Nantucket Time


In the late 80s or early 90s, Diane found a small ad in a local newspaper for a small house on Nantucket. We had visited Martha’s Vineyard several years before and thought Nantucket would be an interesting vacation spot. Rattlesnake Bank, located about 12 minutes outside of town, was wonderful. It was off Polpis Road, a long clam shell drive led to a 1950s, two bedroom cottage, that would become our favorite get away for over ten years. The owner, John, was from Newtown PA and had inherited the property from an  aunt. When she bought or built in the 1950s, Nantucket was still a bit of a backwater tourist destination.

The first year, we stayed a week and did the usual tourist things. We went to beaches on the sound and the ocean. Did some birding. In town we explored Nantucket’s whaling history and took a architectural-historic walking tour. We had bicycles, so there were bike rides into town and to Sconset, the small artist colony of quaint cottages. We saw the lighthouses and enjoyed some shopping in the cobble stone streets town center — Mitchell’s Book store, Nantucket Looms, Murray’s Toggery, where you buy Nantucket “red” shorts and shirts.  We fell in love with the island, Rattlesnake Bank and the Nantucket rhythms.


As the years passed, I began to experience Nantucket Time.  You need to be in a familiar place, no need to rush, to do, to see new things.  Move slowly, relaxed, no deadlines, go with the flow, enjoy.  Nantucket Time is like a slow flowing stream; waves gently breaking on the shore.   The wind rustling in the trees, the early morning birds.  Nantucket Time  is the sound of wind chimes, the smell of flowers, or salt spray. Nantucket Time would begin on the 2 1/2 hour ferry ride from Hyannis to the Far Away Island. By the time we reached Rattlesnake Bank, I was wound down.

We usually arrived in early afternoon, drove down Orange Street and stopped at a favorite bakery.  At the rotary, we picked up some wine and beer, then unloaded the car, beach stuff, bicycles, kyack, cameras, binoculars.  Some years Jenny brought a friend, one year Smiths visited; another year my parents.  One of the great things about renting from John was we were not confined to a standard weekly rental.  We told him the day we wanted to arrive and how many days we wanted to stay.  There were several couples he rented to like this on a regular basis.  We began to feel like Rattlesnake Bank was our second home.


As the years passed, Nantucket Time deepened.  We had many established routines — trips to Cisco brewery and Bartlett’s vegetable farm market, Sayle’s Seafood and the Wicked Island Bakery, previously mentioned.  Each year we ate out a few nights — we sampled American Seasons, 21 Federal Street, Arno’s,  Oran Mor, one of our favorites was  Black-Eyed Susan’s.   Every year, our final dinner was at Straight Wharf.  I believe the first high end restaurant in Nantucket.  The chef for 20 years was Marian Morash, a one time assistant to Julia Child.  Each year we had her signature Bluefish pate.

Despite the fact that a fire in 1864 wiped out most of downtown Nantucket and sounded the death of  the whaling industry, there is a strong sense of history in town.  We would visit several sites every year — the African American Meeting House, the Jethro Coffin House, Whaling Museum, First Congregational Church and the Old Mill.  We took various tours — the first year it was a jeep tour, sponsored by Trustees of Reservations, to the Great Point Lighthouse.  If I remember correctly, we got a private tour of the Coatue Wildlife Refuge where the lighthouse is located.  One year we rented a jeep and made the trip ourselves.  Several years we joined Audubon groups for early morning bird walks.  Another  year a Herman Melville scholar gave a tour of sites associated with the author of Moby Dick. And we still get mailings from a hospital fundraiser annual house tour. There were beach discovery tours where Jenny collected and identified sea creatures, using small scoop and seine nets.

Nantucket always offered a rich cultural life.  There were plays at the Congregational Church and other venues, lectures — we saw David Halberstam, Jack Welch (GE CEO), and several lectures by Nathaniel Philbrick — Nantucket historian and author.  Most years we attended a a concert or music venue — Judy Collins, Joan Baez, James Taylor, and the Boston Pops.  At the Chicken Box we saw Bob Marley’s The Wailers.

One of the appeals of Rattlesnake Bank was it’s location.  Someone told us it was one of the most secluded rentals on the island.  At the same time it was a fifteen minute walk past the Life Saving Station Museum, down a dirt road to Nantucket Sound.  This was a good place for birding — we eventually bought a scope.  And then there was the year of the John Kerry presidential election.  His wife Theresa Heinz had a Nantucket house.  We started to see a car, license plate “Heintz” at the end of the dirt road.  Construction was happening and they were destroying “our” wild berry bushes.   Were John and Theresa creating a secluded Nantucket house?    I wrote Therese Heinz who eventually wrote back informing me a staff person was borrowing her car.  John lost the election; I still wonder.

On Nantucket time, I read a lot of books.  Nantucket history, tales of the sea, Cape Cod and New England.  We also spent lazy days at the beaches  — our favorite was the uncrowded Sesachacha Pond beach,  with access to the ocean.   It was a 20 minute bike ride from Rattlesnake.  We would occasionally go to Miacomet or Nobadeer on the Ocean side. This is were the kids and surfers hung out, so Jenny liked it.  On the sound side,  Jetties, near town, was crowded with families and Dionis was usually filled with seaweed. We didn’t go to either very much.

Rattlesnake Bank was ideally located.  At the end of our drive, we could get on the bike path and head for town (about 20 minutes) or Sconset (about 40 minutes).  If we climbed the hill behind the house, we were in the Nantucket Moors, acres of preserved landscape, trails and a lookout called Altar Rock.  Down in the Sound, there were several places where we could launch our and later a second kayak that John bought.  And there were hiking trails — short and long.  Although in the first few years we felt we had discovered most of Nantucket, I was always pleased when a typographical map led us to a new water access area or wooded trail.  We became heavy on the familiar with a twist of the new.


