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GROWING UP

[MOTHER’S DAY GIFT: REVISION OF MAY 2014 POSTING]

BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL

MOTHERS’ DAY: The current holiday was created in 1908 as a day to honor one’s mother.  President Woodrow Wilson made the day an official national holiday in 1914.

Have you ever been asked, “Who is the person you most admired from your childhood?”  I believed from once upon a time that everything “must be true.  My mother said so.”

Yes, that worked for me, with my religion of motherolatry.  I thought it was true: My mother was all-powerful, all knowing, all loving, and all wise–seeing all.

M-O-M = G-O-D.

Then it happened: 9th grade for sure.  World History.  Discussion question about . . . and my answer: “My mother said so.”  And the teacher’s response: “Your mother is not God!” shouted back by my man-teacher wearing his black cassock.  “NO?”

How could I have been so naive?  How did I ever make it into high school believing that my mother had the VERUM VERBUM, the true word?  When did I stop believing?  When did I come to that realization the Game of Life was changing?  That I had to learn for myself?

verbum-dei

Somewhere, sometime, I said, “NO!” to Mom-God.  There I was, probably shaking while or after the words came from my mouth.  My Act of Rebellion.

And so it goes in the Game of Life, as we grow through adolescence into adulthood (which my pop-psychology taught me.  Or was that Gail Sheehy: Tryout Twenties, Turbulent Thirties, Flourishing Forties, Flaming Fifties, and Serene Sixties?).

* * *

I cannot imagine not having a mother, losing her to disease [Steel Magnolias], in a car accident [Raising Helen], in childbirth [The Sign], to a hunter’s bullet [Bambi], or to the many other awful things that happen to mothers before their children know them. 

“I lost my mother when I was five.”  “I don’t remember my mother.”  “My mother died of cancer, when I was seventeen.”  “My mom never came home from the party.”

And on it went, as I read college essay after college essay, year after year, for over twenty years.  This question was my choice.  I wanted my students to do personal narratives by which they could express themselves–and do their best writing–I hoped.

As the semesters ended, I turned to my readings.  Often tired, I usually would become pensive while reading.  I tried to be an objective reader, weighing the writing against the grading standards.  Yet so often I was pulled into the story being told.  I think I was, at times, like Miss Lonelyhearts [by Nathaniel West], encountering sad story after sad story, truth stranger than fiction.  I could not help it.

Essays ranged from the “My mother took care of me when I was sick” to “My mom had it rough raising the nine of us with no father…or with a druggie father…or with an alcoholic father…or with a___ father.”  [How did she manage?]

While I was drifting off, and away from the papers, my own questions, my own answers snuck in: How did my mother manage to sleep, work nights (mostly), raise the four of us, and keep up with the household duties–and be a wife, too?

Doing the dishes was the job that fell to my sister, Janice, and me.  We learned–and were outstanding dish-doers.  “Glasses, knives, and forks.  Dishes, pots, and pans.”  That was The Sacred Order.  I learned that way, from Mom.  [Trait One: MANAGER]

Years before (maybe when in 9th grade?) as I was washing coffee cups after supper, I reached into the soapy water, reaching after a cup that slipped from my soapy left hand.  My hand went automatically to retrieve the cup, but the broken cup sliced into the fingers of my left hand.  Blood in the water.  Panic from the immediate intense pain, soap-in-cut.  My sister screaming for, of course, “M-O-M!”  [Trait Two: NURSE]

“Mom, can you read my story before you go to work?”  [Trait Three: GRAMMARIAN]  ‘Nuff said.

grammarian amazon

Mothers cheer us on: “You can do it.  Go ahead!  Go ahead!”  I remember vividly, her feeling good on a warm Saturday evening in Chicago.  She had just ridden the (used) small bicycle bought for me.  I ran alongside her with glee.  At the corner, she turned around, giving me the bike.  My turn.  My first two-wheeler.

“You can do it.  Try again,” I heard as I tried to gain balance, but fell into the bushes.  Getting up, scratched arms be damned!, I tried again.  Her laughing encouragement behind me grew as I cycled away from her.  At the end of the sidewalk, near the alley, I stopped (applying the brakes expertly), then fell over–and off.  I turned back to see my mom waiting at the end of the street.  I rode to her.  “Expertly,” of course.  Yeah, wobbling from side to side, houses’ steps and bushes on the right, grass-curb-city street on the left.  I pedaled the gauntlet.  To Mom.  [Trait Four: CYCLIST TRAINER]

50s bicycle

50s BICYCLE (CREDIT: LIVEAUCTIONEERS)

“What do you think I should do?”

If there is one question I ask, probably more than any other, it is “What do you think I should do?”  My kids do it.  My wife does it.  We all do it.

Looking over my Early Asking Age to now, I realize this has to be The Ultimate Question: Each of us is a Grand Inquisitor.  We seek answers.  I seek (and sought) answers.  However, the answers that come from “What do you think I should do?”, though not unique to kids asking moms, make us Deciders.  For the answer usually is, “You’ll have to decide.”  It means, “You’ll have to make up your own mind–and live with it.”  This is not cold, harsh, cruel, but is concerning, caring, and–when I think more about it–allowing the Inquisitor to grow and live.  Therefore, we talk and discuss and ask: “What should we do?”

