Posts Tagged ‘memories’

Johnny Ring

Statue on Temple University Campus of Johnny Ring, bronze by Boris Blai, Dean of Tyler School of Art 1959

There is actually a statue of me in Philly!  Gathering patina from passing birds!!!

Seth Godin’s blog today was an enervating Dutch Uncle talk about critics and how important they really are.  I saved the following from that post, and have been thinking all day about statues, and how they stand there for long years, unlike critics who come and go without commemoration.

“No one has ever built a statue to a critic, it’s true. On the other hand, it’s only the people with statues that get pooped on by birds flying by.” from Seth’s blog today
It always surpises me to remember that I posed for Boris Blai’s rendition of the little boy who served alongside the soldier in the Civil War.  Dean Blai asked if I would like to pose for him as he worked on the plastilene model that was eventually cast into this statue.  I was glad for the money, and had the added allure of a Civil War uniform in the attic that belonged to one of my ancestors who fought on the Union Side.  Dean Blai was thrilled to have an authentic hat and real buttons, etc., for his project.
His wonderfully pleasant wife served us rose hip tea while I posed with sword and uniform for hours.  I suppose my strong legs (swimming, dancing, fencing) were an asset, and I was not very bosomy, so could pass for a boy in enough ways to adapt.   I went away with a bit of pocket change and an interesting memory.  I really never thought much about the final product until I ran across an article about the statue, and realized it was ME…my statue…in BRONZE, standing there in the garden at Temple U.
I can tell you, that I don’t really feel anything physical about my effigy standing there in snow and sleet and blistering heat,  but it gives me a sort of smug feeling to know how that statue was sculpted, conceived, researched.
Boris Blai studied with Rodin!   He used to rifle through the wastebasket at Rodin’s studio and snitch discarded sketches.  He told us students at Tyler about his nights sleeping on benches on the ChampsElysées and wearing the art student attire of the starving artists in Paris.  I am not sure how much of his memories were embellished, but he was indeed a man with a fascinating history, and not a bad sculptor!
So, for the record, this Old Swimmer is immortalized (I guess statues are more or less immortal) in bronze for all to see, and no one to get excited about.  But me.
Smiling, as I gather bird poop.    Old Swimmer

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   Judy and I enjoy a swim the summer were putting up 3 Americas! 2001

Judith Wray, a wonderful and amazingly productive art friend, sent me an email today featuring a toolbox that is famous and wonderful.  This set off a series of things including this bit about my father.  Judy said, POST IT.  So here it is.

From my friend Judy Wray I got this email reference..sent just for me to enjoy!

H. O. Studley Masonic Tool Chest      <click on this link to see amazing tool box


The look of tool chests can tell us much about workers and workplaces. While their purpose is to organize, carry, and protect tools, this chest also suggests what a worker thinks of himself and how society measures the value of his work.

Judy asked if I got it, and I replied.  Judy responded by saying I should post the following to my blog.  I hope others enjoy the story of my father and his special love of tools.  And of me!  …


Yes, indeed, I did look at the fabulous tool chest, and then I forwarded it to my son David.  He will love it too.

One does wonder, though, whether someone who works from a tightly packed chest like that puts the tools away each time they are used and then “finds” them again, or whether, maybe, there is an occasional moment of “mess” on the workbench with a lot of chaos and tools here and there while something is being made.

I recognize the special devotion to the tools, and I get it from my father, who spent much more time designing places for all his tools in his basement workshop than he spent using said tools.  It is one of my pungent memories, all those leather pockets for a zillion specific awls, and bits, and gears and calipers and files, (on and on and on) that he kept and showed me how to use.

I was about four when I first learned about nails and hammers, and how not to hit your fingers.  Also about what I called (to his delight) “hole nails.”  These were screws, of course, with the slot in the head for turning…but they were “hole nails” for a time back in those days.

He had an old post office fixture at the end with maybe 150 cubbyholes into which he fitted wood cigar boxes labeled things like WASHERS and FINISH NAILS and POLISHING WHEELS and JUNK.  I loved to go through them all and see what was what.  Always very carefully and with the joyful oversight of my Dad who called me “Shorty” (because we were a duo and I was the short one.)

