X is for Xerox (and other copying methods)

I always blamed my mother for the abundance of paper in our house.

She saved articles from the newspaper, newsletters, and magazines that interested her. Booklets, pamphlets, stapled-together packets of paper from church meetings, Cooperative Extension, the Red Cross and various volunteer activities filled her desk.

She saved recipes by the hundreds. Six boxes of recipes on index cards sit on the bottom shelf of her recipe cupboard.The two upper shelves overflow with cookbooks and recipes pulled from magazines.

The other day, I found a booklet from 1983 called “When Parents Grow Old: A Training Design for use with Adult Children Caring for Aging Parents” by John I. Rhea. My mother had neatly written her name across the top, and saved it — for me. Little did she know.

I’m beginning to realize that my father probably saved just as many papers. He catalogued his and filed them neatly in folders. Or put them in scrapbooks.

My mother’s storage method was more like a silo — just shovel everything in, using paper clips, staples, and tape liberally.

My father is most definitely a filing cabinet man.

I take after my mother.

A few years ago we cleaned out his home office to make space for a full bathroom downstairs. I found a 2 inch 3-ring binder full of “fwd: fwd: fwd:” email messages that he had printed out.

Here’s my way of dealing with those types of emails:

This little email went fwd:
This little email went fwd: fwd:
And this little email went re: re: re: re:
All the way to the trash.

I looked at the jam-packed binder full of warm-fuzzy stories and mildly off-color jokes, and shook my head. He didn’t understand about saving them electronically. He printed them all out. And punched holes in them. And stuck them in a binder.

I confess – I threw them all away. More than one fwd: earns that fate.

My intention for this post was to give you a brief history of modern-ish duplication processes — like carbon paper, mimeos, dittos, and xeroxes (a.k.a. photocopies). I’m sure I have examples of each in the massive volumes of papers in this house. But I have no energy for that today, and I’m already a day behind.

The truth is, in the early days, my father wrote things out long-hand, and then typed them. So early papers of his that I have in duplicate, like his college application essay, are done using this method.

However, many of his mechanically copied papers, even from the 1940s, fall into that fwd-fwd-fwd realm like this one, from “Moving Up Day” in high school:

I struggle to throw it away, though.

I’ll just put it back in the silo (plastic tote).

W is for Work

“Compulsive” — That’s the word my father used to describe himself when I asked him about the detailed lists he kept of his expenses and his earnings.

“My parents didn’t have much money, you know, but it was important to them that I go to college. I wanted them to be proud of me. I wanted them to know that they weren’t wasting their money,” he told me.

I see proof that he worked very hard, even from a young age.

One year for his birthday, my sister gave him this framed picture:

My father and his brother had both worked at the Brookside Store — which was also a gas station — and was also the post office. And may still be a post office.

When my father went to college, he carefully calculated out all his finances.

Expenses for College Year

Earnings for College Year

He also, week by week, noted all his expenses and all his earnings. Here’s one page from that packet:

I asked my father about the names in the right-hand column. Many he didn’t remember, but Mr. Johnston’s name elicited a very warm response — “Oh, I remember Mr. Johnston! He was such a gentleman. He was always very kind to me.”

“When you wrote ‘working for Mr. Johnston’ or ‘working for Mr. Bennett,’ what did you do?” I asked him.

“Yard work or whatever they needed help with,” he replied.

“And ‘waiting at fraternity,'” I asked, “is that waiting table?”

“Yes, I did a lot of that,” he said.

The detailed pages bore witness to it.

“I was so compulsive about keeping track,” he said again, laughing.

I see all the work.

 

V is for Vague and Vivid

Ethiopia

Last night at dinner I asked my father to tell me the turtle story again. I had been a little surprised that my sister had never heard the story and wanted to make sure that I hadn’t imagined the whole thing.

“Do you remember the story of the turtle eggs when you were a little boy?” I asked.

“What? Oh… I think my father told me to go check the bag in the pantry and there were turtles in it,” he said. Ah — the detail of the pantry. I had forgotten that.

“But,” I persisted, “didn’t some bigger boys give nuts to you and tell you they were turtle eggs?”

“Maybe,” he said vaguely.

