarded the van in front of the Marriott at 1 p.m. Our first location was the house on Dean Street in the Boerum Hill neighborhood that was the center of my mother’s family for generations.   As we stopped along the street, we, noticed the door open and an arborist coming out of the venerable old brownstone with the owner of the home.  My sister jumped out of the van and introduced herself to the owners, Bob and Carol.  As it turns out, they had purchased it from my great-uncle in IMG_39771989.  To our surprise and delight, they invited us into the house for a quick look around. The house has been restored over the years, but the architectural details, many of the light fixtures and some remnants of my mother’s family remained.   Our hosts talked to us for around 20 minutes.  We were even invited up to the third floor where my great uncle’s study had been converted to closet space for the front and back bedrooms.  It was in this room where my great-uncle had painted a map of a large section of Brooklyn with the Fire Department of New York firehouses, call boxes and equipment. When the closet renovation was done, the new owner could not bring himself to paint over the sections of the map that survived.

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Brooklyn Fire Map painted by my Great Uncle, Edward A. O’Connell

 

After speaking with the owners and reminiscing about our eccentric great-uncle, we offered our appreciation for their incredibly generous invitation to glimpse the house.  We left Boerum Hill and headed to Red Hook, the neighborhood where my father lived as a child. While this part of Brooklyn had gone through a dramatic transformation from the turn of the twentieth century when it was predominantly populated by Irish and Italian immigrants to a mostly Cuban and Dominican neighborhood, some of the places from his childhood remained.  The most emotional location was Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, my father’s family parish when he was a child. (Visitation is located at 98 Richards Street at Verona Street)

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Dad, as a Visitation altar boy, front row, center

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Visitation of the Blessed Virginia Mary, Red Hook, Brooklyn

48.visitation.church-506x380There was a social going on the in the yard next to the church when we pulled up.  The front door was open, so we got out of the van and went inside.  While we were inside the darkened church, a woman from the social came in and asked if she could assist us.   I told her that my father’s family had been members of the parish and that he was an altar boy here in 1940.  A smile came across her face, and she immediately offered to light up the church and illuminate the fresco behind the altar. Tears came to his eyes as he took in the sights of this grand old Gothic church.  I am sure memories of both his parents’ families came to the forefront of his consciousness.

We loaded back into the van and headed to Coney Island to the place where my parents met as summer camp counselors for the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO).  I would be remiss if I did not mention our driver, Tito.  He handled that Mercedes Van like he was in a car modified for drifting.  He maneuvered us around Brooklyn as if he was on rails, narrowly missing cars in traffic, pulling U-turns on city streets and squeezing into tight spaces with remarkable ease. His handling of traffic on the Belt Parkway was NASCAR worthy! He was able to turn the transits between stops into a thrill ride. Every time we loaded into the van after a stop I made sure Mom was buckled in.  As we traveled from stop to stop our tour guide, Jeff, filled in with facts about Brooklyn.  My parents, of course,  corrected him a few times! (I know my father is reading this so I will admit to chiming in a few times as well.)  While we were on the Belt Parkway the subject of beer came up, followed by an impressive display of classic beer jingle singing by my brother, Bob, who belted out the tunes for Rheingold, Schaefer and Ballentine Beers, respectively! We were all having a grand time.

Once we made it to Coney Island, we offloaded at the West 28th Street ramp to the boardwalk at Coney Island, this is the place where my parents met and got to know each other while they were working at CYO.

 

Lunch had to be at Nathan’s!  Tito somehow parked right in front of the restaurant.

 

My parents were full of stories about taking their summer camp charges to the pool and to the beach. Stories of their own adventures on the Cyclone, which turned 90 years old the day after we visited.  You could almost see the memories in their eyes as they took in the sights and sounds around them that day.

 

From Coney Island, we traveled to the neighborhood that I remember, Park Slope.  This is the area where my mother grew up in the big limestone on 4th Street, my father lived in an apartment on 9th street with his family, and I grew up in a brownstone down the street from my maternal grandmother.

