Easter Tradition

 

 

 

 

1957, sixty years ago, I was ten years old.  Easter Sunday we came home from church and my mother noticed that a butterfly (a Swallowtail) had emerged from a cocoon on a branch in a large jar in my bedroom.  The previous fall I had placed the branch and a caterpillar in the jar.  Mom and I were quite excited.  She talked about the miracle of life.  “And,” she said, ” It happened on  Easter Sunday.

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Catholicism was an important part of our upbringing.  My four sisters and I had an Irish Catholic mother and an Italian Catholic father. For the most part we attended Catholic schools and attended church, Saint Mark’s in Bristol, every Sunday, holidays, weddings and funerals.  Starting maybe in sixth grade, I was an alter boy for about three years.  I served Sunday masses, an evening Sodality (women’s prayer group), and best of all weddings (usually weekends) and funerals (usually weekdays when we got to leave school). It was fairly lucrative since you received tips for the special events.   George Nelson and I had it sewed up for a year or two.  Easter week was quite busy with events on Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Saturday and of course Easter Sunday.

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This year I saw that Terrain at Styers, our favorite garden center in the Chester County, was closed from 1 to 3 on Good Friday, the hours Jesus is said to have sufferered and died on the cross.  In the 1950s and 1960s I remember many businesses on Mill Street in Bristol where we lived,  closed.  On the years when I didn’t  take part in a church service during those hours I had to find something to do.  One year I went to the Bristol Theatre to see “Toby Tyler.”  I recently saw it was on TV.  My Good Friday attendance at a movie was something I had to keep a deep secret — if my mother found out?  Several years in high school, I hung out in the surplus section of Spector’s Army and Navy store on Mill Street.  Time was spent looking at gear I might use camping and talking with the owner Mitchell,  a family friend, Jewish, so Spector’s didn’t close.

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In the weeks prior to Easter Sunday we all got new clothes.  For my sisters it meant a dress, shoes, white gloves and flowery hat, maybe a dress coat.  For the younger girls, the coat may have been a hand me down.  I think my grandfather Profy may have financed some of these purchases.  Interestingly although my grandmothers liked to see us dressed up; neither were interested in shopping.  However Grand pop sometimes was the one to take me shopping for a new suit, shirt, tie, maybe shoes and a coat.  Although there was a good clothing store on Mill street — Edward’s.  They were Jewish.  At first I didn’t understand, grand pop would say “Buy from your own kind.”   So we drove to Trenton, the well know boys clothing  store, Donnelly’s & Sons.  “Our kind?”  I assume they were Irish.  Several years he took me to Caucci’s in Bristol Township.  They were Italian.  “More our kind.”  If my father was doing the shopping we would go to South Street in Philadelphia where the merchants were Jewish.  I also remember 2nd floor places on Chestnut where you were asked for a secret password before admittance.  They made clothes with Wanamaker labels for instance but sold the same suit without the label cheaper.  The password entrance really made it seem like a great deal.

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Another Easter tradition was going to Grants, a 5&10 cent store on Mill Street.  In the basement, near the toy section, were the baby chicks.  Some were a furry yellow but others were green, blue or pink.  Easter pets.  Can you imagine.  I think one year I got several. My recollection was they grew bigger and father said he would take them to a farm. They disappeared.  My sister said mother would never allow us to get Grants chicks and that this memory is more likely a wish or dream.  I do know as the oldest, only boy in the family I got away with things my sisters could only dream about.

During the years I was a Boy Scout, I sold Easter candy from Warner’s candy on Route 13.  We earned a percentage profit which went to the cost of our summer camp.  It was a fun project, taking the orders and making deliveries.  I sold hundreds of dollars worth.

 

 

 

Saturday evening we dyed eggs.  Probably about two dozen. The next morning the eggs and Easter baskets would be hidden around the house.  When we got up, maybe before our parents, we searched for the eggs and our basket.  In the basket would be a chocolate egg (typically coconut) a rabbit (I liked the white chocolate), jelly beans, maybe pink and yellow marshmallow rabbits and chickens (hated them), chocolate balls in colored tinfoil.  A special treat I liked was a large egg that you looked through on one end into an imaginary scene. It came out every year.

I don’t recall St. Mark’s having a Sunrise service.  More likely in our new Sunday best we went to a 8 or 9 o’clock Mass.  For some reason even though it was only about 1/2 a mile, Father would drive us.  Getting dressed up took time.  But after Mass we’d walk the 3 blocks with our cousins to my Aunt Ellen’s house on Radcliffe.  If lucky we’d be offered breakfast.  At home my grandfather Profy might visit or we’d cross the street to visit him and my grandmother.  As mom prepared dinner, other relatives might stop for a visit.  Especially if Uncle Albert, Aunt Carol and the boys were visiting from Flushing, New York.  They stayed in the Bristol Motel or in later years had a RV that they parked near the river behind our apartment. It was always a big deal when they visited.

