WHAT HAVE WE HERE?
by Marjorie Roemer
The following pieces represent just one week’s response to a writing prompt in my BOLLI course Journeying Toward Discovery: Writing and Remembering (fall of 2014). The assignment was a classic one: write in response to a photograph or other visual image, a painting or a drawing. Put yourself in the picture, or write about the history of the photograph . . . how you see it now, how you experienced it then.
For me, these pieces are not necessarily examples of the best writing to come out of this remarkable group of writers, but they are significant for the spotlight they throw on what BOLLI members bring to their courses. The assignment is an old chestnut, one we might give to kindergartners as well as to senior citizens . . . write about an image, a task that brings to the fore the depth of experience that informs everything we do and say.
The pieces which follow give some insight into the range of that experience and how imagination and history together shape consciousness.
By Sam Ansell
What have we here? Why it’s a Ken Heymen photograph of three little girls enjoying a hen fest. (In Italian, “gossip” is the onomatopoetic word chiacchiera, pronounced key-AHK- ee-AY-rah.)
The redhead on the right is no doubt dishing up the dirt on some mutual acquaintance. She’s leaning forward in confidential mode but is glancing to the left to make sure unwanted listeners aren’t overhearing. Notice how she’s clutching her stomach as if trying to contain her excitement.
On the left, the little blonde beauty is leaning forward so as to drink in every detail. She’s so absorbed that’s she’s on one leg, scratching it with the other. (God help the local boys when this one reaches adolescence.) Meanwhile, the brunette in the middle seems somewhat limp and uncomfortable, her pained expression hard to read. Maybe she’s a little out of her depth with these high-powered gossip mongers. Maybe she’s afraid the gossip will get back to the person or people under discussion and she’ll be blamed.
What makes the episode especially ironic are the dolls, reminding us that these are the future mothers of America. Our lovely blonde is clutching her doll tightly in a sort of protective mode. The girl in the middle again shows anxiety: she almost seems to have forgotten that she has a doll while the little redheaded babbler on the right has left her doll in a baby carriage – gossip is more fulfilling than doll supervision.
Another remarkable fact about the picture is the symmetry. The four heads (including the middle girl’s doll) form an elongated diamond while the same doll is the fulcrum of the whole shot.
This picture is an example of what the great French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson calls “the decisive moment”: The moment in which an experienced photographer, taking in a thousand details, grasps that those details will shortly coalesce into something very special and has a camera at the ready. The Inexperienced would only have seen three girls yakking, but Ken Heyman instinctively recognized that something extraordinary was about to happen and got the right shot. It takes only a fraction of a second to shoot a great picture; it takes a lifetime of experience and great talent to anticipate and get it.
RE-READING A PHOTOGRAPH
By Marjorie Roemer
Nobody liked this picture. Nobody even liked the vacation. It’s March 1992, a celebration for my mother’s 86th birthday. We are at Penn State, where my daughter Liz was working on her PhD. After having done a big party in New York for my mother’s 75th birthday, I decided that we should do something special for each one of her birthdays. I can’t remember all of them. This would be the next to last, a long weekend visiting Liz in State College. I arranged to have my son David and his wife Celeste fly up from Boston, my mother fly up from Florida, and I flew in from Cincinnati. We had a suite at a Sheraton hotel, I think, replete with Jacuzzi. It should have been fun. My husband Don decided, perhaps wisely, to pass on this particular festivity.
I don’t remember too much about the weekend. We went out for a number of dinners at the best restaurants in town. I remember ordering a cake from a bakery and having it served at one dinner. What went wrong? Liz was probably distracted with work and felt this to be an intrusion. I have only three clear memories: Liz’s car was making a funny sound and my mother said: “Let your brother look at it. He’ll know what’s wrong.” That didn’t play well. Then at the big dinner for her birthday celebration with the cake, I said to my mother: “You have a piece of spinach stuck in your teeth.” She replied: “Can’t you ever say anything nice?” And finally, I ran the Jacuzzi and somehow managed to turn it on when there was not quite enough water in the tub. The water went flying around the bathroom like some kind of dramatic wind and rain storm. I can’t remember now if I had to call for help in my naked predicament. I just remember it as a small disaster.