My Dad was a semi-reclusive guy (and I am like him often, in this way) who loved to tuck himself into his armchair with the foot stool, with his big supply of cigarettes and Scotch and his newspaper and hunker down for hours with TV running sports, or news, or westerns.  The livingroom was always stuffy with the layer of second-hand smoke.  My children later would come make swirls in the smoke layer.  (their poor lungs).

He was one of my best friends, although he and I had philosophical differences, and some pretty touchy issues that we disagreed vehemently about.  We were open-faced with each other, and did a lot of “admitting/confessing” and apologizing between us over the years.

By the time he died on December 14 in the 1970’s I had done my serious grieving…while watching him slowly run down in a local nursing home.  My mother and I visited him, one of us at least, each day to feed him dinner, and to bring him his prescribed dose of Scotch and Soda (Dr. Metz carefully wrote that out as an order so we could bring it in to him each day.)  He was a double amputee (both legs) and blind during those years…and used to say he was “one of the lucky ones” simply because he got a visit each day, and most of the others in that nursing home got no visitors ever at all.

When he closed his eyes the last time, I told him to “go find Jesus, and He’ll show you the way.”  A tear came down, through his coma, and I took that to mean either that he DID IT, or that he was frustrated by my last ditch effort to get him to believe.  I won’t know til I get there.

But I whispered to him…”Dad, this is what you wanted for Christmas…rest and go.”  And he did.

That night we had planned for the whole family (my five and my mother) to go to the Pacific NW Ballet’s Nutcracker.  We asked ourselves what we should do.  We decided we would be missing Dad no matter where we were sitting, and that he would say…go to the ballet!  So we did.  What a night.   I remember, it was Maurice Sendak’s fabulous costumes and sets, and the ballet was wonderful.  One of the children in the ballet was a neighbor of ours.  Dad would have been delighted…but he would have sat out the event and preferred to nestle down in his chair with his smokes and his drink and his paper.  He would have looked up with a smile and a cocked eyebrow as we came back, and asked, “Well, Shorty, how was the ballet?”

I was blessed with some really fine people in my life.  I am so grateful.

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One Christmas Day, a Sunday,  in the late 70’s, it was very snowy in Issaquah WA and all family parties were cancelled.  But we had a driver in our house who grew up in Minnesota and we had a good car for snow driving.  We decided that, now that the gifts were all open, we would go OUT to dinner (gift to me, the Mom) and then out to a movie (gift for the Kids.)   The movie we chose was really special, and I feel sure it had been scheduled to attract the Jewish folks who were not doing Christmas, but wanted to do something special on a Sunday.

The film was a Canadian release just now in 2011 restored onto DVD, and it was called Lies My Father Told Me.

Check it out!


We do tell our children lies.  They are called by many names,  including stories, tales, fairytales, traditions, mysteries, fables, wishful thinking, and other euphemisms.  But we do tell them to our kids even while sternly requiring them to always tell the truth.

The first big lie my parents asked me to tell was the memorable moment my father told me to keep my little brother in the dark about Santa.  I had asked the definitive question about Santa and got a straight answer from my Dad (I was about five).  He then inducted me into the world of Lies Because We Love Them.   I was to perpetuate the lie about Santa to be nice to my little brother!

Today, while I was showering, I was thinking of my six year old grandson who is boasting his first ever missing tooth, and is still trying to figure out how the tooth fairy found it under his pillow and replaced it with two quarters without him knowing when or how.  He had been staying awake waiting for her, but she seemed not to have come.  In the middle of the night he visited his dad about some other matter, and his dad took him back to bed, and casually asked whether the tooth fairy had come yet.  Nope, my grandson assured him.  Better check, said his Dad.  The eyes nearly popped out of his head when he found the tooth gone and two quarters in its place.

I was showering and smiling and then I thought…I know…I’ll send a letter from the Retired Tooth Fairy saying that she had heard skuttlebutt about the going rate for detatched children’s teeth having doubled in the space of about thirty years, and she was wanting to know if he REALLY got TWO quarters instead of one.     Then I thought about the lie that would eventually get outed and decided I had better not aid and abet or I would also be in bad graces when all was exposed and the young man was disabused of his delightful belief.  Just one of the disappointments that we run into as we grow into adults.

