Thursday, January 30, 2014


FEBRUARY 19 -- Where is the Box these days? For two weeks, it's been stuck in its parking space out front of our house. Since having foot problems at the end of January and being pretty much housebound, I have not driven it, and it's been plowed-in on more than one occasion. Today I tried to move it and got a good rocking motion going, but no deal. I did learn something I had forgotten. The Box has front-wheel drive!

In an earlier post about our Christmas activities, I mentioned that as a kid in the early 50s I had
received as a gift from a favorite aunt and uncle a cool 1952 Cadillac sedan. They probably found out from my mother what kind of gift I might like.

I don't think I was much different from other boys my age. I wasn't athletic, but I did like riding my bike at breakneck speed around my neighborhood. I dressed up those grips at the end of the handlebars with streamers, a crisp blue and white, until I was too old for that sort of thing. I liked using clothes pins to clip playing cards onto my spokes to make the bike sound like a motorcycle.

In those days local playgrounds had "bike rodeos," and kids would dress up their bikes with crêpe paper, flags, and other doo-dads and ride them in parade formation to the spot where they were judged and awarded ribbons. Of course, we did not mess with helmets or riding safety. It was all about the bling! It seems that every kid in the neighborhood participated, and after the awards ceremony we hit the streets for some nice long rides in our uptown neighborhood.

I also had a battery-operated turn signal, and I can recall still the warm summer evening when I rode down the block on Sixth Street, anticipating all the way the thrill of using that turn signal when I got to Radnor Street. There I turned right, past Stoudt's ice cream shop, and then right again onto Lexington Street. Those right turns continued the whole way around the block. Then I turned around and went the other way around so I could turn left at every corner.

At that age, perhaps ten or so, I began to notice cars and soon was able to identify every make and year. I awaited anxiously the new models each fall and would declare, "That's what I am getting when I am old enough to drive," being totally unaware that those models would be in the junk heap by the time I could afford my own car.

Since my dad was a Ford man, I love Fords the most. I recall in sixth grade, when asked by the school psychologist what I wanted to be when I grew up, I responded immediately, "President of Ford Motor Company." He laughed and even remembered my answer when we met again in junior high school. (It's not that I was 'unbalanced' -- that would come later -- but everyone, at least those of us in an experimental accelerated curriculum, saw the school psychologist yearly.) As it turns out, my mother -- who knew everyone -- knew him, too, and he mentioned my remark to her, as well.

We neighborhood boys would sit on the front porch and watch as cars approached on busy Sixth Street. We'd vie to call out first the make and year of each car. No car passed without proper identification from us.

1936 Ford
We all knew what each other's dads drove, too. Mine did not have a car during my earliest years. He often drove a company car -- one that had been repossessed by that bank for which he worked. My favorite was a big ol' Chrysler with the coolest push-button radio. Eventually, he bought a 1936 Ford, which would have been about 20 years old then. Car design had changed so dramatically over that time that the '36 Ford looked ancient and was a curiosity in our neighborhood. It was black and had a rumble seat in which we rode at least once to Hagy's swimming pool, near where the Farm Show Complex stands. I think my mother thought it was dangerous, so we never did it again. My dad's car did not have whitewalls, I am pretty sure.

Similar model, different color.
Our older brothers got cars first, of course. I recall that my brother's first car was our parents' friend's old Pontiac. It was very large and very green. Mike named it The Green Hornet. It may have been on the first day he owned it that he took the family on a ride on Front Street toward downtown. Unfortunately for him, they had recently changed the direction of the traffic to flow in the opposite direction, and he was hailed with flashing headlights, horns, and catcalls until he quickly pulled off into a side street.

Great for attracting girls!
Mike later had a coral and white 1955 or '56 Ford ragtop, which he drove in high school and until he was drafted into the Army. After that his kid brother and sister were only too willing to drive it "once in a while" to keep the battery in shape.

Soon enough there were far too many makes than the Detroit "big three" to recognize them all, and that childhood passion passed into history.

Before admiring real cars so much, many of us boys were into models and toy cars and collected them in various ways. Cereal boxes would contain little plastic models of the latest cars, neatly wrapped in little cellophane bags. SIX NEW MODELS! COLLECT THEM ALL! the package cried out. I happen to still have some of those little cars. Most are just one color of plastic, but some I clumsily painted, adding two-tone color schemes.

