Friday, April 29, 2011

It's Almost May Day

I don't know about you, but I don't keep a lot of personal papers anymore: cards, letters, newspaper clippings, even bills, are tossed out with the bi-weekly recycling. I pay all my bills online and I've opted out of most paper invoices. It's not necessarily that I'm trying to be environmentally correct, though I am, but I've never really had a good filing system at home. Though I have an office with a desk at home, I don't have file cabinets, nor would I be that interested in creating folders at work that resemble the folders in the office. All my important papers are collected in empty shoe boxes. I fill one up, toss it on the top of the pile of boxes in my clothes closet, and grab the next box. I should mark them on the outside, but what would the fun be in that? It is particularly challenging when I want or need to find something specific. But nevertheless, I have to say, I always do. And sometimes even more important things I didn't even know I was looking for.

This managed chaos works for me. It is the antithesis of the way my parent's handled their home organization. Maybe it is because they stayed in one place longer than I, or had bigger homes, but they each had their own file cabinets filled with folders that were meticulously titled, containing elements that, not surprisingly, matched their titles. It is one of the reasons I will have plenty to write about for months to come. There's a lot of good things in those files.

I mentioned earlier that my mother kept her calendars and date books from college. She also kept them during certain periods of her life. I found some of these calendars yesterday and thought they told an interesting story. Since it's almost May, I pulled two calendars from her archives for the month of May, in 1953 and 1966. (You need to click on it to enlarge it.)

May is a busy month for our family. Both my older brothers were born in May, as was one of my sisters-in-law, and my maternal grandfather. My parents got married on May 16, on my grandfather's birthday. I am sure my mother had more activities than this calendar above shows, but I thought it was interesting in that it captured the big events: luncheons, parties, showers, rehearsal, wedding. It's fun to see this calendar for the first time and to picture her as a young woman writing them down.

Fast forward 13 years, three children, three states, three houses, two dogs, three cats later...

This calendar doesn't look much different than the calendars my brother and sister-in-law had when their children were the ages my brothers and I were in 1966. Even though we were living during a time where life was safer and you didn't have to worry about playing outside without supervision, it's obvious by looking at this calendar that we often relied on my mother to organize and drive us to all these many activities.

Hey, and since this blog is all about ME, I noticed the 1966 calendar referenced my ballet recital. My mom kept the advertisement for it, which I posted below. I wish I could ask her for a little clarification as it proudly announced that it was "starring Janet Tuccinardi & Bill Bath with Sarah Ambrose, Jody Page and many others," yet....I'm not in the photo. I don't even remember seeing a picture of myself in that costume, but then again, I have many more folders to go through so there's still hope.

I didn't want you to be disappointed about not seeing me in a leotard, so here's a photo of me from another recital where I'm wearing a lobster costume. Doesn't it scream lobster? Now that's a costume I remember!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Photo of the Day - Guess Who?

When I first looked at this photo I thought it was me and my brother Bob. It's actually my mother and her brother Bill. Maybe the wallpaper and curtains could even give it away?

Monday, April 25, 2011

Mother's Day Without a Mother

For anyone who's lost someone dear to them, if you had a nickel for every time someone said, "It's the Firsts that are hard." The first year, the first birthday, the first Christmas, the first Easter, etc. It's true. I had to count it out on my hands the other day; I am nearing 10 months since my mother passed. Holidays are tough because they all remind you of family and of the past. I think Mother's Day is going to be a tough one since I become sad everytime I see an ad or hear a commercial. I feel like sending flowers to myself that day.

When I think about the loss of my mom, I try to put words around my feelings. She died so quickly, yet we still had time to say goodbye. But it also feels like she was in an accident, leaving so many things undone and with the promise of fulfilling them. My mother came up to my house to visit and go to her doctors in Boston. It was then we were told those frightening words, "You have a month to two to live." In the room with my brothers and sister-in-law, and my mother, I burst into tears. No one else did, not even my mother. I think she wanted to be strong for me, us, but I also think she half expected it. We were also all in shock. What do you do when someone gives you such a small window to live.

