A Past Kept In Shoeboxes [photography]

I used to keep my snapshot photographs stored in albums. When I married and had children, my wife and I did the same for many years. Then, somewhere along the passage of time, we stopped storing our photos in albums and tossed them into empty shoeboxes instead. Now we have 30+ years of unlabeled shoeboxes stacked in storage, filled to their brims with photos of births and birthdays and holidays that we barely remember. That’s why it’s fun to open a box and delve into those recordings of yesteryear, to refresh those memories, and to feel again the old days.

Last week, I tackled rearranging items in our basement storage room because I plan to use a corner as an extension of my writing room. So, while I moved some shoeboxes and peeked inside the last one, I found photos of my college days, back when I was an avid outdoorsman, wildlife artist and photographer, and often the bearer of flannel shirts and a bearded face. I know I’m the person in those photos, but he seems like a stranger: different in so many ways—from the clothes he wore and the food he ate to the movies he watched and the music he listened to. I wonder if I were able to travel back in time to those days, would he and I enjoy each other’s company. Hmm, story idea…

I always had my camera with me.
I always had my camera with me.
I always had my camera with me.
I always had my camera with me.
I always had my camera with me.
I always had my camera with me, even when it was hidden beneath my graduation robe.

Here are three of my many favorite photographs from my college years:

Red-tailed Hawk. One of my first honest-to-goodness wildlife photos that turned out decent.
Local church not far from my house.
Time lapse photography of downtown Corry, not far from my house.

Stranger yet was when I saw childhood photos that never made it into my old albums that are tucked away in bigger boxes. That kid was a 180-degree turn of the person I am now. And, oh, the stories I could tell him. He would be at his little portable typewriter for months writing about the old man who visited one day and told him some crazy things about his future. Hmm, another story idea…

Me at the bottom right, with some of my brothers and relatives.

The ancient Italian poet Virgil said that time flies, never to be recalled. Thankfully, 2,000 years after Virgil’s time, we have our albums and shoeboxes of photos to look back on.

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In Memory of My Brother

My brother and best friend died on July 8, 2016. He was 57.

Russ died on a Friday night while I was at work and feeling that something wasn’t right. I knew he was sick—he’d been battling cancer for several years and was growing weaker by the day. His cancer had reached stage 4. I received the phone call the next day and wept. I was glad to know he no longer suffered, but I wept because I felt alone. We’d done so much together. Now he was gone.

Russ was born in a small town called Union City in Pennsylvania, on November 29, 1958. He was 21 months younger than his big brother Steve who, according to their mother, gave Russ all his toys the day Mom brought him home from the hospital. It didn’t take long for the two of them to become best friends. The rest is family legend.

Russ married when he was 17 and remained married to his wife for 40 years. During that time, he served in the United States Navy alongside his big brother for a while, raised an awesome daughter and awesome son, was an avid hunter, collected coins and knives, and loved the Pittsburgh Steelers, which began in 1971 after he and I watched the Pittsburgh Pirates win the World Series and wondered “Now what?”

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1969. My mother and I shared birthdays in February. Here, Russ stands behind me with a cousin, getting into the picture.
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1976. I had begun a career in radio when Russ convinced me to join the Navy with him. Here we are in Chicago the day we graduated boot camp.
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1980. Russ was Best Man at my wedding. Here we are posing for one of those humorous shots where I show up late for my wedding. Ha! Funny is how we look like waiters in our hip tuxedos.
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2001. Russ and I gave each other birthday gifts right up to his death. He had just brought me a gift in 2001 when he read an article about me and my artwork in the local paper. He was my biggest fan.
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2005. Here Russ poses on the day he had a local pilot fly our 66-year-old mom on her first plane ride. This was a week before her death from complications after stomach surgery. Russ was always glad he did this for her. So was I.

This has been a small glimpse of my brother’s life. Of course, telling it all would fill volumes of books. Perhaps I will, someday, tell more about him, one chapter at a time.

Rest in peace, dear brother. November 29, 1958—July 8, 2016.

I [poetry]

I
am composition

image | portrait | art
words | feelings | heart

I
am human
created
and creating

Girl On A Train (Echoes Again) [poetry]

embracing

(© 2016)

I awoke this morning to voices on the wind,
Echoes of past,
present,
and future—
Modern times when I was living the year of the cat.

The blonde girl from Finland smiled at me
when I missed my southbound train to Rome;
We were homesick for home,
So she chased away our blues with her northern songs.

She sang like sugar on my tongue.

She sweetened our cappuccino lunch
under an umbrella in the sun
on an alabaster beach,
Turned the day into a weekend of carefree romances,
And danced like an angel in a night
when stars never stop shining.

But our trains were on time.
We waved our last goodbyes,
Never to meet again
Until I awoke this morning to voices on the wind,
Echoes of when the blonde girl from Finland smiled at me.

