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Books

Books.  I have a troubled relationship with books.  Over the years I have downsized more than once and have discarded at least half of my books.  The only difficulty this caused was a complaint from a cousin that I had thrown out all of my Nevil Shute books and they were now out of print.  She was quite upset by this.  (I’m happy to report that they are now back in print.)

When my mother died she had, perhaps, 5,000 books.  Many were first editions from the first half of the 20th century.  She once had a dealer come to value them but the only ones that he was interested in were tales of American Indians written by a relative.  He said that books about Indians sold.  Thanks to my brother’s Herculean efforts we managed to find new homes for all of my mother’s possessions with the exception of the books.  My family values books, we all read and have large collections, and yet we didn’t have room for the books we grew up with.  No wonder John Harvard left his library to the College.

Now I am planning on moving to a much smaller space in a retirement community.  Once again I must dispose of books.  I find this a traumatic process.  Perhaps if I simply discarded entire bookcases it wouldn’t be so hard.  Instead I agonize over each individual volume.  How about the AFIPS Conference Proceedings Volume 28 from 1966?  I haven’t looked at it for 53 years but somebody might be interested…  It contains such gems as “Markovian Models and Numerical Analysis of Computing System Behavior”.  Perhaps I should put it aside and read it?  The reality is that neither I nor anybody else is going to touch this book.  Nor are we going to find anyone to accept and preserve it.  Out it goes.

I am beginning to understand why there are consultants who assist with decluttering.  Clutter creeps up on you without warning.  One day you wake up and there are piles of books on tables, on the tops of bookcases, on chairs, on the floor, on dressing tables, in closets.  Help!  This is a real problem.  Perhaps the rich merchants who paid to found early libraries like the Boston Athaeneum were onto something:  They could enjoy any books they chose and yet they avoided cluttering their homes.  Not a bad idea.

Somehow books become inextricably entwined with one’s perception of who one is.  La pipe de MAIGRET with type on the spine that runs up in the European fashion, rather than down in the way that we are used to.  I probably read that when we were living in France in 1984.  Will I ever read it again?  Will any of my descendants ever be interested in it? No and no again.  And yet, it is a part of me: With some difficulty I can read in French;  I like Maigret;  I like mystery stories;  I’m fond of easy paperback books; and yet I will never miss it and it must go out.

Not everybody suffers from this disease.  I suspect that a love of books is often (but not always) developed in families.  My mother was a great reader.  There is a genetic strain in our family that allows a few people to read very quickly: An uncle, my mother, a cousin, my son.  But, alas, not me.  From my very earliest memories books took a leading role.  During WW II my mother and I lived with her parents in Wellesley, while my father was with the OSS in London.  My grandmother worked at the Hathaway House, which was the Wellesley College bookstore.  We always had the latest and best children’s books and she read to me a great deal.  Many of the books were too advanced for me – I struggled to understand Thornton Burgess but kept with it because I knew that it pleased her.  And yes, I do still have some of those Thornton Burgess volumes: Old Mother West Wind, The Adventures of Reddy Fox, How Unc’ Billy Possum Met Buster Bear.  How am I ever going to dispose of those?

As a young teen in London I had a membership in Harrod’s Lending Library.  They had a special children’s room and the deal was that you could take out any book and keep it as long as you wanted.  I used to stop there on my way home from school every day and get a new book.  The ones I particularly remember were the Biggles series.  These were adventure stories aimed at young readers.  The hero was James Bigglesworth, known as Biggles.  He was a pilot in both WW I and WW II.

The Harvard library system has a room at the top of Lamont Library called the Farnsworth room.  It contains nothing but books that somebody has decided are interesting.  There doesn’t seem to be any particular order to the collection; you can simply pull a book off the shelves and be sure that it will be worth reading.  I spent far more time there than was good for my academic transcript.  (Maybe they would like some of my books…)

 

 

Christmas 2018

Dear Tim and Piper

Piper asked me what I remembered of the time when my children were young. Sadly, the answer is not very much. I do remember teaching them to read. Meg and Amanda learned from Dick and Jane, which was still available. By the time Tim came along, Dick and Jane was nowhere to be found. He learned from a set of phonics books recommended by a teacher at Meadowbrook. I took the subway and bus to get them at a warehouse on Concord Avenue, beyond the Fresh Pond traffic circles. I have a vivid memory of waiting for the bus in the hot sun.

I remember working hard to persuade Meg to eat. Mostly sitting at the round, maple table in the corner of the kitchen in Bird Hill, flying a spoon full of something at her mouth. “Bzzzz, here comes the plane into the hanger…” I have no such memories for Amanda or Tim. Perhaps they were better eaters or perhaps it just made less of an impression on me. I also remember reading to Meg and Amanda each evening, but they were probably a bit older than Joan for that. I can still recite the Owl and the Pussycat, which was one of our favorites. We often read Frog and Toad. I only learned recently that Meg disliked that book as much as I did. So, she was listening to it to please me and I was reading it to please her, and neither of us liked it. Let that be a warning.

What I do remember, and this may be more relevant, is a good deal from the time when I was about Joan’s age. These memories may, of course, be highly unreliable. The only real evidence I have is that when I reported remembering being in a carriage in the winter and Robert coming to visit, Possum said that wasn’t possible since he was away in the army and never visited 44 Elm Street. Robert said nothing, but got up and went to his study, where he retrieved evidence that he had actually visited Elm Street in January 1944, when I was 10 months old. So, for that one memory, I do know that what I remembered actually happened!
First to set the scene: Possum and Robert were married on May 30th, 1942 at St. Andrew’s Church in Wellesley. They moved to a cottage in Bethesda and Robert worked for the Federal Reserve Bank. In January 1943 Robert was inducted into the army and Possum moved back to 44 Elm Street. I was born in Newton on April 5th 1943. Jerry reports that he and Red had been out cruising that evening and returned after their curfew. Grandad was so pleased to have a grandson that he neglected to notice that they were late. (Did you know that Red is mentioned as “Warrie” in Sylvia Plath’s Journals? Apparently she was part of a group that went to Elm Street after midnight and engaged in drinking gingerale [sic] and dancing.)

I’m not utterly clear on who was living at 44 Elm at that time. Certainly Possum, Garney, Grandad, and Jerry. I have no memory of Uncle Keith being there, so perhaps his visits during mud season were over? Ted was away in the Pacific and I suspect that Red was at college. The figures who loom large in my memory were Possum, Garney, Grandad, and Francis, whose domain was the kitchen and who cooked all the meals. Garney never did learn to cook. There was also a cat whose name I don’t remember but who seemed to belong to Possum. Also Grandad’s dog Mac. Mac was friendly and the cat was scary. She had very sharp claws and no regard for my person.

Before I get to specific memories I would like to try to reconstruct my mental state. I was aware of my own existence as being separate from that of the other people in the house but I don’t have any sense that I thought of them as having an existence parallel to and different from mine. I was totally self-centered. I thought only of myself. I don’t believe that I did anything to please other people. On the other hand, I certainly was aware of and looked for other people’s approval. I had no awareness of doing things that were wrong. I just did what I felt like.

So, given that, what do I remember? My earliest memory is surely of Robert’s visit in 1944. The image that I have is of myself inside a carriage. (No idea of what the carriage looked like from the outside, although I have now seen photographs of it.) Somebody important was visiting but didn’t know who it was. This person was outside the carriage and it was cold out. Its seems interesting to me that I realized that our visitor was important. Surely lots of people came to 44 Elm Street. How did I know that Robert was important? Even at that age babies understand more of what’s going on than we realize. This is the only memory that I can firmly date. The others could be at any time from early 1944 until we moved to Washington after the war ended. Robert returned to Wellesley on December 18th, 1945, at which time I was 33 months old. So all of these memories are between the ages of 10 months and 33 months.

The house at Elm Street was a warm, friendly place. Surely part of that impression is due to the fact that everybody looked after me but I know that Ted also had a very fond spot in his heart for that house. Later on, after the house had been sold, he was forever encouraging other people to buy it. I was most disappointed when we returned from Switzerland and I found that the house had been sold and Garney and Grandad had moved to another house on Valley Road in Wellesley.

Francis was a large, warm, black woman whose domain was the kitchen. I have a memory of sitting on the counter watching her work. I have no sense of her being in any way different from the other members of the household. Certainly I wasn’t aware that her status was inferior to the other residents. The memory does include the fact that her skin color was black but that meant nothing to me. (In fact, some years later, when I saw a black gentleman on the street in Lidingö I was so surprised that I went home and asked Possum about him. I had no memory of ever seeing anybody black, nor any knowledge that such people existed – not too many people of color on Lidingö in 1950.) The food that Francis produced was simply a fact. It never occurred to me to question it. Three times a day meals appeared and that was that. Possum has written that all through the depression Garney and Grandad managed to have servants and cars:

“Bill has always wondered how it was that we continued to have cars and maids when we were so close to destitution, and I have trouble understanding this myself. I think it may have been the perception that cars, maids, and family should all go under together. There were no other jobs, wages were cut from seven to six dollars a week, and who would buy a yellow Chrysler roadster, vestige of the twenties, that had one door taken off by the side of the garage, or a Ford that had gone through the fence behind the A&P?”

The dinning room, where we had all our meals, was in the front of the house to the right of the entrance hall. It was separated from the kitchen by pantries. I particularly remember the bell push set in the floor under the table, which Garney used to summon Francis.
Sleeping arrangements at 44 Elm Street varied. Garney had a large room with twin beds. There were chests at the foot of each bed. Whether the second bed was for Grandad I don’t know. Later on, at Valley Road, he had a room of his own. Off Garney’s room was one of the many sleeping porches. These were screened-in porches with large openings to let in cool air. Sometimes I slept on Garney’s sleeping porch. More often I had a room at the head of the front stairs. The latter room had been Possum’s and had a sleeping porch of its own, although I don’t ever remember using it.

