Craftsmanship

Since the 1960s, I’ve been interested in crafts and craftsmanship.  For several years while attending Boston College I worked in the Harcourt Bindery.  It was one of the largest and oldest hand leather binderies in the country, located on the second floor of an old brick building behind the Prudential Center.  On the third floor was a well known stained glass studio.  The owner Fred Young was English.  He took hot tea with his lunch every day. The shop was straight out of the nineteenth century with huge cast iron machines, many run by belts hanging from the ceiling.  There were three full time employees, each at his own bench, books everywhere, scraps of leather, glue pots, and an array of bookbinding tools.  My first job, the day of the interview, was pasting together end papers, some commercial, a few hand dyed papers.  Over the years I learned many other steps in the book binding process.  I didn’t learn how to sew and my gold tooling was limited to personal books.  There were plates that could imprint a design in gold in a full leather binding but there would be a slight imperfection in the plate so it seemed that the design was totally hand crafted with various tools.

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My bindery years came back to me while reading recently, “Why We Make Things And Why It Matters: the education of a craftsman,” by Peter Korn.  Peter grew up outside of Philadelphia and went to Germantown Academy. He vacationed on Nantucket and eventually went to work for a local carpenter.  After several apprentice years, he decided to try his hand at furniture making.  He was on the road to becoming a craftsman, using hand tools.

There weren’t’t many craft furniture makers in the early 1960s.  Korn writes about the genesis of “studio craft” specifically furniture making.  It followed the Arts and Crafts Movement lead by John Ruskin and William Morris. Some of the founding fathers of craft furniture making were Art Carpenter, Wendell Castle, Wharton Esherick, George Nakashima and Sam Maloof.

Esherick music stand, studio, house; Alonzo music stand, sculptures,  Justice

Jerry Alonzo who took a sabbatical from law to become a furniture maker introduced me to Esherick whose house and studio are in Chester County not far from Valley Forge.  I’ve visited several times.

I discovered George Nakashima in the 1970s when we lived in New Hope.  Trained as an architect, interred in a Japanese camp during World War II, Nakashima was brought to Bucks County by an architect, Anton Raymond.  He eventually turned to woodworking, furniture making, building a studio, houses and other buildings on a property on Aquetong Road.  His signature designs draw on the natural imperfections in the wood.  A rough slab might be turned into a coffee table.  There are also strong Shaker influences.  We’ve toured the Nakashima workshops and studio several times.  I’ve seen one of his Peace tables in St. John the Devine, New York City. There is a Nakashima room in the Mitchener Art Museum (above).  I’ve always wanted to buy a Nakashima piece (I do have several books).  There was a studio in Fishtown that featured his work.  I did inherit from Ragna Hamilton and treasure a small irregular piece of oak with holes for pens or pencils.  George Nakashima died in 1990, his studio is now run by his daughter Mira.

Peter Korn table; my father’s table.

In the 1960s, Peter Korn was one of many mainstream dropouts that turned to furniture making and other crafts.  I recall sitting with my father at the kitchen table telling him about the explosion of craftsmen and shops in certain neighborhoods, In Boston, South Street in Philadelphia, the Village and SoHo in New York.  My father had always done woodwork, carpentry.  His first furniture making happened when he was concerned about not having extra money to help newlyweds, I challenged him to “just make me some furniture.”  Several months later he drove to our Boston apartment with a “cobbler bench” coffee table and a 4 foot round table that folded into a small seat.  We will probable use the table for a picnic and the cobbler bench is in the shed.  Both came from plans.  In fact at one of the first Philadelphia Art Museum Craft Shows I ever attended, as father and I looked at some beautiful hand crafted furniture, he said  “I cannot come up with designs likes these guys.”  He would always follow plans.

Another 1960s craft experience was our friendship with the Bonnemas.  Melody had gone to Pratt with Barbara Paglione.  She became a potter, apprenticed with Toshika Tokaezu, and opened a small studio in Bristol.  In about 1973 Garrett left teaching and became a potter. They moved to Bethel, Maine.  Diane and I lived with them in the summer of ‘74 or ‘75.  Diane did some pottery; I did some carpentry in the studio and built displays to take to craft fairs.  We went to several fairs that summer.  One was Rhinebeck, NY which is mentioned by Peter Korn.  Most Bonnema pottery is a distinctive functional stoneware.  We’ve picked out their style in a variety of shops, even flea markets.  There is quite a bit in our kitchen.  Some years ago Melody turned to making tiles.  This past year they became semi retired.

When I graduated from college, Fred Young asked if I wanted to buy the Bindery business.  I looked around the shop and thought I wasn’t ready to settle down to the life of a book binder.  When I returned from the Peace Corp, I applied for a job at the newly reopened Moravian Tile Works in Doylestown.  Founder tool collector and craft enthusiast Henry Mercer had willed the Tile works to the County.  They were going to make it an operating museum.  Missed opportunities.  I became a teacher         (the draft threatened).  Over the years I have collected many Mercer tiles.

