A DANCE IN A GRAVEYARD – Marilyn Armstrong

The year I was fifteen, I started my senior year of high school. That September (1962), while I was sitting and watching television, I found a rather big, hard lump near my right ankle. I checked the other leg. No lump there. It was a painless lump. Mom had me visiting a surgeon just a couple of days later.

It turned out to be non-malignant, an osteochondroma. It was, however, pretty big. Big enough so in the short time between seeing the doctor and getting into the hospital, it more than doubled in size.

It had thoroughly wrapped itself around my fibula and the surgeon had to remove a piece of bone and replace it with a pin. I was in no mortal danger, but I was going to be on crutches for at least half a year.

Jamaica High School was (is) huge. Five stories including the basement (swimming pool level) and top floor — the tower where the choir and chorus rehearsed. There were no elevators. No handicapped access. It was also extremely crowded, no place for someone on crutches.

High School, really

Thus I came to be assigned a home tutor. I was not her only client and for reasons of her own, she decided to introduce me to another of her clients.

Mary was older than me, 18 years old. Which, at 15, seemed very mature from my perspective. She was a schizophrenic at a time when the drugs to control schizophrenia had not been invented. She was not at all violent. In fact, she was wonderfully sweet, a brilliant artist … and her view of the world was, to say the least, unique.

She loved cemeteries. Especially at night. One night, we went to see Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? which had just been released.

“Would you like to go?” she asked.

“Sure, why not.” I was always up for a movie. But this one, I didn’t much like. I still don’t. Just … not my cup of tea. Too creepy.

But my night of creepiness was far from over because, after the movie, Mary invited me to visit one of her favorite places … the local cemetery. Through which she happily danced, kissing each of the stones while declaring that these were the happiest of all souls.

Thus began my interest in cemeteries and tombstones. And the end of my brief relationship with Mary. I’m pretty strange in my own way, but that was a bit much for me.

We have great cemeteries here in New England. Old ones with wonderful tombstones, amazing old inscriptions. Come visit.

A PHOTO A WEEK: CHANGING SEASONS – Marilyn Armstrong

We haven’t gotten much in the way of autumn foliage. Hardly any. Little patches of yellow and occasionally a hint of red. It’s not much, especially considering how glorious our foliage can be. We were blah last year and the year before. So this will be the third year without “real” autumn.

Mumford River Dam in downtown Uxbridge

Garry’s got an ugly abscess in a tooth, so we had to be at the dentist early this morning. As it happens, the dentist’s office is next to the Mumford River dam. I took a few pictures. They aren’t great. I did intensify the colors a bit because they were so pale. It hardly looks like autumn.

But oddly, our woods is very bright with yellow leaves this year. No red or orange — we don’t have any maple trees back there. But the aspen and the vines are very bright and you can see them behind the bird feeders. So I guess it’s not a complete loss!

 

DO YOU REMEMBER? – Rich Paschall

Memories Of Our Youth, by Rich Paschall

If you are over 21 what do you remember from your youth that is no longer around today? If you are under 21, I am guessing you can remember your childhood well and most things are still around. If something has already disappeared, by all means comment below.

For some of us, the early days are in the distant past.  You know, as in history. While some things may stay fresh in our memories, for other things we have to look at old pictures, or Google 1950s or 60s to look up things on the internet. This is to jog our memories of toys, stores, and technology that have gone away.   I will try to stick to memory. If I start looking things up, I could probably fill multiple articles here.

Toy soldiers

Toys have certainly changed. I remember a toy box, a big wooden container, that held many toys. I can not recall when that went away, probably on one of our many moves.  We had toys made out of wood as well as a stuffed animal or two (or three). I remember small plastic toy soldiers. They were green and very durable. Toy soldiers were popular then.

Outside we would get down in the dirt and play. I do mean dirt, not on the grass. Trucks and tractors were fun. My friend next door had a farm set and we could create a farm, as if we had any idea what they were like. Marbles were fun too, but I didn’t like games were we would bet. I did not want to lose any “cat’s eyes” or “boulders.”

We had skates that attached to our shoes. Oddly enough you could not use gym shoes or just any old shoes. You had to have shoes with soles on them so the clamps would go over the edges. It was great fun to go to the roller rink where they had shoe skates. When we were older we were able to get our own skates. I think I was in seventh grade when I got mine and I went skating often. There are few roller rinks left in the metro Chicago area and none nearby.

Inside we could enjoy television on our giant 19 inch black and white television. Sometimes the picture did not come in too clearly, especially channel 2 (CBS) and we would have to play with the antenna until we got a better picture. I was the remote control. I would have to get up and go to the televisions to “fix” the antenna, turn the volume up or down and change the channel. There were only 5 channels when I was very young, so there was not a lot of channel hopping.

Silver Dollar Survey

Transistor radios were important when we became teenagers. They were about the size of a cell phone, but a lot thicker. They would run on 9 volt batteries, not some thin rechargeable lithium ion thing. We were cool when we could carry around something that played music. This was our idea of “cutting the cord.” Chicago had two radion stations blasting our rock and roll off their 50,000 watts of power.  AM rock and roll stations have gone away.