Easter dinners were usually late afternoon.  There were tulips or an Easter Lily plant that someone, maybe us kids,  had given Mom.  Some years Nanny (my mother’s mother) might attend or her sister Aunt Lucy.  Sometimes it was the NY Profy’s.  Mom usually served ham, maybe scalloped potatoes, deviled eggs, a green salad and some vegetable, peas come to mind.  I don’t remember a particular dessert — although pound cake (with ice cream) was a standard for her.  My sisters and I might dig into the Easter baskets.

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After dinner we would probably watch TV.  Ed Sullivan was a Sunday favorite for Nanny. And she would get her way.  I usually hated it.  Some years there was a biblical movie.  This year I watched some of the 1965 “The Greatest Story Ever Told.”  Easter was always a quiet holiday; low key; family orientated.  The colorful flowers, eggs, chocolate, warmer weather, and longer daylight spoke to the change of season, renewal, rebirth. We were reminded of out Catholic heritage.

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Thankfully, some of the themes, beliefs and traditions of those early years continue this Easter 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Shades of green

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The Gallagher girls with Nanny.

A few years ago, Viv and Eli  gave me a small planting of clover.  For a minute they perched on either side of the plant looking for a four leaf — a token of their Irish heritage?   It’s March again and Irish eyes are shining.  Diane sometimes places the Bryers Choice Irish dancer on the bow window.  I purchased it as a reminder the year my mother was killed in a hit and run on Radcliffe Street.  I like to remember that she was proud of her Irish heritage.  More so probably than Father’s interest with anything Italian.

Growing up in Bristol Borough in the 1950-60s, my sisters and I were presented with a  mix of Italian-Irish heritage.  Since Catholics attend the maternal church, we were baptized and attended Irish Saint Mark’s.  Saint Ann’s was the Italian parish.  I’m not sure why but I favored the Italian culture. Food was certainly better and we had some exposure to good Italian cooks — Aunt Mary Profy in Harriman, Mrs. Mignoni across the street, Mari’s pizza on the corner; Mom even made a decent spaghetti and meatballs.

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But in the mid 1970s, I  read “Trinity” by Leon Uris.  In his sweeping, epic style, Uris traces the history of Ireland from the Great Famine of the 1840s to the Easter Rising in 1916. It touched a nerve.   Some of Mom’s family were probably Catholic farmers from a small town in County Donegal.  Unfortunately none of the Gallaghers knew their exact origin. “Trinity” however was powerful, I wrote Mother and told her the Bristol divide aside,  I would forever embraced my Irish heritage.

It was in the early 1980s, Diane, Jenny and I traveled for five weeks in Ireland.  We landed in Dublin, rented a car and headed south, then up the western coast, to Northern Ireland and back down for a week in Dublin.  The Dingle peninsula, the rocky western coast with its narrow roads, the cliffs of Moher, and the Giant’s Causeway.  The countryside was beautiful — how many, so many, shades of green.  Some nights we camped — along the coast, our tent floor covered with rocks, insurance against the winds.  Other nights we we found a small  B. and B.  Ireland was enchanting; and the food wasn’t bad.

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Since I didn’t have any names or addresses of Irish relatives; not even a town, I borrowed “Gallagher” heritage from a close friend Bill Gallagher. In Ireland, we went to a small country house in Donegal asking for I think William (same as my maternal grandfather).  His wife said he was out but we could catch him in the pub come evening.  We did.  And we spent a delightful evening drinking Guinness and getting to know a William Gallagher.

 

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I have one photograph of my grandfather William.  That image came to life on the docks of Donegal.  Some of the fisherman had to be relatives.  I knew I was in the right county.  Grandfather Gallagher was a habadasher — that’s a dealer in men’s clothes.  His business was in a large building on the corner of Mill and Cedar streets in Bristol.  The background of his wife, Hannah, for us, was also sketchy.  She was Irish; had two sisters, Lucy and Allie.  Lucy was a domestic living in the homes of her employers;  Allie lived with her daughter, Mary, on Jefferson Avenue.   William Gallagher and Hannah Deviney (?)  were married and had three daughters — Ellen (the oldest), Cecelia (my mother) and Marie.  They lived on Buckley street in Bristol’s 4th Ward, the Irish district.

Growing up we were told that grandfather William died young.  When I coughed from smoking, my mother would remind me that her father died of TB.  Hannah, Nanny as we grandkids called her, lived in an apartment over the former habadashery.  I have no idea how she supported herself and the three Gallagher girls.  Unfortunately I never asked the questions or if I did my mother never had answers.

 

 

Marie and Cis.                     Cis and Ellen

My images of the Gallagher girls from the 1920s to the 1940s come from books and movies not from real stories.   I know they went to Saint Mark’s school and attended Bristol High School.  I suspect they had jobs during the war. For a while Ellen worked in a Bristol distillery.   Ellen and Cis married Italians from the other side of the tracks,  (Frank Mignoni and my father Vince Profy).  Both boys came from business families who lived on Mill street.  The youngest sister, Marie married Irish.  I suspect Hannah didn’t like any of their choices. She had strong opinions.

