Reading: The General’s Cook


I’ve always had an interest in local history.  I remember in high school discovering Doran Green’s “History of Bristol” and  “A History of Old Homes on Radcliffe Street.”  I’d walk around town and up Radcliffe looking at the neighborhood or houses in connection with what I read in the books.  In the 1980s after taking a National Endowment course in Local History I became addicted — Yardley, Bucks County, Philadelphia and Pennsylvania books came to dominate my library.  I began to teach a course in local history.

Several recent Coronavirus “stay at home” reads fall into the local history category.  “The General’s Cook,” by Ramon Ganeshram, although a novel contains lots of history and a local Philadelphia connection.  The cook is Hercules, one of George Washington’s slaves.  I first learned about Hercules when in 2006-07,  the President’s House was the site of an archaeological dig due to the construction of a new building for the Liberty Bell.


“The archaeologists found foundations of the kitchen. No documentary evidence indicated that the kitchen, originally built as a one-story building, had a basement, so it was an unexpected find. It was here that Hercules, an enslaved African and renowned chef, worked and prepared the food for the President’s household and for dignitaries. Hercules escaped into the darkness from this house, and there is no historic record of what became of him.” (Internet: Archaeology at the President’s House).


Hercules and the eight other slaves Washington brought from Mount Vernon became the subject of controversy.  Would the Park Service include their story in the interpretation of the site?  How would they comment on our founding father’s keeping of slaves.  More controversial was the fact that Washington would take Hercules and the other slaves back to Mount Vernon periodically since PA law would set them free if they remained in the state for 6 months.

Hercules is a colorful character.  Washington allowed him to sell “slops” from the kitchen.  With money in his pocket, he dressed well and was known around town.  There are various Philadelphia references in the novel.  Some are factual; others fiction.  In the book, Hercules meets Gilbert Stuart, right around the time Stuart was painting Washington.  Stuart wants to paint Hercules.  Factually there is a famous painting, part of the book’s jacket, thought to be Hercules painted by Stuart, in chef’s hat and coat.  Recent scholarship indicates it’s probably not a Stuart and not Hercules.

”Due to his culinary prowess, Hercules was able to bring his son Richmond, to Philadelphia. He was also given other special privileges not entitled to most of Washington’s slaves. According to Custis (Washington’s step grandson), Hercules accrued a salary of “one to two hundred dollars a year,” by selling leftovers, known as slops, from the presidential kitchen. Hercules was a “celebrated dandy,” in the words of Custis, and the chef kept an equally meticulous kitchen: “Under his iron discipline, wo[e] to his underlings if speck or spot could be discovered on the tables or dressers, or if the utensils did not shine like polished silver.” (Internet: Washington’s Mount Vernon)


There are many historical traces in “The General’s Cook.” Hercules wanders familiar Philadelphia streets past landmarks like the State House and Dock Creek.  He shops in the market, the author uses the real names of market people.  Hercules has contact with James Heming (Jefferson’s chef), Richard Allen ( founder of Bethel AME Church), Samuel Faunces (tavern keeper in NYC and Philadelphia) and the Chew Family.  His white fictional mistress, Thelma, works for a daughter of Benjamin Chew.  George and Martha Washington play minor roles; this is the story of the downstairs not upstairs. There are some interesting details true or false about Washington like toothless “old Sam” who claimed he sold his teeth to the President or George’s love of Hercules’s hoecakes.


Oney Judge, Martha’s maid is another named Mount Vernon slave.  Oney would run away when Martha proposed to give her away. In the novel, Hercules helps her. Washington attempted to have her captured but failed.  Hers is another interesting story.

It was believed that Hercules ran away from Philadelphia.  But the novel and recent scholarship points to Hercules being returned to Mount Vernon. He was put to hard work.  It was from Mount Vernon that he ran away.

“Washington was angered and confused by the decision to run away, believing that Hercules lived a privileged life, having even received three bottles of  rum from  Martha to “bury his wife” in September of 1787. On March 10, 1797, Washington expressed to Tobias Lear that he wanted Hercules to be found and returned to Mount Vernon, as soon as possible. Washington was so distressed by the absence of the family chef that he even wrote to Major George Lewis on November 13, 1797, about buying a slave in Fredericksburg who was reputed to be an excellent chef. Washington stated that while he “had resolved never to become the master of another slave by purchase,” because of Hercules’ absence, “this resolution I fear I must break.

Washington’s last will and testament , written in July 1799 before his death that December, provided for the eventual emancipation, care, and education of his slaves, following the death of Martha Washington. However, he had no legal control over whether the Custis family dower slaves would gain their freedom. As a result, Hercules’ children remained enslaved, even after Martha Washington’s death in May 1802.” (Internet: Washington’s Mount Vernon)

“The General’s Chef “ was a good read.  I particularly enjoyed the local history.  I do wish there was more time in the kitchen, devoted to food and cooking.  One of my other interests.





Coronavirus: second post

We’ve been home bound since early March.  Approaching three months.  It’s been an amazing time.  And although states have begun to “open up” there is a spike in infections and some return to lock down.  Social distancing, masks, and hand washing could continue for months.  Being retired our lives have changed but no where as drastically as for the millions of unemployed, those in poverty, homeless, in nursing homes. Their conditions and stories are tragic, frightening.

The national political divide is increasingly disturbing.  I want to turn off the news but feel obligated to stay somewhat informed and aware of what’s happening.  The Trump administration’s response from my perspective has been inadequate and at times ridiculous. I sometimes try to pull back and not be so critical but then Trump will do or say something that I find absurd.  His behavior and decisions are consistently driven by his vision of re-election in November.  I’ll avoid the specifics.


Our lifestyle change does make us appreciate the basics.  It was  a chilly wet spring, so building a fire in the wood stove Continued to be a treat,  not just in February and March but as late as May.  When it’s warm and the sun shine I totally enjoy my walks on the canal.  Just sitting on the deck, the back yard or front porch is a delight.  The chirping birds and budding trees. It’s not easy but I am trying to keep up with the garden.  There are more greens from seed than we can eat.   Tomatoes, peppers and eggplants are growing big.  I was hoping Paul who cuts the grass would weed the back garden.  He did and I sowed cucumber, bean and squash seed.