Yes, just like a mom, she said, “Yes, you’ll have to decide.”  Just as I expected, not unexpected.  [Trait Five: NON-DECIDER/DECIDER]

Good move, for, as we all know so well, not just Mother Nature, but “Mother knows best” (often).

So I would search those student essays for goodness and admiration, stories that demonstrated “goodness” and “admiration.”  “All the good” moms do . . . “is oft interred with their bones.”

NO!  The good DOES live after them.  I CAN recall the good times, the admired times; memories of the hard times, the rough times; illnesses, job layoffs, or . . . .”

Too, from Trait Five, I learned: to be able to reach decisions, come to conclusions, after rational thought, not impulse thoughts, but rather, like a good Indiana Jones Crusader, to choose wisely.

 So, “The person I most admire from childhood . . . .”

 © James F. O’Neil   2014;  Rev. 2017

* * *

 ~Irish Proverb: “A man loves his sweetheart the most, his wife the best, but his mother the longest.”

happy-mothers-day shlomoandvitos.com

(CREDIT: shlomoandvitos.com)

 

BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL

“Just lather, that’s all.  You are an executioner and I am only a barber.  Each person has his own place in the scheme of things.  That’s right.  His own place.”  — from the short story  “Just Lather, That’s All” by Hernando Téllez (1908 – 1966)

Possibly the most famous work by Hernando Téllez was his short story Espuma y nada más (“Just Lather, That’s All”), a story widely read amongst American high school Spanish students.  It depicts the inner conflict of a barber who is shaving the captain of a military unit who has tracked, imprisoned, and killed some of the barber’s comrades.  The barber vacillates between thoughts of slitting the captain’s throat with his razor or giving him the expert shave for which he is known.  In the end, the barber decides he does not want to be stained in blood, but only in soap lather or “espuma y nada más.”  As the captain leaves, he reveals that he heard the barber would kill him; his visit was to see if this was true.  [Summary by Wikipedia]

I first heard about this story when I was teaching 10th grade English in Florida.  I knew nothing of it except it was a film available through the A-V Department.  “Anything I could use to keep them entertained,” I said to myself one day while I was shaving.  The 10th graders and I were having some difficulties with literature “appreciation.”  So I ordered the film.  They and I were mesmerized.  What a great film–and I had to find and read the story.  I did–again and again.

Yet aside from the literary effects of the story or the history of my classroom use of the film, the memories that audio-visual production (real film with projector!) conjured up took me back to my beginning experiences with face hair and shaving, images of laughter and love affairs with razors and shaving; remembrances of questionable pedagogical actions.  Gillette, single edge, blue blades, double edge, Mach 3 Turbo; Merkur, Wilkinson.  Words, words, words.  And Remington, not shotgun, but a 1959 Electric Roll-a Matic electric razor.

As men get older, they don’t shave as often.  If they do, it’s out of habit, not of necessity.  “Don’t hafta go ta work.”  Or when they look shaggy, or out of self-esteem–or, perhaps, guilt.  Or, possibly, old military-like discipline.  I’m one of those who don’t shave much anymore, certainly not every day, as before.  “In the day,” I used to look forward to Saturdays, for a day off–especially from shaving.  Yet how excited and eager we were “once upon a time” to be able to shave like our dads, brothers, or uncles.  Then.

Today, shaving and all it entails is such big-money business, in stores and in advertising.  Reggie Perrin was the consummate Razor Man, from reggie-perrin-bbc-martin-clunesBBC-UK: from the company always trying to out-blade the multi-blade blade.  Reggie was British comedy.  More important, who would ever have thought of a sit-com about a razor blade engineer-salesman, and his company’s Quest for the Perfect Razor Blade.  The elusive “Perfect Razor Blade”–or even The Perfect Shave, like the search for The Holy Grail or the secret of alchemy.  We men (mostly) continue our Quest, as the mythics tell us “from the beginning” (ab initio) until… 

Which brings me up to my story.  (My “beginning” early memories of collecting “stuff” includes digging through garbage in the neighborhood alleys of Chicago to find used razor blades.  Whatever possessed me to do such a thing?  [I had quite a collection of Gillette Blue Blades.  I related some of this story of collection/addiction previously: https://memoriesofatime.com/2013/10/25/confessions-of-an-addict-reflections-on-collecting/].)

During my puberty and adolescence, peach fuzz came, sprouted in the pores on my face where zits did not thrive.  As I aged, I found razor blades not kind to my bumpy face.  My Uncle Bill gave me the Remington electric in 1959 that I used through my senior year of high school, then took to college. 

remington-electric-razor-my-first

JIMMY O’NEIL’S FIRST RAZOR

(Any memory images of college shaving are non-existent, more than a blur.)  My Electric Days have included Norelco products and mini-portables–and Braun Mobile units, battery-powered, for quick touch up works, at home or office.  These have been delightful.  Thomas Edison notwithstanding, I always have come back to the lather and the razor.  I have been on the receiving end of the lather and the blade: in college, a classmate who did haircutting offered to give me a shave.  My first and last with a straight edge, though older barbers still do neck trims with straight razors, and around the ears. 