The next six weeks I felt like I was living someone else's life. Or wished I were. I asked my mom if she wanted to go back home for a weekend and get more clothes. She had only come up with a week's worth of winter clothes: sweaters, corduroys, and fleece. It was now May, and in two months it would be July. She said it would be too sad for her to go home, and I know now what she meant. When we went to the house for her funeral, the wheelbarrow was half-filled with soil and a shovel, there were notes on the counter for who she needed to call, and calendars with activities that had already past. I know if she had gone home when she was sick and knew she would die soon, she wouldn't want to leave. I wouldn't. It was Spring and she was so looking forward to being outside all day in the garden. It makes me weep to think about it.

And now we're selling the house. Or if I am to think of it from my mother's perspective, we're selling the garden. The house was just a warm and dry place to go when you were done working in the yard. Her garden was, and is still, a beautiful succession of blooms from Spring through Fall. I like to grow things, but my mother knew how to design and tend a garden so that there was always something blooming. It's an art I haven't achieved. When I moved into my house almost 11 years ago, mom bought me a crabapple tree, a nice sized one, and helped me plant it. Rather I helped her plant it. It is now 20 ft. high and just about to flower. It will always remind me of my mom and the day we spent digging that hole twice as wide and half again as deep, filled with peat moss and fertilizer. A big hole. And I have her shovel now too. And I might just take the wheelbarrow if no one else wants it. Halfway filled with soil.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Grandpa Ericke

My maternal grandfather, Carl, was born in Chicago on May 16, 1894. He grew up in Chicago, and as I mentioned before, was the closest grandparent I had. His wife, my grandmother, died in 1965 when I was only 7, at age 64, quite suddenly while in the hospital awaiting surgery on her gallbladder. I am named after her: Sarah Louise. After my grandmother died, my grandfather moved with our family as his daughter, my mother, Nancy, was his oldest child. My grandfather's name was Carl, but he went by Carl O. Ericke. Grandpa Ericke died on February 12, 1982 when I was in college. Before he died, he promised my brother Bob that he would document some of his life stories on a cassette recorder that Bob gave him. I have listened to these stories often, but have just now started to transcribe them for posterity.

So in his eighties, he spoke into the recorder with some difficulty, remembering all those life events that made an impression on him. One wonders what stories will we all be telling when we're at the end of our life? What will we remember that will be worth retelling?

In January 1913 there were fraternities in high school, as there were in college at the time. There was an attempt by the superintendent of schools in Chicago to dismantle the high school fraternities. My grandfather didn't like that much and remembered the story of how he tried to change that.  I'm also including an article I found from the Chicago Tribune which he refers to in his story. I am emboldened by this story, and I can see where my mother got her democratic fervor. I hope you enjoy it!

I’ll tell you about my being pledged to Delta Sigma Epsilon fraternity, national. I was finally elected secretary of the Beta chapter. We had a little altercation with the Superintendent of schools. She was trying to throw fraternities out of the high school and we were determined to stay in. As a result of this I called a meeting and wrote letters to all the fraternities and sororities in the Chicago area and went down to the Sherman house.

They gave me a room free of charge to hold the meeting. Quite a few turned out. I’m not very good as a speaker in public and have to admit I got weak in the knees to address this big group. So what I did was call the meeting to order. The ballroom was filled with boys and girls and newspaper reporters, and as soon as I did, I turned the meeting over the secretary of our chapter. I knew he could speak well, and wouldn’t be afraid, so I got out from under that one anyway.

Nothing much happened except the paper wrote it up and I went home and I was surprised to see newspaper reporters on my front stairs waiting for me to come in and take my picture. It made the front page of the Chicago Tribune. Scared me to death.