But Rattlesnake Bank wasn’t our home.   In the early 2000s, John called, he was selling for about 2 million, not the house, which would be moved, but the property.  Nantucket had become a upper class resort. Our Arcadia was ending.  We searched unsuccessfully for a replacement rental on Nantucket but ended up on Pilgrim Lake in Orleans, Cape Cod.  Pilgrim lake is great.  There is a lot of activity, canoeing and fishing, the National Seashore, Proviencetown, beaches, a bike trail, lots of seafood.  We’ve only been here 3 years, and we share with Jen, Rob, Viv and Eli.  Grandkids add a special flavor to summer vacations.  We are beginning to remember places —  Nauset Market, the Cottage Street Bakery, Cooke’s Seafood, Rock Harbor, Nauset Beach on the ocean and Skaket on the bay.  Eli has really gotten into fishing on the lake; and he participates in a baseball clinic every morning for one week.  College players come to the Cape to compete iand meet recruiters.  In the morning they coach young kids.  There are walks and programs at the National Seashore;, birding, and boat trips. A few historic sites — we haven’t been to the Transatlantic Cable Station Museum yet.

And of course, hopefully there can be Nantucket Time on Cape Cod.  Maybe because I am older, or we have only been here three years, maybe I have too many issues on my mind.  It’s been slow coming.   Every morning for  the past few days, I get up and say, take it slow, listen to the birds, watch the light change on the lake, don’t worry about what happens, enjoy the moment.  I think I am slowing setting the clock to Nantucket Time.



A Golden Pond Moment


We arrived in Orleans, on Cape Cod at about 6 o’clock Saturday afternoon.  The kids — Jen, Rob, Eli and Viv — we already there.  This is our third year at 15 Country Lane on Pilgrim Lake.  As we went about unloading the car, unraveling table umbrellas, putting out deck chairs and other getting organized activities, I couldn’t help thinking about On Golden Pond.  A week ago, Diane and I saw a staging at the Bucks County playhouse.  I re-watched the 1981 Hepburn-Fonda-Fonda movie this past year.  Play and movie were both delightful.

Cape Cod has become a family tradition, since our Nantucket rental house was sold. With Jenny, we had vacationed there for over 10 years — usually for 2 week stays.  Although we miss Nantucket, Pilgrim Lake is quite quiet — a small bathing beach opposite our dock, an occasional canoe or kyack, fishermen.  But like Rattlesnake Bank, our Nantucket “home,” we don’t see another house. Peaceful.

Early Sunday morning, Eli was on the dock, catching yellow perch.  Then he and Viv came up to the deck with a medium size turtle in a bucket.  Fifteen minutes later, we were all called to the dock, Eli had spotted a large, very large turtle in the shallows.  I’m pretty sure it’s a snapper, Viv claimed his neck was bigger than hers; Eli estimated that the shell was over 15 inches.  Allowing for a bit of exaggeration, it’s one big turtle and I suspect we will see it again. Oh, a 15 inch shell is probably a turtle past 80 to 100 years old.  Diane put out some sunflower seeds for the birds but so far, the tray has been the property of a chipmunk.  Jen said the chipmunks climb the trees, not something we’ve seen in other place.  Sitting on on the deck, we watch an agressive robin chase a family of Blue Jays.  Listen and watch several woodpeckers.  And saw an as yet unidentified large warbler?  Or maybe it’s a flycatcher.


Anytime we travel, good food is a top priority.  And we particularly enjoy seafood.  On the drive up, we stopped at the Little Stone House Cafe in Guilford, CN, on the water.  Discovered on a previous trip, they have “wow” lobster rolls — the lobster is/was plentiful, warm and buttery, on the traditional roll.  Last night we grilled some salmon and tonight will have clam chowder and scallops.  Eli has turned into a clam chowder connoisseur.   Last year he tried four or five different chowders, rating and ranking them.  Lots more seafood in the next two weeks.


One of my favorite On Golden Pond moments on the Cape was Eli catching his first small mouth bass.  The first year, he was unsuccessful — only sunnies and perch.  The day we left, I told Eli that the old Bass, let’s call him Bubba, is laughing, saying “see you next year sucker.”  Last year Eli was determined.  He bought shiners, larger hooks, was up at five in the morning on the dock.  Finally Thursday afternoon he landed a bass. Eli was ready to get the frying pan but I said we needed  good filleting knife.  So we threw him back in.    I told Eli  about On Golden Pond, Norman and Billy and Walter, the big fish.  We found the scene on YouTube. Several months ago I purchased a good filleting knife.  Beware Bubba.

I don’t think I am as absent-minded or as mean-spirited as Norman; although Diane may take issue with me on that.  But I love the character, his hats, caustic humor, and tell it like it is attitude.  And the house on Golden Pond (Maine not Massachuttes), with its books, broken screen door, boat, easy chairs and downeast mailman is the ideal summer retreat.  As much as I like exploring new places, there is a warmth and home feeling to vacationing in the same place, year after year, establishing family traditions.  We were very fortunate to have Rattlesnake Bank just over 10 years.  When the owner, John, decided to sell, we felt our home was being sold.  Unfortunately we didn’t get any of the 2 million he got for the property.  The small cottage was towed away. But we have found a home on Cape Cod.

So we will settle in for our third year on Pilgrim Lake, our Golden Pond for now.



Exploring the Litchfield Hills



I’d been after Diane to plan a short get away for a month.  Finally she booked two nights at The Falls Village Inn, Falls Village, Connecticut.  Her choice was influenced by a desire to pass through Carmel, NY — her hometown — to arrange for a date to be set in her mothers tombstone.  I decided on a serendipitous trip and had no real focus on Falls Village or the surrounding area.  We rode through Carmel and stopped at the Raymond Hill cemetery to arrange some work on her parents tombstone, then we started north on Connecticuit Route 7.

