Saturday, April 28, 2007

Television and my world

There were three channels. 3, 6, & 10. We went to bed each night at 7:30. That meant television had it's greatest impact in the morning. Like most cities Philadelphia had children's televsions progrms week days between 7am and 9am. I'm not talking about national programs like Mickey Mouse Club or Howdy Doody or programs of their ilk. These were cheaply produced programs primarily designed to bracket either cartoons or filmed material readily available to their libraries.
If you are from New York you watched Officer Joe Bolton and the Our Gang movies. We had our own bizarre programs. Sally Starr, Chief Halftown, Pixanne, Gene London, Uncle Pete's Gang. Bizarre not because of the bulk of their content but because of the odd sketch material that was created to bracket the content. Sally Starr wore cowgirl clothes and Chief Halftown American Indian Garb. Pixanne was of course a pixie. Whatever the fuck a pixie was. Gene London was his own version of a pixie. If pre 1970's Philadelphia was ready for a gay man Gene London gave us all he had. In 2007 he lives in New York and presides over a collection of movie stars and theatrical gowns. Guess where his sensibilities lay.
That said the content was brilliant Warner cartoons and MGM cartoons and the Max Roach Our Gang series. No one could complain about the genius of what we were shown. And being children who could complain about context. Fake cowgirls and Indians and Pixies and a shop keeper with a gay streak a mile wide.
Our Gang movies were my favorites. Rich, multi ethnic movies about wild children. I loved them and their anarchic spirit. How glad was I to read about them later in Ragtime. Alfalfa and Whitey and Froggie and Buckwheat. My dearest friends. Constructing crates of junk and careering down the streets. Lost in fantasies only children could understand. You can imagine my delight later in life when I learned Roach said to them... just do what you like and we'll film it. No plan, no ideas just children being idiots. Like me, like my friends.
And Bugs and Daffy. And all the Warner brothers cartoons. Adult beyond my measuring. Smart and cool and suave and wild. Who wouldn't love cartoons like that.
That was the morning.
In the afternoon there was only one show. The Early Show. A movie program that showed films of the 30's, 40's, & 50's. We lived for monster movies, for horror movies. For "The Thing", for "Frankenstein", for the "Mummy". We'd all sit in my second living room in terror at 4 in the afternoon watching monsters.
How much better to watch an alien possess and devour men on an arctic outpost then to deal with the problems of flowering plants in Wenonah. Or more appropriately the negroes next door. But in Our Gang the black kids and white kids played together and the jews made the movie. Go figure.
As we got older we made movies a richer part of our lives. For now our gal Sal was the best part of the day.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Sleeping Beauty and the Starlight Drive In