For our first Christmas after our wedding, my new bride learned–perhaps from hints I had made, or from her reading–that The Perfect Shave Tool was a Merkur (German) razor wedded to a Wilkinson Sword Blade blade (made in England).  These, with a genuine badger bristle brush and a bar of Williams Shaving Soap were my gifts under the tree in 1963. 

merkur-razor-by-toecutter1967-photobucket

MERKUR RAZOR (by photobucket)

Brushes later, shaving mugs later, then Burma Shave canned lather, or Barbasol Thick and Rich (with aloe, of course)–to say nothing of a cup of Old Spice in a mug–have been used, tried, sampled (gels never were a success), and discarded.  I am a fickle shaver with lather, even trying shaving using messy (non-foaming) greasy-like cream or Noxzema.  Messy application, messy shaving, messy clean up.  (But, incidentally, a clean shave.  In spite of that, not worth the mess.)

In the past years, I have tried different razors and a combination of blades.  No Reggie Perrin blades (six or seven?), but single, twin, triple, with Atra razors, various Gillette models, the Merkur, and the Mach3 Turbo (current).  Harry’s in New York sent me a trial sample kit.  Harry’s is becoming popular, with good products and mailing.  But I just could not maneuver the blade under my nose…and around my nostril…  So No to their beautiful razor and handle and shaving cream and Blade-of-the-Month Club.  And I also do not need any Gillette Fusion!

So this story ends.  Not quite.  That film for the 10th graders.  Whatever possessed me (another possession) to bring brush and soap and razor to class and ask for a volunteer.  Was I sure of what I was doing?  (Did I care?)  I was certain that many of the peach-fuzzed boys had not yet shaved; many of the girls (I assumed then) had never seen any boy shave, or watched anyone shave, for real or in the movies (and certainly not as done in the Lather film).  Up stands Jerry Cohee, and comes to the front of the room.  “Gather round, kids,” I might have said, putting a towel around him.  I had the water and the soap ready.  In the cup, I “began to stir with the brush…and whipped up the soap” and just lathered.  I took my razor, and off they came, the hairs on his chinny, chin, chin.  Voila!  Done!  “Next?”  No Next.  Time for the bell. 

That was the end.  The last time I showed that film.  The last time I demonstrated expert shaving in the classroom.  The last time I taught 10th grade, and high school classes (moving on into a community college setting).  After all, though, it was one of those memoriesofatime never to be dismissed as trivial or insignificant.  So much surrounds it making it a great story.  And that’s it.

Telling stories about shaving isn’t as glamorous as writing about food in the movies, diets, exercise plans, building muscles in a gym, or travels to Paris, or babies’ first walkings–perhaps.  But I enjoy telling my stories about shaving.  At the same time, I have been thankful, at times, that I did not have to worry about cutting or nicking an ankle or taking a chunk out of my knee or calf, or messing with a razor in a bathtub.  I just need some hot water, a sink, a good razor and blade, and Just Lather, that’s all.

 

© James F. O’Neil  2016

shaving-bowl-and-colonel-shaving-brush

SHAVING BOWL AND BRUSH

 

BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL

How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler

how to read a book by mortimer adler old

What a great book for me!  While a senior in high school, I belonged to the Book Club.  A group of us would meet once a month to discuss a book chosen by a faculty advisor.  He prepared questions for our comments.  Our first reading was Adler’s book.

This now-favorite and well-used book (first published in 1940) is still available in both “real” print and “electronic” print.  I have gone through two or three copies–and have given copies as gifts.  Were I to point out a most influential book in my life, Adler’s would be one of the three (followed by The Power and the Glory [1940] and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn [1943]).

Often I see Adler’s book staring at me from its place on my bookshelf.

Looking through this book not long ago, I was searching for an answer to some question about my teaching career and about students: “…although the teacher may help his student in many ways, it is the student himself who must do the learning.  Knowledge must grow in his mind if learning is to take place.”

At that point, in a special mental instant, memory-filled, I became so aware of how far I had come in my learning and discovering, by reading.  Then there occurred a light-bulb “Ah-ha!” kind of connective moment,

light of reason

not about reading but about my own discovering, by do-ing.  I stood before my bookshelf, holding Adler, musing: What have I done? 

When I was being presented with my retirement gifts and honor plaque, “For his twenty years of full-time service…,” I stood there–really–thinking about my grandfather teaching me how to do “hands-on”: the practical, not the theoretical.  Nailing and sawing and shoveling and painting and gluing.

So much of my teaching career was not “hands on”–except, of course, when I would finger paint with my Head Start students; except, of course, my writing class notes on black, green, and white boards; except, of course, for correcting-annotating-commenting upon hundreds and piles of student papers; except, of course, for typing lesson plans, calculating and entering grades and achievements.  (Late in my career, though, I was doing “hands-on” computer instruction.)

Adler’s how-to book came long after some of my how-to experiences.

While in grammar school (elementary school), I did babysitting duties: bathing, feeding, and bedding (and changing diapers).  Yet I also was able to get a “real” job at a local grocery story.  I put up stock, helped clean up, but most importantly (since I was an experienced newspaper delivery boy), I was able to be trusted to deliver groceries.  Not as easy as it sounds, considering the delivery vehicle:

grocery bicycle

DELIVERY BICYCLE [RUSTED]

Careful and skillful, I did not let the bicycle tip or turn, spilling the contents of the basket–well, not often.  I learned then about center of gravity.  (The turning bike wanted to pull me over.)