Initially Korn had difficulty making a living from furniture making.  For a while he had a studio in NYC, later Philadelphia.  His father provided some subsidy and Peter kept making furniture.  He sold some.  In 1981 he attended classes at a woodworking school, Anderson Ranch in Colorado.  Among the faculty were San Maloof and wood turner David Ellsworth.  Years ago I visited Ellsworth’s school and studio in Bucks County.  I thought how great it would be to take a course with him.  I did inherit a wood lathe from my father but have never found the energy to use it.  My cousin, Frank, who does woodworking came once and gave me a first lesson, during my first year of retirement. It ended there.

Following in my father’s footsteps, I did make some furniture.  Shelves were a speciality.  Then there was the pine dry sink, from plans.  It came to Yardley but was warped out of shape in the floods and now is history.  I made a bed and wall unit for Jenny’s bedroom when she was very young.  Pine again but heavy, very heavy.  My father meanwhile went on a clock building binge.  It united his interests in wood working and clock repair. All the kids were given clocks.   When he moved into the Mulberry Street house, his shop shrunk.  He began making wooden toys, cars, trains, boats. These became gifts for kids and grandkids. He did some work on a lathe, subscribed to “Fine Woodworking,” and bought good hand tools.  He also began to do stained glass.

Furniture making, craftsmanship became central to Peter Korn’s life.  Through it he was grounded and found meaning.  Making an object with your hands, giving up some of yourself. He references British potter Bernard Leach (mentioned by Bonnemas in the 70s) who “saw pottery as a combination of art, philosophy, design and craft – even as a greater lifestyle.”  Eventually Peter Korn found his personal style.  What he made would be a Korn piece.   In the 1990s, he moved to Maine and opened a studio and school, the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship.  He eventually settled on a property in Rockport.  In the 1970s I took classes at the Maine Photographic Workshops in Rockport.

Unfortunately I stopped wood working.  And have pretty much stopped photography.  I miss “making things.”  I believe “it matters.”  In the past few decades my interest in crafts has been attending shows and buying some pieces.  We go to the Philadelphia Art Museum Craft Show almost every year.  And frequently make a purchase.  Another regular show is Tinicum and Prawl’s Mill.  For years there was one in Tyler State Park and going to the Long Park craft show near Lancaster was an annual extended family event. Several years Jerry Alonzo exhibited at the Philadelphia Furniture Show.

“Why We Make Things And Why It Matters” is a classic.  It obviously struck many chords for me.  Memories and aspirations.  I understand a bit more about crafts and craftsmanship in my own life.  If I could only make things again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Independence National Park

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The Fourth of July I checked the bookshelves for something to read related to the holiday.  I found several books and decided to reread “ Independence: the creation of a national park,” by Constance M. Greiff.  It was written in 1989 and I probably bought it then since I was teaching a local history (including Philadelphia) course at Holy Ghost Prep.  I bought any new publications related to Bucks County and Philadelphia.  My copy is annotated with many underlines, a sign that I used it in teaching.

 

In my first year of retirement (2014) before surgery, I was doing a weekly explore of Philadelphia.  I took the train from Yardley; seniors one dollar a ride.  Some day I had a specific destination but usually just wandered patient for the serendipitous.  Many days were spent around Independence Park, Society Hill and Old City.  Although some days I’d  go to Reading Terminal Market and head west toward Rittenhouse Square or Logan Circle.  Actually I had done similar wandering during a six  week summer period in the 1980s when I participated in a National Endowment for the Humanities program in Local History led by Walter Light, University of Pennsylvania.  Again I took the train and had several hours to explore before classes started about ten o’clock.

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My first visits to Independence Park were in the 1950s.  My father took regular weekly trips to Jeweler’s Row for his business.  I’d tag along when I could.  After a Horn & Hardart automat lunch we’d go to Independence Hall.  It was my introduction to the 1776 story and historic preservation.  I was fascinated by the history but totally taken by the restoration work which was ongoing. I’ve written previously about seeing conservators peel away many layers of paint searching for the original color.  For many years now I’ve subscribed to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the renewal is on my desk.  Chapters in “Independence” are devoted to the preservation, restoration process.

There are quite a few times that I took students to tour Independence and the surrounding area.  The first was when I taught elementary school.  There were about 100 students in the seventh grade classes I taught.  I recruited teachers, parents, even some older siblings so we could break into groups of 10 or 12 students.  I drew up a map with historic commentary and the groups went off for the day.  I didn’t limit the tour to the Park but believed the students should explore the city.  The events of 1776, Independence Hall and other “historic” building were only part of the story.  Society Hill, Old City, Department stores, and Reading Terminal were part of my tour. I used this model many years later when I was asked to take HGPs 100 student Freshman class on a Philadelphia field trip — small groups, the city experience.

