Whamageddon

Author’s disclaimer: There is no link or blog trick that will play the song “Last Christmas” by Wham anywhere in this post.  I give you my word that, if you are still in the game, you are not taking a risk of being Whammed by reading this post.  I swear on my reproduction first edition of A Christmas Carol, so help me Dickens!

It all began when we saw Christmas appearing everywhere on November 1st.  The remnants of Halloween candy wrappers still played in the breeze on Musket Court when the sounds of Christmas music began to assault our ears.  It was more than I could deal with.  We were not even through the Thanksgiving holiday and Christmas was pushing in the door.

WHAMMy sons take part in an annual game that is lovingly referred to as “Whamageddon“.  It is an international sensation with a huge following.   (It must be legit if it has its own website and a Facebook page!) I am convinced this is an international attempt to hold off Christmas until mid-December, where it belongs. The concept is simple.  You do whatever you have to in order to avoid hearing the song, “Last Christmas” by Wham. That is not an easy thing to do if you are paying attention. The contest runs from 1- 24 December. Once you recognize the music as the original version by Wham, you are out.  You have gone to Whamhalla. You self report and you are done.  It is just a matter of time before those who you love join you.  Covers of the song don’t count!  It has to be the original, by Wham (George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley).

I was all in on November 30th as I boarded a flight to Savannah.  My first year in the competition and I was ready to go, my Wham senses on full alert.  On December 1st, the first day of the competition, Jeanne wanted to go get wreaths for her house and pick up her decorations from her storage unit.  We set out down the Harry S Truman Parkway with her “to do” list.  At the first Christmas Tree tent by the Home Depot, she ran into a friend and they started chatting.  I was lost in my thoughts and mindlessly humming the barely audible Christmas tune playing above the din of holiday shopping, tree selecting and parking space jousting nearby when, on the second verse, it hit me.

Once bitten and twice shy
I keep my distance
But you still catch my eye
Tell me, baby
Do you recognize me?

Yeah, I recognize you… Damn it! At just before 11 a.m., Eastern Standard Time in Savannah Georgia, I had been Whammed.  Done, out, game over.  I had made it barely eleven hours into the competition.  Jeanne apologized for putting me in Wham’s way with a sly grin on her face.  It was over almost before it started.  I texted the boys with the bad news.   I returned to Virginia a few days later knowing that I could listen to any station on my satellite radio without fear of a Wham induced incidence of road rage.

Alex, who initially thought he was eliminated over Thanksgiving weekend, actually was Whammed by Pearl Harbor Day when some Zeros from the 1980s took him out.  Within my Whamily (I stole that from Nancy) my sons Matt and Scott, Nancy (Matt’s wife) and my ex were still in it to win it.

Scott was powering through the home stretch of exams and papers for his final semester at Old Dominion University.  Because of this I was delaying decorating the house and getting a tree. Setting off the Christmas bomb, as we call it in our house.  With his last paper submitted and his final exams in the books on Friday, 14 December we decided to go get a tree.  Alex, Scott and I piled into my Cherokee to head out into a light mist to find a tree.  As I started the car, Scott immediately questioned my choice of Sirius stations.  It was on a contemporary Christmas Channel.  He glared at me and uttered one word, “REALLY?!” I pressed the button on the steering wheel and landed on the “’80s on 8”.  Another incredulous glare.   “And what song was released in 1986?” is all he had to say. (He knew the year of release, I’m impressed) OK, we may be just a little hardcore about this year’s competition.  Pressing the button on the wheel again to go to “’70s on 7”,  Wham does not exist in that universe. Unfortunately, Disco does. We were able to get in and out of the tree lot on South Battlefield Boulevard without having George Michael as the ghost of Christmas Past appear before us.

Let me say right here that to intentionally play “Last Christmas” (Whamming)  to take out a player or players is considered bad form.  Is it allowed? Yes.  Is it a dick move? Absolutely!  If you can no longer take the pressure of the game (I don’t understand the stress, I was collateral damage at a tree farm stand in Georgia barely into day one), you should commit Whamicide quietly, preferably on sound canceling headphones in the privacy of your own home.  No need to make a big spectacle of it.

On Saturday, December 15th, Scott graduated from ODU, Magna Cum Laude (Yeah, I did that, I just bragged about my son destroying my undergraduate GPA.  I am sorry, not sorry.)   The plan was to have a big family dinner, including my ex, on Sunday evening at The Butcher’s Son in Chesapeake to celebrate my son’s accomplishment.