 

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Liz knocking on the door on 4th Street

Tito, our driver, was able to park the van across the street from the house I grew up in on 4th street.  My youngest sister jumped out of the van and up the stoop to the front door of the brownstone.  Ringing the bell brought the current owner to the door.  I have no idea what she must have thought when she saw the group gathering on the sidewalk.  Liz asked for permission to take a group photo on the stoop.  Isabel surprised us all by inviting us in for a quick look at the house. Amazingly, for the second time today, we were entering into a house that was important to our family, welcomed by people who did not know us but were quick to offer a kind invitation to revisit memories.

 

We finally did get the photo on the stoop as we departed for our last official stop.

 

Tito dropped us at our final tour stop, St. Saviour Church on 8th Avenue. My parents were married here in June 1957.  This is the parish to which both sides of my family belonged in the 1960’s and early 1970’s.  It is the parish where my mother went to high school and where I went to elementary school.  My father and older brother sang in the choir here.  At the end of my choir audition when I was a child, the choir master looked at me and announced that they were also looking for altar boys. He pointed me to the front of the church.  This was the center of parochial life for the family.

 

We arrived at the church in time for five o’clock mass, which we had arranged to be said for my parents.  My parents seemed to be deeply moved by the service.  It had been over 40 years since the last time we sat as a family in this church.

Once mass was concluded, and my parents had spoken with the priest on the steps of the church, we made our way to the Stone Park Cafe for dinner.  Seated at a large round table at the front of the restaurant, we enjoyed a meal while talking about our adventure that day and sharing stories.  We could not believe how lucky were to have Bob and Carrol invite us into their house on Dean Street and Isabel welcome us into the brownstone that was our home on 4th Street.  Mom and Dad were ready to call it quits after dinner, so we made our way back to the hotel.  Once we bid them goodnight, the “children” headed for a nearby tequila bar.

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Around midnight, June 24, 2017

After a few drinks, someone came up with the idea to walk up onto the Brooklyn Bridge to check out the skyline.  We had been game for anything all day, so why not?  We ended up on the Brooklyn tower at midnight, taking in the sights of the New York skyline.

While looking at lower Manhattan, I had to wonder how many more times we would be together.  Was this the last time we would be in Brooklyn as a group?  Given how widely scattered we are from Massachusetts to southern Virginia I am afraid I know the answer to that question.  As we packed up the cars on Sunday morning, my brother handed off two big boxes of old photos and slides from my father for me to sort, scan and catalog.  I am sure that will keep me busy through the summer.  After saying our goodbyes, I started my trek south to Virginia.  While the family had moved out of the city years ago, I could not help but think at this moment we had left Brooklyn for good.

 

It was a fantastic day for my parents and my siblings.   It was a celebration of Regina Kelly and Jerry Baumann on the occasion of their 60th wedding anniversary.  It was a day I will not soon forget.

I want to thank my sister, Liz, for coming up with this idea and bringing my parents down from coastal Massachusetts.  My brother James for arranging the tour and the guide. My sister, Cathy, for finding a fantastic restaurant. My sister, Eileen, for finding parking in Park Slope and staging a car to get my parents back to the hotel after dinner.  I also want to thank Bob, the oldest of the siblings, for capturing the day with his camera and his encyclopedic knowledge of 1960 beer jingles.

For Bob and Carol on Dean Street and Isabel on 4th Street, your own kind invitations to come into your homes was astounding and much appreciated.  I think I speak for all of us in saying that going into the houses again was the biggest thrill of the day. From me,  from my family, thank you so very much!

Thanks to Jeff, our guide, and Tito, our driver, from Brooklyn Unplugged for an incredible afternoon!

 

 

Addressing My Past

If you know anything about me, you will know I like to research and discover things about my ancestors.  I do because, until a few years ago, I did not know all that much about them.  Either side of the family was pretty much a mystery except for the O’Connells. For me, the O’Connells were my maternal grandmother, Regina, and her brothers Edward and James.  Edward was her twin and James was my godfather.

I have spent a lot of time looking through sites like Ancestry.com, FindaGrave.com, and Newspapers.com  for names and dates of family events. I have also researched the family homes in Brooklyn. This week I plugged in an address to see what would turn up. The house at 164 Dean Street is in the Boerum Hill section of Brooklyn.  During my lifetime it was “Uncle Ed’s house.”