Before the days of VHS recorders and digital cameras, I had a Super 8 camera. It was alledgedly a step up from the standard 8 millimeter cameras and film. The film was in a cartridge and did not have to be threaded in the camera. I wish I still had mine as I think it would earn some good money on ebay. Despite what some film buffs may tell you, 8 and super 8 are not coming back.

Have you seen the video of young people trying to figure out how to use a rotary phone? I am not sure it isn’t a put on, but then again when would people under 21 have seen one? In a movie?  Would land lines even accept the pulses generated by such a phone? I do have an older push button phone I bought at Sears many decades ago. It’s plugged into my Magic Jack so it works a lot like a landline. There no reason to have an actual landline anymore, is there?

My first computer was a Commodore 64. It was a step up from the Vic-20 which somehow operated on tape. The C64 used the large floppy discs and had a whopping 64 KB (kilobytes) of RAM (random access memory) and 20 KB of ROM. Yes, it was not very powerful, and if you wanted it to do more than play simple games, you had to write the code yourself. It was not practical, but owning your own computer was a novelty and I suppose they were relatively inexpensive.

Commodore 64 – the most popular computer ever produced. More than 30 million of them sold. Yes, I had one of these, too.

At home there were no CDs or tapes for our music. We had 45 and 33 1/3 RPM records. The 45 typically had one song per side, while 33 1/3 were albums with about half of the songs on each side. The numbers represented the speed, or “revolutions per minute,” the record was to be played. A good turntable and quality speakers were a must as we got older. People will still tell you today that vinyl records on a good system represents the best sound for music. Now the problem is you need many cabinets full of heavy records to store the same amount of music you can keep on your phone.

record player
Christopher Reeve as the Man of Steel

One important thing missing from modern society is the phone booth. Yes, there were little booths on the street with pay telephones. In an era before cell phones, these were very handy for urgent calls. As they started to disappear we became concerned for Superman. You may not know this, but before the 21st Century, the phone booth was a necessary commodity for saving the world. You see, Clark Kent would go into a phone booth and take off his clothes and his Superman outfit was underneath. Seriously!

No, I don’t know what happened to the nice suit he left in the phone booth. Maybe some homeless man got it. And yes, I do think it must have been uncomfortable to have that cape under his shirt. Since the common phone booth was glass on all sides, I am surprised that no one ever noticed in Metropolis a man in a phone booth taking off his suit. I do know that Clark Kent was remarkably good at doing this in a very confined space. What does he do now, I wonder?

EVEN MORE BIRDS – Marilyn Armstrong

Do NOT complain about my birds. I am so thrilled to have my feeders up. When I ramble into my kitchen for morning coffee, there the rails and feeders are all aflutter.

Carolina Wren and a Rose-Breasted Titmouse.

What’s really a bit strange — I’m sure this has something to do with climate change — is we are getting different birds than last year. We have last year’s birds too, but many fewer Goldfinch who were the stars of last winter’s bird population.

Carolina Wren and the white bird I don’t recognize.

We have the same woodpeckers — Downy, Hairy, and Red-Bellied. But we have wrens this year. A flock of Carolina Wrens who normally only arrive in early spring has settled into the feeders.

Carolina Wren and Titmouse

You know you have Carolina Wrens because they have the loudest voice in the woods. Very small birds, but what a voicebox!

There are also Titmice, Chickadees, and Nuthatches (two types): White-Breasted and Red-Breasted.

Carolina Wren

As for the Carolina Wrens, they’ve been bouncing around the woods for several years, but they never came to the feeders. This year we have them and a couple of others I’m not sure I’ve properly identified. All of the small brown wrens look very much alike. Is that offensive to wrens? If so, I apologize. Same rusty brown color. With speckled and barred wings and striped faces.

Incoming but unknown

We also have a big gray bird that looks like the bird you get in a coloring book. He is Standard Bird A and I can’t for the life of me find it in either of my books. I’ve got two books now. The pocket-size (for people with really BIG pockets) Peterson guide and what I got used from Amazon (free overnight shipping) that cost me $3.50, weighs about 20-pounds and describes in intimate detail every known bird in North America. The final one is coming tomorrow or Monday — the Audubon pocket guide –another book for people with super big pockets.

Rose-Breasted Nuthatch

I’ve been trying to get the most recent books because not only have we many fewer birds than we had just a few years ago (down by almost %30!), but they have moved. Migratory birds aren’t migrating.

Rose-Breasted Nuthatch

A few of them are no considered “homeless.” They don’t have an area of North America that is their breeding ground. This does not bode well for a bird species. But at least they are still alive and maybe if we can slow this changing climate down, our feathered friends will settle down too.

Flying wren

I’ve seen a few Cardinals and for the first time, a bunch of Blue Jays. Still no Robins. I hope they come back. Also, no doves this year. There’s a big white and slightly orange bird of unknown vintage.

For someone who loves taking bird pictures, I’m really not very good at identifying them, so anyone who’d like to help, please, HELP.