Around the large round table, clockwise to my left were Scott, Melissa, Nancy, Matt, and Alex.  Somewhere in the lively conversation, between the french dip spring rolls and the main course, I polled those present as to their status in Whamaggedon.  Four hands went up indicated that they were still very much in the mix.  Everyone except for Alex and myself.  The conversation drifted back to Melissa’s new digs, and Matt & Nancy’s planned NYC run on the infamous Chinatown Bus later this week to see the Harry Potter exhibit at a museum in New York.  Under the sultry gaze of the over-sized portrait of Hedy Lamarr on the wall by the bar, we were having a grand old time.  Scott was enjoying himself, which made me a happy papa.

Dinner was served and by the time the plates were cleared, I was ready to declare this a  successful evening.   The waiter pressed once again about dessert and coffee.  Scott was wavering on cheesecake.  Melissa and Nancy were discussing teaming up on a creme brulee. It was settled.  A slice of cheesecake appeared before Scott with “Congratulations” written across the plate in a raspberry reduction.  The girls had their spoons at the ready for the assault on the confection before them.

It was the sudden movement that caught my attention.  Nancy straightened in her chair, shoulders back, eyes widening.  She looked at me, something was amiss.  I scanned the dining room, nothing out of place.  Hedy’s portrait still kept vigil.  Then it hit me, they had changed the music. What was that drifting over the din of diners at nearby tables? Nancy had joined me in Whamhalla.  This was too much fun!  I was about to witness a group whamming.

It doesn’t surprise me
(Merry Christmas!) I wrapped it up and sent it
With a note saying, “I love you, ” I meant it

Matt had it next. As he realized what he was listening to, his eyes grew wide, an expletive may have passed his lips.  That triggered Scott, dropping his fork.  Finally, Melissa realized that they had been taken out in one Whamtastic swipe of The Butcher’s Son sound system.  Groans, and complaints from all at the realization that all had found Whamhalla.  Except, apparently, from me.  According to a post on Facebook from Nancy, I had a good, heartfelt laugh as the realization washed over the table.   Matt and Alex confirmed that I was not shy about showing my enjoyment.  To be fair, Alex thought it was pretty funny.

I owned it and the check for the evening. It was great fun while it lasted.  A silver lining, as pointed out by the fair Nancy, there is no more stress from listening to Christmas Stations on the radio, walking into Harris Teeter, MacArthur Center or a random 7-Eleven.  If you hear the staccato electric organ lead-in or if you stumble on the YouTube channel you can rest assured that you are already impervious to Wham.

Now that this is all over I can settle down to watch a nice family Christmas movie.  Any takers for Die Hard?

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OK, in my youth I was weak for Kathy Hill, the girl in the video. Sue me!

Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

I am getting back to work here

I have not posted on the blog since last summer.  In the interim I have been working on my other blog.  If you know about that blog, you know about it. If you don’t,  let’s just say I do not want to cross contaminate between the two blogs.  This is the lighter of the blogs, where I am going to put out family histories or stories that I want to tell.  You can contact me if you want to know about the “dark” blog.  But for now I am going to tell you what I am going to focus on projects here for a while.  I am doing this not only to give you an idea of the things I uncovering or rediscovering, I am also doing it to put myself on the hook to complete the unfinished posts in my queue.

Grow Old

Photo from promo materials from the film “They Shall Not Grow Old” by Peter Jackson

Last night, Matt (the eldest of the “sons”) and I attended a screening of the film “They Shall Not Grow Old”.  One Hundred years have passed since the end of the Great War (World War I).  This film is about the ordinary British/Commonwealth Soldier along the Western Front from 1914-1918.  This was not meant to be a discussion of significant battles or a rehashing of the geopolitical implosion of Europe in the wake of the assassination of Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, Hapsburg heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, in 1914.  This is a story, told through the film archive of the Imperial War Museum in London,  using over 100 hours of film shot along the Western Front from 1914 -1918 and over 600 hours of audio files of Veterans of the Great War telling their stories.  It was not a Ken Burns style documentary, but it was a powerful piece of film making.  I know this is not everyone’s “cup of tea”.  But I was all in.  Thanks to Matt for inviting me to attend one of the screenings here in Norfolk, Virginia with him.