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Random Things About Me

Tomorrow is my birthday. I was born on the day and year Laura Ingalls Wilder died. She was 90. She was the author of the best-selling “Little House” series of children’s novels. A friend who believes in reincarnation says that her soul returned on the day I was born, which is why I became a writer. Unlike Wilder, I am a struggling author of paranormal tales set in fictional Ridgewood, Pennsylvania. If reincarnation is real, I will probably return as a snack food copywriter … or something just as boring. 😀

When I was 13, I met baseball legend Ted Williams. Our town’s boat manufacturer made a line of fishing boats that he endorsed. Whenever he came to inspect the boats, he always made time to visit with the neighborhood kids. And since I was one of those kids, I was fortunate enough to hear him talk about baseball. He gave us kids batting tips that helped me become a better hitter. I even used a Ted Williams autographed bat to hit with.

My father was a licensed disc jockey for my hometown radio station. He worked weekends and taught me enough that I became a licensed Deejay/radio announcer when I was 18. I went to Jacksonville, Florida for the horrible wintry winter of 1975–76 (it even snowed there, too) and met Ronnie Van Zant of Lynyrd Skynyrd who was with the band and promoting their album Nuthin’ Fancy for their hometown fans. According to Wikipedia, the group “originally formed in 1964 as My Backyard in Jacksonville, Florida[.] [T]he band used various names such as The Noble Five and One Percent, before coming up with Lynyrd Skynyrd in 1969.” I remember Ronnie talking about their beginnings, but it meant nothing to me then. At 18, I had the world ahead of me and I was itching to explore it.

I joined the Navy and moved to Gaeta, Italy when I was 19. The 2 years I lived there, I discovered that there are Great White Sharks in the Mediterranean Sea. Luckily, that discovery was made on land where fishermen displayed their catches. I traveled a lot while I lived in Gaeta, and I almost always traveled to places by train. But my lack of understanding Italian caused me to often board the wrong trains during my first year there. Several times after touring Naples, I boarded the wrong train and ended up in Rome. This wasn’t a big deal since I was traveling alone. But I boarded the wrong train at Rome once while traveling with a group of friends and ended up in Verona instead of Naples. It took me several months to understand the language and to board the right trains. All in all, it made traveling fun and adventurous.

Ted was the first celebrity I met; Ronnie the second. The third was actor George Peppard during a visit to Cannes, France and the French Riviera when I was 20. I’m not sure how tall he was, but he seemed to stand a foot shorter than my 6-feet 2-inches. I was surprised that he looked taller on TV, notably Banacek (1972–74), part of the NBC Mystery Movie series. (This was before The A-Team.) He told me during our meeting that the angle of the cameras made him look taller. He also shared that he was a pilot and a proud veteran of the Marine Corps. Before we parted, he told me to always strive for and do my best, no matter what I did in life. Great advice that I have never forgotten.

My favorite pastime is reading. It began with children’s books and carried over to comic books and eventually novels. My favorite comic book character was Peter Parker and his alter ego, Spider-Man. I once owned Amazing Fantasy, issue #15 of Amazing Adult Fantasy, August 1962, the first comic book that Spider-Man appeared in. My mom threw it away when she redecorated my bedroom while I was in the Navy.

As an avid reader of fantasy and horror—especially vampires (when they were still cool), I discovered the first Stephen King paperbacks when I was 19 and bought ’Salem’s Lot and Carrie. Though he wrote Carrie first, I read ’Salem’s Lot before I read Carrie. SL was and probably will always be my favorite King book, not because of the vampire in it, but because it really painted the small town atmosphere akin to my hometown.

My other favorite pastime is watching baseball games. I played the game a lot when I was a kid, and I went on to play men’s softball when I became an adult. There’s nothing more thrilling than the one-on-one competition between a pitcher and a batter. Though I saw many great pitchers over the years, the fastest pitcher I ever faced was a woman. She struck out every batter on my softball team and pitched a no-hitter game. That was the only year the league I was on allowed women teams to compete in tournaments. Too bad. Those ladies put us to shame. I hope my athletic granddaughter is reading this and will take to heart that girls can do just as well as boys … even better. It just takes work.

My hour allotted to write this blog is over, so I’ll stop reminiscing and try to figure out what I want for my birthday. My family keeps asking me. But I feel I have everything I ever wanted: To have a good and healthy life, and to have fun living it.

School Bus Filled with Memories [nostalgia]

I became nostalgic of my childhood after my high school class held its 40th reunion in July (which I missed but saw pictures of on Facebook) and the school season began last week for most of the children living in my area, while others began the season today. As it was when I was a child, township, county, and state lines decide what school each child goes to, which can alienate neighborhood friends by sending them to different school districts. I had a next-door neighbor who went to a rival school because the district line separated our properties. We were best friends during the three months of summer, and then barely saw each other during the rest of the year. We both rode buses—the yellow ones with flashing amber and crimson lights on them—and we would wave at each other while standing in front of our homes at seven o’clock in the morning, waiting for our rides. This was during the 1960s, so we weren’t privileged to cell phones. If such a thing had existed back then, we would have talked to and texted each other, and kept one another abreast of our lives instead of waving from our designated places that seemed miles apart from each other along our country road.

