Back to the farm

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Fall Garden::

Who remembers the Back to the Earth Movement  — the late 1960s and early 1970s.  Tired  of the Vietnam war, protest, and trying to change the system, the mantra became drop out, go back to the earth.    Last week in the Lower Makefield library, a book caught my eye, “A Farm Dies Once a Year.”  I am always pleased when a title or cover design pulls me in and then lives up to expectation (sometimes you can judge a book by its cover).  This memoir is an example.  The author, Arlo Crawford, grew  up on a farm in southwestern Pennsylvania — near McConnelsburg, southwest of Pittsburgh.    His parents were hippies, back  to the earth types.  Growing up, Arlo experienced organic vegetables, escaping the system, left wing political views and the sweet smell of m marijuana.

Arlo’s memoir resonates  with me on several levels.  During the early 1970s, Diane and I lived with John and Barbara Paglione in New Hope.  Our garden wasn’t commercial but we grew and canned quite a bit for the winter. We thought we were  back to the earth.   One of our iconic trips was a visit to the socialist, back to the earth gurus Helen and Scott Nearing in Maine.  A great trip.   Even took my father who got along fantastically with 90 year old Scott.  In our first summer together, John and I traveled the back roads of Bucks County looking for work — on farms.  In the Pineville Post Office we met Doris Daniels who said her husband hired seasonal help.  The next day we began several years of  summer work on Bucks County farms.  We worked for both Paul and Ed Daniels — milk cows and chickens. Another story.

I was also drawn to Arlo’s connection to the current organic, local, foodie movement. His parents farm, “New Morning Farm”  (named after  a Dylan album) now has a  website.  The farm sells most of its product in Farmers’s Markets in Washington D.C.  And the  farm is featured in Mario Batala’s  book, ” America — farm to table.” Amazing how these things dove tail.  I will try to check out the market next time we visit Washington.

The strongest theme in Arlo’s memoir is the return home.  Tom Wolf, wrote “You Can’t Go Home Again.”  But yes you can. Arlo left the farm for college and work, eventually settled in New York City, worked in an art museum.  But there was a pull;  a pull to his parents farm in southwestern Pennsylvania.  The memoir begins with his return to the farm for a summer season.  As the days pass, Arlo gets into the rhythm of the farm.  His father, a committed, some may say fanatic farmer,  responds to the ups and downs of farming.  A disease wipes out a tomatoe crop; but the DC market continue to  bring in dollars. Arlo builds a small camping platform, a cabin on the farm and his Boston girlfriend skeptical at first, gradually adapts to life on the farm.

Arlo’s memoir also evoked memories of the TV show, “The Waltons” — a favorite of ours in the early 1970s.  Walton Mountain wasn’t a farm — they ran a saw mill.  But the feeling, rural norms, and experiences of family life in the 1930s were honored by the 1960s back to the earth types.   We may have romanticized the depression from our comfortable lives, but the tough, stick it out, individualism, family, lend a helping hand beliefs  were  seen as inspiration.  I remember when John and I looked for a farm job, we drove around the county in an  old VW bug, imagining the 1930s. Right guys!

About five years ago I began to return to some of the back to the earth practices and values that defined our lives in New Hope in the early 1970s.  I began to bake bread weekly.  My garden plot expanded with tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, swiss chard, eggplants, cucumbers, sometimes cabbage, bok choi, radishes.  I froze some tomatoes and pickled green.  Apple butter, fresh pumpkin, jams, sour kraut, pickled peppers . . . the preserving of summer bounty expanded.  This year I had about 300 pounds of tomatoes — many heritage.  Freezing turned to canning.  Sunflowers reached 10 feet.  The lettuce, eggplant, peppers, and a variety of greens matched the plenty of the tomatoe harvest.  Last month I even planted a fall garden and in today’s mail was a cover for freezing weather.  It has been an exceptional garden year.

Arlo didn’t stay on  “New Morning Farm.”  He now lives in San Francisco, writes and sells vegetables.  But his summer sojourn rekindled attitudes and values he had learned growing up.  He did go home again.

In a similar way since I retired in June, I have been returning home.  Not just to Bristol (where I grew up)  which I did visit last week, but to all manor of places, experiences and people from the past.  And it’s  more than nostalgia, it’s tapping into roots,  feelings and experiences that define who I am.  And maybe who I will become.  The explore will continue.




We should never forget




I usually do not find cliche statements like “we should never forget” interesting or appealing.   But in the late 1980s-early 1990s, I wrote several articles about the Holocaust with the theme “we should never forget.”  The motivation for the articles was the death of a close New Hope friend, a Holcaust survivor, Danish born,  Ragna Hamilton.  It was also the time the United  States Holocaust Museum was being built in Washington D C (dedicated in 1993).  Around this time I also attended several teaching the Holocaust conferences with HGP students at the University of Pennsylvania.  Featured were many survivors willing to tell their story.  A few years before her death in 1989, Ragna came to Holy Ghost Prep and talked to my classes.  In subsequent years I hosted other speakers.  One of the most powerful was Leonard Bass, an African-American  army officer, Bucks County educator who had been part of a  unit that liberated camps.

