Monday, July 30, 2012

The Mom with Messy Hair (The Story Behind the Photo)

I love it when one of the antique photographs in my collection poses a mystery that sets me off on research in an effort to solve it.  Often the solution remains frustratingly elusive, as in “Is This a Lost Portrait of Lord Byron?” which has brought me fascinating e-mails from Byron experts around the world, but has never identified the painting of Byron that was photographed in that early ambrotype. I’m still convinced that my ambro records an important unknown oil painting of Byron that  will show up some day in a musty English stately home.

The photograph at the top, of a charming family with five children, has had me puzzled for many years.  I call it “Mom with Messy Hair.”  It’s a large (half plate) ambrotype, which is the photographic process that emerged during the 1850’s, after the daguerreotype.  An ambrotype is a negative image on the back of a glass plate, which becomes a positive image when you put a dark background behind it.

I was fascinated by this very attractive family because, in an era when women never let their hair down in public, but always had it severely pulled back and up, how can we explain this mother’s hairdo which seems to have been “combed” with an egg beater? (To see examples of 19th century women's severe hair styles, check out my post “Diane Arbus and Spooky Twins”). 

With my usual penchant for tragedy and drama, I imagined that perhaps this woman was an invalid—at death’s door—and the photographer had been called in to record her image with her family before she passed away.  But this mom looks perfectly happy and well, except for what’s on top of her head.

There was also the question of the towel or piece of cloth that has fallen on the floor at her feet. Is there a towel on the floor because this is a sickroom?  I once developed a theory, because so many people in early daquerreotypes and ambrotypes were clutching a white handkerchief, that these were symbols of mourning and loss, like the black arm bands and woven hair bracelets often worn  in the 1800's.

Turns out I was completely off base with that theory.  More savvy collectors told me that those white cloths and handkerchiefs were in the photo to help the photographer focus, so that he wouldn’t get solarization—a white glare or aura around something like a white shirt front that often mars early photos, due to the bright sunlight’s reflection. (Remember there was no electricity back then, so the photographer could only work on sunny days.)

After years of puzzling about the woman’s hair, I recently posed my question to a fellow collector and member of the Daguerreian Society, Joan Severa, who is the ultimate expert on the history of fashion.  She can look at the garments, collars and sleeves, shoes and hairstyles, brooches and ruffles, and tell you exactly when an antique photograph was made and the social class of the people in the photo.

Joan Severa has written a number of books on the subject, including “Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion, 1840 – 1900” and “My Image Taken”. Her books are invaluable tools for any historian or collector.

Here’s what I wrote to Joan about the “Mom with Messy Hair”.

 “What fascinates me, of course, is the attractive mother of five children, sitting with her family, with completely messed-up hair.  Surely that hair was never in fashion?  Because she also seems to be without the usual tight boned corset  I thought that maybe she is ill and in the equivalent of a dressing gown?  Yet she looks quite serene and well in the photograph”.

And here’s what Joan Severa replied. As usual, she knocked me out with the detail and depth of her knowledge of the fashions of the period:

First, let me tell you that the mommie in your first image does not have “messy hair!  Her locks are combed down and full over her ears very smoothly, then swept up in back into a crown of twists or braids, which she has then crowned with an ultra-fashionable “coiffure”, or headdress, of flower buds and ribbon, which hangs down both sides. The image dates to the first couple years of the ‘50s, when wide whitework collars were the latest word, skirts were very full and supported by 8 or 9 petticoats, and the corset was still the bust-crushing long one of the late ‘40s.  She is, too, wearing a corset. 

 Her gown is of a light silk, puffed in the bodice and with open sleeves and fancy “engageantes” or undersleeves of sheer white frills.  It is a fancy “at home” dress, in which she would have received callers.  The oldest girl is wearing the long corset too, as witness the pointed waistline, and she and the next-oldest wear “bretelles”, tapered frills like those of a fancy apron, from shoulders to a point at the waist.

So there’s the end to the mystery.  My heart-breaking scenario of an ill or dying mother was complete fantasy, but I don’t mind.  I love learning about things like “engageantes” and “bretelles.”  And I’m glad to know that the mom with the messy hair was in perfect health and rocking a headdress of flower buds and ribbon.

But I still think, if I had turned up with a headdress like the nineteenth century mom above, no matter how fashionable, my own mother would be quick to say, “You’re not going out of the house with your hair looking like that!”