I do remember learning to walk. I had pulled myself up on one of the chests at the foot of Garney’s beds and managed to take a few steps over to the other chest. I was immensely proud of this achievement and wanted to show it off to Possum but, much to my disappointment, she wasn’t there. For fifty or sixty years I was under the impression that she had gone away somewhere for a few days. Only recently did she tell me that she had simply been at the A & P in Wellesley. I believe that my reason for wanting to show Possum my accomplishment was the belief that she would be pleased by it. This seems to contradict my assertion that I was only interested in myself but I don’t think so. Really, I was just looking for her approval. I didn’t have any sense of how she would feel about it herself. It is also interesting that I remember asking Garney where Possum was. Since it is unlikely that I could actually talk at that point the conversation must have been a bit cryptic. Nonetheless I have a clear impression of showing Garney what I had done, asking her where Possum was, and being told that she wasn’t there.

Once when I was sleeping on Garney’s porch I had a nightmare where I thought that I was in bed in a small cottage with a stone fireplace and chimney. A giant was coming down the chimney to get me. I had this recurring dream many times over the next sixty or seventy years. It has not troubled me recently. Of course one might wonder how a giant was going to fit into a chimney but that didn’t occur to me and certainly wasn’t an impediment to the giant. I suppose that the raw material for this dream must have come from a book of fairy tales but I have no direct memory to support this. This is the only memory that I have that was in any way threatening. For the most part my life was extraordinarily safe and comforting.

Usually I slept in the room at the head of the main stairs. The stairs led down into the front hall. Off the hall and visible from the stairs was the living room where people congregated after my bedtime. I would often sneak part way down the stairs and peer through the balustrades trying to follow what was going on. My impression was that everybody was having a very good time without me. Once I made the mistake of going all the way down the stairs and announcing myself. This is the source of Possum’s story where I appear announcing “Bang, shoot, down I come, no read.” I must have been promised a story if I didn’t leave my bed, which implies that my visits to the stairs weren’t as secret as I imagined. (By the way, if those are balusters in Possum’s picture, they are on the wrong side of the stairs!)

Possum’s old room, in addition to a sleeping porch, had a fireplace with a mesh fire screen – perhaps the same one that I now have at 21 Foster Street. Certainly it looks the same. One day around Christmas time I found myself in possession of a chap stick and discovered that I could use it to draw on the fire screen. This was a very satisfactory occupation – try it sometime, the soft chap stick fills the pores in the screen very nicely. I’m not sure that I had any sense that this was something that I ought not to do, although that became very clear once Possum discovered the evidence. I don’t remember any sense of regret, nor do I remember the PJs that Possum included in the sketch.

The Briggs lived in the house next to 44 Elm Street. Like 44, it was a shingle-style house with a chicken house in back. I’m not sure if it had a barn. In any case Possum wrote of the Brigg’s henhouse: “It is said that Mr. Briggs used to retire to the henhouse for some peace and quiet.” I believe that the Briggs had two daughters and one or more sons. One day I was not feeling well and was left behind in my room at the top of the stairs with Barbara Briggs as a sitter. I remember this as being a somewhat strained afternoon. I was very fond of Barbara’s sister (whose name I regret that I cannot remember) but did not really know Barbara. She didn’t know what to say to me or do with me and I reciprocated the feeling.

One winter, probably, 1945-1946, Grandad built a boat for me in the basement. It was to be called the “Navy Bean” and was constructed from newspaper and airplane dope. It had a rectangular shape with a flat bottom and not much freeboard. (I knew nothing of the construction but I do remember being taken to the basement to see it while it was still in process.) The following summer we took it to Camp Taconnet. That is now a three hour drive but in those days it took the entire day. I remember stopping at the liquor store on the New Hampshire border; crossing various border rivers on old-fashioned swing bridges; and a stop at LL Bean’s, which in those days had a single sales floor with the goods displayed on trestles.  Much to my disappointment I was only allowed in the boat once. I don’t recall the actual voyage but I clearly remember that it only took place once. A photograph of Red in the Navy Bean offers an explanation. If he moves off dead center, one of the corners will go under and, glug, glug, the whole affair will sink. Since Grandad was a graduate of MIT this is a surprising failing. MIT has long had an outstanding naval engineering department. In fact, Bernie Goldhirsh, the founder of Sail Magazine was a graduate of that department. Perhaps Grandad spent too much time in the Electrical Engineering department (course VI in MIT parlance).



In 1945 Possum and I flew from Boston to Council Bluffs. I can’t pinpoint any memories of Council Bluffs or of Grandma and Grandpa Bean. What I do remember is that we ended up on a train on the way back. I found the train to be very boring compared to the plane, and I did realize that somehow our plans had changed so that we ended up on this other, inferior, mode of transportation. Possum later told me that we had been bumped off the plane by military personnel. I do recall that sitting upstairs in the vista-dome was much better than downstairs.

One day I had an outing with Grandad. We got in the car and drove for what seemed a considerable distance. Then he got out at a sandpit? Gravel pit? Not sure exactly what it was although I believe that it was near the corner of Speen Street and Route 30 in Natick. I say this only because that corner once matched my memory of the trip. It now looks quite different! Once there, we got a box full of sand, which turned out to be for the cat. I was most excited to have had this time with Grandad, although I didn’t really understand its purpose.
That trip was in a Ford Woodie, which Curt has since identified as a 1941 model. This was the same car that I managed to start all by myself. For some reason I was left in the front seat of the car with nobody else around. The relative sizes of the car and myself are still clear in my mind. I was about the same size as the steering wheel. There was lots of room on the floor ahead of the front seat. The car was parked right in front of 44. I twisted the keys and the engine started right up. That led to immediate panic on my part. I guess I was lucky that it wasn’t in gear. Grandad showed up really quickly and shut the car down. I don’t recall that I was criticized for this incident. Probably it was hushed up.

Grandad was a great hunter and fisher. In fact, he referred to himself as Grandpa Grouse in his wonderful book of memoirs: Partridge Shortenin’. That book has no folios and no index. In case you are wondering why, Grandad wrote it in sections and had individual signatures printed whenever there was free press time. As a result it was impossible to assign page numbers. This brings to mind our much later discussion with Boris Bittker, the author of Federal Income Taxation of Corporations and Shareholders. We wanted to include an index and Boris, who had a photographic memory, didn’t understand why anyone would want such a thing. One day Grandad presented me with a popgun. This was a small long gun with a cork as ammunition. The cord was attached to the gun with a string, so it wasn’t going to go very far. I was given stern warnings not to point the gun at people or the faithful dog, Mac. I don’t remember any prohibition on pointing it at the cat, nor do I remember considering that possibility.

Garney had a flower garden to the left of the house, between 44 Elm Street and the house that Lillie Faulkner built at 40 Elm Street. Nowadays there is a new house squarely in the middle of her garden. I was given the job of brushing Japanese Beetles off the roses and into a coffee can of turpentine. I still recall the acrid smell of the turpentine and I associate that smell with both roses and Japanese Beetles. I was paid some sum on the order of a penny for ten beetles. It wasn’t enough to maintain my interest.

It was just behind that garden that I learned to tell right from left. The garden had a trellis that led to the back of the house. I learned that the side of the trellis away from the house was my left and the side toward the house was my right. I could only distinguish the two when I was standing in front of the trellis and I had no actual concept of left or right. I had simply associated the words with positions relative to the trellis. For quite a few years I would work out which was right and which was left by imagining the trellis.

One day I was placed in a cage (not a playpen, it was fairly large and had no bottom) set up on the lawn outside the pantries between the kitchen and the dinning room. I didn’t much like this so I set to showing my displeasure by screaming. I screamed for a really long time. I remember that I was just about ready to give up and make the best of it when Possum came out and rescued me. She later told me that the contraption was Garney’s idea and that Garney said: “Don’t worry, he’ll get used to it.” I hate to admit it but Garney was right.

I also have a memory of two people (Red and Jerry?) taking me and the cage out to the edge of the aqueduct behind the barn and throwing the cage over, to convince me that we were done with it. Possum denies that this was possible, but then why would I remember it?
If you examine Possum’s drawing of the Woodie loaded for the trip to Taconnet, you will see that underneath the Navy Bean, there is another boat labelled “B”. This was Grandad’s fishing boat. It was kept in the barn and I remember being out there with Grandad examining the boats. Its actual name was I.B., which stood for Iron Bastard. How I have managed to remember that name, which certainly meant nothing to me at the time, I don’t know.

One morning Jerry took me to the basement which, like many New England basements, had a damp smell of mildew. Once there we dug out the equipment to make “tin soldiers”. These were figures that had nothing to do with tin since they were molded out of lead. We melted some lead, poured it into the molds and made a fine set of soldiers. This experience stuck in my mind for many years. In Sweden, I retrieved spent bullets from the nearby army firing range and tried to melt the lead out of them using Possum’s pans and the electric stove. No luck. They must have been filled with something less easily melted than lead. It was probably just as well that it didn’t work, I had quite enough lead exposure as it was.

Garney had a job at the Hathaway House, which was a bookstore on the corner of Central Street and Weston Road, across from the Wellesley College campus. It was the official bookstore for the college and also had a fine selection of children’s books. Garney loved to read out loud and was a first rate reader. I have vivid memories of her reading Thornton Burgess’ Old Mother West Wind to me. It was right at the limit of my comprehension and was probably a bit advanced but Garney liked it so we plowed on. I was particularly puzzled by Peter Rabbit’s experiences in the Briar Patch. I had no idea what a briar patch was or why a rabbit might find it an attractive place. Beatrix Potter was more my speed.

Several times Possum took me to visit Great Grandmother Warren (Lillie Faulkner Warren). At that time she was in her early 80s. To me she seemed absolutely ancient. She lived in an apartment at Vernon Court across from the Newton Public Library. I remember little of her actual apartment, but I have a clear recollection of the elevator, which had polished brass fixtures and a scissors gate. My cousin, Tim Warren, was also taken to see Lillie there and has much the same memory. Once inside the apartment, Possum would hold a conversation with Great Grandmother, which meant absolutely nothing to me. I don’t suppose that Great Grandmother knew how to approach me and I certainly had no idea how to talk to her. Eighty plus years was simply too large a gap for either of us to cross.