And finally, the picture. I thought it would be fun to have a family picture taken, so I arranged for this one at the Mountain View Studios. The photographer was very nice, and that part was sort of fun. He took a lot of shots. In the end, when I got the proofs, they were pretty disappointing. There was not one picture where everyone looked good. I remember going to a bar in Cincinnati with my friend Susan Durst, a photographer, and asking her to help me choose the best. We spread them out on a table and studied them. Finally, we hit on this one as the one where no single one of us looked embarrassingly awful. When I sent the pictures to the family, everyone complained. “That’s a terrible picture of me. I hate it,” they said. My mother wouldn’t even look at it.
Now, some twenty-two years later, I don’t mind looking at it.
by Jane Kays
The torn black and white photo leaves me in the dark. One person was ripped away, and it is my father who survived the separation. He is fancily suited and shod as if for an occasion. In another photo, wearing the same attire, he stands beside his daughter, Charlein. I could call her my sister or step-sister, but she was born in 1918, and the years between us create a disconnect.
Who tore the photo, and why? More importantly, who was removed? I have studied this off and on for some time, always wondering and creating different scenarios. In the one unripped photo where Charlein stands with our Dad, her white dress, soft and innocent at her ankles, the crushed band that encircles her waist, and then more softness surrounding her breasts, perhaps not yet fully developed, support the idea that she may be a teen.
Her Dad, my Dad, wraps his arm around her waist, a dad-hug way. She reaches across his shoulder to drape her fingers along his arm, making these two a snug fit, genetically entwined. How often have they embraced while Charlein spent most of her life, since infancy, living with her aunt, away from her father?
I sleuth through other photos looking at my father’s hairline, new wrinkles, and the style of his suits to appropriately age him as he poses in this picture. I notice he wears wing-tipped spectators, popular in the thirties. And I decide that these photos were taken when he was married to his second wife, Dorothy.
Was it Dorothy who was torn away and even thrown away? And might this be Charlein’s high school graduation? And did they all attend together? The weather is warm, springlike. My imagination buoys me and I am ready to answer all my questions about the torn photograph.
When my father met my mother in the late thirties, perhaps even while married to Dorothy, he brought his belongings to their new apartment in Lynn, Massachusetts. Before he packed, he sorted through pictures and tore the one remaining picture he had of his former wife and himself. And eerily, my mother, his new wife, would have these as keepsakes to show me what my father looked like.
Rousseau once wrote, “The world of reality has its limits; the world of imagination is boundless.”
So, in the boundless stretches of my imagination I decide that this is what happened to the torn part of the photograph until I look closer with a magnified interest. I notice something white along my father’s pant leg, and something dark near the side of his face, and I notice fingers on his shoulder. They are traces of Charlein that survived the tear, her hair, dress, and her hand laying upon our father’s shoulder.
Now I know the real story. She was the one who tore the photograph because her high school boyfriend wanted a keepsake.
WHERE THE PATH LEADS
by Margie Nesson
The ancient arches of this passageway reflect my personal images of my family’s inspirational history. Their winding journey began from two different geographical starting points–my maternal grandfather Yisroil Myerson began his exodus in Odessa, and my father Mendel Garb left Komai, Lithuania. I envision their two paths converging at the entrance to this painting.
This cobblestone alley opens with sheltered light that represents the ways in which the lives of Yisroil and Max were illuminated by the teachings of their faith and the love of their families, guiding them toward a brighter future. Yisroil and Mendel left home with lessons learned from their own fathers in regard to the importance of family loyalty and their obligation, as Jews, to study Torah.
The bright entrance to this artfully rendered passageway soon leads me to its dark and shadowy recesses. The shadows represent Yisroil and Mendel’s memories of their families’ struggles to survive the tyranny of Russia. Their perilous and disparate journeys, represented in the darkened shadows of this passageway, are the foundation on which our family’s commitment to justice and our compassion for those traveling difficult journeys was built.