 

At the end of the film, after the credits had run, Peter Jackson discussed the techniques used to restore and make the film more natural to watch.  It was really fascinating.  One of the things he said resonated with me.  He pointed out that as the generations pass these stories are lost.  He encouraged people to preserve those family connections to history.   I am going to do just that.  I have been researching the service of my great-grandfather, Ensign Sidney J Kelly, USN and two of his sons during the war.  His youngest son, my grandfather, was too young to serve in the war.  I have Sidney Kelly’s service record from the National Archives and information on his sons through unit histories that I will share.

I am also working on Bernard Kelly (my maternal grandfather, Sidney’s youngest son),specifically his service with the Fire Department in New York.  I recently acquired a copy of his service record and I am working with sources in New York to get more information on his house assignments throughout his career.  I have completed his chronological list of assignments from 1928 through 1960. I am trying to fill in details.

Finally, I am working on a post about the Baumanns of Red Hook in Brooklyn. I have always been curious about my father’s family so that is a labor of love and curiousity.  Along with all this family history,  I may throw in some funny stories and adventures to Savannah into the mix.

I think I have given myself enough of a homework assignment for the moment.    Stay tuned…

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!

 

 

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 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!

 

 

 

 

 

The Perils of Disproving Family Legends

I am knee-deep in genealogy paperwork this weekend.  A package from the National Archives containing the military records of my great-grandfather, Sidney J. Kelly, Sr. spilled over 100 photocopied pages across my table that probably have not been disturbed since the 1920’s at a time when his widow was seeking assistance with pensions and death benefits.  I spent most of Saturday pouring over the documents and creating a transcript of the many handwritten logs contained within.

The danger in the research I have been doing for the past few years comes in when I discover that a family legend is not really true.  We all have them, celebrated skeletons in the closet.  They could also be whispered secrets through the generations or notes in the margins of family histories left to us from those who came before us. The names Baumann, Boyle, Cooke, Flood, Gaynor, Kelly, and O’Connell get tangled in the vines on my family tree.  greetings-from-gowanus-a

Did John Boyle, Jr. drown in the Gowanus Canal in 1875? (If you are not from Brooklyn, you could not possibly understand just how horrible it would be to drown in that body of “water”.) In World War I, was PVT Thomas Kelly of Company “G”, 106th Infantry Regiment gassed by the Germans on the battlefields of Belgium?  Was Michael H. Baumann guilty of manslaughter in the 1910s?  Was his victim, a man with the last name of O’Connell from Brooklyn,  another relative on the other side of my family tree?  It reads like a Penny Dreadful.

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Sidney and Emily Kelly, circa 1918 Courtesy of Norman McDonald

What do I know now that I did not know last Thursday?  I know that Provisional Ensign Sidney J.Kelly, USNRF, died of disease in March of 1919 while on home leave due to illness.  His medical discharge, signed by Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels days after his death, had to be revoked so that benefit and pension issues could be dealt with by his widow, Emily.  I also have found that Ens Kelly’s son, Private Thomas M. Kelly, served with the 106th Infantry Regiment in the European theater and most likely did see combat in the 2nd Battle of the Somme in March and April of 1918 fighting alongside the British Third Army.  He returned to the United States in 1919 and was discharged when the 106th was demobilized in June 1919.  His name does not appear on the casualty lists from the battle.  I am still looking into his unit history and am waiting for the National Archives to provide his records.  The story of him being gassed is still unproven.

Whatever I uncover, I think it is best to stick to what I can prove through research and documentation.  The truth will find a way to come out.   Some the legends may continue as legend, others may not stand up to scrutiny.  For now, I will go where the records and,  hopefully, the truth take me.

 

Transcript

Looking Forward, 2017

It is once again New Year’s Eve.  I am ending this year in the same place I began it, along the Herb River in Savannah. It is really the place I want to be because She is here.  That is more than enough to make me happy.

We all have rituals that go along with the new year.  Some are very traditional from watching the “Ball” drop on New Year’s Eve, a kiss with just the right someone at the stroke of midnight, or a champagne toast.   In my family, we await a special photo that comes out each year just after midnight on 1 January.  I do not know how or when it started but my brother, no matter where he is or what significant challenge he and his family are facing, will disappear just after 11:30 and reappear in formal attire for the arrival of the new year. Even if everyone else in the house has conked out or a raging snowstorm is going on at his New York home, James will get decked out and take a photo.  Sometimes it is a selfie, sometimes he has co-conspirators.   Every year we all wait for the photo to pop into our email/phones.

I know it is silly, but it is a tradition that I look forward to every year. It makes me hopeful that no matter what comes in the new year, we were stylishly attired at the start!