Mornings until about one when we have lunch (lots of garden salads now) are devoted to the daily routines, laundry, cleaning up a bit, walking, minor projects, sometimes cooking.  In the afternoon I read, several books each month.  I’ve blogged some but not all weeks.   I do find writing, if only for myself,  a release.  Anxiety and minor depression has been limited, usually associated with the news or my feeling of helplessness.  I don’t like to be out of control.  I have read that it’s on the rise.

APTOPIX Minneapolis Police Death

Coronavirus news this past month was outpaced by the protests, rioting and looting in cities across the country over the death of Floyd George in Minneapolis.  The protests started there but spread rapidly. Philadelphia was a battleground of personal interest.  I remember the aftermath of the King assassination here.  The current pattern seemed to be that peaceful protests in the afternoon and early evening turn violent later when there were been curfews and strong police action.  There were suspicions that the right or left wing (Trump accused Antifa) was responsible for the violence.  We may never know?  So much of this recalls the 1960s and early 1970s when one tragedy, crisis, frightening and saddening event followed another.  The protests seemed to be youth, in some cities Whites  (even more)  and Blacks.  Combine outrage against police brutality, our long history of racism. the lock down, unemployment, poverty and hunger and our current nightly news hasn’t been much of a surprise. Trump’s response to the protests became increasingly militant.  Enough said.


Its sometimes hard to believe it’s July.  Retired for six years.  Some have been better than others. It’s hard to predict what lies ahead.  Jenny decided to keep the Cape Cod reservations.  If things seem totally safe maybe we will go but as of now that doesn’t seem a strong possibility. This may be the first year we spend the total summer in Yardley.  There is plenty of cleaning, organizing, and getting rid of stuff that we need to do. We can take day trips, enjoy sitting on the deck and yard.  I do need to break from the current routine.  The beauty of summer has always been the break with routine.  I’m thinking but don’t have a good plan yet.  As Thoreau wrote, “How deep the ruts of tradition and conformity.”

I’ll try to get out of the rut and find that mix of tradition and change, the old and new, familiar and unfamiliar, that has characterized my better days, best summers and most exciting trips.  A bit of serendipity never hurt.












Reading: Journaling

I read about May Sarton, looked her up on Amazon and ordered “At Seventy: a Journal.”  It was published in 1984 and is a daily journal of Saton’s seventieth year.  Since I keep many journals, one is a daily log much like Sarton’s; and I will be 73 this July I thought reading another’s journal would be interesting.

Sarton is a poet with quite a few published books.  Several are journals.  She lives alone in York, Maine.  I was immediately struck with the number of friends in her life.  Locals but also people, mainly women, around the country.  Some come to visit her for days; and there are many lunches and dinners, frequently hosted at her house.  Usually with scotch, her preferred drink.  She also corresponds with many — friends and aspiring writer- poets who write her.  Sometimes responding in a dozen letters in a day.

Sarton does several readings during the year, at bookstores, college campuses or women’s organizations.  A main theme in the journal is the tension between activity and socializing and solitude.  She often takes a sigh of relief when she is finally alone.  A time to write, reflect and just enjoy the quiet.

Sarton has a dog and cat.  And she has a large garden, flowers and vegetables.  She does get help maintaining the garden and house.  But she is hard working and independent and does a lot herself.  There are many entries that record her love of music, the ocean, flowers and birds.

Occasionally Sarton comments on current news.  She is liberal in her viewpoint.  But most of her writing is confined to the personal and everyday.  A simple but authentic journal.


I have kept a daily journal since high school when Frank Meehan, my Junior English teacher advised me to write daily if I wanted to be a writer.  Recently during the Coronavirus stay at home, I do write almost daily.  Like Sarton most is a basic record of what I did during the previous day, starting with the weather, my health, mental state, people contact, maybe what I eat, gardening, harvesting, fire building during the season, what I’m reading, movies I watch, people I write or call, shopping, and places I visit if I leave home. I may also record hopes, dreams, and plans, what I should be doing or what I want to do. Recently I frequently comment on the news events of the day.    I don’t view this writing for publication (Sarton does) nor do I expect others to read it. For me journaling serves as a reflection, a release, organizing my thoughts about I’ve done and what I plan to do.

I keep several other journals, restaurants, movies, books, travel, reflections for my grand kids, and significant events.  Since I retired in 2014, I’ve blogged.  Most blogs take a current event, experience or read (as this one) and run it through my life.  What’s it means it me?   It’s another form of journaling but is made public.  And I hope someone will read it, find a bit of enjoyment or enlightenment.   I might look for some other published journals to read.  Any suggestions?





Reading and dreaming

I’ve been reading quite a bit during the “stay at home.”  Not that it’s unusual, reading and books have been an important part of my life since elementary school.  I majored in and taught English; worked in a book bindery; was a librarian for several decades.  There has been a mix of genres the past few months.  Some new buys; others rereads from my collection.

I just finished “The Hotel: a week in the life of the Plaza,” by Sonny Kleinfield, a New York Times reporter.  “Hotel” was published in 1989.  Some might find it dated.  But I ordered it with the idea of taking a virtual trip to NYC since we wouldn’t be going any time soon.  We’ve been in the Plaza, the 5th  Avenue luxury hotel across from Central Park, several times.  At least twice we just went in to look around, probably around Christmas when we did Rockefeller Center, Saint Patrick’s, and other Avenue institutions.  At least one visit was with Jenny who had read “Eloise.” We had lunch in the Palm Court once and drinks in the Oak room.  But we never stayed there.

Kleinfield basically lives in the Plaza for one week; the book is broken up Monday through Sunday.  He spends time with all types of hotel employees; at the main desk, with bellhops, doormen, the concierge, the laundry rooms, maids, the kitchen staff, waitresses, bartenders, maintenance and management. Over 1,000 employees.   He also mingles with and interviews a variety of guests.  There are regulars, one older woman has a rent controlled suite that she has lived in for decades.  Businessmen, tourists, celebrities and VIPs.  At the end of the week he observes the arrival of the King and Queen of Sweden.