Prior to the 1950s, Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell were owned and maintained by the City of Philadelphia. It was decided to establish a National Park with federal funding for the restoration, maintenance and interpretation of these icons.  One major question as the feds began acquiring adjacent property was what to do with the many buildings around the Independence Hall.  Many did not relate to the colonial-Revolutionary period.  Williamsburg was a model for those that believed only buildings related to the period should survive.  Another view was that the urban fabric, street configurations and any architectural/historic building no matter the period should be preserved.  The Williamsburg view was adopted.  Independence Park had a open mall and green areas showcasing Independence Hall and related buildings.

In the 1980-90s I took many of my Local History classes on a Philadelphia trip.  I usually had about 10-15 students in the course.  We started in Old City and visited Christ’s Church, Quaker Meeting, Betsy Ross House, and Elfrey’s Alley but we also looked at Girard warehouses, nineteenth century industrial buildings, Arden Theatre, art galleries, even restaurants.  We went to Independence Park, Society Hill but didn’t specifically tour Independence Hall or Liberty Bell Pavillon.  We were exploring the urban landscape not just “historic” buildings.  We always lunched in Reading Terminal Market and in the afternoon, if we had the time, headed for Rittenhouse.  It was always a full day.  Several summers I took college classes in a social studies education course on a similar tour.

The creation of the National Park involved many different personalities, organizations and different views. What buildings should be preserved?  What should be torn down?  How should buildings be restored?   Should buildings be reconstructed?

Historians and craftsmen pioneered work in historic preservation.  They did extensive research, archaeology, and clues from buildings to guide restoration.  Much of what they did was open to the public.  Just before the bicentennial, one of my students did his senior May project on a dig in Franklin Court.  What a great experience.  I attended several archaeological workshops and hoped they would begin a program for teacher volunteers. I frequently visited to the working archaeology section of the Visitor’s Center.

City Tavern was one building that was reconstructed.  A concession was given to run the restaurant and tavern.  The chef Walter Staub promoted colonial cuisine in a TV show.  I have several CDs.  I also have his cookbook and a children’s book on the tavern.  I dined  there several times.  The most memorable was a formal dinner when I was participating in a National Endowment Program on Benjamin Franklin.  The most recent was on one of my post retirement city explores.  Another reconstructed building is the Graff  House on Market where Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence.  I haven’t been through it in decades.

What to do at Franklin Court?  There wasn’t a lot of original structure to the Market Street buildings that Franklin had rented.  They were renovated/reconstructed.  One became Franklin’s print shop, another a working post office and the interior of a third was left in the rough with interpretative signs.  An archway leads to the interior court.  Franklin’s house was gone. Rather than reconstruction, the  architectural firm of Robert Venturi created a Ghost House, steel structure over the original foundation.  Viewing boxes look down on archaeological features like the privy, foundation wall, and well.  I always liked this area.  I would sit students on benches and have them imagine what it was like when Franklin lived there.  We never went into the underground interpretative center.

On the night of July 3 1976, the Liberty Bell was moved from the first floor of Independence Hall to a new pavilion on Independence Mall.  I remember visiting, touching the bell in the 1950s when it was displayed near Independence Hall stairs.  My teaching about the Bell was taken from a Teaching With Historic Places lesson plan, “Liberty Bell: From Obscurity to Ikon.” I’ve only been inside to see the Liberty Bell a few times. I remember one visit with students, after hearing the ranger’s speech, I said “Good to see your following the interpretation Teaching With Historic Places so well.” He looked at me very puzzled.  Another year I with touring German exchange students.  When we arrived at the Bell, the area was swarming with rangers and police.  The Bell was cordoned of. We learned that someone had just hit it with a hammer.

How to interpret the Independence Hall Story, including the Liberty Bell was a focus of the National Park Service.  Pamphlets and audio visual aids and movies were produced.  In the early 2000, how to interpret became very controversial. A new building on the north end of the Mall was being built for the Bell. Archaeology of the President’s House where George Washington lived was conducted.  Evidence of the building foundation including the kitchen were discovered.  Washington’s chef Hercules and the other Mount Vernon slaves he brought to Philadelphia were the source of the controversy.  Would they be part of the story told?   The fact that Washington took them back to Virginia periodically to avoid a PA law which gave them freedom after 6 months in the state took center stage.  Initially the answer was no interpretation of slavery.  Historians and some Philadelphians objected.  I went to a lecture given by historian Gary Nash about the controversy.  With the appointment of a new Park superintendent, the decision changed.  Hercules (who eventually ran away) and other slaves would be part of the interpretation of the President’s House site.  I recently read a book about Hercules and wrote a blog.

“Independence” can be a bit dry.  There are so many names of people involved over the years from the 1940s till 1976 which the book covers.  Philadelphia supporters, mayors, architects, historians, archaeologists, superintendents, National Park personnel, legislators, bureaucrats in Washington.  With so many people involved there were plenty of controversies.  Funding was always an issue.

