The Two Faces of Ella – A Tribute to My Enigmatic Late Aunt

I have recently become fascinated with my Dad’s family, perhaps because many of them are an enigma. I never met my paternal grandparents – my grandmother Nettie died in 1951 at the age of 67 and my grandfather Abraham died in 1955 at the age of 71. My dad is 90 and has beaten the familial odds by leaps and bounds – a 26-year colon cancer survivor; he has been on medication for hypertension since he was in his 40s. I wrote about my grandfather Abraham in my Triangle Fire article. When I was younger I was not that interested in discovering facts about my mysterious grandparents, but with my dad’s own mortality looming on the near horizon, I feel compelled to fill in the missing pieces. The problem now is that my dad’s memories have faded, although some of the facts were probably unknown even when he was a much younger man. My dad was the youngest child and his eldest sister Ella essentially served as a surrogate mother because my grandmother was in a deep depression after immigrating to America – and for very good reasons. She was separated for years from my grandfather, fending for herself and her children and being forced to board a German soldier in her house during WWI. Most of her family died in Poland, either in pogroms prior to WWII or in the Holocaust.

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Overnight Camp Ushers in the End of Carefree Days and Childlike Innocence

The late Fritzi Jane Vee and her husband Chris Vee (Vlachos), who died in 1992, ran several camps in Wisconsin, but most notably Camp Sandstone on Green Lake, from 1958 until it closed in 1972. This was the girls camp and the boys camp was called Camp Day-Cho-Lah. In September 2009, at the age of 86, Fritzi met an untimely death when she was hit by a truck while crossing the road at the intersection of Water and Lake Streets in Green Lake. When I was in the sixth grade, my parents decided that I should be shipped off to overnight camp. I really did not want to go, but my younger sister Janet and I were getting into increasingly nasty spats, and in retrospect, I guess they thought this was a good idea. The previous summer we had gone on a family trip to California and I was blamed for the constant bickering with my kid sister. Not wanting to repeat what they claim was a vacation from hell, my parents opted for this alternative. Back then, camp representatives made house calls, giving personalized pitches on why this experience would be life affirming and wonderful. My friend Alison wanted to go to overnight camp and my parents went to her house to hear the pitch. A family friend’s son and daughter had gone for years and loved it so much that they became junior counselors, so the camp came with a personal recommendation. The girl, Kathy, was my age – she was an expert swimmer and later excelled on our high school swim team. Needless to say, because she was a junior counselor and a seasoned camper, our paths rarely crossed once I was up at camp.

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Toys from the 1960s-1970s That Would Never Pass Modern Safety Tests … or Are Just Too Lame for Today’s Kids

With Christmas just around the corner and millions of kids eagerly waiting to open presents, I thought it was a good time to look back at a few toys of the past. Considering the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) didn’t exist before 1972, late Baby Boomers got away with playing with a lot of toys in the 1960s-early 1970s that would never pass muster today. Some of these were toys I blogged about when I was waxing nostalgic for the Sears Wish Book of my youth. Kids who have been playing computer games since they were in diapers, with all sorts of other high-tech toys at their disposal, would likely turn up their noses at a few beloved toys of yesteryear. Bicycles Without a doubt, the most dangerous toy of the 1960s-1970s was not a toy at all, but a bicycle. And biking continues to be a dangerous activity, but at least far more kids are wearing helmets now. Still, according to the CPSC, there were 276,425 children 18 and younger treated for bicycle-related injuries at U.S. hospital emergency rooms in 2012. I cannot remember anyone wearing a bike helmet when I was a kid and somehow my friends and I all escaped with minor injuries. It’s not that we were more resilient or had harder skulls – it’s because no injury surveillance systems were in place monitoring these injuries. Deadly biking accidents weren’t publicized and if any prevention organizations existed, they certainly weren’t as active as they are today. My friend Myra once fell off her bike and suffered some bad scrapes on both knees and an elbow. And I had an incident with younger boys in the neighborhood chasing me on their bikes and trying to knock me off mine. I was wearing flip-flops (I know, really brilliant), and when one of…

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The Haunting, Elusive Faces of the Triangle Fire Victims – My NYC Pilgrimage

I have been fascinated with the Triangle Fire tragedy since I was around 8-years-old. I first read about this disaster in a book entitled, Portal to America: the Lower East Side 1870-1925, edited by Allon Schoener. I paged through this book endlessly, honing my drawing skills by copying the photos of poor immigrants by Lewis Hine and others. Although there are just two pages on the Triangle Fire and one photo in this book, there are quite a few photos of garment workers and sweatshops that enthralled me as a child. I didn’t experience this depth of sadness again about the immigrant experience until I read Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle when I was a teenager. The hardships suffered by these immigrants and their remarkable resolve in a strange, foreign land was incredibly poignant to me, even as a child.   I forgot about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire for many years and I am not sure what renewed my interest, but I delved into the subject like never before about 6 months ago. This is a tragedy of almost unspeakable sadness – one that still grips the imagination and attention of thousands of people every March 25, and forever in the hearts of relatives of victims and survivors. In preparation for my September 2013 NYC trip, I did as much research as possible – with the goal of writing some type of article and creating a collage as homage to the 146 souls who lost their lives more than 100 years ago. Tragically, these workplace disasters are still occurring today, especially in underdeveloped countries. Much has been written about the Triangle Fire and I do not endeavor to duplicate the efforts of others. I only hope to infuse it with something artistic, meaningful, and that does justice to the memories of the…

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The Many Faces of NYC – Ever So Fleeting

It’s a great place to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there. That is what one of the many intriguing characters I met in NYC during my 10-day trip said about Chicago. I guess I feel the same way about NYC, but I have to say, it is easier to engage in discussion with people in the Big Apple. Everybody wants to tell you his or her story. This makes for great conversation and good memories, but is ever so fleeting. You could be talking to somebody really interesting on the subway … and a few seconds later, poof – they are gone without even a goodbye. John and Alfred How delighted I was upon returning from a day uptown on the first Monday of my stay, when my daughter said, “There’s John Lithgow with some other guy walking down the street in our direction.” Of course she always sees celebrities, including Hugh Jackman, who goes to her health club, but for me this was a treat. Turns out they were shooting scenes for Love is Strange starring Lithgow, Alfred Molina, and Marisa Tomei, who unfortunately was not in these scenes. This shoot literally took place half a block away from my daughter’s apartment. After we went back to her apartment, I dropped off my stuff and went back out to shoot pictures with the other gawkers gathered on Seventh Avenue. The actors seemed bemused by all of this and I got some good shots.

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