Yisroil’s memories, represented in the dark shadows before me, bear witness to the oppression he experienced in the Russian pogroms of the 1890’s. Mendel’s shadowy memories began with the slaughter of Russian Jews during the 1917 Revolution. I imagine this amber-colored passageway as similar to those that Yisroil and Mendel trod upon during their escapes to freedom.
A pious young man, Yisroil, began his journey from Odessa to Palestine in 1896. Leaving home, he and his brothers were bound to seek refuge in the land of our ancient ancestors, now known as Israel. Together, the three siblings made it as far as Vilna, but amidst the city’s crowded streets and alleyways, Yisroil became separated. He searched for his lost family for weeks, to no avail. He was alone and set out to make own way. His path took a risky detour, diverting him from the direction of Palestine. Alone, bolstered by his faith in his God, he made his way to London where he found employment as a tailor’s apprentice. After two years, he had saved enough money to purchase passage on a ship bound for America.
Twenty-three years later, in the middle of the night, Mendel narrowly escaped from his family home in Komai. With only the clothes on their backs and a satchel containing their prayer book and Sabbath candlesticks, Mendel and his younger brother escorted their ailing mother on a harrowing and heroic journey. Hiding from the murderous mobs advancing on their village, this brave threesome crept through neighboring villages in the dark of night, finally reaching the train station in Rokiskis. Hiding in a freight car, they made their way to Denmark where they boarded the ship that brought them to America.
As Yisroil and Mendel embarked on their treacherous and winding journeys, they finally reached their sunlit paths. Quite possibly, their dark passageways were illuminated from above, as is the one pictured here.
Yisroil and Mendel’s families had instilled in each of them a strong faith and a sense of determination that provided them with the strength they needed to overcome the incredible obstacles each encountered on his journey to freedom. Their collective faith and individual acts of bravery provided their progeny, my family, with an inspiring legacy as we make our way in the modern world.
by Carolyn Allen
For several fun years, Bob and I were invited to a Halloween party at a big house on West Newton Hill. Despite the fact that most of the other guests were outfitted as elaborate French kings, Russian peasants, or whimsical unicorns straight out of a box while ours were home-made-in-NewtonAmerica, we always walked away with First Prize.
One year, I decided Bob would make a perfect Spanish Lady, and, being the good sport he was, he readily agreed. I climbed the rickety ladder to the eaves of the garage. Ignoring the November cold and those scary might-be mouse droppings, I rummaged through boxes of costumes, many sewn by me, and others filled haphazardly with sleeping pieces waiting to be awakened by imagination.
I discovered a ruffley red underskirt, black stretchy slippers, a black bejeweled sweater and a lushly fringed shawl. At CVS, I found queen-sized sparkly black pantyhose. A long black wig with saucy bangs, a big red rose, and an ivory fan completed The Look.
Bob took the costume for a trial run. Have you ever seen a man put on pantyhose? Bob lay down on our bed, stuck one leg straight up in the air, and, holding the pantyhose at arms’ length, vainly tried to wriggle his whole leg in from the top.
The night of the party, our daughter Laura channeled Percy Westmore, make-up artist to the stars. In the mirror, As Laura blue-shadowed his eyelids and layered on rouge and lipstick, Bob wiggled his brows at himself provocatively, flirting mercilessly with his own reflection.
“You know,” he said fetchingly to his image, “I could go for you.”
Laura finished the transformation by penciling a black beauty mark atop Bob’s cheekbone.
“Laura,” he complained, “shouldn’t the beauty mark be bigger?”
“Dad,” she snapped back, “it’s in proportion to the beauty!”
Another First Prize in the bag.
