Saturday, November 9, 2019

Part 2--Hunting for Cowboys and Indians

On Weds., Oct, 30,  I published my first post about investigating three Western-themed vintage Real Photo Postcards:"Hunting for Cowboys and Indians-- Part 1".  In the post, I told how I tried (but never quite succeeded) to confirm that the white -haired gentleman above was a valuable image of Geronimo (or was it Sitting Bull?)

Now I've turned my attention to the postcard of a man in a cowboy hat and leather chaps holding two very large snakes.  It's labelled “Rattlesnake Joe, Souvenir of the Fair”. (I’m no expert on snakes, but I knew those snakes he had wrapped around himself were not rattlesnakes—more likely boa constrictors.) Thanks to this identification, I thought it would be easy to track down the career and importance of “Rattlesnake Joe” and to find out if he, like Geronimo, was on exhibit at the famous 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis.  
It wasn’t that easy, after all, to connect Rattlesnake Joe to the St. Louis World’s Fair, but I did find through Google this great photo—it’s a 5 by 7 glass negative in the collection of the Library of Congress, with “no known restrictions on publication”.  As you can see, someone has written on the glass negative “Westchester Co. Fair Midway 7-89-15”.  I can’t figure out if those numbers are meant to be a date, but online I found another view of this image—with those same numbers-- and it’s been labeled “Westchester County Fair 1915.”

I love everything about this image: “Beautiful Mermaid Captured Alive”, “Reptile Joe, the King of the Reptile World”, and most of all the overhead sign saying, “Wild Rose & Rattlesnake Joe”.  I was happy to see that Joe had a lovely partner in his snake-charming act. The man with the big snake standing on the platform does seem to resemble my Rattlesnake Joe on the postcard, but in less flashy clothes. The man next to him with the megaphone is clearly advertising Joe to the crowd, but the man on the ground in the business suit, who appears to be holding a small snake, has drawn the attention of some of the gawking young boys. (Is he holding an actual rattlesnake?  Is he challenging Joe?)

With a little more detective work I discovered that a contemporary artist named Mike Savad has colorized this iconic image of a Fair Midway with all its excitement and drama (above).  I think he did a brilliant job of adding color to the innate drama of the scene. And he’s selling prints of his colorized work on his website, and

My enthusiasm about my Rattlesnake Joe postcard dwindled a bit when I tested my three vintage postcards to find out if they were Real Photos.  I knew that Real Photo Post Cards (RPPCs) are far more valuable than postcards that are printed-- like magazine and newspaper images.  I had read that in 1902, Kodak came out with a preprinted post card photo paper back that allowed postcards to be made directly from negatives, but a negative would only allow a limited number of prints,  while standard printing methods can be produced in huge numbers.

According to “Old House Journal”, “This technology allowed photographers to travel from town to town and document life in the places they visited….Real Photo Postcards became expressions of pride in home and community and were sold as souvenirs in local drug stores and stationary shops.”

I also learned that the best way to tell if you’re holding a Real Photo Postcard or a printed one is to look at the image through a magnifying glass.  If it’s a real photo, the image is solid, but if it’s not a real photo, the magnified image immediately dissolves into thousands of tiny dots—just like images in the newspaper or magazines.

Sadly, Rattlesnake Joe failed this test as soon as I got out my magnifying glass!  My other two “Western” images—my (I think) Geronimo and the “Ancient Squaw” both passed with flying colors—the shades of sepia (the Sioux Matriarch) and gray (Geronimo) fading into each other without dissolving into dots.

I was disappointed that Rattlesnake Joe didn’t pass the test, and was starting to suspect that he wasn’t any more “Western” than I am. But I did find a duplicate of my Rattlesnake Joe card for sale on Ebay—in worse condition than mine—for sale from “The Postcard Dude” selling for $12.57, which is more than the dollar or so that I thought it was worth.  The “Ancient Sioux Squaw” (I love her beaded necklaces and the feathered stick she’s holding) and the Geronimo RPPC could be worth many times Rattlesnake Joe.

I learned that the back of a postcard can also hold information about the age and maker of a postcard—even if it’s blank.  Check the printed “box” where the stamp is supposed to go and look up the words and design on line at “Playe’s Real Photo Stamp Boxes”.  The stamp box of the “Geronimo” postcard below shows “Noko” is the maker, and if you look on Playe’s, you see that particular design was used between 1907 and 1934.

If there’s no name on the back, but just a design, as in the Rattlesnake Joe card below, you can go to  “Playle’s Real Photo Postcard Stamp Backs” on line, which I did, but this design  was not there (because, as I learned, it’s NOT a real photo!)

The back of the “Ancient Sioux Squaw” post card, below, had the most information.  First I looked up on Playle’s the particular KRUXO stamp box design and learned it was used by the  manufacturer between 1908 and 1910.  Then I googled the name of the photographer on the side: “Real Photograph by Holmboe & White, New Salem, N.  D.”