I’m not sure how my parents met.  But Bristol is the classic small town.  They both lived on the same 200 block of Mill street.  Vince in an apartment behind his father’s GE appliance store; Cis above the habadashery.  Although they both went to Bristol high school; they attended different Catholic churches — Italian or Irish.  Similarly Frank, Ellen’s beau lived a block away in an apartment owned by his family.

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Mother, my sister Cissi and me.

After the war, my father worked briefly in Rohm & Haas but left to work for his father’s store.  He and Cis were married at St. Mark’s in 1946.  Frank Mignoni was a realtor.  He and Ellen married.  Both couples lived on Mill street in family properties.  Small town.  They began families; worked and lived on Mill street and attended Saint Marks.  Vacations were a week in a shared Long Beach Island rental.

Growing up, St. Mark’s parish  was one sign of our Irish background.  It wasn’t really a strong ethnic parish.  Saint Ann’s several blocks away, for instance, had Italian speaking priests and celebrated Italian feast days.  Saint Marks was more subtle.  But as an alter boy I went with the priest to the Hibernian hall in the fourth Ward (remember, Bristol’s Irish neighborhood) after some evening service.  I sat at the bar with Father and picked numbered balls from a glass container — the weekly lottery.

We were also aware of “Irish” relatives that lived in the 4th Ward neighborhood.  Grandfather William had quite a few siblings and other relatives.   There are different numbers depending on who does the ancestry.  But we associated with a few.  I recall at least one house wake (prior to a church funeral I guess).  It was at Uncle Lawrence’s. There was a casket; a lot of eating and drinking.  Somehow I was aware of what was thought to be an Irish custom.  As the afternoon proceeded, I waited for them to take the deceased from the coffin and stand him in a corner with a glass of whiskey. Came close I think.

We weren’t real close to most of our Irish family.  An ocassional 4th Ward visit, a wedding or funeral.  I was aware of a bit of Irish brogue, aunts and cousins who had red hair and freckles.  Pretty stereotyped.  There were two elderly sisters, Nin and Hester.  Not sure if they were blood relatives or friends. Aunt Annie was a hair dresser who operated out of her house.  I visited her quite a bit. She got me collecting postcards, giving me many from the early 1900s. Another Aunt Alice lived nearby.

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Ocassionally with my mother we visited Aunt Allie on Jefferson.  When Aunt Lucy retired in the 1960s she moved into my grandmother’s apartment.  Hannah soon moved in with Aunt Ellen. Lucy was always interesting.  She was quite independent.  Would take the train on shopping trips to Wanamaker’s.  Always brought me a small gift.  She collected stamps and would share them with me.  Of all my Irish relatives, it was a bit of a shock, to learn about Nitter Ferry,  a homeless alcoholic, who lived along the river behind our house.

Aunt Ellen and Mom were extremely close.  Our families were in daily contact, shopped together, celebrated holidays and birthdays.  I frequently had lunch and Sunday breakfast at the Mignoni house on Radcliffe. Cis never learned to drive so depended on Ellen who had a car.  Neither Ellen or Cis were as close with sister Marie.

The Gallagher girls didn’t wear their Irish heritage on their arms.  There weren’t constant reminders.  But they were proud.    Food is often part of ethnic heritage.  Although Mom learned to make a decent spaghetti and meatballs for Father, we were served Irish stew — some beef, lots of potatoes, carrots, onions and spices.  I think we had colcannon — potatoes and cabbage.  Lots of meat and potatoes — baked, boiled, mashed.  My grandmother wasn’t much of a cook.  Don’t ever remember her ever cooking; even morning tea was more hot water and lemon than a real cup of breakfast tea.

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If Mom enjoyed Irish culture — music, art and literature it may have been because of our influence.  For several years in March we went to McCarter Theatre in Princeton to see The Chieftains.  I know we took Mom and Dad one or more times.  I recall giving her a copy of Joyce’s “The Dubliners” for Christmas.  At a family dinner at the Old City pub, The Plough and the Stars, we discovered Barrie Maguire’s painting “I Will Give You Ireland.” It’s shades of green.  An old women is sewing a quilt, it’s Ireland.  My sisters and I made arrangements to buy it for Mom.

Interestingly the Profy’s eventually rented the old Habadashery for an enlarged appliance store.  For several years my parents, myself and first sister, Cissi lived in an apartment on the 2nd floor.  Nanny lived on the third floor.  At some point my father and Uncle Frank Mignoni bought out grandfather Gallagher partner’s interest in the building.  I always thought it curious how my father rented from his own partnership.

Ellen and Cis may have married Italians with strong traditional views of marriage and a woman’s place in a relationship but  both could be strong; some might say they allowed Vince and Frank to think they were in control.  From my perspective, Mother was in charge of our house.  As kids we had to listen (and sometimes fear) her.  I only remember father getting upset once.  He caught me; shook me; “don’t annoy your mother” was the message.

