Saturday, November 21, 2015

Baby Pictures

Can you identify these Northen family babies?  They are all either  one of my five children or seven grandchildren. Obviously, some are easier than others.  The choices are: Amelia, Andrew, Connor, Eli, Jack, Liam, Maggie, Maura, Maya, Melissa, Owen and Pat. Only one of each.

Answers are Below

Answers (left to right, )
Top row: Maggie, Jack, Maura, Connor
Middle row: Pat, Liam, Maya, Andrew
Bottom Row: Eli, Melissa, Owen, Amelia

Monday, November 16, 2015

Good Luck Journal

            One of my projects over the last year or so is to go back and read from the beginning the journals that I began keeping in about 1970.  They were originally all hand written and then around 1999 I transitioned to keeping them on computer.  Today I began reading a new volume of my journal.  It begins on June 14, 1990 and leads off with one of the more upbeat entries.
            It is the last school day of the year for Maya, who had just graduated from elementary school and will be headed for middle school.  She received the “Creative Writing Award” for her class and Eli received “Best All Around Student” for his.  Several days later, there are entries saying that Maura’s high school graduation has come up and that she has just been involved in an All State band convention for her school where she had been in charge of orchestrating all of the student activities.  In her class yearbook, she was voted “most likely to return to school as a teacher” and “least likely to ditch college for 4 years and go skiing in the Alps”.  Meanwhile, Melissa had just been promoted to head chorister in her choir at St. Paul’s and was also trying out for a part in a Shakespeare in the Park production in Delaware Park (which she eventually got).  Pat was beginning one of those boring summer jobs that everyone needs to be able to put under their belt and say – thank God it’s not my career.
            While I know that for some journal writing seems a form of narcissism, to me it is not only just a safety net for my own memories (and a way of keeping those memories I have honest). When I read in just a few pages about what talented (and now successful) kids I have, it allows me realize just how exceptionally lucky I am.  While I was never the type of parent to go around forcing pictures of my children on unsuspecting strangers I have always been proud of them and feel compelled to admit that my good luck continues:  Eli’s architecture firm is going well and he is now “flipping” his first house; Pat was just named general council for his law firm; Maura was been put in charge of operations for implementing new computer programs at her job; Melissa has gotten her yoga instructor’s certifications and is teaching classes; and Maya is in charge of front desk operations and scheduling for CHF (she has also finished writing her first novel).  Of, course, I’m not bragging…  
            In addition to what I re-discovered about my kids, I also found within the first few pages a two other things that were a bit more arcane.  The first was a note mentioning that Dad was one of the people who helped build the original golf course at Disney World – there’s a huge back-story there, the second was a poem I’d discovered I’d written that I had completely forgotten.  Since it is November and my productive output this year is zilch, I think I will simply steal from the past and reprint it here:

In the basement
of an abandoned house
Tinkerbell is trapped
n a Franklin stove.
Her faint light flickers.
The audience has all gone home.
She strains at the sound
of imagined applause,
it is only a bulldozer overhead
sharpening its jaws
to raze the building
where a drive thru bank
will be erected

Aside from the capitalization and lack of punctuation, I’d actually say it was finished.
            I could perhaps embarrass all five of my children by also reprinting poems that they wrote when they were young and that I have also kept in the journal. Since none of them have deemed poetry a worthwhile pursuit for an adult, however, I’ll leave their past efforts to the past. I think their current successes stand them in good enough stead.

Friday, November 13, 2015

What Do You Know About Famous Books?

Even if you don't think of yourself as a literary buff, you probably know more about famous books in literature than you think that you do. Just for fun, here is a little quiz for you to check yourself on.  There are two parts and in each, I give you the first line of a famous novel. Part one is the easiest. Name the book and who wrote it.  The second part is a bit tougher so it is multiple choice for the title, but you still try to name the author.  One point each for title and author with a total of 20 points.

1. “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” __________

2. “Alice was beginning to get very tired sitting on the bank and having nothing to do.” ____________

3. “You don’t know me without you have read a book of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no  
    matter.  ___________

4. “Call me Ishmael.” ______________

5. “Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.” ____________-  

The next five are multiple choice. Don’t forget to name the author.

6. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”
   (a) The Hobbit, (b) Jane Eyre, (c) A Tale of Two Cities, (d) Frankenstein

7. “It was a bright cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen.”
   (a) 1984, (b) The Red Badge of Courage, (c) Moby Dick, (d) Ulysses

8. “When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow.”
   (a) The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, (b) To Kill a Mockingbird, (c) The Sound and the Fury,
   (d) Fifty Shades of Grey

9. “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
   (a) The Scarlet Letter, (b) Ulysses, (c) Anna Karenina, (d) Lolita

10.  “Mother died today. Or maybe it was yesterday. I don’t know.”  
   (a) One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, (b) Beloved, (c) Of Mice and Men (d) The Stranger


  1. The Hobbit. J.R.R. Tolkien
  2. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Lewis Carroll    
  3. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain     
  4. Moby Dick. Herman Melville  
  5. Mrs. Dalloway. Virginia Woolf  
  6. (c) Charles Dickens
  7. (a) George Orwell
  8. (b) Harper Lee
  9. (c) Leo Tolstoy
  10. (d) Albert Camus

How did you do?
18-20 – You’re a lit major.
15-17 – People consider you well-read.
10-14 – You have a god balance between reading and television.
5-9 – You spend a lot of time with ESPN or Facebook
less than 5 – Do you know who Ann Frank is?                                     