This was familiar territory.   In fact,  beginning our Honeymoon, the director ay after our wedding in Brewster, NY — one town over from Carmel — we headed north on 7.  Our first stop was a small park, Kent Falls.  Somewhere there is 8mm movie footage of Diane throwing her flowers into the stream beneath the falls. We didn’t stop since we took a few anniversary pictures at the falls several years ago.  What caught our attention, however, was the Sloane-Stanley Museum in Kent.  Eric Sloane was a painter, writer, pioneer america enthusiast and collector of early American tools. Diane and I both used his books in research and teaching.  Footnote, this may be an interesting stop on the drive home.

The next familiar stop is Cornwell Bridge along  the Housatonic River.  There is a small cluster of buildings around the covered bridge — CT has over two dozen.  One shop is the Cornwell Bridge Pottery (not opened on Thursday); another is Ian Ingersoll, cabinetmaker, furniture maker in the Shaker tradition. The last time we stopped we were very tempted to make a purchase.  But it’s getting late so we push on.


imageFalls Village is new territory. Our Inn is located on Railroad Street — “a mid nineteenth century station stop on the Housatonic Railroad.” We learn that the village grew due to the river falls which provided water power for industry and the Ames Iron works which produced cannon during the Civil War.  Today there is a large hydroelectric plant along the river near the falls. It’s not very attractive but it’s producing clean energy.  Our recently renovated Inn across from the Railroad Depot was built c 1840, has a large front porch and Italianate architecture. Other buildings in town reflect Greek Revival, Second Empire, and Queen Anne — all Victorian styles build during the late 1800s.  Interesting downtown Yardley has examples of all these styles, also built at the same time following railroad construction in Yardley.

Before dinner we take a walk, cross under the RR, attempting to find the river and the Applachian trail.  At a small parking lot, we meet a group of hikers who tell us a bridge is out and the AT had been detoured around town.  As we talk to other hikers we learn some are ignoring the detour and fording the river near the old bridge.  The hikers, twenty-thirty year olds, add a nice feel.   Our backpacking days (always limited) are over but we still enjoy the romance of  the trail — if only.

Back at the Inn we have some pre dinner wine and then dine on a side porch.  A baked Brie with almonds and apples  was delicious.  Local beer.  Salmon for Diane; tuna for me.  A berry dessert and Irish coffee.  Haven’t ordered one in years but perfect.  The inn is overpriced but dinner was very good and out server was delightful.  It always adds to a meal.  A few hikers show up for dinner (our waitress tells us they are sometimes turned away due to body odor).  One guy actually rents a room for the night.  At the Inn prices, he must have a generous patron.

Breakfast not included (very unusual for a B and B). But a block away is The Toymaker’s Cafe.  Run but a retired couple who open up their yard for camping AT hikers.  Not many tables, extremely eclectic decoration, books, magazines, posters and prints.  Several hikers sit at one table; a few locals at another.  Diane orders Eggs Benedict (high praise from a YELP reviewer); I have green eggs, a creative dish with avocado, lettuce and other veggies, Canadian bacon, fried eggs and pesto — sounds almost healthy.  We get into conversation with one hiker from Ohio.  He’s only doing 1/2 of the trail this year but has plans to finish Georgia to Harpers Ferry next year.  Also dreams of doing what he called the International AT — Nova Scotia, Greeland, Ireland, ending up in Spain and Portugal.  We’d never heard of it.  We’re happy to sell all the hikers with backpacks, worn boots, bandanas, walking sticks, water bottles, and sleeping bags.


Brochures and a map let us know that in tourist promotion, we are in the Litchfield  Hills.  Since we have no definite plans, we decide on a loop of small towns north, east, south and back to Falls Village.  I punch Canaan, CT into the car GPS.  Just beginning to use this.  You must be stopped to enter a destination.  A bit annoying but safety.

Before reaching Canaan, we turn off a side road which should take us to Land of Nod Winery and Beckley Iron Furnace.  Before we find either, we stop at a limestone quarry.  I’m out of the car shooting pictures when a guy in hard  hat approaches, “Careful,” he warns ” if some of that falls on your head, your done.”  I learn that this is magnesium limestone for industrial use; a company quarry in MA mines calcium limestone for food and medicinal products. Further down the road was Beckley Iron Furnace, a small historic where pig iron was made.  The RR went through Canaan and there is a movement to save a large RR depot. In its nineteenth century heyday, there were 12 passenger trains daily; milk trains headed to NYC; and freight  includIng pig iron, nails, ships anchors and limestone. We continue our explore to Norfolk.

Each town on our route highlight a few tourist attractions.  In Norwalk it was music and books.  The Infinity Music Hall & Bistro was an interesting building; one of several music venues in town.  Next door was an old fire company building with several businesses.  In a quaint local craft shop, the owner suggested we visit the town library.  A beautiful building on a classie New England town commons, donated to the community by Isabelle Eldridge in 1888.  The exterior is stone and fish scale tiles.  They recently received a grant to restore the fluted Spanish roof tiles.  The interior wood, stained glass,  upholstered chairs.  Loaded with books and a few computers.  The library also hosts a variety of events — an upcoming a lecture on the Underground Railroad, and lantern slides of China.

We continued on to the small village of Goshen.  Most of the land, outside of these towns, is undeveloped forests.  Occasionally, we get a view of rolling hills, some farms, dairy and quite a few vineyards.  Maybe the limestone.  Goshen’s claim to fame was the fairgrounds (nothing happening) and Nodine’s smokehouse.  We stopped,  lots of smoked ham and bacon products.  Looked good but our ice chest wasn’t iced so we pushed on to Litchfield and lunch.