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In the 1960s, Cis opened a dress shop.  It provided her four girls, my sisters, with fashionable clothes.  It asserted her independence.  Father’s interest in travel was limited.  To our amazement, Mom took off to Alaska with a local  group.  Later she would travel to Ireland.  Father stayed home.

Mom life was cut short on December 10, 2008.  She returned some books to the Grundy Library, a block from the apartment where she and my father lived.  She was crossing the street to visit her sister Ellen and was the victim of a hit and run driver. She was 86 years old.  Bagpipes were played at her burial, a sad reminder of her Celtic heritage.  Aunt Ellen has since passed; Marie is the last living Gallagher girl. A trace of our Irish heritage.

When I think of mom I think of how she influenced my own curiosity and independence.  Like the old woman in the painting, I see her sewing a piece of Ireland.

“May the road rise to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face. And rains fall soft upon your fields. And until we meet again, May God hold you in the hollow of His hand.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Number 3

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The I have four  sisters — all younger — Cissy, Vicki, Marylee, Lizanne.  We’ve remained close and see each other fairly regularly.  We’re from the same root but despite  similarities, our unique  personalities and interests seem to predominate.   This October, I visited sister number 3, Marylee, in Olympia, WA.  She is seven years younger than me.  So when I was graduating college in 1969, she was beginning high school. Although I know her uniqueness, there were surprises.

It’s not my first trip to visit Marylee.   While the rest of us live within an hour of the family hometown, Bristol, PA, Marylee has lived in Arizona, West Virginia and Washington.  Who could have predicted our wanderer.  She was a quiet kid, growing up in the shadows of two older sisters.

But there were little explosions of adventure, even daring.  In her junior year of high school she signed up with her best friend, Maureen Mulhern, for a 6 week language program in Aix en Provence, France.

In her Senior year she was eligible to take language courses at Bucks County Community College.  This was an “A” student expanding her horizons.  The local priest at Bishop Conwell didn’t see education but drugs and sex.  Our mother (and Mrs Mulhern) said, “OK, I’m withdrawing her from Conwell.”  Marylee took classes at Bucks Community College and graduated from Bristol High School.  I have always been proud of Cis for standing up for her daughter and education.

In 1974 Marylee participated in a Service Civil International program in Vandoncourt, France.  She made international friends and continued to expand her outlook.  To my amazement, here was little Marylee headed to France again. Her wanderlust continued to grow.   The following year she did a “work camp” outside Copenhagen  with Hanne, a friend she had met in 1975.  It would be 1976 before I made my first trip across the Atlantic.

Marylee’s college nursing program at Holy Family (then College) in Northeast Philadelphia was pretty provincial, back to Bristol.  In the 1990s I taught education courses at HF.  When we discussed controversial issues (that led to long classroom debates at LaSalle) the HF (University now) girls reached consensus in minutes.    Marylee was a diligent HF student.  I recall her sitting on her bed in our family apartment, on Mill Street,  textbook in hand, rocking slowly, back and forth.  Nothing less than “A” grades would do.

She eventually married  a West Virginian, Norval Goe.  They both got jobs with Indian services in Arizona.  I saw pictures of the Navajo Reservation, Chinle, and Canyon de Chelly.  But I never visited.  Where was my head?  My little sister was living there.

If my chronological memory is correct, they moved to West Virginia for several years.  The extended family visited their home on the Potomoc and later a log cabin in Shepherdstown.

Then they were back in the Northwest, coastal Washington State, working on the Quinault Indian Reservation.  Wake up call, for me.  Little sister is doing some neat things.  I visited, twice.  Both trips, I believe were with my parents.  The Pacific coast was not the Jersey shore.  Cars drove on hard packed sand beaches.  Silvery drift wood piled up on the black volcanic sand beaches.  It rained a lot.  The Olympic National forest was miles deep.   Weyerhaeuser owned a lot of land; acres were clear cut; miles of stumps and blackened brush.  The reservation was poor.  We bought small baskets from wrinkled women, arthritic fingers, but tourist prices.  Etched in my memony is an early morning drive north to Neah Bay with Norval.  As we walked the beach, an American Eagle flew overhead, sea stacks emerged from the mist, is this real?  Tidal pools were filled with star fish, small crabs, anomoe.  It was beautiful.  Another world.  A world my little sister lived in.

Briefly they lived outside of Seattle.  I visited once.  The final move for them was to Boston Harbor, 10 miles outside of Olympia.  I believe the trip this October was my third visit there.   The only public  attraction is the Boston Harbor Marina-some groceries, fresh seafood, salmon, postcards, and a few tourist gifts. The current owner is attempting to introduce craft beer on tap.

Her house is delightful.  Mission style oak antiques, Art Deco touches, gas fireplace. The garden areas were so manicured, Diane thought there had to be a gardener.  For better or worse, due to a recent separation, it’s all Marylee.  Norval now lives nearby in Olympia.

My first observation: Marylee is very fastidious, organized, maybe a perfectionist.  Everything in the house has a Felix Unger feel — it’s in the right place.  There were some feathers on the edge of the living room couch.  I though part of a display.  No, I realized they were cat toys.