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Aunt Beryl

While almost anyone in the family would agree that my mother did not have an easy life, that claim could be made of almost any of her siblings - and perhaps in particular her sister Beryl.  Beryl was born in 1924, three years younger than Mom and in many ways they were similar. They were about the same height, both with blond hair and round faces that seeming to take after the Sitzmann side of the family. Both loved to talk and smiled a lot and, out of a family with ten children, they were the two who ended up with the most children themselves - Beryl with six and Mom with seven. She and Mom were running about even and Beryl might  have had more, except for the turn that her life took in 1958.

Beryl was married to a man named Mickey Near.  My memories of him are vague. The earliest that I remember seeing him was in was when we lived in San Diego and I was ten or eleven years old.  Her had dark wavy hair and had a reputation for drinking. I remember little about him except that I did not like him. He seemed a bit of a braggadocio and so different from my father, not the kind of person I felt comfortable around.  The one concrete thing I remember was that we were playing cribbage and he commented that the only time he had ever lost a game was to a blind man.  That level of humor probably captures the general aura that surrounded him.

When I was twelve and beginning seventh grade, my family moved up to Santa Ana. We lived on South Baker St., only a few blocks away from Aunt Beryl and her family who lived on Camden Ave.  We would go around to visit them and all of the cousins were expected to play together. At that time Mom had five (Ed was the youngest) and Beryl had four.  The oldest two in each set were parallel ages.  Beryl’s oldest, Teresa, was six months younger than me.  She had her dad’s wavy black hair, light skin and freckles. No one ever actually called her by her given name.  Instead she was called Tinker or just Tink.  Her next youngest sister Patty, was tall, thin and had dark blond hair. The two had very different personalities.  Tink was precocious and brash, whereas Patty was quieter. Patty died of lupus in her mid-twenties, without children and having been married only a few years. The rumor was that when she began to get really sick, her husband deserted her.  Tink’s life took quite a different course.  When our families got together the house was crowded.

It was not long after we were settled into our place in Santa Ana and I was attending junior high, that Beryl called Mom to say that Mickey had died. She found him lying on the bathroom floor. The circumstances of his death were never exactly clear but it appeared to be connected with his drinking. Making the situation even more difficult  was that Beryl was pregnant when Mickey died. Beryl pledged that whether her child were a boy or a girl (there were no ultrasounds in those days), she would name it after her husband. So her youngest daughter was named Mickie.  This was in 1958.  At age 34, Beryl was widowed with five children. 

How Beryl met Frank Liska, I have no idea, but within a couple of years, they were married. Beryl was 36 and Frank just 32. Frank was originally from New York, the first easterner in the family. He wasn’t the handsomest guy in the world – he had a head of hair like Larry Fine and was already starting to bald in the middle – but of all my male relatives, Frank may have been the nicest and most genuine. I heard others say more than once that it took a pretty remarkable person to make the commitment to raise five kids that were not his own. 

No doubt Uncle Frank’s commitment (and Aunt Beryl’s too) was tested pretty soon because in 1962 at age 15 Tink was pregnant and, like any Catholic girl of that time, got married. It wasn’t exactly a shotgun wedding, but it was probably pretty close. Her husband’s name was Marion Blair, but he went by Junior. So by the time that she was 37, Beryl was also a grandmother. 

Shortly, thereafter Frank started a business putting up block walls called Star Construction.  Frank hired my Dad and Junior to work with him. It was long, tough work.  Dad would come home with his hand torn and calloused from working with the blocks all day.  Even so, Dad and Frank were proud of their work because they could drive almost anywhere near the city of Orange and see their walls lining all of the homes in the mushrooming the suburbs.  When I was 16, not long after the company started,  I worked for it too as a mason tender during the summer between my junior and senior year of high school. Both Dad and Frank had a tremendous work ethic, but Junior, Dad used to say, though a nice enough guy wasn’t much of a worker.

Once I graduated from high school I pretty much lost contact with Aunt Beryl’s family.  They eventually all ended up moving north to Paradise in Butte County, California. No one in Mom’s family had it easy. “Happy Days” notwithstanding, life wasn’t easy for everyone in the fifties.  When vying for which of my mother’s siblings had the most to contend with, though, I’d say Aunt Beryl was in the running for top place.