Back in Elm Street, The Morning room was a small, cheery room off the hall on the left as you came in. It also opened onto the living room. One day a new console radio appeared and was installed in the Morning room. It was a large wooden device with dark chocolate, bakelite knobs. This was the first radio I’d ever been aware of and it was the center of much attention. I vaguely remember the spoken word issuing from the radio but have no recollection of any music. In fact, I don’t remember any music at 44 Elm Street. That may be my own failing since Garney was very musical and played the piano; and Possum reports that Grandad, who was pretty much tone deaf, loved to sing.

One other memory from the Morning room. One day, I was sitting on the living room floor when Jerry showed up in the Morning room. He was very excited and told us that we’d never guess what he’d found. It turned out that the treasure was bubble gum in the store. It had been missing throughout the war and had just reappeared, so this must have been 1946. I, of course, had no idea what bubble gum might be.

In the summer of 1945 Possum and I went to Kinderkamp in Wiscasset, Maine. I have a memory of a long walk along the seashore with Possum and her pointing out a starfish to me. Beyond that I don’t recall much of that first visit. The next year I, at age three, was sent alone to Kinderkamp as a camper. This was a traumatic experience. I slept in an upper bunk and recall being upset in the evening and having a counselor try to comfort me. Kinderkamp also had a rule that if you didn’t finish your food at one meal it would be served to you at the following meal. I can report that Cheerios are even less appetizing after sitting in milk for a few hours, than they were originally. I did win that contest. Eventually they stopped trying to make me eat the Cheerios. I suspect, but have not verified that Kinderkamp was on the piece of land that now belongs to Camp Chewonki. This would be easy to check at the Lincoln County Registry of Deeds, which is in the Lincoln County Courthouse in Wiscasset.

So, that is a full record of all that I recall from my first few years at 44 Elm Street. From my point of view it was a comfortable existence. I was totally unaware of the difficulties presented by the Depression and the War. I didn’t recognize that there were very few new objects in the house; I didn’t know that Ted was away in the Pacific; I didn’t know that Great Grandmother had had to give up the house she built next door; I didn’t understand the terrific strain on Grandad, who was trying to keep a business going and preserve the jobs of his employees and put bread on their tables as well as his own. All of this only came to me much later in the form of stories. I have been exceedingly lucky and have never experienced that kind of stress.

Dad

(All pictures from internet)

I was in Brazil to meet Cristina’s family with a second objective to collect plants potentially useful against tropical diseases. In Paraiso do Norte, my friend and guide Joachim Cardoso (known as “José Cigano” as his wife was Romano) told stories of jaguar hunters who used to come by their farm each year when he was young. These were brothers on horseback who made their living removing predators troubling farms in the region. Joachim’s father had a coral for horses and the jaguars had been taking their toll, so the brothers were hired.

They awoke before dawn and lay in wait near the corral. Sure enough, a jaguar appeared, so one of the brothers stood up and took careful aim. But the jaguar had spotted him and was racing in his direction; it was stopped cold by the first bullet. The hunter then immediately stepped back and took aim again at the cloud of dust left behind. Turns out jaguars sometimes hunt in pairs, and he killed the mate as it attacked him out of the cloud of dust.

I had been searching for a tree known as “quina” (quinine) used to treat malaria. I didn’t think the quinine tree grew that far down the Amazon, more of an upper Amazon species, but quinine was in a family of plants I was especially eager to find (the same family gives us coffee and ipecac as well as having a number of known toxic species). It was around that time that I became aware of the downside of huge tropical forest diversity: many plants and animals were rare and hard to find which is why we continue to discover new ones each year. Sometimes it seemed that every plant was different. All I knew of the quina tree was that it was tall, had a sulcated (winged) trunk with bitter bark that cured malaria, and was treasured though very rare. Joachim suspected that those who knew where there was a tree might not be willing to reveal it, but perhaps the jaguar hunter would as he had travelled the region more than anyone he had met.

Over Easter of 1984, Cristina took the bus up to Paraiso do Norte from Sao Jose dos Campos, two days to the south. I think this may have been her second visit over the years I was in the north of Brazil. Cristina and I set out for Cristalandia to head west to the Rio Araguaia, the second tributary south of the Rio Amazonas counting from the mouth in Belem back. We spent the night in the Ford pickup which had a wonderful marine plywood camper on the back that Lawrence Brooke and I had built over many months in Cristina’s family’s backyard. It had two beds, an LP gas refrigerator, twin burner stove. Campers were unknown in Brazil at that time, so it caused quite a sensation wherever we went and news travelled fast. The next morning a teenager approached me and offered to show me the crystal mines, showing me examples of perfect, clear, amorphous quartz the size of tennis balls. Cristina and I drove there with him to find an open pit perhaps 150’ across but deep with a basket hoist that lowered workers up and down. Americans had come there during the last war to get perfect quartz for bomb site viewers for their airplanes. I still have two big lumps of quartz from there that I treasure. This was the last outpost, the last food and water as we headed west.


The next two nights we spent at Lagoa de Confusao, a large freshwater lake surrounded by palm trees. Lakes are most uncommon in Brazil, and unmoving fresh water was avoided because of the dangers of schistosomiasis (African snail flukes). Apparently this lake was safe so I took a bit of a swim, being careful not to put my feet on the bottom in case of sting rays. I don’t think Cristina joined me. The single track dirt road west ran through marshes to either side, dotted with palms. The road was a place for caiman alligators to sun bathe, and they slid off to the side in droves as we made our way. We saw some jaguartirica, many toucan relatives (aracari) and were surprised by one giant toucan right outside the driver’s window as we passed. Storks, egrets, herons were everywhere, and at dusk, so were mosquitoes – the kind that land pointed vertically, the kind to avoid. We pressed on through the night. After a few hours, getting sleepy, the road suddenly disappeared ahead and we screeched to a halt. When we got out, we found the road simply disappeared into the Rio Araguaia which was deep and wide. We managed to turn around and find a flat spot to spend the night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next morning someone was knocking on the side of the camper calling for whoever was inside. Turns out we had parked on the landing strip and had to move. When we got out, we were greeted by a man who said he was the town’s mayor. As the only habitation we could see was a small one-room cabin on the banks of the river, we took this with a grain of salt. He showed us his generator that kept his freezer full of fish cold. Nearby on the shore were rows of trout-sized fish, each with a hole behind and under the eye where the local Indians had shot them from dugout canoes with bow and arrow, all in exactly the same place. He had traded for them with honey he’d brought from town.

When we asked after the jaguar hunter, he said yes, he lived nearby, but as it was cattle roundup season, he might be hard to find, but he gave us directions.

Later that day some children along the river were showing us their ankles with holes the size of melon balls from piranha attacks. They warned us not to enter the water, but to bathe with a bucket. Then we heard a sound like a horse snorting in the river, turned, but saw nothing. Eventually we tracked it down to fresh water porpoises. Some of the fish in the Araguaia are huge (200 Kg), and it was known as a fishing paradise. The mayor told us about the bridge they were building across the river to the Ilha de Bananal, largest fresh water island in the world. It was to be constructed right where we almost entered the river the night before. The government had brought heavy equipment onto the island to start construction, but each night the Indians would tie it up with lianas that would take the whole next day to remove. This went on until the government gave up. The island by rights was an Indigenous Reservation (tapirape and karaja), but some local politicians had their eye on it as a summer grazing ground for cattle. I have some tapirape masks and a headdress in my living room; they look similar to these below.

In the afternoon we set out again in search of our jaguar hunter on a dirt path through the scrub. This was without tall trees and was quite different from the treed savannas I was used to further east. We were fortunate to find an encampment and our hunter was there.

I guessed he was in his mid-seventies, a fit, energetic man with gray hair and stories to tell. The only one I remember was how he would lay his hammock a couple of feet off the ground with some clothes and blanket, then set another hammock higher in the tree where he would wait. When jaguars attacked the hammock below, he would shoot them.
He certainly knew the quina tree, though there were none growing nearby, and he was sorry that he was too occupied with the roundup to help us in our plant hunt. As we left, an old woman ran out of the house, smoking a cigar, wanting to hear news from town, wanting to chat. Turns out she was the hunter’s mother, certainly in her 90s.
Cristina’s vacation was ending, so we headed back to town. On the way out, we saw a great animal in the road, something unlike anything I knew. It paused to look at us as we approached – a beautiful tamandua bandeira (see below).

A year later, I finally found and collected the fabled quina. Not from the quinine family at all, but rather from the group that we are unfamiliar with except the very distant relatives, the milkweeds. For a few years I had a long section of the very dense quina wood which I intended to use as a new pickaxe handle, but that was left behind when Cristina’s family sold their house in Sao Paulo. I still have the quina extract and a pressed herbarium specimen, unfortunately no photos.

Lithuanian Immigrants

Robert’s maternal grandfather, Abraham Epstein Justman, emigrated from Tavrig, Lithuania in 1883 or 1884.  We have no direct account of his experience but we do know that he became a peddler after he arrived in America.  Later he had saved enough to buy a horse and cart so that he could sell fruit in Chicago. At one point he had saved enough money to help his daughter Dora to buy a house. In about 1885 he was able to bring his wife Mary and and children Dora and Jack to America. Robert’s mother, Kate, was born in Chicago.  The history reproduced below is by David Epstein whom we are pretty sure was related to Abraham but we are not quite clear how.

Abraham was born with the surname Epstein but in America it became Sussman (meaning peddler) and was later changed to Justman.

Abraham Epstein Justman

Abraham Epstein Justman, Kate Bean, William Bean, Robert Bean, Millie Bean Dunlap

Mary Epstein Justman

Mary Epstein Justman

The History of My Life
by David Epstein

 I was born in the year of 1868 on the 8th day (last day) of Peisach in a town better know with the name as Tavrig, but the official name is Tauraggen (currently called Taurage), province of Kovno, Lithuania (under Russian rule then.) Tavrig was about a population of about 3,500 and about 99% Jewish. I was the oldest of 6 children, 3 boys and 3 girls, bom to my parents of their second marriage. My father had a daughter [Shewa?] from his first marriage and she died in her sixteenth year. My mother had 2 sons, Meier and Naftali, from her first marriage. Meier died in Paris, France in the year of 1935. Naftali and his family are living in New York City.