There are however some interesting details.  When the Park Service began to hire guides it was decided women (not overly attractive) were better than men.  They would take guiding tourists more seriously.  Airlines were contacted to get ideas for stewardess like uniforms.  The efforts to collect original Peale paintings from museums and private collections to form the collection now on display in the Second National Bank (above) was fascinating.  Philadelphia Irish resistance to moving the Commodore Barry statue behind the Hall to create a building to display the Bell was classic.   I enjoyed reading about the visit of Queen Elizabeth in ‘76 with the bicentennial bell gift forged in the Whitechapel Bell Foundry in London where the several Liberty Bells were cast.

Despite all the many times I have been to Independence Park, I feel ready for more explorations.  I only recently went into the Merchant Exchange on Dock Street.  It’s predominately used for Park offices but is an experience to be inside.    It’s been decades since I’ve visited the Bishop White and Dolly Madison houses on Walnut Street.  There is a new interpretative center (for me anyway) in Franklin Court and a new Revolutionary War Museum on the site of the old visitor center.  I’ve never been to a service in Christ Church.

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I did take the Independence Hall official tour during the first year of retirement.  Unfortunately it was disappointing; too little interpretation; too quick; more of a promotion for the rest of the park. I had thought of becoming a volunteer at Independence Park before my surgeries.  Since that probably isn’t possible I need to look for special programs, lectures or tours.  The story of Independence is constantly changing; there is always more to learn.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Birthday 2020

July 24, 2020.  I’m 73 this year.  And what a strange year. In the past, there were floods, family deaths, cancer, radiation damage for me and now in 2020 the Coronavirus pandemic.  Five months of “in house,” almost 150,000 deaths in the United States. President Trump craziness almost every day.  No details needed.  Weather today overcast with some rain.

But most days I’m upbeat.  Some days the sun shines (although there have been too many 90 plus days), I’ve had fistula closures leading to fevers but no need for a hospital visit (hoping), the garden is producing and we have a full freezer. Many of our outings have involved food purchases Schneiderwind Farms, Traugers, Griggstown, Solebury Orchards, NonSuch Farm.  Others involve lunch, most recently Pineville Tavern, in the past 2 months,  Black Bass, Washington Crossing Inn, Zoube in New Hope, Kasey’ in Tinicum, take out from the Yardley Inn and Caaleb’s Kitchen.

We walk most days.  For me it’s been usually local, on the canal.  Diane takes Nala on an afternoon explore walk. I should go with them more often.  I read quite a bit in the afternoon.  In the spring it was with a fire in the wood stove; now it’s with AC.  Some books like the Thurgood Marshall biography, If Walls Could Talk and Independence were rereads; others Why We Make Things And Why It Matters, Tower and Why Fish Don’t Exist are new. There are magazines each week or month. Movies on Netflix or Amazon.

We’ve seen the grandkids somewhat regularly.  All outside encounters in Yardley or Gladwyne.  Tomorrow they will visit for Villa Rosa take-out, talk, maybe a walk.  I also keep in touch with my sisters and friends, telephone, e-mail or Face Time.

I certainly miss museums, theatre, trips to Philadelphia, dining inside and probably no Cape Cod this August. But I think my being retired,  procrastination tendencies and medical limitations lead me to accept what I have.  Tomorrow will be another day, new opportunities, the possibility of new experiences, some serendipity, a bit of spice in life defined by home town, traditions, contentment in the familiar.

My biggest regret is my self limitation in what I do.  I have friends in retirement who paint, do woodwork, or some other creative or volunteer endeavors.  I thought in retirement I would get back to doing some serious photography and writing.  That I would volunteer, maybe at Mercer or Independence National Park.  I think my 2015 surgeries and subsequent medical issues have been a limitation but also an excuse.  I haven’t bought a new camera as planned and have almost stopped taking photographs.  My only writing has been journals and this blog.  I have not volunteered.

For many retirement means getting rid of “stuff.”  Organizing what you want to keep.  I haven’t been too good in this area.  I’ve listened to a few old records but not frequently enough.  I bought a converter, slides to digital, but I haven’t begun to use it.  I have collections, post cards, stamps, coins that need to go.  A cellar full of tools I won’t be using.  And of course, books and more books.  I guess I am a  I get rid of stuff, very slowly type of person.

In the end I’m thankful for getting up each morning, for family and friends.  I’m thankful for each day,  whatever happens.   73 years, still counting.

 

 

 

 

 

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Civil Rights Movement, 1950-60s; Black Lives Matter, 2020

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I recently finished reading ”Thurgood Marshall: American Revolutionary,” by Juan Williams.  It was published in 1998 and I probably bought and read it then.  I pulled it from my library for several reasons.  The protests over the death of George Floyd by Minneapolis police was constantly in the news.  Current events made me reflect on my experience with the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s.  Also I wanted to read about a leader.  In 2020 we seem to lack any political or moral leadership.

 

During the week I read about Thurgood, I watched Spike Lee’s “Malcolm x.”  Another different type of leader.  Thurgood, Malcolm or Malcom X, Martin Luther King — none were perfect.  All made mistakes; all had personal failings.  But they articulated values and motivated followers to action, each achieving some positive change.