It’s really a fascinating look into the life of a luxury hotel.  And it’s amazing what goes into it’s operation.  Everyone Kleinfield meets has a story.  The customer is always right and if something goes wrong there will probably be comps, flowers, a box of candy or a free room.  They also can be extremely demanding.   There are elegant suites that cost upward $1,000 a night and small closet like rooms that go for several hundred.  Today there are about 300 rooms and suites in the Plaza; in the 1980s there were many more but some floors have been turned into condos.


The Plaza opened in 1907.  The architect was Henry Janeway Hardenbergh. French Chateau Style.  Many movies have scenes shot in the Plaza — including  North By Northwest, The Way We Were, The Front, Home Alone 2, Sleepless in Seattle, The Great Gatsby.  The list of famous guests is long; a few stayed for extended periods —  Frank Lloyd Wright, Truman Capote, the Beatles, Enrico Caruso, Cecil Beaton, Marlene Dietrich, Christian Dior, do you remember Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald’s drunken dive into the fountain in front of the main entrance.

The most most famous guest:

George Cozonis, Managing Director of The Plaza Hotel, explains, “Back in the day, the 1940s, there was a very famous performer, Kay Thompson, who performed at the Persian Room of the Plaza, the most famous nightclub in NY. She later learned to write books and also star in movies. So Kay Thompson in her spare time, when she was living at The Plaza and in between performances, came up with the story of Eloise, which is a six year-old little girl who lives in The Plaza and is very mischievous and always up to something and truly loves the luxury of the hotel. She orders room service and she runs around the hotel and meets guests and runs to Central Park with her turtle and little dog. That was 60 years ago. But Eloise, age six, still lives at The Plaza. We see her every day.” A delightful book.


In 1988 Donald Trump bought the Plaza Hotel from Westin.   Kleinfield mentions Trump’s purchase in the last chapter but I found a 2016 New York Times article that gave more detail. He wanted it so much he overpaid, $390,000.    He did major renovation, some were good, others tacky.  His wife Ivana was put in charge.  Her imperial manor dove away most of the senior management.  In 1992 he married Marla Maples in the Hotel.

From Bloomberg Businessweek:

“Trump had no choice but to give up the Plaza. He was in the midst of negotiating with Citibank and his other creditors to save what he could of his empire, and he couldn’t risk it all falling apart on the basis of one hotel. So in April 1995, the deal with Kwek and Alwaleed finally closed. It valued the hotel at $325 million, or $83 million less than what Trump had paid seven years earlier. The transaction was complex, with Kwek and Alwaleed agreeing to reduce the outstanding debt on the hotel to about $25 million from more than $300 million, in exchange for each receiving a stake in the hotel of just under 42 percent. Citibank was also to stay in the deal, with a 16 percent equity stake.”

In 2018 the government of Quatar purchased the Plaza for 600,000.


I hope that someday, when we are free from the Coronavirus, we can travel again to New York City.  The Plaza has changed, the Oak Room is closed; there are expensive condos. It’s not rated the best in NYC but there is still a sense of the classic, an ikon.  We won’t stay in the 30,000 a night suite but maybe can get a room for $500, probably not overlooking Central Park, always considered the best view.

Have you been to the Plaza?  What are you reading these days?










Summer 2020 will be very different.  And it is so hard to predict.  Will cases of Coronavirus stay low or will we have new outbreaks? Will states continue to “open up” or will there be renewed restrictions.  We are cancelling our two week August rental in Cape Cod.  We can get a deposit returned if we cancel by June.  Currently short term rentals are prohibited although that may change in the next few weeks.  Our grand kids were just notified that their Pocono summer camp is cancelled.  A summer unlike summers past.

For more than 40 years I taught in schools.  My school year usually ended in May.  If I was still working, I would soon be on my summer schedule.  Most summers were a mix of some work and extended vacation/travel.  For several years in the early 70s while teaching elementary school, I worked in construction.  My uncle helped me get a job with Roy Butterworth.  I moved from sheetrock to minor carpentry in house construction under the guidance of Bristol’s Gene Cordisco. It was a good experience.  One year I operated a “summer camp” out of our Yardley house.  The students had special needs and were part of my class.  Mornings were devoted to academics; afternoons were canoeing in the canal and field trips.  I dreamed of opening my own school.

Then we moved to New Hope and rented with the Pagliones.  The first summer, John and I drove around in one of our VW bugs looking for farm work.  In the Pineville post office we met Doris Daniels who suggested we contact her husband Paul.  The next day we were on the farm shoveling mud into cow stalls, driving a tractor, bailing hay, and a variety of other farm chores.  Paul had a dairy farm and adjacent his brother Ed had egg laying chickens.  For several years we worked for both. We were “green.” Paul told us he didn’t think we’d be back after the first day.

After 4 years in New Hope, Pagliones moved to Ann Arbor, graduate school.  We moved to Bristol until we found a house to buy in Yardley.  The summer of 75, we lived with friends, the Bonnema’s had moved their pottery studio to Bethel, Maine.  We lived with them and helped a bit around the studio and at craft fairs but also spent a lot of time hiking in the White Mountains.  A great summer.

I got a full time job at Holy Ghost Prep in 1974.  For a few years, I didn’t get paid but hung out a lot at school doing work in the library.  Later as Assistant Headmaster I worked year round with a generous vacation time.  In addition to scheduling, book ordering and other administrative tasks, I started a summer program.  This lasted about 10 years.  In about 1987,  I took a sabbatical and spent the next two summers working on my dissertation.  I did a little construction work on the side.

By 1990 with my doctorate in hand, I began teaching evenings and summers at LaSalle and Holy Family.  Some summers I’d sometimes have 3 courses.  I was still a full time librarian at HGP and would teach one or two evening college courses.  That continued until Rob Buscaglia asked me to join Auyandica, a service project to Nicaragua for high school students that he had started. For ten years I stopped teaching college in the summer.  Instead I went to Nicaragua and took other summer vacations.  When the Nicaragua project stopped in early 2000, I resumed summer teaching until a few years before I retired in 2014.