My brother Meier was raised in my uncle’s home in Devinsk (then Dinaburg)
Russia I only have a faint recollection of him when he once paid us a visit when he was in his late teens. I never saw him ever since, but we always kept up our correspondence until his very last days. He was a very sympathetic man, kind and good-hearted. While not any of my brothers and sisters ever saw him (except my youngest sister Ida), yet we all enjoyed him and loved him, which was brought on us just through his correspondence. In the year 1878 my brother Naftali left our home to join our brother Meier in Russian. We have never seen each other ever since, but we do keep up our corresponding at this day

Going back to my early childhood, infants used to be bandaged from the shoulders down Legs and arms bandaged together all in one. Only the head was moveable The rest of the body was stiff like a stick. After an infant was old enough to be nursed with food other than their mother’s milk, then the mother, or at times the hired maid, would chew up some food in their mouth to make it very fine, then take the food out of their mouth with their fingers and put it in the infant’s mouth. From that and many other unsanitary conditions, which I shall describe later, scores of infants did not survive, only but from a few months to a few years. Because there was no sewage at certain times of the years, conditions was so horrifying that I do not feel able to go into detail. I again can only wonder how people, especially children, survived as many as did. During the winter months we put in our doubled windows and filled up the cracks between the window frames and siding with cotton batts. No windows neither doors were ever left open from early fall until late in spring.

When I was in my fifth year I remember quite well how my mother wrapped me up in my father’s prayer shawl, grabbed me in her arms and with great enthusiasm and happiness carried me for about 2 blocks to Cheider (Hebrew School). It was a greatly achieved in life for a mother to take her son and present him to God, as the Cheider was to make a good Jew out of him Any good Jew who was able to read Hebrew and also translate into Yiddish, was well qualified to open a Cheider and there was many such Cheiders. The average Cheider had about 8 to 12 boys (girls was not supposed to attend any Cheider.) Cheider hours was from early in the morning until sundown in the summer, but in the winter it lasted until about 9 p m. Almost every year a child is changed to a different Cheider for no particular reasons, except that the father believed that his son will do better with another teacher. But the Cheider was actually a waste of time. It was only a place for the children to come together and play or visit with each other, without any system or discipline. The average boy would get a very little knowledge out of his whole Cheider life. Taking off a small percentage, the average Jew of that generation, had no knowledge of the meaning of the Hebrew words which they read and prayed three times daily.

Now lets go back to the inhabitants of Tavrig. While there was two classes of people financially, yet they were all wretchedly poor. About 2/3 of the inhabitants, while they managed to exist, yet they actually had no existence. While the rest barely existed, only about 1/2 dozen families who dealt with the outside world (meaning big cities in other provinces), they made a comfortable living.

My father probably belonged to the better off class. Why? Because he owned the house where we lived in, and also another house in our back yard which could accommodate two tenants, and we would rent it at $25.00 each per year. We also did rent a bedroom in the house where we lived ourselves for $25.00 per year, with free firewood and heat such as they were. We also owned a cow, which the barn joined on to the tenant’s house. Our house consists of a living room and a bedroom which was partitioned off from the living room. The partition was made of ordinary plain boards – not plastered or papered. And it did not reach to within about 18 inches of the ceiling, and as we also kept about a dozen chickens in the house, the top of the partition served as a roosting place for the chickens. There was also a kitchen, and off the kitchen another bedroom, which I mentioned that we did rent it out. The living room and our bedroom had a rough board floor, unmatched lumber, while the kitchen and the tenant’s room had a dirt floor.

Of course there was no gas, electric or any system of water works in that city or for that matter, none in any of the surrounding cites or towns. Therefore, any sanitary system was not even know to most of the inhabitants. Whenever our cow had to calf and if it would happen to be in the winter and on a severely cold night, then we would head the cow in the kitchen for over night. Then later we would keep the calf in the house until she was a week or 10 days old. In a corner of the kitchen stood an iron kettle of about 20 gallons for waste water and nearby a wooden barrel with fresh drinking water, where we did fill up with a bucket from a well in our back yard and where a dozen or more families would come to that well for drinking water. In my early childhood we also used to keep a maid, but in later years we could not afford one (although a maid used to work for just about board and room.)

My parents were bakers. They would bake large rye loaves of bread weighing about 10 to 15 lbs each. But on Friday, for Sabbath, they would bake Chaleh (white bread). Friday was my happy day which I used to look forward to, as I would get a white roll for breakfast, and 1/2 cup of milk, and only a half day for Cheider. Wheat bread was a delicacy as we only would get that on Sabbath. We lived on rye bread and potatoes 3 times daily. Butter? Almost none at all. Other dairy products? Only on very rare occasions. Meat or animal fat only once a week – on Sabbath day and also for the Friday night meal. Fruit of any kind was almost not known to us and vegetables we would get only on very rare occasions. The noon daily meal was usually, or I will rather say, most always potatoes boiled in jackets, and a small slice of salt herring (raw.) But as the funds was usually too low to buy a herring, we therefore used to get only the salty brine from the herring and dip the potatoes in it. Our desert after every meal was a glass of tea with a very small lump of sugar. From Sunday on, we would begin to look forward to the Sabbath, as we would wear our best clothes, such as they were. And the meal we would get on Friday night and again on Saturday noon? A meal that contained beef meat and white bread! Well, this was happiness in my childhood mind which I will never forget.

Family washing was done twice a year. The clothes was soaked in soap suds for a couple of days then boiled and taken over to the creek about 3/4 of a mile from our house, out of town. We would rinse it and slap it dry either on a wooden slab or stone, with a wooden slapper shaped and sized like a dust pan. The underwear was made out of home spun and home woven linen, and the stockings was home knitted. As the laundry was done once in six months, therefore everyone had to have a supply to change from once a week to perhaps once a month (according to their families’ ability and supply).

There was one public bath house in the city. Certain days were for males and certain days were for females. While there was a very small percentage who used to take baths weekly or some monthly, yet the average one took a bath twice yearly, and that was before Peisach and before the High Holidays. Home bathing was unknown as the accommodations was next to impossible. Conditions of this kind existed in all the surrounding town, and to the best of my knowledge, such conditions existed in all of Russia’s occupied countries and quite likely in Russia proper.

When I was about 10 years old, while still attending Cheider, my father sent me also to a school where it was taught arithmetic, and reading and writing Jewish and German. The better scholarly children took up also Russian, but very seldom made any headway with that. In that school is where I got my whatever education I possess now, equal to about 8th grade in America. In about my 14th year, I gave up other schools and attended an exclusive Russian school. Our teacher, who was a typical Russian, indulged in Vodka so much that, on the average, 2 days of every 5 school days he was dead drunk and we were told that the teacher was sick. But on the next year we had another teacher who could talk German That was much in favor with the pupils as the average student could understand just a very little Russian. The students were mostly Lithuanian from the nearby farms, just a few Russians, only 6 Jewish boys, and one girl. There was no other girl students. During the winter months, there was a bigger attendance of Lithuanian young men, all farmers’ sons. That school was a complete failure. I attended there for two years and everything that I got out of it (which was very little) was only through my own effort without any advise or instructions from the teacher. There was hardly any system and a student was hardly ever examined by the teacher.

Russian language was really to a very little use in our city, as it was thoroughly Germanized. Even in public and government places you could talk German. But if someone could speak only Russian, then they were last with the people at large as almost no one could understand him, and yet it was a Russian country and ruled by Russia.

There was a big open market place round in a circle in the center of the city with stores, shops, and saloons all around in a circle. Mondays and Thursdays of every week in the year, farmers brought to market all kinds of farm products, even from cattle to earthenware. Many farmers traveled with their horse and wagon a day and a night to come to market, while others from longer distances took 2 days, and 2 nights to reach the market place as going was very slow At certain times in the year the roads was deep with mud, while at other times they were solid, frozen, rough ground. Some of the city people too, had stands on the market place with the big loafs of rye bread, salt herring and many other homemade eatables My father, as a baker, looked forward to the market day in order to buy a supply of rye to last to the next market day. There was an express man who would pick up all the sacks of grain bought by bakers. He took the grain to the flour mill and returned the flour to the respective bakeries.

There was an incident in particular which happened and stamped in my mind in such a way that I still frequently think about it, and always did. One market day when I was about 7 or 8 years old, my father finds himself without funds to buy rye. I will never forget that sorrowful morning in our home. Though a child yet, I understood the depression and I carried the burden tremendously. Finally, early in the forenoon, but rather late for the market, my father sent me over to a friend and neighbor (Teive der Schindeluras) to borrow five dollars. Apparently he had no hope for success, but when I returned with the $5.00 in my hand, fathers eyes glowed up, saying “Oh, leben soil er” (meaning “God grant him long life”).

In my 15th year I got a job in a flour mill at $6.00 per month. My work was to weigh all grain brought in by the city bakers and farmers, and again to weigh the processed flour, minus a certain amount per 100 lbs On occasions, especially in the fall, farmers would come from long distances with big loads of grain. Quite often their grain wouldn’t be done into flour until past midnight, or until the early hours in the morning. I had to remain there until their flour was done and weighed in.

My home was about 1 1/2 miles from the mill. The city was always, in such hours, in total darkness and with dark, cloudy skys at that time of the year (in fall). There was no sidewalks, therefore, I walked about half way to my knees in mud and water. In those days, the average mind was trained to be superstitious. Mine was no different. About half the way to my home there was, in a corner, a Catholic Church. I knew that the homes’ of ghosts are in churches. There I always suspected to see ghosts or to hear them call my name I did not dare to turn around for fear that I may see one I kept going so fast, and with such a force, that I often used to think if I would run against a brick wall, I would have either blown my brains out or knocked over the brick wall.

