Objects and History


Last year the Smithsonian published a book, “History of the World in 1000 objects.”  A kind of ultimate material culture list.  I discovered the power of objects and material culture in history while writing a curriculum and teaching a camp on the Delaware Canal.  A newspaper article about the week long Canal camp for 4th and 5th graders drew the attention of woman, Harriet, who invited me to her house to discuss her volunteering in the camp. Her kitchen table was filled with objects.  Some archaeological artifacts but most everyday material culture.  One by one Harriet told the story of each object, it’s history and use.  A fantastic introduction for me; I was hooked.  Harriet volunteered the two years that Trish Rienes and I ran the camp in Yardley.  She put her stamp on the program and on my teaching social studies methods courses at Holy Family University.

My approach to teaching history was through the perspective of the common person’s everyday lives.  In academic circles this is known as The New Social History.  I discovered New Social History in a  National Endowment program in local history that I participated in at the University of Pennsylvania in the early 1980s.  Walter Licht who ran the program was a New Social Historian, trained in the 1960s with historic concern for average people — workers, women, African Americans, ethnic groups.  Instead of history as the story of the rich and famous Kings, Presidents, corporate giants, and politicians; history was the story of the Italians of South Philadelphia, the slaves of Montpelier, housewives of the 1950s.

Close to home at the turn of the century, Henry Mercer of Doylestown was a New Social Historian before the term was coined.  His interest was in the common man and Mercer collected his everyday tools.  Professional historians laughed at Mercer but he was ahead of them.   Describing his passion for material culture, Mercer wrote:

“It was probably one day in February or March of the spring of 1897 that I went to the premises of one of our fellow-citizens, who had been in the habit of going to country sales and at the last moment buying what they called “penny lots,” that is to say valueless masses of obsolete utensils or objects which were regarded as useless . . . The particular object of the visit above mentioned, was to buy a pair of tongs for an old fashioned fireplace, but when I came to hunt out the tongs from the midst of a disordered pile of old wagons, gum-tree salt-boxes, flax-brakes, straw beehives, tin dinner horns, rope-machines and spinning wheels . . . I was seized with a new enthusiasm and hurried over the county rummaging the bake-ovens, wagon-houses, cellars, hay-lofts, smoke- houses, garrets, and chimney-corners, on this side of the Delaware 12 valley.”

Mercer was also aware of the role of the common person in history.

“the history of the United States and dwelt with great vividness upon the Revolutionary War but no history can show as these things [Mercer’s] show, that during the war a hundred thousand hands armed with these sickles were reaping wheat and rye so as to make any kind of war possible . . . You may go down into Independence Hall in Philadelphia, and stand in the room in which the Declaration of Indepen- dence was signed and there look upon the portraits of the signers. But do you think you are any nearer the essence of the matter there than you are here when you realize that ten hundred thousand arms, seizing upon axes of this type, with an immense amount of labor and effort.”

In a poem I’ve used in class many times, Berthal Brecht also caught the New Social Historians interest in the common man:

A Worker Reads History

Who built the seven gates of Thebes?
The books are filled with names of kings.
Was it the kings who hauled the craggy blocks of stone?
And Babylon, so many times destroyed.
Who built the city up each time? In which of Lima’s houses,
That city glittering with gold, lived those who built it?
In the evening when the Chinese wall was finished
Where did the masons go? Imperial Rome
Is full of arcs of triumph. Who reared them up? Over whom
Did the Caesars triumph? Byzantium lives in song.
Were all her dwellings palaces? And even in Atlantis of the legend
The night the seas rushed in,
The drowning men still bellowed for their slaves.

Young Alexander conquered India.
He alone?
Caesar beat the Gauls.
Was there not even a cook in his army?
Phillip of Spain wept as his fleet
was sunk and destroyed. Were there no other tears?
Frederick the Great triumphed in the Seven Years War.
Who triumphed with him?

Each page a victory
At whose expense the victory ball?
Every ten years a great man,
Who paid the piper?

So many particulars.
So many questions.

As I developed and taught my course, “Teaching Social Studies In Elementary School,” At Holy Family University, New Social History, archaeology, and material culture provided an important foundation of the course.  I found an old brown leather suitcase and filled it with artifacts and bits of material culture.  Some of the artifacts were real found objects; others were objects that could have been found on an archaeological dig.  Theree were many  lessons that flowed from the suitcase.  One asked students to just identify objects.  Another involved classification. Lessons on technological change and archaeology.

My first assignment in “Teaching Social Studies” involved material culture.  I asked students to bring an object (or photograph of an object) that was important in their life.  In class I asked them to share their choice.  Then I asked the class to brainstorm social studies lessons that could flow from the object. A family photograph in front of a Christmas tree for instance — social studies lessons on holidays, family, photographs as documentary records.

For the assignment I usually brought a small polished oak triangle with holes for pencils or pens.  The pencil pen holder was made by George Nakishima, Bucks County’s most famous woodworker whose studio ( now run by his daughter) is outside New Hope.  I inherited the piece from our friend, Ragna Hamilton, who received it as a gift from another Holocaust survivor who worked for Nakashima.  Social Studies lessons flowing from it could include, the Japanese Interment during WW II (Nakashima was in a camp); a rememberance of a friend who was a Holocaust survivor, fine woodworking and craftsmanship, and Bucks County artists.  All objects have a story, a history.  Sometimes it may be world or national history.  Or it may be local history.  It’s time to look around the house and see how objects tell my personal history.