Marylee is a good cook.  Delicious homemade squash soup the night we arrived.  Grilled fresh salmon and salad night two.  She Delayed buying the salmon in Boston Harbor until she was assured it was fresh caught.  Diane commented on the pre-dinner blocks of local cheese, crackers, and smoked salmon. Delicious.

In the two weeks we spent with number 3, I learned so much about her. Since living on the west coast, Marylee has been an ocean kayaker.   She invited members of her kayak club to dinner one night.  Becky, Albin and Glee.  All were interesting, independent souls with interesting stories.  I got the feeling that since her separation from Norval, these friends were her lifeline.

Several months ago she sent me photographs — she was wearing a mask, with a  welding blow torch in hand.   She was making  a front gate with sun, flowers, leaves, even a cat.  I’m not  kidding.  This is my little sister.  Seems Albin had encouraged and guided the project.  The gate now hangs in front of the house and Marylee is planning other welding projects.  Footnote: I have a welding mask from my father’s tools, can I get it to Olympia?

Although she didn’t participate in the construction, I’ve been amazed at the wooden kayaks Marylee has called her own.  Currently there are two in the garage and at least one previously sold.  On Whidby Island, we visited Redfish Kayacks, where one of hers was constructed.  Thin strips of chamfered cedar are glued together making the hull shape.  Beautiful craftsmanship.  How our father would have loved seeing, doing, making a kayak.

I’m currently reading, “The Oregon Trail: a new American journey,” by Rinker Buck.  He is traveling in a historic mule teamed wagon following the trail to Oregon.  A great story — with many threads. Early in the trip,  Buck introduces us to Narcissa Whitman, who was the first white woman to complete the trip, in a wagon, on horseback, walking from Missouri to Oregon.  She wrote letters back East, raising awareness, yes, you can cross the rivers, climb the mountains, interact with the native tribes. You can follow the trail to Oregon.   You can, like her, even do it while pregnant.  Narcissa and her husband Marcus Whitman were in part driven by a missionary spirit.  But there was more.  They helped to pioneer the path West for “average” Americans.  It’s with some hesitation that I use the word “average” but then there were thousands and thousands who made the trip.   Maybe average then was really exceptional.

Somehow my little sister, Marylee, reminds me of Narcissa.  Libby Paglione (now Vedder) who moved from the family home in Michigan to Wyoming also comes to mind.  When we traveled in Washington, Diane frequently mentioned the number of interesting, independent women we encountered.   Although Marylee and Libby didn’t quite travel West in a wagon like Narcissa, they made the trip.  They left behind home security and pioneered.  They hike in the mountains and kayak in the Pacific.

My mother always said, “it’s the small things.”  Spending two weeks with Marylee, I noticed small things.  How she waded into the very chilly waters of Boston Harbor to launch Albin’s boat, jumping  out of the car to take a photograph with her cell phone, even in 40 mph winds in Port Townsend. We stopped at a yard filled with scrap metal, there are welding projects in the planning.

Marylee is deliberate, organized, planning is a strong suit.  For every trip she laid out drinks and snacks. But then she has a sense of try it, explore.  A few years back she broke bones flipping an off road vehicle she was riding on farm.  Cautious and carefree.  How similar but how differentbwe are.

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It’s  been a year since my first surgery to correct a fistula (hole connecting urinary track with colon),  a result of tissue damaged in proton radiation when I was treated for prostrate cancer.  The surgery failed.  I had additional surgery to make a colostomy  and urostomy permanate.  Before that could happen I had triple bypass heart surgery.  From September 2015 to June 2016, I spent weeks in the  Pennsylvania Hospital.  Months later I have a fistula that still leaks (docs want to wait and see), nerve damage in left hand (result of heart surgery, should heal they say).  I’m weak, get tired quickly and I’m  limited in what I can do.

Not complaining; just assessing.  This is retirement, year 3.  The good life.  How good?  We did go to Cape Cod for two weeks with Jen and family.  Drove to Ann Arbor for the wedding of best friends, Paglione’s daughter.  Spent a week in Maine with friends, Sears.  Next leave for Seattle, two weeks with sister, Marylee.  That sounds pretty good.

But I wonder.  Will I feel whole again?  Will I have the energy to ride a bike?  Or to put the kayak on the car for an explore.  Decided not to go to Portland OR on our Seattle trip because I can’t walk all day.  An urban environment probably requires too much.  We will spend the days in a coastal B and B.

Some discomfort is physical.  Some is mental.  It takes me a lot longer to do things from taking a bath, dressing, climbing or descending steps.  I try to bend to pick something off the floor (therapy gave me pick up stick).  I try to exercise.  I try to tell myself that moving slower is OK.  Some might say better.  I try.  But I’m anxious.

