History Stuffed In A Drawer

Yesterday, at my in-laws, my wife and I went through old family photos and letters. We did so at the request of a distant relation. She believed some snaps of her close relatives might have been scattered in among them.

She thought so because the stash had been held by my father-in-law’s aunt. That aunt had been kind of a “family historian.” She died without children about 10 years ago, and my father-in-law had inherited most of her possessions – including all these photographs.

Well, the historian in me salivated as we thumbed through them. I couldn’t get over them. There are just a few samples. [All photos reproduced, Copyright © 2014 by R. J. Nello.]

The first two below look like they could’ve worked for Harry Selfridge:

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Very serious:

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Not as serious:

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Posturing (the man on the left has a cigarette hanging from his mouth; the one of the right, a pipe):

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“1941”: that year, and the photographer’s name, are all it says on this photo:

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This last is of my wife’s future great-uncle and great-aunt on their wedding day in 1943 – he in RAF uniform:

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That one immediately above is a rarity: few of the pictures have names, dates and locations written on the back. Arrgh! Don’t you just hate that!

They were taken, we estimate, mostly between about 1900-1950.

My father-in-law was going to throw those photos (and others like them) out because there’s no need to keep them any longer. But just because few, or no one, now living remember these people any longer is beside the point. The photos are amazing and take us back to another era.

Needless to say, none of them will end up in the trash if I have anything to say about it! :-)
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Today is September 1. Coincidentally, Nazi Germany invaded Poland on this date on in 1939. Britain and France would declare war on Germany on September 3, and World War II had begun.

Here’s A Cheque/Check

I discovered a little while ago via Facebook that my 12 year old nephew in Britain wants me to dump ice water over my head.

I’m disappointed. By now, surely he knows his uncle would prefer the Patrick Stewart approach:

However, it’s just a bit too early in the day to pour a drink here in Pennsylvania, USA. ;-)

“Gimme a ticket for an aeroplane”

With my Dad doing better than we’d expected, Sunday afternoon I took an opportunity to venture up to the Catskills to check our house, and use Monday to mow the lawn and deal with anything else that may have needed dealing with. I admit I could also have called it my “24 hours of tranquility” away from the rural Pennsylvania Seinfeld episode in which I am currently trapped! ;-)

We have no broadcast TV in the house right now. Quickly I decided on an evening in front of the DVD player. I treated myself to the first few episodes of Mad Men from the very first series/ season.

Okay, trivia question: What are Roger Sterling’s first words ever said on the show?

Answer: “Morning girls.”

When I returned to my parents’ place last night, chatting I happened to tell my mother. She had worked in midtown Manhattan as a secretary herself briefly – pre-marriage – in the early 1960s. She laughed:

It’s true. They were my father’s age. That’s actually what they used to say to us.

Around the same time, she had also actually considered becoming a Pan Am “stewardess” – she who had never (and still has never been) on a plane. We discovered that when she revealed it to us at some point while the Pan Am TV show had been on the air. I still can’t believe it.

But I digress. Although there was no TV in house, I did have mobile internet. I wasn’t totally, uh, “cut off in the Catskills.”

However, pardon me here for maybe seeming a bit out of touch in this way. Recently I’ve been seeing bits on the net here and there about a site called “SoundCloud.” I did again on Sunday night.

I finally decided to click over and have a good look around on it…. and a listen. Noticing what was on the site, how it generally seemed to work, and with time to kill (after having overdosed on Mad Men), I searched for a couple of songs that were running through my head recently courtesy of radio (oldies) play. As a new novelist, I thought maybe I’d find cover versions by “unknowns” who might be worth a listen?

For “The Letter,” I stumbled on this singer. Incredible. Well, I just HAVE to share this:

In Barba Gwen31's stream on Soundcloud.

In Barba Gwen31’s stream on Soundcloud.

Barba Gwen31 has **some** voice. As we know, the web lets us now independent/ self-publish books. (Which, after all, is why I’m on here! ;-) ) Now it also allows singers to be heard globally whom we otherwise probably would have never heard of.

One frustration, though. I’d PAY, iTunes-like (yes, I’d separate myself from some money) to download and own it. However, I can’t figure out how? I don’t see how to do it? Ugh! :-)

Have a good Tuesday! I’m writing this post at my parents’ kitchen table. Near the sink, time to take his pills, they are on at each other…. again. Apparently he’s too inept to take them without her careful oversight:

“I love you, dear,” he told her off as she read the directions to him yet again.

“Read the rest of it!” she barked, handing him one bottle.

“It says, ‘Take one a day,'” he pointed to it.

“Old people get crazy taking medications. Oh, s-it, see what I just did!” she yelled as she took another of the bottles. “I’ll mix them up!”

“You’re an old person!” he shot back.