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164 Dean Street, circa 1940, NYC Municipal Archives

It came into my family in March 1907 with the deed going to John Boyle (my third great-grandfather).  With the death of John Boyle, it passed into the hands of the O’Connell family, specifically my great-grandfather, Edward F. O’Connell.  It passed to my Great Uncle, Edward A. O’Connell in 1941 and James O’Connell was added to the deed soon after.

It was common for multiple family units in the Irish immigrant community to fill these venerable old Brownstones. From 1907 through the late 1980’s, 164 Dean Street was the home of many of the Irish names that run in my family; Boyle, Cooke, Mahoney, and O’Connell.

I went into Newspapers.com and found The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, the daily paper for Brooklyn for 114 years from 1841 to 1955.  What I found was a little bit of a revelation.  I caught some of my ancestors living their daily lives.  The first thing to catch my eye with the Dean Street address was a letter written by my, then 10-year-old, grandmother to the children’s page published in May 1917 seeking admission to the Humane Club.  It seems to have been a column written by someone who went by “Aunt Jean.”

The newspaper did a lot of society reporting, and it actually reported on parties on Dean Street.  Mary Boyle Cooke (my second great-grandmother) celebrated her 81st birthday:

Mrs Anthony Cooke Birthday

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle Sun, Nov 14, 1937 – Page 18

There were parties for my cousin William “Billy” J. Mahoney, Jr. (1st cousin, 2 X removed)  The first was his 21 birthday party, the second announced his return home on furlough from the army.

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle Sun, Dec 14, 1941 – Page 20

With all those “Misses” invited, I think his mother, my second great-aunt “Gertie,” may have been trying to marry Billy off in 1941.

Billy would, like so many young men during that time, join the Army.  He went to boot camp at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.  Either during a break in training or before heading over to the European theater he came home on a furlough, and his mother threw him another party.

Billy Mahoney home on furlough

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Thu, Jun 10, 1943 – Page 4

I think the second event was a lot more bittersweet than the 21st birthday celebration.  Billy would go on to fight in Europe where he was wounded in action.  He came home to Dean Street and took care of his mother.  He never did marry.

My great Uncle Ed (Edward A. O’Connell) was an interesting character.  He was a banker,  a talented artist and a bit of an amateur historian of the Fire Department in New York City.  In his study on the third floor of the brownstone on Dean Street he had painted a borough map of Brooklyn with the locations of all the fire houses, call boxes and graphics of some of the equipment.  I don’t know if any photographs of the wall were ever taken.  If there are any out there, I would love a copy.  On 24 October 1948, his work appeared in the Old Timers section of the paper.  Both the graphic and the write-up were his work.

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Text FDNY

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 24 October 1948, page 24

I was originally looking for information on births and deaths. I found the life in between.

Revelation

60 Years

My parents, Regina and Jerry Baumann were married on June 3,  1957. Today is their 60th wedding anniversary. They were married when he was 23, just 2 months shy of his 24th birthday, and she was just 2 months past her 19th.

Mom and Dad wedding

Monday is an odd day for a church wedding, and yet there they were at St. Saviour Church on 8th Avenue in Brooklyn, New York.  The bride was the daughter of a New York City Fireman. The groom, a young Naval Aviator, was the son of a Brooklyn, shipyard welder.  They were the products of a strong, working class, Irish Catholic upbringing in a world that had recently survived the Great Depression and World War II.  They were of the generation coming of age during the innocence of the 1950’s in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn.

The bride’s parents had great hopes for their eldest daughter, and her choice for a life partner at this age was not immediately embraced by her parents.  They finally relented and gave their blessing.   I guess if my father could land a jet on the rolling deck of an aircraft carrier at sea, he must have shown some potential.  With the blessings of both families, wedding plans were expedited, and they arrived at the church on that Monday to say their vows and start their journey together.

Mom and Dad 3 June 1957

Vows at St. Saviour Church in Brooklyn

The marriage was officiated by Rev. William Scrill, a friend of the bride and groom from their days as CYO counselors at Coney Island. Rosemary McNulty, my mother’s best friend, was the maid of honor. Don Hayes stood up for my Dad. Donald Harper, one of my Dad’s Navy buddies, made a last-minute appearance.