(The Chicago Tribune was very nice about it, but they wanted to charge me $1200 for six months to post one article on my grandfather. me if you're interested in seeing them. The two articles I found are from January, 1913 titled: "'HIGH FRATS DEFY EDUCATION BOARD: 'Tired of Mrs. Youngs' Continuous Denunciation,' Asserts Society Officer. SAYS BEST PUPILS BELONG, 'Let Them Expel Most Efficient Boys and Girls' Is His Challenge; and 'FRAT TO SUE FOR PLACE IN SCHOOLS: Members, Ignored by Mrs. Young, Want Court to Reinstate Suspended Pupils. PLEAD FOR SOCIETIES. Say Many of Best Students Belong and That They Help Young Men.)

Reporters, as usual, followed me up to my job at the steel company and as it happened I was in the tempering plant, where we tempered free of charge any tools made out of high speed steel. Of course I had on overalls. So the next day the paper came out and said all fraternity boys were not of the elite class, because when they interviewed me they found me in overalls. It didn’t bother me much, but I thought, you get in the limelight and you sure get in a lot of difficulties.

Nuff said. Good job, Grandpa.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Photos of the Day – Cousins

Cousin John, brothers Bill & Bob, cousin Sherry, and me sitting on my grandparent's porch in Detroit.
Being asked to make a funny face by my dad, the photographer.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Travelin' Man

My father was a world traveler. In his seventies, he began to document his trips and his appreciation of his vast travel experiences. He called one of his documents "The Travelin' Man." He was born with a love of adventure, a fearless sense of the world, and a belief that he could accomplish anything he set out to do. As my brother noted at my dad's funeral, "Here lies an optimist." Below are some passages from my dad's journals reflecting on his early years in Syracuse and Detroit.


Travel has been an important part of my life. Looking back, I guess the interest I have had for travel stems from the desire to see and learn new things. My first travel recollection is when I was in kindergarten, in Syracuse, N.Y. Kids under six could ride free on city buses, so one day a pal and I boarded a bus in front of the Eastwood School and rode it all the way to downtown, maybe two miles. Once there we played hide-and-seek among the tall buildings, and, for some unknown reason, we got separated. Luckily I knew where I was (I have always had good geographic orientation), and the way home, and walked it all the way.

Below is an article I found in a scrapbook, kept by my grandmother. Is this another wanderlust moment or the same?

When I was 12 we moved from Syracuse to northwest Detroit. We lived for one year in an apartment in southeastern Detroit, where I went to grade school. One day the teacher lined our class around the room and began a spell-down. I didn’t know what was going on, but when I was asked to spell a word, I did. I first won the grade championship, then the school, which included seventh-graders. I failed in the district spelling bee, misspelling the word aggression. After one speller left out one g and another included two g’s but left out one s. I was so confident of the correct spelling that I rattled off the word at a fast clip. Including both g’s and both s’s , and forgot the r. For winning the grade, I won a Webster dictionary, with my name on it, and for the school, a bronze medal, which was made in Holland. Since Holland had just been invaded, and conquered, by Nazi Germany, I did not receive the medal until six months later. After one year we moved to a rented house on the west side of Detroit, and to a new school. Among seventh graders, I lost early in the Spelling Bee. After one year in this house, we bought a house in northwest Detroit in the summer of 1942. Before we occupied the house I traveled to Syracuse to see my aunts and uncles there.

So, at 13, I began the trip alone from Detroit to Syracuse by riding my trusty Roadmaster bicycle down Wyoming Ave. to Grand River Ave. and then down to a street that was a short distance to where the D & C Steamship was docked, getting ready to sail to Buffalo. I found the dock, and the ship, checked my bike and went to my small cabin. The overnight ferry trip was uneventful, since I remember nothing of it, and we arrived safely in Buffalo the next morning. I retrieved my bike and rode it to the new train station (New York Central) on the east side of town, about three of four miles from the steamship dock. I got there, checked my bike, and rode the train to Syracuse, where I got off with my bike. My great Aunt Nan and great Uncle Carl Stangland lived on the south side of town, near the city limit. I remembered where they lived, and how to go, and rode my bike directly there. Aunt Nan never had a son, so she spoiled me by feeding me everything, all the time. I don’t know, but I must have gained weight. Next door to them lived a boy my age, and we palled around every day. One day the Ringling Brothers – Barnum & Bailey Circus came to town, setting up two blocks from where we lived. My friend and I rode our bikes over and signed up as roustabouts. For a full day’s work, hauling and carrying things, we were given free tickets to the performance the following day.