Passing through Westchester and Putnam Counties


Diane was born in Brewster, NY.  In high school, the Smith family moved to Willow Road in the village of Carmel both were in Putnam County.  Her father’s lift truck business (inherited from grandpop Smith) was close by in Croton Fall, Westchester County.  After marriage and Peace Corps training, we settled in Bucks County but Westchester and Putnam were frequent destinations.  Most holidays we made the 2 1/2 hour drive.  On Christmas, we would have breakfast with my parents in Bristol, visit some relatives and then drive for Christmas dinner in Carmel.


Our route was through NJ (Garden State Parkway, later we used Interstate 287) to the Tappen Zee Bridge and the Saw Mill River Parkway.  Sometimes we got to the Saw Mill via the George Washington Bridge and the Henry Hudson Parkway.  Construction on the Saw Mill began in 1926 wasn’t completed until 1954.  It has the character of the 1930s NY parkways, attractive stone bridges, winding road.   Parkways were for leisure, out of city driving.  There are markers for us on the Parkway — the Metro North from Grand Central station  follows the Parkway towns.  I remember riding the train and the conductor intoning the names of stations — KA-Tone-AH, CHAPP-a-QUA,  Pleasantville was the hometown of my college friend, Tom Glynn.  Before we were married, I got off in Brewster and called Diane for a pick-up.


On most of our New England vacations, we passed through West Chester and Putnam Counties.  We would stop overnight at Willow Road.  This past June we were headed to a Connecticuit B and B get-away.  We stopped in Mount Kisco (train stop) for lunch.  Last year Bob Vierlinck and I found a restaurant, Village Social, Diane and I went back this year.  It’s fairly new and Diane hadn’t eaten there.  Zucchini blossoms were on the menu as an appetizer.  We had fried some from our garden a few weeks earlier.   We learned that the owner’s grandfather brought the blossoms and other fresh vegetables from his garden in Somers.  Our lunch was delicious.

On our trips in the 1970s and 1980s, we always stopped at Fox and Sutherlands in Mount  Kisco.  A book store, stationary extraordinaire, the kind of shop that imprints fond memories.  By 1995, Fox and Sutherland was out of business– a causality to the chains?  We leave Mount Kisco this trip — we recall an accident where a trucker hit Diane and reneged on the insurance payment.  I also recall a book about “The Boston Post Road” that passed through the area.

Continuing to Carmel, we passed Bedford Village.  During the 70s and 80s, the Bedford  Barn was a mandatory stop.  I’m not sure what Diane bought, I always picked up a few Oxford, Van Husen, button down shirts (white and blue), at prices that were unbeatable.  Like Fox and Sutherland, the Barn is gone.

This trip we were stopping in Carmel to make arrangements to have Diane’s mother’s tombstone engraved. Somehow it had never been carved.  Diane met with tombstone representative in a small shack near Raymond cemetery where her family is buried.

Trips like this always bring back a flood of memories.  We drive around town remembering stores and restaurants.  There is the County Courthouse where Timothy Leary was prosecuted.  It’s a picture postcard classic courthouse found in many high school civics textbooks.  Putnam County National Bank across the street was a major part of Diane’s family life. Marygrace Ryder, daughter of the founder was best friend of her mom.  Diane grew up with Marygrace’s sons, Wayne and Dean.  Diane and Mrs. Smith both worked for the bank.  A short term loan financed Diane’s three month post college trip to Europe.

As a hobby the bank founder, Leland Ryder built lakes and developed the waterfronts.   One lake, Black Pond, became a private Ryder family lake.  Mr Ryder, a classic self sufficient man, built a small cabin at one end.   Many weekends we spent camping, boating, picnicking on Black Pond.  Mr. Smith had a small outboard.  Waterskiing was totally new to me; Diane was quite good.  With Diane’s father and brother, Hawley, we even walked the woods with our Labrador Retriever, Luz,, and a shot gun.  Not sure I would have shot a deer but did enjoy skeet shooting.

imageVisits to Carmel were laced in simple traditions.  Saturday or Sunday dinner was always grilled Porterhouse  steak, with Mrs. Smith’s delicious potato salad, and corn on the cob. Every day included a trip to the shop in Croton Falls (Westchester), started by Diane’s grandfather, it had gone through several lives.  Originally Grandpop Smith mad plastic bathing caps and baby pants.  During World War II, he manufactured Lyle Cannons.  They are the small ceremonial cannons, used to shoot a line ship to shore for rescue operations.  We saw one in the Mystic Seaport Museum, marked “B Hawley Smith Company.” And several years ago we saw a demonstration ushhting one at the historic Providencetown Life Saving station.

Trips to Carmel always involved walking the Dog — Smith’s and ours.  In season, time in the above ground pool.  And in winter a warm fire and book.  My interest in local history led me to read about New York, Putnam County, and the Hudson River Valley (quite close).  The area had a geography and feel quite different than Bucks County.  It was more rugged, rocky, New England stone walls, reservoirs to provide drinking water to New York City.  Although there were farms, there was a sprinkling of celebrity estates, spilling out from NYC.  Diane could point out some homes of the rich and famous.  We frequently took walks in the woods or on the Old Putnam R R line — rails to trails.  And we did a lot of our typical Sunday explore drives.  Day trips to small CN towns, back roads, Duchess County, historic sites, and Hudson River towns like Cold Springs.  Some visits in the early years were take offs for a day or overnight skiing trip.