Hopeful
via Daily Prompt: Hopeful

An old photo and a 49 year memory shared

I am startled that I do not remember some significant moments in my family history from my childhood.  A Facebook post by my father yesterday jarred my thought process and brought me here.

One of my early posts in this blogging experiment had to do with a treasure trove of slides sent to me from my father in Massachusetts. I spent weeks going through more than 1,000 slides and discovering faces and memories that have been long out of my mind. Among them were photos of my paternal grandmother dating from the 1940’s through the 1960’s.  One in particular struck me.  The occasion was my Father’s commissioning as an Ensign in the United States Navy at Newport, Rhode Island. Alice’s only child was starting out on a new life.  Her pride in his accomplishments was evident on her face.

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Alice Baumann and her son, Jerry, on the occasion of his Commissioning at Naval Station Newport, RI.

I scanned hundreds of slides into my hard drive with the intention of populating a family website full of generations of photos, stories and vital records.  As I scanned, I sent some photos along to my parents and siblings.  The photo of my Dad with his mother on that day was one of the first to be passed along.

My paternal grandmother  died a few weeks before my 7th birthday, 49 years ago this week.  Sadly, she has faded from my memory.   I don’t remember that week or the grief that my father must have felt at the sudden loss of his mother.  Compounding that grief was the fact that only a week before his uncle, the brother of his mother, had passed away suddenly as well.  I cannot, for a moment, imagine the incredible loss that he must have suffered.

In my efforts to scan photos and slides and collect stories, I had forgotten that these long hidden glimpses into a past that is unfamiliar to me, would stir so much emotion in my Father’s ancient, kind heart.  His Facebook post was simple and to the point:

My Mom’s anniversary! She died suddenly in 1967! She didn’t have an easy life but she was always supportive of me !

I am very lucky.  As my 56th birthday approaches in November, I can say that I still have both my parents.  Most of my friends cannot say the same.  I saw them a few weeks ago at a family reunion of my Mother’s people. My Father looks older to me, but his mind is as sharp as any 25-year-old and his sense of humor, which I seemed to have inherited, is still wonderfully timed and playful.

I am reminded that old family photos hold a variety of memories and emotions.  My excitement at uncovering these old images is tempered by the impact they have on the people who lived those captured moments.

 

Ancient

Sliding through time

IMG_3459It arrived about a week ago.  A box, from my father in Massachusetts, full of rotary slide trays.  Weighing in at about 20 lbs with all the packing and trays.  More importantly, for me, the trays yielded over 1,200 slides covering family subjects from the mid 1950’s through the mid 1990’s. As the unofficial family historian and keeper of the family tree, I was almost giddy at the thought of sorting all of this out.

With my scanner skills honed from watching some YouTube “how to” videos on my particular scanner and fresh batteries in my handheld slide viewer I started tackling the first set of 100 slides.  I was thrilled in my initial finds that included photos of my Mom as a teenager in Central Park, my father on his Navy commissioning day from the mid 1950’s and photos of myself and my five siblings in 1960’s and 1970’s.  Photos emerged of my parents’ wedding that I have no memory of seeing before.  They included photos of relatives long since passed.  My maternal grandfather, who died before I was born in 1960, was there standing with my grandmother and my mother on her wedding day.  Photos emerged of the old neighborhood in Brooklyn where I lived until the end of 7th grade in 1973 and the houses in Pennsylvania that became home through my college days. .

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That’s me in the middle.

Because of a series of traumatic events in 1973/1974 I thought I had lost a lot of memories from my childhood.  I will not go into those events, that is stuff for another blog (and was, in fact, the subject of another blog). Memories flooded back, pouring out of the trays scattered around my home office.

I am trying to limit myself to about 90 minutes of scanning a night.  It takes a while to get things setup and working through the process of getting many of the slides clear of dust and dirt and then previewing and scanning in the files.  It is great fun.  While it may be daunting to some, this is a labor of love for me. I am not at an age where I recover from staying up to the wee small hours of the night looking for my Uncle Ed  and expect to be ready to go for work the next day. So for now, I am setting a timer on my phone.  When it goes off, so does the scanner.

Ultimately, many of the slides will have to go through Photoshop to correct cropping and fix blemishes.  Then it will be on to a website accessible by family where I hope I can tag and catalog the collection for everyone else to enjoy and download.  I am grateful these photos were not lost. I am also grateful for the discovery that many memories were also not lost, they just needed  a nudge.  This has been one of the most cathartic projects I have ever undertaken.