My Uncle Al Erickson, a Swede, married Marie Stangeland, and owned an auto body repair shop. When I visited them, staying a few nights in their house, Uncle Al asked if I wanted my bike re-painted. Since my fenders showed signs of wear and tear, I accepted. We found a beautiful dark blue-gray color to replace the original maroon color, and before I knew it the bike had been stripped, sanded, painted, and reassembled. I watched every operation and got to know many of the workmen. I was most happy to ride off with my new bike! The Ericksons, like the Stangelands, never had a son, only one daughter. One noon Al poured apple wine into two glasses, and "skoaled" [drink to one's health – a toast]. Another one or two glasses, and I got dizzy – the first time! Uncle Carl and his son-in-law Howard Smith, were steamfitters, and had contracted to work on the construction of a new Air Force base in Rome, NY, about forty miles away. They would leave Monday morning and come back Friday Night. I decided to visit them, riding my trusty, new, bike. I rode first to Wampsville, where another relative, Aunt Lil Palmer lived by a stone quarry that her husband mined. I found their house, about halfway to Rome, and spent the night with them. They, too, had no son, only one daughter.

The following day I rode to Rome, found the rooming house where Carl and Howard were staying, and was sitting in a rocking chair on the front porch when they came home from work. Were they surprised to see me! The next day was Friday, and when the men came home, we tied the bike on the back of their car and returned to Syracuse. I have no recollection of the return trip: train to Buffalo, steamship to Detroit, and bike to our house. A wonderful summer! Two years later, the summer I turned 16, a neighbor friend and I took the D&C steamer to Buffalo, then rode our bikes to Niagara Falls and Niagara-on-the-Lake (Ontario). This was July 1944. En route to Niagara we passed by a U.S. detention camp, right off the highway. Behind a barbed-wire fence were German soldiers captured after D-Day. Many were wounded, and very young, the same age as we. For some moments we looked at them, and they looked at us.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

When My Ship Comes In

For my Facebook friends, you've seen this photo before: it's my profile pic. This photo also lives on as a chapter opener in a college textbook that my company used to publish. It is a book about writing, and the chapter deals with memoirs and how a picture can tell a story. My friend was a designer at the time and he created these thought bubbles and added them to the image for the marketing brochure (in the book it shows just the photo). How funny that I'm actually writing about it now!

There are so many photos of the three of us when we were young, I can't imagine being able to share them all. In almost all of them we seem pretty happy so this one is an exception, and maybe that's why I like it. The super pout. I can still make that face when I don't get my way. There were several images taken on this day at the beach; my dad probably decided to take a dip after work and took us down to the beach with my mother. I'm just not sure why my parents thought this would be a good picture. But, then, maybe that was the point. It's a great picture.

Mr. Johnson was a neighbor of ours on Miles Road and he worked for Texaco. My brothers took part in a photo shoot for Texaco, promoting the toy tankers they were selling for $3.98 with the purchase of eight gallons of gasoline. That sounds like a lot for a toy, especially when gas was only $0.30/gallon at the time, or $2.40 for 8 gallons. Can you imagine that now? So my brothers each got to keep a tanker as a gift for being incredibly cute models. And of course, only boys would be interested in tankers, right? Ah, but that's another story.

Here are a few pics in that series. I'm not sure which one made it into the Texaco archives. And just so you're not all feeling terribly sorry for me, check out the last photo here. It seems my brothers shared with me after all!

Monday, April 11, 2011

A Young Woman's Journey

Today's post is an excerpt of my father's family history which he wrote in 1996 and sent to all family members. This is the story my paternal grandmother's journey to the United States in 1925. I've amended it to be written from my perspective.

