Monday, March 23, 2015

Birthday Picture

Last week I was at a lecture at the Philadelphia Historical Society about  using various family documents to try to put together a family tree.  One of the speakers was talking about how family pictures can be misleading.  She put one up on the screen and was pointing out that the places in which people were standing made you draw conclusions that were not necessarily correct. In fact, a couple of the people in the picture were not even family members.

On my old computer downstairs, my desktop screen shows the following picture.


As I was look at it today, I remembered the lecture and thought that if someone in the future saw came across this picture, they might draw a few wrong conclusions so I decided to play a bit of a game with myself to see what I might think, if I knew nothing about this family. Here goes. 

The picture is of a birthday party.  The boy in the great sweatshirt who is blowing out the candles is probably turning about ten years old, though it is hard to tell because of the flames.  Looking on are his two brothers.  They all have similar haircuts.  The youngest who looks to be about three has the same hair and skin color as the birthday both and the same eye color has his oldest brother who is about thirteen.  Watching them is their grandmother or possibly an older aunt – she looks young to have a thirteen year old grandson, but a bit old to be the mother of the youngest boy.  Both boys are wearing sweatshirts that, if you put the names together spell Eagles, so they probably live in Philadelphia. If it is football season, then this picture is probably taking place in fall.  This is backed up by the fact that the grandmother is wearing a sweater in the house as is someone whose elbow we can only see.

These are the most obvious guesses, but  one might guess that the elbow belongs to the boys’ mother.  The picture on the wall behind them looks like a large family group, so it is likely that their mother would be there for the party. (As opposed to the boys living with their grandmother.)   The house is probably a good size house – or at least not a small one because the stairs in the background show that there is a second floor.   The table we are looking at is just a portion of what appears to be a much larger table so this must be the dining room.   The display of plates behind them also has more the look of a dining room than a kitchen.  It is a dining room that is actually used for eating, though, because there are salt and pepper shakers on the table and those don’t go too well with cake. The birthday boy likes diet coke, while the grandmother prefers crush which she drinks from a can rather than using a glass like her grandson. 

Since this is a family blog, anyone who is reading this, will recognize that a couple of the conclusions drawn here are wrong, but I think it is an interesting exercise in  making assumptions.  No doubt some of you would have come up with different inferences.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Spring 1948 - a cameo

            Recently Lora, Maya and I took a trip to Lisbon.  It was a three day stop on route to a conference in Marrakech.  We’d first landed in Casablanca and then taken a plane to Portugal.  As we walked out onto the tarmac in the Lisbon airport to board the plane for our return trip to Casablanca, we were surprised to see that we were walking towards not a jet, but a propeller plane.  Knowing that we were going to be flying over a stretch of the Mediterranean Sea and possibly even the Atlantic to reach Casablanca, this was a cause for dismay among some of the passengers. 
Yesterday as I was working on family history, I came across a document I had never seen before, and it surprised me as much as walking up to that propeller plane in Lisbon.  It was called “Clearance Declaration of Aircraft Commander.” The document was issued on April 20, 1948 in Honolulu, Hawaii.  It was a list of non-Navy passengers who were being transported back to the United States; aboard it were my mother, me and my brother Steve. I was two and my brother Steve, who had born on March 21 of that year, was less than a month old.  As a family, our places of birth made a strange grouping on the  list since Mom’s was as Aberdeen, South Dakota, mine was San Diego, and Steve’s was Honolulu, TH – the TH meaning Territory of Hawaii since Hawaii was not yet a state.  As the document notes, we were “Bound for” Alameda, California. The ultimate destination for the three of us was listed as  838 N. Van Ness St., Santa Ana, California – my grandparents’ house.
As I look at that piece of paper that appeared like something out of a time warp, I wonder how my mother felt on this trip, sixty-four years ago.  It must have been extremely difficult for her.  She was traveling with two young children, having given birth less than a month before, over a distance of 2400 miles, and I can imagine, being a military plane, it was no luxury travel.  It was certainly a propeller plane – one that probably makes my recent plane from Lisbon look like luxury transport. .  Once she landed, she had to make her way down to southern California.  The distance between the two cities, Alameda and Santa Ana, is about 370 miles.  My guess is that she took  a bus. It would have added another day to the journey.  Even for someone who was used to a tough life, this could not have been an easy trip, and I seriously doubt they had massive plates of lamb and Moroccan tangines waiting for them at the other end as I recently did.