Friday, July 27, 2012

Shrewsbury Street on a Summer Night

Please click on the photos to enlarge them.

I’ve been taking a course called “Night Photography” at the Worcester Art Museum from photographer Norm Eggert, and our assignment on Wednesday night was to transport our cameras and our tripods to Shrewsbury Street, the “Restaurant Row” of Worcester, MA. and take pictures.

We who live in Worcester get rather sensitive when outsiders refer to our city as “Wormtown” and call it a “sleepy industrial backwater” long past its prime.

But on Wednesday, Shrewsbury Street was humming with life on a balmy summer night.  It was more like a street in Europe.  People were sitting at tables on the sidewalk, deep in conversation, with not a cell phone or I-pad in sight.  Cars rolled by with music blasting, kids hung out in Cristoforo Colombo Park, everyone was friendly and no one was afraid.

The Boulevard Diner is the Queen of Worcester’s famed diners (all manufactured right here by the Worcester Lunch Car & Carriage Company between 1906 and 1957.)  It was at the Boulevard that Madonna and her entourage ordered a hearty spaghetti dinner after a performance nearby.

 On  Shrewsbury Street, as you can see, there are plenty of places to get a drink—many of them resembling the friendly neighborhood bar in Cheers where everybody knows your name.

And there are elegant restaurants with valet parking and cuisines from every corner of the world.

At the end of Shrewsbury Street is a large rotary where the restored Union Station stands, looking just as it did when it welcomed thousands of immigrants to the factories of Worcester, in search of their American dream.  Finished in 1911, it was called “A poem in  stone,” and considered one of New England’s primary  architectural treasures.  But in 1963 the last passenger train pulled out and for more than 20 years the huge building was deserted and deteriorating, huddled in the shadow of the wrecking ball. The twin towers had been removed in 1926 because they were weakened and in danger of falling.

The city managed to restore Union Station to its former glory with the help of  alumni of WPI--Worcester Polytechnic Institute. who created new towers out of fiberglass.  It re-opened in 2000, once again a major transportation hub.

On Wednesday night as I approached  Union Station, half a dozen fire engines screamed by, and then a huge pack of motorcyclists descended—there were dozens—reminding me of the furies in the film “Les Mouches.”  I watched the traffic circulate in front of Union Station, with its new mascot—a statue of Christopher Columbus--  overlooking the scene.  Eventually it was time to walk back up Shrewsbury Street, to find a place for dinner and perhaps raise a toast to Worcester’s slow but steady renaissance.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Bel Kaufman is 101 and Still Writing

                                                 Chester Higgins/New York Times

Yesterday I was leafing through the new August issue of Vogue magazine. It’s the “Age Issue” which annually features, as they put it in a cover line:  ” Wonder Women from 28 to 101.”

I was thrilled to find an article by Bel Kaufman who is, in fact, 101, and to learn that she’s as witty and wise and defiant of the status quo as ever. 

Long ago, when I was starting out as a “career girl” in New York, I read and loved her book “Up the Down Staircase” -- published in  1965 when Bel was in her fifties.  It was a thinly disguised saga of her experiences in defying bureaucracy when she taught high school in New York, and it spent 64 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list.

Bel Kaufman is a granddaughter of the Yiddish storyteller Sholem Aleichem, whose stories formed the basis of “Fiddler on the Roof”.  She went on after the success of "Staircase" to become a much-in-demand speaker who specialized in the subject of Jewish humor.  In fact last year, when the New York Times  interviewed her  about her 100th birthday, she was teaching a course about Jewish humor at Hunter College, her alma mater.

I was overjoyed to learn yesterday that Ms. Kaufman at 101—thirty years older than I am—is still teaching and writing and sharing her wisdom with women born a century after her.  As she explained to both the Times and Vogue, she was born in Odessa, Russia, was a child in Moscow during the Russian Revolution, and her family was persecuted because they were Jews.  Food was scarce and as she said, bodies lay in the streets frozen in odd positions. “But a child has no basis for comparison.  Doesn’t every child step over dead bodies?  I didn’t know any different.”

Her family left Russia for New York when she was twelve (and she was placed in first grade because she didn’t speak English.)  Bel grew up being passionate about poetry, which she reads in Russian, English, French and German.   She got  her master’s degree in English and comparative literature at Columbia and decided she wanted to teach at the high school rather than the college level because “I felt that college students were already finished—I would be of no great influence to them.  I wanted to show high schoolers, for  whom I could still make some difference, the joy in reading and writing and learning, before the malaise of later life.”