The first movie I saw in a movie theater was Sleeping Beauty. My grandmother Glading, no my Nonny Glading, took Mick and Ted and I to see it in late 1959 in a theater in suburban Philadephia. I was amazed. The witch was terrifying, the screen was huge and all of us could talk of nothing else for weeks.
We rarely went to movies when I was young after that. Not until the end of 2nd grade and on into my early youth did we routinely visit movie theaters. When we went to indoor theaters we usually went to one of two movie theaters in Gloucester County. The Wood Theater in Woodbury or The Pitman Theater in Pitman. Both were old vaudeville playhouses that had been converted to movie theaters. When I was under 17 we went primarily for Saturday matinees. A feature, a B movie, cartoons and a theater filled with screaming children, tossed popcorn, and enough sugar to power a small nation.
Birthday parties were the primary vehicle for these jaunts. Parents would gather a group of us together on the pretext of celebrating one of our birthdays and schlep us off to the movies where for three hours we'd be happily ensconced in the rich glow of cinema.
Our parents, when they took us to the movies, took us to the Drive In. South Jersey was the place where the drive in movie was invented. No shit. A drive in in Pennsauken NJ was the first drive in in all of the Americas. My father and mother's favorite was the Starlight Drive In. We could see the screens of the Starlight and other Drive In theaters as we rode home from my Nonnies house in Pennsylvania. We could imagine the dialogue and guess at the action and then we were by and the images were gone.
A drive in was a crazy experience. You paid by the car and by the number of people in the car. You'd drive in, pay your admission and proceed to a spot where a sound device was hung on a pole. This device was then moved from the pole to your driver or passenger side window so you could hear the movie. Drive in's were made for two groups of people. Young adults with cars and young parents with children.
My parents in the 60's were the latter group. We'd load up the family wagon, the Plymouth or the Chevy depending on the year, fill it with blankets and pillows and head to the Starlight. They'd be showing some great epic. Spartacus or D Day or whatever. We'd sit rapt for perhaps a half hour then fall asleep. My parents would have an hour of peace, we'd have a treat, and maybe they'd neck.
Teenagers only went to drive in's to make out. For further information on the uses of drive in's and the middle of the 20th century see any number of horror movies made at the time. Only bad things could come of this.
You got refreshments from a stand in the middle of the vast field of cars. Otherwise it was a movie theater with beds.
The movie I remember most was the Guns of Navarone which was released in 1961 so I know I'm cheating here but still.
I'm going to have my spleen removed on the Friday before Memorial Day weekend. I'll spend the three day weekend eating jello and bantering with women from South Jersey, some of whom may have visited the Starlight. Maybe their children were conceived in the Starlight. I'll lie in bed and watch bad television and read and think.
On the way home from my grandmothers we were always in a fugue like state. Half full of energy, nearly asleep. We lay with our heads on the car cushions and looked up to the stars. We'd pass a field with a huge screen filled with movies. The movie had no sound and was gone in minutes. It was the way you experience adults or nature when you're young. One moment you're transfixed, the next moment they're gone. My parents were young people with desire and needs. They worked hard raising us and making money. They came home and acted as they thought parents should. What did they do when we weren't around? What were their desires? What were their needs? They were young and beautiful and passionate and we cared nothing for that. We glimpsed their lives for just a second. A flash as the car passes a drive in movie screen.
