Fall bursts with bright colors, Oktoberfests and beer, memories from my childhood and the man with the handlebar mustache.
Memories are a curious thing. They come in the form of a person’s personal perspective. Each situation, event or conversation, means something different to all those involved, and also to those not involved. We give different meanings, according to our belief systems, and how we are affected by the event. In Other words, we don’t see things as they are necessarily; we see things as we are. (http://www.getselfhelp.co.uk/perspectives.htm)
The following is my perception and memories of a man who I am truly grateful to have had in my life.
The sun had set and I remember watching the glow of the red sky slowly fade to black. It had been a long day, a great day of blueberry picking but it was late now and clearly we were lost. It felt like hours since we’d left my parents. Maybe it was. Somehow, we missed where they turned. The back roads of the Catskill Mountains are endless, nameless and windy. There were no maps or street lights to guide you on these less traveled roads. I can’t recall everyone who was in that pale blue Volkswagen bus with me that evening, I think my brother was, maybe my sister too but I remember the mood perfectly: content and tired, despite being lost. I think I was seven or eight-years old. Another thing I remember for sure; I wasn’t scared. I felt safe. It was another adventure. Finally, we came upon a tavern and stopped for directions. We followed him inside the small watering hole and waited patiently, spinning ourselves on bar stools as he drank from a frosty mug, no doubt making new friends while he inquired about our whereabouts and how to get back to the Parkway.
This remains one of my earliest memories of the man with the handlebar mustache.
He wasn’t a “blood” relative but we were close like family and called him Uncle anyway. Uncle Jacob (pronounced Yahck-up) lived with his family, his wife and three sons in an affluent part of Westchester, NY, a short walk from Rye Beach and Playland Amusement Park where their famous boardwalk was featured at the end of the movie “Big”, when the “Zoltar the Magnificent” fortune teller machine returned the adult Tom Hanks to his original childhood age/state of being. As a kid I roamed that boardwalk with my siblings a million times over. My family spent lots of weekend time at the house in Rye. Uncle Jacob and my Dad were very good friends. Shortly after my Dad immigrated to this country from Germany, Uncle Jacob gave him a job as a painter’s apprentice and a place to live. That was over 50-years ago. Back then, an immigrant coming to the United Sates had to have a job and a place to live so as not to be a burden on society.
Uncle Jacob’s wife, Tante Theresa, was an amazing cook and made the best Sunday dinners and chocolate chip cookies you ever had. For real. The three boys were older than me and my siblings. I can’t say I had a relationship with any one of them in particular but I do believe that a life-long bond that exists among family members was created between us during those years and beyond. They knew my Dad before he got married, before we were born. They were patient with us when we came over. I remember watching them and my Dad play with this huge train or racing car track that Uncle Jacob built for them. It was on a wooden board as big as a bed, in fact it retracted onto the wall just like a Murphy Bed. It was a fun, comfortable place to be in, like home and even though the neighborhood was a quiet and reserved one, Uncle Jacob’s house was anything but quiet and reserved.
Looking back I realize Uncle Jacob was the most progressive man I’ve ever known.
To. This. Day.
Everything I experienced at that house was unique and unusual although it all seemed quite normal at the time. As a child, I loved Uncle Jacob but it’s only now as an adult that I truly appreciate the happy, wonderful, exciting things he introduced and exposed me to.
I think of him with the same kind of respect I have for Jean Piaget, John Dewey and Ralph Waldo Emerson and realize how amazingly lucky I was to have had this man’s influences infiltrate my childhood. My schooling occurred behind the stone cold walls of a small, strict catholic school but much of my learning occurred under the indirect tutelage of the man with the handlebar mustache. He was a natural teacher demonstrating a hands-on approach to living and learning. He was a modern day Dr. Doolittle only instead of having an English accent; his was German occasionally slurred by a happy consumption of wine or beer. Like the Pied Piper too, children and adults were drawn to him and his charismatic ways.
Let me explain.
In addition to being a house painter by trade, he was a musician and a singer. Actually, he was a party on two feet, a walking Oktoberfest, all-year-round. He played the accordion. Always and everywhere.
He was a butcher. One time he and my dad bought a pig and among other things, made sausage in his basement, letting me hold the clear, thin casing while he cranked out the ground up sausage meat into it. Another time they bought a calf. We ate veal every day in every way for about a year. I don’t eat veal as an adult.
And yet another time when my younger brother wandered into the basement and as he puts it,
One minute there was a chicken running around and the next minute Uncle Jacob laid it on the butcher block and chopped it’s head off.