We made our costumes do double-duty. After Halloween, they became the theme of our annual New Year’s cards, with appropriate punny greetings:
- Grant Wood’s “American Gothic” (“Would that you be granted a Happy New Year”)
- A Medieval Serf (to my Queen Pretensia) (“Happy New Year from the Middle Agers”)
- A Chocolate Moose (to my Julia Child)
- A Bag of Bovung Cow Manure (to my Burpee Seed Catalog)
As I stare at this picture of Bob the Spanish senorita of 25 years ago, I am drawn back to a time of innocence, a time we didn’t know couldn’t last forever.
LOST AND FOUND
by Lois Sockol
At times, I was lost. Sometimes I still am. So much of me was consumed by mothering that that is who I became. It’s hard to move away to begin again the search for whom I might still be. Torah says, “God loves becoming.”
For so many years, school schedules, after school sport teams, school reports, doctor’s appointments, tending scraped knees, comforting hurts, and the routine daily tasks,. . . washing, shopping, preparing meals. . . consumed my days, infusing them with purpose, meaning, occasional tears, much laughter and love. That was the surge of my life.
Then, slowly and surely as they must, my sons’ wings took flight. First there was college, which meant less and less time as a family unit living together under the same roof where we were busy in our own and each other’s lives. Time morphed into natural separations: new jobs away from home, happy marriages, independent self-sufficient lives. How blessed I felt by it all. Our sons grown to be the fine character-driven men I had hope they would become. And how splendid and lovely were the women they married.
Yes, we had transitioned through life’s big moments. The ones I always knew were coming but for which , to my surprise, I was emotionally unprepared. I hadn’t imagined the emptiness. I was teaching school, doing the work that satisfied me. There were activities. . . town meeting, Temple committees, the library trusteeship, friends, the trips Ron and I took, the dictates of writing and the demands of teaching, but still, it was not enough to squelch the loneliness.
Grow up, I told myself. Did you really expect to stand still, to halt the natural cycles of life? To stop the world from spinning? Did you really want that to be? Is that who you are? Of course not, I love my life as it’s unfolded, my boys as men, and cherish the children they brought into my world. The truth is that the good things that are gone have paved the way for the splendid life I now know.
In time, I too broke free of my chrysalis and, with a nascent sense of liberation, stretched my own wings a sense of release I’d never been conscious of before.
Time need not be spent but savored. No rush to manage all things. I drank in the luxury of reflection and contemplation. There is no preaching in solitude. There are no demands or obligations, no shifting of ideas in order to please. These quiet times are sanctuaries, where, if I listen, a spark, a thought, a truth may be revealed to help me answer my greatest puzzle. Who am I? What does my existence mean?
And so, just as my life was once a turbulent sea, it is now a quiet pond, still fed endlessly by my love for my husband, my grandchildren, my grown sons, but also the waters where I leisurely move closer to me.
THE INCIDENT AT ROCKAWAY BEACH, 1943
Was It My Fault?
by Eleanor Jaffe
The war was on. My uncles were in the army, but my family was intact. In that summer of 1943, my parents rented an apartment on the beach block, 128th Street, in Rockaway. The apartment was one flight up in a small brick house. The landlord lived downstairs. This living arrangement was a great novelty for us since, the rest of the time, the five of us lived in a Brooklyn apartment on the fourth floor of a large apartment house.
The summer before, when our baby brother was born, my sister and I had been shipped to sleep-away camp for two months. But this summer was different. We were all together, and the sand and the ocean were just one half block away. No streets to cross, just load our stuff–blankets, towels, snacks, and pails and shovels on to a wagon and shuffle under our loads down the hot pavement to the hotter sand. Mother and baby brother David led the parade down the street. Dad worked in Manhattan most of the time. The beach was so big, and we could play all day, making wet sand pies, slipping in the wet sand at the water’s edge, in, then out of the water.
In August of that summer, I turned seven years old, and Frances was then. In the faded color photo of us, she is a full head taller than I am, and I am looking up at her. I always looked up to her. She is blond, and my skin and hair are dark. I trailed after her; she more or less ignored me in favor of her friends.