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L to R: Don Hayes, Regina “Kelly” Baumann, Jerry Baumann, Rosemary McNulty and Don Harper

I tend to study old family photos. The one above is my favorite for a few reasons.  First of all, my mother is positively beaming.  My mother has never been comfortable with her appearance. In fact, she has always downplayed her looks. She is, unquestionably,  an American Beauty.  (Anyone who says otherwise is itching for a fight.)  My Aunt Ann, my mother’s sister, is just barely visible photo bombing over Don Harper’s shoulder.  The other story in this photo concerns the two people on the right of the group shot.  Ensign Don Harper met Rosemary McNulty for the first time on May 26, 1957, just 8 days before this photo was taken.  Introduced by the same couple that they are flanking in the photo.  Take a close look and notice that her left arm goes back to Ensign Harper’s side.  If I were a betting man, I would say that they are holding hands.  The smile on her face reveals a great deal.  Sixty years later, Don and Rosemary are still holding hands in South Carolina.

I am not going to give you some fantastic story of my parent’s perfect life together.  There are no fairy tales.  Marriage is work.  Mom and Dad had more than their share of trouble, heartache, triumph, and adventure.    Their union has produced six children, three sons, and three daughters.  All are college graduates, all have families of their own.  There are 13 grandchildren including adopted and step-grandchildren.

Through their lives together they have battled alcoholism, cancer, periods of unemployment and significant financial challenges. They sometimes battled each other.  During some very dark years, my mother held the family together by sheer force of will.   But, they came back to embrace sobriety, beat cancer, succeed in business and travel the world together.  Today they are battling my mother’s diagnosis with Alzheimer’s Disease.  They are still together, honoring the vows they shared sixty years ago today.

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I want to congratulate my parents, Regina and Jerry, on reaching this milestone together. I wish for their continued love and happiness no matter what challenges lie ahead.  Whatever comes, I know you will get through it together.  I love you both!

 

 

 

 

 

A man with an umbrella is king in a downpour

May in the low country of South Carolina is subject to rapid changes in weather.  On this particular Saturday, I was attending the morning Commencement Ceremonies at the College of Charleston.  With scattered heavy showers in the morning, the event was moved inside to protect student, faculty, family, and friends from the potential of severe weather.  After the event, we were off to the condo on Kiawah Island for lunch and gifts for the graduate, the daughter of my dear friend.

After lunch, I was heading to the elevator with a full trash bag and my umbrella.  As the door opened to the elevator, a gentleman and two women were already aboard heading down.  They were impeccably dressed.  The gentleman was admiring my big, ratty umbrella. He jokingly offered to buy it from me.   I let him know the trash bag was negotiable, but the umbrella was going to stay with me.  I would, however, be happy to walk everyone in his party to their vehicle under cover of my ancient canopy.  He smiled and thanked me and said they were going to wait for a shuttle to take them to the location of a late afternoon wedding nearby.  I hopped off the elevator to head to the dumpster to relieve myself of the trash bag.  When I came back to the front of the building, there were about a dozen people standing under cover in semi-formal attire.

Their shuttle arrived in front of the building.  I started ferrying people down the steps and around the ponding water on the sidewalk that led to the shuttle.  I started with an elderly woman with a great sense of humor and her daughter. She asked me for my name and thanked me for assisting her.  I then followed with some of the other women in the party and a final walk through the downpour with two younger men.

I was soaked by the time I was done, and the shuttle pulled away to the wedding.   I thought it was pretty funny that these folks, none of whom I had met before, were so appreciative of the simple kind gesture of providing cover to keep them dry so they would be comfortable at the ceremony about to take place.  It cost me nothing but damp clothes to keep them mostly dry.

A casualty of all the divisiveness and tension in the country over the past year is civility.  My parents and my grandmother taught me manners as a child in the 1960’s. In today’s world, I think we would all be better off if we offered a kindness to someone who could really use it.  I know that ferrying people under my bumpershoot will not end the unpleasantness that is running rampant.  It is not going to solve climate change or bring world peace.  But maybe it will improve someone’s day or experience, and perhaps that spirit of kindness will manifest itself in a kind act paid forward by one of the passengers under my umbrella.

