Friday, July 25, 2014


Norm died three years ago -- but I just received a cordial email from his insurance agent:

   I'd like to wish you a
  happy birthday.

Dear Norman,

I hope you enjoy your special day. May the next year be safe and prosperous. Thanks for being my customer. I look forward to keeping you in Good Hands®.


Samuel Nash
My Website

P.S. Just a friendly reminder that now might be a good time to check the expiration date on your driver's license.

Assuming Norm is indeed in Good Hands, I unsubscribed him.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Wildlife Adventures

The deer clan that hides in our big suburban block had babies this spring, and mothers are bringing their  Bambis – still dappled with those camouflaging white spots – right outside my desk window so they can be taught how to eat the hosta.

Meanwhile, Nathan just popped in from the living room to announce there’s a rabbit out beyond the willow tree.  Nathan is 15, up from Manhattan to take a serious cooking course at Wegmans.  This afternoon he borrowed my library card to take out a stack of CDs (or whatever they are,) and he's now engaged in an all-Dr.-Who–all-the-time TV marathon, with episodes going back to the 1960s.  It’s reassuring to see that on this perfect summer day he evidently spares a glance for the back lawn now and then.   I suppose he'll eat supper at the coffee table.
I wish I knew more about rabbit watching -- do those big ears denote some particular species, or do all rabbits look like that?  Any information welcome.

Monday, July 21, 2014

What I started to tell you about Elizabeth

I just spent a fruitless half hour scrolling over digitized old slides to find that one of our long-ago cleaning lady Elizabeth -- WHY haven't I labelled those photos?  You'll just have to picture for yourself a smiling wiry little woman, about my age, which would mean in her 40s when she came to us in the 1960s.  She once told me her name was really Elsbietta, or something along that line.  She had emigrated with her husband and young children after The War, under some program that re-settled DPs -- stateless Displaced Persons -- in the United States.  And eventually I discovered she came from the same town in Lithuania that my mother had left a couple of generations earlier.
But that's not what I started out to tell you. 
Elizabeth came in once so downcast, I had to ask what was the matter.  Well, said Elizabeth, you know that amber is our national jewel.  And last Saturday night, she'd had a party to celebrate her husband's new American citizenship.  (I'd done the same thing when Norm, born in Canada, "got his papers".)  And during their party, someone went into Elizabeth's bedroom, opened her top drawer and stole her collection of amber.
A few years later, Norm and I are on a bus tour of North Africa, and in a marketplace we see a really nice amber necklace.  It's priced ridiculously cheap, and our tour guide immediately bargains it down even further.  Can it be real?  And finally -- for something like $3 -- it's worth the chance.  We could take it home for Elizabeth.  Back at the hotel, we rub it to see if it will pick up bits of paper -- no way, no magnetism, no amber.  What we had was excellent plastic.
It looked a lot like this.
So we're home, I unpack, the necklace sits on my dresser.  Elizabeth shows up on Monday, admires the "amber".  I explain that we wanted to give it to her but it turned out to be fake.  "Can I have anyway?"  asks Elizabeth.
So here's what I started out to tell you.
Elizabeth dies.  Norm and I go to visiting hours at the Funeral Home.  The coffin is open, there she lies in a dark silk dress and guess what?  I whisper to Norm "That's the necklace we bought in Morocco."
Her husband hears, and he hastens to reassure us:
"Oh, we don't bury it!  We just trying to decide should go to the daughter or the daughter-in-law?"

So we didn't either. 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Hang on, Gang!

More scintillating posts will make their way here sooner or later -- just not right now.  I'm not quitting, just having a lot of company and waiting for something to happen.  Do dip in every now and then just to check.

Sunday, July 13, 2014


It’s three-quarters of a century since I stayed up all night finishing a book I couldn't put down.  In the summer of 1939, I hid out in the bathroom with Gone With the Wind.