Ragna’s story rushed back to me in June when I read an article in the Holocaust Museum’s newspaper.  The article was a review of  “Fiorello’s Sister: Gemma La Guardia Gluck’s Story.”  Much to my surprise NY Mayor  Fiorello La Guardia’s sister was a survivor of the Ravensbruck concentration camp.  The camp where Ragna spent about a year and a half.    The author of the article was Rochelle G. Saidel, who had written a book “The Jewish Women of Ravensbruck Concentration Camp.”  She also is the founder and director of Remember the Women Institute — check out the website.  I immediately looked in a wooden box full of  Ragna’s papers that had been at HGP since the Yardley flood in 2004.  There was an copy of a English  draft of the memoir she published in Danish, “Det Knuste mig Aldrig” — in her English translation the title became “Luck Helps.”

Diane and I met Ragna and her English husband, Rodney when we lived in New Hope with the Pagliones in the early 1970s. We knew that she was a survivor but she never talked much about her experience until after Rodney’s death in 1977; and after  the publication of her book in the mid 1980s.  This was not an uncommon occurance.  I  vividly remember a survivor who spoke at HGP who started his talk explaining the first time he accepted an offer at Pennsbury High School to talk, he stood on the stage and broke down in tears. He had never told his story.  Not even to family.   After the first speech, he spoke often, so “we would never forget.”

In the 1980s (with Rodney gone) Ragna became a grandmother to our daughter Jenny.  Many Sundays we visited her in New Hope.  Jenny slept in a bedroom (beautiful quiet baby) and Ragna prepared us an elegant Scandanavian style brunch.  We talked and we talked into the late afternoon.  Conversations were about the war, the resistance,  and Ravensbruck.  We also learned of her meeting Rodney in Ireland, their adventure in Australia and how they  eventually settled in New Hope.  Politics was also always on the table.   Ragna was quite political.

One year Diane, Jenny and I traveled to Denmark and spent a  several days with Ragna in Copenhagen.  What an experience.  Another trip, Diane and I actually visited the Napoleonic fort in Ireland that Ragna and Rodney lived in, trying to raise pigs.  A diary kept by Ragna at that time swung from emotional highs to thoughts of suicide seemingly timed by the Irish weather.  Homesteading in a tent in Australia was no more successful that pig farming in Ireland, so they came to the United States.  Florida, New Jersey, eventually New Hope where we met them — they were the only other straight residents of Old York Road in the early 1970s.

I wrote  to Rochelle Saidel soon after reading her article in the US Holocaust Museum newspaper.   I ordered her book “The Jewish Women of Ravensbruck” and “Fiorello’s Sister.”  I eventually sent her an English copy of Ragna’s memoir and the articles I had written. Since then we have corresponded several times.  She is currently in Israel — not the quietest part of the world.  She has offered to help publish Ragna’s memoir in English — not an easy task.  Publishers aren’t interested in another Holocaust memoir.  But it is  something I would really like to do.  We should never forget.

Yesterday I finished reading Rochelle’s book.  The title was intriguing, why “the Jewish  women.”   Ravensbruck was primarily a work camp for women.  There was a Siemens factory nearby.  Although there was a gas chamber, the camp’s main mission was not the extermination of Jews.  Many of the prisoners were political, gypsies, or misfits.  Few were labeled Jewish.  Fortunately,  although Ragna was Jewish, she was arrested in Marseille while part of the French resistance, and taken to Ravensbruck as a political prisoner.  The title of the book and purpose of the Saidel’s website is to document the story of  the Jewish women who passed through Ravensbruck.  After the war when  the camp became a memorial (let us not forget), the Russians told the story of the political prisoners, socialists, communists.  Jewish women didn’t matter.  Rochelle Saidel didn’t want the world to forget “the Jewish women of Ravensbruck.”

Most of her book is based on interviews supplemented with some written material.  Rochelle met many Ravensbruck  survivors during and after the 50th anniversary reunion in 1995.  Although Ragna returned to the camp for reunions, she had died before the 50th Anniversary, she is not a character in Rochelle’s book.  But many of the women’s stories bring back memories of Ragna’s experience.

There are many stories  from the book I wou ld like to share.  But before I do that, I  want to re-read Ragna’s memoir.  I want to read Gemma La Guardia’s book and several other Ravensbruck memoirs I have recently purchased.  I am also planning  a trip to the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington.  I have been there several times on HGP class trips (unfortunately there have been no trips in recent years).  But a visit now will offer new perspective for me  and Diane has never been there. Years ago, I sent the Museum  an English draft of her memoir  and I believe a Danish edition.  But I want to integrate or relate Ragna’s experience with the stories of other survivors.  I want to make sure her story is not forgotten.  Cliche, maybe, but I do believe we should never forget.  More later.













Looking for a rainbow. Think I saw that rainbow today.


In the early 1970s when Diane and I lived on Old York road in New Hope with John and Barbara Paglione, we joked that we were the only straight folks on the street.  Until that time I had limited exposure to gay or lesbian individuals (at least as far as I knew).  No one in high school or even college (both Catholic institutions) were labeled gay.  I remember a guy picking me up in high school — we Bristol kids would hitch hike to Holy Ghost Prep (imagine that today).  The guy looked at a book I was reading, “Seven Pillars of Wisdom.”  Lawrence of Arabia was gay, he said;  I was shocked.  I assumed that the driver was gay.  But Lawrence?

In our Peace Corps training for Libya in Bisbee AZ,  the Libyian men who were living with us would walk down the street holding hands ( they included us).  The men danced together.  We were assured they were not homosexual.  Doubt the locals believed that.  Just Arab behavior.  Flashes of Lawrence of Arabia.