Sometimes “all thumbs” at changing faucet washers, and driving nails, I still managed to be “hand-y”: knowing how to paint, scrub floors in the local school with a temperamental scrubbing machine, do dishes (glasses, knives and forks first; dishes, pots and pans last); mow lawns, shovel snow, change tires (automobile and bicycle).  (Later in life, in my automotive-mechanic stage of life, I actually installed water pumps, changed brakes, and even added a Holley 4-barrel carburetor to my 1954 Ford!  What achievements!)

1954 ford

I could tie a tie, long after learning how to tie shoelaces; shave my face, handwrite, and sign my name.  I hate to dust, but I can organize dirty clothes and do laundry.  And from observing and reading, I could/can make a “signature” meatloaf!

While working in a foundry, handling a swing grinder and hand tools, I made, fashioned, and finished dies for plastic companies, or was grinding off mold-edges on fire hydrants or small engines, still hot from the casting.  This work was dirty, sweaty, and hands-on. 

Yes, I have been a doer, with hands and fingers.  And I am pleased. 

I did, though, have my creative artistic attempts, like drawing flowers that looked like lollipops; then had twenty good years using my hands with glass, colored and contoured, fabricating flowers and shapes and geometrics that let the light shine through: my stained-glass years.

The Maltese Blue--One of the Best

THE MALTESE BLUE

All this and more.

My story of learning and discovery, however, cannot end without mention of one of my other greatest accomplishments of manipulative making.  I was privileged, honored, to be able to use my hands in a bookbindery.  Now how is that for a Mortimer Adler segue?

As a college junior, I found a place in the college bindery, an opportunity for me to come in contact with paper, cloth, glue, drill presses–to love books even more and realize the sacredness of pages put together.  There I folded and bound papers and pages into sets, the fascicles; sewed and pulled and tightened using needles and “thread” to sew units, not unlike Shakespeare’s quartos and octavos.  I grouped, squeezed, and pressed together the clusters of papers, then glued and waited.  The ends of the pages were trimmed with large-bladed cutters; I lost no parts of any fingers or thumbs. 

I learned how to make covers of cardboard and cloth, uniting the covers to the sewed and glued pages.  I pressed all parts together, and waited for drying.  I even learned to print titles, imprinted, impressed, using fonts of type and gold leaf foil.  I bound magazines, students’ notes, paperback texts, library journals, old books.

book edge of grant memoirs

I was proud of my work; I did my job.  I was good at my work and all the work I have done “with these hands.”

From all of this–from my reading, from my doing, from my remembering–it is that when I consider this “do-ing,” I am well pleased, something akin to sticking in my scarred thumb and pulling out a plumb–and saying, “What a good boy am I!” 

I did well, with my fingers and my thumbs. 

©  James F. O’Neil  2016

Little-Jack-Horner the color com

 

 

 

    

 

 

 

BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL

“The Emperor of Ice-Cream” by Wallace Stevens:  “The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.”

“Why the emperor of ice cream?  It’s an odd combination: an absolute, imperial power and a benign, sweet treat.  Ice cream is a sensuous delight, eagerly anticipated and gleefully consumed.  If you wait too long to eat it, it’ll melt.  So much for the ice cream–now what about the emperor?

“Ice cream is like life: sweet, or at least hungrily indulged in, while it lasts.  It’s also like the dead: cold and destined to be consumed or to dissipate away.  Perhaps, then, the line that closes each stanza is a wake-up call to readers.  If the “only emperor” or dominant principle of the world is the one we’re reminded of when we see ice cream melting–(or, in a different way, when we attend a funeral  [shown in the poem])–we’d be well advised to heed it and make each moment count.”  –Austin Allen, Poetry [magazine] Foundation

Once upon a time: Rainbow cones on the South Side: 93rd and Western in Chicago.

RAINBOW CONE chicago

There see the giant cone, with five or six colors in slices–not scoops–of ice cream piled on top of one another. 

We screamed with excitement for ice cream as our family made its special way farther south of our Marshfield home.  It was a drive from Marquette Boulevard.  No quick 45-mph trip like today.  Probably in the green ’52 Chevy, 25-30 mph, with plenty of stoplights interrupting the special occasion.

Now when it comes to memories in time about flavors, I don’t recall any special Rainbow offerings, but the colors were vibrant.  This is embedded in me.  And in days before Rainbow–and after–ice cream has been a special weakness of mine.  Not as an addiction, like anything-chocolate, but as that special “Good Nutrition My Plate” (nestled within the perfect food container that not only holds but is eaten) with its various food groups which include NUTS (coco-nut and chocolate peanut butter, pistachio and black walnut); FRUITS (like White House Cherry and rum raisin); DAIRY (lemon gelato and butter pecan);  PROTEIN (egg nog and phish food, and chunky monkey and chocolate Moose-tracks); VEGETABLES (carrot-cake and chocolate malted and mint chocolate chip); GRAINS (chocolate cookie dough, and Grape-nuts).

my plate image

However, Rainbow was but one special source of providing me with melting gustatory delights.  No doubt about it, Good Humor was like no other.

good-humor

The bells of the truck signaled the Coming of the Man in White. He enticed us kids to come outside our homes or from our apartments, or made us stop dead in our playing-tracks.  If we had the twenty or twenty-five cents, our saved nickels and dimes, we made our purchases.

good-humor-man good humor dot comAnd?  “Coconut for me, please.”  The delicious-tasting ice cream bar on a stick, covered completely with a thin coat of white-something loaded with coconuts pieces.  Heaven as I ate it.  Heavenly.  If my favorite was not available, I had to settle for something like chocolate cake or perhaps succumb to savoring an orange creamsickle:

good humor orange creamsickle

Good Humor exists today, in supermarkets, in 7-11, in other places, and even with a few trucks in certain neighborhood locations.  “But it’s not the same.”  Yet I would never turn down a chocolate eclair, a toasted almond, or even a strawberry shortcake bar.