Wheaties ("Breakfast of Champions") offered auto emblems as seen on the hoods of cars -- not the three dimensional 'statuary' you might see on a Rolls Royce, but flat round discs imprinted with the cars' easily recognizable logo designs. Sets of these emblems were available for 25 cents each (perhaps three in a set?). I had quite a few, but they have long since disappeared. This picture is from a website written by a guy who apparently keeps everything.

With these plastic cars and metal ones, too, we "played car" in several spots in our urban neighborhood. One was the "dirt alley" behind our house. It was a pedestrian path that lay behind a garage belonging to a house around the corner. We dug into the earth and made ramps and roadways, parking lots and gas stations, all out of dirt. (This is why my children, playing with their latest iThing, cringe when I say that as a child, "The only toy I had was dirt."

More upscale was the low cement wall that surrounded the slightly elevated backyard of Ricky Levin, who lived at the end of the block. The top of that low wall became an Interstate highway (we had the idea about the same time as President Eisenhower), and our toys flew back and forth on their way into the future. The picture was taken recently by Google Maps. There was no fence in olden times, just a hedge, and that made for a nice forested background for our super highway.

Some of those toys are still in my collection of Christmas items. They come out (if lucky) once a year to play a part in a Christmas village. Some are those old cereal cars. Others are Matchbox cars that I collected once I had developed an interest in trains and Christmas villages -- probably the start of my interest in representations of structures (mostly houses) that still grab
me today when I see one. But that's another blog post.

Classic 2CV
My interest interest in cars continued, as everyone's does, when it came time for me to buy my first one. I had spent my junior year of college in France, and there were some old Citroëns that caught my attention. Tons of them, in fact. The French had been making them since 1938. I like the economy of them. Just what you needed to get you there and nothing more. They were called deux chevaux or 2CV. Many of them were driven by students. When I came home, graduated from college, and got a job teaching French, I thought it would be cool to have a 2CV.

Renault 16 looking presidential
Unfortunately, I could not find a dealer who sold them, so I settled for a 1968 Renault 16, a hatchback-style car that had lots of interior room and was quite comfortable to drive. I saw those in France, too, and once I even saw a photo of President Charles deGaulle riding in one. I figured it was good enough for me, too.

Mine was a light blue color with a black leather interior. I drove it to Québec City and back one summer. After that, though, things started to go wrong with it, and it was in the garage more often than not. At one point the only people who would work on it were all the way over in Carllisle. One day, when getting an estimate on the latest repair, I asked the garage owner if he's like to buy it. He gave me $300 for it.

Volaré wagon, just like ours
After that we drove Susanne's 1969 Falcon and then fell in love with a new car called "Volaré." We preferred the station wagon model since we now had kids and all their stuff to haul around. I also liked that it had fake contact paper that made it look like old "woody" wagons of the past -- but those had real wood. That car lasted a long, long time. Maybe 15 years or so. When we traded it in, it felt like it was on its last legs. We like squeezing all the juice out of a car.

Next came the Camrys. We started with a burgundy-colored wagon and then added a silvery blue sedan. Both of those cars lasted forever, too, at least 13 or 14 years. One of the women who was in my group at Montpellier in 1966 told me in a letter last year that she had just traded in her Camry after 27 years! And then only because it was rusty, and her husband was embarrassed.

We had a Ford Explorer for a while, along with Susanne's Subaru wagon, and The Box! One day my son Matt borrowed the Ford for a while, and he and his mother cooked up the idea of selling it in Baltimore. I never knew about that until it was gone, gone, gone. If you see it, please let me know.

ADDENDUM, March 23. I found this photo of myself in front of our house on Sixth Street. You can see my brother Mike's Ford convertible to the left. I think that's a Rambler wagon on the right. It belonged to a neighbor.

Saturday, January 25, 2014


The house that got me thinking of santons.
Before Christmas 2013 fades into ancient history, I want to write a bit about something I mentioned in an earlier blog. At the very end, there is reference to a small ceramic house that looked very French to me. I saw it in a local garden shop just after Christmas.