Perhaps you remember a moment of anger or a hated chore. Perhaps your parents were monsters that lurched in and out of your life like Frankenstein or Barbara Stanwyk. Perhaps you cherish a few moments cuddled on a couch with a book open and the drowsy drone of your mothers voice. Images on a large screen on a hot summer night. The words unknowable. The context unreadable. All we have is that.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Cemetery Hill

Christmas 1959 passed with no ill effects. It was the last year I believed in Santa Claus. The winter of 1960 was mostly unremarkable except it began my practice of sledding at Cemetery Hill. The winters of the 1960's were above average for snowfall in South Jersey. South Jersey normally gets perhaps one big snow a year that melts within a day or so. The 60's were filled with snow which for a young boy was a god send. With the first great dumping of snow our father took us to Cemetery Hill to go sledding. After this year we went on our own.
My birthday had a tenuous relationship with snow and winter. My father insisted I was born in a blizzard though the NWS shows only a five inch storm that day. It really doesn't matter. Winter isn't winter without snow and the removal of snow and playing in snow. My father loved shovelling snow and he instilled that love and it's precision in his sons. It may be that when we were very young we thought he was nutty as a fruitcake but now whenever it snows I want to shovel. I'll clear any walk, anywhere, for free. I never hurt my back or over exert but my walk is clear throughout a storm. My father was a guru of two things. Snow removal and lawn mowing and I share both.
He was also a man who loved to play in snow. In Woodbury when I was in kindergarten there was a huge winter storm. He helped us make an igloo and showed us how to make snowballs. In Wenonah he grabbed his childhood Flexible Flyer from the garage and dragged Mick and I across the Mantua Creek to Wenonah Cemetery (in Mantua) to go sledding. Wenonah Cemetery is where my mother's bones are at rest. It overlooks the Mantua Creek, a thin ribbon of swamp water where over the next nine years I would spend most of my best moments. They all began that first winter's day.
There were basically two hills in the cemetery. One on the south side and one on the west. I think. You'd start at the top of a hundred foot hill and hurl yourself down on your sled. Then you'd trudge up from the bottom to do it all again. You'd get wet and tired and sweaty and cold. You'd try dumb things like sled surfing (standing on your sled holding onto the rope to maintain balance and stance) or practice sled battles with other kids. You sledded between row after row of tombstones. Remember my mother is buried there and not without deep sentiment. Not for the place but for the sledding and the creek and the swamp.
On the one side, I believe the south there was a large statue over one grave of a doughboy. It was once featured in Weird New Jersey. I knew the names of most people in the cemetery, if not the first, certainly the last. I can remember kids in a toboggan toppling more than a few headstones during one heady Saturday run sometime in the mid 60's.
If it was cold and icy and really snowy you could hurl yourself down the road of the cemetery. This was a quarter mile run of great peril given that some person of sorrow might be driving up to visit a loved one. Nonetheless it was a heady rush of speed and cold and ice and joy.
As we got older we went on our own. In the years to come we got our own Flexible Flyers. Short or long. But always sturdy and dependable. We'd wax the runners and trudge the half mile or so to Cemetery Hill. Chris and Terry, Gary and Robbie, Mick and I. Ted and his friends Joel and Robbie and Evan. We shared the hill with kids from Mantua and the smell of new snow and the feeling of frozen toes was univeral.
Fuck problems. Who cared about homework. Who worried about being odd or not fitting in. We just stood on top of the hill and threw ourselves down. Like small rockets in blue jeans and hooded sweatshirts. Sledding was a complete joy. There was no competition. There was no status. There was no position. The snow would be there for only a day or two and you had to sled while you could.
Among the graves and decaying flowers and lost loves we hurtled down small hills in a town without hills screaming with joy.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Ed Sullivan and life in 2007