Howard Johnson’s at some time was a place I remember first seeing coconut milk on the menu.  I thought that it would provide me with a special ice cream treat: a coconut milk milkshake.  O YES!  YES!  YES!  And then, later, I asked, “A coconut malted milkshake, please.”  The nectar of the gods for sure!

Gus Pappas died in 1987.  He was 83–and that was a long-ago moment.  In 1953, “Mr. Pappas” (“Gus”) bought a corner confectionery in the Byrne Building, at Garfield (55th) and Halsted: Pappas Sweet Shop.  We just knew it as the ice cream shop.  It was a hangout for me and my friend Bill Manion, or with Joe Balint.  My sister and her friends found time to have their ice cream and their teen-age talk-sessions there.

BURNS BUILDING Pat Telios Reagan BYRNE BUILDING WITH PAPPAS CORNER

No matter how warm outside, I remember the store was always cool inside, with its white tile floors and marble counter-tops.  Cool was needed to keep the dipped, rolled, and wrapped delicacies fresh and tasty (Oh, those chocolate-covered cherries!): Who needed Fannie May candies when we had Pappas on the corner?

Gus had a son, James (“Jimmy” to us), who worked in the store.  In my time, Jimmy began singing with the Chicago Metropolitan Opera.  Though his first role was in the chorus (My mother and I saw him in La Boheme.), he was a star to me.  He brought music and fun-with-music into my life, and an appreciation of opera that I do cherish.  And there is nothing today that compares to my savoring a Green River Malted Milkshake, with homemade ice cream, that Jimmy Pappas made for me.  Yum!

green river malt

GREEN RIVER MALTED MILKSHAKE

©  James F. O’Neil  2016

 Vanilla-Coconut-Milkshake-Silk-PureCoconut COCONUT MILK

Major Ingredient of a Homemade Coconut Milkshake

 


 

 

BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL

“A lot of parents pack up their troubles and send them off to summer camp.”  — Raymond Duncan

[Music plays]: Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh.  Here I am at Camp Granada.

 . . .

Summer camp.  Often looked forward to, by kids and adults both.  Most campers fondly recall the experiences long after they reach adulthood.  [Make sure you find and see the 1993 film Indian Summer to fondly recall some awakening memoriesofatime: “Indian Summer starts out like one of those reunion movies where friends from long ago gather again, to settle old scores, sort out old romances, open old wounds, and make new beginnings.  All of those rituals have been performed by the end of the film, but curiously enough, the movie isn’t really about what happens.  It’s about how it feels.  This is a story more interested in tone and mood than in big plot points.”  –Roger Ebert, April 23, 1993]

indian summer cover

NOT ALL HAPPY CAMPERS

Camp is usually a time to make new friends, try new things, come face-to-face with animals, bugs, unusual weather, strange sleeping conditions, and many new responsibilities.

Experiential:  Arts and crafts:  Yes, potholders, and key fobs.  Field trips.  Flowers and weeds’ identification.

Music: sing-a longs, campfire songs: “She waded in the water and she got her feet all wet….”; mysterious drum poundings and even dancing.

Water: swimming, boating, rescue; leeches, water bugs, and small water snakes.

Health: Nutrition, meal preparation, outdoor cooking (and camping)–and clean-up duties.

Safety: First Aid, wood carving, rock climbing, sailing.

Potty Training: Constipation from inability to utilize outhouses, or hating Porta Potty/Port-O-Let facilities.  (Does eating an entire can of whipped cream really work as a laxative?)  I confess here: I dreaded summer Scout Camp for this very reason: I am potty trained, but I need a clean flushing toilet, with my quiet time, my reading time for TIME magazine.

time magazine cover

QUIET-TIME BATHROOM READER

After my experiences in summer camp (some of which I have written about previously: https://memoriesofatime.com/2015/05/30/you-are-such-a-boy-scout/), camping was never high on my bucket list.  I did some with the family when the boys were young, making sure we camped in a park with adequate running water, and clean toilets.  I hope they were never scarred from their own summer camp experiences.  One did attend Scout camp, and, later, high school Band Camp.  The other experienced summer ROTC camp, and a real “summer camp” in Afghan-Land.  (I have learned little about the toilet facilities there.) 

Overall, as an old fart looking back at my scouting summer camps, I know it wasn’t that bad.  One time we were housed in old military Quonset huts:

quanset hut Absolutely the best summer dorms for me–except for the loud snorers who sometimes kept me from falling asleep.  Spacious.  Lighted (some electricity).  And cleaner floors, for some reason.

The other camp facility I liked had a screen door, wood floor, bunk beds; canvas roof, wood sides halfway up, then screening to the top.  The canvas roof could be rolled up or down, for heat or light or air, depending on the needs of the resident scouts.  Heavy rain could be a problem, however, with overspray into the “cabin.”