“Angie Gonzalez [an elderly, now deceased, relation] used to mess up her medication….” my mother droned on. “Oh, no one’s listening to me.”

“Mom, I am. Please stop now.”

A few more days remain in my Seinfeld episode. “Gimme a ticket for an aeroplane….” ;-)

“She didn’t mean to pull a knife on you….”

While proofreading it last year, one of my Passports story “checkers” had noticed the novel’s “friendships” undertone, and told me:

These girls are so close and fond of each other….

It was excellent she caught that, because I framed that deliberately. It applies to men too. Friends as central in our lives is an important theme I wanted to explore in the novel(s).

I aimed to subtly emphasize friendships between those raised as only children, or with much older, or emotionally distant – or difficult – siblings. For them, their closest support may come from friends and not from similar age relatives:

I have two brothers,” Isabelle shared with him. “They are about twenty years older than me. Not a surprise. My parents are much older.”

“I’m an only child. It isn’t easy. When I was little, I always wished for a brother or sister,” James said. “I’d have even taken one twenty years older.”

“My best friend Virginie is an only child,” Isabelle added. “And the way her mother is so young, they are like friends often.” She laughed lightly. “Sometimes I envy her.”

In our real lives, relatives may let us down big time. In comparison, friends – and I don’t mean those 952 Facebook friends, but friends who’d pick you up at the airport in the middle of the night – are often closer than family. They are because you are brought together by common interests, experiences and life outlooks, and not by accident of blood and (often someone else’s) marriage.

Free Stock Photo: Illustration Of Colored Profiles

Free Stock Photo: Illustration Of Colored Profiles

Above all, there is this difference. Friendship can never be taken for granted in the manner of a familial relationship. However, when it comes to relatives, you’re supposed to put up with just about anything.

A decade ago, after years of s-it stirring with us, a relative spoiling for a fight finally led us into a place where we felt we had to draw a line. That has naturally created knock on issues for us. Since then, other family wearyingly insist that everyone should just hug, sing Kumbaya, and all would be happy happy happy.

And why? Because, we are incessantly lectured, we are “family.”

“Oh, how long will this go on?” go the moanings. “I’m sure she didn’t really mean it. We should look forward, not back.”

The excuses for relatives’ appalling behavior are endless. Yet if our line was so “unreasonable,” I do wonder what the line is? If a relation, say, threatens you with a knife, are you allowed, perhaps, maybe to be a tad put out about that?

Would anyone with an ounce of self-respect ever keep around a friend who is a threatening, scheming, pompous ingrate? A nasty individual with whom you have zero in common? Someone who sees you only in terms of what you do for her/ him?

Of course not. But even with relatives like that, it’s still commonly demanded you smile at them over a lunch table. You are supposed to pretend you love them even if you despise them.

That’s absurd. Give me my dear friends over some so-called “family” any day of the week. It’s no contest.

Happy Sunday!

Hmmmmmm. I’ve just realized. This post is aiming to make a wider literary point based partly on my own experience. I hope it doesn’t qualify as a “personal moan!” ;-)

The Doctor’s Office

As you may know, I’ve been visiting with my parents in Pennsylvania after my father’s “heart failure.” Things have been very tense, of course, at times, over concern for his health. But at other times I’ve also found myself (thankfully) in what borders on a comedy:

• Dad: “God, I’m getting out of breath explaining to your mother I’m not out of breath walking up the stairs!”

• Mom: “My wrists hurt. Maybe I have a health problem?”

• Dad (to me): “I could be in my casket, Rob, but remember, your mother’s wrists hurt.”

Back on Thursday, my Dad had his first post-heart failure check-up. It was at his new family physician. I went along.

Actually, I drove. Another little contribution to being here for two weeks trying to make things just a bit easier for them both as he recovers. (I’ve been handling household stuff Dad would normally do, like chauffeuring mother around – she can drive, but doesn’t like driving their small SUV – and hoovering the house, and related “guy stuff” as I’d mentioned the other day.)

 Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a stethoscope.


Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a stethoscope.

This doctor had been recommended in the hospital by my Dad’s last registered nurse there. He came out from the check-up pleased: the doctor’s a man in his 50s who is also on a “low sodium” diet. Nothing like your doctor having a similar issue to yourself, my Dad laughed.

I think it must be nearly twenty years since I’ve been in a U.S. doctor’s office. And how you can forget. Around the receptionist’s window were well-worn (even torn), taped up, ad hoc reminders that payment is required when services are delivered, and to have your insurance ready, etc.

Many in Britain heavily criticize its National Health Service (NHS), and often rightly so. It has its problems. However, not having to worry about personal insurance coverage and/or having to whip out a checkbook or credit card to cover a “co-pay” when you see your GP, is something many in Britain also appear to take decidedly for granted.