Litchfield was the biggest to the towns we visited.  A fairly active commercial center.  Unfortunately I chose a restaurant a bit outside of downtown, Saltwater Grill.  It was in a historic building, with nice outside seating but the food was just OK. The real annoyance was our young waitress.  I asked about local brews, “Oh, we have a lot.”  She proceeded to read off what amounted to standard national beers.  A few names I didn’t recognize, “Belevidere?”  She didn’t know if it was local but it was very good.  Turned out it was a  Blelvidere vodka drink (on tap?), not bad,  but obviously not the local beer I wanted.

White Flower Farm is in Litchfield.  We’ve ordered hosta from their catalog and Diane had been there with her mother once. Me stopped.  It’s not a big place but very tasteful.  Unlike Terrain (our go to garden center in Chester County), White Flower deals strictly in plants.  The most amazing was a green house filled with Blackmore and Langdon Tuberous Begonias.  They are only propagated in England and at White Flower Farm from cuttings.  Amazing display of colors.  Most not for sale, being grown for cuttings.  Diane picked out a few flowers; maybe we’ll start a new flower garden.

From Litchfield we headed back to our B and B in Falls Village.  We ate again at the Inn. Since we had a big lunch, I settled on a lobster roll — expensive, but tasty, and just enough.  Diane had a beet salad.  No dessert but couldn’t resist another Irish coffee.  The porch dining was relaxing.

We left early Saturday, headed to Kent.  A short detour took us through some nice countryside, AT hikers, and the village of Sharon.  Our destination was the Eric Sloane Museum in Kent.  Sloane was an artist, collector, and writer.  Most of his books deal with Americana, particularly, wood and early American tools.  As mentioned, Diane and I both drew on Sloane’s work in teaching — “A Reverance for Wood,” “Diary of an Early American Boy: Noah Blake,” “A Museum of Early American Tools,” are several titles we remember.  The books use a hand written type face that Sloane developed And detailed pictures of tools and other artifacts.  The Museum, funded originally by Stanley, contains rooms of tools that Sloane and Stanley collected and another room that recreates his studio.  He died in 1985.  I liked the way the interpretative text was actually written by Sloane in his distinctive style and pages from his books  were placed with the display.


The old tools struck me on several levels.  I recently went through a lot of my father’s hand tools. And on the slave cabin building project at Montpelier in February we used some of the tools — broadax, froe, for example.  And then I was reminded of Henry Chapman Mercer and his “Tools of a Nation Maker,” and the Mercer Museum.  Sloane knew of  Mercer and had a copy of Mercer’s “Ancient Carpenter’s Tools.”  We talked to a woman in the museum and she located an old  VHS program, Roy Underhill’s “The Woodwright’s Shop: Two Old Tool Pioneers.”  The program featured Sloane and Mercer. Fantastic.

Amazing but we found another Bucks County connection.  On the drive up, we had  spotted a Steve Tobin black Steel Root sculpture in front of the Starbuck Inn in Kent.  Someone in a liquor store told us there were others.  Now in town, we saw Steve Tobin Steel Roots all over.  There were over six. And in a field beside the Farmers Market was a huge  deconstructed root laying in the grass.  We found out that the Morrison Gallery in Kent representes Steve and were hosting an exhibit.  Unfortunately time constraints and we didn’t view the exhibit but it was neat seeing Tobin’s work in a context.  A bit of Bucks County in Connecticuit.


Lunch in Kent — Mexican — and we headed home — a little over 3 hours with delays on the Tappen Zee bridge.  But we got to the kennel on time to get cat and dog.  Didn’t want to pay for the weekend.





Our trip, exploring the Litchfield hills, a bit of serendipity; some familiar, some new.



A strange registration; an interesting decade!

In 1979, I was at family gathering at my sister’s house in Bristol Borough.  My brother in law was praising the candidacy of Ronald Reagan in the Republican primary.  “I’ll cancel your vote,” I said.  The next day I registered as a Republican and voted for John Anderson  in the primary.  It’s interesting how such a small action can influence decades.  Anderson lost; Reagan won the primary and the general election; and I was a registered Republican.

Before I changed my registration back to Independent or Democrat, I got a call from the Yardley Republican club.  The parent of an HGP student, Fred Kurtz, invited me to a meeting for candidates for Borough Council.  Months before, I had volunteered to serve on a Borough committee — denied planning or zoning —  I had became a member of the cable TV commission, pretty important.   Now I was being offered the opportunity to run for  Yardley Borough Council.  But as a Republican.

Around this time, I was organizing a  chapter of the Sierra Club in Bucks County.  I called Philadelphia. “Should I run as as a Republican?”   The answer I got cemented my party registration for years.  “Go for it,” the Sierra voice said, “we need environmental activists in the Republican Party. ”  In the Yardley Republican meeting, I got along extremely well with one of my potential running mates, Susan Taylor — a fiscal Republican but very liberal on many issues. We ran together  and won.

In  all honesty, many Bucks County Republican, office holders in the 1980s,  were moderate and I didn’t have a lot of issues with them — in fact I could support People like Jim Greenwood and Dave Heckler.  Once elected to Council, Susan and I forged a fairly liberal thinking group of Yardley Republicans.  Some were Democrats who changed registration once elected to Republican (supported by Taylor-Profy).  For many of us “all politics was local;”  we didn’t support national Repulicans.

Once  on Council, we dealt with a variety of interesting issues.  The designation of a Historic District in much of the downtown area; increased attention to planning  and zoning issues — Orchard Hill ( just being developed today), Nickerson developments at Yardley Commons and the Train Station (threats of a trailer park) and directly behind me on  Morgan Avenue, Canal View or later the Big  House project.