Vacation and travel have always been an important of this teacher’s summer.  In the 1970s we usually spent time at my Aunt and Uncle’s ocean front house in Harvey Cedars, Long Beach Island.  The year before Jenny was born we spent a lot of  time there into September and early October.  I commuted to work.  I have already mentioned the summer in Maine and several years we took camping trips to New England.  One year we rented a house in Searsport, Maine.  For several years in the 1980s we our get-away was anywhere from four days to two weeks sailing with Jerry and Susan Taylor on the Chesapeake Bay.  We rented a sailboat out of Rockport, Maryland.  Jerry was the accomplished sailor.

During to 1970-80s we took several trips to Europe.  The first was in 1976.  We went to England and Scotland.  Another year Ireland; and then Denmark and other Scandinavia countries. On these trips we combined some nights of camping with some in Bed and Breakfasts.  All these trips lasted about 5 weeks.  One year I went to Germany with Barbara Cavanaugh who hosted German trips for her Holy Ghost students.  I went to Munich before the group arrived and Diane came near the end of the trip.  Barbara and the kids went home; we traveled through Austria, Italy, France, Switzerland and I stayed for a few extra days in Amsterdam.

In the 1990s we discovered Nantucket.  An ad in a local Bucks County paper led us to a fantastic isolated cottage on Polpis Road outside of town.  For the next ten years, Nantucket was our two week summer destination.  It fit perfectly my idea of vacation travel.  A mix of the known and unknown; a mix of quiet isolation and serendipitous exploration. The familiar; the new.   We had hiking, bicycling, historic sites, museums, beaches, on the sound and ocean, restaurants and classic shops, bird watching, house tours, concerts and plays.  Always plenty of time for cooking and reading. Unfortunately we got a call from the owner in early 2000.  He was selling.  We looked but could never find a similar property for the price.

During three of the Nantucket years I went to Germany for three weeks on an HGP exchange program. The students lived with German families. Sandy, the German teacher organizer and I lived in the school rectory.  Most of our time was free except for a side trip when we took the kids to Munich or Berlin.  One year Diane met me in Germany and we spent several weeks in Italy.  It was my first trip to Roccavivara my grandfather’s hometown.  I retuned one Christmas with my father and in May 2015 spent two weeks there with my cousin Joey.

After Nantucket we rented in Cape May, Long Beach Island, and Cape Cod.  Then for two years we did Bed and Breakfasts for 2 or 3 nights from spring through the fall.  We stayed in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Vermont, Pennsylvania, New Jersey.  Maybe 5 or more trips a year.  During the time there was a company selling B and B gift cards with a 20 or 30% discount.  I’d stock up.  Unfortunately their offers eventually stopped.


We finally decided on Orleans on Cape Cod as our regular vacation destination. In the past six or seven years we’ve rented two different houses.  The first was on Pilgrim Lake and the second on Ayres Pond.  We rented with my daughter and family which gave us a nice time with our grand kids.  The Cape was similar to Nantucket.  We like to return to familiar, favorite places but also like to explore and find something new.  There are the beaches on the bay and ocean and the kettle ponds, the National Seashore is exceptionally nice. We usually participate in several guided activities, including a boat explore.   We use various hiking trails, kayak or canoe. Restaurants, cooking seafood, galleries and shops in Wellfleet and Provincetown.  We enjoy historic and craft explores along Route 6A.  There are always games and reading at the house.

But this year I feel pretty certain we will not go to our Orleans rental on the Cape. What will we do?   It will depend on how the virus declines or increases as we get into June and July. Maybe we will feel safe to travel— multiple nights get-aways or a lucky rental.  Of course we might end up staying home, doing local walks, some day trips, gardening, cooking and take out food, in house movies, sitting and reading on the deck.  Whatever it is I will try for a mix, some familiar favorites, traditions if you will, but also find new explores, whether they be planned or serendipitous.  The best summers have alway had that mix.



Memorial Day – Tradition


I just watched a Memorial Day ceremony at the monument along the river across from the Yardley Inn.  Each year a small group gathers with flowers and flags.  There is a brief speech, a military gun salute and the playing of taps.  Watching it made me reflect on my own Memorial Days past.

Growing up in Bristol for years I marched in the Memorial Day parade. The parade started at Green Lane, down Pond Street to the cemetery on Route 13.  The route and the parade itself was long.  Troop 73 wasn’t the only youth group.  My sisters, Cissi, Vicky and Marylee marched with the Juniorettes.  There was a contingent of veterans, the high school band, military trucks, soldiers, fire company trucks and rescue squad equipment.  And the Bracken Cadets, an excellent marching band sponsored by the American Legion. In the beginning and the end were police cars.

I’m sure there were speeches at the cemetery although I don’t remember them.   Along the route, lined with residents and kids waving flags, there were women collecting donations for veteran organizations in return the donor got a paper red poppy.  There were lots of flags in the parade and all over town  After the ceremony we marched back to the American Legion Mill Street to Radcliffe Street.  Kids were given hot dogs, soda and ice cream.  Then we headed home.


Memory fails again when I try to remember the rest of the day.  I suspect some years we had a picnic at my Aunt and Uncle’s house on Radcliffe Street.  Most holidays we got together with them.  My cousin Ellen remembers her father pulling a large galvanized tin bucket out of the garage,  filling it with ice for soda and probably some beer. Uncle always drank small green bottled Rolling Rock.   If we didn’t go to Mignoni’s, we probably had hamburgers and hot dogs or even Delmonico steaks on our second floor porch and outdoor deck.  Father had a small charcoal grill that he would fire up.

Memorial Days just before, during and just after college are a blank.  I think it’s related to the role of tradition.  When we do something  ritually  it becomes a memory.  The years we lived in New Hope with the Pagliones are a similar blank.  I don’t recall any New Hope or Lambertville parade.  No traditions; no memory.  Then we moved to Yardley in the early 1970s.