Bel is now writing a book about her grandfather, Sholom Aleichem, inspired by a letter he wrote to her when she was a child.   Personally, I can’t wait to read it.

I hereby designate Bel Kaufman not Crone of the Week (a title I haven’t bestowed lately) but Crone of the Year—perhaps the decade.  And for those of you who don’t read Vogue, I want to quote a couple of paragraphs from her August article on the subject of teaching and of being old.

“Not too long ago, I was speaking at a retirement luncheon at the United Federation of Teachers in New York City and it was as if I was back in college, speaking to those seven-year-olds again. I told the teachers that while they may think they are retiring, they are not.  I can tell you, you are always a teacher.You remain alive in thousands of memories and thousands of minds of people you have taught, “ I said.  “It’s a kind of immortality.”…

“I’ve lived a long time, a very long time, 101 years, and I’m still here.  I’m done with the doubts and struggles and insecurities of youth.  I’m finished with loss and guilt and regret.  I’m very old, and nothing is expected of me.  Now, provided good health continues, I can do what I want.  I can write my memoirs.  I can edit my works for future eBooks.  I can even do nothing—what a luxury that is!  I have new priorities and a new appreciation of time.  I enjoy my family more than ever, and also a sunny day and a comfortable bed.  I keep up my interest in books and theater and people, and when I’m tired, I rest.  My former students write to me and visit me.  I had many problems and disasters in my life; fortunately at my age, I don’t remember what they were.  I’m glad I am 101.”

Monday, July 23, 2012

Before TV & Movies…Stereoviews

(Please click on the photos to enlarge them)

The Story Behind the Photos--19th Century Greece

Starting around 1860 and lasting well into the 1900’s, nearly every home in the USA was equipped with a stereopticon viewer and a good supply of stereoview cards.  Some of the stereo-viewers were fancy tabletop pieces mounted on a base, often with inlaid wood.  But most of them, like mine above, were simple hand-held models.
"An old dream realized at last, ship-canal through  Isthmus, E.S.E. Corinth, Greece" Underwood. 
It was traditional for wealthy families to send their adult children on a “Grand Tour” to finish their education.  Families of more modest means could sit in their parlors and view all the outstanding sites and monuments of the world in 3-D thanks to their stereo viewer.  The reflecting lenses inside the viewer fused the two images on the stereo card—which were taken by separate camera lenses-- into one image that appeared to be three dimensional.
"A Father and Son of the race of Homer, Patras, Greece. 1897"
From the very beginning of photography—the daguerreotype in 1839—photographers have created stereoviews that appear three-dimensional when seen through a  viewer, but if you ever come across a stereo daguerreotype (polished silver on a copper plate)  or ambrotype (on glass), you’ve found an extremely rare and valuable photograph.  Oddly, the few stereo dags I’ve seen often portray nude or partially nude women—I guess the porn industry began long before the invention of photography.

The stereoviews that flooded the country from 1850 were (first) albumen prints pasted onto cardboard cards.  From the 1880’s to the 1920’s, the 7  by 3 1/2-inch cards had rounded corners and were curved to enhance the 3-D effect.

In their parlors, Americans viewed the horrors of dead bodies on Civil War battlefields, exotic customs of foreign cultures and the wonders of the world.  Explanatory notes were usually printed on the back of the card. 

By the turn of the century, viewers often collected groups of cards that were posed by actors to tell a story—for instance a series showing a soldier leaving his fiancée to go into battle, then being wounded and finally nursed back to health by his sweetheart who traveled to the hospital to care for him.

Sometimes the series told a humorous story like 10 cards I once owned showing how Mrs. Newlywed catches on to her husband’s dalliance with the comely cook by spying a floury handprint on the back of his suit coat, so she replaces the attractive cook with a plug-ugly one.