In the early years, I remember thinking that one big difference between being on Council and my life up to that time was Council’s  dependence on a solicitor.  Constantly we asked,  “Was it legal?”  Some issues were major — the State was requiring an Emengency Management Plan.  I went to workshops in Lambertville.  There were minor floods that provoked a lot of citizen response.  Downtown parking (cooperation) was an issue.  And tax hikes — my “R” friend Susan looked at the budget with with a microscope — did the borough need to spend that much on stamps?

Some of the issues we dealt with during the 1980s were a sign of the times — the closing of the the Yardley Pharmacy Luncheonette ( and eventually the entire store)  — and some more were  complex and serious.  For years the Borough struggled with updating of  it’s police force.  In 1989, a police chief search  led  to the arrest (and immediate acquittal)  of Council President Taylor.  A sad but real incident in small town politics.

In my organizational  and clean up mode, I found several scrapbooks of articles from my eight  years on Council. They document  the many issues we faced –historic zoning, emergency management,  a new mayor, a new comprehensive plan, new police chief and the first borough manager.  The  scrapbooks contain articles and campaign literature.  They document a decade of my life as a Republican (yes, a Republican) local office holder.  Interesting and a bit confusing, but as SusanTayor  always said, “If it’s not fun, we shouldn’t be doing it.”  The scrapbooks are destined to be donated to the Yardley Historical Association;  the memories are for ever.


Blowing in the wind !


Political news in the past few months, sparked a memory of a Holy  Ghost Prep special faculty meeting in the late 1970s or early 1980s.  The topic was discipline — or the lack of.  I was Assistant Headmaster and one of my responsibilities was discipline.  The meeting was called because many of the  senior faculty members were upset at student behavior or they didn’t like my style. Whatever, we were having a meeting.  The old guard took seats in the back of the room (on the courtyard side, across from the current main office).  A younger, more progressive group sat in the front seats (I admit I encouraged this group to both sit together and speak up).  Then there was a group in the  middle.  Amazingly, each group had about 1/3 of the faculty.

The older, traditional, more conservative, back of the room faculty spoke first.  They were angry.   Something needed  to be done about discipline.  Historical, it was pretty simple.  Misbehave and you were thrown out of the classroom; serious infraction and you were expelled from the school. The administration needed to do something about the current situation.

Eventually the younger progressives in the front of the room began to speak. Controlling student behavior was more complex.  Teachers had to take responsibility for their classrooms.  Serious discipline  cases had to be reviewed.  Students should be given  a chance to  explain their behavior.  Everyone needed to be involved in the solution, not just the administration.

Maybe it’s obvious.  But the 1/3 in the middle of he room would decide which side of the debate prevailed.   In this particularily meeting at Holy Ghost Prep, the  middle went with the younger progressives.  HGP established a discipline code and a discipline committee to review cases.  Teachers were expected to deal with classroom problems before referring them to someone in administration.

The meeting and and outcome is a footnote in HGP history.   I am pleased that the progressive philosophy  prevailed.  But I think, more importantly, I learned a valuable lesson.   The 1/3 division of the faculty provide a model for looking at political discourse in the United States. It may not always be equal thirds but there is the left, right and middle.  Liberal, Conservative and Middle.  When I taught political science classes, I would draw the political ideology continuum on the board and have students place their name on the line.


In the past two decade in American politics, those in the back of the room, the hard line conservatives have been talking loud. The middle went with them for a while.  There was some worry when Gingrich started talking some extreme policies like  dismantling the Department of Education.  Most people believe in education.  George Bush bounced back bing the compassionate President supporting education.  But Bush wasn’t totally liked by the hard line conservatives.  Clinton played to the middle.  The tag “liberal” had become a liability.

More recently Obama was able win  two elections.  His first rival, John McCain, made a major mistake in reaching to far to the right with Sarah Palin.  The middle shifted toward the left and the country was ready for a  President with some African roots.  The traditionalists on the right were horrified.  Obama was labeled a socialist.  Policies that conservatives had supported became tainted if Obama touched them. The conservatives however were well organized, some of their policies were attractive to the middle but their success (I might say arrogance, ideological purity, and unwillingness to compromise) lead to an increasing vocal far right minority who took over the conservative voice.  For years I chided moderate conservative Republican friends at Holy Ghost Prep, “The Republican Party is being destroyed by the fanatics.”  They smiled and I think agreed.


The current shift of the middle leftward shouldn’t be a surprise.  When the right gets too strident, the middle pulls leftward.  I remember James Watt, Reagan’s Secretary of the Interior, who claimed the country was made up of “liberals and Americans,” made a joke about “a black, a woman, two Jews, and a cripple,” wanted to sell off federal lands and gut environmental protection, claimed religion as a justification for his policies.  Time magazine labeled him among the worse cabinet members in history; he drove the middle toward the left; membership in environmental organizations boomed.

I saw the current shift of the middle leftward 10 years ago.  More students at HGP (traditionally Republican,  conservative) were placing themselves in the middle or slightly to the left on the political ideology continuum. Many of  those that self identified as conservatives worried about welfare recipients, too much federal government, traditional morality, but they also supported environmental protection, civil rights for all, and other more leftward policies.  In a Greater Philadelphia Partnership exercise with about eight classes from public, private, city and suburban schools, 95% said they didn’t care if gays got marriage.  Five percent said it was against their religion. Those kids are voting today.