I believe each day (or week, month)  should include (1) some work — being retired it’s house cleaning, repairs, gardening, yard work, cleaning out, getting rid of stuff;  (2) there should be some creative academic activity —  reading, writing, carpentry, volunteering and finally (3) some learning-exploration — field trips, to a farm, a museum, a back road, a cooking class, trip to Cape Cod, Maine or China.  This is particularly important in retirement when we don’t spend eight hours or more a day at a job.

Year one of retirement was great, and followed the plan.  All three areas mentioned above were addressed.    It was obviously much harder if not impossible last year.  Now it’s  five months into year three.  Can I can back into the rhythm?  Anxious but trying.

There are so many questions.  The biggest is what do I want from the years remaining?  Hopefully a couple of decades, maybe just one, maybe just a few years.  We usually don’t get an advance timetable.

I know I want to spend time with family.  So, this week I bought tickets for McCarter Theatre’s Christmas Carol for the Kwaits. Eli and Viv are ready for this great show.  We’re headed to visit my sister in Olympia, WA.   I totally enjoy most of the time (we have some rough moments) Diane and I spend together — trip to a local farm, lunch in a new restaurant, watching a movie, an exhibit at the Mitchener. There is  so much we can enjoy together  — 49 years this August anniversary.

I want to stay in contact with friends and relatives.  Recent trips to Ann Arbor (Pagliones) and Maine (Sears) play into this.  Maybe a November visit to Cousin Ellen in D.C.  Then there was the recent crab dinner with Taylor’s at Lovin Oven in Frenchtown.  Or Vault beers with Kathy Posey, Matt Jordan, Trish O’Connor and other remains of the HGP friday club.  We had dinner, Mexican, recently with Edna and Dave Ramirez, Tony Fig, and Father Chris.  It’s a lot less personal but I enjoy Facebook contact.   Some are people I’ve seen recently; others are “ghosts” from the past

I want to travel.  Following the mix of the familiar and new explores.  Some travel is just local field trips. Diane and I do a lot of drives in Bucks and NJ.  We could expand this to more counties in PA.  During year one, I was committed to a day in Philadelphia — train explores, urban adventures.   In year two, Philadelphia was all doctor appointments and time in the hospital.  A limited perspective.  Need to return to City trips probably in the Spring and add monthly New York City trips.

Travel is also longer trips. On a recent DC trip, I bought a new journal at the Library of Congress.  It  was to be a record of  what many call a “bucket list.”  Notes on places I think about visiting.  Again the familiar — I want to return to Europe.  Have a dream of spending months — maybe in Italy, Ireland could also work.  Then there are Eastern European countries?  Something new.

It would be fun to return to Mexico and Nicaragua — important trips in my life.  And there are other southern places I’ve considered — spent some time looking at Carribean islands — not sure which is right for us.  Costa Rica has a draw.

Then there is Africa and Asia.  When Diane and I went into the Peace Corps, we wanted  sub-Saharan Africa — safari country.  Maybe Kenya, Tanzania.  Instead we drew Libya and then the Gaddafi coup kept us from going.  I thought we would go in retirement.  Then there are so many possibilities in Asia — each offering a different  culture and experience — Japan, China, Vietnam, India (to name some obvious choices). Can I travel to places like this with my medical baggage.  I know the answer is yes.  But it makes it harder. I’m still a bit scared.

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New England,  New York, and the Chesapeake has been and will continue to be a regular destination for us but there are many other places in the US that we’ve talked about.  A trip to the southwest — New Mexico, Arixonia.  The western national parks.  Our friends, Alonzos, have bought a travel trailer.  We’ve looked at one but . . . I have reservations.  We also thought that we should explore the South more.  We liked Charleston and Savannah and some aspects of Florida are inviting but that’s ben  it so far for our  experience.

Since we’re slowly getting back to traveling,  I must get that bucket list dream journal and prioritize where we would like to go (I mix “I” and “We” — most travel Diane and I plan and do together, although personal trips aren’t out of the question). I believe reading, dreaming, writing is part of making it happen.

I like to be engaged in some creative activity.  Thought maybe I’d do some carpentry in retirement, following in my father’s footsteps.  Although I have some of his tools (others mysteriously disappeared), I don’t think I will create much from wood.  As much as I admire someone like Dave Sears who began to seriously paint, that’s not me.  Certainly not music.

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But as I decided in the 1970s,  photography could again be my art.   I helped organize a Yardley Photography club (meets monthly at the Continental) when I discovered some very talented local photographers sharing on Facebook.  Haven’t made a meet since surgery.  I’ve also had plans to buy new Nikon equipment rather that buy Canon lenses for the Rebel I use.  That hasn’t happened yet.  I have been re-reading-looking  at my 100 plus photography books (before selling them).  Trying to use the review to recapture my photographic vision (if I had one).  What do I want to photograph and why?  I have been shooting a bit more than family photos which is nearly all I did for quite a few years.