Then, of course, the tents.  Not tents, as we think tents, but tents with hard floors, soft canvas sides, soft tops.  Hot, when Chicago-area summer temperatures were high.  But no grass underfoot. 

scout tents padutchbsa.org

SCOUT FACILITY PICTURE PADUTCHBSA.ORG: THANKS

For excursions, and overnighters, we had those fold-up tents that were put up and taken down in the usual way–the kind that most people associate with camping, bugs, snakes, bears, cold, rain, romantic wilderness trips, bucolics, starry-starry nights, shooting stars, “sitting around the campfire singing Girl Scout songs”–and our sleeping bags, with other Abercrombie and Fitch, Coleman-Stove equipment:

CAMPING-COLLECTION photo by jim golden

EVERYTHING PICTURE BY JIM GOLDEN

Camp counselors planned our days well: the events were structured to help us get our different merit badges: Camping, First Aid, Botany.  I did not do well with plant recognition.  To this day, everything is poison ivy; I herbicide anything that looks like a hand.

poison ivy jewel-weed-poison-ivy

SEE THE DIFFERENCES?

(I do recognize beautiful Queen Anne’s Lace.)  The meals were healthy and pretty good–especially, for me, the hot dogs grilled on the campfire.  I’m not a fussy eater; I liked nearly everything they put in front of me.  I had no trouble with KP duty, cleaning up and doing dishes: my mother taught me well at home. 

We arrived at camp on a Sunday; we departed for home on a Saturday morning–unless we were Senior scouts or Eagle Scouts staying for two weeks or more.  Parents came on Thursday night for Visitor Night: Campfire, songfest, and crying time by those young’uns who had been away from home for the first time.  (I was one of those who cried, but did not want to leave early; some did.)

Glued into my Journal #35, I have this sacred piece of memory, dated 8/11/52, written in ink, in cursive [I was 11]: “Dear Mom, I miss you very much.  I wish I was home with you.  I lost my new raincoat, we were doing the dishes and I ran out and forgot it.  I have so many mosquitoe [sic] bites it isn’t funny.  Please come out Thursday and visit me.  We are having very good meals.  We have to wash the dishes and wait on the Scouts.  I washed today at dinner and I serve tommorrow [sic].  I am going for second class.  I will be second class (Chuck said) [Chuck was our Assistant Scout Leader] by the time we are out of camp.  I miss you very much.  With Love, Jimmy XXXXXXXX P.S.  I got my Kiwanis Patch  Jim XXXXX”

This says it all about Summer Scout Camp 1952.

©  James F. O’Neil  2016

scouts at st mary's 1951

 MY SCOUT PATCHES AND SUMMER CAMP BADGES

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BY: JAMES FRANCIS CUMMINGS O’NEIL NEE ČAPEK

“I know my father and my mother, but beyond that I cannot go. My ancestry is blurred.” –V. S. Naipaul

* * *

Once upon a time, from my interviewing my mother, and thus it is written (here), I learned that the beautiful young maiden (of course!) …

KATRINA VON KOENIG, Great Grandma Katrina, a worker in the Barony of Luxembourg (it’s sounding so romantic and mysterious) met

FRANK ČAPEK [b. 1834], a laborer who was (maybe) in the Prussian Army (that would be romantic, like in Elvira Madigan), later turned anarchist, and (perhaps) a bomb manufacturer, in Chicago, for the eight Accused Conspirator Workingmen in the Haymarket Affair (Riot), May 4, 1886.

HaymarketRiot-Harpers

Drawing from Harper’s Magazine and Wikipedia

I heard about this man when I was a child. I grew up believing I was related to a famous anarchist, because Grandma Schuma said so, and because my mom told me so.

I couldn’t wait to see my Great Grandpa Čapek’s picture in the newspapers.

Frank Capek (Great Grandpa)

I spent hours at the beautiful Chicago Public Library on Michigan Boulevard, using the actual newspapers and microfilms of the events of May 4, 1886. (At one time later, my Uncle Elmer told me he studied, too, about his grandfather, and claimed he recognized pictures. He lived with Great Grandpa at 5431 South Seeley Avenue [I remember that house across Garfield Boulevard] until the Prussian soldier died.)  Great Grandpa Čapek was a talented watchmaker. He died in 1930.

* * *

Frank and Katrina, whom I did not ever know, had eight children, with beautiful ethnic Bohemian names: Emilie [b. 1886], Mike, John, Frank, Joe [b. 1884], Theresa, Katherine, and Mary. I could never understand why my Bohemian relatives chose these names. But when I thought about emperors and empresses, presidents and monarchs, like Franz Josef and Maria Theresa, or King John, maybe the “common” names were more special emulations than Leopold or Vlad the Destroyer. (Not many songs about Leopold, but Emily? Maria? and Joe? or Meet John Doe?–or A Guy Named Joe–or, even better, “What a good Joe he is!,” the compliment.)

immigrants at ellis island

Bohemian immigrants on Ellis Island

There they were, these Bohemian kids (not CZECHS!, not Slovaks, not Slovenes, but Bohacs, or Bohunks–Hunkies or Honkies!). Czechoslovakia was formed in 1918. Bohemia was a kingdom, from “way back when,” like before A.D. 600–those days of Beowulf….

bohemia in 1882

Bohemia in 1882

I learned–and was reminded often–that I was a Bohemian, because “Mom said so.” There I was, growing up in the ethnic South Side of Chicago: Damen and Seeley and Garfield Boulevard (55th Street), and Back of the Yards. Some neighbors were postal workers; others, electricians, tradesmen, homemakers. Family people. Neighborhood people. [Emilie worked in Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. She was a meat packer for Libby Foods.]