I learned that Frithjof Holmboe was born in Norway in 1879 and immigrated to Minnesota (just like my paternal grandmother).  He became a photographer and opened his first studio in New Salem, North Dakota in 1907.  Two years later he moved it to Bismarck, N.D. and became the state’s official photographer.  So that tells us that the “Ancient Sioux Squaw” was photographed between 1907 and 1909.

Despite the fact that my three “Western” photo postcards will not make me rich, I enjoyed learning the stories behind these images and exploring a different branch of photography that took the newborn art of the camera out of the photographer’s studio and into our expanding country’s early history.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Hunting for Cowboys and Indians—The Story Behind the Photos

About a year ago, at an indoor “yard sale” on a college campus in Worcester, MA., I bought these three photo postcards for very little money. (Can’t remember how much, but it was less than $20.)  They were: a sepia photo with the words “ancient Sioux Squaw” marked on the negative, a man dressed as a cowboy holding two snakes over the words “Rattlesnake Joe—Souvenir of the Fair”,  and a photograph of a white-haired man wearing a white shirt , vest and jacket, with no identification at all, but I guessed he was Native American and probably of importance, to be dressed in European style.

(Let me say up front that I understand the name “Indian” is offensive to Native Americans, because it’s not accurate, and even more offensive is the derogatory term “Squaw” for female Native Americans.   But I often have to use such words when researching antique photos in my collection, because they were used to identify 19th century photos, since the terms were in common use at that time.)

I usually don’t collect postcards for several reasons:  I’m more interested in photos taken in the nineteenth century (the earliest photographs) and photos on postcards didn’t appear until the beginning of the twentieth century:  1903.  Also, postcard collectors number in the millions—it’s the third largest collectible hobby in the U.S.—and at ephemera auctions they buy boxes of hundreds of old postcards, which are worth pennies each.  I have no expertise in postcards and little patience for sorting through them, but I do know that authentic vintage photos concerning Native Americans and scenes of the Old West are always of greater value than most.  (By the way, if you find yourself in possession of a daguerreotype or any antique photograph of gold miners in California --or maybe an original image of Jesse James’ dead body, you can probably sell it to finance your retirement.)

Thus began my hunt to determine the identity and value of the three individuals in my “Western” postcards.  (As any collector will tell you, this is the fun part:  trying to track down the story behind your latest acquisition, hoping to find a nugget of gold amid all the pebbles and stones.)  Starting with the white-haired gent, I typed “Indian Chief” into Google.  (How did I live before the internet?  My life through high school, college and graduate school was one long trek from one library to another.). As soon as I clicked on Google Images, I said, “Bingo!  This is Geronimo!”

I had heard of Geronimo, of course, but never knew the fascinating story of his life.  Will try to sketch the highpoints. Geronimo was born June 1829. Became prominent leader and medicine man from Apache tribe.  1850 to 1886 joined fellows to carry out raids and resistance against U.S and Mexican military in Mexico and New Mexico. His fellow Apaches thought he had supernatural gifts, including foreknowledge. He had nine wives, the first one named Alope.  They had three children.  She and the children and Geronimo’s mother were all killed in a raid by Mexican soldiers in 1858.

In 1886, Geronimo surrendered to Lt Charles B. Gatewood, an Apache-speaking West Point graduate who had earned his respect.  He was a prisoner of War in Fort Bowie, Arizona, then exiled to Florida.  In his old age, Geronimo became a celebrity and appeared at World’s Fairs, including the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, where he sold souvenirs and photographs of himself and even buttons off his coat—sewing on new buttons overnight!  He died at the Fort Sill Hospital in 1909, at the age of 80, still a prisoner of war.

Convinced that my guy was Geronimo, I set the photos and research aside and recently came back to them, to write this blog post.  But in browsing, I came upon a photo of Sitting Bull and said, “Uh oh! He looks a lot like my Geronimo!”   Sitting Bull, a Lakota leader born about 1831, led his people during years of resistance to United States government policies.  Like Geronimo, he was believed by his people to have precognition—after he had a vision of his tribe achieving a great victory against Custer’s troops at the Battle of Little Big Horn in 1876 (also known as Custer’s Last Stand.)  Here's Sitting Bull below.

Sitting Bull evaded capture by U.S. soldiers until 1881 when he and his band surrendered to U.S. Forces.  After that he worked as a performer with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, becoming, like Geronimo, famous and feared.

But did I have Geronimo or Sitting Bull?  (That's  three photos of Geronimo above.) I turned into my Nancy Drew Girl Detective persona and started raking the internet for photos of both men with white hair in their old age.  But it didn’t work. I couldn’t find an elderly, white-haired Sitting Bull.  Then I had a moment of illumination, went to the computer, and learned that Sitting Bull was shot to death by an Indian Agency policeman who was trying to arrest him on Dec. 15, 1890.  Sitting Bull was only 58 or 59—so he died before his braids turned white!