In the later years our visits were to visit Mrs. Smith in hospitals, nursing homes or under home care with Hawley in Croton Falls.  Diane liked to take her mom on memory drives, when she could, lunch in a nice (not too fancy) restaurant.  These were difficult years.  Usually day trips from Yardley.  A few overnights.

We still pass through West Chester and Putnam Counties on our trips to New England.  Diane has been exploring her family tree on Ancestry.com and we’ve made a few heritage explores — looking for villages or cemetaries.  The Hudson Valley has become a favorite get-away and sometimes includes a nod to our close connection to Carmel.  For Diane, home, with all the memories of family and growing up.  As I’ve written before “You can go home again.”  See Blogs on Bristol ( my hometown) and the Litchfield Hills in CN, our most recent New England explore.





Several months ago, Diane and I went to the Tinicum Arts Festival.  It’s one of several annual craft shows we attend each year — the  Philadlphia Museum of Art Show at the Convention Center and the  Labor Day weekend Show at Long Park in Lancaster are others.  There are usually other shows, some sponsored by the  Pennsylvania Guild of Craftsmen, maybe at Tyler State Park.

Our interest in crafts date to the 1960s. In college, I worked at the Harcourt Bindery, one of the last leather, craft binderies in the country. When I graduated from Boston College, my boss, Fred Young wanted me to buy the bindery.  I looked around, many of the guys had been there for their entire lives.  I wasn’t ready to make that commitment.

At about the same time, I remember sitting at the kitchen table with my father and explaining how the “youth, hippie, craft culture” was being co-opted by mainstream stores. Beads and tie dye shirts were being sold in the malls.  I also remember taking my father to a craft show at the Philadelphia Armory. Although he was an amateur woodworker; he was blown away at the works and craftsmanship he saw at the show.

Back in Bristol after our Peace Corps experience, I applied for a job at the Moravian Tile Works.  Henry Mercer’s properties had been  given to Bucks County, and  the County was going to reopen the tile works.   I think I applied for a job but turned to teaching instead of crafts.  No to Harcourt bindery; no to Moravian Tile.  Was there a pattern?

When we lived in Bristol in the early 1970s, we  met Melody and Garrett Bonnnema.  Melody had been an art student at Pratt ( NYC)  with our new friend, Barbara Cantor Paglione; Garrett was a high school mathematics teacher.  They introduced us to the world of potters and people who were trying to make a living through crafts. In the  early 1970s, the Bonnemas moved to Bethel, Maine and opened a studio.  For a summer, about 1974, we crashed with them, learning something about pottery and a lot about the  craft movement. Diane threw some pots; I did a bit of carpentry.  We helped with craft shows from Rhinebeck, NY, to  Virginia Beach.image

Over the years, it’s been hard for Diane and I to resist purchases. Baskets, pottery, glass. wood work,and  mixed media —  we enjoy and buy. One of our early annual craft shows was at  the Mercer Museum.  it was small but quality.  We probably bought some Pennsylvania redware. But most memorable was a basket we bought for $100.  A lot of money.  But I was amazed, several years later the same basket maker was only taking orders for baskets In the $1,000 range.

I’ve been back from the hospital three days, recuperating from  failed fistula surgery.  I am dealing with an exterior wound and interior wounds, two catheters and an ostomy.  Daily maintenance has become almost a full time job for Diane and me.  But as I sit and rest, how I enjoy the crafts and art we have bought over the years.  From my seat at the dining room table I can enjoy the large Noah’s Ark with Noah and ten pairs of animals, a Bonnema tile of a lake scene, two small Steve Tobin pieces — a mug and one of his explosions,  maybe I can look into the crater piece and see a magical world.  There is the small brown and white glazed castle that I liked because the castle lifts off the rock.   Never decided what to store inside. And a small Mercer tile of the Museum.

The large oval Steve Tobin bowl is filled with gourds.


There is a shelf of redware plates, hiding behind pictures of the kids.  And small hanging shelves filled with carved animals — some of these were Ragna Hamilton’s.  The intricate and delicate  blue amphora like Irish vase that Diane found in a New Hpe Celtic shop, awaits some fresh flowers.

There is a carved Canadian Goose with its head gently curved around its neck.  Most fun is Jerry Alonzo’s “Three birds on a Wire.”  The birds are magnetized and Diane and I move them according to our feelings — close or give me some space. So happy to be enjoying our craft collection.  And I can move into other rooms.



My Life in Books


Books have always been a major part of my life.  In elementary school  I frequently went to the old Library on Penn Street.  I remember finding the Junior Classics section and being amazed the Frank L Baum wrote more than one Wizard of Oz book.  I checked out moldy frayed first editions.  Recently John Paglione told me that when he signed up for a library card, he asked the librarian where he should look for books.  Her response was’ “Vince Profy gets books over there.”  John thought who the hell is Vince Profy.

I have fond memories of my father taking me to Leary’s book shop on Ninth Street in Philadelphia  — there was an alleyway with bargain books and multiple floors  of dusty, used books.  In the 1950s, I bought the Hardy Boys and a few illustrated classics — Treasure Island, Robinson Crusoe . .

I had several sources of books in high school.  There was the Holy Ghost Prep library — pretty basic at that time.  And there was the paperback book store on 413 outside of Bristol.  John Paglione went there, the books were remainders, covers torn off.  Very inexpensive.  But no covers.  We bought a lot.  I also got my parents to purchase a set of The Great Books of the Western World.