In my teacher education classes at Holy Family University, I talked about Thurgood Marshall.  We considered the historic Brown decision. Although by the 1990 there was greater segregation in American public schools due to residential segregation based on poverty (and color).  I liked to ask students if they had every heard of Charles Houston (some didn’t even know Marshall; none knew Houston).  I explained the Houston was Marshall’s law professor/ mentor at Howard University.  Houston had taught a small group of African American to be lawyers encouraging them to challenge the 1876 Supreme Court decision, Plessy vs. Ferguson that institutionalized legal segregation (in schools and elsewhere) as long as it could be considered “separate but equal.”  The Brown decision overturned Plessey.  Marshall working for the NAACP was the lead lawyer.  The case placed him in the national spotlight and he emerged as one of the leading advocates for civil rights.

Marshall grew up in Baltimore in the early 20th century.  I was actually surprised to read about an 1875 incident where a mulatto, Daniel Brown was murdered by a policeman.  Officer McDonald was convicted of manslaughter.  Thurgood’s Uncle Isaiah Williams was involved in the trial.  I was surprised to be reading about the all white police force and complaints about commonplace police brutality.  I associated the time with discrimination, Jim Crow and lynchings, north and south.  But I hadn’t remembered reading about systemic police brutality.  Now in 2020, almost 150 years after the Baltimore incident the nation is in turmoil about police brutality toward the black community.

The protests over the choking death of George Floyd began in Minneapolis in late May.  In the following weeks they spread to cities and eventually small towns around the country.  Initially peaceful protests exploded into violence, car burning, looting, confrontations between police and protesters.  President Trump seemed to fan the flames calling for national guards, the military, crack downs.  In Washington D.C. in Lafayette Square in front of the White House peaceful protesters were dispersed with rubber bullets and tear gas to clear a path for the President’s photo op (with a Bible) in front of a church.  Locally in Philadelphia the downtown area was burned and looted, days later police used tear gas to clear protesters from Interstate 676.  Armed locals with pipes and guns turned out to defend Philadelphia’s Fishtown neighborhood; police fraternized with them.  Rumors and social media theories claimed that the violence was due to infiltration by left wing anarchists or right wing fanatics.   Trump blamed Antifa.  Little evidence supported any of this.

My personal analysis was that the George Floyd spark ignited a simmering fear and hatred about decades of police brutality toward blacks, a continued, if at times, quiet racism in America, the President’s history of racist sentiment and support of white supremacist’s attitudes, and the two month “at home” lock down due to Coronavirus.

 

The nighty news reminded me of the 1960s.  There were sit-ins, Selma, Birmingham, the March on Washington.  There were summer riots in the late 1960s and riots following the assassination of Martin Luther King.   As in 2020 Philadelphia burned.  I was home from college in Bristol in the Spring of 1968 and I remember rumors that blacks from Bristol Township’s Terrace development were going to march and loot Mill Street.  My family boarded up the appliance store and we waited.  Nothing happened.  This year marches in Bristol and even in downtown Yardley were completely peaceful.  In fact around the country as police and government became less confrontational, violence and looting disappeared in most places.

I did wonder, where was the leadership?  Where were the organizers?  What were the demands?  Although it didn’t apply to the summer riots in 1967 or post King riots in most civil rights and anti-Vietnam demonstrations in the 1960s and early 70s, there were known leaders, organizations and demands.

As the protests continued into June, some of my questions were answered.  Black Lives Matter (BLM) was a lead organization and there were others.  Demands began to make the nightly news, defund police, establish standards for anti-racist training, bar choke holds . . . one difference was I didn’t find any Martin Luther King, Malcolm X or Thurgood Marshall. Leadership seemed more grass roots, driven by social media. 2020 protests were overwhelming young people.  Interestingly there were as many or more whites as blacks in many cities.

Thurgood Marshall was an integrationist.  He was willing to bend to White America to achieve equality, even partial equality.  Some called him an Uncle Tom.  He disagreed with King’s activism and protest strategies.  And he was appalled at  the stridency of Black Panthers and Black Muslims like Malcolm X.

Malcolm was from the street.  Harlem.  The early scenes of Denzel Washington and Spike Lee in zoos suits, large hat with feather strutting from club to club, alcohol, drugs and women is unforgettable.  Malcolm was cool.  But in prison he converted to Islam and becomes a follower of Elijah Mohammed.  What a transformation.  He shouts out Black power, Black liberation.  Black is Beautiful replaces integration.  Of course like King, Malcolm is eventually assassinated.  Spike Lee’s  movie is still relevant and powerful today.

In 1967, Lyndon Johnson appointed Thurgood Marshall to the Supreme Court.  He joined a majority of liberal justices.  He continued to fight for peaceful integration.  The elimination of the death penalty becomes another issue for him.   But as the years pass, the court becomes increasingly conservative.  Marshall becomes increasingly irrelevant.  But he held on hoping to have a liberal justice replace him.  He retired in 1991.