Tomorrow is Steve’s birthday, the first full day of spring.  He would have been 65 years old – retirement age.  I always knew that he had been born in Hawaii, but I never imagined that he had been uprooted at only a month old and transported down to begin life in his grandparents’ house.  Of course, one can always see signs and causes in events, if they look long enough, but I wonder if such a beginning had any bearing on the short, often troubled, life that he led.  What might his life have been like given the stability and advantages that my grandchildren have.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Dad Quiz

Meeting up with my brother Pat and his wife Rose in New York last month in New York was a really wonderful occasion for me. Pat and I are fifteen years apart – something that seems a bit strange in today’ smaller families – but because of that, by the time he was in kindergarten, I was already in college.  With a continent between us, it has only been on rare occasions that we had a chance to get together and , often, as for the illness or deaths of our parents, it was not the happiest of circumstances.  Perhaps because I am a bit closer to encountering that scythe-wielding figure myself  that in the last few years it has become important for me to try to fill in some of the gaps in the saga of our family.  I frequently wish that I were able to sit down with Dad or with Mom as she was before she had trouble communicating, and ask them questions about their lives..  There is still much about them that I don’t know or understand.

It has been eighteen years since Dad’s death. Had he lived, he would have been 94 years old this month.  In the spirit of trying to keep some memory of him alive and, perhaps just importantly, passing along a little about him to children and grandchildren who met him long ago, if at all, I’m posting one of my ersatz quizzes .  It is one of those where those who get the most answers wrong my likely benefit the most from having done it.  (For ease, I’ll just use the word “Dad” in the questions.)

1.Dad’s middle name was ______________.
(a)    Edward, (b) Lee, (c) Crocker, (d) Lewis

2. When he was growing up, Dad’s religion was ____________.
               (a) Catholic, (b) Baptist, (c) Episcopal, (d) Seventh Day Adventist

3. Dad played sports on a high school team. What was his sport.  (a) wrestling,
               (b) football,   (c) baseball,  (d) swim team

4.  When Dad was eleven years old, both of his parents died.  How did his mother die.
               (a) heart attack,  (b) scarlet fever,  (c) automobile accident, (d) drowning

5.  After he graduated from high school, Dad joined the Navy.  How long was he in the Navy?
               (b) 5 years, (b) 10 years, (c) 15 years, (d) 20 years

6.  Which of Dad’s sons is named after him. (That is, their middle name is his first name.)
               (a)  Steve, (b) Dave,  (c) Ed, (d) Pat

7. Which of these foods is the only one that Dad did not like to eat.
                (a) tongue,  (b) liver,  (c) pickled pigs feet, (d) mutton

8. Dad always listed his eye color as ___________.
                (a) blue, (b) green, (c) hazel, (d) light brown

9. One of Dad’s favorite sayings was _____________________.
                (a) good things come in small packages
                (b) only the good die young
                (c) if you don’t have anything good to say don’t say
                (d) if its not your ass, its your elbow

10.  Dad always said he couldn’t sing, but when he was younger he did try to learn to play an instrument.
        What was it? (a) guitar,  (b) piano, (c) fiddle, (d) trumpet

(1)    a,  (2) b, (3) c, (4) d, (5) d, (6) a, (7) d, (8) c, (9) c, (10) a

Let us know how you did. If everyone aced it, I’ll have to post something harder.