Boston offered new opportunities.  As an English major, I had to purchase many classics for class.  And then I got a job in the Harcourt Bindery behind the Prudential Center.  The shop was right out of the nineteenth century — cast iron machinery, overhead belts, piles of books — an amazing place.  I learned a bit of bookbinding but also started to buy , leather bind, and sell books (most were Heritge Press editions).


In the early 1970s I was hired as the Librarian at HGP.  Located in the original basketball court, the library was not very progressive.  It was primarily a study hall with an aging Brother Dominick who had a lmited vision of a library.  For several years I tried to modernize the facility.  Most fun was my ability to buy books.  To be honest there were two criteria for the books I bought — my interest and potential student interest.  HGP library has a great collection of art and photography books, travel books, history and geography, literature.  I would also try to find math and science books of interest.

Over the years, my personal books collections have grown.  There are a variety of themes — Sherlock Holmes, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia and Bucks County History, Food, Travel and Memoirs, Film, and boxes of paperbacks that I classify as good history and social studies.


Although several years ago I started a re-read program.  It’s amazing going back to many books a second time.  I’ve also begun the slow process of getting rid of books.  I’ve sold on Amazon for years.  But sales are slow.  Last winter I sold 20 boxes to Labyrinth Books in Princeton ($400). In the nextp few months, I need to put together another lot for sale to a bookstore. But books have always been a part of my life.  Parting can be difficult.

See my previous blog, “Say No to Book Buying.”


Remembering the past


Yesterday Jenny asked me to describe a favorite place I could retreat to when in pain or trying to get to sleep.  A focus to dim distractions; awake dreams.  It got me thinking how much I enjoy remembering the past.  Sixty-eight years of experiences, people, places, feelings, events.  In some ways FaceBook is part of that process.  Some Friends are from my elementary school years, high school and college.  Others Friends are from Bristol ( including relatives) where I grew.  Friends from Holy Ghost Prep where I worked for 40 years.  Friends from Yardley Borough where Diane and I have lived from 1977.  Friends from every corner of my life.

Last night I  reflected on favorite memories.  A place I could remember; a pleasant place where I could escape the present.

Meeting Diane at a party in the Hilton Hotel in Boston.  She and a friend Susan Ruby were staying there before a Spring Break trip to Nassau.  Ted Fuery and I had been invited to a BC dorm floor party.  I met a guy Chip Muldoon (Main Line Philadelphia) and we rescued Diane and Susan who were dancing with some sailors in a room near our party. Later in the evening, I met Diane at an elevator and we went out for coffee.  It was the beginning.

Two years later Diane and I were married in Brewster NY.  The reception was at her parents house.  Family came up from Bristol; friends from our colleges down from Boston.  The next day in my parents maroon Tempest, we left for a honeymoon in Canada.  We stopped at Kent Falls in CN and Diane threw her corsage into the flowing water.  We’ve stopped at Kent Falls in the past few years savoring the moment so many years ago.

Our Peace Corps training in Bisbee AZ was a fantastic experience. We were there with 100 married couples and 20 single women, PC staff (many not much older than us trainees) and about 50 Libyians —  improving their English skills and teaching us Arabic language and culture. Daily we bussed into Mexico to teach English to Mexican children.  We were learning a technique called TEFL  that we would use teaching in Libya.  The most memorable day was a Mexican Independence Day parade.  The entire village turned out.  We marched with our students.  Quite a day of drinking and partying.  In the evening Arthur Ward and I got involved with some Mexicans at a bar.  Next thing I knew I was horse backing riding across the plains.  Fortunately the horse was in charge.

In the early 1970s Diane and I rented a house in New Hope with John and Barbara Paglione.  Our version of communal living and 70s back to the earth.  Summers John and I worked on local farms.  We had a large vegetable garden, canned for the winter, made all our bread, wine, beer, jams. Our iconic road trip was to Maine to visit Helen and Scott Nearing.  If you don’t know them, they were gurus of back to the earth, organic, sustainable living.  Four fantastic active off beat years.

Looking to buy a house we moved into my family’s apartment on Mill Street.  For several years we had been trying to have a baby.  Finally on October 24, 1977, Jenny Alexandra Profy was born.  I was scheduled to be present at the birth but  last minute a Caesarean was ordered and I was banished from the room.  Jerry Alonzo was visiting and we waited together.  Happiness, joy, excitement, a rush of emotions.  Diane and I had our baby.  Interesting around the same time Paglione’s, Bonnema’s,  Alonzo’s all had a child.  For all of us, an only child.

121 N Delaware Avenue in Yardley Borough. A small riverside cottage in what was known as the River Mawr neighborhood.  The house was in the flood plain but there had been no major floods since 1955 and flood insurance was only $99 annually.  There was no real estate broker involved.  The Robinson’s acted on behalf of themselves.  Cousin Thomas handled our paperwork.  To get to the bathrooom you had to go through Jenny’s small bedroom (about 10×10).  Ours wasn’t much bigger.  One floor and a partial damp basement, an attic was accessible with a ladder from our bedroom.  But it was home.  I soon became involved in town organizations, serving on Council for eight years and active in other borough organizations like the Yardley Historical Association.  In the mid 1980s with mortgage rates above 15%, we decided to build an addition.  The 20 by 25 two story addition with basement doubled th size of the house.  Flooding in early 2000s and we decided to elevate and stay.  Yardley is home.