I need to organize.  We’ve been in this house over 35 years.  I am a collector (you name it) and a hoarder. The number of photographs I have is amazing.  There is a double closet full of yellow Kodak boxes containing trays of 80 or 140 slides.  Digitize or destroy.  I have Over ten feet feet of print albums — these have been recently organized.  Then on the computer I have thousands of images.  Unfortunately I am confused — folders in “Pictures” I-Photo Library, and now the new “Photos Library,”  I even bought Lightroom.  Trying to see the relationship between programs and how to organize.  Some of it is computer programs’s  ability to provide too much.

There are other collections.  I sold two boxes of proof coins but have kept the main coin collection.  What do I do with stamps, post cards, buttons, all kinds of teaching realia, hundreds of LPs — vinyl is making a come back, I know, sell, sell, sell, not to mention tapes and CDs.  I have hundreds of DVDs (teaching, particular the  film course) and several boxes of VHS (throw them out but I pulled out a Nearing tape last week and watched it; wouldn’t be easy to get it any other place).

Then there are books — thousands.  I’ve sold about 35 boxes to a Princeton bookstore (about $500).  Am getting ready to sell the photo books, then children’s books, and on with other collections.  But my plan with organization  (understandably too slow for Diane) is to review, maybe reread, rewatch, relisten, consider is it something for Eli or Viv. Then sell, give away, or trash.  We also need to have a garage-yard sale.  Lots of useless, unused stuff, in the basement, in storage, boxed and sometimes forgotten.

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Finally there is home maintenance.  This ranges from cooking and baking, tending the garden, fixing or replacing things that are broken, repairing and painting in the house.  Some of this is fun — I really enjoy baking bread, making apple butter, grilling vegetables or fish.  Much of gardening, buying, planting, harvesting, even preserving excess is fun.  Prepping, mulching, watering, weeding is less fun.  It’s the same with home repairs.  Satisfying when accomplished if not fun, but it’s increasingly difficult. We’ve paid someone for exterior painting and may need to do the same for interior work.

All of this ramble is related to reviewing my life, where I’ve been, why I think, why I believe, who am I?   And then, where am  I going.    I know I want it to involve family and friends, travel, creative activity, organization and home maintenance.  Many more specifics need to be filled in.

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My last thought is more difficult.  When I taught I felt I was doing something worthwhile.  How do I continue the worthwhile.  I thought about volunteering.  At several historic sites we’ve visited recently, I met retired teachers who were docents or guides.  Some were even paid.  I thought Independence Historic Park would be perfect for me.  I also thought about the Mercer Museum.  Then one day Jenny emailed me asking, was I going to do something socially significant, socially worthwhile, contributing to a better community, a better world.  There are so many ways.  There are medical issues, with Eli we’ve been drawn to childhood cancer.  And maybe annually supporting the Parkway and Lemon runs isn’t enough.

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For years I volunteered on Yardley Borough Council and a variety of local community groups.  It’s all stopped years ago; should some start again?  There are so many opportunities to volunteer, what is right for me?  I’m not looking for fireworks.  Just “value” in how I spend some of my time.  This takes some thought and commitment; and I’m not too satisfied with not having acted on this.  It’s probably the most important thing on this to-do list.

 

 

 

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Uncle

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Uncle Frank and grandson Frank.

Growing up our closest extended family was my mother’s older sister, Ellen and Uncle Frank.  There were three cousins, William, two years younger than me, Ellen and still younger Maryjo.  We had family dinners, visits, went to school and church together,  vacationed together, exchanged Christmas presents.  When the kids were young, we couldn’t have been closer.  It was the sister’s bond.  My father and Uncle Frank Mignoni were friendly but their interests and personalities were quite different.

Uncle Frank was much more old school Italian.  His father had a garden, including a fig tree; his mother cooked Italian, including cannolis.  After leaving Italy, I  doubt that my Italian grandfather Profy  ever got his hands in the soil; and grandmom Profy didn’t cook once the children were grown.   Grandpop had anglicized his name from Porfirio and had limited interest in Italian culture.   As a kid, I always thought the Mignoni heritage coat was much richer

Uncle could be a tough cookie.  I often stopped at their home on Radcliffe street for a Sunday breakfast after church.  I watched as my Aunt patted bacon grease off the tops of sunny side eggs with a paper towel.  Frank called for her attention, “Ellen, you buttered my toast on the wrong side.”  She looked at me, shaking her head, “Your Uncle.”  My thirteen year old mind reeled, it  was a joke I thought but . .  . but also it was Uncle claim as master of his table.  ( P.S. My aunt may have buttered the other side of the toast but she staked a strong  claim in family decision making.)

One afternoon William and I rode our bikes to Levittown.  At the time they lived off 413 in Winder Village.  We rode through woods to Bath street, into Bristol, up Radcliffe to Tullytown and the Levittown Shopping Center. When we returned, Uncle was home.  He was furious (at William, I was never mentioned).  He knew he shouldn’t ride all the way to Levittown.  I had frightening  images of William being beaten, his bike confiscated.  Uncle expected respect and obedience. No questions.