Reflecting on, comparing the civil rights movement of the 1950-60s with today unfortunately brings us face to face with the pervasiveness of racism in the United States.  As I watched the young, both black and white today,  I wondered how many of their grandparents had been involved in or supported the movement seventy years ago.  Unfortunately many of the issues remain the same.  Too many white Americans see themselves as superior to their black neighbors. They’ve witnessed the integration of blacks in many institutions.  Overt racism, Jim Crow was no longer unacceptable, it was illegal.  But some whites feared the rise of people of color.  Imagine a black man was elected President, for two terms.  Trump’s election was a result of that changed landscape. Trump has fanned racial flames — not all his followers are racists, but he courts and gets support from the KKK, and white supremacists.

The protests have brought about some reforms. There has also been demands to remove statues of confederates and others, including Columbus, who have contributed to the oppression of blacks and others.  It’s become less acceptable for a sports team to be called redskins. I admit that there can be an excess of political correctness and I don’t condone looting-rioting but most of the demands are legitimate arising from four hundred years of oppression.

It’s too early to evaluate any long term changes to American society.  As in the past the new movement has brought about a backlash.  The election in November will be an indicator.  My greatest hope is that large number of young people seem more committed to racial harmony.

“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

If only today;  not a long tomorrow.

 

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Fourth of July, 2020

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It is a very different July 4th.  The coronavirus pandemic has curtailed activity for many.  The country is attempting to understand and deal with the political and civil turmoil activated by the death of George Floyd and protests led by Black Lives Matter and other civil rights groups.  It’s the fourth year of the Trump presidency, an election year, and Trump fuels a culture war that keeps the nation divided.

I want to have a good day.  I want to feel proud of the United States.  I want the sun to come out.

I’ll start by trying to forget that the President celebrated last night with a speech ignoring the pandemic and the 130,000 deaths, attacking his critics, swearing to stop the BLM movement and leftist who are destroying our country’s history by demanding the removal of statues/monuments, many of Confederates and others who contributed to the oppression of people of color.  This happened in case you missed it at Mount Rushmore in South Dakota amid fireworks, no social distancing and few masks.

I’ll also try to forgive or forget those who ignore and sometimes defy public health guidelines demanding an “opening,” a return to normal, haircuts, open bars, indoor dining, crowded beaches, gyms, political rallies, and fireworks when new cases and hospitalizations are spiking in most of the fifty states.

For the record, I object to the banning of Huckleberry Finn and I don’t think every objectionable statue should be torn down.  Although I admit I was glad to see Frank Rizzo removed from Center City Philadelphia and the Confederate flag removed from the Mississippi state flag and NASCAR.   I’d also prefer sports teams don’t call themselves “redskins.”  And I believe schools should tell the full Columbus story and that some of the founding fathers had slaves.  But there is a place for a statue of Robert E Lee and other Confederates, as long as they aren’t used to support and promote  White Supremacy attitudes.  Washington and Jefferson were great presidents but they had their faults and made mistakes.

And for the record, like those demanding personal freedom (liberate us from . . . ), I want a return to normal but it doesn’t happen because we close our eyes and deny reality or chant “it will fade away.”    I want a barbershop haircut, love to dine out but will enjoy take out and outdoor dining until it’s safer.  I’d love to go to the beach and I’m still hoping I feel safe enough to go to Cape Cod for our August visit.  But I will accept stay at home, social distancing and wear a mask until public health officials say it’s over.  And I suspect that it won’t be soon.

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But for today, I’ll remember positives, significant events and good July 4 experiences.  It will help me celebrate my personal and my country’s independence.  Yes, we are a “great nation” with many faults.  I don’t need a reality show star, huckster, phony to tell me to “make America Great Again.”  My baseball cap is an over 20 year old faded Nantucket red.

 

I may have learned my first July 4 lesson with my father.  He had a jewelry, watch business and almost weekly traveled to Jeweler’s Row in Philadelphia.  During the summer and days off school I’d go with him. We’d drive to Bridge Street and take the El. After visiting various suppliers and shops we’d have lunch at Horn and Hardart’s on Chestnut.  I loved the automat.

Most afternoons we visited Independence Hall. During the 1950s it was being restored as part of the new National Park.  I learned about historic preservation watching workmen remove layer after layer of paint looking for the original color.  I learned about the Declaration of Independence and bought a brown parchment like facsimile in the gift shop. I learned about the delegates, the debates, the declaration (July 2) the ratification (July 4) and eventual signing (in August), Franklin’s chair with the rising sun, and quill pens, John Hancock’s signature, the first reading by John Nixon on July 8th.