That’s what I noticed. My mother? She had her own opinions about the practice building itself. Sitting next to me in the waiting room, other patients within hearing, she grumbled at one point perhaps a bit too loudly:

• Mom: “This place has no air conditioning. You can tell it’s not New York.”

• Me: “Shush!”

The bear in their back garden has already been the subject of a post. Help! I’m trapped in a Seinfeld episode!

Happy Saturday, wherever you are reading this. ;-)

Bearly Around

Look who decided to stroll nonchalantly through my parents’ backyard during (our) dinner:

Bear emerging from the woods. Pennsylvania. [Photo by me, 2014]

Bear emerging from the woods, Pennsylvania. [Photo by me, 2014.]

At the table, my mother immediately announced: “I’m outta here! Back to Long Island!”

Okay, So What’s On Your Playlist?

I suspect most of us don’t see eye to eye on everything in life with our significant other. How can we? It’s perfectly reasonable we have some differences.

Taste in music may be one. My wife and I don’t agree entirely on music and certain artists. So, she being 3,000 miles away in London currently, I feel a bit less guilty about using the speakers to listen to, uh, some Chris De Burgh.

Thinking on that also led me here. Right now, I’m writing, sitting alone outside at my parents’ house, in their screened-in rear porch. It overlooks, well, trees….

View from my parents' back deck, rural Pennsylvania. [Photo by me, 2014.]

View from my parents’ back deck, rural Pennsylvania. [Photo by me, 2014.]

At the risk of perhaps alienating some of you, I thought I’d share the artists on one of my mixed playlists:

Chris Cornell; Adele; Steve Winwood; Ivy; James Blunt; Sara Bareilles; The Wallflowers; Tina Arena; Peter Cetera; Amy Winehouse; The Goo Goo Dolls; Natalie Imbruglia; The Cars; Judith Bérard; Quarterflash; Pat Benatar; Survivor; Laura Branigan; Mr. Mister; Corynne Charby; Matchbox Twenty; Sophie Ellis-Bextor; Jean-Jacques Goldman; 10,000 Maniacs; Chicago; Patricia Kaas; Journey; The Bangles; Chris De Burgh.

Yeh, I know. I’m showing some, err, “age” there. ;-)

Dad is doing well again today. I’m taking some time to unwind this afternoon. We all hope a general recuperation period has begun.

I hope you’re having (or you had) a good weekend, wherever you are reading this….

Dad’s Home (And Quite Alive)

We’ve had a wonderful surprise: my Dad was released from the hospital last night. He’s home and looks remarkable following his ordeal. Fingers crossed it may continue….

En route to their house in Pennsylvania, I landed at Newark yesterday at just after 1 pm. It took me an hour to get thru the airport. First, it took an age for my lone bag to appear. It was followed by a huge queue at Customs caused by all those lining up to hand in that archaic customs form: Welcome to the Land of Paper Work the Free. (I would not want to be a non-English speaker having to complete that jargon-ridden form, next to be greeted by scowling customs officers scrutinizing it. It should be gotten rid of. The EU manages with customs exit channels in which you “declare” or “don’t,” simply by exiting through “red” or “green” doorways.)

Those formalities were followed by a wait to get the rental car. I got away finally at 2:30 after I’d called my Mom. I reached their house about 4pm. By 4:05 we were in my sister’s car headed for the hospital.

Free Stock Photo: This historic 1930s photograph depicted a nurse in a starched cap and uniform, washing her hands in an improved, bacteria-controled environment. The improvements included the tiled walls, and the towel machine above the sink.

Free Stock Photo: This historic 1930s photograph depicted a nurse in a starched cap and uniform, washing her hands in an improved, bacteria-controled environment. The improvements included the tiled walls, and the towel machine above the sink.

In transit, I was out of touch much of the day. I arrived to find Dad was to be discharged within hours! To do so, his doctor insisted he wear a Zoll Life Vest.

It is to be worn all the time except while showering. It monitors the heart’s actions. If anything “bad” happens, it shocks the heart. (At which time my mother calls the doctor, the company, and 911.) That is a rare happening; but if it does, it is far more timely than awaiting paramedics or driving him to the hospital. The woman who set it up explained it to him (to all of us) that usually it is worn for several months. Once a week, he has to upload the accumulated data on the device to the Zoll company just by plugging the device into the company’s modem, which my parents connect to their landline. The info goes to his doctor.

On the drive back to their house, while my Mom and sister stepped into a pharmacy to fill his prescriptions, waiting in my sister’s car my Dad told me he was happy I am here. He agreed my Mom needed a break and that she’d relax more now with me around. I will be here a week at minimum. Everyone has rallied around. Lots of people on two continents have been inquiring about him. Facebook’s Messenger has been abuzz for days.