Just did it a second time, 75 years later -- well, in bed, not in the bathroom.   The book is Orange is the New Black.  If you haven't read it -- highly recommended.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Needle and Thimble

       What was it like during the war, Grandma?  For one thing, there was a severe labor shortage and girls could get just about any job they wanted.  You’re probably too young to remember Rosie the Riviter (“that little frail can do/ more that a male can do/ Rosie – brrrrrrr – the Riverter!” )
        I was a paid camp counsellor at 16 and a reporter at 18.  Then -- with the war not long over -- with only a bachelor's degree I went right into a position as the journalism department at a small college, paid extra to live in a dorm as “house mother” to boot.    
       Anyhow, what brought all this on was something Amy found while we were researching the 1944 issues of the Penn Yan Chronicle Express the other day.  My father was superintendent of the clothing plant that was the village’s biggest employer.  He died more than 60 years ago, so it was a delight for me to find a little classified ad he must have written -- it sounds like him.  Shows you how hard up he was for workers:

I do like the factory's phone number -- 424

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Spoiler: Cryptogram Solution

Perhaps you  remember Ralphie -- how excited he was to send off the Ovaltine label and wait for his Little Orphan Annie Decoder Ring to arrive -- and with what anticipation he took down the secret message at the end of the radio show and sat at the kitchen table to deceipher it.  And the let-down when all it said was
                              "Be Sure to Drink Your Ovaltine!"
I'm remembering Ralphie because I was so excited to find a cryptogram in my high school notebook -- a secret message with exclamation points!! -- that I'd written? copied from somewhere? perhaps in 1942?  I couldn't wait to solve it, spent a happy and absorbing time at it yesterday, and this is what I found --
This war is a titanic world struggle in which the life and future of our country are at stake! The Nation needs your help!  Buy defense stamps and bonds!

Where do you suppose I copied that from?  It must have been earlier than 1942, because the War started in 1941.  Defense Bonds were surely known as War Bonds by 1942? -- and the posters had become a lot more emotional.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Secret Message!

Found an old high-school notebook, and it’s more interesting than one would have thought.  Here’s a page I wanted to show you – in careful script, part of a speech, florid language that sounds genuinely teen-age “…the cries of your fellowmen which strike chords in your soul…”  Aw, c’mon  -- and today I know the "which" should be "that."
Then there’s a tiny sketch of an angle of elevation; I suppose in those days we all knew what “sin x” meant.   And we were evidently getting a well-rounded education – there’s a reading list on foreign policy.  One of the authors was John Gunther (remember his books?) and another was Foster Rhea Dulles – hmm, interesting.  Do you suppose that was Their mother?  father?
But what got me excited was the cryptogram in the bottom left.  A secret message from the past!  And two of its sentences ending in exclamation points!  Was I exchanging these with a friend?  Leaving important clues for the 21st Century?  I couldn’t wait to decipher it.

On the off chance that someone out there would like to solve a simple substitution crypt, I’ll wait until tomorrow to tell you what it said.  You’ve got a head start, because it looks as if, back in 1942, I’d already found the easy giveaways – this is, the and a.   

Summer Reading

When you’re my age, you read the Obituaries.  I’ll guarantee it – ask your grandmother.  At first it’s just to see how old the dead people were – well, I’m older than that! --or -- well, maybe I can get to be that old too!  Then it gets interesting (would it count as sociology?) to see what the survivors find to say about the dear departed (though when I complimented Simon Pontin on his wife’s obituary, he said cheerfully “She wrote it.”)  Then you start looking for people you know, but after a while most people you know are already dead.
     What struck me in today’s death notices was the phrases used instead of the word “died”. Not a single one of today's 30 just plain up and died.   My attention was first arrested by one who  “Slipped the Surly Bonds of Earth”  and Google confirmed my suspicion that was a quote – poem by a pilot who died in World War II.  Others today are less literary.  “Passed on” and “Passed away” are pretty popular, and a few people simply "passed."  Today we do have “Angels took Jane home”.  Several in this group passed away “peacefully” and one “at home surrounded by her family.”  Very nice indeed.  One died unexpectedly.  No age given, but he was married 54 years, so that puts him at least in his mid 70s.   There are worse ways to go.
     Almost everyone listed today was “predeceased” by various relatives.  It’s not that I’m a fuddy-duddy about new words  -- I’m perfectly happy, for example, to friend and un-friend people.  But come on, isn’t “predeceased” about the ugliest word ever coined?
     The cheery sailor at the top of this page survived to be 94, but he didn’t get the little American flag icon one sees increasingly these days, as the ten million who served in WW II die off.  Vito Sabetta, down toward the bottom of the page, did get the flag.  His obituary lists his relatives, but all it tells us about his adventures during 101 years on this earth is one single thing.  Speaking of
D-Day, as we have been --
"He fought on Omaha Beach."