But back to New Hope, an artist community, definitely a gay population.  Across the street from us lived the Bailey boys (Mom  Bailey, a delightful woman lived with them).  Terry and ? ( it will come to me).  They worked in New York in theatre.  One was a voice coach — the Greek actress Melina  Mercouri (Never on Sunday) was a client.  They had a pool and since they were not around during the week we were  encouraged us to use the pool anytime we wanted.  Then there was Steve Katz who owned the Logan Inn.   There were several  other houses of gay men on the street. All very nice, friendly, non threatening.   They all had parties and invited us.  Diane and Barbara as well as John and I.  I remember having cavier at the Bailey’s for the first time.

As Assistant Headmaster at Holy Ghost in the 1970s and 1980s, I suspected that a few of the teachers we hired were gay.  But it was still the days of don’t ask, don’t tell although that wasn’t yet a spoken policy.  But many gays were still in the closet.  And since no one ever told be they were gay, I didn’t really label or pass any judgement.  If anything I may have felt sorry that they couldn’t be more open.  The homophobic behavior/comments ( real or not) of kids did drive me crazy.  It wasn’t right.

In the 199os, there were several events that really impressed me.  One teacher came out as homosexual with me (and probably others) but not the entire school community.  Then there was the speaker Father Jim McCloskey brought to school.  It was a Catholic mother of a gay guy who had died of AIDS.  She spoke about how she had denied her son.  And how she should have embraced and loved him.  I was so proud that HGP hosted such a speaker.  The third event was a discussion about gay marriage when I did the Philadelphia High School Partnership program.  At one session there were about 8 city and suburban schools, private and public represented.  The kids were asked to take a position on gay marriage.  To my astonishment, about 99% said they really didn’t care.  It was up to the individual.  The only hold outs were a few African American girls who said their religious beliefs  led them to say it was wrong.  Not one HGP student took that position and I did not at all  feel it was peer pressure.  Wow, the times they were a changing.  This was probably the mid 90s.

Some years later when I was teaching a film course at HGP, I started to show “Milk.”   I usually didn’t show  recent films but I had time for one more and the kids response was so strong I continued to show it.  The response was quiet and a bit nervous and put off during the first part; cheering for Harvey Milk at the end.  Gays had rights too they said.  I continued to show the film.

And and of course in the ten years since then, rights, full rights, including marriage has become the major social issue. Initially I thought why the need for the word marriage.  If civil unions give you full rights, enough. But then gays using the word marriage didn’t threaten me.  So if they felt the need for that marriage language so be it.  If a religion didn’t saction gay marriage that’s fine too.  The church does not have to marry gay couples.  They will marry in a church that accpts their union or they will have a civil marriage.

And then there was my last year at HGP. One afternoon, I  learned the school had fired Mike Griffin.  I didn’t know Mike was gay.  He never told me and I knew nothing about his home life. Didn’t assume things.   But fire him; not even just ask him to look for a new job.  Simply put, I was furious.  How could the institution that had the best years  (well maybe thats an exaggeration, the best are coming).  But you get the idea.  I believed HGP was a progressive institution.  I believed we hired gays even if I wasn’t 100% sure who was who.  I heard that some of our students came out at senior retreats.  Fire a man, devoted to the values of the school and the Spiritan mission because he chooses to marry in a state that accepts gay marriage.  No this didn’t happen.  But sadly it did.

I know I have friends who might ask what’s wrong with Vince.   Why is he writing this. How can he accept gay marriage.  My answer is very simple.  I believe in equal rights.  I have friends and relatives who are gay.  They don’t present any threat to me.  I believe that in the next few years, this issue will fade but for the most hardened homophobics.  If some churches don’t want to marry gays that’s OK.  But I don’t think that gives them the right to discriminate against gay couples.

I am am looking for a rainbow.   Rainbows are colorful and beautiful.  I think the rainbow has been a symbol of the gay community.   I hope to see one soon.  It’s coming.


Remembering father



On some morning walks , I am totally aware of my physical  environment.    What do I see – vegetation, flowers, birds, animals, architecture, people?   Other walks turn mental. Thoughts build on thoughts. Images,  mental not physical. The walk ignores the physical landscape in favor of of a personal mental focus.  One recent morning my mental walk along the Delaware Canal focused on my Father, Vincent Profy, born December 24, 1920; died March 11, 2013.

So many images and stories flashed in my mind.  Father was a good person.  He was devoted to family; although usually not very demonstrative.  His love was  personal and quiet.  He was humble.

Vincent Profy was a child of the depression and World War II.  In the words of  Tom Brokow, a member of The Greatest Generation.  He was born, grew up and never moved far from Mill Street in Bristol Borough.  He was small town.  I know nothing of his elementary school years.  When he spoke of High School (Bristol, of course)’ it was Mr. F who taught Latin, football and track.  On December 6, 1941 he sat in a soda fountain on Mill Street and heard the news of Pearl Harbor.  He followed his brothers and joined the war effort.  Vince like older brother Albert went into the Navy, serving on the Rapidan, a oil transport.  He worked in Pacific, in the engine room, distilling salt water.  Frequently our personal history is limited to vague images.  I seem to remember  Father reminiscing about standing on the bow of a ship, in Seattle harbor, smoking a pipe, thinking of Cis and listening to  “As Time Goes By.”

Back in Bristol, Vince married Cecilia “Cis” Gallagher, Irish, from the 4th ward, Bristol H S graduate from the other side of the tracks.  A year later, their first of five was born — that’s me, Vince  junior.  Home was a Mill street apartment owned by Cis’s mother, Hannah.  As the family grew they would move to larger apartments on Mill street — the last at 121 was built by Father — a gift from his father Thomas Profy.