Do these lies hurt our sense of truth?  Do they help us to use magical thinking when the chips are down and we are really not wanting to know something…like that if we don’t study our vocabulary list we will not pass the quiz?  This could escalate into a habit that affects other more important matters.(“If I sneak off and have a clandestine affair my spouse will never find out about it and so it will be okay.”)

It was quite a long time ago that I found out that lying takes an enormous toll. What a good aha that was!!  The self-blackmail we use to cover a lie is possibly the largest part of the price we pay– how many lies pile up to cover the other lie before it all falls down like a pack of cards and we are then ashamed and must possibly pay lots of retribution to family , friends, or the government.  Not only that, but we have had to keep a close watch on whether other people are suspicious.  All the time.  And the trust that used to be between us and “them” is corrupted… we know they shouldn’t have trusted us,  and we are afraid of any who will eventually learn that we are not trustworthy.  So we act guilty.  And it’s because we ARE.

Getting a clean slate is the most empowering thing.  Keeping it clean is fairly rigorous, too, in today’s ethically sloppy  society which values image over fact, and which allows lies to prevail “for the good of all concerned.”

It’s a full-time job trying to be a Truthteller.  I am flawed by human nature (it’s not a perfect world) and lying to myself is the beginning of lies to others. (“ I’m not going to suffer if I eat this second half of the pie. And no one will notice, and if they do they won’t mind if it’s gone.”)

Even that self-justifying “Serves him right,” when saying a hurtful thing or slamming the door is the beginning of a lie.  The closer that sort of mundane self-justification is followed by an admission of wrong the more quickly it is off the slate.  Things like latent memories of slamming doors can actually fester into lifelong barriers!!  Really!

I am not Miss Goody Two Shoes.  I still say bad words when I drop something into a muddy driveway, or spill coffee grounds all over the counter.  And it’s very tempting to forget certain things I have said I would do.   I am pretty good at forgiving myself, once I have owned up to myself that I am remiss and that I need to clean up my desk in certain areas.

In truth, I am REALLY MESSY about a lot of things,  but at least I am trying hard not to lie to myself or others about it. I just say so, and people are amazingly accepting of that truth and forgiving of my sins.  They are sort of glad to know that I am just a fellow human.  It brings fellowship!

I like Santa Claus.  And the Tooth Fairy.  They make me smile.  Maybe it’s because they fall into the realm of diapers, potty chairs, booster seats, rope swings and tricycles.  These are temporary fixes that work well for little children in wonderland.  It goes with the acceptability of baby talk, and allowing the little ones to believe that we understand “goo goo gaa gaa” perfectly.  (Well, we do, if we’re watching closely and know our child well. Besides, we expect them to believe that the mashed peas are really  “a choo choo train that is coming .. toot toot..and wants to go down the little red lane.“)  Fantasy is wonderful, and long live those things that make life move along more pleasantly!  But not at the expense of Truthtelling.

I wonder what it will be like when my grandson gets to that portal where he crosses over the delicate partition between his belief in the lie, his questioning of the truth of the lie,  and his participation in perpetrating the lie; when his father tells him to let his little sister believe in the Tooth Fairy.

I never considered my father a liar .. at least not a seriously mired-in-the-mud one.  He lied to himself about things we all knew, and he tried not to know…he did more smoking, for instance, than anyone else I knew.  It contributed to his death, which came much too early.  But he mostly told truth as he saw it,  and even ruefully admitted when he had missed the mark and had to own up! He even admitted regrets like this to his children!   This is good parenting, to my way of thinking;  excellent modeling for a child to grow up with.

It helps me to remember a time a month or so ago when I saw a prank afoot in the kitchen of my son and my grandson.  My son had a mischievous look in his 40+ year old blue eyes when he shrugged and indicated he didn’t know what had happened to the six-year old’s plate of ice cream that had suddenly and mysteriously disappeared from the table.    My grandson planted two feet on the floor and crossed his arms and said, “Daddy….TELL THE TRUTH!”     This is good stuff.