The Yardley parade became a tradition for decades.  The participants were similar to those the the Bristol parade.  It was a bit smaller.  I have strong memories of the marching veterans, some year after year.  I remember a few names, Danny, Estelle (she road in a car).  There were a lot of fire trucks from surrounding municipalities.  We’d walk to Main Street with out neighbors, the Dyes.  Blond Katie and our red headed Jenny shared a stroller in the early years.  Political figures, frequently riding in cars, threw candy to the children sitting on the curbs.  The parade started on North Main and ended at the American Legion on South Main.  There were speeches, a gun salute and taps but with the kids we didn’t walk that far but headed home once the parade passed.

For eight years in the 1980s I was on Yardley Borough Council.  And Council marched in the parade.  Some years we rode in a car or truck but other years made the decision to walk. I never got into the candy throw.  Those years I did make it to the American Legion.  In addition to local politicians from the Borough, there were Lower Makefield supervisors, county officials and probably a state representative.  There was always a guest military officer that gave the main address.  Diane and Jenny didn’t usually make the walk, so I headed home back down Main Street.  I recall a few years getting a ride from Dave Heckler, a County-State politician.  I’m sure in the afternoon we had a picnic.  With the Dyes when they lived locally; alone after they moved.

Some years we skipped Yardley for a trip to visit my sister Vicky and her husband Ted in Darien, CN.  My parents, other sisters and children all went for the weekend.  The pool was opened although usually too chilly for the adults; the kids didn’t mind.  One night we enjoyed a seafood dinner, lobster, clams, oh so good.  On Memorial Day we drove to downtown Darien for the parade.  A few years we walked to Rowayton, a village in Norwalk.  The small parade there had kids participating on decorated bicycles.  Very small town.  These years were particularly nice since frequently the entire family got together.  Years later driving to or from New England past Darien I’d remember those weekends.  Family traditions.

In more recent years I have walked over the Mary Yardley footbridge to Main Street and watched the Yardley parade.  Barbecue at home. Some years Vicky and Ted hosted the family at their house in Phoenixville.  Although their was a town parade we never went but were satisfied socializing and eating in their porch.  Our third choice has been to go to Gladwyne and see our grandkids, Eli and Viv decorate their bikes and ride in the local parade.  The Gladwyne parade is very small.  No bands. Marching veterans,  a few politicians throwing candy, fire trucks, and some antique cars, and all those kids on decorated bikes. There are a few speeches downtown where people congregate, socialize, there is some food and drinks for sale.  Again very small town.  After the parade and hanging out for a while we head home.  Always the deck grill.


There are traditional Memorial Day activities and images. For many it’s the beginning of summer.  The first big weekend at the beach.  Of course this year there is concern about crowds, social distancing, masks and the spread of Coronavirus.  And businesses, some with restrictions, are concerned about sales.  There are no parades but I suspect many communities displayed flags and had small ceremonies in cemeteries or at monuments like the one in Yardley. Immediate family, maybe friends gather for a picnic.

I’ll be home this Memorial Day.  We saw our Jenny, Rob and the grand kids yesterday.  It’s overcast so we may or may not cook on the grill.  But I pause and give thanks to those who lost their lives in defense of our country.  For that’s the main purpose of the day.  I’ll call some family members.   And I’ll remember the memories and traditions from all those  Memorial Days from my past.






Phillips Mill

About a mile north of New Hope on Route 32 is a sharp S curve.  Stopping for a few seconds at the fairly recent stop sign,  I feel like I’m entering a time warp.  On the left is the Phillips Mill, built in or prior to 1756 when Aaron Phillips paid his half brother William Kitchen for an interest in 100+ acres property along the Delaware River and the Grist Mill powered by Primrose Creek. The Phillips family owned the property for four generations.



Across the road is the Inn at Phillips Mill.  I believe originally there was a barn on the site.  There were several attempts to turn the building into a restaurant.  In 1972, an architect, Brooks Kaufman and his wife created the current Inn at Phillips Mill.  Diane and I ate there once, probably in the mid 1980s.  We sat on a patio outside, don’t remember what we ate, and didn’t know it was a BYOB.  Graciously our server brought complimentary wine.  Although it gets mixed reviews, I think we will return soon, after three or four  decades.

We have frequently gone to the annual art exhibit at the Mill.  Several years ago as we got ready to leave, I asked Diane about her favorite painting.  She pointed to “Canal Ice” by Roy Reinhard.  Outside I looked Reinhard up on the Internet —  an established New Hope artist.  I went back inside for another look, and another Bucks County oil painting joined out collection.  What continues to draw me to “Canal Ice” is the lighting.  It looks so different in the sunlight, on a cloudy afternoon or early evening.  Some years we’ve also gone to the student art and the photography show at the Mill.

My current interest in the Phillips Mill community is related to a Sunday tour we took last October, sponsored by the Friends of the Delaware Canal.  Their Faces and Places fundraiser had a tenth year anniversary last year.  We had never attended.  But when we saw the email invitation to explore Phillips Mill and the New Hope artists, we signed on.

Black Bass June 27

The tour started at the Black Bass in Lumberville.  We boarded the “orange” van with friend and guide Jerry Taylor. On the drive south, Jerry narrated some of the associations with the New Hope school of painters, the Pennsylvania Impressionists. The first artist mentioned I’d never encountered, Martin Johnson Heade.  In the 1850s, his  family ran the general store across River Road from the Black Bass.  Heade studied with the Hicks of Newtown.  Many of his paintings were landscapes, flowers, still life.  He moved from Lumberville and is sometimes associated with the Hudson River School.

Down the road we passed a Fern Coppedge house but I’m not clear which specific house and I thought she had a house in New Hope.  Research needed.  Further on, off River Road, at Cuttalossa creek, is the Daniel Garber property.  Years ago the FODC had a meeting in the Garber’s studio.  Garber was one of the original Bucks County Impressionists.  Unfortunately the Cuttalossa Inn, restaurant and waterfall has closed.  But we can go back and explore the area.  Another “famous” local was Charles Child, an artist and twin brother to Paul Child — yes Julia Child had a Bucks County connection.