The beach was wide and deep, maybe five miles long. Tides shifted, and the water crept up the beach, then slowly backed down the other way. Often, the waves were big and came crashing down on us. The undertow could be very strong. I think lifeguards were supposed to be on duty every few blocks, but they must have been few and far between. There was a war on, you know.
I learned to plow through the crashing waves to reach the relative calm water beyond. I loved the swirling ocean waters, floating on my back, the water too turbulent to swim in more than a few strokes at a time. I suppose our general instructions were to stay together, and so, Frances and I would plunge into the waters together, often with another tall ten-year old friend for company. I stayed right up with them, dancing from one foot to another in the deep and deeper water, struggling.
I can’t remember being in trouble in the water; it hadn’t registered that way with me. I don’t remember feeling panicked, but I must have been in deep, dangerous waters because I recall that a little skinny lady grabbed me and pulled me to the shore. She asked where my mother was. I pointed her out: the lady with the baby on the blanket, reading.
My rescuer marched determinedly over to my mother, and proceeded to let her have it! Her little girl had been in danger of drowning, and where had she been? Didn’t my mother know that the ocean was dangerous? Little girls needed active supervision. The undertow was strong. A good mother should be responsible and should stand and watch and supervise, not sit on her rear end.
I just stood there, not knowing what to think. This lady was yelling at my mother. Nobody ever yelled at my mother. How could this be happening? I think my mother stayed quiet. My mother certainly could raise her own voice and yell and criticize, but not this time. Baby brother David played quietly in the sand. I stood awkwardly at the edge of the blanket. Other people must have been looking and watching.
There the memory and the scene end. I don’t know if we girls had new rules for the beach. I don’t know if my mother hugged me after my rescue, my almost drowning. I don’t know if Frances was criticized for ignoring me in the water. What I learned that day was that Mothers, too, might act in ways that lead others to yell at them. That was a shock. Somehow, I had made that happen. Maybe it was my fault….
WHAT IS EVERYONE THINKING ABOUT?
By Suzanne Art
It’s a beautiful warm summer day, and the boaters have stopped along the Seine at Maison Fournaise. They are relaxing on the balcony, savoring the remnants of fruit, cheese, and the local wine. It’s a time of warm comradery, isn’t it? And yet, everyone seems lost in thought.
Aline, the seamstress who will soon wed the painter of the picture, Renoir, sits at the table in the foreground. She coos lovingly to her shaggy little grey lapdog, Foufou. There’s no one else around that she’d care to talk to, since the man of her dreams is busily wielding his paintbrush. She can’t wait for him to finish his sketch so that they can all resume their leisurely voyage along the Seine, and she can snuggle once again in her lover’s strong yet gentle arms.
Opposite Aline, while she is absorbed with Foufou, impressionist painter Gustave Caillebotte seizes the moment to gaze longingly at her. If Renoir were not his very good friend, how swiftly he would act upon his strong attraction to the fetching young girl. He is unaware of the dark eyes of the actress, Angele, who looks at him as longingly as he looks at Aline. She, in turn, doesn’t seem to notice the attentions of young journalist Adrien, standing behind her. It seems as though everyone only has eyes for someone who only has eyes for someone else.
Louise, the daughter of the proprietor, leans casually on the railing, taking in, with a bemused smile, what is going on at Aline’s table. She fails to notice the young man in the brown bowler who has turned in his chair and is so absorbed in her. Louise’s brother Alphonse leans against the railing directly behind Aline, feeling bored. He’s hoping it is almost time to end the luncheon and get everyone back to the boat.
To Louise’s left, in the center of the picture, Ellen, an actress, drinks from her glass, paying little attention to her table companion. He seems to be waiting for her to take notice of him, but she is lost in her own thoughts. Or is it the young man in the brown bowler who occupies her attention?
In the background stands a man in a tall silk hat. He is Charles, wealthy art collector and the editor of the Gazette des Beaux Arts. He is chatting amiably with his personal secretary Jules. But is he really listening to his underling?