When I was a Junior Year Abroad student in Montpellier, France, I came across small clay figurines in all the store windows as Christmas approached. It seems that during the French Revolution (1787-99), large nativity scenes in churches -- and the midnight Mass itself -- were outlawed. Instead, potters created small figures for use in the home.

There were the traditional figures of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus, as well as shepherds, animals, and Wise Men. Something surprising, however, was the large variety of figures of French Provincial characters, dressed in country garb, including a priest, a woman carrying wood or wine, a baker, a farm hand, and so forth. It seemed odd to me at the time that these "locals" should appear in a nativity scene, but as I soon learned, this was a way of bringing the goings-ons of the first Christmas closer to the present time. These figurines are called santons, or "little saints." There were even small buildings and trees, windmills, carts, and other accessories appropriate to a country scene. The figures shown here are either two or three inches tall.

To bring the idea further into the present, I suppose you might re-imagine those figurines as portraying the Holy Family surrounded by convenience store clerks, Krispy Kreme bakers, swat team members, school teachers, and perhaps even Lady Gaga.

Sarah's wine-seller.
Interestingly, the Moravian Churches (founded in what is now the Czech Republic in 1457) of today carry on a similar tradition with a putz, which can be a simple manger scene; in its most elaborate form, the putz fills a room. The word putz comes from the German word putzen which means to decorate or clean. The manger is always the center of any putz. I don't think there are contemporary figures, as the putz aims to illustrate Isaiah's prophecy and Mary's annunciation to the visit of the Wise Men and the flight of the Holy Family into Egypt. 

At any rate, I knew my mother would love to have a souvenir from France that would pertain to Christmas, her favorite holiday. The figurines were very inexpensive but well-formed from clay and painted by the Fouque family of Aix-en-Provence. They are still in business now, 48 years later.

Since by the time the santons appeared in the stores, it was too late to mail them (by boat, of course; who could afford air mail?), so I brought them home with me in June. My mother displayed them every year for many years, until one year she thought I should have them back to use with my own family.

Since we did not decorate inside the house for Christmas this year, those little santons rested in the old Pomeroy's jewelry box, where they have been safely wrapped in tissue paper for many years. But when we got to our daughter Sarah's house after Christmas, I was happy to see in her kitchen two santons that I have given her over the years. Of course, I had to take pictures of them, which you see here.

A farmer with a rooster in his basket.
When we got home, I found two more santons on top of a wooden cabinet in my office. To tell you the truth, I didn't know where they came from when I first saw them. Now I recall that I bought them in an antiques store in York County as few years ago. I am pleased to say that they were a real bargain, like two for a dollar or a dollar each, something like that. Just to show you how valued these are, many sell online for $18.00 each for the two-inch tall ones, and up to $35.00 each for slightly taller ones.

So at Christmas these little saints, made from clay -- made out of France herself! -- remind me of the unique experience of living in France for a school year; of the wonderful friends I made that year; of my mother and her love of a holiday I grew to dread as a church musician; and the thought that these little souvenirs will perhaps pass into the next generation and have a place in my daughter's and grandchildren's future celebrations. Maybe they will even think of me when they see them!

Sarah's firewood gatherer.
A flower vendor.

Fisherman, priest, and woman seated on firewood. (1966)

Shepherdess with lamb and sheep. (1966)

Olive seller, fish seller, and overjoyed man. (1966)

Whole villages are created with santons  and all the accessories. (Internet)

Sunday, January 5, 2014


Merry Christmas!
Christmas is always a busy time of year for virtually everyone. People with children at home go all out to make it a festive time of year. We did the same, and even after Matt and Sarah had grown and gone, we decorated the house, went to a few parties, and even had a few of our own. This year, we did virtually none of that. At least, not here in beautiful -- wait, I know what the name of our development is  -- oh, yes, Englewood Heights.

Susanne did drape some lighted faux evergreen garland on the front porch and more on our faux fireplace, and that was about it for our decorations. We didn't put up a tree, or place any of our vintage paper houses on cotton batting to make a village. We didn't fill bowls with red or green apples, or tuck evergreens behind pictures and mirrors. We didn't string white lights among the pieces of a silver tea service to create a shiny glow. When I say low key, I mean l low key!