Vince worked briefly for Rohm & Haas but Grandpop Profy expected his sons to work in the family business.  So Vince joined brothers Tom and Frank in his father’s GE appliance store.  Vince attended watch school and in a corner of the store opened a jewelry and watch department.  One of my favorite memories is accompanying him on trips to Philadelphia’s Jeweler’s Row.  After business, lunch (The automat at Horn and Hardarts was a favorite) we would  visit Independence Hall, being restored.  My first exposure to historic restoration.

Profy’s on Mill street was the dominant force  in Father’s life.  He was there early morning and worked several nights.  In addition to sales, both appliances and jewelry, he was a repairman.  My sisters and I have all learned lessons about caring for appliances. The Store as we called it was central to his life.

He supported all his children.  In addition to myself, there followed four girls — Cissy, Vicky, Marylee and Lizanne.  But as the only boy I suspect I got special attention.  He went with me into Boy Scouts becoming an Assisatant Scoutmaster.   He challenged me on the basketball court in high school (and he was a rough player).  He and Mom both believed in education so they encouraged reading, stretched funds and sent me to Holy Ghost Prep and  supported me in my first year at Boston College.  The second year I really shocked him when I announced I was getting married.  I was home for a few days in late May and at the dinner table he announced I wasn’t getting married (as a minor in PA, he had to sign papers).  I guess Father had taught me independence  because the next morning I left Bristol and hitch hiked back to Boston.  By late July he gave in and Diane and I were married in late August.  He told me he was worried about money; he couldn’t help us financially.  I responded well just make us some furniture.  He was always a bit of a carpenter handyman.

For Christmas Father drove up to Boston with two colonial reproductions he had made.  A cobbler’s bench/coffee table and a round dining table that folded up as a bench.  He also had a piece of carpeting which he installed in our Commonwealth Avenue apartment. Still have the table but the Cobbler’s bench was lost in a flood. M

As Father aged, his hobbies expanded.  He continued to repair clocks and watches, made furniture, clocks, children’s toys, and recaned chairs. He did stained glass, bonsai, and other gardening.  When he and Mom bought their first house on Mulberry Steet (not far from Mill), the basement became a wood working shop and the 3rd floor a clock and other hobby room.  He exasperated Mom a bit with his obsessions.  In his 60s, retired, he turned to long daily walks, yoga, and a series of healthy food fads.  The pipe smoking, a fixture when we were growing up, had disappeared.

Profy’s Appliance Store closed in the 1970s.  Business had left Mill Street for the suburban shopping centers and malls. And the Profy boys were not moving off Mill Street.  I got Father a job at HGP.  Wanted him to  be a Business Manager but he said no, he’d work in the maintenance department.  Not exactly sure the year he retired but I have previously written about the speech he gave at a retirement party.  How he turned on the lights in the school allowing education and learning to happen.  He was proud of that.

Retired from HGP, father remained  active working in a clock shop and maintaining his hobbies well into his late 80s.  He read quite a bit but rarely watched TV or listened to music and I could never get him to use a computer. He and Mom had always taken some trips (GE promotions) but he wasn’t a big traveler.  Hated driving a car.  NJ shore vacations, an annual trip to visit his brother Albert in Flushing  NY was about the extent of his major driving.  At one point Mother wanted to go to Alaska.  He declined and she went alone (she is another story).  His good friend Ray Nichols, planned and drove them on a number of retirement trips.

When Mom died (a hit and run), my sister Liz moved in with him.  We had already moved them out of Mulberry Street to an apartment on the river.  He suffered with some dementia, short term memory loss, but till the end his long term memory was very good.  He did get very weaker physically and had difficulty walking.  In the last year he became more than Liz could handle and we had to move  him to a nursing home.  Amazing he adjusted pretty well but was only there about 9 months before dying quietly, as he had lived.

I don’t quite know how he did it but Father left us a bit of inheritance. It paid off my loan for raising the house and gave me the money to purchase my new laptop (with a bit in savings).  How do you do that on $85 a week.  His salary in the 1950s.

Father gave me so many things.  I’m not sure I ever properly thanked him.  And there was probably much  about my life style (college and after) that he would not like.  My political  and social views ran contrary to his conservative Catholic outlook.  He disapproved and was almost afraid of gay men.  But at the same time, he accepted and respected everyone.

Father exposed me to and taught me so many things.  From pipe smoking and a liking of good red wine to reading and carpentry, history, exploring an environment, openness to new experiences (within limits for him), and a love of people.  I remember one evening in the Store, he was asking questions to a customer.  When the individual left I said Dad, why were you asking him those questions, you know the answers.  His response was that you should show an interest in others, make them feel that they are helpful, even important.  And he said, maybe I’ll learn something new.  Thanks Father. Many pleasant memories.  And I will try to start Yoga.  It’s on my list.


Walking Mister Mosley



I find this hard to believe.  I checked out a book from the Lower Makefield library, “The Language of Dogs.”  It’s not that I checked out a library book, I have been known to frequent libraries and read books.  But a book about training your dog.  I have only read Chapter 1 but I like Jason Silver’s philosophy.  Each dog is unique.  No educational program fits all. Listen to you dog.  Walk with him or her.  The  same for owners.  Not all are the same.

Diane is the real dog person.  On her first day of retirement she announced:  I want a dog.  Despite the fact that I had commented to a canal dog walker that a dog would be neat, Diane and I argued.  We will be traveling a lot.  Dogs take commitment.  Helen and Scott Nearing warned about animals back in the 1960s (They were back to the earth guru’s, vegetarians, communists — you get the picture).  No farm animals; and no pets.  But Diane wanted a dog, so I said OK.  We traveled a lot in the summer.  Delay.  But only a delay.