Often identical views were published by more than one company—many of these were pirated and of inferior quality.
"Temple of Nike, Acropolis, Athens, Greece."
In the U.S. the major makers of these super-popular stereo cards were (first) the Langenheim brothers of Philadelphia, then Underwood and Keystone and dozens of other lesser-known publishers. I haven’t been able to find proof of a connection between the humorous stereoview series and early silent movie companies like Biograph which produced “The Keystone Kops”, but it seems that early silent movies would be a natural successor to the stories told by actors in stereoviews.
"Statue of Byron, Athens, Greece."
Before 2004, when Athens was preparing to host the Olympics, I started collecting stereo views taken in Greece around 1896 when the first modern Olympics were staged in the country where the Olympics were born.  I used the photos on  these stereo cards to design a series of note cards and a poster, sometimes adding a touch of color. 
Left:  "Recruits for the Army before the Temple of Theseus, Athens." 
Right: "The best preserved temple in all Greece, the Theseion in Athens"
What thrilled the original owners of these stereo views was the lifelike three-dimensional quality of the scenes. But what thrilled me, upon viewing the antique photographs of Greece, was the chance to see my husband’s native country and countrymen the way they looked as they went about their daily life at the end of the 19th century.  It wasn’t the  temples and ruins that  intrigued me—they look much the same today when I visit Greece.  It was the people—the extras in the scene—that I cared about.
Left: "The Argolis plain, looking from Nauplia to Mykenae" 
Right: "East end of the Parthenon on the Acropolis at Athens"
Because the photographer wanted to dramatize the 3-D quality of each photo, he would choose some important site—let’s say the Acropolis—for the background, then he would put something—or someone—in the foreground and often in the middle ground too.  And the “models” he’d ask to pose were people who were handy-—soldiers, farmers, school children, pedestrians.
Left: "The Acropolis from Philopappos Hill", 
Right: "Columns of the Temple of Olympian Zeus and the Acropolis in Distance, Athens"
I’ve never read anything about the methods of these stereo photographers, so I don’t know if they paid the bystanders whom they coached to stay very still until the photographer had focused on the scene with his large, boxy stereo camera on a tripod.
Left: View from Lykabettos Hill past the Royal Palace and the Acropolis to the sea, 
Right: "Greek Girls among ancient ruins"
I suspect these “extras” in the scene posed for free, just to witness this new-fangled thing called photography.
"City milk delivery, Athens, straight from the goat."
But in their traditional dress and everyday tasks, these humble Greeks achieved a kind of immortality as they became extras in historic scenes illustrating how life was lived in the days before electricity and television, smart phones and I-pads.
"Shepherds bringing Lambs to Market, Nauplia, Greece"
When I first visited Greece in 1968, there was still no electricity in my future husband’s village of Lia in Epiros, and women often wore their traditional garb, including the headscarves and embroidered vests, but by the seventies, electricity and television made it to the villages and all that authentic traditional detail was lost by the time they’d seen “Dallas”  and “The Fugitive.”
"Holy Trinity Monastery, Greece, 1896" (Look at the artillery on the monk in the foreground!)
Whatever your area of interest—trains, ships, history, architecture, native Americans, anthropology, you can put together a great collection of antique stereoviews on the subject without a huge outlay of cash, thanks to EBay and sellers like my friends at Dave’s Stereos.  But if you come across any great views of 19th century Greece, give me a heads up first.

"Monastery of Hagia Trias (Holy Trinity) Meteora Rocks, Northern Greece"

Monday, July 16, 2012

Found Art In the Garden

(Please click on the photos to make them bigger.)

Monday is Found Art Day, so yesterday I took my camera out to the garden, which has pretty much been doing its own thing this year--perennials crowded together with weeds,  plus a few new annuals, some bean plants, a couple of tomatoes.  For an ignored garden it's looking pretty good.

Many of the flowers  were planted more than forty years ago by previous owners--spectacular irises (all done now) and some lilacs that I know go back a hundred years.    The lilies of the valley and day lilies have spread all over the place and the yellow forsythia--first harbinger of spring-- has jumped from the upper garden in the front yard down to the back garden by the pool, making for a solid wall of yellow.