“But when we came down that winding road to the Red Sea, I can still see the man’s face,” he said, as if this was a continuation of the turtle story. “You know that road had so many switchbacks — back and forth,” and he drew a zig-zag in the air to show me, “and when we got there, the man had this big smile on face because he was so happy I had arrived and he could go home.”

Switchbacks

This memory crops up quite frequently these days. He remembers vividly the expression on one man’s face at a very specific point in time.

“Where is Mom buried?” he asked, as if something about that memory had reminded him of her. It was the first time he has ever asked me that.

“At the columbarium at the church,” I replied.

Last year for Mother’s Day, I had tried to interest him in bringing flowers to the columbarium. I bought a plant and had Bud drop us off at the cemetery before church so we could pause for a moment with Mom. My father, however, didn’t pause. He just hurried toward the church. I placed the pansies there by myself, feeling a double sadness, and hurried after him.

“I met Elinor when I had that job picking up IV bottles from the nurses’ stations. We got to talking and hit it right off,” he said, continuing last night’s dinner conversation.

I started to ask him to elaborate on it. I wanted to know if he remembered what they talked about (which was hiking).

Arial view of the switchbacks

“But you should have seen that guy’s face,” my father said, changing gears again without notice. “He had the biggest smile because I was there and he could go home.”

I’m never quite sure what I should take from the story.

Is it the switchbacks? My father certainly incorporates switchbacks into many conversation now — not necessarily the story of the switchbacks, but actually switchbacks, where he changes direction so often and so quickly that I can’t always follow.

Or, is it the arrival at a new place and the beginning of a great new adventure?

Or, is it the idea of going home and the great joy that brings?

U is for Untold Stories

I found this picture yesterday and showed it to my father.

“Do you remember this man?” I asked.

He shook his head. “No, I don’t think so,” he replied.

“On the back it says, ‘Successful defibrillation and external massage’ — Does that help?” I asked.

He studied the photograph for a few more minutes. “No, I don’t remember any of that,” he finally said.

I imagine that in the life of a physician there are thousands of untold stories. Lives, limbs, trajectories changed in the course of a single decision or moment.

In January 1964, Everett Barrett didn’t die from a heart attack in Ethiopia. CPR and defibrillation saved him. I think my father had something to do with it.

Everett Barrett died two years later stateside. But during 1964-65, he worked for the fire department at the army base in Ethiopia. I can’t help but wonder if he saved any lives, too, during those years.

You know — lives saved because his life was saved.

The gift of life bestowed is a like a pebble thrown in a pond, sometimes with far-reaching ripples.

We never know how far those ripple reach.

 

 

T is for Turtle Eggs

When my father was a little boy, some bigger boys gave him a bag of turtle eggs. They looked remarkably like chestnuts that grew on some of the trees in their town.

“Take these home and keep them in a warm place. Turtles will hatch,” they told him, probably guffawing to themselves at the naiveté and gullibility of this little boy.

He brought them home and showed them to his father.

“You take good care of those,” his father said.

For days, he checked the bag. Nothing seemed to be happening.

Eventually, he forgot about them, caught up in other little boy activities, like baseball and playing with his dog, Mugsy.

A couple of weeks later, his father said, “Have you checked those turtle eggs lately? I thought I heard something in there.”

He ran to where he had stashed the brown paper bag holding the chestnuts. The bag was moving! Scratchy sounds were coming from it!

Cautiously, he opened the bag to see what was inside.

In the bag were some little turtles, their shells about the size of a silver dollar.

How did his father know they were in there?

S is for Siblings (a pictorial essay)

First there was my father —

Ocean Grove, 1930

Actually, before my father, there was Janice Aline, a daughter who lived only a day. Little over a year later, my father was born.

Then his brother, Stewart, came along.


I showed my father the picture today and asked him to identify the person.

“That’s my brother, Stewart. He’s really smart!”

He went on to become a Supreme Court Justice in the state of New Jersey.

Next came Polly — except that wasn’t her name at first. Her given name was an old family name and she changed it to Polly.

Isn’t she cute?
I remember as a little girl thinking she was the most beautiful, most glamorous person in the whole world.

When I found out that she traveled to Yugoslavia in 1960 and worked on a road crew for the summer, she became even more legendary in my eyes.