Diane always had dogs.  Ike, Blondie, Echo, Champ.  Her family dogs.  All had stories.  As a kid, I had one dog. General Electric.  Is that a name?  My father had won the dachshund in a GE promotion.  My memory is that he frequently escaped our Mill Steet apartment and eventually disappeared ( this was before the cloud).

Our first dog was Nico, a Schnauzer.  Name came from a commitment to stop smoking ( never happened).    Breed because the Mignoni’s had a Schnauzer, Max.  I remember walking Nico on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston.  A very nice dog.  My parents took him when we went into the Peace Corps.  We never reclaimed him.

Luce (or Luz), a cream Labrador Retriever was our next dog.  Fun.  Remember taking her hunting in New York. No game shot.  Her first litter of pure breeds paid Diane ‘s tuition at Trenton State.  The second was a mistake.  I remember a basket at Rice’s in Upper Makefield — free pups.  Luce made it from Yardley to New Hope, to Bristol and back to Yardley.  She ran away once and never came back.  Diane says the local dog catcher found her body.  A nice dog.  Good memories.

Our next was Put (Putnam County, Diane’s home county).  A Golden Retriever.  Another great dog but wild.  Loved to run on the canal, chasing a muskrat or his shadow.  Classic evening was his swimming  in circles chasing ducks on Garlits Pond.  What do you do?  Gene Reimer, the town dog catcher showed up ( guess someone called him).  Gene jumped into the water and pulled Put out.  Why didn’t I think of that!   Since Put pulled so much, Diane went to the SPCA and got Freddie.  It was presumed that Jenny would walk Freddie.  He was small.  Or smaller than Put anyway. But he was also neurotic.  I didn’t like Freddie a lot.  I guess he had some endearing points.  But . . .

The the best part of the Put and Freddie duo was their escapes.  Leave a crack in the back door and they were off.  Down the canal for a multiple day escapade.  We got calls days later, miles away.  We think we have your dogs.  Was Put or  Freddie, the ring leader?  Put died one rainy night.  For me it was quite an experience.  On the deck, after hours,  he sighed his last breath.  I dug a hole in the back yard and buried him.  Very sad.  Freddie hung on for several years.  As neurotic as ever, on drugs, crazy from my perspective.  But like us all, he had his moments.

And now there is Mister Mosley.  Named by Eli and Viv.  I have taken a liking to Moe.  We walk several miles every morning.  He pees every few hours (a man-dog after my heart).  Rides well in the car.  Sits or lays near my feet when I am reading or working  on the computer (that’s some significant time).  Moe and I are hitting it off.

Actually glad Diane pushed the issue.  And we have a dog.  I think Moe will live up to his potential.

I look forward to tomorrow’s walk.  Walking, smelling at a dog’s pace is a different perspective on life. And we all need that.










Lost in the clouds


It happened.  I have worried about this for years. And now its a reality.  I lost the record of a year of my life.  2011 to be exact.  Well more specifically the photographic record.  Let me start from the beginning. Last week I bought a new Apple laptop.  Today I went to HGP so Mike Jacobs could transfer my documents — mainly photographs from my external hard drive to the new laptop.  As with many computer projects, somethings aren’t as easy as you would think.  Mike couldn’t find the most recent back up.  But he soon discovered why.  I backed up the Dell several times in 2010 but none since then.  Now I really thought I was backing up.  I had read that with the drive connected to the computer,  the back up would be automatic.  I trusted what I read (or think I read).  Over the years, I even checked to see that the new data was backed up.  But it seems I was looking through the external drive to my Dell hard drive.  Today Mike proceeded to backup the Dell and he will transfer the 2010 backup and what’s on the computer (2012-2013-2014).  Problem there is no 2011.  Lost.  Gone.  Somewhere in the cloud.

At home I checked my journals (all hand-written).  Travel journal — just a few weekend getaways.  No big loss.  The daily journal told the fuller  story.  2011 was the year Eli was diagnosed and treated for neuroblastoma.  Maybe it’s a year I would like to forget.  But there were some great moments and I think images.   We spent a lot of time in Gladwyne and the hospital.  I didn’t take a lot of pictures of Eli.  But I did shoot a lot of pictures of Viv.  In fact I thought of self publishing a little book, “A Day in the Life of Viv.”  Never did publish it.  Lost, but wait.  I remembered I did a sort of back up.  I printed many of the better pictures. Just  need to find them.  So it seems that 2011 may not  be totally loss. And there are moments worth remembering (after 60, photographs really help memory).

This isn’t the first time I have loss data in ( or is it to) the cloud.  In fact it happened last week.  The camera on my I Pad didn’t work.  Apple doesn’t fix Pad cameras  but replace.  I got a new Pad.  Downloading the data from the cloud (which was almost filled) took some time.  I thought it was finished and left the store but it had frozen with a few pictures left.  A Google search let me know this happened.  But I figured out how to stop the download.  Was actually quite proud of myself.  I had already loaded all the photos from my phone onto the new laptop.  And then I downloaded the new operating system (having cloud space now available).  So I proceeded to downloaded the new system to the Pad.  Installation however erases the data and it seems there was never a back up for the new Pad.  Remember I learned how to stop it.  So all the photos on the Pad were lost in the cloud.  Fortunately most were Internet downloaded images and photographs people had sent me.  Remember the camera hasn’t worked for months so I I didn’t take pictures with it.  But lost all the same.