JOE ČAPEK married ANNA JARYKOVIC.

Joseph Capek and  Anna Jarykovic

JOE AND ANNA WEDDING PICTURE

Anna–of course, it had to be “AH-NAH”–died in 1924. In 1918 she had contracted the flu–the world influenza pandemic that occurred near the end of World War I. (More died from the disease than died in the war. I learned that in school.) She then contracted and succumbed to TB. Growing up, I remember many trips to the North Side, to Bohemian National Cemetery, and the graves and headstones.

Bohemian_National_Cemetery

Bohemian National Cemetery Entrance

And Mayor Anton Cermak’s mausoleum

cermak tomb

Cermak Tomb

–and the nearby restaurant that had the best roasted duck, with mashed potatoes and gravy. On the way, we sometimes passed the TB Sanitarium….

tb sanitarium in chicago Jennifer A. Stix 1974 photo

Photo by Jennifer A. Stix 1974

Joe and Anna begot: Herbert (Uncle Herbie, who went with Aunt Flo); Joe (Uncle Joe, who went with Aunt Aggie); Elmer (Uncle Elmer, who went with Aunt Gladys) —I knew them all; and LILLIAN CATHERINE [b. November 16, 1918] (my mom).

Lillian C. Capek Schuma

LILLIAN C. CAPEK

Mother Katrina, while helping Anna with the children, died of a heart attack: November 1918….

In June 1910, having fallen (madly?) in love, Emilie Čapek (Joe’s sister), while working at Libby Foods, married her handsome supervisor, Edward Albert Šuma [Schuma] [b. 1884]. I have the wedding pictures. My, what a handsome couple they were!

Edward Suma-Schuma and Emilie Capek

Edward Suma-Schuma and Emilie Capek (seated)

* * *

My Grandpa Schuma was hospitalized, was dying. In Evangelical Lutheran Hospital cafeteria, in 1956, on the South Side of Chicago, I came to know who really begot whom. I heard a beautiful story from my mother, a story of family and love. I heard of the love of a mother for a daughter, and a grandmother’s love. Then illness and death. How could all these children have comprehended it all?

Family togetherness, and the love of a generous aunt and uncle (Emilie and Ed), “begot” Lillian as “parents” and for me were my Grandma and Grandpa Schuma. They took the little girl. “Uncle Joe” kept the boys. I never knew that Joseph Capek was my real grandfather–until 1956. I knew my “grandparents” helped raise me when my father (Francis Cummings) was overseas with the Army. Their house was the first I can recall, at 5644 South Seeley Avenue.

5644 South Seeley, Chicago Grandma s Place

5644 South Seeley Chicago (current)

I grew up there with them: with their daughter, my “Aunt” Emily, and with my sister and with my (2nd) cousin Marilyn (who was begot by “Uncle” Bill Knoch).

So I learned the family “secret.” Yet it was never meant to hide or deceive. Life went on. I learned the facts, the “truth.” My mother said it was so.

Nothing changed after that. Except for my awareness. After Grandma Schuma died, I was present for the reading of her will, in 1958. Then the lawyer stated the “where-from?” that began in 1924: “My niece Lillian,…” when they took in that little girl. Nothing really changed for me.

How does one ever begin to tell a story of ancestry? The more I work with the lives and the connections, however, the more I realize the story was really the beginning of how my sister, my cousin, and I–three little kids–became part of the family story. I never looked at it this way before. Those earliest of pictures I have of me alone show a cute happy baby in my mother’s arms.

jimmy loved b

Jimmy Loved

Later pictures begin to show three little children, each a year apart, with smiling faces.

 

jan jim marilyn january 1944

January 1944 THREE FRIENDS [Janice, Jimmy, Marilyn]

Then, standing together, holding hands.

GRANDMA'S PORCH 1945 B

Grandma’s Porch  5644 S Seeley 1945  [Marilyn, Jimmy, Janice]

In  the beginning,… Janice [b. 1939], Marilyn [b. 1940], and Jimmy [b. 1941]….

Little did these women, sister and cousin, who begat my formation, who made me laugh, who taught me some funny-ness–little did they know they’d become the main characters in an important story:

“Where ya’ from?”

© James F. O’Neil 2016

kim novak bohemian daughter

Kim Novak famous Chicago Bohemian

 

BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL

“Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.” –Plato

* * *

In my studies of John Milton and Paradise Lost, I learned best about his cosmology, his use of the heavenly bodies, and the music of the spheres. That was Plato stuff.

How far I have come from

Rock-a-bye baby, in the treetop
When the wind blows, the cradle will rock
When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall
And down will come baby, cradle and all.

cradle lullabye cartoon

Lullaby–of course

I have grown up with music and cannot stand to have quiet! (When the music is too loud for “others,” I am told to turn it down. I have told my wife that perhaps some of my intense desire for sound has to do with my former life in the seminary when I had to observe the Magnum silentium: The Great Quiet.)

Music is me. It’s part of my life. I have to have it!