In the upper right corner are Renoir’s close friends Eugene, an art collector, and Paul, another artist. Paul has his arm around the waist of an actress named Jeanne. She responds to the flirtations of Eugene and Paul by putting her gloved hands up to her ears. Not the response they were hoping for.
It certainly does seem to be time to move on. No one is really enjoying anyone’s company, since everyone seems to be at cross-purposes.
This painting reminds me of what is wrong with our modern society. Picture a bustling café, perhaps just your local Starbucks. Every customer is totally absorbed in his own media device – even the servers are making notes on the store computer – and no one seems to be aware of what’s happening in the here and now.
WHITE MAN’S HISTORY
by Quinn Rosefsky
1919, a bitter cold morning on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. ‘Hehaka Sapa’, Black Elk, wraps his blanket snuggly around his shoulders. He watches as black smoke belches from the stack of a steam engine pulling a short line of passenger and freight cars. The chuffing slows and brakes screech as the mighty beast clanks to a halt. An eagle, its wings spread wide, flies high above the desolate railroad spur. The door of a weather-beaten box car slides open and a duffle bag hits the frozen earth with a thud. A tall young man in a khaki U.S. army uniform quickly follows, hoists the bag over a shoulder, and walks towards Black Elk.
Black Elk: “Eeeyuh, ‘Matoskah’, White Bear, my son, how was Europe?”
Black Elk knew in his heart that his son would return from fighting in The Great War and was proud that his son had served, fighting for the Great White Father in Washington. As did many others, he hoped that Lakota men fighting for their country would gain white man’s respect.
White Bear: “I was a sharp-shooter. I scared many Germans.”
Black Elk: “Or sent them to the Creator.”
White Bear: “I said a prayer for each one I killed.”
Black Elk: “That is our way.”
White Bear opens the duffle bag and rummages inside. “I met a photographer on the troop ship that carried us home; but he got sick, as did many others, from what they called ‘The Flu’. He didn’t think he’d survive and gave me this album. It is filled with pictures.”
Black Elk’s eyes darken. “Show me.” Black Elk grasps the worn album tightly and turns the pages slowly, releasing one of the photos, which drifts to the ground.
White Bear picks up the photo, turns it over, and reads names written in faded black ink. “Buffalo Bill, Capt. Baldwin, Gen. Nelson A. Miles, Capt. Moss, and others, on horseback. These names mean nothing to me.”
Black Elk: “We must do a sweat. Then we will know.”
Holding an eagle feather to waft smoke, Black Elk smudges White Bear with burning sweetgrass. Both then enter the sweat lodge and sit. Black Elk lights a fire beneath a dome of rocks, waits until the rocks are hot, then pours water on them, filling the room with mist. The two men close their eyes. When they know it is time, they open them. Men in blue U.S. army uniforms and others in dark black suits shimmer in the mist.
First Soldier: “First thing you know, they started shooting at us from all directions. Painted warriors. We held our fire, but there were too many of them.”
Second Soldier: “We only fired at the ones with rifles. But there were so many.”
Third Soldier: “Fortunately, we had the Hotchkiss Gun.”
Man in dark suit: “You were brave men. Our country thanks you. You have paid the debt owed to the soldiers of the Seventh Cavalry who died with Custer at Little Big Horn.”
The images fade. Black Elk again pours water on the rocks, releasing more mist. The images return. “These men speak no truth. They murdered women and children, old men. I was wounded, unable to raise my rifle, the dead piled on top of me. My shame still haunts me.”
Man in dark suit: “These men deserve medals for their bravery.”
Black Elk: “Were our women and children so frightening?”
White Bear: “White men have the power to write the history they need. We do not.”
White Bear and Black Elk remain in the sweat lodge, watch the white men congratulate one another and curse the Lakota until their images vanish. Then Black Elk pours water on the fire and, with his son, walks out of the lodge into a bitter cold starry night.
Twenty Medals of Honor were awarded to U.S. soldiers who fought at Wounded Knee.