Edward Redfield was another New Hope Impressionist who lived along the canal.  Actually in three different houses north of Centre Bridge.  I’ve always wanted to walk the canal there to identify the Redfield houses.  A project.

Our first stop on the Faces and Places tour was the Lathrop house at Phillips Mill.  I was amazed.  It’s the house just north of the Inn and  been in the Lathrop family for over a hundred years.  In 1896, George Morley Marshall bought up much of the Phillips holdings.  He was a prominent surgeon at the Pennsylvania hospital.  On my next visit I’ll check for any memorial plaques.  Marshall invited his boyhood friend  and artist William Lathrop to visit.  In 1903 Lathrop purchased the miller’s house and acreage from Dr. Marshall.  We had hoped to hear about the Lathrop legacy from William’s grand-daughters Nora and Jillian.  But it was a cool, rainy day and they sent a great-granddaughter.  She told William’s story.  Several weeks later we took a canal walk passing the Lathrop house; one of grand daughters was sitting on a chair on a porch.


Next to the Lathrop house is the Inn at Phillips Mill. Recently we’ve wondered if it still operated.  A week ago we went to the Mill Art show, the 90th.  I checked out the Inn menu and made a reservation for early November.  It has mixed reviews but the historic interior with a fireplace in one room was a draw.  The cuisine is French and they are still a BYOB.

Behind the Inn was the next stop on our Faces and Places tour — the Morgan Colt complex, a medieval village. In 1912 Colt moved to Bucks County.  Initially he planned to live on a house boat on the Delaware Canal but eventually bought property adjacent to William Lathrop.  Colt was a craftsman not just a painter.  He converted a piggery into a house, Tudor style, and constructed several other English style buildings for his studio, woodworking shop and iron forge.  He imported roof beams, windows and other architectural features from Europe.  He also used poured concrete for buildings similar to Henry Mercer in Doylestown.  Our guide to the Morgan complex was Eleanor Miller, daughter in law of a more contemporary New Hope artist, R.A.D Miller.

Eleanor was a delightful guide. She reminded us of our New Hope friend Ragna Hamilton.  Of course In the small world of New Hope, Eleanor knew Ragna and Rodney and their friends and Phillips Mill actors, Jim and Anika.  Phillips Mill became a community center hosting the annual art show, an amateur  theatre and other community events.

We entered the Colt complex through decorative iron gates forged by Colt.   Eleanor and a son live in Morgan Colt’s studio. Although much of the tour was in the outside gardens, we got to go in the main house.  Amazing.  I don’t know how we missed knowing about these buildings.  In the gardens were several “plain air” painters.  Their works would be auctioned off later in the day.


Next we travelled up the hill behind the Mill.  One of Marshall’s daughters (the original art colony purchaser) married the painter R.A.D. Miller.  The couple were given revolutionary era homes on the hill. We visited one, currently owned by Daniel Dorian.  French, artistic, eccentric, he gave us a tour of the property with a peak inside the historic house.

Since then I purchased Dorian’s book, “Peripatetic: A Memoir.”  It’s subtitled, “ A French-American Citizen’s Perspective on His Jewish Heritage, War, Love and Politics.”  A fascinating story.

From the back cover:

”Jewish parents, the war, the German occupation, the round up of Jews, the risk of being sent to a concentration camp, and then Daniel’s exile to a small village in the center of France.  The young man’s return to a newly liberated Paris, an addiction to poker, private Latin lessons with Einstein’s best friend . . . His unusual tour of duty during the Algerian War .. . His tryst with a painter who encourages him to emigrate to America.

Early years in New York City Bohemia, honing his skills at Lee Strasberg’s Actors Studio, a poetry recital tour in major US universities . . . an affair with a black jazz singer and coping with the hardships of miscegenation.

He co-hosts a popular hit parade show with one of WMCA’s Good Guys before becoming a foreign correspondent, covering the Cold War, the Johnson- Kosygin summit meeting, the race riots, the Apollo flights, the tumultuous conventions in Chicago and Miami where he is beaten and left for dead in the ghetto.

Brando, Sinatra, Fitzgerald, Bardot, Sammy Davis Jr., Dali, Rockeferrer, de Gaulle, RFK, are some of the people he interviews, sometimes befriends, as a journalist.

This is the story of a man lucky enough to have had an orchestra seat to the major historical events that shaped the second part of the twentieth century.”

“Peripatetic: A Memoir” is a book I will reread.  Our next stop was the Mill where we heard a history of the Mill.  Although the annual art show was open, there wasn’t much time to look.  The vans returned us to the Black Bass.  Unfortunately there was a bit of rain but it didn’t stop us from enjoying wine, appetizers, and dinner.  Diane and I left after dessert before the auction of the paintings done earlier in the day.

In November we made dinner reservations at the Phillips Mill Inn.  We sat next to a gas fire, enjoyable waitress and very good meal.  We shared escargot.  I went for Elk chops.  A bit tough but tasty.  The Inn is run down but we were told chef and owners had been there many years. Recently we met Eleanor Miller at another Friends of the Delaware Canal event and she said the Inn was closing.  She is involved with others in an attempt to buy up the mill complex and restore it.  We can hope.

















Coronavirus, first post

View from my chair and deck.

We’ve been taking one day at a time since early March.  On March 9 I had an appointment in Philadelphia with Kovell. “Could he open the fistula?”  I didn’t want an abscess, fever, ER.  But he said he couldn’t feel anything.  Call if abscess developed.  Later that week we went to the State Store since they were scheduled to close.  And Diane made a trip to McCaffrey’s one day at six — seniors only.  That was our last trips into stores.

Diane walks Nala every day, going to Washington Crossing or some other area.  For weeks we’ve been warned to keep six foot distance and more recently to wear a face mask. NJ Parks have recently closed due to the number of people.   I was Canal walking until rain, clouds, damp chilly weather and upset stomach keep me in for a week.  Yesterday I took a short walk to the Mary Yardley footbridge.  A week off is not good.  Also enjoyed sitting on the deck in the sun several days.  Otherwise we’ve been inside.