My apologies for not posting over the past week. Life has a way of intruding into writing lives that we don't often anticipate. My young niece, Louise, had a party on Saturday to celebrate the upcoming birth of her first born and her engagement. I had the occasion of talking with my doctor regarding a medical procedure he's advised I undergo. Some of you know I'm HIV positive but I'm also positive for the virus that causes Hepatitus C and it's been wreaking havoc on my liver since the HIV virus roared into high gear. Twice in the past four years I've attempted the cycle of drugs to control the virus and each time have had a difficult time dealing with the effects. Basically I take a drug much like a chemo therapy drug that acts to destroy fast growing cells in the body. There are several fast growing cells in your body. Hair. The virus and it's ilk. Bone marrow cells. During my last round of treatment last year I achieved great reductions of the Hep C virus but unfortunately my red and white cells and my platelets also tanked. I kept my luxurious growth of crewcut hair. Once before I required a transfusion to deal with the near complete extermination of my red cells. This time it was my platelets that were a concern.
My doctor has suggested a spleenectomy to allow my platelet count to rise. Your spleen and mine has little to do with actual spleen. It does however remove some old immune cells from the body. By removing the spleen they hope to allow my platelet count to rise to a level at which I may tolerate a vicious assault on my bone marrow cells and by coincidence the virus that causes Hepatitus C. So Wednesday I'm going to see a surgeon to determine if I'm able to endure this surgery. What an odd operation. They're going to remove a perfectly healthy, functioning organ in hopes of saving a damaged, dying organ so they can save my aging husk of a body. To say this concerns me would be an understatement.
Nonetheless it has helped propel me once more to Wenonah in 1959 and 1960. Dwight David Eisenhower is our President. Soon to be replaced. I am small. Negroes are relegated to the outer darkness. My friend Bob writes to remind me the pig farms were in New Sharon, not Jericho. How nice to note small errors. There were still no white folks there. He also notes the origin of the term "shotgun shack". A shotgun shack was any building you could discharge a shotgun in the front door and the shot would pass through the back door with no damage. Some anthropologists suggest it's older origin lies in West Africa with the term Shogun or the word for house. The long nature of the structure is analogous to the structure of the building in the US. Note my odd use of locution.
What is more pertinent to my previous post was not the West African or Southern meaning of the term but the adjacent outhouse. The lack of good schools. The lack of choice in job advancement. The fact that Mrs Irene Smith had to purchase a home in the oddest corner of my town in order to say she and her children lived in Wenonah and to allow them to attend our little school. This understatement is consistent with my refusal to confront my own current fears regarding my possible death during surgery. The spleen is connected intimately to the heart. You take it out and you may rupture the heart. Break it. You fuck with a system of life that has been in place for many years and you can break it. All hell might break loose.
Dwight Eisenhower, unlike our current sitting President, was a war hero. He'd actually served in real wars. He knew the cost of aiming a gun at someone. He wasn't all comfy with that. He made, like Harry Truman, hard choices regarding that.
He grew up in Oklahoma where black folk were regarded pretty much like they were in Wenonah. In the Senate, Lyndon Johnson was presiding over legislation to change the ways we allowed black people to vote. He grew up in Texas. With brown and black people. With poor white people. They probably lived in shotgun shacks. They most certainly worked at the only jobs people would let them work at. This is poor grammar but fact.
The wind that was bringing the stink of the pig farms to me, the wind that my mother asked me to cover my face for to keep out "the polio", the wind that kept queers and niggers and spics at arms length was still strong. But there was another wind growing. It seems odd to say Lyndon Johnson and Dwight Eisenhower were helping to make that wind but they were. So were gentle men and women throughout the South and the country. Brave men and women who were taking courage from the struggles and victories of WWII to make a change here in the United States. Me, I was just a little boy. My friends and I were playing games and learning arithmetic. But every night we watched the news.
On Sundays we watched Ed Sullivan. What an odd show. A variety show. Like vaudeville but on TV. Jugglers and circus acts and comics and musicians all performing for a few moments under the auspices of a bland host. I hated Ed Sullivan. My parents and grandparents loved him. So every Sunday after Lawrence Welk we sat down to watch a succession of crazy quilt entertainment.
I share my home and heart with Johanna, a transsexual from El Salvador. All her friends are undocumented aliens. Their favorite show is Sabado Gigante. It's Ed Sullivan in spanish. It's real message is home. They hunger for it's tales of families reunited, of lands they can no longer visit, of music they all share. It's as hokey and odd as Ed's show was. Reggaeton mashes up with Mariachi much like Ella Fitzgerald would share a stage with Elvis.
There would come a time in the next few years when the winds of change would sweep Ed Sullivan off the air. New music and attitudes and power would show him to be the vaudeville act he always was. A quaint reminder of a long gone age. Someday Sabado Gigante will seem equally quaint. Different winds blow at different times but they blow hard and long and they don't stop till they're done.
Let's leave this post with Jackie and Mickie and Teddy all clustered on the floor with their parents and grandparents watching Ed. Senor Jimenez is making jokes in some fake Mexican accent or Jackie Mason is telling cleaned up versions of oft repeated dirty Catskills jokes. A troupe of Russian acrobats is twirling in the air. They will defect the next day, never to return. Kruschev is pounding his shoe. Missiles are poised at the ready. Men are boarding unmarked planes for southeast Asia to control the uprising of the Vietminh. Life is about to change. Someone is holding a shotgun and aiming at the front door. It's not the shot that carries the charge it's the blast and the powder. In ten years no one will be home.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Rain and water and steam and pigs