He was a farmer, growing tomatoes and other vegetables, and berries along the perimeter of the square shaped fence that surrounded the patch of grass that was his back yard.
He raised rabbits. I remembering playing house with them in their living room, dressing them up and rocking them in my arms like I would a baby doll.
He was a Bee Keeper and for some time, kept his bees in boxes on the roof of his quiet little house in the affluent city of Rye. One summer, when I was 10 or 11, he gave me and my friend a job building bee hive frames. He showed us how to hammer and wire them. He treated us like we were capable. At the end of the day he paid us with jars of honey. Soon after, a neighbor complained and called the police. Uncle Jacob called the newspaper and had me come back and go up on the roof where the bees were to show them how safe it was. Eventually, they made him move the bees.
We had freedom to explore in and out and around his house. There was a small concrete swimming pool that was enclosed by a gate on the property that we swam in often, amongst the huge green lily pads and giant orange gold fish that he kept in it.
He made my brother his first fishing pole out of a stick and some twine and helped him catch his first fish with it.
He was a swimmer and swam in the Long Island Sound, probably every night. He would walk to a small alcove with his flippers in hand and his best friend, Horste, by his side. Horste was his dog, I think he was a coonhound. Sometimes we would go and watch him and Horste swim together.
Uncle Jacob and my Dad would lay in the living room on a Sunday afternoon reading the German newspaper or watching soccer, my Dad on the couch and Uncle Jacob on the floor. Uncle Jacob would call us over one by one and tell us to walk on his back to massage his weary muscles.
As I grew older and became more preoccupied with my own life and living, going to college and working, my personal contact lessened and at some point Uncle Jacob left his house in Rye to go live where his heart was, in the back woods of the Catskill Mountains. I never got to see his place there but my mom used to refer to it as Jacob’s Chutzpah! I imagined it to be a place where animals and people could dwell in an uncomplicated way. Tante Theresa remained for the most part in the house in Rye and I was told that when Uncle Jacob would come down from the mountains to visit his grandchildren he’d bring a baby chick or a bunny rabbit in his coat pocket on the train for them to see and hold and play with.
Needless to say, not everyone he came in contact with appreciated his carefree nature and unfortunately, or fortunately, a neighbor who didn’t enjoy his unconventional ways of living (or German music maybe?) had him arrested on a DUI one night after playing at a local party. He was put in a small-town, back woods jail for a few months, to teach him a lesson. Needless to say, sitting idle in a cell didn’t sit well with Uncle Jacob. He asked for a can of paint and a paint brush. By the time his sentence was served, his cell and the whole jailhouse for that matter was left with a fresh coat of paint on its walls, compliments of the man with the handlebar mustache.
Is there someone in your life that had a huge, positive impact on you as a child?
I’d love to hear about them.
They say there are six degrees of separation.
“Everyone is on average approximately six steps away, by way of introduction, from any other person on Earth,..” ~ Wikipedia
I believe this to be true. One way or another, we’re all connected; especially when it comes to what happened on 9/11. Looking back, I’m certain that so many of us, knew somebody or knows somebody who knew somebody.
I knew somebody.
So many years later I still can’t talk about that day without becoming overwhelmed with emotion. I know I’m not alone.
Writing about it is almost as difficult.
I tried to think of something else to write about this week but the memories of that day are at the forefront of my mind and heart right now. I wouldn’t attempt to try to write about the profound loss of our sons and daughters, fathers and husbands, mothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, colleagues and friends.
All week long there’s been articles, photos, video, reports and documentaries reliving those events. I didn’t watch them.
I still can’t.
The point of contact between the planes and all three buildings is indelibly embedded in my mind.
I don’t want to see it again — ever.
There were however, a few poignant moments when I was alone that day that will linger in my mind’s eye forever; moments that caused me to pause and take notice; moments that changed my life.
I was at home with my two children; my daughter who was 6-months and my son who was 2 ½ years-old. I had the TV on, although I don’t remember what I was watching. It was interrupted by “live coverage” of the first Tower, just after it was hit by the first plane.
It seemed unlikely, odd. I couldn’t fathom the possibility of it. I was trying to make sense of what I was hearing when something surreal and horrific happened.
I watched the second plane hit the second Tower.
I remember being very confused and thinking…
“What are they doing? How are they showing something that just happened a few minutes ago?
How could somebody get this video?”
And as quickly as the thoughts passed through my mind, it hit me.
This couldn’t be video tape from the first plane because I could still see the black smoke coming from first Tower. This was live coverage. This plane was hitting the second Tower. It was a second plane crashing into the second tower and it was happening, right now!