Diane and I took several trips to Europe but Scandanavia (primarily Denmark) has a special meaning.  Jen was about 10 years old.  A friend of Ragna Hamilton let us use their Copenhagen apartment. We met Ragna for s everal days, touring the city where she grew up.  It added a new dimension to our relationship with her.  Over the years of Sunday brunches at her house, she had become a grandmother to Jenny.  We traveled around the city and Danish countryside for over a month.

In 1974, the end of the war and draft, I left my teaching position at St. Michael’s elementary school in Levittown. Father Francis Hanley offered me a position as librarian, English teacher at HGP.  Within several years I was assuming administrative duties and in his last year as Headmaster, Hanley appointed me Assistant Headmaster.  I had a wide range of administrative duties including discipline.  Many students only saw my disciplinary role (about 10% of my work.). When Jim McNally became Headmaster, we served as a team for 10 years.  Father Jim became a second “father” to me.  I enjoyed administration, working with faculty, worked on a doctorate and thought some day might be the first lay Headmaster.  In late 1980s, however, McNally and I were removed by the order in a bitter fight that split the faculty for years.

In 1989, I took a sabbatical and finished my dissertation about the Political Culture of Educational Policymaking in Pennsylvania.  Ethnographic research for months in Harrisburg was exciting.  Ed Burns, Republican chair of the House Education Committee was my sponsor.  Ed treated me like an aide.  I actually flirted with running for the state House but dropped out.  Dissertation finished in 1990, I returned to HGP as a librarian teacher and started teaching education courses at LaSalle University and Holy Family.  By the late 1990s I was teaching several graduate courses each semester at Holy Family.  Although I still enjoyed most of my high school courses and students.  Graduate teacher education was very rewarding.  I continued at HF until retirement ( adjunct courses had dried up).

Although I’ve had many positive rewarding teaching experiences, the Greater Philadelphia High School Partnership and Ayudanica service program to Nicaragua were the most engaging.  Each lasted about ten years.  The HS Partnersip was sponsored by Ted Hershberg at the University of Pennsylvania.  One of my HGP classes partnered with a City school, got to know each other, explored social issues and engaged in service learning activities in a Philadelphia neighborhood.  The most successful programs were HGP and CAPA (Phila magnet school for the creative and performing arts).  Sue Rosenthal from CAPA and I became great friends and collaborators. Ayudanica started as an HGP service project by Rob Buscaglia who served in Peace Corps Nicaragua.  I joined in year two.  Run like a PC training program we trained kids all year for a 10 day service trip to Monte Rosa a sugar cane village in Nicaragua.  Ten years we watched and participated in the growth of kids ( 6 one year, 16 in our last year).  Our main project was establishing a library and computer classes in Monte Rosa. After a number of years Ayudanica became an independent nonprofit.   Successful the years we staffed and funded the Center, I suspect Ayudanica is just a memory for many of the Nicaraguans who participated. I do stay in touch with several through FB.

For about 10 years, c 1994-2004, Nantucket, Rattlesnake Bank, a small cottage off Polpis Road became our summer vacation. We rented directly from the owner, John Whitman, and over the years did everything Nantucket had to offer, kyacking, bicycling, hiking, swimming, shopping, historic tours, fine dining, music, theatre. Lots of reading and writing.   Since we returned year after year for two weeks, we really came to know the island.  I began to talk about “Nantucket Time” a quiet, no rush, moment by moment rhythm.  I tried to hold it through September, October, …. How long could it last?

Eli and Viv were both born at Pennsylvania Hospital.  I have a strong memory of visiting Jenny early the morning after his birth.  I liked that it was in the historic Penn Hospital founded by Ben Franklin.  And so excited to have a grandson.  Two years later Viv was born.  Two grandchildren.  The most important part of my life, now and I suspect for many years to come.

Sometimes negative experiences have silver linings.  When he was four years old, my grandson, Eli , was diagnosed with neuroblastoma.  For 18 months Eli’s treatment at CHOP  and Penn occupied the entire family.  Eli was courageous and has been an inspiration as I deal with my own medical issues.  His personality and abilities were moulded during this period.  An amazing kid, four years out, no sign of cancer.  One more year and we’ll be at the five year mark.  Thanks Eli.

Memories, the past, a short history of my life, stories and experiences to help me through tough times.



Life and death in Bristol, PA


It seems like yesterday that I was a kid in Bristol (that’s Bristol Pa, not one of the many other Bristols in the country.)  I was going to school, and church, visiting relatives and neighbors, shopping Mill street stores, walking the streets and alleys, fishing in the river, meeting people — in short, growing up in small town America in the 1950s. But it wasn’t yesterday, it was about 5 plus decades ago, I was seven, ten, fifteen maybe. Now I am 68.


As a college student, I read Tom Wolfe’s,  “You Can’t Go Home Again.” I thought that was my relationship with Bristol. How untrue. In fact you are always going home. Although my wife and I eventually moved up River (Delaware) to Yardley, we lived for several years in Bristol. Just out of the Peace Corps, we rented on Cedar Street, several blocks from where I grew up on Mill. Several years later we moved into the family Mill street apartment. You can go home again.

More recently we lived in town while our Yardley home was being elevated. What a trip down memory lane. Katie’s Corner at Cedar and Market was closing, had breakfast in Strouse’s, hoagies from Mazzanti’s market,  walked along the river, spent hours in Grundy Library, lunch at the King George — yes, you can go home again, Tom.