From 1825 to 1925,  800,000 persons left Norway, mostly for North America. Included were three sons and three daughters (out of 10 children) of Andreas Kristiansen, my great-great-grandfather. As a result of this mass migration there are more people of Norwegian ancestry living outside of Norway (5 million) than there were [in 1996] in Norway (4.3  million). The impact of the migration of mostly younger persons results in labor shortages today, compelling the Government to encourage immigration of foreign refugees to Norway. Immigrants from over 100 countries now live and work in Norway.

 (Here's a family portrait of the Stangeland family, including my grandmother Frida, and my father Edwin and his sister Marion. This was probably the summer my father spent in Norway when he was six. He spoke Norwegian while he was there and had to re-learn English when he returned to Syracuse.)

Alfrida Stangeland, one of eight children of Peder Stangeland and Christine Hatleskog, emigrated from Norway when she was only 17. Her mother had died, her father was planning to re-marry, and she did not like her prospective step-mother. Her grandfather Andreas, to the chagrin of her father, suggested that she go to Syracuse, New York where she had two aunts and two uncles. Andreas said if she remained in Norway she would become the surrogate mother to her two younger sisters. Alfrida did so, sailing to Montreal enroute to Syracuse. Here's a copy of the passenger list that she kept all these years.

Passenger Ship Information from 1925 which I thought was interesting. 

 (I can't be sure, but I think my grandmother is the younger woman with the fancier hat, below. I plan to confirm this with Norwegian family members. )

Saturday, April 9, 2011

A Week of Ups and Downs

I really started to get into the groove of writing every couple of days but I wasn't feeling up to posting earlier this week so I've got many topics floating in my head. I had no idea that writing would be such a creative tool for me. I like to think I'm an artistic person, but I've always done things with my hands, whether it's designing on the computer, or drawing, taking photos, sewing, or rearranging my furniture for the umpteenth time. But writing was never something I thought of doing until now. Here's a shot of me displaying my homemade wares of Tremont Essentials (RIP) at a health fair many years ago. Where did I get the energy to make all this stuff?

Last weekend I went to the Vineyard again. It's always sad for me to go there because it's like a slap in the face when my mom isn't there to greet me and hang out with me. I've developed a routine when I go to the island: I stop by the cemetery as soon as I enter Edgartown, and I stop there again on the way to the ferry home. I have surprised myself by finding comfort in talking to the headstones of my parents. I thank them for this and that, ask them for advice, or just tell them what's going on in the family. It's weird. When I think about selling the house, the only worry I have is that I won't be able to visit their graves anymore. Seems silly when I think of it. Here's a picture of my mom, arranging flowers around my dad's grave before the family headstone was placed. I'll take a picture next next time to show you what it looks like now, hopefully with the bulbs I planted in full bloom.

I decided to join another bereavement support group (having graduated from two earlier sessions) that my local hospice sponsors. My dad declined so quickly we didn't have time to involve hospice, but the doctors and nurses helped us find a good hospice when my mom got sick and we jumped on it. They were a huge help. I decided that I'm in a different phase of my grieving now and I wanted to share this with others and help them through their pain as well. This new group was meeting at a library in a nearby town, and I was running a little late since I was coming from Boston and traffic was bad, as usual. I imagined that I had missed all the introductions and sad stories of loss from the others in the group (as has happened before) as I walked into the room and person, Karen, the therapist. No one else showed up. I was disappointed, but also excited that I was going to have my own private therapy session. For free. I'll save my health insurance stories for another time, but let's just say that my sister-in-law captured it perfectly in her blog. Different issue, but same insurance problem. Anyway, it was a great hour of talking and Karen left me with a few tidbits that I've been thinking about these last few days. It's nice to talk to a professional!

Last night was my "up" moment. A few times a year I get together with close friends that I've known since I moved to Massachusetts 21 years ago. Here's a photo of some of us a few years ago. Only one of us is missing from this photo so we need to pull out the camera next time! We've gone through a lot together: births, deaths, divorce, cancer, surgeries, home buying, renovations, job losses and finds... you know, the best and worst of life. The ups and downs. It's always great to see them and catch up on children, family, and work life. It grounds me. We're loud, we speak over each other, across the table, and are able to finish each others sentences. And we laugh. A lot. Skid tracks be damned. Last night was a lot of good food, great wine, and the best server, who left us alone for hours and hours. It's the first time in nine months that I've really relaxed enough that the laughter came from deep within. I'm going to set up our next date today, while I'm on a roll.