Our growing reliance on digital data and the  potential for digital has worried me for some time. It also is  related to outdated technologies.  I have thousands of 35mm slides (several hundred Kodak trays and many albums).   I have many cans of Super 8 mm film.  In the Spring with a groupon coupon, I decided to digitize some film. I sent my Peace Corps film and my Harcourt Bindery film to a company in CA.  I got a call — no Bindery film!  What? (In Boston, I had worked for a leather book binder; this was my best film.)  I had many phone conversations with the people at Scan Digital.  Thy looked.  But.  They eventually returned the Peace Corps film and a DVD.  But the Bindery film.  Lost.  Gone.  Maybe not in the cloud.  In the trash?  I do have a Scan Digital credit.

So much of our documentary record is now digital.  E-books, music, e-mail, digital movies and photographs. We are told that the older technology is obsolete. Last year HGP did away with VHS players (outdated, clutter).  Problem: some of the tapes I used in class were VHS copyright and couldn’t be converted to DVDs.  Please return the older technology.

I have often wondered about the historical record.  We are still looking for Nixon’s lost tapes.  How much will be lost in the cloud.  In addition to all my slides, photographic prints, Super 8 film, I have many records, cassettes, CDs, VHS tapes and DVDs. And I don’t want to count the books.  The number would agitate Diane.  Do I digitize all of this?   Do I get rid of the casettes (I actually pulled out a tray of them recently to play an artist who I was reading about).  Sell all the records and books?  But I worry, will I lose a lot in (to) the cloud.  Who is saving e mails for the historical record.  I guess I will need to learn about  back ups.  Scan some slides, digitize some movies, read a bit online, buy fewer CDs and DVDs but I doubt  I will get rid of all the hard copies.  Imagine if I had done that with all of the 2011 photographs.  It would be a lost year photographically anyway.

A footnote.  I wrote this post 2 times.  Had just about finished and the I Pad froze up.  When reopened the draft was gone.  No back up.  Is there a lesson here?


Fall is in the air!

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Fall is in the air — yes a cliche.  But so true this morning as I walked along the canal.  In  the air, colors, lighting,  sounds and smells.  Crisp, cool but not yet cold.  Just enough to have walkers and cyclists wrapped in a jacket or sweat shirt.  Pumpkins on porches, stripped sunflower heads with seeds littering the deck — birds and squirrels storing up for winter.  Oranges, reds, yellows, and browns pushing aside the summer green, buzzing chain saws and leaf blowers, piles of firewood, leaves littering the towpath, dots of color, small  specks on green algae and canal water, walnuts and a lone mock orange,  even the rust on the bridge, and moss and lichen covered stone lock echoes Fall.  So grateful for the time to enjoy the change.

Walked about four miles this morning.



The Art of Observation – Photography


Last night I watched ” Dorothea Lange: Grab a Hunk of Lightening,” a PBS American Masters documentary.  The program was created by Dorothea’s cinematographer granddaughter, Dyanna Taylor, using some fantastic family film footage.  I was particularly drawn to the program because Diane has been reading “Mary Coin,” a fictionalized account of the story behind the photograph, “Migrant Mother.”   Dorothea took the photograph of Francis Owens Thompson and her children in California in 1936.  Who can forget the haunting look, introspective gaze, turned heads of the two, young tired children.  The image is an icon of motherhood, poverty and the struggle of the 1930s Great Depression.

When Lange took photographs of Florence she was working for the Farm Security Administration.  It was a WPA program that hired photographers to document workers and life during the depression years.  I discovered the FSA photographs in the 1970s when I purchased a book, “In this Proud Land: America 1935-1943 as seen in the FSA photographs,” for the HGP library.  I was blown away by the images.

My personal experience as a photographer began with black and white film and a small Kodak Brownie — a gift from my Aunt Carol.  In High School and College I graduated to an Argus C3 — Carol’s gift to my father one Christmas.  I really didn’t take a lot of photographs, in college I was side tracked into making films with a super 8 Beaulieu movie camera.  This was before video and the tiny 8 mm film was not easy to work with.

In the 1970s, my creative interests turned to film.  I set up dark rooms at our New Hope house and at Holy Ghost Prep.  At HGP I purchased several SLR Pentax cameras.  One for me to use and several to  lend to students.  I ran a Camera club and used photography in my teaching.  I explored the history of photography and created a slide program to teach that history.   The HGP library has a great collection of photography books.  Many date from this period.

I think it was the summer of 1974 when my involvement in photography took a leap forward.  That summer Diane and I lived in Bethel Maine with Melody and Garret Bonnema, friends who had moved to Maine to do pottery.  I thought I would write that summer.    I had been an English major at Boston College and always thought of myself as a writer.  But August came  and I hadn’t done any writing.  I responded to an ad for the Maine Photographic Workshop in Rockport.  I believe it was the first year of the workshop established by photographer-educator Dave Lyman.