We bagan to place some orders online.  Olive oil from Amazon, wine from Washington Crossing Vinyards, cheese from Wisconsin Cheese Company, chocolates from Sweet Ashley. Our neighbor Kurt brought us milk and later seafood from Trader Joe’s where he works.  Diane tried a Whole Foods/Amazon Prime food delivery but could never get a shipping date.  Then we discovered Shady Brook Farm was doing curbside pick up. We ordered some meat, fruits and vegetables.  The main things we didn’t get were Greggstown pot pies and sausage.  Could do a curbside with them.  Organnons on 413 and NonSuch Farms also have curbside when needed.  Also waiting for flour from King Arthur and toilet paper from Amazon.  There are a few other things we could order online.  And I’ve stocked up on pills and supplement.  We let boxes sit for a day or so and wash up after opening. That’s shopping.

I’ve made cornbread, biscuits, yogurt but haven’t baked bread yet.  I should.  Diane made a pan cake with chocolate drops.  Very tasty.  And we’ve stretched our meals, cauliflower sauce on pasta for several days, Cod in rice and vegetables several days.  We probably have food for two weeks.

Several days ago the sun came out in the late afternoon and I planted seed in two of the eight raised beds — peas, kale, lettuce, radish, fennel, arugula.  Unfortunately I forget to buy spinach.  Four of the beds got a fresh filling of leaf mulch.  I don’t know if I’ll be getting it for the others. Neighbor Chris will have some plants for sale and I think nurseries will be open or have curbside.  Paul Ahearn is expected today to cut grass.

Early on in our quarantine we accepted delivery of a new couch and chair.  Some concern about strangers in the house but we disinfected after they left. Unfortunately for me the chair is not as comfortable as the old one and I spend hours every day sitting in it.  Our other surprise visitors were from Bristol Fuel.  Our water died on a Saturday. Sunday I called and Dave Burton stopped to check on his way to Bristol.  Repair or new heater?  We opted for new and Dave returned later with a helper and installed a new heater.  More disinfection.

People contact is important.  I call my sisters every other day, Pagliones, and have made called to Franny Profy, Eleanor Osborne, Jerry Alonzo, Mike Honan, Taylor’s and emails to others.  We talk daily to Jenny and yesterday called the kids on Face Time.  Good to see them if only on an I Pad.  Might do that with others.  Unfortunately my phone took a soaking in the washing machine; still drying out. Diane used Zoom for her book club.

Afternoons I read and usually nap.  Until last week I was building a daily fire, then just on chilly days.  They provide light as well as warmth and I still might fire up if it rains or is just dismal.  Finished a biography of Edison and “Cooked” by Michael Pollen.  Finishing up “ East Hill Farm,” 1960s NY retreat of Alan Ginsberg and friends and “Circling the Sun,” a novel about Beryl Markham growing up and living in Kenya.  Brought down other books from my reread library.

Ive listened to a few records, but not enough and watched several movies — “Marianne and Leonard” and “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” during the day. “Life with Father” and “Charade” at night on the I-Pad.

We’ve watched the numbers climb.  Over 10,000 deaths in the US; 160 in PA; 17 in Bucks.  The epicenter has moved from Washington State, California to New York, particularly NYC.  Governor Andrew Cuomo has emerged as a strong Democratic voice to counter President Trump.  Stay-at-home orders exist in most states until the end of April.  Trump’s response has turned a daily press conference into a political ad.  I’ve tried to stopped watching them but read too many articles and reports.  More about that later.

On Friday April 3 I could feel the fistula developing into a abscess.  A fever wouldn’t be far behind.  I squeezed and squeezed until it broke open and began to drain. I called Koganski who said no antibiotic needed if there was no fever and it was draining. The thought of visiting the ER was frightening.

Now time for a late breakfast. Waffles and homemade apple butter and yogurt.



Stony Brook Road on Cape Cod


Many years ago I read “The Run” by John Hay.  It’s about the alewives run on Stony Brook in Brewster, Cape Cod, Massachusetts.  We visited the stream along the old Grist mill soon after reading the book.  This year after a pre-Cape re-reading of “The Primal Place” by Robert Finch, we did a Brewster explore, including Stony Brook.  Finch lived on the Stony Brook Road near the Red Top cemetery for many years when he worked in the Cape Cod Natural History Museum on Route 6A.  Hay was a founder of the Museum.   I was just finishing Finch’s 2017 book, “The Outer Beach: a thousand-mile walk on Cape Cod’s Atlantic Shore.”  I would need more Cape reading.  So we stopped in the Brewster bookstore.

I purchased two books.  “The Lost Hero: Captain Asa Eldridge and the Maritime  trade that shaped America” by Vincent Miles.  Eldridge was from Yarmouth, south of Brewster and Stony Brook.  The other book was the real surprise, “The Prophet of Dry Hill: lessons from a life in nature” (2005), by David Gessner. When I looked at Gessner’s books, I recognized and remembered reading  “Soaring with Fidel: an osprey odyssey from Cape Cod to Cuba” (2008).


“Dry Hill” it turns out was/is  on Stony Brook Road, near Red Top cemetery.  Small world.  The prophet was John Hay of “the run.”  He wrote over a dozen books, in his “writing shack” above a plain house on Dry Hill, a property he bought after World War II.  Hay was drawn to Cape Cod, Brewster and Stony Brook Road because the author Conrad Aiken lived there.  Hay worshiped Aiken.  I’ve never read any of his writings which include novels, essays and poetry.  I don’t think Aiken wrote directly about Cape Cod as Hay, Finch and Gessner did.  But all seemed to follow in a tradition of Cape Nature writing started by Henry David Thoreau “Cape Cod” and Henry Beston “The Outermost House.”