I was going to talk today about rain. About what we did when it rained. It rained hard in the spring and early summer in Wenonah. Thunderstorms were a regular feature of life. Sudden rushes of heavy rain and then we'd run out to the curb to float boats made of popsicle sticks or logs in the torrent by the curb. We'd run down the street following our boats and I was going to say something meaningful about that.
Then my friend Bob Thomas reminded me about Pig Farms. All around the northern boundaries of Wenonah in Deptford, really, in Jericho there were Pig Farms. Lets just un cap that. pig farms. They were owned by Italian families and worked by black families. The black families lived close by the pig farms. The garbage came from all the adjacent towns. Bob reminded me that the garbage came from Wenonah. Or Woodbury. Or Sewell. In our back yard you'll remember there was a can for garbage only. That garbage was collected by garbage trucks and it had a destination. The pig farms.
The last stretch of my rides home from my grandmother's house in Pennsylvania was always through the pig farms. The stench was ungodly. Newark had nothing on this. There were miles upon miles of pig farms. Butted up against them were the homes of the black people that worked the pig farms. Their shacks, really. Shotgun shacks in the parlance.
The garbage trucks were outfitted to process the garbage for the pigs. They were designed to collect, process, cook and deliver our garbage to the hungry pig population. The trucks could be heated with steam and then the garbage fed to the pigs.
On the one hand this was an entirely eco friendly way to process organic matter. On the other hand the workers who handled the pigs lived a hundred yards from the stench of garbage.
There were no white families so far as I know that lived by the pig farms. One family in my town owned one of the biggest farms. The Villari's. Good people with a nice home in the newer part of Wenonah.
Their children worked in the farms the same way the black people did. They learned their trade. From the pigs came sausage and offal and food. For the Italian Market in South Philly, for meat processing plants across the country. I only knew how bad it stunk.
I only knew that the shotgun shacks didn't resemble the Victorian homes in my town. We'd pass through in the night and say ooh hold your nose. It's the pig farms. The wind never wafted over Wenonah.
Maybe it did. Maybe you could think lots of things about this way of doing things. Farm workers using organic materials to make home grown pork. Local people employed in natural ways. Maybe that's just pig shit.
Maybe it's easier to pretend there aren't any pig farms outside your town. Maybe it's easier to ignore the shotgun shacks and outhouses. Maybe it's simpler to say black people are animals and they can't do anything else but this.
But then I had Michelle Smith and her brother Mike in my school and they didn't seem to have anything to do with pig farms. And when I got older I met people from Jericho and Hammond Heights and it turns out they had a real town with dreams and aspirations. There are lots of questions you can ask about where your food comes from. I know that when I was young any Italian sausage I ate came from a pig farm that stunk to high heaven in Jericho. It didn't seem very cute or nice or organic. There's a good chance it wasn't.
There's every chance that just like every farm stinks a bit these farms stunk a lot. Right now in South Jersey there is a big argument that farms make the neighborhood less attractive. The fertilizer. The machines. The dirt. Back then I'd say the dirt was the laborers. The men who had no other options.
We almost always forget what it was like in 1960 in the USA. How black men could only aspire to be railroad porters or garbage men or pig farmers. We make jokes about Mexican laborers and how they're taking work away from people but I note that the pig farms are gone. I note that black men and women can aspire to be President. That's a far cry from the cry of crows over a stench filled farm in South Jersey.
The really sad thing is that even though I have lots of nice photos of Wenonah with it's lovely homes and lawns there are no photos of the shotgun shacks. No photos of the men who worked the pig farms. I drove through when I was sick and getting better hoping to see things as they were but they were gone. That's the way it is America. We love the invisible. It makes life seem nicer somehow.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