Old Swimmer

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Together Again

Today I held Brinks (on the right in photo above)  in my arms while he went to join Pimmy wherever doggies go when they leave us.  This was handled as kindly as anyone might wish, and Brinks was not afraid, nor was he uncomfortable.  I whispered things in his ear the whole time at the vets office, and even before, about going to find Pimmy, his litter-mate sister who preceded him to Doggie Heaven, or whatever the dogs call it.

Here is the stand of trees I dug a deep hole at the base of, and where I placed a swaddled Brinks, and covered him with sandy loam, planting Pimmy’s memorial Rosemary plant above and placing a concrete cat sculpture nearby to keep vigil.  Pimmy loved the herb rosemary very much, drawn to it from puppyhood, and even falling asleep under one when she was a tiny puppy, getting “lost” for a while until we found her snoring away there.  So she gets the rosemary and Brinks gets his obsessively valued and close-kept latex ball and there they are together in this outstanding place overlooking Puget Sound’s southern waters, with the Cascade Range stretched across the horizon beyond, to the east.

I did the digging myself.  Alone.  It seems right, and helps the grieving process to work hard to dig a grave.  I never realized until I buried a pet long ago why it’s good to have a physical place where a beloved living creature was put.  You know.  That’s why it is important.  You know where they finished up their living on earth.  And you know they are not here any longer, for sure, if you have put them in that spot yourself.

My housemate is insulted that some people say there are no dogs in heaven.  Mark Twain said,

If dogs don't go to heaven, then I'd rather go where they go

I just am sure of this:  Since God made dogs such fine, noble, forgiving, loyal, brave, cheerful companions for humans, He surely planned a good place for their perfectly wonderful spirits to live when their bodies give out.  That a dog has a spirit is absolutely undebatable.  A dog is the epitome of spirit, with the joy and effervescence and the essence of gladness and thanksgiving expressed as wags and jumps and intense connection with his human.

So I tell my housemate that I am with Mark Twain on this, even though I can’t find a Biblical piece of evidence of dogs in heaven.  I find horses there (as in the Horsemen of the Apocalypse), and so why not dogs?  But the horses had a job in Revelation, and so they were mentioned.  The dogs are busy doing doggie things like jumping for joy, and greeting their people,  and sleeping under rosemary plants.  At least that is the best I can do at imagining what is in store for these beloved creatures.

I will sleep OK tonight, knowing Brinks is not hurting, or afraid, or lonely, or limited by a badly aged body.  He went “nighty night” and was sent with the suggestion in his ear to “go find Pimmy now”.  This is something he could relate to.  He has been looking for her since she left us some months ago.  It gave him a job to do while they were putting him to sleep.  And he did a good job of it too.

I weep.  But that will pass.

old swimmer

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This image was unabashedly “lifted” from this excellent blog:  http://ruralchatter.blogspot.com/2008/08/public-service-announcement-about-feral.html  If it is copyrighted I will remove it, or arrange for special permissions.  What a classic photo!

I decided to re-post this entry that I made in another (anonymous) blog last year around this time.  This year I am living around 3000 miles away from where I was then, but I still find myself among the cats and birds and thermal phenomena of the perennial jungle.  I enjoyed reading this one again, and I hope others will too.  old swimmer 

This entry was originally written in Newfield,New Jersey, December 22nd, 2008

Coming in from my morning rounds I ripped off my gloves, ran to the kitchen sink, and turned on the cold water. I let it run to get really cold before putting my fingers under it. It felt SO GOOD. Warm. The pain stopped rather quickly and I was back to normal in about a minute’s time. 

Flickering through my mind-tapes was a memory of my father showing me how to treat my frostbitten toes many years ago. The pond in our Philadelphia area neighborhood had frozen very solid and I had been skating in my father’s old black, pointy toed, narrow and very floppy ice skates. They were way too narrow and long for my very wide and much smaller feet. The many socks packed into the wrong-shaped skates did little to protect my toes from the cold. Between the single digit temperature outside and the effects of strangulating socks cutting off blood circulation to my toes, and the fact that I skated way too long and then had to walk quite a long way to get home, my poor small feet had turned a deathly white and were — well, frosty!