My eyes could see the events unfolding but my mind couldn’t comprehend their reality. I could hear the reporter in the background saying with disbelief, that this was happening right now but I didn’t understand.
There were so many surreal moments that day.
Later, as I sat on our porch smoking a cigarette trying to process what I had just seen on television, I had the realization that my life, our lives as we knew them would never be the same. An overwhelming feeling of sadness slowly began to overtake the initial feelings of horror and fear that I had. Understanding of what I saw, found its way to my brain. Now, when I recall that slow, creeping feeling of sadness, I think about how Ron Weasley described the presence of the Dementors on the Hogwarts Train;
“I felt weird, like I’d never be cheerful again”.
That’s what it was like for me. I couldn’t imagine being cheerful again.
While I sobbed uncontrollably for what happened, for what I saw and for what I felt, the deafening sound of silence surrounded itself around me. The quiet in the skies was unsettling. The more I noticed it, the louder it became. You don’t notice or really pay attention to the activity in the skies until it ceases. It gave me a sense of isolation which created a fear in me, I’ve never experienced before. I will never forget that haunting, echoing sound of nothing when no plane was allowed to fly in our otherwise free, blue skies.
On the porch that day, while my babies napped peacefully, I smoked a cigarette and mourned for the feeling of security I didn’t realize I had until I lost it, a feeling I knew my children would never know.
For weeks afterward, the winds carried the smell of death up the Hudson River. It was a smoldering, horrific stench that sat, heavy in the air. Unlike anything I’ve ever smelled before, or since, it was a foul and constant reminder of devastation and the loss our nation suffered.
There are six degrees of separation, they say. Six people between you and I, as strangers before an introduction. The world we live in is a small one. One way or another, we’re all connected.
I knew Somebody.
We all knew somebody.
Photo Credit #1: Six Degrees of Separation
Photo Credit #2: World Trade Center
Photo Credit #3: Connected
In honor of the retirement of a dear friend & colleague who has touched the lives of many. Re-blogged from March, 2012.
Originally posted on Taking The World On With A Smile!:
The flip-side of last week’s post thankfully, is that there are many amazing teachers that devote their whole lives to educating children. These people influence who we are in the most positive of ways, for life. Children do not forget who they are. They too are remembered and cherished forever.
In the Spring of 2001, curiosity got the better of me. My quest to find the right preschool for my overly active, precocious, almost 3-year-old son, finally provided the opportunity for me to see what was really going on in the mysterious looking Victorian house that sits majestically upon a hill overlooking the busy-ness of Route 9D. Little did I know as I walked into the hallway that echoed with song and laughter, that in-between the walls of this house that was a school, magic happened.
We were met by the cheerful smile of a woman who greeted us…
View original 1,225 more words
“…And the dreams that you dare to dream
Really do come true.”
Last week as I was watching the Oscars, a childhood memory was invoked when Whoopie Goldberg said she had to wait a whole year to watch The Wizard of Oz on television when she was a kid. Me too! In fact, when it finally did come around it was an epic household event that called for the taking of early baths, wearing feetie pajamas, snuggling up to cozy blankets carefully laid out on the living room floor and resting excited yet sleepy, little heads on bedtime pillows. In its original form, the movie was a startling 2 hours and 15 minutes! It was tradition, a childhood favorite that was met yearly with much sweet anticipation.
There’s something to be said for experiencing the emotion of anticipation. That good and excited feeling you get when you are looking forward to something; waiting for it, expecting it to happen. With today’s access to immediate alerts and notifications, instant messaging, texting, emailing and Face Booking communication capabilities, I don’t think kids have the opportunity to feel that enough nowadays. Often the answer to their question pings, dings or rings on their phones before they’ve had time to ask or even think it. Other than having to wait for Christmas and their birthdays, there’s not a whole lot they don’t have at their fingertips. Netflix and On Demand have pretty much ruled out having to wait a whole calendar year for the repeated viewing of anything.
It makes me a little sad. Having to wait for something, is not the worst thing. Anticipation invokes longing, another important emotion and along with that comes patience and appreciation. Not bad character traits to have.
Every year as The Wizard of Oz began in classic black and white film I would wonder why I remembered it in color and then I would be surprised and elated all over again, like I was watching it for the first time, when Dorothy would step out onto a colored landscape after the tornado landed her house in Oz. Spectacular! The munchkins were favorites and the monkeys feared. Always, the scariest but most thrilling part for me was when Dorothy finally defeated the Wicked Witch of the West. Her journey from Kansas to Oz and back again inspired hope that dreams really can come true and there really is no place like home.