Yesterday,  October 18 was Historic Bristol Day.  Last year I attended briefly.  Since I had afternoon commitments, I went  in early. I  stopped to see my sister, Cissi,  on Radcliffe ( her house was scheduled to be opened), I walked down Radcliffe to Mill. A few people were about. Mrs Mulhern’s, one of the last of my parents generation was on her porch, several Quattrocchi girls were out organizing vendors. I talked to several Latino barbers who now own “Cattone’s” barber shop. It’s where I got my hair cut growing up. Several years ago, Joe (in his 90s) was still cutting hair.

A walk down Mill street is always a treat. Is it the same or has it totally changed. The buildings are the same, but few stores or names from the 1950s remain. In fact the only family business from my childhood is Mignoni Jewelers. Gone are Ballow’s, Spector’s, Nichol’s, Cantor’s, Popkin’s, Plavin’s, Budney’s, Brosbee’s, and Arnold’s. There is no more Grant’s or McCrory’s 5 and 10, Jerry Jewlers and Mignoni’s Real Estate are gone. As I walked down the street Ann and Carol Mignoni pulled up in front of their family store. I joked about them not being opened yet, on Bristol Day, their father Carmen would have had the shop opened — it was 8 o o’clock.


Tragically I returned to Bristol weeks later.  Yes Tom, you can go home again. I went to the wake of Ann Mignoni (Mundy) at Saint Ann’s church on Pond Street. Unexpectedly, shockingly Ann died on Monday morning, November 24. The Mignoni Jewelers kids were cousins to my cousins. They were cousins to my best friend. Ann was married to a childhood friend. In Bristol, everyone is family.

At the wake I saw and talked to a cross section of Bristol. Relatives, friends, people I knew and people I knew I should know. Ann’s husband, John was also a childhood friend. He lived in the Delaware House (King George). Today I joked that John lived on my right; Ann on my left. I was caught in the middle. Small town America. At the wake were many HGP alumni and staff. John like me, left Bristol and attended HGP. And we both ended up teaching there. I as a teacher/ administrator; John as a track coach.

Going home is tricky. You can but . . . There are so many positive memories; mixed with sadness.  Life and death.



My Road to Pennsylvania Hospital


I never liked hospitals much. Nor sick people.  I want to be understanding and supportive.  I admire people in the medical profession.  But would rather avoid sickness, disease and hospitals.  But one of the side issues of retirement, getting older is sickness, accidents, doctor appointments and many times hospitals.  I was always amazed at the number of doctors my father would see when he was in his 80s and 90s.  And then the hospital stays. In the past few months, I’ve had my share but have tried to accept it as a price of getting older and hopefully staying healthy and living a bit longer.

About 10 days after mr return from Italy in early June.  I had to go to my GP for what turned out to be a urinary track infection.  Something Father got frequently in his last years.  I thought, oh no — I’m too young to start this.  I started on antibiotics (10 day treatment), the pain cleared and I thought things had returned to normal.  Post radiation treatment for prostrate cancer four years ago, normal urinary and bowel movements were a bit abnormal anyway

I debated weather to blog about this and if you reading it, I posted it.  But feel free to close the page if you’ve heard enough.  But writing is therapy for me so I will continue.  I’ll be honest I was never drawn to  books, movies, or TV shows  about people’s medical problems

I went back to Sullivan, my GP.  He recommended I see Raffelson, who had done my colonoscopies — the last one before prostrate treatment was fine, he had said come back in 10 years.  He did a mini camera look with me awake and discovered some discolored, unusual tissue — assumption: due to radiation. Better call my doctor at Penn radiation.  A bit of history. My prostrate cancer was discovered by a physical exam, followed up with biopsies.  First year, no cancer discovered; second year one spot in ten snips.  Advice to guys; don’t rely on PSA numbers, mine were always low, no prostrate issue. My urologist was associated with a radiation lab in NJ ( my insurance wouldn’t pay for it in PA so he maintained a Jersey office as well as a PA office, health Insurance Is a whole other issue).  I wanted a second opinion and set up an appointment with Penn Medicine.  They hooked me up with a surgeon.  He sold surgery — it’s a guarantee, cut out prostrate, remove cancer if it’s the only location.  Of course, there are always the pluses and minuses. Usually  not recommended for someone my age.  Another choice is implants witch radiated pills — quick, fewer doctor visits.  For a senior, do nothing — something else will probably kill you before the spread of the prostrate cancer. And then there is radiation treatment.  All have possible side effects.

After reading and talking to people, I had decided on radiation as the best option for me.  This happened at the same time my grandson Eli was being treated for neuroblastoma at CHOP (18 months of treatment and 3 years later, no sign of disease).  He mentioned my decision to his radiation doctor at Penn.  He was going to have a newer, more expensive type of radiation — proton.  It was suppose to be more focused with less side effects and damaged tissue than regular radiation.  I really liked Doctor Tochner who had fought to get Penn to invest in a Proton machine (lots of investment, a handful in the country).  He didn’t push Proton but of course believed in it. Some critics claim it’s no better than traditional ; others say it’s a real waste of money for prostrate cancer.  Of course there aren’t a lot of neuroblastoma customers (rare disease) but  lots of potential prostrate customers.  I became one.  I told Tochner “if I trust you with Eli; I trust you for me.”

Treatment was something like six weeks, daily.  HGP generously gave me afternoons off and guys in sociial studies covered my afternoon classes.  A real sense of family.  Everyone at Penn was fantastic.  Enjoyed my proton team (3 or 4 each day).  Ironically Eli was scheduled for the same room, same team, many fewer days.  I’m not sure of any dosage differences?  Every day, the team told me how great did.  He refused anthathesis (usually given to kids since you must hold still and sometimes there is a wait for the machine which services 5 rooms; actual time machine is on was a few minutes).