Friday, April 1, 2011

My Dad: One of the "Lucky Seven Marines"

When my father died two years ago, his wishes were to be buried. So, we had to decide what clothes to bury him in. We had a little time to decide, so we were going through his closets and into the attic looking for a suit or something respectable. We weren't planning on a viewing, so it didn't much matter. I wanted him to be comfortable. I mean, if I were going to be buried in one outfit for eternity I would want it to be 100% cotton and loose-fitting. And maybe a scarf to keep my neck warm. To be honest, I can't remember what we chose for him to wear. I can only remember what we didn't choose: his Marine dress blues.

As I mentioned before, my dad was a Marine for two short years. He rarely talked about it so neither did we. His sister Marion had asked if we buried him in his uniform and I had to tell her no. She said that the family was very proud of his service. I recently came across some memoirs my dad was writing in his later years, trying to capture his thoughts before his dementia set in. I'm going to include an excerpt here.

In July, 1946, after graduation from high school, I was unable to enter college. Returning veterans had priority. So, four pals and I enlisted in the Marine Corps, which had lowered its enlistment term to two years in order to fill the holes left by all the departing marines. To get to boot camp at Parris Island, SC we took a train from Detroit to Atlanta, switching to another train for PI. Boot camp was shortened from 12-weeks to 5, again to fill the holes.  When we entered the Corps, we were given the option of line duty (infantry) or aviation. I wanted line duty, but my friends all voted for aviation, so I went with them. From PI we entrained for the Marine Corps Air Station at Cherry Point, NC. Upon arrival there, I was assigned to communications, and then specifically the coding room, where cryptographic machines were located. This room was in a heavy safe, which I unlocked each morning and locked up each night.   

One day, my lieutenant, a pilot, wanted to fly to New York City for Christmas shopping. I was invited to go, along with four others. The plane we took, a JRB twin-engine Beechcraft, was the general’s plane, and I sat in his seat, with radio headphones. The co-pilot was another lieutenant who had won a Navy Cross in the Pacific by downing a Japanese kamekazi suicide plane as it dove down toward Admiral Turner’s flagship off Okinawa.  As our plane took off from CP, heading north, we ran into a storm system that slowly was moving north. We landed at Norfolk and waited two hours before taking off again. Over Baltimore we smelled gasoline but couldn’t determine where it was coming from. Approaching the New York area we were above the storm, but found a hole in the clouds and saw land below. The pilot decided to dive through the hole and then fly beneath the cloud cover. We went down fast, before the hole closed up, and I recall seeing the air speed indicator in the cockpit, bouncing off a pin indicating maximum speed. When we pulled out of the dive I felt like my cheeks were going to touch my knees! We were over the ocean, and after a few minutes saw the Long Island shore. Our plane captain, who cleaned and maintained the plane, another corporal, being from Long Island, recognized where we were and directed us in to Floyd Bennett field (Naval Air Station) in Brooklyn.    

Upon landing, the receiving crewmen noticed all the cracks in all of our plexiglass windows. Further examination showed that on the upper surface of where the wings joined the fuselage there were 5 or 6 raised wrinkles, about a half-inch in height, on both wings. These resulted from the severe pullout of the high-speed dive that our plane had made. As a result of the severe strain that our plane had been subjected to, Navy inspectors decided that the plane could no longer be flown safely and, therefore, had to scrap the plane. They later found why we had smelled gasoline over Baltimore – mechanics at Cherry Point had installed the fuel pump upside down. How that could have happened I don’t know, but it explains why, after leaking gasoline in flight, we had landed with only one or two gallons left in our tank. The Marine magazine Leatherneck wrote an article about this incident, entitling it Seven Lucky Marines. My lieutenant was punished by being expelled from the Corps, for he had only visual clearance for the flight, not instrument clearance. No mention was made of the danger he had placed all of us under.