I worked in that mill for about two years. Then the worries of my folks became what to with me to avoid me to go to the army. Them days, for parents to let their son go to the army was a terrible calamity. In fact, next to death, parents used to have their sons crippled in many ways, like loosing an eye, cutting off a finger or a toe, or having them drink poison as medicine, which in most cases ruined their health for life. My folks decided to send me to America.

I still remember my horrors when I had been told that I was to go to America! For me to cross the ocean! No! I wanted to die right there on the spot, and even should I by chance be lucky to get over the ocean, then for me to be in a strange land! I who never slept one night away from home. My life was embittered. Death would have been a relief, but preparations went on. My father had no funds, so they sold a small building adjoining our house – a kind of a barn where my grandfather (who was dead then) used to keep it as a hay office, selling hay by the pound. They sold the building for $50 00, which just about covered the entire passage from our city to Chicago, USA.

I was in my 17th year when the day arrived finally for me to bid my family good by forever and go to America. There was quite a few men in our city who owned a horse and wagon and who would take passengers to cross the Russian-German border. My father went with me to the German Border to see that I get over safe and away from the hold on me from the Russian Czar. But things don’t always run smooth. The immigration officers find my passport illegal. I had a chance to be under arrest right there, but for some reason they did not, so father took me back home. The fear of that following night was terrible, as we looked every minute for soldiers to come and put me and father under arrest and take us away.

On the next day, mother took out a pass for her and myself to cross the border into Germany. This time somehow, they again became suspicious. The Russian officers were very suspicious of Jews and were looking for bribes, so they took me in a separate room to question me. Apparently my answers must have been satisfactory as they let us pass Mother was happy I could not say that on myself.

Anyhow, I was out of the clutches of the Czar. I was in Germany and I was free! My mother went along with me to Tilsit, a city which was several hours drive from the border Along late in the afternoon, the same man with his horse and wagon who brought us, took mother back home. I will never forget the time when the wagon with my mother in it began to move away from me. Mother constantly kept turning back and wave her hand at me. Finally, I heard her cry hysterically. Her cry rang in my ears all of that day and many days after. Yes, I can hear her cry at this day whenever I think about it. Apparently her heart told her that she will never see me again. My thoughts were different. I quite well knew that I am going to America to make money. Then, I would return home to my father and mother. Would I then have known that I would never return home, I would collapse on the spot But that was the last of seeing my father and mother.

My ticket was arranged for transportation from here on to Chicago. So the office of the Company where my ticket was bought took me in a sort of a truck wagon with about a dozen men or more in it to an immigration house where we were to stay there all night On the next day we were to take a train to Hamburg, a port city. That night in the immigration house was a terrible night for me. They took me in a room to sleep where there was about two dozen men and they all looked like the very poor laboring class And they talked a language which I could not understand (probably Hungarian). We slept three in a bed. I went to bed with all my clothes on, boots, cap and all. So did all the others. They kept on jabbering away while in bed I was scared stiff, and tired, and most of all, very lonesome. We arrived in Hamburg on the following day along in the afternoon It was on a Friday. We went on board the liner toward evening. I felt terrible that I had to start sailing on the Sabbath. This was my first commitment against my Jewishness. That sin laid heavy on my heart.

Late in the evening our ship began to move and along about midnight, we were in terrific stormy waters. My baggage which was contained in a homemade wooden box, had been sliding back and forth all over the cabin (so did others). I began to be sick and so did everyone in the cabin. I felt that we are going to get drowned and I lay it to my sin of breaking the Sabbath rule. Yes, I felt this was the end. But it was not, as in the early morning hours the ocean was calm and from a distance we began to see land I thought we were in the mid ocean, but the fact was that we had only crossed the English Channel and in the morning we arrived in Liverpool, England

I sure felt like a new bom boy, with a new lease on life. It was a bright sunshiny morning as we were nearing the city. Crowds of people stood there at the edge watching the ship arrive. I was just horrified with surprise when I saw a black man amongst the crowd, the first colored man I had ever seen in my life. If my recollection now is right, I think that then, I had never known or heard that there was any such things in existence as black human beings.

We stayed in Liverpool for about seven days, waiting for a liner. I must say that I did not dislike my stay in Liverpool as the food we got was considerably better than at home, especially the sugar on the table. It was free for anyone to help themselves all they want, and I was one who took the advantage as I was very sugar hungry, and at home sugar was very precious and, therefore, very sparingly used. Yes, Liverpool was an enchanted city to me – a new world – as everything was a curiosity to me. Houses, sidewalk, street cars, double-decker busses drawn by two horses was the most novel to me and it took me a long time to understand what this is all about. Yes, even people and their dress was different to me. You can not imagine my curiosity seeing women carrying baskets on their heads filled with oranges and bananas, selling to the new arrivals. I never know that loads could be carried on one’s head, especially women’s. Bananas was an unknown fruit to me, I never saw it. Oranges was a very precious fruit with me as I had never ate an orange, but just had a little taste of it as oranges is only bought to give to the sick, and they only got just a taste. A whole orange was made to last several days, as oranges was scarce and rather very expensive. And here I see where people are eating them as if they would have been as common as potatoes. That, too, was a wonder to me I did not dare to buy because I was afraid they would cost too much and I will find myself without money before I got to Chicago.

Finally a ship has arrived to take me to America. It was a very stormy five-week voyage to America. I was sea-sick practically every day. One morning news spread in our cabin that land is visible The ocean was calm. Therefore we were able to come up on the deck in the sunshine (sunshine was very rare during my voyage) and watch the land at a far distance. I felt happy to watch the land coming closer and closer to us. We finally landed in Philadelphia I then felt like a new bom boy. I am on land and in America!

Getting off the ship, I was put in the train and off to Chicago. I arrived in Chicago one bright sunshiny morning. I went off the train, and out from the big depot on to the street My next thought was “where do I turn?” I had in my pocket an address of a boy friend of mine who has been in America for about a year and who had been living with his mother, or shall I rather say that his mother lived with him. I could not talk neither understand a word in English, so I had to show my piece of paper with the address of my friend and people gave me to understand or motioned the direction where I was to go. So I set about to my destination. I was able to read the names of streets which was printed on the street corner lanterns, of course. I kept showing my slip of paper to people every now and then. Finally I reached my street. Then my job was to find the house number, which I felt I could do without asking I tracked down my number and anyone can hardly imagine the joy to have found my people that I knew, They too had a big surprise to see me.

My first thought was to write a letter to my mother and father, but I had no money to buy a postage stamp as I only had $0.25 in my whole possession and they told me that I will have to pay that amount in the depot for keeping my box in the baggage room. On the next following morning I went back to the depot and got my only box and carried it on my shoulder to my new home. Then right after breakfast my friend offered to loan me a dollar and he took me to a wholesale store where they were selling matches, so I bought a market basket and matches, and went out on the street selling matches. Of course I had to study up the American coins, which it was all strange to me. They charged me 80 cents per week for room, tea and sugar, all I wanted. The Friday night meal and the Sabbath noon meal were included. All other meals was on my own. My menu was rye bread and tea for desert. That one pound of bread did cost 5 cents and I managed to have it for two meals, but I could easily have eaten all of it at one meal.

I had struggled along selling matches on the Chicago streets for several weeks and barely earned my room and board. A landsman of mine, a man who came from the same town where I was from and who knew my parents but never knew, neither saw me, heard that I had arrived in Chicago (those days, names of new arrivals, or greenhorns as we have been called, used to spread quickly amongst our Landslite). So that above mentioned countryman of mine called on me and offered me to loan me a stock of merchandise if I would come along with him to Lake Zurich, Illinois about 40 miles northwest of Chicago where he was running a small country general merchandise store, and I should peddle goods amongst farmers, but buy merchandise of him. I certainly grabbed the opportunity and went out peddling amongst the farmers.

My life as a peddler was not very sweet. First of all, I was the most homesick boy anyone can imagine. I’d be walking along on the country road, from farm house to farm house and would cry my heart out while on my way. My load on my back, with a valise on my chest was often twice the weight of myself. When night would overtake me I was not always lucky to be granted my request to let me stay overnight. There was no paved roads anywheres them days, and one particular afternoon, in the fall of the year, when it had rained steadily and when darkness overtook me, farm houses was far apart one from another and by the time I arrived to the farm house it was quite dark. My request to stay all night was not granted, so I had to walk about a mile in deep mud to my ankles with my heavy pack on my back to the next farmhouse The dog gave the alarm that someone is near The Farmer opened the door and tamed the dog until I arrived to the house. That farmer luckily took me in, befriended me, and served me a supper (of course it was after supper with the family). I was about starved, but I forgot about hunger as my great worry was where to stay overnight. Therefore, anyone can hardly imagine the comfort and appreciation I felt knowing that I have a roof over my head and a bed to sleep in. The world was my own and I have forgotten all my troubles, but at the end of the next day, the same worry started over again. So I lived a life like that for about 1 1/2 years, which by degrees it gradually changed for the better, as I began to understand some English words and was able to answer. Besides I begin to get acquainted with the farmers, which I used to make my regular calls every so often. They learned to know me while I learned to know them until I finally established homes in all my territory wherever I peddled. But my troubles has not been over as my homesickness did not let up a bit. Many times each day while walking by the wayside I lowered my pack to the ground, sat down to rest, and cried, often times for an hour steady. I prayed to God to send the angel of death to take me Death would have been welcome as I did not want to live.

I have been brought up in my parents home to be very pious and a very pious boy I sure was I was brought up to read the morning services every day in my prayer book and I never missed it even under very bad inconveniences – living for years with Gentiles and not being willing to let them know that I was praying. My praying always had to be done before breakfast, therefore it was not easy to do it in hiding. I would have felt very embarrassed if I would have been caught praying. But it happened! One particular morning during a real cold spell of severe zero weather, the farmer was ready to drive to the milk factory that delivered his milk but he needed mittens and other clothes. So early in the morning they called me to open my pack. That morning the farmer and his family bought considerable merchandise. Breakfast was served at the table but I had not yet read my prayers and the whole family waited for me to close my pack and sit down to eat. I sat down and food was passed over to me. I felt like being in hot water. How can I eat? My prayers has not been read! My conscious has been revolting in me. I carried a spoon-full of food to my mouth. I swallowed I felt that something like thunder will strike me and kill me instantly I turned right and left I looked around, but nothing has struck me! I was very much surprised why nothing has happened! I wondered why? Well, such instances happened again and again and again, but every time with a feeling of less and less fear of committing a crime.