I have been three years out since treatment.  PSA levels very low.  Minor urinary and bladder issues.  My doctors and I thought I was in the clear.  Then the urinary tract infection in June, discovered fistula, damaged tissue ith holes between urethral and rectum.  I am on the wrong side of proton treatment statistics on complications.

So September 16 I checked into historic Pennsylvania Hospital for surgery.


Competent: Confidence: Caring


I don’t have a lot of experiences with nurses — doctor’s offices, minor stays in hospitals, prostrate  treatment. The only nurse I really know personally is my sister, Marylee.  And we rarely talk nurse shop.  All that changed this past month.  I’ve met all types of nurses.  Some are nurse practitioners like Marylee.  Others Registered Nurses, just out of school or with years of training, then the Certified Nurses Aides.

September 17, Thursday, after 11 hours of surgery at Pennsylvania Hospital I woke up in a recovery room with an air tube in my throat.  Surprise.  The first nurse I remember seeing identified herself as Smiley.  An older African American women, she and I floated in and out of consciousness.  Soon a young Asian boy appeared  and said he was going to put a pump in my stomach.  He started with my nostril but had to go through my mouth due to the air tube I think.  Nasty.  Later I learned Peter wasn’t a high school student but a floor resident.  I kidded him about his youth; he dropped in to see me first thing almost every morning.   Thanks.

Still groggy, my next nurse identified herself as Angel.  Maybe I was in . . .  you know.  I think it was a new room.   Air tube and pump removed, I was feeling good Thursday afternoon.  It didn’t last.  Some liquids, upset stomach, vomit and I was back with a Nose Pump.

My nurse, maybe Friday,  was Maura.  She didn’t introduce herself but a white board in the room displayed names of on duty nurses and aides.  Maura seemed to be a young woman in trouble. She fumbled with my IV, was always fiddling with the Nose Pump, which would leak and generally not seem to be working.  She rarely spoke to me, explained nothing.  My confidence level in her was zero.  This was frightening.  I called in a resident physician’s assistant, Robert, who seemed to manage much of my day to day life.  I shared my anxiety with Maura and tried to rest.  That evening my Urology surgeon, Robert Kovell, stopped and we talked for a good 20 minutes or more.  When he left I felt relaxed and confident that all would work out.

Maura did get in thinking about the qualities of a good nurse — my three Cs.  Competent, Confident, Caring.

Competent are the skills learned through nursing school and with experience.  Diagnosis, dressing wounds, administering medications, IVs, blood pressure, assisting doctors and the list goes on and on.  I know very little of it.

Confident is the vibe a nurse gives to the patient.  You can tell by the touch of their hand, how they respond when something doesn’t work, the IV is constantly beeping, confidence tells the patient it’s not the nurse, it’s the machine.  Confidence is when it’s hard to draw blood but the patient senses the nurse is competent and confident and will eventually hit the right spot.  Frustrated nurse, anxious nurses, over wrought nurses, stressed nurses convey that to patients.  The result is that the patient is reluctant to push the call button, becomes anxious that things aren’t going well.  I suspect it’s not good for either the mental or physical health of the patient.

Caring is a bit of bedside manners.  The nurse treats the patient as an individual.  They know your name, ask about family, interests, fears and concerns.  The Caring nurse notices the picture the patient’s grandson drew “Get well Grandpop. When you are better, we can go fishing, Eli.”  Some nurses don’t seem to see individuals but a body in a wheelchair or bed.  They poke, probe,  wash, draw blood, administer meds to a body.  Assembly line nursing.

I had a bad experience the morning of my first doctor’s appointment in the city.  The nurse aide answered  a call, I wanted to get up before 7 to prepare for an 8 o clock pick up by Diane.  She refused (twice) telling me “they were coming.”  I pushed the call button  and waited until 7:35 when someone came  in with my breakfast.  I explain that I must get out of bed and due to the cathather bags cannot do it alone.  She said she was told I was self-sufficient.  She loosened the bags from bed and left.  I was fuming.  All my bags needed to be emptied; time to dress, no time to wash or eat; but rushed out into the hall where my nurse on duty is filling med prescriptions.  She knew I was headed for an appointment, in fact had papers and of meds for me to take. No concern I was left in bed.

I suspect these qualities of good nursing apply to aides, the guys who push gurneys around, and the many of other support workers that come in contact with patients.  I remember being pushed through the halls talking  and joking with the person behind the gurney or the person in a room when I waited for a test.  In other cases little if anything was said.  They had a job to do.  My advice find work in some other field.

In  the month I’ve been hospitalized, I have had contact with dozens of nurses.  A few named or names forgotten stand out.  Big John was a male nurse on my floor at Penn but not assigned to me.  At the same time he found time to get me up and walking at all hours  of the night.  Not sure why he had the time but I was so thankful.  There was Bill, the ileostomy nurse who patiently explained to Diane and me how to care for my new appliance.  An amazing guy.  One night an African American male nurse came in when I was screaming.  I explained the bladder spasm pain and I was scheduled to get meds.  He said he would take care of it.  And also promised to wash me up.  The evening passed.  Finally about 10, he came in, the meds for spasms was not available.  He left saying he woul take care of it. And 1/2 hour returned with the pill. I realized his shift ended, no wash up.  Then he returned again. “I said I would help” he said.  “But I’ve been so busy.”  I think he was overtime.