I spent one week on a small island off Rockport.  An Outward Bound instructor gave us a sheet of plastic and directions for making a tent.  I tried to pitch it over a rock the first night and was very uncomfortable.  So I took my bottle of burbon and got to know our sail boat’s captain much better.  For the rest of the week I slept on the sail boat.  Our instructor was a National Geographic free lance photographer, Bill Curtsinger.  Bill wasn’t much older that I was but in my eyes he had a dream job.  For a week we walked around the island and Bill  opened our eyes to composition, lighting, angles — I remember he had an 18mm lens that he let us use.  I loved the rocks, sunrise and sunset, reflections of the water, small plants,  shells and small bits of life in tidal pools.  Back in Rockport we developed and critiqued our images.  National Geographic philosophy was that film, always Kodachrome slide film, was the cheapest part of the shoot.  Shoot, shoot and shoot some more.  I soon adopted the NG philosophy.  Another lessons I remembered from Bill was that there was only so much time each of us had.  You couldn’t read every book, see every movie or do every shoot.  You had to chose carefully.  Your time was precious.  Bill’s speciality was underwater photography but he had recently done a shoot of the New Jersey Pine Barrens (cover shot helped with a bit of weed).  That shoot eventually led to an illustrated edition of John McPhee!s classic, “The Pine Barrens.”  He also had either just returned or was headed for a wolf shoot in Alaska.  Wow.  Only so many shoots in a lifetime.

The following year I took two workshops in Maine.  The first was with another NG photographer, Bruce Dale.  Bruce reviewed my portfolio the first day, “There are no pictures of people,” he said.  My response was that my only people pictures are family which I didn’t consider part of my more creative work.  Bruce said that I had to change that.  In the next week he turned me into a acceptable documentary, street photographer.  I don’t remember exactly what Bruce did but he gave me the confidence and techniques to meet people and photograph them.  Although i am not always comfortable doing this kind of photography I have used it many times — walking the streets of Philadelphia, on my first trip to England (shoot people), in Nicaragua street photography became the way I communicated (since my Spanish was severely limited).

My next workshop was even more amazing.  Dave Lyman was attracting big names from the world of photography.   I signed up for a color workshop with Ernst Haas, an Austrian, lauded as one of the best 10 color photographers in the world — he did the original Marlboro man.  Ernst also did several great books that I eventually bought.  During the first day of the workshop, Ernst sat us on the floor in a room and talked about color and light.  He said there should be a nail in the shutter release button.  When a photographer pushed, he knew he wanted the image.  This was quite opposite the NG philosophy.  Ernst took us on location, to a Maine Fair, around town — early morning, evening — always looking at color and light.  He pushed my photography in new directions.  Still shooting Kodachrome , sometime Ektachrome for a different color base.

In the next few years, I would begin to send photographs to stock agencies.  They sell photographs to a variety of publishers.  I worked with H. Armstrong Roberts in Philadelphia and Shostal in New York City.  I would sent them several hundred slides and they might keep a dozen.  I also did several yearbooks for elementary schools and shot a few weddings. I spent a lot of time photographing in Bucks County and Philadelphia.  Did a few local shows and briefly tried to sell prints at craft shows.   For years my photo business was a deduction on my federal income tax.  After the allowed number of years I made a small profit.  Although my stock images have passed on to different companies, as recently as a few years ago I got a check.  I stopped doing stock work in the 1980s as I became more involved with teaching.  At one point I tried to restart but lost several boxes of slides to the US Post office in Chicago.  They returned my orange Kodak boxes– empty.  Never sent photos to a stock agency again.  I would like to return to stock work but have been told that it is very different and extremely competitive with digital.

By the late 80s and 90s I was a typical home photographer.  Still shooting slides but usually only on trips and family activities.  I also did some slide presentations for the Yardley Historical Association, Friends of the Delaware Canal, and my High School and College teaching.  I did a lot, yes a lot, of photography in the years I went to Nicaragua with the service project, Ayudanica.  Rob Buscaglia, Ayudanica founder, and I often talked about publishing a book of photographs.  But it never happened.  I made the transition from slides (and some color film) after our last  trip in about 2005 or 6.  Never developed the last rolls of film in my cameras — several Nikon bodies by his time.

Now that I am retired, I need to look around the corner and review the role of photography in my life.  Last night I watched Dorothea Lange go through a career of negatives in preparation for an exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art  in New York.  She pulled images, discarded, laid aside, selected, paired, removed, trying to distill a life’s work into a museum show.  It was inspiring, beautiful.  Unfortunately Dorothea died in 1965 before the show was mounted.

I know that in the next few months I need to edit my photographs.  I have boxes of “seconds” still in yellow Kodak boxes.  Most should be in the trash.  I have a closet, yes a closet of Kodak slide trays — thousands of images.  I have boxes and albums of pictures, black and white that I shot with the Brownie or developed in the 1970s.  Color prints of family and friends.  And now I have 10 or so years of digital images on computer — thousands I suspect.  I am not going to have a show at the Museum of Modern Art.  I guess my editing need to be more severe that Dorothea’s.  I want to consider doing something with my best images.– maybe a powerpoint presentation, a self published Shutterfly type book. or maybe something more significant.  I need to donate  my Yardley slides to the Historical Association.  Lots of editing.

Finally like Dorothea, I want to continue to shoot.  She turned to family in her last years.   I took a one day course in using a digital camera (I’ve used it as a point and shoot for years),   I’ve talked with  a photo shop salesman (some still exist) about upgrading my equipment.  I may return to Nikon using some of my old lenses.  There are photography projects to keep me busy for the next weeks, months, hopefully years.

In the end I do want to keep exploring the world, meeting people, expressing myself though observation and photography.


Ghosts From the past


Interesting how the young and the old; green and the brown live together.

In May I read “The Priority List: a teacher’s final quest to discover life’s greatest lessons,” by David Menasche.  Retirement was on my mind and I had begun to evaluate my 40 year plus teaching career.  What had I learned?  What had I accomplished?