After three long and very unpleasant years of peddling, I made money enough to buy an old worn out horse and a buggy which had seen better days I felt big – that I did not have to carry my pack on my back – and my customers thought that peddling is a very profitable business. After putting in nine more years of my young life peddling, I began to realize that work of that kind was no life and no future. I gave up peddling, come to Chicago and just had money enough to pay the price to one who owned a candy and cigar store with hardly any stock in it. I managed to hold out in that store for about two years and at the end I came very near loosing all I saved by peddling.

Simon Epstein! A boy of about my age and whom I knew, or we knew each other, as small children in our home town (and as you see, my namesake, too). He, too, went through a life about the same as my own and with the same misfortune in his store, which he has conducted in Chicago. We came together and talked over our future. We both agreed that with the very little we had left and with the little credit we had at the wholesale stores where we used to buy goods while peddlers, we would start a store in Antioch, Illinois, a small country town, where the farmers surrounding the town knew us. We lived there about 3 1/2 years and managed to save enough to start a store with a little bigger stock and decided to move to Carystation, Illinois. Here we also felt like at home as the farmers for miles around know us from our peddling years. After 3 1/2 years in Carystation, we felt that we are able to establish ourselves in a bigger town and with a bigger stock of goods. So in the year of 1897, we choose Delavan, Wisconsin to establish our place of business. After two years we felt that we are able to get married and support our wives.

As it was customary to visit new arrivals from Europe, especially one from one’s own town, I went to visit Eda Epstein at her step sister’s home with whom she was living While I was sitting in the living room, there was a slim girl of about fifteen years of age running in barefooted on the bare wooden floor of the room, and quickly running out She appeared to be busy and had no time to stay. As I knew everyone in the family, I therefore knew that this strange girl was the new arrival. Although she was born and raised only a few blocks away on the same street where I lived, but I never saw her. In later years she told me that she knew me, as she used to see me near my home on several occasions.

I never had any introduction taken on my first visit at her new adopted home, but later on in years, I meet her rarely now and then. One day I asked her whether she would want me to take her to my sister’s wedding. She accepted the invitation without hesitating. I went to the nearest livery stable from where I lived and hired a carriage with two horses and a coachman. I directed the coachman to take me to the home of Mr. and Mrs. Jacobs, an Uncle and Aunt of Eda with whom she then made her home. It was rather a very showy affair and a pride for any young girl for a rig of that kind to await her at her door. We went to a neighborhood temple where my sister’s wedding took place. We found there a good sized crowd. After the ceremony there were music and dancing. As I never knew how to dance, therefore I could not entertain Eda to good advantage. But as the crowd were all Landslitee (all from the same town in Europe) therefore everybody knew everybody and everybody had a good time and kept busy. During the whole evening, Eda and myself were a very little together and did not have much to say to each other. At a late hour we parted. I did not take Eda home. Whether it was through my stupidity or just common ordinary custom, I don’t know, but I have arranged with some girls who went her way to see her home. And as I lived a long distance away, I went alone home on a streetcar.

My date with Eda, I believe, was the first step nearer toward a possible proposal, yet for the next several years we have seen a very little of each other But when her brother, Simon, became my partner in business, then Eda used to come to spend her vacation out in the country to be with us. That was when we had a chance to learn more of each other.The proposal I believe came out from the mouth of both of us at the same time. We then set a date for our wedding and it was to be on a Sunday.

That Saturday before our wedding day, was a very busy day in the store, and as stores used to be kept open very late, especially on Saturday evenings, we therefore retired on about past midnight. But as there was only one train going to Chicago on Sunday, and it was early in the morning, we therefore was afraid that we may oversleep, so we set many alarm clocks all to ring at the same time, but we were up in the morning before the time for the clocks to ring and we met our train.

I forgot to mention that Simon too, set his wedding day at the same date so we can have a double wedding at the same time So we got to Chicago where we meet our brides. Everything has been set and arranged for the doubled wedding at the home of Mr and Mrs. Jacobs (the future inlaws of Simon). After the wedding dinner we took our brides to the train with us and back to Delavan, Wisconsin. We had our homes ready and furnished completely. I was a married man! And it was the first home Eda and I ever had since we left our parents home. Regardless how humble, we appreciated our home. We were both happy. But a humble home it surely was. It had no home conveniences whatsoever. There was no running water, no kitchen sink, no outlet of waste water Of course electricity and gas was not known in our city, neither in any of all the surrounding cities.

Two daughters were bom to us in the first home of ours. With two babies, Eda had her hands full with work as we had to bring in every bit of water form the street near the next door neighbor and carry out every bit of waste water During the winter months while the days were short and the weather subzero with plenty of snow and ice, on wash days Eda and myself used to get up on about 3 am to do the washing. Why that early? Because I had to leave for the store at 7 am and would have had no time to help Eda with the children and washing during the day. Eda was not able to bring in the water from the street, where all around the well was about 2 feet thick with frozen ice and very slippery, and then carry out all the waste water. So by the time I left for the store in the morning the washing was ready for the line.

Eda had to manufacturer much of the food we ate. She baked all of her bread and pies, made preserves and did all the cooking and canning too. She did a lot of serving both for the babies and herself and she find time to do considerable embroidering and crocheting. We lived in that home for about 3 years, then we moved to a much handier home with much more comfort. Our life in Delavan was very pleasant, and in a way we felt financially successful too and yet, it felt rather lonesome as by nature we were rather bashful or shall I rather say as we were no mixture. We therefore was lacking social companionship.

Our girls began to be grown up. They graduated from Delavan High School, as well as of the University of Wisconsin. They have not been much at home then, and that added up more loneliness to the home especially to their mother. We then began to give our thought to retire from business and move to Chicago (to the home of Eda’s girlhood, where she kept up a lot of friends and relatives) with the hope that life will be more interesting. So, after living in Delavan, Wisconsin for 25 years, we gave up our business and moved to Chicago in the spring of 1922. The first summer being idle has not been to my liking. Along towards fall, I hunt my self up a job in a Downtown department store selling shoes, having in mind to work just through the Holidays, but I worked in that store for 65 [?] years steady. During that time both of our daughters were married. So my wife and myself decided to take a trip to California. We have been away for 9 months on that trip visiting in various interesting places. Then we returned back to Chicago. It was then in 1929 and just when the Depression started all through the country. Needless to say that we two got our share of it.

Our daughter Ethel and her husband Nate were then both working. We therefore decided to rent an apartment for both of our families to live together. After about 6 years living together, then Marilyn our grand daughter was born to Ethel and Nate. Our daughter Janet who then lived in California invited us to come to spend some time with her, so we gave up our household and moved to California. We liked California real well So we decided to make our permanent home in this state and chose Los Angeles. We are living in L A. now for about 9 years and feel quite content Last spring it was 50 years since Eda and I were married.

We have been invited by our daughter Ethel and her husband Nate to come and celebrate our gold wedding anniversary at their home in Highland Park, Illinois. Our daughter Janet, who now lives in New York City, came to be with us during the celebration. The 18th of June was set for the day and what a day it was!!! There was about 45 guests, all of our own family, and each and everyone had a wonderful time. It sure was most exciting and the happiest day of our lives We are now back to our home in LA. I am 81 years of age My wife Eda is 76 years of age. We are content and feel grateful to the Almighty that we can live independent all on our own at our age as we are now.

Here is a prayer in Hebrew which we read in atonement day, “A1 Tashlicheinu Lei- eiss Ziknoh Kichlaus Kaucheinual Taazweinu” (Do not desert us at our old age when our strength and health are at exhaustion.)

David L. Epstein, 1949

Sailing on the Broads

The water laps gently at the sides of the boat. The sun is still feeble on this early April day in the Norfolk Broads. There is no wind, so we are propelling the boat by walking up the broad, wooden decks to the bow, plunging our pole into the shallow water and then walking back to the stern pushing the pole and thus moving the boat. We are headed up the narrow river, perhaps from Potter Heigham to Hickling Broad.

There are three boats in company. This adventure is by invitation from Mr. Brown only. There are sixteen Boy Scouts from St. Paul’s School, an assistant scoutmaster – also a boy, and Mr. Brown. Six to a boat designed for four. Four sailors get bunks and the remaining two sleep on the cabin sole between the others.

Sometimes we sail in company but often we have a great deal of freedom and go our own way, only to meet up at a designated spot for the evening. There will be dinghy races, new anchorages and evenings in the local pub drinking cider. I don’t believe that any of us were ever asked how old we were. It was still out-of-season and the authorities were a long way away.  The dinghy races were hard-fought and, since we firmly believed that we could go faster if we hoisted the sail further up the mast, they often ended up in the chill water of the Broads.

SailingBroads2

Once we went hard aground few feet from the shore. I remember the bow being pointed straight for the shore. What we were thinking as we sailed at full speed into the mud I cannot now imagine. At the time it was all great fun. On that occasion we had to wait several hours for a patrol boat with an engine to come and tow us off. Our poles achieved nothing.

Every evening there would be a Mahjohng game with Mr. Brown aboard his boat. Like the trip as a whole this was by invitation and was a great honor. I still remember the sound and feel of the pieces, although I no longer have the faintest idea of the rules or the strategy.

One year I was assigned the job of quartermaster. This meant planning all the meals and making sure that we had supplies. We had a mimeographed guide, indicating what was required but I thought I’d go my own way. I enlisted Possum who told me how to make roast beef hash. This I stuffed into plastic Harrods ice cream boxes and took with us for the first meal. I also made creamed tuna served on rice with peas – still a favorite of mine. Unfortunately, I did not make sufficient allowance for six hungry boys. We ran out of food on a Sunday in a remote location. Only a long hike brought us to a store with a dusty inventory of a few cans, which supplied us with enough food to tide us over for the remainder of the trip. In spite of this mishap, my turn as quartermaster was judged a success since we had food that many of the crew had never heard of before.