When we were sitting in the lounge with Hot In Cleveland on the TV last night, Dad in his chair (LifeVest on of course), I said I couldn’t believe we were here. I added that when I had gotten on the plane this morning, I never would have even hoped this is where we would be. It is all a great relief. I had been thinking, quite seriously, the end was near.

Oh, do I feel jet-lagged today? Not at all (yet). On the contrary, I feel great! :-)

An Anxious 24 Hours

We have had a difficult 24 hours. My father, back in Pennsylvania, was rushed to the hospital with pneumonia and sedated – out cold – for nearly 36 hours and administered intravenous anti-biotics. He was also put on a ventilator.

My mother and sister were practically beside themselves. I could hear it in their voices over the phone as they told me. They had already been dealing with it for nearly 12 hours before they had contacted me.

We had left the States to return to England only five days before. Five.

Free Stock Photo: This image depicts a healthcare practitioner in the process of conducting a blood pressure examination upon a seated male patient in a clinical setting.

Free Stock Photo: This image depicts a healthcare practitioner in the process of conducting a blood pressure examination upon a seated male patient in a clinical setting.

On getting the news yesterday afternoon, my wife made it clear to me: “Fly over there if you feel you need to.”

However, my mother wanted me to wait for him to be awoken, when there’d of course be more news. Today was decision day. “If they wake him up and it’s bad, please come over,” she asked me tearfully.

The doctors woke my Dad up on early this (Tuesday) morning, Eastern US time. Things look okay. She discovered they’d done it when he surprised my mother with a phone call from intensive care, with the doctor standing over him.

No immediate travel plans for back to the States. My Mom has headed back to the hospital, to see him fully awake for the first time since Sunday evening. She said she’ll call me later with an update.

Living at a distance is something we all deal with. And if you live an ocean apart in another country, that merely compounds the difficulty. I said to my wife, “We were in the States and Kam died. Your Mum gets put in hospital, and we were in the States. My Dad gets hospitalized and we’re in Britain. We just can’t seem to be in the right place at the wrong time.”

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UPDATE: My Mom came back to me and told me he didn’t have pneumonia. He has fluid under his heart pressing against a lung – which looks like pneumonia. He may need minor surgery, or pills could even do the clearing up job.

But that may change too. Nothing’s etched in stone. It has been one of those days….

Why You Hate Mom Being On Facebook

I had an, uh, “interesting” phone chat with my mother in Pennsylvania last night. It went generally like this….

Mother: “Have a good trip back to England. Say ‘Hi’ to everyone for us.”

Me: “I will of course. Helen spoke to her mother. Everyone seems okay. She always misses Helen when she comes over here for a while.”

Mother: “Her mother adores her. Oh, you know, I noticed that your friend Carol’s husband, in England, that Helen wrote on Facebook that he’s written a book?”

Me: [Uh, oh. Gather thoughts, Rob.] “Yes, he did. He worked on it for over a year. In his spare time. I bought a Kindle copy….” [Darn! Why did you say you bought a copy!?]

Mother: “Well, that’s great to get something like that published the first time you do it.”

Me: [Still wary.] “He didn’t. He self-published on Amazon. That’s become a big thing now. There are lots of best sellers by people who do. He hopes it’ll attract some interest. He’s not expecting millions.”

Mother: “Getting published used to be about who you knew. My brother managed to know the right people. Now you can do it yourself. Have you….”

Me: [Trying to shift the discussion quickly away from my friend's book, which has that potentially explosive ***Acknowledgement*** to me issue (I don't want my mother buying it!), and what I suspected was about to be a question from her about my writing something myself someday.] “You know that Fifty Shades book. The one they’re making the movie….”

Mother: “….Of course I’ve heard of it. I bought it for your sister. And I was thinking, ‘What is this?’ She said, ‘It’s erotica.'”

Me: “I get the impression ‘erotic’s’ not a strong enough word. [Am I discussing that book with my mother?] Anyway, I’ve read she started out with a blog, writing fan fiction of Twilight, I think. When she developed her own characters and published it on Kindle, she sold like a gazillion copies. I read someone who also said it sold so many that way because women could read it on Kindle sitting next to their husbands and kids and no one could see what they were reading because the cover wasn’t visible!”

Mother: [After a laugh.] “How things have changed. Hey, you know those people living behind us? They moved….”

Whew. That was a close one. Book discussion concluded – by mother.

I think it was de Gaulle who once said a politician should never lie, but he must be careful about how he tells the truth. Well, whether politico or not, definitely don’t lie to your mother! Just avoid mentioning what she doesn’t directly ask. Or get her off the subject – quick! ;-)

Free Stock Photo: Several British bank notes.

Free Stock Photo: Several British bank notes.

Yes, we’re flying back to London later today. I may be quiet for a day or two. See you on here next from “over there.” :-)