THE PICTURE ON THE WALL
by Barbara Webber
I used to skip by it, run up and down the hall by it, play with my blocks in front of it, idly stare at it, directly look at it and ponder a bit. What I pondered, I don’t know but what I do know is I did not like this picture. It showed two different kinds of leafy trees one on each side and in between some women arranged in old timey dresses standing on steps. Their severe demeanor scared me. I guess I dismissed it as something grandmothers kept around. It hung in the hall next to the far more interesting glass device filled with amber liquid which climbed up and down a spout and forecast the weather. I liked that one a lot. At ten years of age, I realized that the picture was talking about the lifecycle of women with the bottom step displaying a baby on the left under the spruce tree and a shriveled 100 year old woman under the drooping willow tree on the right. At the pinnacle point, rose a woman of 50 years and women of intervening ages stood tall on all the ascending steps and progressively stooped on all of the descending steps. Many of the women looked blank or unhappy and the older ones looked pinched and crabby. An inset at the bottom contained a tombstone saying “Sacred to the memory of: _______________” where you could write in someone’s name. My budding but limited awareness was such that death and life’s end was not my focus; what I really puzzled about was why my grandmother kept such a gloomy picture on the wall; surely there were happier scenes to put up.
My grandmother, my father’s mother never talked about it; my parents never said anything to me about it, but I doubt they thought the picture wonderful . Years later, after my father died, I must have packed it up and brought it to Boston in one of my many cardboard boxes.
I recently found the box and pulled out “Stages of a woman’s life from cradle to the grave. According to the picture, I am presently located on the second downward step and, the accompanying verse for each age notes, I am old, seek solace but only through church and when there, sit only in my allotted seat. The next step lower, shows me at 80 prattling nonsense, and at 90, I become a useless cumberer or burden on the earth; at 100, I am chained to a chair by age and knit, listlessly awaiting death.
It amazes me that this mass-produced 1850s Currier and Ives Lithograph rattled around my family for at least three and possibly five generations surviving move after move. It has minimal antique and no sentimental value and yet we all kept it. It is offensive to 21st century sensibilities and I should throw it out. But I won’t. Maybe my niece will know what to do with it.
A PHOTO IN MIND
By Muriel Ladenburg
It is the summer of 1961 on one of the last days of our “Europe on $5.00 a Day” trip. I am wearing the polished cotton dress with the scoop neck, three-quarter sleeves and dark green background splashed with huge orange flowers. Although I have worn this dress throughout the two-month trip, it has kept its luster and shown none of the signs of wear I am feeling. I have a toothache, and a friendly London Bobby sends us to the local station where he promises that one of the boys will “pop down to the commissary” and get me an aspirin, but when we arrive, we are invited to “pop down” ourselves.
It turns out the commissary is also an off-duty pub, and while one officer insists on sitting us at a small table and bringing us tea and sandwiches as well as my aspirin, the men at the bar are singing off-color songs about America. As we get up to leave, having refused invitations to join the men at the bar, my husband decides to repay their hospitality by offering to buy a round. Before I know it, we are involved in a drinking game in which I consistently win and drink and Tom repeatedly loses and pays, but we are charmed and entertained.
At some point, I am ushered to a chair, and sitting in my crisp and flowered dress, flanked by two officers, I am wearing a silly smile and a tall Bobby’s hat complete with chin-strap. When my husband snaps the picture, I do not know that I will soon be sick and regret having had too much to drink. I do not know that the offending tooth will need to be pulled the next day and that I will fly home with a mouth full of Novocain. But of all the many slides we took that summer that now lie in a jumbled heap we never manage to sort through, this one in my mind has made the greatest imprint in my memory.
Jane Kay and Quinn Rosefsky continued to work on these pieces, submitting them to the 2016 BOLLI Journal which can be accessed by clicking below. (You can increase print size by clicking on the magnifying glass icon.)
The BOLLI Journal is published every two years. The 2018 issue is already in the planning stages. Consider trying this exercise yourself and submitting the result!