I decided to channel Georgia O'Keefe and look very closely at the flowers that are currently in bloom.
First here's a passionate pink petunia, next the first of the sunflowers, hosting an industrious bee.  Nasturiums are among my favorites--the tender flowers are edible and even the leaves are so elegant in design.  That last pale pink flower is on some crazy hollyhocks that come up by themselves every year.
The blue hydrangeas are a gorgeous color this year--I have a thing for blue flowers. Next is a sweet pea that returns and spreads, but has no scent.  The  ferns in the shade are so great for adding  importance to any bouquet.  And the black-eyed Susans--let them into your garden and they'll soon take over.  They look so cheerful in a rustic crock or ironstone pitcher,
First is a thistle, then a blossom from the hibiscus bush called "Rose of Sharon".  It always makes me think of the character with that name in "Grapes of Wrath."  Can you see the ant that's come to visit?  Next is a climbing vine that grows up the iron staircase bannister called, I think, black-eyed Susan vine.  Finally is a blu-ish flower that starts as a balloon shape then pops open into a star.
First is a white Cosmos, then a jazzy flower whose name I've forgotten, then a clematis that's quite different from our other clematis vines, and finally a red flower that always blossoms around the 4th of July and reminds me of fireworks. 
Even the giant weed on the left strikes me as art, because it grew out of the cracks in the 300-year-old stone wall and it's now about six feet high.  I'd never pull it out after it was clever enough to find a footing.  You can see that the blackberries--completely wild and unkill-able--are nearly ready to pick.  We pick masses of them every year to make into jam, which we give away as gifts all winter.  The tomatoes, on the other hand, are far from ready.  Every year I hope to grow one that tastes as good as Greek tomatoes, but it never happens.
I have a weakness for Victorian cast iron garden furniture.  This rustic twig-style bench was made around 1860 by the firm of Janes Beebe in New York.
At the near end of the pool is this victorian cast iron set of chairs, love seat and table--with a grapevine design.
My wooden angel of the garden gets more weathered every year.

If you look carefully around the rock garden and fish pond you find quite a few angels, fairies and small magical people and animals, most of them watching the golden fish and  bug-eyed frogs in the pond.  There's even a roaring iron lion in one corner and of course a witch's ball.  I think they also count as found art.
Finally there's this big frog--looking just like the real frogs that croak at us when we're invading what they consider their pond.  When we turn on the waterfall, the water comes from under him and runs down the rocks He's the mascot of our garden.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Amalia’s Big Fat Greek Baptism

 When I was growing up a Presbyterian in Minnesota, I thought that the ceremony of baptism consisted of a short period after church when the minister said a few words over the baby and splashed some water on its head.

That was long before I met a Greek-American, married him, and produced three children who all enjoyed a real Greek baptism with a cast of thousands and a long  church service which included the priest completely submerging the baby three times in the baptismal fount, and also cutting three locks of hair and anointing the child with holy oil among other colorful rituals. 

It was a learning experience.  At each of the first two baptisms—both held in St. Spyridon church in Worcester, MA., I wore a floor-length gown (as did the guests) and sat in the  front pew to help with the undressing and re-dressing of the screaming child. (The third baptism took place in Greece and was slightly more low-key, but a caterer and a tent were involved.)

Inevitably, in the church,  I would worry, like every Greek mother, that  someone would drop the screaming, slippery baby.  (In the olden days, in Greek villages, the mother didn’t even get to go to the baptism.  The godparent would bring the child to her afterward at home and inform her what its name was.)

In each baptism in St. Spyridon, as soon as I unconsciously and nervously crossed my legs, my aged father-in-law would stand up, stalk across the front of the church and scold me: “Never cross your legs in church.”  Not that I was showing as much as an inch of ankle, mind you. I would uncross, then forget and do it again.
 Proud father Nick Gage at left and godfather Steve Economou at right, dance at Eleni's baptism 36 years ago.
The baptisms of our babies were followed by a major party, major cake, lots of Greek food and wine and a live orchestra including the all-important clarinet player whose skills inspired the dancers into athletic feats that including writhing on the floor while appreciative on-lookers threw money. 