We’d stand in front of the Liberty Bell which was in Independence Hall at the time, hear the story that it was just the State house bell that had cracked, been recasted, and cracked again in the 1840s but that there was no certainty about exactly when.  I learned the Bell had become a powerful symbol of American freedom, used by many groups demanding freedom and civil rights. Years later I bought a small replica of the Liberty Bell to use in teaching about American Independence.  I had a shoe box with the replica, the Declaration facsimile, a quill pen, a booklet about the Bell, map of Independence Park, and related postcards.

I don’t know if I will watch the fireworks on the National Mall in DC this year.  Lots of controversy there.  But I have fond memories of many other fireworks.  As kids growing up in Bristol, fireworks happened in the Levittown Shopping Center.  We piled into my parents aqua and white Chevy wagon and drove up Route 13, stopping along the road for the show.  This followed a barbecue/picnic at my Mignoni cousin’s house in Winder Village or on the porch/deck of our Mill Street apartment.  Hot dogs, hamburgers, potato salad, slaw, and corn I’m sure.

In the 1970s we attended fireworks with the Pagliones over the Delaware River in New Hope-Lambertville.  We’d sit on the Lambertville side.  One of the best shows I remember was a Boston Pops concert and fireworks along the Charles River.  I think it was the fabulous 1976 concert conducted by Arthur Fiedler (it May have been his last July 4th concert).  The fireworks accompanied Tchaikovsky‘s 1812 Overture.  I think I was visiting my sister, Vicky and husband Ted who lived in Boston. What a show. What a memory.

There were years we attended a fireworks display in Philadelphia.  Some were over the Art Museum, sitting on the Parkway.  Others were over the river.  One year we took the NJ River Line with Taylors to Camden.  We then took Patco to Philadelphia for dinner and returned by taxi to Camden to watch the show.  Another year I was scheduled to sail on the Gazelle, the tall ship out of Philadelphia.  On July 4th there was a parade.  I watched from the corner of 3rd and Chestnut.  Then returned to the ship where we took part in a parade of boats followed by a fireworks display.  We shipped out the next morning and I was lucky enough to be given the wheel (an experienced crew member and river pilot stood next to me as we made our way to Delaware Bay where engines were cut and sails dropped, wow.)

More recently our fireworks destination has been Tinicum Park in Upper Bucks. There is a concert by the Riverside Symphonia, followed by fireworks.  Most bring picnic dinners but the amazing part is the formal set ups — tables, white table cloths, crystal glasses, candles, we don’t get that elaborate but it adds to a festive family atmosphere.  This year Tinicum is cancelled.

I don’t remember specifics about July 4th barbecues or picnics.  We might watch some of the Philadelphia parade on TV ( now it’s a multi-day celebration branded WaWa Welcome America, this year it’s virtual).  We sometimes played music, the Pops Overture, or John Phillips Sousa (we had several albums).

In teaching about American Independence I always enjoyed John Adams comment in a letter to his wife, Abigail, “The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. —I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty.”  And then there is the  coincidence that John Adams and Thomas Jefferson both died in July 4, 1826.

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This year I’ll enjoy some personal reflections. Look for the Souza records.  Maybe find something to read.  This afternoon we’ll join our daughter, Jenny and the grandkids for an outside picnic.  I’ll enjoy independence and take pride in my country.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Enjoying Coronavirus Stay at Home

Enjoying not surviving.  Staying positive in troubled times.  July, beginning our fifth month of “stay at home.”  No longer mandated in Pennsylvania, in Bucks,  but we are being careful.  No beaches or bars for us just yet.  As Spring turned to Summer I accepted that we would probably not travel.  For us Cape Cod in August is on hold at best.  How can we enjoy, just home.

Most mornings I take a canal walk.  As the weather has gotten hotter (90s today), I walk earlier.  I try to walk to Somers Bridge — missing a day or two of walking makes it quite hard.  Today was fine.

I looked for small pleasures — the blue sky, tall trees, the canal, reflections in the water, chirping birds, a Great Blue, shades of green, shadows and shade, backyards with  Adirondack chaired, fire pits, canoes, fellow travelers, some masked, smiling waving, good morning. I recently read “At Seventy: a journal” by Maine’s May Sarton. She reveled in the small things, flowers in the wild or garden, birds, a call or visit from friends, writing letters to admirers.  Live simply and enjoy each minute.

At home I have scrambled eggs, garden peppers and cheese on the deck.  I grab a new copy of Yankee magazine.  I can take a virtual trip to New England.  There are articles on painters and craftsmen.  The Connecticut Art Trail looks like a neat trip.  The lead article “A World Away: Maine’s spectacular Blue Hill region awaits,” draws my undivided attention.

We first visited the Blue Hill peninsula in the early seventies after reading “The Good Life.”  I wrote to Helen and Scott Nearing (back-to-the-earth prophets) asking if we could visit.  With John and Barbara Paglione and my father we drove north in two VW bugs to a small plexi-glass handyman A-frame built by Bill Lynn from Bristol.  My father snapped a classic photo of us with the Pagliones on the small deck.  Next day we drove to the Nearings.