Centigrade or Fahrenheit?
We did enjoy ourselves, however. On Christmas morning, we got up and scurried off to Colonial Park for a traditional Christmas brunch given by our friend David, whom we met when we all taught at Susquehanna Twp. High School. We have known David since 1968, and for a decade or more (who can remember how long at our age?) we've been going to David's to observe his birthday and Christmas, too. There are always some folks who come every year and new people that David has met during the year. It's great fun, and we are sometimes the last to leave.

When we got home, we exchanged gifts, even though we had agreed not to. I gave Susanne a transistor radio to use while she is in "her" bathroom getting ready in the morning. I also got her a wireless thermometer to hang outside and broadcast the time and temp into the kitchen. I just hope it does not have commercials! Other gifts included some chocolate goodies, always a sure bet.

"Here's lookin' at you, kid."
My gifts included a cool shiny metal lantern to use on the porch this summer, a gift card to Wendy's for their apple pecan chicken salad, and one of those fogless shaving mirrors you can use in the shower. It looks like a miniature computer monitor, complete stand, on which you my rest your shaver. Think of the millions I will save on shaving cream!

In the evening, Susanne made a turkey dinner, with stuffing and candied sweet potatoes.

Simon W. Goodyear
I can recall Christmas mornings from my childhood, when we would walk down the block to the Camp Curtin fire station, where the firemen would give us a big fat orange and maybe a candy cane. I generally would creep behind the huge red engine to see the plaque on the back of it that memorialized my grandfather, Simon Goodyear, whom I never knew, but who was somewhat revered at the station for his volunteer work. When he died, they carried him covered in flowers to the cemetery in that truck. (As I looked at the picture of Simon, I wondered if he was a volunteer or a career firefighter. I just found his name and address online in early 20th-century city directories, and they show he was a "carpenter" (1908) and "car rep PRR" (1930).

Harrisburg City Directory, 1930
One Christmas I remember walking about the neighborhood, listening to my first transistor radio, just waiting for someone to ask what I had received for Christmas so I could show it off. I don't think I had seen those little hand-held versions since, until I bought one for myself earlier this year.

Christmas 1952
True to family traditions, we have not used any of our gifts yet, waiting to return from our trip to western Pennsylvania to cut open the nearly-impregnable plastic sleeves and spring the gifts from their wrappings. We reminisced how as kids, way back in the last century -- the 50s, to be exact -- we opened our presents, them placed them carefully back in their boxes, nestling clothing in the tissue paper, placing the lid under the box, and laying the clothing in the box for display. I wonder if undertakers got their start displaying in this manner. Especially with Barbies and GI Joes to work with. But I digress.

Then came the parade of aunts, uncles, cousins, and neighbors --
Aunt Rachel and Uncle Carl
even our Jewish neighbors -- who came to view the bounty that Santa had wrought. Each of the kids would take a turn in showing their presents, until amid all of the oohs and aahs refreshments were served.

This went on for most of the week after Christmas. My mother's sister Rachel and her husband Carl would come bearing gifts all the way from northern New Jersey. After all these years, I remember receiving a rather large metal 1952 Cadillac to play with. It was pretty spectacular, and I blurted out, "How much did this cost!?" Aunt Rachel said I was "fresh."
This took place at the house of my mother's other sister, Helen, whose tree is pictured just above. Under the tree were often displayed her daughter Elaine's collection of dolls, including some beauties from Japan.

By New Year's, we began to play with our toys for the first time (not really, but we pretended it was for the first time) and wear our clothing.

Matt, Sarah, and I, c. 1975
Usually the tree stayed up a bit longer until it started to drop its needles. Then my dad would grab that thing and yank it out the front door and around to the back yard, where it was collected with other the trash, complete with all the tinsel and probably an ornament or two.

I recall one year my dad almost had a stroke when my mother bought a blue spruce tree about four feet tall for $7.00 -- this at a time when white pine and hemlock trees were being sold (mostly at gas stations) for two or three dollars. To prove her point, my mother kept the tree up until February 14, when it lost its first needle.