If you were a child who rode a bus in from the country to school, you may have had to sit on the edge of a seat along the aisle because of overcrowding. I spent those days from first grade to third grade learning how to balance myself on the edge of a seat without falling. By fourth grade, another bus added to our school lessened the amount of students crammed inside my bus. When that happened, I discovered the comfort of sitting fully in a seat. The only discomfort I recall was having the back of my head attacked by straight pins older kids shot through drinking straws.

Riding the back seats of the bus was a privilege reserved for older students, and most of the country boys that usually occupied them were ornery and mean when they had to wear starchy school clothes and spend their days indoors instead of out. Hijinks from them abounded when the many stops at houses occupied the bus driver. Younger students learned early to safeguard their lunchboxes, lest they arrive at school with no food to eat.

I enjoyed school, so despite the straight pins and occasional wedgie, my morning rides on the bus were filled with delicious anticipation. I made many friends on my bus until my father moved us to town so he could be closer to his job. I missed riding the bus most of all.

School buses traveling on sticky, tarry roads have a unique sound. It’s a haunting music to my ears fifty years later, and I have awakened often to the raspy six o’clock sound of bus tires singing to me during August, September, and October when the bedroom windows are still open. They sing a siren’s song of bygone days that I wish I could relive, if only for a week of waving to my neighbor and best friend who died five years ago from cancer. Of sitting on the bus with school chums that have moved away to distant places. Of talking about the latest Johnny Quest cartoon with that girl who said she was a tomboy and proud of it. Of trading baseball cards and lunches with an older boy named Frank who was killed in Viet Nam. Of riding home with the windows down at 60 miles an hour on those hot days when going home was the best feeling in the world after a long day at school. To do that would be the greatest “blast from the past” in the world.

Doing the “Green Thing” For Our Planet

This isn’t my creation. A friend sent it to me via email and I felt compelled to post it here. I see this generation gap all too often where I work at and from observing life around me.

While checking out groceries at a store, a young cashier suggested to a much older woman that she should “go green” and bring her own grocery bags because plastic bags weren’t good for the environment.

The woman apologized and explained, “We didn’t have this ‘green thing’ in my earlier days.”

No. In those earlier days, we returned milk bottles, soda bottles and beer bottles to the store. The store sent them back to the bottling plants to be washed and sterilized and refilled, so the plants could use the same bottles.

In those days, grocery stores bagged our groceries in brown paper bags that we reused for numerous things—most memorable besides household garbage bags, was the use of brown paper bags as book covers for our schoolbooks. This was to ensure that public property (the books provided for our use by the school) was not defaced by our doodles.

We didn’t do the “green thing” back then. But we walked up stairs because we didn’t have an escalator in every store and office building. And fewer people owned cars then, so we walked and didn’t climb into a 300-horsepower machine every time we had to go two blocks.

Those were the days when we washed the baby’s diapers because we didn’t have the throwaway kind. We dried clothes on a line, not in an energy-gobbling machine. We relied on wind and solar power to dry our clothes back then. And kids got hand-me-down clothes and shoes from their brothers, sisters, and cousins. Not everyone got brand-new clothing before the beginning of every school year. And foot-pedal sewing machines repaired many of those clothes.

Most houses had one TV or radio. Lucky was the kid who had either or both in their bedroom. In the kitchen, we blended and stirred by hand because we didn’t have electric machines to do everything for us. When we packaged a fragile item to send in the mail, we used wadded up old newspapers to cushion it, not Styrofoam or plastic bubble wrap. Back then, we didn’t fire up an engine and burn gasoline just to cut the lawn. We used a push mower that ran on human power. We exercised by working so we didn’t need to go to a health club to run on treadmills that operate on electricity.

We didn’t have the “green thing” back then. We drank from a fountain instead of buying our water in plastic bottles. We refilled writing pens with ink instead of buying a new pen, and we replaced the razor blades in a razor instead of throwing away the whole razor just because the blade got dull.

Back then, the kids who didn’t ride a school bus either rode their bikes to school or walked instead of turning their moms into a 24-hour taxi service in the family’s $45,000 SUV or van, which cost what a whole house did before the “green thing.”

And when we wanted a burger, we didn’t need a computerized gadget to receive a signal beamed from satellites 23,000 miles out in space in order to find the nearest burger joint where cashiers can’t make change without the cash register telling them how much.

It’s sad that the current generation laments how wasteful we old folks were when it’s they who need a lesson in conservation to save our environment for future generations.

Remembering [poetry]

Do you remember how we crept along fences young together
stumbling through to the other side of eternity
never thinking we would ever become middle-aged

Do you recall homesick high-school weeks making us feel gentle
like days of a last breathless uncertain chord played—
a warm rich memory from an old woman’s concert piano

Do you remember solos
Where did they go

Too much, too many are stored within the unraveling fabric of a vanishing time

Solid silver lively youths are gone to now grace hopefully this little time for writing verse

Neither of us will ever be really old
or wholly separated as we move into our later years
clutching at our memories
unless we do forget