We went back to the Blue Hills several times. Most recently, about 12 years ago.  The Kwait Brothers Band (now Cabin Dogs) we’re invited to play at a local festival.  Jenny, Rob and baby Eli camped.  Diane and I stayed in a B and B, in Brooklin, not far from the farm where E.B.White wrote “Charlotte’s Web.”  One day we drove to Stonington, stopping in Buck’s Harbor with it’s scenes from Robert McCloskey’s “Morning in Maine.” We also found the Nearing property, now “The Good Life Center” in Brooksville.  What memories, they were building the stone house above when we visited.  Next door we were amazed to see that organic farmer Eliot Coleman was still there.  I couldn’t help but introduce myself, we had visited decades ago.  Oh yes, the festival was fantastic and the Kwait Brothers were a huge success.

Amazing how one Yankee magazine article brings such a rush of memories, a virtual trip in the present and a visit to the past.  From the magazine, I also wrote down Lobster Landing, in Clinton, Connecticut — possible stop on our next trip to Cape Cod.  I discovered two books of interest, Bill Henderson’s “Tower: Faith, Vertigo and Amateur Construction” and Peter Korn’s “Why We Make Things and Why It Matters: the education of a craftsman.” I’ll probably order both, more New England escapes.

Black Bass June 27

We’ve taken fewer trips than I would like.  Several weeks ago we explored Upper Bucks, Nockamixon Lake, and had ice cream at Wow Cow.  Another day we drove around Hunterdon County, NJ above Frenchtown.  Our first outside dining was at Kasey’s near Tinicum Park.  I had a tasty pastrami.  Last week we joined my sister, Vicky and her husband, Ted at the Black Bass for lunch on their outside deck.  Once we got umbrella covering, the setting was delightful.  I had a lobster crab salad.

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Zoubi, a small French restaurant was new to us.  We had a gift certificate and initially I was concerned they might not reopen.  I was wrong, they have been there ten years and were serving weekend dinners.  There is not much indoor seating, just a small bar but there is a charming patio, plants, flowers, rusting doorway.   New Hope was crowded, lots of young couples without masks but we found street parking behind Main and avoided the crowds.  For a while we had the patio to ourselves. Very nice and Diane’s scallops and my tuna with Sobu noodles and eggplant compote were both delicious.  Cocktails, wine, beer, a memorable meal.

Tuesday nights are Lobster nights at the Pineville Tavern.  We planned take out but they said no to the lobster.  So we sat on the patio.  Unfortunately there was no corn but the lobster was tender and sweet.  I passed on the fries and doubled up on the slaw.  Another fantastic meal and although it rained hard the new tent kept us dry.  Dave Sears had recently written about the glut of Maine lobsters (China not buying) so I called him, we were trying to help.  In June we also had two takeouts from the Yardley Inn.  Both times, soft shell crabs (my favorite), asparagus and mashed potatoes.  I might add most all these meals have involved speciality cocktails and dessert — tiramisu several times.   We’ve made a list of about 12 outdoor dining spots; don’t want indoor yet.  July should be busy.

The garden keeps me busy and it’s in pretty good shape.  Still picking greens, new seeds have sprouted.  Peppers, fennel and eggplants are coming in.  Beans, cucumber and squash plants are flowering.  Green tomatoes on some plants.  With time available and a little energy,  I’ve been able to keep the weeds pulled.  I still make daily salads and have done a bit of bread baking.  Not enough.

Afternoons are still devoted to reading.  I’ll save specific titles for another time.  But I’m reading a mix fiction and nonfiction; new books and rereads from the shelves.  If I read in the morning or early afternoon, I’ve been sitting on the deck.  Sometimes it’s just sitting.  It’s not the ocean, bay, beach or special scenery but the yard looks good — a HGP grad is cutting it for me.  I’m thankful for it.  A few days ago a guy in a wheelchair who pushes up Florence Avenue most days said, “You have a nice property.”  Plain, nothing dramatic, but yes nice, particularly in “stay at home.”

I miss people contact the most.  The “hellos” on the canal are nice. Occasionally I cross paths with a local I know.  We might stop and chat a few minutes.  I make telephone calls, regularly to Jenny and my sisters.  Weekly to cousin Ellen and John Paglione.  Actually we’ve been doing Face Time Thursday nights with Pagliones.  And I sometimes check my address book and call former and current HGP friends, guys from college.  It’s like pulling a number out of a hat.  Something sparks a memory of the person, so I call.  Jen, Rob and the kids have visited and Taylor’s have come for drinks and pizza.

I try to shut out the negatives, news of the virus, Trump, politics, controversy about masks, civil rights protests.  Too much FaceBook, newspaper articles, and the nightly news, usually CNN.  But I’m addicted.  I only think about cutting back.  Need more music and movies.

Every day is a challenge.  Go slow. Enjoy.  The small things.  The rituals, traditions, friendships, with a touch of the new, some explorations, a touch of serendipity.  And I’m thankful.

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