Stewart, my father, their mother, Polly

 

Family portrait

Back row: Stewart, Polly, my father
Middle row: Penny (Stewart’s wife), my grandmother, my grandfather, my mother
Front row (and laps): my cousin Wendy, my sister Donabeth, my brother Stewart, my brother Peter

Back row: My father, my mother, Polly, Penny, Stewart (my father’s brother)
Middle row: Stewart (my brother), Peter, Donabeth, my grandmother, my grandfather, Wendy, Stewart (my cousin)
Front row: Me and my cousin Jeff

Everyone… my grandparents; my father and mother, his siblings, and their spouses; all my siblings and all my cousins

Prolific

Siblings — summer of 2016

As Brad Paisley sang, “All because two people fell in love.”

 

R is for Red Sox

When my father was in the Emergency Room the other day, I knew he was missing the Red Sox game so I brought it up on my phone. Through the Red Sox website, we couldn’t watch the game, but we could get details of what was happening.

I read it off as best I could. “Okay, Dad. Machado is batting for Baltimore. Sales threw a slider. It went low and inside for a ball.”

At first, he said, “How do you know all that?” and I would show him the tiny words on the screen.

Later in the game. “Okay, next pitch — a swinging strike for Santander,” I said.

“Who’s Santander?” Dad asked.

“Baltimore’s right fielder,” I said.

“Oh, okay,” he said, and closed his eyes while he laid back on the bed.

Still later. “Sales threw a fastball and –”

My father interrupted me. “You’ve got to make it sound exciting! Put some enthusiasm in your voice!”

I told him I would try, but I was tired and didn’t. A radio announcer I am not.

I’m sure he listened to many baseball games on the radio when he was a boy. I know that he and his brother sometimes took the train into the city to watch the Brooklyn Dodgers play. Once, when they were riding the train, they saw Mel Ott, a well-known NY Giants player. He was wearing a suit and trying to keep a low profile. When my uncle went over to ask for his autograph, Mel Ott carefully looked this way and that to make sure nobody else would notice, then signed as surreptitiously as possible. My father laughs whenever he tells the story, imitating the expression on Mel Ott’s face and the way he looked around him.

When the Dodgers moved to the west coast, my father had to choose another team and opted for the Red Sox.

His two baseball heroes represent those two teams — Jackie Robinson from the Brooklyn Dodgers and Ted Williams from the Red Sox.

“How’s your father doing?” someone asked me the other day. “He must be happy with the way the Red Sox season has started.”

They ARE doing well. From the Red Sox website:

The Red Sox are just the seventh team in the modern era (since 1900) to win at least 16 of their first 18 games. They are the first to do it since the 1987 Brewers. Of the four previous teams, two won the World Series — the 1984 Tigers and the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers.

“Yes, I think he’s happy,” I replied. “He’s a pretty avid fan.”

“Avid? AVID?” the man said. “I think you mean RABID.”

Avid. Rabid. You get the picture.

He and my mother used to make pilgrimages to Fenway in the summer.

I remember going with them as a child. I don’t remember the baseball game, but I remember waiting afterwards in a long line to eat at a restaurant call Durgin Park.  The line went up a flight of steep narrow stairs. At the top I leaned in to see how much longer we would have to wait and a waitress picked me up to move me out of the way.

My mother and father had eaten there years before. From their scrapbook:

Durgin Park 1954?

Durgin Park menu

One summer my parents took my oldest sons with them to Fenway. The only thing the boys ever told me about that game is how the dugouts emptied for some brawls.

Philip, Sam, Owen, and my mom before the Red Sox game

When my father retired in 1999, someone wrote a song for him called “Amazing Don.” One verse, undoubtedly written by a Yankee fan, addressed his love for the Red Sox —

The cards from his recent party also reflect his love for the team —I could go on and on —

Mom and Luis Tiant

Lego man

Johnny Damon

Scrapbook program

Books (a mere tip of the iceberg)

Not to mention bobbleheads, t-shirts, sweatshirts, caps, pins, you name it.

Somewhere upstairs is the 1967 “Red Sox Impossible Dream” vinyl album. Somewhere in my treasures is a Carl Yastrzemski pin from that same year.

The photo challenge word of the week is “prolific.” This is more an abundance.

And abundance that comes from decades of cheering on a team through thick and thin.

Authentic fandom.

He still fist-pumps when they score a run or make a good play.

Even in the emergency room with an unenthusiastic announcer telling him about it.