With the election of Obama (he’s not a Americans; he’s a socialist), the right has gotten increasingly strident and self-righteous.  Look at the last Presidental election.  The far right candidates made a circus of the Republican primary.  One crazy  front runner after another, Michele Bachman, Newt Gingrich, Herman Cain,  Rick Santorum. I was a Republican committeeman in Yardley when Santorum was endorsed for his first Senate run, I was one of two in the county who voted against him.  I wonder how many of those committee people would endorse him as a Presidental candidate today.    Mitt Rommney and other moderates were pushed toward the right and the middle voters moved leftward.


The current shift leftward is seen in recent Supreme Court decisions on the Afforable Health Care Act and Gay marriage.  It’s seen in the campaign of Berrnie Saunders.  In the removal of the Confederate flag from  the South Carolina state house and othe sites.  National polls have have shown the public becoming more liberal — immigration, marijuana, attitudes toward big business, and a variety of moral issues.

But the conservatives are still being driven by the far right, a few of them are total crazies.  In the past few weeks, Donald Trump has gotten more press that any other Republican candidate, giving more moderate Republicans an apoplectic attack.  I lost  count of the Republican candidates, some of them are Rick  Santorum (my friend), Scott Walker, Rick Perry, Bobby Jindel, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, Mike Huckabee, Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina,  Ben Carson, and of course, Jeb (let’s not mention the Bush name, not loved by the far right and suspected by some in the middle) — a  woman, African American, two Hispanic, I believe.  Is the Republican Party changing? It seems as in 2012, the more moderate conservatives in the group are being pushed rightward (the base it’s called) and the fringe candidates eat up media time and money and push the middle voter toward the left.

Its unfortunate.  We need a discussion between conservative and liberal ideology.  I remember in college talking about how the real far right and real far left meet.  Political ideology is a circle not a continuum.  Our democracy is founded on discussion, debate and yes, compromise.  My Republican mentor, Ed Burns, during my doctoral work in Harrisburg, said he knew he had a good bill when no one was completely satisfied. Legislation required compromise.  I believe  as with any statement that strong,  there are exceptions — sometimes no compromise — but we need to be careful.

The excitement over Pope Francis is another indicator of the shift of the middle to the left.  Wait till he talks to the United States Congress!  Just as Obama’s election fired up the far right politically; Francis’s election has conservative Catholics worried.  Witness the reaction to the firing of Mike Griffin at Holy Ghost Prep and Margie Winters at Waldron Mercy Academy. Traditional conservative Catholics are defensive; liberal Catholics are enraged.  But the middle moves left.  The firings go to far.  Alumni at HGP and Waldron have been supportive of Griffin and Winters.  Philadelphia mayoral candidate, Kenny (a Catholic) blames the men of the Archdiocese.  Might we say old, white, conservative men. 

I  am a child of the 1960s.  I grew up in the Republican middle of the road, fairly conservative Eishenhower years.  Ike read westerns and ate TV dinners.  Americans were recovering from WW II, there were many weddings, births, moves to the new car suburbs.  Consumer spending fueled a growing economy.  But the Civil Rights movement (fueled by that Supreme Court “Brown” decision outlawing segregation) and Vietnam Nam began to mobilize the left.   It was labeled the New Left, a coalition of African Americans, college students, and some old left activists.  

I remember going to meetings of SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) in Boston.  Every once in a while you’d meet an older guy who is was said was a card carrying communist.  I vividly recalled a lecture at BC given I believe by the Jesuit, John Courtney Murray.  There may be many good things in Murray’s bio but at this lecture, he was critical of student protesters claiming that they had been trained in communist camps and he pointed to a United States map with pins stuck in it.  I raised my hand.  No questions please.  “But, Father, my political views are based on reflection and readings of Viet Nam history, I have never been to a communist training camp.”  No comments.  I believe Murray was distraught about Daniel Berrigan land othe left of center Catholic peace activists who were taking protests beyond non violent discussion.

Increasingly as the 1960s progressed, disenchantment with Viet Nam spread to the mainstream.  There were peace candidates and a general cultural shift to a more progressive, liberal political philosophy.  It spread (or infected depending on your perspective)  areas of morality  — Roe v Wade in 1973, the women’s movement, the modern environmental movement, experiments in education, the war on poverty, Medicare, and the list goes on (another blog).

The bottom line is that in the 1960s, the middle moved to the left.  Even Pope John XXIII,  guided  the Catholic Chruch through the reforms, changes of  Vatican II.  And like today conservative Catholics were horrified.  No more Latin masses?  The right began to re-emerge.  Confusion during the Nixon years, Viet Nam dragging on, detente with China, and then Watergate.  It took Reagan to court and win the middle, “the silent majority.”  He was successful.  The middle shifted right.

It seems in American politics, the middle shifts back and forth, left and right, the pendulum swings.  I won’t predict how deep or long the current shift to the left will last? Although I identify as a liberal (have never abandoned the label, Bill Clinton), I don’t endorse the idea that all liberal policy is good. As previously stated for a healthy Republic (what’s a Republics?), we need both conservative and liberal views.  What we don’t need is control by the extremes.  It seems the Tea Party has faded into history (when did you last hear them mentioned in the news), but conservatives to rebound will need to abandon the “crazies”  — you know who they are.

I must admit I suspect (maybe hope is a better word) that  the move of the center to the left lasts a few years, maybe a decade or so.  Maybe the movement will even spread to my Alma Mater, Holy Ghost Prep, that I believe has leaned to far to the right in recent years.  Maybe HGP needs an open faculty discussion — one third in the back, one third in the front and the crucial middle third.  Which direction would they move?  Stay turned.


Where are you?


Photographs and the Peace Corps collection, just the beginning.