The purpose of Whoopie’s stage appearance at the Oscars was to introduce the singing artist, Pink who was performing Over the Rainbow in commemoration of The Wizard of Oz‘s 75th Anniversary. It’s always dangerous when someone “new” attempts to sing something as “old”, cherished, ingrained and beloved to so many. I got teary every time I heard “Dorothy” sing that song and admittedly, I cringed slightly when I heard Pink was going to sing it.
Did you catch it?
Pink’s unique rendition of Over the Rainbow was stellar!
It respectfully paid beautiful homage to the original, Judy Garland version and reminded me just how much I truly love that song.
It inspired hope that somewhere, out there, over the rainbow, the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true.
What do you think?
Photo Credit #1 & 2: Google Images/Ruby Slippers/Dorothy
Sometimes things haunt me. Not necessarily in a bad way. They brew and boil and bake in my head it’s true but that just means they’re usually there for a reason.
Several weeks ago myself and two colleagues took the train into the City for a conference. On my way into Manhattan, at 125th Street, Harlem, that’s where I saw this billboard for the first time and thought to myself…
That’s interesting. I wonder if that word is misspelled on purpose?
Then I thought….
Who would put up a billboard that says ‘Grattitude’ and why?
I didn’t get it but couldn’t dismiss it, so it got me and the brewing began.
Later that day and in the days that followed, I found myself thinking about what I saw and why it wouldn’t go away. I’d already picked my “Word” for the year. It’s Faith, not gratitude. Gratitude. I struggled with the word’s presence inside my head from the moment I saw it sprouting from its concrete carpet straight up into the clear, blue sky.
It was so unexpected. So big. Who put it there? Why is it spelled wrong? Am I grateful? What am I grateful for and how grateful am I? The notion of it all lingered. The boiling set in and it stayed with me, simmering as things I eventually end up writing about often do.
A couple of weeks later I found myself Googling “gratitude in harlem” and came across an article from the Greenwich Post (2012) that offered an explanation for it’s existence.
“It’s a billboard with an obscure message for the powerful and wealthy, the dispossessed and poor, a billboard that says simply “GRATTITUDE.” It is a copy of an acrylic paint collage of newspaper clips and art books by pop artist Peter Tunney, who added the extra “T” as an expression of, he says, turbo-charged gratitude.”
I found another site established in September, 2013, that uses the billboard to promote their GrAttitude Project.
I love the GrAttitude Project and believe whole-heartedly that no act of kindness is too small and I like the way Attitude is embedded in GrAttitude.
It is after all an attitude: gratitude.
Last week I took the New Haven line into the City again. This time, to meet friends. Even though the weather was really bad, I was prepared, camera-ready. I craned my neck for 10-minutes before pulling into 125th Street station, afraid I’d miss it, wanting to catch a glimpse and possibly a picture of it this time. Sure enough, I did. Not without thinking “Why?” though. Why am I haunted by this?
It’s just a word. Right?
It’s thought provoking.
And this time I noticed something different.
The E is backwards. The E in Grattitude is backwards! I didn’t notice that before. That puts a whole new twist on things, requiring even more thought.
So, I keep thinking about gratitude.
Was the billboard like this a few weeks ago? Or was it like the one I found when I Googled it? What does it mean that the E is backwards now? Is “gratitude” as I know it backwards? Not communicated enough or effectively?
I don’t know.
And I really don’t know what the artist’s intentions were or if the billboard I saw last week is different from the one I saw several weeks ago. I still don’t know who put it there or why and it probably doesn’t matter but I do know this: I considered myself to be a pretty grateful person until I saw this billboard and the word took up residence in the forefront of my mind.
Seeing this word in an unsuspecting place made me think.
A lot, as in turbo-charged. About gratitude.
That was the effect for me and it’s a profound one.
In the middle of Harlem when people look up and see this billboard, maybe they see a message being sent to the powerful and wealthy, dispossessed and poor…… or maybe it’s just meant to make anyone who sees it think about gratitude and what that means for them, in their life. Gratitude is not bias. People are grateful for different things at different times of their lives. What I take for granted others may be very grateful for and vice-versa.
Sometimes, it’s nice to have a reminder come to you out of the clear, blue sky.
What do you think? Have you seen the billboard?
Photo Credits #1 & #3: Google Images
Photo Credit #2: ©2014 KarenSzczukaTeich & TakingTheWorldOnWithASmile.com