The Names of Children

My thanks to Bob Thomas and Terry Fleming for their help with the names of my fellow 2nd and 3rd Grade classmates. This one was smoother but we're missing two names. If anyone can help it would be much appreciated. My time in South Carolina was well spent. I talked with my father and Uncle Ed at length about our family and their memories. It was a lovely time and made me regret all the times I hadn't spoken of those memories. Maybe you have parents or relatives still with you who can share their memories of their youth with you. It would be wise to take the time to ask. To bask in their memories. We all spend too much time in our own skins and not enough in the skins of other people.
Bob has particularly rich memories of Wenonah, Terry and I have shared memories that are a joy to share once again. To hear my father talk about my Aunts and his mother and father was like taking a sip of rare whiskey. Intoxicating, sharp, frightening.
Memory is a heady drink but one we rarely lift to our lips. We watch our children grow, our loved ones sit in the chairs opposite us, the men and women we work with grow old and never take the time to savor those moments.
I think what I'm saying is that this attempt to talk once again about my childhood has been an experience that I didn't expect. I'd bet you might find the same thing about your own. Our parents are soon to leave us and we our children. Now is the time to talk about the times we spent together. Good or bad.

Miss Quigley's 2nd & 3rd Grade Class w/names

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Cigarettes, Pipes, and Smoke

It was legal in 1959 to burn leaves. My father would rake the leaves from the lawn to the curb in a series of small piles and then set them on fire. He'd tend them for an hour or so till they were ash. In 2001, 2002 when I was in Wenonah leaves were collected by huge machines. Back then their smoke filled the sky with a rich, pungent odor. Fall was a time of burning.
While my father burned our leaves he'd smoke a cigarette. Usually then it was a Kent. He'd change brands over the years but only a grown up could tell the difference. it was all cigarette smoke and it filled the air as much if not more than the burning leaves.
Everyone smoked. My father, my mother, my Aunt Gersh, my grandmother Wiler, my grandfathers, my uncles, my friends parents. Ashtrays were everywhere and smoke was everywhere. While it was true people knew in their hearts it could kill them they still took long drags of their favorite brands.
Pall Mall, Chesterfield, Winston, Kent, Camel. TV was filled with ads for cigarettes, movies and tv were rich with their tracings in the dark. Cigarettes were the transition from youth to adulthood.
My grandfathers both died from emphysema. Part of their disease began when they were young in the mines but really it was cigarettes that killed them. But it was tobacco that gave them succor and cool and calm.
In Second Grade Chris DeHart and Terry Fleming and Gary Condell and my brother and I went down to the dump at the end of Cherry Street to smoke cigarettes Chris had stolen from his mother. We didn't do well and my brother Mick ratted us out and that was my last cigarette save a puff or two holding someone else's cigarette year later.
My father periodically would try pipes. His paraphenalia would litter the end table by his spot on the couch and the smell of pipe tobacco would fill the house. The smell of old pipes and the oil of old tobacco were everywhere. Since I was asthmatic this was not an easy row to hoe. Since I was a strange little boy with his own angers and fears it was even harder. Still, my father was cool with his Kent in his mouth. My mother and her friends were beautiful at parties with their heads tilted back, exhaling rich tobacco in the night.
Aunt Gersh tried to stop for many years. When she finally succeeded in the late sixties she always told us of her dreams of smoking.
Dreams like movies.
Dreams like fantasies.
Dreams with piles of leaves smoldering on Lincoln Ave with boys running up and down the sidewalks laughing. Dreams with parents at parties laughing. The wild sound an adult woman makes when she's a little drunk. Crazy. Me and Mick upstairs in bed listening intently to a world we only were privy to the next morning when we'd walk among the half empty glasses of cocktails and overflowing ashtrays. The cherries still sweet and rich with whiskey.
The ashtrays overflowing with cigarette butts and an adult world we didn't, couldn't understand.
Later we'd stand by our father as he raked the leaves into the fire. No talking. Just the smoke from the leaves and his Kent filling the air.
Think of a room filled with women in dresses and men in dress pants and LaCoste shirts. Think of crewcuts and tans and one piece bathing suits and whiskey.
This was one of the scariest, most beautiful parts of my youth. Breath deep. When you pass a girl smoking a cigarette on the street as she exhales, breath deep. It's memory you're inhaling.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Pest Control/Poetry Month

Just so you all know; this is National Poetry Month. Us poets are all making hay while the sun shines with gigs in high schools across the land. Yippee! And in an interesting twist it is also National Pest Management Month, so I'm doubly honored. All praises then to poems about ants and termites, mice and rats! Archie and Mehitabel are rising up from their graves in joy! The Conqueror Worm and the Worm Ourobouros all say thank you!
God Bless the US Government for having the foresight to honor two of the most despised professions in America in the same beautiful month! You'd have thought they'd give us February but no, we get April! Wan that Aprile with her shoures soote hath pierced to the roote and please forgive my old English! It's a great month for verse and a worse month for bugs and mice! All across the land guys with bait guns and termite rigs and B&G tanks are whistling and thinking about Ogden Nash...Spring is sprung, the grass is riz, wonder where the birdies is?.
Keats and Corrigan, the Pied Piper and Ozmandias, Shelley and mus musculus! O what a wonderful month! O what a beautiful season! O what a grand cacaphony of nonsense! Elegies and bait trays, villanelles and rodent proofing, a snappy turn of the phrase butts right up to a well placed glue trap! It's April, it's Spring! Finally!
Remember your local poet and don't let the bedbugs bite. Ha ha!