My father-in-law would lead the Greek line dances while balancing a glass of Coca Cola on his head.  He never dropped it.
 Well, the baptism last Sunday of our first grandchild, ten-month-old Amalía, at the same St. Spyridon Cathedral where her mother was baptized 36 years ago, was less over-the-top, but it was a total delight to the 131 guests, from small children to aged great aunts, some of whom threw aside canes and disabilities to demonstrate their dancing skills.
 Proud grandfather Nick Gage, now with a white beard, still is a Greek dancing star.
Amalía’s godmother Areti Vraka, came from Corfu, Greece and her godfather, José Oyanguren, came from Managua, Nicaragua.  They had both  served as attendants when Amalia’s parents  were married in Corfu two years earlier, on 10/10/10.
Areti at left dresses Amalia.  Jose at right reads from St. Paul at the baptism.
 Baby Amalía entered the church wearing an antique lace christening gown brought by her Nicaragua grandmother,  Abuela Carmen Oyanguren. It was originally made for Carmen’s father in Bruges, Belgium some 115 years ago.
 It was the inspiration of Amalía’s mommy, our daughter Eleni, to design an invitation featuring the baby dressed in the traditional “Amalia” costume which Greek girls put on for festive and patriotic occasions.  As Eleni explained in the invitation:  “Amalía is…the name of the first queen of modern Greece. ..the name of the traditional Greek costume shown here… the name of the Queen of our hearts.”
 The colors of the Amalia costume—pale blue and deep red—became the color scheme for the baptism and the flower arrangements on the tables. Amalia’s photo from the invitation was reproduced on the 24 cupcakes surrounding the baptism cake, which resembled the white lace christening gown.
The same colors were echoed in the ribbons on the religious “witness pins” worn by everyone who attended the church, and in the blue Murano glass crosses attached to the traditional “boubounieres” –the candy-almond-filled favors on the tables. On every table was an "Amalía doll"--Every child got one.
Last Sunday the dresses were no longer floor-length gowns and the live orchestra was replaced by a DJ, but he pulled out old favorite Greek songs and dances as well as Spanish-language  standards for the Nicaraguan contingent.  Amalia’s Daddy,  Emilio, danced first with his daughter and then with his wife.
 And before the party was over, ten-month-old Amalia, no doubt on a sugar high caused by my feeding her an entire cupcake, managed to dance to the Greek music on her own two feet, just as her mother had danced at her own baptism 36 years before.

(For a moving and insightful explanation of the meaning of the baptism rituals, check out the  post of Amalía’s mommy, author Eleni Baltodano Gage, on her blog "The Liminal Stage":  “The Circle Dance: The Sacred and the Mundane.”)

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Farewell Concert on the Town Common

Color guard at the beginning
A concert on our picturesque town common in Grafton has been a Fourth of July tradition for 33 years.  Yesterday, all day, citizens placed their lawn chairs on the site around the white bandstand that dates from 1935 when the town center was used for the movie “Ah Wilderness”.  By 7:30 when the concert began, there was hardly any room left for children to play and do cartwheels.

For the past eight years the U.S. Air Force Band of Liberty from Hanscom Air Force Base has performed the annual concert, sponsored by the Grafton Lions Club.  It’s the perfect American small town celebration--men dressed in antique military uniforms firing the  cannons, scaring the children and pets who have gathered.  Traditionally the 1812 Overture has been the climax of the evening, with plenty of cannon fire.
                                                                                    Waiting for the Start
Since we have friends and relatives from as far away as Greece and Nicaragua gathering here to celebrate the baptism of granddaughter Amalia on Sunday, we made sure to  secure  places at last night’s concert so they could see a real American Fourth. It was bittersweet, because this was the farewell of the band, which has been performing for military and civilian audiences throughout the Northeast for over a quarter century.
                                                      The Air Force Band of Liberty
As the Grafton paper explained, budget cuts have affected the band and after this year, they will be disbanded and relocated to Langley Air Force Base in Virginia, where they will be incorporated into the musical program there.
                                                                                     The  Bandstand
Last night the Common was filled to overflowing and the cannons started booming right at the start with The Star Spangled Banner.  After musical selections that were classical, patriotic, and even “Alexander’s Ragtime Band”, and heartfelt comments from the band's leader, the evening ended with The Stars and Stripes Forever as most of the audience stood to honor friends and loved ones who have served in the military.
                               Even the cannons didn't wake up granddaughter Amalía.  Grafton Inn in the background.

As lawn chairs were gathered and the crowd dispersed  I heard  some of the younger people thanking elderly vets for their service to our country.
A vet listening
Even pets paid attention
It was a moving tribute to our military and to a band that has delighted our New England village over the years, and we left the Common, headed for a nearby fireworks display, feeling proud and  privileged to have been a part of it.

SPEAKING OF RITUALS:  An essay by daughter Eleni Gage Baltodano is currently featured on the  Martha Stewart Living” blog.  It mentions four of Eleni’s favorite rituals, and  includes a shout-out to Grafton’s Fourth of July, photos of baby Amalia and her two grandmas, as well as a Greek tradition: Orthodox Easter,  a Nicaraguan tradition: visiting the nativity scenes at Christmas, and  an Indian tradition: Holi, which figures in Eleni's new novel; Other Waters.  To read  Eleni’s essay click here