Christine and Erica my Occupational and Physical therapists at Manor were fantastic.  Christine and I wandered in the world of foodies while doing my exercise.  Ericka became my chief advocate and offered advice in dealing with the system.  Both will get some of my garden bounty before I leave.

My nurses have been male ( two Different Franks at Penn were very good) and female.  Chinese (Anna at Manor has been very gentle and friendly); threre have be quite a few Indian and African Americans.  Another Anna at Manor always seemed to answer my calls quickly with encouraging words.  Jackie at Manor has had been off, stressed moments, but also has been patient instructing us in appliance care and cleaning wounds.

Three of my favorite nurses were student nurses assigned to me personally at Penn. Two were from Villanova, the third from Jefferson. When they introduced themselves as student nurses, I immediately introduced myself as their teacher for the day. Fantastic conversations with all three.  Of of course I shared socratically my qualities of good nursing.

When I get home I want to read more about nursing.  A tremendously difficult job.  I am so thankful for those who treated me as an individual, listened to my complaints and brought their learning and experience to my care.  COMPENTENCE – CONFIDENCE – CARING    Thanks.



Institutional Food


I never had a corn dog until yesterday, dinner at ManorCare rehab center in Yardley.  I’ve been here and Pennsylvania Hopsital for a month. So  I’ve had my share of institutional food.  Jen told me that corn dogs were one of Viv’s favorites. They weren’t too bad.  Served with hush puppies and a chicken rice soup.  I’ve avoided all soups but the chicken rice was well, OK.

Lunch yesterday was also a new experience.  On one of the other wings they were serving fresh grilled cheese steaks.  I rolled in and asked if I could have one to take back to my room.  Although I couldn’t take one back to my wing (infection prone cases), I could have one  in the dining room.  It was packed with wheel chairs but I found a spot an enjoyed a cheese steak.  Slice of American; no cheese wiz.  Coffee.

My first tray at at Pennsylvania Hospital was liquids, Thursday, the day after surgery.  I enjoyed a cool lemon ice, soothing to my throat that had hosted an air tube and suction pump.  Within hours however I was vomiting and was rewarded with a nasal pump to clean all fluids from my stomach.  So I didn’t eat for about a week until the nasal pump was finally removed.

Penn hospital food was generally OK.   I enjoyed a turkey sandwich, roast beef on  a roll with horseradish mayonnaise.  Plenty of juices, mashed potatoes.  I also drank a vanilla Mighty Mac shake with many meals to supplement what I was eating.  I was actually surprised that I ate several beef dishes with heavy gravy.  Not a regular part of my diet.  I avoided fish, until I ordered fish on a croissant.  To my surprise it was imitation crab meat.  Quite good.

I arrived at Manon Care late Friday night after two weeks at Penn. Someone found a bowl of rice crispies and milk and a peanut butter sandwich for my welcoming dinner.  The offerings the next two days were ridiculous.  One meal  was white bread with a piece of dry chicken.  No condiment. Jello or something like it for dessert.  Another meal was a fried chicken patty with another two slices of white bread. This place employs a dietician?  I was told high school students staffed the kitchen on weekends.

A dietician did meet with me on Monday.  I am restricted high potassium foods (bannanas, oranges) since levels were high at Penn.  The surgery also limits any hard to digest foods (whole grains, fruit with tough skins, for example).  Slowly the trays improved with things I could eat and enjoy.


Breakfast can be french toast, pancakes, home fries.  The price of eggs is high so Manor is not serving eggs?  Waffles with some preserve and whipped cream is quite good.  And Wednesday is chipped beef on toast day.  Not a lot of beef but a breakfast favorite for me.  Occasionally sausage that I can eat if there isn’t tough casing; and bacon that is off limits.  Protein meats are good for healing but lean meats not fatty.  Inadvertently I ate a piece of chicken with skin on it one night. Within minutes I was sick,  sensitive stomach.

Manor’s lunches and dinners are not quite as good as Pennsylvania Hospitals but I can eat most meals that I order.  I few beef dishes were just too, too rich for me but we were prepared with emergency meals in the wing refrigerator.  Diane has brought in peanut butter and apple butter sandwiches, hard boiled eggs, yogurt, squash soup and quiche. Good replacements or supplements.  I’ve wanted her to cook some scallops but it hasn’t happened yet.

Turkey, chicken, roast beef sandwiches with condiments are OK but I’m tired of soft white bread.  How about a nice roll!  There are also open face sandwiches, Turkey and one that I suspect was pork was lean enough to eat.  Mac and cheese, slice of ham with fried potatoes were both pretty good.  Desserts are limited, sometimes fresh fruit which I cannot alwys eat, occasionally cake or one cookie, pudding, ice cream, or  jello (sometimes liquid).  Diane ate a nice piece of pumpkin pie one day.    I get tea water with each meal but the water is luke warm, offered tea is decaf pekoe.  I brought in some herbal tea but the need to reheat the water puts me off.  So I’ve had limited tea and only one cup of coffee with the cheesesteak meal.

Snacks are usually available at night — ice cream, peanut butter orange crackers, and I have crackers and peanut butter in the room.  Protein!

I suspect some menu choices involve healthy options and special diets.  But cost is another factor.  No eggs at Manor now; neither Manor or Penn had herbal or better teas.  When I asked why, cost seemed a factor.  Being a bit of a foodie, I can’t say I totally enjoy my month of institutional meals, but I am thankful I have been able to eat most.