Back From Bluffton

Hi all! I've returned from Bluffton and three days of fun in the sun. My brothers and I golfed, played putt-putt golf, kayaked, drank way too much beer and toured scenic Savannah. We also almost got popped touring a wildlife preserve outside Savannah. Fortunately my nephew Mark tossed the beers and weed before the Feds could catch us (outright lie! No beer or pot were anywhere near us).
We had a great time and it was a good chance to talk with my father and my Uncle Ed (Dad's brother) about my youth and their own. More on that to come in the days ahead. Until then stay warm on these Spring nights. Tomorrow will be my next official Wenonah post so stay tuned Wenonah heads, more to come!

Miss Quigley's Second Grade Class (w/3rd Graders)

Monday, April 02, 2007

Easter in the South

I'm leaving for South Carolina early Wed morning so no more posts till early next week. Hang in, they'll be there. I'm going with my brother Mick and his son Doug to visit my Dad and Mother. They live in Bluffton South Carolina. I hope to get in a little swimming, a little golf, and a little socializing. I'm also hoping to pump my Dad for more info about my youth. More to come my friends, more to come.
Till then have a Happy Easter or Passover and enjoy the first stirrings of spring!

Dr. Seuss

This was the year of Dr. Seuss. My mother and father gave me books by Dr. Seuss to read. The first was The Cat in the Hat, then the Cat in the Hat Comes Back. For my birthday in 1959 I got Happy Birthday to You. I loved these books. First because I could read them, second for the wild world they painted. I hungered for them. At Christmas in 1959 we got Green Eggs and Ham. This became my brother Mick's favorite and then my brother Ted's. They loved this book. My mother read it to them each night.
I do not like them Sam I am. I do not like green eggs and ham. My brothers sat on the big couch in the living room next to my mother as she read the books. I loved them too and I too hated green eggs and ham.
I did not like them in a boat, I did not like them with a goat. I was thrilled by the cat and his improprieties. I was glad when all was restored.
We began to go to my Uncle John's house at Thanksgiving and Christmas. My Uncle John was my father's mother's brother. His name was John Murdoch. My middle name. Murdoch. He had an immense house outside of Philadelphia where he and his wife Eleanor and their daughters, Molly, Peggy, and Alice all lived. We ate wonderful meals there served by colored people cooked by colored people in a kitchen ran by colored people. We children ate in the kitchen away from the grown ups.
I love my aunt and uncle and they gave me my most cherished Christmas gifts. Books. Every year they'd come to our home on Chrismas day with a gift for each of us. Mine was always a book. Ghost stories and mysteries. The Hardy Boys. Places to run to when life was grim. Not that life was ever truly grim but for a small boy a place to hide was a blessing.
Alice was twelve or thirteen years my senior and I thought she was the most beautiful girl I'd ever seen. An Irish beauty like Grace Kelly. I loved her small attentions and craved the times we had together.
At times we'd visit my father's parents house outside Philadelphia and they would be there along with my father's brother Ed and his lovely wife Simone. Simone was French Canadian and was the first person we knew to wear a bikini. She was witty and sophisticated. Dinner was almost always a wonderful roast of beef. There were whiskey cocktails and talk and we children were shunted to the outskirts.
My father's father, Poppy Wiler, was becoming ill with Emphysema and we were a distraction and a curse. Or so I felt. They had a ranch house with apple trees. We'd play in the back, pelting each other with fallen apples. Yellow Jackets would swarm around us and at dinner we'd run in to sop our bread with the blood of the roast. Rich roasts deep with blood and flavor.
A meal that would never leave, like the sting of a bee that hurts for days afterwards.
Like the smell of cigarettes and whiskey and the distant murmur of adults in talk. Like the perfume of Alice and my mother.
Lingering still. Even here in Jersey City while I type. I've never eaten or prepared a roast that tasted as good. No matter how I try.
I have my grandmother Wiler's cutting board for roasts. It has grooves cut for the blood to run off. We dipped our buttered bread in the blood at the far end. Maybe you can taste it. Maybe you dislike the taste of blood but for me it's a good taste. Like love withheld but always there.