It was on my last trip to the Broads that we had our most serious mishap. The boats were heavy, slow, gaff-rigged sloops with large mainsails and tiny jibs. The mast was stepped in a tabernacle on deck, and, in theory could be folded down to allow the boat to pass under low bridges. (We, of course, had been told not to try this.) It was a brisk afternoon and we were sailing downwind on the Bure towards Yarmouth, where we knew there was a low bridge. What we were going to do when we got there was discussed but not decided. There certainly was some sentiment that taking down the mast would be a fine idea. As we approached the bridge I was at the helm running on a starboard tack. I decided that I didn’t want to be the one to sail into the bridge, so I put the helm down and handed it over to another boy. The boat responded well and made a smart turn to port. Unfortunately this led to a gibe and the heavy boom took the roof off a moored houseboat as it swung. Nobody was aboard the houseboat and we left a note identifying ourselves and apologizing. I do remember some questions later on having to do with inquiries from the insurance company but there wasn’t any serious trouble.

SailingBroads1

Mr. Brown was the Scoutmaster of one of the two troops at St. Paul’s. He also coached crew and was my coach in the third eight one year. A few years ago I was sitting next to a gentleman at dinner in Boston and noticed that he was wearing an RAF tie. I asked about it and found out that he was Dutch and had left Holland when the Germans arrived and had trained for the RAF and lived in London for a time. When I told him that I’d grown up in London and gone to St. Paul’s School he asked me if I knew Peter Brown. I said no, that I didn’t think so. His response was that Peter had taught at the school and had been interested in rowing. This was the clue that brought me around: “Oh, you mean Mr. Brown. He was my rowing coach.”

Somewhere in Ca Belle France
Six dys apres la guerre.

Dearest folks,

C’est finit.    Guerre finit.    Vive la France.    Vive les Etats Unis.    Vives les Allies.

The Big Day came very unexpectedly and dramatically.  It was not until one hour before the end of hostilities that I knew that the armistice had been signed and that the War was drawing to a close.  That was at ten o’clock Monday morning.  We were but a short distance behind the front and were being held in reserve in case of any slip-up.  All morning long there was the most deafening roar I have ever heard.  It sounded as though all the guns on the Western front had begun to cut loose.  We thought that Germany had refused to sign and that it we were starting a big offensive.  But it later developed that it was only the artillery taking a final crack at the Boches before the order to cease firing became effective.  Suddenly exactly at 11 o’clock, silence.  You can have no idea of the sensation of that tremendous silence that meant the end of four and a half years of bloody slaughter, of suffering and pain — to know that it really meant the end.  But ebven then we couldn’t believe it until we began to meet soldiers tramping back from the front lines who told us various yarns about “the last five minutes.”

But the most remarkable thing was that night when all along the front huge bonfires were built and red, white and blue flares were sent up lighting the sky.  Villages came back to life.  Once more automobiles drove with lights.  Everywhere you could hear people singing and whistling.  And even nature itself seemed to be in tune to the occasion, for never have I seen the moons so bright nor the stars so clear.

That night we went to a minstrel show given by one of the divisions stationed near us.  The whole thing was gotten up on the spur of the moment, but doubt if there ever was a Broadway production more keenly enjoyed and appreciated.

From all accounts the scenes in New York, Paris and London must have been wonderful.  What a shame that the men who are responsible for the Victory could not have had a share in the celebration!  For us it means very little change at present.  Of course, there is no immediate prospect of returning home and the military machinery is still operating as usual and of course will, until conditions become once more stable, representative government established in Germany.  But anyhow the fighting and the blood-shed is over.  It will be impossible for hostilities to be renewed.

Father, get my desk cleared off because I am coming home now before long and will want to start operating at once.  The B. M. will be bigger, better, busier than ever.

Lots of love to all.

Affectionately,

Keith

Garney

Trips with mother often had a surreal quality, and I sometimes thought that a demon danced in front of her offering up comic possibilities. In Athens the elastic in her bloomers broke, and they fell just as she entered the Parthenon. In Vienna, she left a jeweler with a diamond bracelet on her wrist. Not until she was having lunch did she discover it, and not until she returned did the shop discover that it was gone. On a train in Switzerland she was taken for a jewel thief because while the police searched the train, she was in the lavatory, the only place they hadn’t been able to search. When she came out a large crowd had assembled. In Florence, on a carriage ride to San Miniato, she wore a knit hat that had small gold bells around the brim. These tinkled as we went along, causing passersby to applaud.

In fact, the chance of something precipitous happening in mother’s company created about her a nimbus of excitement. I think Bill knew this as a very small boy, and he used to hum to himself “ Ti-ta-de, da Garney, da Garney”. (Hence the name, Garney.) When Bill was five she and he drove into a field and turned over. As they got out, Mother said, “Bill, watch out for the poison-ivy.” She may have been one of the few people to crash her car both in through and out through a closed garage door and also into the car of her insurance agent; drive unmindful about on front lawns when showing me Cape Cod; fall out the door of Ted’s car onto the Meritt Parkway, unhurt because she landed on her new fur coat (“So fortunate that I had on my fur coat”); when standing in front of the Hotel Connaught have a taxi pass so close that it took a folded sweater off her arm; and in her old age, fall and fall—off porches into shrubs, into snowdrifts, in the night—with never an injury. (“Wasn’t it lucky that I wasn’t hurt.”)

On a later trip to Florence, we left the city on the morning of the great flood, just hours before it started. I had the evening before walked beside the Arno and noticed that it was absolutely dry. Our pension was just beside the river, and during the flood the waters reached twenty-feet up—to its second floor. Automobiles were, it is said, rolled and tumbled down the street by the floodwaters. Mother had bought me some antique garnet earrings on the Ponte Vecchio, paying with a check. When her check was returned, it was covered with mud, and when, some years later, I went back, the shop-owner told me that.” nothing in the shop was saved. He said, “Wasn’t it lucky that you came on the day you did.”

Cornwall 1983

Such a beautiful summer should not be forgotten.  From July 7, when we arrived in the midst of a London heat wave with Knightsbridge looking like a scene from Gandhi, until the end of August when we left, there was not even a small cloud.

We arrived at the Hotel Cadogan where they had, of course, given up our rooms because we were late, so Barbara found herself imprisoned with the children in a garret room, but she soon escaped to Harrod’s.  Harrod’s was having its annual sale, and the heat and crowds were so great that the police had to be called out to limit the number of people going into the store, and none of us stayed long there.  When we had generally recovered from this we took a trip to the zoo, where the animals and crowds were mostly somnolent, although we did encounter a scoutmaster eagerly leading his small troop.  “Today, boys,” he said, “we will see the humming birds and the woolves.”  On another day we went to Hampton Court with friends of Bill & Barbara, who told us about their very aged neighbors who have become keener gardeners with each increasing year until now they can be heard raking gravel and clipping hedges in the middle of the night.

The Cadogan is a pleasant hotel on Sloane Street, once the home of Lily Langtry.  The dining room has a long row of pretty Victorian casement windows through which the sun comes during breakfast.  Our rooms, at the back, which looked down on a long, attractive mews, was big and had an immense bathtub.  (These tubs are all very well, but do not lie back for fear of submerging.)  In the mews was a woman with a very large dog.  When Timothy wanted to pat it she said, “Yes, dear, go right ahead.  He loves children.  Hates men.”

To Barbara’s relief we soon left London, and Timothy began to enjoy England.  He hadn’t much liked the garret room or a cow that nudged him at the zoo.  We boarded the train at Paddington, which is still an immense glass enclosure but not what it was in Bill’s train-spotting days when filled with steam and noise from the big coal-fired engines (now gone) that were like great industrial beasts.  On the train we met Grant, a young English boy of about 13 whose father ran a pub.  He was quite taken with Meg and asked her if she had seen the latest theatrical hits.  These he described as “brilliant”.  He had brought along comic books and a large lunch which he shared with everyone.  In the excitement of the arrival at Truro we left all our raincoats (never needed) on the train.

We then drove to St. Just-in-Roseland, as romantic as its name, with tropical gardens going down to the sea in some places and lovely steep pastures in others.  The pastures were golden in color, and a new kind of baler had been used to wrap the corn in cylindrical bundles that glittered in the sun.  The houses near us all had grand views, but our landlord had grown unfortunately large yew trees, so it was necessary to fix a chair on a nasty gravel walk and look from a particular angle to glimpse the sea at all.  In fact, all entrances to places with views were blocked by bogs, nettles, hedgerows, and so on.  One could just see the water by standing in the middle of the road.  However, the house was comfortable, if one ignored the narrow beds with damp plastic sheets—all English holiday houses have damp sheets—and the cows that coughed under Barbara’s window. 

At the top of the hill was a hotel where we went to use the telephone, as there was none in our house.  It had a ferocious owner who drove me out of the bar one day, saying, “Look here, lady, you can’t just walk about here like this.  This is a private hotel.”—to me a new concept.  His wife was especially pleasant, and I suppose their life goes on with her being particularly kind to guests because she knows he is going to shout at them. 

Near the small and rather dank harbor below us was a fine medieval church with a crenellated tower and small boats, moored or pulled up onto the shore beside it.  The church also had a strange little stone well, covered with moss and fuchsia, that seemed a combination of sepulcher and well.  In the churchyard which rose very steeply beside the church were the startling blue hydrangeas found, I think, only in Cornwall and a tombstone which read, Surgeon acted wrongly.   We got dressed up and walked through the pastures to the Sunday Service, where Amanda (seven) inadvertently took communion.

To leave this peninsula we always went by a car ferry, named The King Harry Ferry, and this made coming and going both dramatic and romantic—dramatic because one was bound either to just miss or just catch the ferry and be driven into a hedgerow by someone trying to beat one to it, and romantic because of its river setting with an old inn on one side and, on the river as far as one could see, immense tankers, anchored there for storage that dwarfed everything in the landscape.  One was named Methane Princess and another Methane Progress.  There were wonderful views of pasture and sea on all sides although usually hidden by hedgerows.