Dad took one look and hurried me to the bathroom where he ran a tub of cold cold water. It did not look inviting, but he said it was what to do to save my feet from tissue damage!  He said I would be happy once I put my feet in. At first I didn’t feel much, and then it felt warm. Then my feet began to ache badly, thawing. Then they began to regain their normal color. Soon I could feel that the water was cold. He ran a small amount of warm water into the mix. And soon my feet felt normal again.

I did some damage that day that I still (some sixty-five years later) deal with sometimes when my circulation is poor or my feet get chilly. My toes turn white and they ache. And get numb. I massage when that begins to happen and it does help. But a little bit of damage really is there and will not change. Only because I didn’t come home soon enough,  when my feet were numb and I was having so much fun skating.

I am reminded that life skills are lore that even “Igluk” (our household nickname for the quintessential Cave Man) learned from his father. I don’t remember the Pennsylvania schools having a lesson in frostbite first aid. Surely Alaska will have such a class, but not suburban Philly. These bits of wisdom are taught at parents’ or mentors’ knees, very often in the presence of palpable pain!

My head is full of such vignettes that just rest in place somewhere in my brain’s “operating system”  like the knowledge of how to walk, or how to talk. Life-lore events make an indelible impression, like certain odors or fragrances (depending on how you like them) bring back whole environments and events. My father leaning over, explaining.  The sight of my white feet.  The pain.  The questions about “tissue damage” and the contemplation of the answers.

AND I DIGRESS:  (as so often happens)
Sitting here, with my mind on parental lessons, my eyes wandered out the window to my neighbor’s driveway where I happened to see the “resident” feral cat catch a meal. I m glad I don’t know what it is, but his companion (who will, I am quite certain, deliver kittens in maybe six or so weeks) came running hopefully over to see if this meal would be shared. No, it will not. The larger cat took his kill to the bushes where he sits now probably relishing the heat from some little recently live high-metabolism body.

So that cat watched his mother, no doubt, do what he just did to stave off the cold, including the business of NOT SHARING, which is why he is alive and his littermates are very likely not. Learning life skills at the “knee of his parent.”

In this desperate economic climate I read that people are arriving in droves at the SPCA and other shelters with their beloved house pets. They find they have come to a place in the budget where there is not enough to take proper care of extra mouths, and pets are, though loved, expendible. The SPCA is euthanizing record numbers of animals as lovely and trusting as my own two scruffy beloved terriers and my fat and spoiled cat. (who himself was rescued as a practically newborn kitten by me from under the shed one spring day.) People come in with broken hearts and leave the pets behind.

I am wondering whether that feral cat across the street will live through the winter. Possibly so. He is large and fat and very good at hunting. He doesn’t share. He may live another year, or maybe he has a lot of parasites that will catch up with him and cut his life short even with good weather. He will certainly live longer than the glossy little fellows at the SPCA whose humans have gone off in tears, leaving them peering out from cages wondering when their owners will return. Who has the better life?

I am reading a book that I’m having trouble staying with: I Am a Cat, a zenny classic translated from the work of Soseki Natsume.   It is really quite a wonderful book, but reminds me of Watership Down in that it goes on and on at a cat’s pace, which is not at all quick or particularly efficient. Like the rabbits in Watership Down, the Cat is a creature that does a lot of smelling of the roses on hs way to doing things, and the more so if he happens to have been tucked into a household which leaves food in a dish and has a good place to curl up without predators anywhere around.  I guess I will have to slow down and take this at a cat’s pace.  Happily it’s got chapters that stand alone, so one need not remember a “plot” but can just pick it up whenever and read a chapter.  END OF DIGRESSION

So, if there is a point to this blog, I guess it is that the stuff creatures, human and otherwise, learn by the way, as they are smelling the flowers, that becomes the stuff of survival and one’s MODE and CODE of life. If it’s good stuff, like warming frostbitten fingers in cold water so as not to damage the tissue, you live longer. If you aren’t paying attention, or don’t have a parental teacher, you don’t.

I was one of the lucky ones. I may be nuts, but I’m still alive, aren’t I?