It can’t hurt.

Final

Fearless

She is fearless.

For Christmas this past year She arranged for us to get a glass working lesson for two at the Drayton Glassworks in Savannah.  We synched up our schedules and made arrangements for a Saturday afternoon in March to spend a couple of hours learning about the art/trade of glass.

Ronald was our instructor.  He was wrapping up a lesson with a couple when we arrived.  After introductions, some basic shop safety rules and an explanation of the equipment in the glass works we got right to it.  Ronald’s ease with a combination of molten glass and new students was both impressive and unnerving.  He took us through the basics of handling glass on pipes and how to start shaping and adding layers and colors.  The goal for today was a paperweight for each of us.  I went first, and I can tell you that I was playing defense all the way from the glass coming out of the crucible until my finished product went into the kiln.  Then it was her turn.

She jumped right in.  This should not have surprised me.  When it comes to a new challenge, a new way to express herself artistically, She is all in.  The way She takes to new things is nothing short of amazing.  While I was over thinking everything and acutely aware of the heat of the glass we were winging around the studio, my partner in crime was examining colors, exploring shapes and working on putting the vision in her head into the molten glass. Her hands were gracefully twirling and manipulating the glowing glass on the end of the pipe with an ease and cadence that defied any notion that She had never done this before.

Ronald guided her through the steps and offered assistance when She needed it.  I watched her face as She concentrated on her work.  It was the same determined look I remember from high school.  Head slightly tilted, her lower lip gently held between her teeth.   When Ronald would take the pipe from her to heat the glass or add another layer over her work, She would look at me and just beam this incredible smile.   This was not a competition between us.  Which is a good thing, because She owned everything about this experience.  When her smile starts in her eyes and washes over her face, I know that She loves not only what She is doing, but that we were doing it together.  I am utterly bewitched by the sparkle in her eyes when I see her so happy and determined.

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As She was wrapping up the paperweight and preparing it for the kiln, I could see She was hooked and would want to come back and do another lesson.  As the project twirled and rolled in front of her I could tell She was wishing that our two-hour lesson was not ending.  Her project was ready to be separated from the pipe and placed in the kiln.  A few more rotations and some gentle scoring would enable a few taps to free the hot globe for a 24-hour rest in the kiln.

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On the Monday after our lesson, She went to the studio to pick up the paperweights.  Ronald left three for us.  In addition to our projects, he left the one he made as a demonstration during our lesson.

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I had already returned to Virginia, so She sent a photo.  She also posted it on Facebook,  with a little tease:

The results of Saturday’s glass working adventure at Drayton Glassworks–one by Michael, one by me and one by the instructor! I will let you all figure out who did which!!

To be honest, I could not tell which was which.  In fact, I had to confess that I was not even sure we had done these.  Ronald had a few classes that day, and I am not sure that he noted who did which project when he placed them in the kiln. She is not sure, herself.  Does it matter?  Not really.  The glass paperweights are a prompt to a great memory of a day spent together opening the aperture of our shared experiences.  They remind me of her determination and her grace in realizing her artistic vision and learning something outside of her comfort zone. The memory of that smile reminds me that, in those stolen moments when I am the only one who sees that big grin and slight shoulder shrug, I fall a little more into her gravity.

NCAA Bracketology and Cheese Theory

Cheese ballI know less than nothing about basketball.  I attended a Division III School where athletes were not on scholarship and played for the love of the game (and, I assume, some generous financial aid packages).  While I attended basketball games in college, they were more of a social activity for me on nights when the games did not interfere with my job waiting tables.  I never really played basketball, my skills were lacking.  It does not hold a lot of interest for me.  Until March.

Each year in my office there is a mad scramble to fill out brackets and predict who will emerge after 63 games (I am only counting from the first round, not the last-minute playoffs to decide who will squeak into the tournament to face a number 1 seed).   Each year I attempt to fill out my bracket and try not to get eliminated from contention in the first round of 32 games.  In 2016, I went out on the first Friday of the tournament.  Generally, I am 2 or 3 standard deviations below the mean when picking collegiate hoops squads.  In a word,  I suck at it.