Other than the children, the sun, and the beautiful landscape, the greatest blessing of our stay was the housekeeper, Mrs. Cadby, who made Shepherd’s Pie and Raspberry Crumble which were so delicious that we were inspired to talk entirely about (apart from methods of revenge on Mr. Preston, the innkeeper) food, such as “rated-best desserts”.  The girls made fresh raspberry jam.  The food in Cornwall ranks, I think, with the best in France, particularly the small new potatoes and delicious butter.  We got suddenly quite fat—all except Bob, that is, who never does.  He made a big effort to keep a private, hidden supply of bananas for his breakfast, but the girls always found and rehid them.  Timothy ate some of every banana he found.

Meg, Amanda, and Barbara went riding (looking tidy and chic with their hair up) and said the views were really very fine when one could see over the hedgerows.  The stable boy who arranged this was known to Mrs. Cadby as “Brian, the disaster”.

Timothy made endless soups in a dishpan on the front terrace, solemnly stirring soggy leaves and gravel while Meg urged him to “stirra vera gooda”, and we shopped a lot in St. Mawes (five shops), a small and extremely beautiful fishing town with dark umbrella pines at the top of the pastures, which again sloped steeply to the harbor and half-timbered houses on a small street by the sea.  Such towns sometimes look merely quaint in photographs, but they are not so because of the grandeur of the rocks, sea, and vegetation. 

From there we often crossed the bay by passenger ferry to Falmouth to use the launderette, buy knitting wool, and go to Cabaret, a shop which had ludicrous wooden mechanical toys, carved by the Falmouth shipwrights.  These included jumping-jack flashers, an anubis cowboy embalmer practicing his getaway on a camel simulator (a carved half-camel mounted on a box attached to an electric motor), wave machines (wooden rollers, painted blue, which moved small boats up and down), a sheep box which baa-ed (one could turn up the volume), and a large skeleton which opened (when you put in 25p) to show moving figures falling through the abdomen to hell, where they all seemed quite domestic and comfortable, and ascending to heaven, where they all seemed pious and bored.

Timothy’s greatest pleasure was to be left alone in the car to push all the knobs and switches and generally “drive.”  When left there he seemed very surprised, as if he couldn’t believe his luck.  We thought it a good place to keep him.  When we later drove off in the car, everything was activated: washers, wipers, parking lights, headlights, turn-indicators, radio—nothing overlooked.

As the weather was fine we didn’t worry as much as we might have, had there been gales, about the Felicity crossing.  We had just one message, when Bill in mid-Atlantic managed to get a ham radio operator in Tennessee who put Sydney (in San Francisco) on the telephone line, and she then called us.  At this time, I believe, they had just reached the Gulf Stream, where the temperature of the water was 70, and they all had a swim.  One of their eerier moments was at night when they could hear a big ship and voices speaking Russian but couldn’t see anything.  The crossing took only 22 days, so they did have a good bit of wind, and they sailed all the way across on the same tack—the first time they came about was when they reached Falmouth Harbor.  Sydney arrived, driving from London, and that evening we had another message, via Mrs. Cadby who delivered it in person, that they were 40 miles offshore and would arrive the next morning.  That message we were glad to get.  It was a beautiful evening with a full moon shining on the sea.

So we were all up at dawn to drive a long route to Falmouth, as the King Harry Ferry didn’t operate that early, and to wait on the rocks by Pendennis Castle and look for them in the morning mist.  Finally we saw them, a tiny speck, a long way out.  When closer, we waved—Barbara, a pennant, and Meg, her skirt—but they didn’t see us, so we jumped into our cars and drove to the harbor.  As they came through the middle of the harbor, looking very sleek and beautiful with ensign flying, they finally saw us but were generally too busy to pay us much attention.  When we reached the pier, we didn’t serve champagne to them—they served it to us, with hot muffins.  They soon sent a cable to Garney reading, “Have reached the other side.”  (During World War I she wrote a song titled, Cable When You Reach the Other Side.)  Then the sun broke through the mist, of course, and the next days continued beautiful.

We stayed with Jeff and Sydney at the Hotel Tresanton in St. Mawes, a marvelous Mediterranean-style hotel overlooking harbor and town, with terraces down to the sea.  Jeff and Sydney toured Cornwall, and Bill and family started to move onto the boat.  On the last day we crossed to Falmouth by passenger ferry and, after a short cruise out of the harbor aboard Felicity, sailed back to St. Mawes, where we said goodbye for a year to Bill and family. 

Our intention had been to start immediately toward London, and the car was packed and ready at the pier, but we discovered that Bob had by mistake handed in his rental-car keys, instead of Bill’s, to the Harbor Master in Falmouth.  The last passenger ferry had gone, so he had to be driven the 40 or more miles to Falmouth and back via the King Harry Ferry.  In time Mrs. Cadby came to the rescue, only one example of her great kindness to us. 

Meanwhile I thought I would have a late-afternoon swim in the harbor, but my bathing suit was locked in the car, so I bought an Indian cotton shirt and went swimming in that.  Bill and Barbara, coming by later in the dinghy (Timothy rowing), were quite surprised to find me still there and swimming about in such a strange shirt.  Meg, who had been counting up points against Bob all summer when he made errors, opened the telephone booth where he was trying to reach the Harbor Master in Falmouth and said, “Robert—100 points.”

Finally, in the dark, we left for Bath on the way to Heathrow, where we would fly to Sweden.  Jeff and Sydney began a long drive to Scotland, where they at last met up with rain, so they returned to London and went to the theater.  We were very sorry to leave the sea, sun, and family. 

Washington 1983

THE BOSTON TRAVELLER

T’Garney, T’Garney, T’Garney
(Some of it rhymes, some of it scans, but keep your eye on the meter.)

THE BOSTON TRAVELLER
Or West Newton’s Law (Force = MA)

In eighteen-ninety-seven Henry Adams thought he saw
The world turned faster and was more complex,
But it was a poor deduction for a man of his acumen.
What happened was that Mardie hit the decks.

Was ‘ninety-seven spinning
Before the car, the phone, the jet?
As Mardie said to Henry,
“You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”

Goethe traveled far—in Weimar,
And Thoreau stayed close to his pond,
But Mardie is hardy—you hardly can time her.
First she’s here, then she’s there and beyond.

Let beatniks beat and hippies hip,
Mardie’s ready to take a trip.

When most Bostonians travel
They go by way of Dedham.
When her feet kick up the gravel,
They go any way she heads ‘em.

Via Rimini and Oslo,
Delos and the Marble Arch,
It may be that she’ll show
Up here, in August or in March.

When the sputnik was invented,
And the astronauts climbed in,
It seemed a very risky thing to do,
But we have a faded photo,
Taken many years ago,
Of Mardie in a biplane built for two.

So we had some anxious moments
When we saw the rockets race.
It seemed likely it was Mardie
On her way to outer space.

I think she’s in Hawaii,
But it may be Puerto Rico,
Or London or Miami Beach or Rome,
But if it isn’t Athens,
Or Spokane or Tallahassee,
It may be that you’ll find her there at home.

But they tell me she has moved again,
And I don’t know where to look.
She has emptied out the attic
And thrown out all the books.

If you’re looking for the front door,
She has moved it round in back.
The kitchen’s on the top floor,
And she’s given Cook the sack.

But now we’ve pinned her down
And have her where we want her,
Outnumbered by more than few.
The point is that we have a message to deliver,
To wit:
We often don’t know where you are,
But where would we be without you?

Epilogue

When Justice Holmes was ninety
And he saw a pretty wench,
He turned and watched her with a lecherous stare.
Then, with just a gentle sigh, he
Said to his companion on the bench,
“How I wish that I were seventy once more.”

The moral of that poem’s
Watch out for Justice Holmes.

rwb 1967

Mississippi Mud

Carleton Island

When, at the end of time, all the decades are counted and all the music written, the l920’s will—to the sound of ‘My Baby Just Cares for Me’—be remembered as the decade of no regrets, 

My baby don’t care for rings
Or other exotic things
My baby just cares for me  . . .

Freud was scarcely known, children’s education left to pretty young teachers in low cut dresses and the general trend of things set less by relativity theory or the bending of starlight than by Mae West who said, “A man in the house is worth two on the street” and “I never met a man I didn’t like”.  If in philosophy there was Ludwig Wittgenstein, in fiction there was Bertie Wooster who, it is reported,

. . . spent the afternoon musing on Life.  If you come to think of it what a queer thing Life is.  So unlike anything else don’t you know if you see what I mean.

In Council Bluffs, where at Lake Manawa women in black georgette danced evening foxtrots at a lakeside pavillion, the event of the year was the Pure Food Show, and in Wellesley, where there were no events at all, housewives without a care, in Studebakers, made like small drawing rooms with wall-mounted vases for flowers, sped down Forest Street to secret assignations at the Maugus Club.  Seductresses were everywhere, and Moral Rearmament still only a mote in Frank Buchman’s eye.
None of this was wasted on us, none on our mother and father (of whom, one would have to say, it was especially not wasted) and none on me, born in 1921, year of ‘Someday I’ll Find You’ (moonlight behind you).  Also none on my younger brother Theodore, born in 1924, year of ‘Somebody Loves Me’, who now wishes me to report on the decade, since he was at this time still very small. My report, which I hope won’t disappoint, is that, while for many it seems to have been a time peopled by foreign persons waiting by telephones or meeting by Spanish waterfalls, it was for me a time when—as at dusk the light from the Babson Park airfield swept across our house—only life’s central melody, the song of romance, was heard.  It seems  in fact that I cannot so much remember the 1920’s as hear it.  Our younger brothers, born only at the end of the decade may not remember Ramona ,

Ramona, when day is done I’ll hear you call
Ramona, we’ll meet beside the waterfall . . .

but if they ask I will sing it for them. Continue Reading »

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