Gessner, an aspiring writer rented a house in Brewster overlooking Cape Cod Bay on Stephen Phillips Road.  It’s not far from the Sesuit Harbor Cafe where Diane and I had lunch the day of our Brewster explore.  The wait was too long, the picnic tables seem to be set in a dusty parking lot but the seafood was fantastic.  My lobster roll hosted an entire lobster and Diane’s grilled tuna sandwich was the best tuna she’s ever tasted.  Even the fries were tasty.

It’s the late 1990s.  Gessner fantasizes about writing a biography about John Hay.  It never happens; they become friends.  He eventually writes about the friendship. He braves the dream and calls Hay.  He was gracious and invited David to visit Dry Hill.  For about a year, Gessner visits John and his wife, Kristi.  Some days they walk around the property.  They visit the alewives run at the mill.  They drive to the beach, walk, watch birds, terns are John’s speciality,  they soak in the ocean.  John picks various Cape plants inhaling the smell of each.  They walk the dog.  Most of all, they talk.

John has a bit of the curmudgeon about him.  Since he purchased Dry Hill in 1946, the Cape has become too crowded.  Too many people, too many cars, too many trophy homes. John shares his life’s philosophy with David.  It includes “live simply so others can live.”  But central is his relationship with nature and the world.  John discovered this immersion in nature when he observed and wrote about the alewives.  Their lives and man’s life wasn’t a straight line but moved in circles.   Cycles. Seasons.  Somehow John wants to move out of self into, to be part of the natural world.  He wants space, openness, to be rooted in the land.  His tenure on Dry Hill is about sixty years. With Gessner he enjoys remembering the past.  His days and cocktail evenings with Aiken, his mentor?   I understand but I’ll need to re-read “The Prophet of Dry Hill.”



I identified with John and Kristi’s aging limitations.  Physically and mentally it gets difficult.  A short walk becomes a challenge.  Can I make it uphill.  I’ve accepted that this morning I didn’t go on the kayak trip, three hours, up and down was too much.  And riding a bike, don’t think so.  But I can walk, sit on the beach, enjoy the sun, the surf and even today’s rain.


“The Prophet of Dry Hill” ends when John and Kristi move permanently to Maine.  David accepts a job at a southern university.  His bayside rental is sold and the new owners will tear it down, one old Cape house, replacing it with a bigger, newer, John would be appalled.




I need to reread “The Run.”  And I have a copy of John Hay’s “The Great Beach.”  Maybe Thoreau and Beston.  But most of all I need to follow John’s footsteps on the beach, to the birds, the surf, the peepers in the woods,  to become one with the natural world.  The sands are shifting.  Where am I?


Cape Cod’s Oldest Shipwreck


The shoals off Orleans on Cape Cod where we’ve rented for the past six years is often referred to as the “graveyard of the Atlantic.”  Thousands of ships have run aground or sank there.  Another Atlantic graveyard is off the Outer Banks in North Carolina.  I also remember the shoals off Nantucket labeled “graveyard of the Atlantic.”  The Andrea Doria, an Italian ocean liner collided with the MS Stockholm in 1956 sunk there.  Forty-six people died.  Remains from the ship were displayed in the historic life saving station museum across the street from our Nantucket rental.

My first Cape Cod book this season was “Cape Cod’s Oldest Shipwreck: the desperate crossing of the Sparrow-Hawk,” by Marc C. Wilkins.  A History Press imprint, so I wasn’t expecting a lot.  They tend to be written by amateurs.  But it was a good story. The Sparrow-Hawk (named after a Cape family, Sparrow, that discovered it’s remains, we don’t really know the ship’s name) left England in 1626.  Bound for Virginia, John Fells and John Sibsey shipped off with a boatload of Irish servants/workers to make a fortune in tobacco culture. Their ship was only about 50 feet.  The Captain’s name was Johnson.  Planning was not the best.  There were too few provisions and water, especially since they were sailing the northern route in winter.  The year was 1626.

Captain Johnson was sick.  The ship (like the Mayflower) approached Cape Cod rather than Virginia.  In rough water they ran aground at Nauset between Chatham and Orleans.  Not far from our Orleans rental.  The crew freed the ship but they were grounded a second time and the ship was lost.  William Bradford of Plymouth Plantation rescued them and it is through his writing that we know something of their fate.

The rough “rowdy bunch” of Irish did not get along with the pious Puritans.  John Fells also complicated their relationship when he got his maid pregnant.  In 1627 Bradford arranged for two barks to take the group to Jamestown, Virginia.  It seems Fells and Sibsey did become involved in the tobacco trade.  Their ship, later christened “Sparrow-Hawk” was covered by the shifting sands of the Cape’s “graveyard.”


The “old shippe” appeared briefly in 1782 and then it wasn’t seen again until 1863 when the bones of the Sparrow-Hawk surfaced.  A local Amos Otis made drawings of of the remains.  Many Cape Codders took souvenirs from the wreck.  There was considerable interest in this “oldest shipwreck.”  In 1865, the remains were moved and displayed in Boston Commons.  Despite its history and symbolism, the Sparrow-Hawk was sold and put in storage in Providence, R.I.  Eventually the Massachusetts Historical Society gave the remains to the Pilgrim Society of Plymouth, Massachusetts.   In 2005 it returned briefly to the Cape to be displayed in the Cape Cod Maritime Museum in Hyannis.  We could have viewed the Sparrow- Hawk then.  The author Wilkins and others studied the remains in an attempt to understand the construction and history of the ship.


The Sparrow-Hawk was returned to storage in Plymouth until recently when some Swedish scientist-historians have unpacked the remains and are attempting to date the timbers and confirm the “legend” surrounding the ship.  Was she the 1626 wreck that Bradford wrote about?  Is she the “oldest wreck” along our Atlantic coast?  Did she transport a boatload of Irish farmers and English gentlemen to Cape Cod in search of the American dream?  History is always questions.

Last week I sat on the beach at Pleasant Bay.  I gazed across at marshlands, out to the Atlantic and thought about the story and the skeleton of the Sparrow-Hawk.  A fascinating trace of history.  A voyage that brought some of the earliest settlers to these shores nearly 400 years ago.  Amazing.  Someday we’ll get to Plymouth to view the Sparrow-Hawk.