While everyone was pouring over stats, triple doubles, division standings, the difficulty of schedules, injury reports and seeds in the 4 regions of the NCAA Division I Tournament,   I was trying to sort out the alphabet soup of conferences and major schools that I recognized from prior years.  Trying to be smart about this was not going to work for me.  I am basketball illiterate. I had to do something different this year.

I decided on a departure from my normal approach.  Since my ability to pick a team in the tournament was as dismal as my ability to actually coax a basketball into a hoop, I went with Cheese Theory.   They call it March Madness for a reason.

It is obviously my own invention.  In a nut shell, “Cheese Theory” is nothing more than selecting a team that fits on a sliding scale.  The first and highest priority goes to schools that sound like they could be a type of cheese.  Thus Gonzaga is my pick to win it all.  Second, pick schools from states where there is a thriving cheese industry.  Wisconsin, Vermont, New York.  Wait, no teams from New York this year?  Bummer!   Believe it or not, there is a thriving goat cheese industry in states like Oregon, North Carolina, Kentucky and Washington State.  I am embarrassed to say that I did not know Gonzaga was located in Spokane, Washington until after I picked them to win it all.

You may be laughing at me by now.  I am sure if you went to Villanova you are not happy about bowing out to Wisconsin (cheese producer) or Kansas going out courtesy of Oregon (goat cheese producer).  Gonzaga, that definitely sounds like a type of cheese to me. (Would you like some Gonzaga on your pasta?)  North Carolina and Kentucky, both cheese producing states, battled it out Sunday with UNC ending up on top.

It is all fun and games until someone in the office (with a Duke University sweatshirt for every day of the work week) realized that with the Kentucky loss everyone in my office bracket challenge were statistically eliminated from contention, brackets busted.  Everyone, except for one.  Going into the Final Four, I am the cheese that stands alone.  I am far from a perfect in my bracket, but I am clipping along with a 72% win rate. This from a guy who has never made it beyond the sweet sixteen.  My main pick is still in the running to take the championship home to Washington State.

Because there is no betting permitted in the office, (gambling is against the law, you know…) the person with the lowest point total for the tournament has to buy lunch for the winner.  At this point, no one can accumulate enough points in the bracket to overtake me. Remember the guy with the Duke emblematic wardrobe?  He will be buying me lunch at Subway whether the Zags win it or not.  I wonder what kind of cheese I should have on my sandwich?

All in all, it has been a gouda run!  GO ZAGS!

What I Found in a Photo

While enrolled in a basic genealogy online course through Boston University I discovered that you can tell a great deal about the lives of people from looking at old photos and analyzing the objects around them.  Nothing is meaningless. To test my research skills I decided to work with a favorite photograph of my maternal grandfather, at the time a young FDNY Lieutenant.   LT Bernard Kelly FDNY

My homework assignment to myself was to find out about the truck and the firehouse.  With only visual clues, architecture of the building and a partial side view of the truck, with the engine company number on driver’s door obscured and an “AF” manufacturer’s emblem on the hood, this is what I found (I did not go to my mother or her siblings for any information that would speed the process):

The FDNY Engine Company in the photo is Engine Company 256 housed in the firehouse at 124 Dekalb Avenue, Brooklyn, New York.  That was a simple matter of researching the ladder companies that drove the Aherns Fox Pumpers in the FDNY.  This was not a common engine.  Once I knew the houses to which these engines were assigned, I searched for photos of the firehouses and matched the architecture cues to identify the house.

Once that was done, it was a fast look through the FDNY equipment listings for Ahrens-Fox fire engines and everything fell into place.  The truck in the photo is a 1938 Ahrens Fox Model HT-1000 GPM Pumper and Hose Car.  Its Ahrens Fox registration number is  AF #3442. That is a match to FDNY Engine 256.  It left the factory on May 18, 1938: Shipped by Ben E. Graf via B&O and Erie railroads to New York, NY on June 25, 1938.

The engine remained in the FDNY inventory until the early 1960’s when it was sold to Paragon-Texaco Oil Co.  It was one of the last remaining in the FDNY inventory.

You can learn a great deal from an old photo!  Now I need to go to the FDNY and see if I can name the firefighters in the photo.