There is a small antique bureau in our dining room area.  I believe it belonged to my parents.  I don’t think we have opened the drawers in years.  Several were filled with photographs.  In no way did it represent all of our photographs, but various boxes and envelopes with photos usually grouped together for some reason.  An empty album with a box of photos and memorabilia from a trip to Ireland — never put together.   A box of Peace Corps pictures.  Another box of my elementary and high school photographs.  Photos from Diane’s teaching. Large format and older photos from the Smith and Profy families.  A folder of 8×10 black and white that I printed in my New Hope darkroom.  An envelope with many  that had probably been taken from family albums for some gathering — can’t remember if it was my parents anniversary or my mothers funeral. I sorted everything into groups.

When we lived in Boston and I worked in the book bindery, I made a large green leather photograph albulm (blue pages).  It measures about 15 by 15 inches.  At the time Diane and I raided our parents’ collections, selected got our best pictures and created a special family album.  The last pages contained photographs from the 1980s.  From then until today, we’ve used a variety of storage methods — plastic pages in 3 ring binders, small albums for 3 x 5 photos or 5 to a page.  Some albums were family pictures, Jenny and Rob’s wedding, other specific trips — Italy, Germany.  I have about 7 from the  nine years I traveled to Nicaragua. Sometime after 2000, with the arrival of digital, I have filed selected printed shoots together, chronologically, in old small wooden file cabinets drawers.

After cleaning out the bureau, I pulled all of the photos from the large leather family album.  Many were falling out; some were missing, raided for uses like school projects.  Then I pulled out all the albums.  Now the question is what to do with all the loose photographs.  More file boxes, shoe boxes were once popular.  Albums?  What size, how to group them.  Is it desirable to digitize them.  Remember I have thousands of 35 mm slides that should be digitized.

I found a small empty 3 x 5 album that would hold about 100 pictures.  There were about 100 pictures from our Peace Corp training for Libya in Bisbee AZ.  Perfect now we have a Peace Corps album.  For fun I copied  a few with the phone.  Just the beginning.


Ancestry – who am I?

Trying to understand WordPress.


For years, I’ve wanted to discover more about my roots.  The recent trip to Roccavivara my Grandfather Profy’s home town, was part of the project.  During the trip I clarified many people in my family tree.  Earlier in the year, I met several of my mother’s Irish relatives.  They emailed me some genealogical pages one of the Gallagher clan had collected.  Italy, Ireland; Italian, Irish.

Grandfather Profy and brothers   Some  Gallagher’s    Mill Street Boys Club

Growing up in Bristol Borough I was from both sides of the tracks.  Although I went to the Irish Catholic school and church; I identified more with my Italian heritage.  In my Sophomore year at Boston College, I read Leon Uris’s “Trinity.”  It is a powerful novel about the times of trouble in Ireland.  I immediately wrote my mother saying that I would recognize my Irish heritage.

Last  week, Diane signed up again for…

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Maybe we still need to study African American History!

imageI think my first exposure to what we call African American History was when I taught 7th grade United Staes History at Saint Michael’s in Levittown in the early 1970s.  I don’t remember any mention in my high school and college classes except for generalities about slavery.   I think it was probably African American History month in February, that I got  a filmstrip (for those of you who don’t know, film strips were a coil of 35mm images fed through a projection machine) that gave an overview of African American History.  Like my students, I learned about Frederick Douglas, Harriet Tubman, Jim Crow laws, Marcus Garvey, George Washington Carver, the Harlem Renaissance, Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, and Malcolm X.  All the classics.

Fast forward.  I was teaching American History classes at Holy Ghost Prep.  February was still African History Month.  Textbooks had begun to include some of the classic people and events.  This wasn’t always the case.  I remember reviewing history textbooks for a course at Temple.  it was hard to believe but a big  publisher claimed that slavery wasn’t always that bad; many masters treated their slaves well.  In the early 80s, I took a month long workshop At the University of Pennsylvania in Local History,  funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.  The instructor, Walter Licht, introduced us to the New Social History.  The history of everyday life of ordinary people.  The New Social History was an umbrella that included African American history, Ethnic history, Women’s history, and any other group that had  been   left out of the traditional United States history narrative.

Since the National  Endowment program was in Philadelphia, we learned a lot about the African American experience in Pennsylvania and Philadelphia.  Did you know that the Pennsylvania State Constitution in 1776 and 1790 did not restrict African Americans from voting.  That came in 1836 when in Bucks County, African American votes determined an election.  The losing candidate went to court and a Judge Fox ruled that the African Americans really had no right to vote.  Election resuts changed and the following year  new state constitution disenfranchised Black voters.  Why was I thirty years old before I learned this?

The National Endowment program also introduced me to Philadelphia Black history — Richard Allen, the founder of Bethel AME church.  Facing discrimination in the White Anglican Church, Allen formed his own.  My Aunt Lucy, a spinster Irish domestic, took me to several down home dinners at the Bristol AME church when I was in elementary school.  I remember going into the basement, in a sea off Black faces, eating fried chicken and corn bread.  Aunt Lucy socialized with her Black domestic friends.  Memorable experiences for me.

As part of the NEA program, we visited the African  American Museum on 7th street, Bethel AME mother church, and the Johnson House in Germantown, associated with the Underground Railroad. We met with Charles Blockson at his library/archive of African American history at Temple. I was particularly intrigued with Blockson’s explaination of lawn jockeys.”Charles L. Blockson, Curator Emeritus of the Afro-American Collection at Temple University in Philadelphia, claims that the figures were used in the days of the Underground Railroad to guide escaping slaves to freedom: “Green ribbons were tied to the arms of the statue to indicate safety; red ribbons meant to keep going … People who don’t know the history of the jockey have feelings of humiliation and anger when they see the statue…” Blockson has installed an example of the statue at the entrance to the University’s Sullivan Hall.

