Thursday, January 28, 2010

Riddle of an Oyster

Riddle of an Oyster

Silver as a seashell,
Round as the moon,
My outsides unassuming
but inside a craggy room.
That's where my beauty is, my beauty untold,
and what my insides hold.

by Hedgehog

Friday, January 22, 2010

Unexpected Visitor

My Grandpa Max took pleasure in the odd, the surprising. He loved strangenesses and misadventure. If something was out of place, off-kilter, amiss, wrong...even worrying or macabre...I could always catch that glint in his eye (recognizing it because I was exactly the same way). He carefully documented life's mishaps, great and small, with his camera...and he was always on the lookout for mishaps to document.

Imagine his delight, then, when a car landed in his dooryard on an otherwise unremarkable afternoon.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Empire State of Mind

You know me. How often do I post video links? Next to never. I had to break my general rule and post this. Let me just say--maybe it's a New York thing-- 'cause "baby I'm from New York." But I love the kids and the song and the whole feeling. Got me all choked up. I love that I'm from here. I love that Hedgehog is growing up here, in the middle of the "concrete jungle where dreams are made." Just forgive me my moment of NYC pride...

Hail a gypsy cab with me and just be a New Yorker for a'll love it, I promise.

And thanks P.S. 22 chorus for giving me a bright moment in my day.

Updated, just because I'm absolutely loving loving loving the original Jay-Z/Alicia Keys version too--much darker, still wonderful. Two sides of a coin:

Saturday, January 16, 2010


You died six years ago, and although I don't cry as much anymore I still miss you so awfully, big funny red-beard ebullient bon vivant interested in what I had to say smart booming voice rolling laugh dad.

Friday, January 15, 2010

My Other History: Part One

As you're probably all too well aware by now, I am a self-defined fourth-generation Brooklyn Jew of European Jewish ancestry. It's the strongest association I have, the one with the most resonance, and when I see Leah in the mind's eye, she's superimposed over those generations of Jews, the old photos of the bearded ones and the Yiddish speakers. But there is another part of my past, as improbable in its time as a paw-paw tree in the arctic ice...

My father, Alexander Paul, was the son of a very unlikely union: a beautiful, volatile daughter of Hungarian Jewish immigrants, and a laconic Baptist scofflaw from Kentucky.

The story of that match is strange and sad, with a precipitous, romantic beginning and a tragic ending, and to think that it is in part my own story fills me with no small amazement.

My paternal grandmother Marion met a Southern boy, a Merchant Marine on leave: Leonard "Buster" Wilson. Where they met is a source of family debate. My mother claims the setting was a bar in NYC. I seem to remember something about a Long Island dancehall. But never mind. The fact is that they met, there was a kiss and a chemistry, and a romance. Marion was only seventeen. Buster was perhaps as foreign to Grandma as an American man could be, although I'm only speculating.

Grandma Marion, Oceanside NY, 1940s
click to enlarge

Grandpa Buster, insouciant slouch and tipped hat, Louisville Kentucky 1940s
click to enlarge

The initial meeting between Marion and Buster begat an inexorable chain of events: an unseemly pregnancy, a shotgun marriage by a justice of the peace, and, ultimately, my father.

My grandma, in love, made a trip to Kentucky to meet Buster's parents and his five sisters:

Grandma (#6) and the five Kentucky sisters, Russell Springs, Kentucky 1942
click to enlarge

What these born-and-bred Kentucky baptists must have thought of the Long Island Jew, a pregnant adolescent at that, I am not sure. They seem congenial enough, in the photo. They probably liked her, as she had an apparent sweetness and a definite charisma, even into her old age. She was funny and outspoken when I knew her, and she must have been that and more so as a girl. But still, she was a stranger in a strange land, in Kentucky.

Buster went off again with the Merchant Marines, Grandma Marion returned to her mother's house in Oceanside with my baby father in tow, and the marriage ended in divorce almost immediately. My mother tells me that Great-grandma Sadie, Marion's mother, had an order of protection against Buster, insuring that he could not come near his ex-wife or their son. Why? I don't know. But if true, it speaks to pain and turmoil, fights and anguish. Not a peaceful dissolution of a marriage, but a fraught beginning to my father's fatherless childhood...

to be continued in Part Two: wherein my family makes a secret journey to Russell Springs, KY to discover dad's past

My Kentucky Forbears:

My Kentucky-by-way-of-Scotland great-great grandpa Alexander Logan and great-great grandma Susan Josephine Wilson

Great-great grandpa Alexander Logan

Grandpa Buster, 10 years old

To see more wonderful photos and amazing ancestral stories of Sepia Saturday, I highly recommend a visit to News from Nowhere

Saturday, January 9, 2010

I Will Never Know

She called him Maxie.

The early love letters were written mostly in Yiddish, and she kept them carefully into her old age, tied up with an ivory ribbon and tucked into a corner of her sewing table where we discovered the packet after they had both gone on.

The letters went missing, for the first time in 70 years, when we packed up their house. I came to believe that they had not wanted us observing their secret moments and the letters were lost by design rather than accident...yet several years later, they turned up again, mysteriously. I looked at them this time, even removing the old papers from their envelopes, staring at the Yiddish written out in two very different hands, his bold, dark and straight, hers lighter and with a slant...yet, I put them back without translating.

I can't bring myself to intrude on their private conversation.

for more Sepia Saturday entries, visit Alan's blog

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Whose woods these are

the view towards our cabin

The quietest new year's eve. Not that my new year's eves were ever so wild. Although I have a few memorable ones tucked in here and there. Like the year that I and A. went to the Young Communist League party...turns out Young Communists are just like everyone else, but with cheaper champagne.

Hedgehog and I rang in 2010 in a hotel room in the Adirondacks--our camp isn't winterized, and it's all snowed in now, so although we drove in and Hedgehog rolled around and made snow angels, I just couldn't face roughing it at night. I really like being warm, and I like hot running water...

Still, the lake looked beautiful in all that intensity of white, with the towering pines against an ominous sky. Very very grand.

And we spent a companionable hour or two next door at my mother's cabin, which, although lacking central heating, is through sheer industry and planning and foresight quite snug for winter. My stepdad is a consummate woodsman, and, along with Sarge, the one I most want on my side in the post-apocalyptic wilderness...Hedgehog warmed up in the armchair by the woodstove, while her red mittens dried cozily on their spokes. Engrossed in the Green Fairy Book, crunching pretzels, she hardly seemed to notice the sudden wind rushing against the side of the cabin.

bare branches against the snow

my mom's lion with a snow crown

mom's woodpile

the wood that got away

woodpile in use--mom heats with a wood stove

ubiquitous snow-covered pine cone

our Adirondack chairs, scene of many a long hot summer afternoon

I know I'm so very Brooklyn, but part of my soul lives here in the pinetops...