* * *

MUSIC: A sound, or the study of such sounds, organized in time:  ‎

  1. Any pleasing or interesting sounds
  2. An art form, created by organizing of pitch, rhythm, and sounds made using musical instruments and sometimes singing
  3. A guide to playing or singing a particular tune; sheet music.

 * * *

The hills are alive with the sounds of music; and I walk among the lush growths, listening whenever and wherever I can. I love it (most of it). And it shows:

I have a radio (or music source) available to me when I need it: my Bose sound machine, and TEAC CD player, in the living room; a shower radio plus portable radio in my bath room; a bedside radio; Pandora in my man-cave on the TV, computer, and smart phone. In the car, I have 36 pre-sets on the Sirius XM: rock, New Age, “Chill,” and other favorites.

I have Shazam on my smart phone to help me capture sounds and songs I like, then download them to my Pandora stations. And the CD collection? More than enough.

* * *

“Music is often overlooked as a therapeutic intervention: singing, listening, and creating music of any kind will provide an immediate biological and psychological benefit for everyone. In fact, music can be a salvation and antidote to most psychological challenges: that’s why people sing in the shower and while driving the car, or simply listen to music that’s inspiring and distracting from emotional upset.” —Wikipedia

* * *

Some research has been completed which holds that children who are involved with music programs grow up to have lower rates of addictive behaviors, demonstrate better academic performance, and are greater prepared for college and the work force. I am one of those kids.

We always had music in elementary school, and for church services. Hymnbooks and songbooks were always–and still are–around me. Our home encouraged music, with our 45-rpm records, our classical music recordings on 33 1/3 Red Label RCA’s, “His Master’s Voice,” and with the purchase of our beautiful Grundig Majestic radio and record player:

Grundig Majestic in Texas

Still Working Grundig in Texas

[Our 1958 “Grundig Majestic Shortwave, AM, FM Phonograph Compact Stereo Console” was a tube-type radio and amplifier. FM was new to the US, but had been widely used in Europe since 1948. Only the phonograph was true stereo; stereo broadcasting was yet a long way off anywhere. The cabinet was highly polished with a Vertical Magic Eye tuning indicator. The phonograph had a 45-rpm adapter, stacking automatic record changer, 16, 33, 45, &78 rpm speeds. “Made in West Germany.”

grundig-majestic-console-stereo

[Max Grundig (1908-1989) was a simple radio dealer up to 1947, then founding the “Grundig-Radiowerke mbH in Fürth, Bavaria, Germany in July 1948. Max Grundig was also well known for portable radios and fabricated one of the first portable radios after WW2 in 1950 as Grundig Boy.–Ernst Erb, http://www.radiomuseum.org]    

* * *

My income from various jobs provided spending money to buy records.

I had two main sources for my record collection: Kroger’s, near 54th and Halstead in Chicago, always had bargains, and 33 1/3rd classical records. I received a “stamp” for every record I purchased; so many stamps gave me a free record. Tower Records downtown was Mecca: walls filled with copies of anything and everything, with catalogs for locating what was available–or for what could be ordered.

There were, also, local record stores, along Halstead, with booths for listening to potential purchases. That was a fun experience that could not be duplicated in Tower Mecca. I could spend hours carefully listening through earphones, taking care not to scratch any special LP (“long playing,” 33 1/3rd) record.

booth for listening with connie francis

Connie Francis in Listening Booth

* * *

College life brought studies and quiet time, with little recreation time for music interests. My record collection remained at home. But the college library: music to soothe men’s souls. As often as I could, I made my way to the library and the listening rooms, with their turntables and headphones. Here I glommed onto Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, Tchaikovsky’s piano concertos, and Porgy and Bess especially. Oh, of course, there were many other musical pieces for me to become familiar with.

After college, my LP record collection grew; then digital recordings–and finally, I became the first of many first patrons of Stereo World to purchase the ultimate sound machine, a Yamaha CD Player! (Well, there were other “ultimates” available.) With my electronic component system, I purchased the right wires and connections to provide the “best” digital sounds: Music for the Royal Fireworks by Handel; piano music by George Winston; Gabriel Faure’s Requiem; Allegri’s “Miserere.”

I was now in music heaven, mecca, paradise, on Mount Olympus, in Elysium or in the Elysian Fields [the Ancient Greek conception of the afterlife]. I was chosen by the music muse Euterpe, chosen to live a blessed and happy life with music. AAAHHHH!

* * *

I LOVE MY MUSIC!

* * *

Even though some research findings suggest psychological and medical benefits of music, like increased happiness, less stress, reduced depression symptoms, along with increased competence, hope, and optimism, I can vouch for certain music making me depressed if I listen long enough, like the requiems–or “sickened,” like rap. Or angry music in the car can make me angry, road-raged if prompted.

I must be careful while listening. “Blues” can be “blue.” Or some depressing country-divorce material; or “break-up songs”: “I Can’t Get Used to Losing You.” I could end up with marital difficulties if I “can’t be with the one you love, then love the one you’re with.”

So I embrace music; I don’t want to turn it down. I want to hear. BIG! LOUD!

Yet I so do know, as I am told by Mick Jagger and the Stones,

“You can’t always get what you want

But if you try sometimes you just might find

You get what you need.”

 

© James F. O’Neil 2016

 

music-notes-on-staff-clipart-nTBG8dyEc

 

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