As I continued to read and teach Philadelphia history, I learned a lot more about the experiences of African Americans in the City of Brotherly Love.  William Still and the Underground Railroad. Richard Allen and Bethel AME church; Octavius Catto and voting rights and desegregation activist (murdered in 1871).  There is Robert Purvis and sailmaker, James Forten, both active in the Underground Railroad; Zachariah Walker, lynched in Coatesville; Harvard educated sociologist, W.E.B. DuBois who wrote “Philadelphia Negro.”  And many African Americans who contributed to Philadelphiia in the 20th century– singer Marian Anderson; actor, Paul Robeson; Civil Rights activists, Cecil B. Moore and Leon Sullivan.

Recently I viewed the exhibits of two extremely different African American artists.  A Horace Peppin show, “The Way I see It,” is currently at the Brandywine River Museum.  Peppin was born and spent most of his life in West Chester, Pennsylvania.  He lost the use of his right arm during World War I but taught himself to paint.  His works is folk art, genre style painting.  Peppin was almost 50  in 1937 when Museum of Modern Art recognized his work.  Philadelphia’s Albert Barnes was a patron.  I’ve always liked Peppin’s bold, bright palette, scenes of African American life. I was not familiar with peace and social justice themes in some of his paintings.  Peppin depicted the hanging of John Brown and has several paintings about the war.  I particularly enjoyed the “Holy Mountain” paintings, a take off on Edward Hicks, “Peaceable Kingdom.”

The second African American artist exhibit was Colin Quashie’s “The Plantation (Plan-ta-shun)” now at the African American Museum at 7th and Arch.  Quashie’s work pulls you into another world — satire so strong, I wondered if I should be viewing it.  Susan Cohen writing in the Charleston City Paper (Quashie’s hometown), commented, “. . . this type of work doesn’t require an esoteric explanation of its greater purpose.  It is about race.  It is political.  It is emotional.  Even in its best moments, it can be garish, aggressive, impeccable in its delivery but uneasy in its message.  It is meant to start a conversation, and, for better or worse, it does.”  Many of Quashie pieces are posters or other large visual panels.  In the center of the room is his version of monopoly, including the buying and selling of slaves and mules. There are advertisements — Oprah as a grinning Aunt Jemima on a box of pancake and waffle mix.  Quashie has a clothing line, J Crow, featuring formal wear, a white shirt with a black noose tie. Quashie said he didn’t get the parallel to J Crew until someone pointed it out.

Slave cabins advertised like hip mansions.  Run-away- slave- ads but instead of ads they are offered up as resumes.  Boxcar Brown, the slave who shipped himself in a box to Philadelphia becomes an ad for Fled-X (Confederate flag logo).  There are articles in Plantation Digest (pinch yourself, no this is not real) and a Plantation Coloring And Activity book.  Most disturbing was the can of Slave Ship Sardines — you don’t want to read the fine print.

The first thing you see entering the Plantation exhibit is a large chalkboard with: “A White Radio host said the word, “nigger” 11 times in five minutes. It coast her a career.  2 cops called an unarmed Black man a “nigger” then tased and shot him dead. It cost them nothing.   What is the value of “nigger.”  There is a desk with a notebook to write your response. As I moved through the show, I was pretty uncomfortable.  This was African American history as I’ve never seen it before.  There was a middle aged African American man looking intently at each work.  We were often looking at the same work.  I want to say’ “What do you think?”  But I didn’t.  As I looked at Colin Quashie’s work online and read some reviews of his work, I wished I had spoken, asked my question.  Take a look at Quasie’s work.   “What do you think.”


Ancestry – who am I?

For years, I’ve wanted to discover more about my roots.  The recent trip to Roccavivara my Grandfather Profy’s home town, was part of the project.  During the trip I clarified many people in my family tree.  Earlier in the year, I met several of my mother’s Irish relatives.  They emailed me some genealogical pages one of the Gallagher clan had collected.  Italy, Ireland; Italian, Irish.

Grandfather Profy and brothers   Some  Gallagher’s    Mill Street Boys Club

Growing up in Bristol Borough I was from both sides of the tracks.  Although I went to the Irish Catholic school and church; I identified more with my Italian heritage.  In my Sophomore year at Boston College, I read Leon Uris’s “Trinity.”  It is a powerful novel about the times of trouble in Ireland.  I immediately wrote my mother saying that I would recognize my Irish heritage.

Last  week, Diane signed up again for  She has subscribed off and on for several years, exploring her own English-Irish ancestry.  She even started a Profy-Gallagher tree with a few entries.  Yesterday I logged in on her account.   Ancestry allows you to build a family tree and then search certain databases for relevant information.  You can enter any information you have about individuals and see what documents ancestry may provide.  If a document is related to your ancestor, you can save the data on their “time line,” and save or print the document. I was rolling along until I somehow erased all the Profy side of the tree. Oh my.  It didn’t take too long to reconstruct what I had and add more.

I’m not sure how much I will learn from the databases that ancestry searches.  Some things have already struck me as unusual — I found a record of Uncles Tom and Albert military service; but none for my father.  No record of my marriage has surfaced yet.  I did learn the address of my grandfather’s shoe shop in Princeton, and saw that he lied about his birthday on a draft registration for World WR II?  I was surprised that several others have created a tree for some part of my family.  When that happens you can review what they have and if you think it’s valid and add it to your tree.

Vince Profy                 Cis Profy.              Vince Profy

Unlike Diane whose ancestors have been in the United States for generations.  Mine only date to my grandparents; maybe Irish great grandparents. My plan is to keep working Ancestry for what if offers.  Use their program to organize time lines and trees.  And then mine other possible sources of information.  Digitize older family photographs; make an ancestry album of documents.  In the process learning more about my roots.  Retirement has given me time for thinking, writing, blogging, a process of self discovery.

Gallagher grandmother.  Grandparents and me    Grandparents wedding