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I hear echoes of Bocelli and Brightman singing “It’s Time to Say Goodbye”.*  That music resounds (as in RE SOUNDS) in my ears as it did some nine years ago when I left my last domicile on my way to this current goodbye-place.

Leaving is such a big bundle of conflicting feelings–feelings that attach to objects as one handles them in packing.  There’s a song to go with each of these feelings that automatically streams in my head as I live this epoch.

I am about a month and a half into the three months I allowed to do the sorting out, throwing out, and shaking out of feelings buried with these objects. 

 Old photos: more precious than money.  Take.  

Old paid bills:  personal? toss ’em.  business? save ’em if they are younger than ten years.  

Things I gave him:  wrap and tuck in unless they are hokie. (“Give Me My Hat and My Gloves…”)*  The hokie things go into a big black bag that says “DONATE”.  Things I gave him that he has not brought out:  leave it.  (“Vaya con Dios…”)*

I’m seventy one, pushing seventy two.  The years and several moves have taught me that stuff is not an asset.  Even very valuable objects can be liabilities.  I love to part with things that are so valuable as to be a source of worry.  Long ago I gave the family silver to my children.  Good riddance to it.  Things like that tempt thieves, off-put visitors of humble means, and need polishing.  Unless you hock it, it is not valuable.  And if you hock it, you only get money, not rememberances of your childhood table set for dinner.  

The photos will give the rememberances of the silver and the furniture and not only that but the people who used it.  (” Memories are Made of This.”)*

Do I need the cast iron oversized Creuset Dutch Oven I felt so lucky to find on sale?  Probably.  It is one heck of a nice cooker, plus it’s lobster red and great for serving bean salad to a crowd.  I can pack it with socks and tuck it in.  Do I need the first ever stainless steel trash can I ever had after longing for it for so many years?  Nope.  Nor do I get to take my five burner gas stove with duel fuel.  Wow…that is a painful loss.  (“Breaking Up is Hard To Do.”)*

Traveling light is really an asset.  The bliss of traveling light can live with a person for a lifetime!  I remember a trip to New York City from boarding school wherein I forgot my suitcase!  Nothing to wear but the traveling clothes I chose– and it was a long weekend with a lot of neat things to do!  Did I suffer?  NO, resoundingly!  Once I got over the shock, I entered the new adventure with a camper’s spirit.  Can you visualize how simple life gets when the choices are narrowed to one in the department of “what shall I wear.”  It is really wonderful to know this and try to implement this simplicity into trips through one’s life.  Truly.  (“‘Tis a Gift to be Simple”)*

This is a permanent move I am working on now, so it’s not as if I can change my mind after the truck leaves.  I am ready to be simple.  I have always wished, while vacationing in a cottage at Cape Cod for a week or two, that I could take that simplicity with me.  Just a pot and a pan and a broom.  Running water and some soap.  A place to sleep and a place to be in out of the rain.  And all the rest is unencumbered with “have to’s”.   What freedom.  (“Don’t Fence Me In.”)*

I am planning my next life to be like that.  It will naturally get cluttered with the cullings of my activities there, as surely as  the Cape Cod cottage got cluttered with crayons and shells and weeds that the children put into a scrapbook during a rainy day.  I still have that scrapbook and I’m taking it with me. 

I think the dogs and the cat will be quite enough to hand-deliver to my new space.  Oh, and my guitar.  Yes, that goes everywhere with me.  The music?  That’s inside me, and rides free.  (“I Got the Sun in the Morning…”)*

*Time To Say Goodbye   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QbN0g8-zbdY

*Give Me My Hat and My Gloves  http://www.stlyrics.com/lyrics/oklahoma/peoplewillsaywereinlove.htm

*Vaya con Dios  http://www.imeem.com/meldaqueen/music/MfKkOarl/patti-page-vaya-con-dios-my-darling/

*Memories are Made of This  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1MWN_duZfIs

*Breaking Up is Hard To Do  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tbad22CKlB4

*Tis a Gift to be Simple    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oL5o0b13vMY

*Don’t Fence Me In  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fksNfKeJOww

*I Got the Sun in the Morning  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u4FcrHHyRKI


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