David Menasche was a high school English teacher.  The book”s jacket reads “When a six-year battle with brain cancer ultimately stole Davids vision, memory, mobility, and — most tragically of all — his ability to continue teaching, he was devastated by the thought that he would no longer have the chance to impact his student’s lives each day.”

Books (and movies) about disability, disease, sickness, dying, even those with happy ending usually don’t appeal to me.  “Tuesdays With Morey” was an exception.  But David’s story was captivating for a retiring teacher.  When told he had little time to live, he quit treatment and decided to hit the road.  Had he made a difference in the lives of his students?  David posted on Facebook:  who has an extra bed or couch?  Within hours, former students and friends in more than 50 cities responded with offers of support and a bed.

“Traveling more than eight thousand miles from Miami to New York, to America’s heartland and San Francisco’s Golden Gate, and visiting hundreds of his students, David’s fearless journey explores the things we all want and need out of life — family, security, independence, love, adventure — and forces us to stop and consider our own Priority List.”

The books title comes from an activity David frequently did with his students.  Provided a list of words they were asked to prioritize.

Acceptance.                    Possessions

Adventure.                       Power

Artstic Expression.          Privacy

Career.                             Respect

Family.                             Security

Education.                       Sex

Friendship                      Shelter

Fun.                               Spirituality

Health.                           Style

Honor.                            Technology

Independence.               Travel

Love.                              Victory

Marriage.                       Wealth

Quite an activity.  A lesson plan I read about to late in my teaching career.  But maybe not.

About a year ago I began to use Facebook.  My purpose was  that it provided an opportunity to stay in contact with former students, colleagues and friends.  At the same time I though in retirement that I would keep a blog.  Once a teacher, communicator . . . always . . .

My story is no way as dramatic as David’s but in the past four months, I have begun to make contact with former students and friends . . . Ghosts from the past.

In June, Bob Vierlinck and I traveled to Night Shift Brewery in Everett MA.  Bob is a former student, now a teacher at HGP. Night Shift was started in 2012 by HGP alumni Mike O’Mara and Rob Burns (Bob’s close friends and classmates).  Burns was also an alumnus of Ayudanica, the Nicaraguan service project I did with Rob Buscaglia for about 10 years.  Needless to say Bob and I had a great time.  We toured Cambridge and Boston, ate well in Somerville, and hung out at  the brewery from late afternoon till early evening.  It was great to make contact with Mike and Rob, Night Shift beer is fantastic and I enjoyed seeing their marketing scheme.  A great trip.  Bob and I have talked about sponsoring an Alumni-Faculty trip to Night Shift.

Later in June, I took the train to Philadelphia, headed to the Wilma Theatre.  HGP grad and former student Kevin Collins was staring in Tom Stoppard’s “The Real Thing.”   Years ago Kevin returned to HGP and talked to one of my classes.  He has spent about 12 career years abroad and now lives in the area of White Plains, NY.  This was his first show in hometown Philadelphia.  The play was great, about relationships and writing.  Kevin had a fantastic stage presence, voice, movement and facial expression.  But even more significant was the short coffee meeting we had after the play.  Kevin’s wife and little girl joined us.  We talked about the past, present and future.  Hope we stay in touch.

My next significant encounter with HGP Alumni came after an e-mail from Tom Pedrick.  I had run into Tom at the Penn Museum where he was a graduate intern.  He contacted me about hosting a small dinner pArty for his former teacher and my former Holy Family University student, HGP colleague and friend John Di Giesi.  John is a teacher’s teacher.  I often joked I would video tape him to use in my college classes.  John did as I taught not as I taught.  When he left HGP the response from his former students was astounding.  So one evening I picked up John for a surprise dinner at the Pedrick’s in Yardley.  John was astounded.  Greeting him along with Tom Pedrick were Chris Lucarini, Kyle Dooley, Charles O’Connor, and Bryce McGuigan.  Although I never had any of them as students, it was such a pleasure to be with HGP grads honoring a former teacher.  HGP students and alumni often use the word Brotherhood.  It was evident that evening.

More recently John Paglione (classmate, HGP grad and close personal friend) did a beer tour of Philadelphia.  We visited four breweries and about a dozen bars (we didn’t drink in all of them).  Out dinner was in Ambler, Forest and Main Brewery and Pub.  Owner, Gerard Olson is an HGP grad and also a Ayudanica alumni.  A great way for John and I to end our day.  I had wanted to get to Forest and Main for months.  Facility, food and beer were great.  Unfortunately didn’t get to talk to Gerard that night but we communicate through Facebook.  And I shall return to Ambler.

I have also stayed in contact with many former students through Facebook.  In the coming months I hope some of these contacts turn into some person to person contact.  Virtual reality is a poor substitute.  Like David Menasche, I want to see what my former students are doing.  How their lives  intersected with my own.   I want to spend a day with Gene at Giordano’s market in South Philadelphia; visit Tacony Music Hall with Jim Lopardo.  Maybe a trip to Trinadad to visit Joe Cannon; or Flynn Resnick in Turkey.  The possibilities are endless.

Not all of the ghosts from the past for me or David Menasche are former students.  Friends answered the call for David and I have had some good contact with personal friends.  In addition to John and Barbara Paglione who have visited us. In the past few months Jerry and Kate Alonzo, Barbara and John Dye have spent time in Yardley.  Hope for return visits in  the next few years.

David Menasche learned the impact that he had on many students.  He returned home and wrote his book “The Priority List.”  The book was published in 2013.  David is still alive.  He continues to maintain a presence on Facebook.  What an amazing story and an inspiration for teachers, retirees — well maybe anyone and everyone.

I was was certainly inspired.