If you are interested in the specifications on the truck, as delivered, here they are:

Model HT 1000-GPM piston pumper and hose car with a two-door enclosed cab. 27’ long, weight 18,300 pounds, frame by Parish Pressed Steel Co. Reading, PA. Brown-Lipe 4-speed transmission #T-297496. 50-gallon copper fuel tank under the seat. Timken HX7 front and HX19 worm-drive rear axle, 5.4 to 1 ratio. 4-wheel hydraulic brakes, 16” hand brake. Budd disk wheels, Goodyear 11.25” x 20” 14-ply balloon tires, single front and rear, spare tire on left running board. Ross 760/770204 steering with horn button. Radiator # 539659 with Brewer-Titchener dash-controlled radiator shutters. Painted NY red lacquer. Hosebed with a slatted floor and adjustable rear windshield with 6 Waugh or Lyons hand straps, loop size to fit man’s full sleeve in turnout coat. Compartments including a waterproof box for 1/4 fold 9’ Atlas life net. Approved wire mesh basket 6” deep x 24” wide at the top front of the hose bed. Suction basket holder on tail step.Hercules HXE motor #321758, 53/4″ bore x 6″ stroke, 200 brake horsepower, high-compression aluminum heads, 935 cubic inch, compression ratio 5.44 to 1. Triple ignition (18 spark plugs), Bosch ZR6 two-spark magneto, Exide 6X6K-25-3-R battery on right running board, Auto-Lite MR-4108 starter with an IGC-4064 distributor, Delco-Remy 1106629 generator with 5821 regulator. 2” Zenith updraft carburetor with Air-Maze air cleaner and flame arrester.  Ahrens-Fox 6-cylinder high-pressure piston pump, rated 1000 gpm @ 160 psi, 500 @ 320, 400 @ 400, 250 @ 600, at maximum 14’ lift and engine speed of 1600 rpm or less. 3” discharge gates. Engine-to-pump gear ratio 14-62 (4.4286 to 1). Pump pistons 31/4” x 6” minor (2.1417 GPR), 41/4” x 6” major (1.2238 GPR). Ross relief valve.12-volt starting, lighting, Sireno type 51 siren on vacuum chamber, 10” chrome-plated Corcoran-Brown 2205 swiveling searchlight at the right of cab atop 12” locomotive bell. Tachometer, revolution counter, speedometer, 1000,000-mile odometer, temperature gauge, fuel gauge, oil-level gauge, ammeter, oil-pressure gauge, and viscometer on the dash. Two 10” chrome-plate Corcoran-Brown 29233 headlights. Two 6” red cowl lights, Guide model 361H. Two red and white chrome-plated Guide 280R tail lights. Two 4” chrome-plated rear hose pickup lights. 6 chrome-plated lights under the hood, with independent switches. Red Mars light atop the center of cab. 2 chrome-plated Dietz King tubular lanterns on sides of body. Homelite model R gasoline-engine driven generator with pilot light and 3 extra outlets. Two 500-watt Crouse-Hinds floodlights, one 250-watt Crouse-Hinds spotlights, with bulbs. Three 100’ lengths of #16 two-conductor mine cable. 3 sets twist-lock connectors.Hiland enclosed cab, V windshield, safety glass, metal floor boards, leather upholstery, 2 rear-view mirrors, 2 Bosch QW12/1 semaphore signals with red lights, warning light atop cab, 2 adjustable sun visors, 2 Bosch NY1851 electric windshield wipers, 2 electric defrosters, bell on right of cowl. F.D.N.Y. in 4” block letters on cab doors.Morse 2000-gpm turret pipe atop cab roof, with 3” and 31/2” connections under each side of hose bed. Two 12’ scaling ladders. One each Elkhart 21/2 gallon soda-and-acid and Foamcrest 21/2 gallon foam fire extinguishers. 6-foot hook. 8-pound flat head axe. McElligott double-female Elkhart clapper valve with 300-pound pressure gauge and ground support. Crow bar. Two 41/2” suction spanner wrenches.1 Zerk high-pressure grease gun. Set of wrenches. 10-ton hydraulic jack. 8-ounce canvas hood cover, and 8-ounce canvas hose bed cover, with securing straps and strap eyes. Weed skid chains for driving wheels.