Years later in the summer of my sophomore year I was leaving Bristol to hitch hike back to Boston. My father was refusing to sign papers so Diane and I could be married. I stopped at Mignoni’s on Radcliffe. Aunt Ellen was in tears, Uncle offered to give me a ride to the turnpike, “Things will settle down,” he said before slipping me some spending money. “Thanks, Uncle, hope I see you soon.”  When he left I thought, I don’t think he’d have given William a ride to the turnpike and money.  Either strict obedience didn’t extend to nephews or he accepted that I was to be married.

My Aunt and Uncle were always generous with me.  Throughout HS, I was part of their family skiing season in the Poconos.  They paid for equipment and lift tickets.  I was treated as a member of the family.  When I started graduate school for a doctoral degree, finances were tight. I met with Uncle.  Over the next few years, he lent me $10,000 with an agreement if I earned the degree, the loan was forgiven.  His agreement was an incentive to not give up.

Uncle Frank was ambitious.  I think he had some of the immigrant, World War II veteran’s hunger for a better life.  Rather than go into the jewelry business with his brother Carmen, he became a real estate salesman.  He worked for an agency with offices at Mill and Pond street.  I think he met Aunt Ellen there.  In a few years he had opened his own office on Mill street.  He eventually hired several salesmen and close friend Gus Cocordus to handle insurance. Mignoni became a name in real estate in Bristol and Bucks County.  At some point he took some assessment workshops at Harvard allowing him to claim, “I graduated from Harvard several years ago.”

I remember stopping in his office quite frequently.  When William and I were younger, it was to get bottles of cold coke from a refrigerator in the rear of the building.  As I got older, I remember stopping and asking the secretary  if Uncle was busy.  I was usually sent through. He’d be sitting at a large desk with phone and piles of papers.  I guess I went to socialize, discuss work, school or other major questions in my life.  I respected his judgement and success.  The Winder Village house was sold and Mignoni’s built a home on an empty lot on Radcliffe street.  They joined the street’s  social scene of successful doctors, lawyers, contractors. Our family entered that world with them.

I think my first job outside of Thomas Profy and Sons was caddying at the Torresdale Country Club.  I carried Uncle’s bag and he introduced me to the Caddy Master.  For several years I was a country club caddy.  Although we had golfing privileges once a week, I didn’t take full advantage and never became a golfer.  Both Aunt and Uncle golfed regularly.  With my father, Uncle was part of the Mill Street Boys Club that went to Penn Relays and NY Millrose game.

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Mill Street Boys Club.  Uncle is fourth on right.  Father is second on left

Uncle also hired me for painting jobs.  I remember painting an apartment over his office.  One summer I painted the interior of their house which led to other painting jobs. For al least one summer after my college Freshman year maybe, he got me a job with a contractor friend.  Roy Butterworth started me hauling lumber, sheet rocking, but by the end of the summer I was doing some wood trim finishing under the supervision of a Cordisco master carpenter.

Uncle Frank was at ease with old friends and new acquaintances.  He drank moderately (whiskey, gin and tonic or small Pony bottles of Rolling Rock) and smoked small cigars.  He would regularly go to the Ninth street market in Philadelphis for provolone, prosciutto, olives, good Italian bread. He always enjoyed fresh fruit and a bag of pistachios or lemon ice was a treat.  At the beach house, he was known for his clams casinos.  For a few years, he packed the kids in a car.  He had bought a farm in NJ and the peaches were ripe.  The land was probably a short term investment but he wouldn’t let those peaches rot.

Uncle and Aunt came to visit Diane and I in Boston.  We took them to Durgin Park for dinner.  We waited in a line for a seat at their signature family style tables.  Uncle struck up a conversation with a couple behind us.  He concluded by giving the guy a business card.  I was impressed with his sociability.

At home after dinner or during a party, Uncle would play the piano.  We’d hum tunes or prompt him with songs we wanted to hear.  On special ocassions he got his 8 mm movie camera with bright lights indoors.  All the kids were lined up off stage.  As Uncle started filming we were encouraged to walk or dance toward the camera, one after another.  The movies are classic 1950s.  Uncle was a story teller.  When we were young he told and retold a war story.  He had a quarter size brown birth mark on one arm. A bullet wound he claimed.  It was a short story.  He was shot by Germans sitting in an outhouse.  We stared in wonder.  At least that’s what I remember.

During those same elementary years, he would end summer dinner stories with a question. “Listen carefully,” he’d begin. “I have a question, listen.  What’s the difference between a duck?”  Listen, what’s the difference between a duck.”  We squirmed.  “A duck and what,” we screamed.  Again, “What’s the difference between a duck?  When you know the answer, you will know it’s correct, and won’t have to ask me if its correct,” he continued.  “Just think about it. He repeated it slowly emphasizing each syllable. “What’s the difference between a duck?”  A week later we’d repeat the routine.  I answered Uncle my sophmore or junior year at BC.  I wrote: “What’s the difference between a duck?  I know the answer.”

Thanks Uncle.

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Photographs and the Peace Corps collection, just the beginning.

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

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

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

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

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