Then I began to study with a strong magnifying glass my photo of the white-haired gent. Looking very closely, I saw he had what seemed to be two large warts just below his left eye.  A clue!  So I went back to internet photos of Geronimo as he aged, and quickly learned that he had warts all right—a very prominent one, but it was on the fullest part of his right cheek.  It’s visible in many photos taken as he aged, including the wonderful portrait of him below, taken by Edward Curtis in 1905. Geronimo died at the age of 79. After he was thrown from his horse while riding home, and lay in the cold all night, he died of pneumonia on February 17, 1909, as a prisoner of the United States at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

So at this point in my detective story, I can’t claim a verified Geronimo Real Photo Post Card, which, according to the Price Guide of Stefano Neis would be worth $50 to$125.  (Check it out at ). But I’m not giving up yet!

In my next blog post I’ll tell you what I discovered about my two other Western characters, as well as explaining how to tell when a postcard is a valuable  Real Photo Post Card (RPPC) or a nearly worthless printed postcard. And what you can learn from the blank back of a vintage postcard.  Stay tuned!

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

“Watchmen” and The Smiley Face: The Superhero Goes Bad

         (Last Sunday HBO premiered its new series based on “Watchmen”, the 1980’s 12-issue DC comic book series which has been called “a masterwork” and “the greatest piece of popular fiction ever produced.”  That inspired me to publish this excerpt from my (unpublished as yet) book—"The Saga of Smiley”-- about the history of the Smiley Face symbol, created in 1963 by Worcester, MA artist, Harvey Ball.)  

          With the appearance of Watchmen, a12-issue series of comic books published by DC Comics from September 1986 to October 1987, Smiley had metamorphosed 180 degrees from happy innocence (early 1960’s) to stoned euphoria (1970’s and Acid) to complete evil.  Here is how Jon Savage of The Guardian described the bloodstained Smiley that became the symbol of the series, appearing on the first and last page of the comics and, later, on the cover of the graphic novel: “Watchmen used the Smiley as a visual metaphor for a narrative that examines guilt, failure, megalomania and compromise with a corrupt power structure,” Savage wrote.  “All is not well beneath the idealized superhero surface, as the novel spirals into an existential crisis of betrayal, mass extinction, the transience of human existence.”


        This is a heavy, deep critique and Watchmen, created by writer Alan Moore, artist Dave Gibbons and colorist John Higgins, is a whole lot weightier—and, some would argue, more culturally significant—than your average comic book.  It revolutionized the comic book medium and the popular perception of super heroes.  When the series was gathered into a trade paperback in 1987, bookstores and public libraries began setting aside special sections for graphic novels. 

         Time Magazine praised it as “a superlative feat of imagination, combining sci-fi, political satire, knowing evocations of comics past and bold reworkings of current graphic format into a dystopian mystery story.” Watchmen was the only graphic novel to appear on Time magazine’s 2005 “All-Time 100 Greatest Novels” list.  Entertainment Weekly called it, “A masterwork representing the apex of artistry”, and Damon Lindelof, a creator of the TV series Lost, [and the new HBO Watchmen series!]  described it as, “The greatest piece of popular fiction ever produced.” 

          Watchmen is set in an alternate reality which resembles the contemporary world of the 1980’s, but many things have gone wrong; for instance, the U.S. won the War in Viet Nam, thanks to the assistance of some of the six costumed superheroes who make up the eponymous Watchmen.  As a result, Richard Nixon has been re-elected for a total of five terms. And Russia, jealous of the superior powers the Watchmen give the U.S., is threatening to launch a nuclear war against America.

         Over the years since they were first organized to maintain law and order, the superheroes have become cynical and tired and increasingly unpopular among the police and the public, so that in 1977 a law was passed to outlaw costumed superheroes except those who are working for the government.  As the story unfolds, most of the heroes have turned in their costumes and retired, but two of them are still employed by the government:  Dr. Manhattan, who is blue-skinned and all-powerful and capable of teleporting himself and anyone else anywhere, including to Mars, and the Comedian, (kneeling above) who always wears a Smiley button and who is described by Richard Reynolds in Super Heroes as: “ruthless, cynical and nihilistic, and yet capable of deeper insights than the others into the role of the costumed hero.”  Also still active, but as a rogue superhero outside the law, is Rorschach. No one knows what Rorschach looks like, because he always wears a white mask with constantly changing ink-blots moving over it.

          Just before the beginning of the comic series, the Comedian has been murdered.  (In the film version you get to see it happen, when a masked figure all in black slashes him, then tosses him through the glass window-wall of his apartment many, many stories above the street.  His yellow Smiley button gets close-ups as it becomes tinged with the Comedian's blood and then clinks down on the pavement near his shattered body.)  Soon Rorschach, the rogue superhero, arrives to pick up the button and begin investigating the murder of the Comedian, all the while keeping a journal of what he discovers and going around to warn his old superhero companions that their lives might be in danger.

          Writer Alan Moore picked the Smiley Face as the symbol for the Watchmen for a number of reasons. He cited satirical author William S. Burroughs as one of his main influences, saying he liked his use of “repeated symbols that would become laden with meaning.” The blood-stained Smiley face did just that.                    

The artist Dave Gibbons, in drawing the Watchmen panels, often added symbols himself that Moore would not notice immediately.  Gibbons created the Smiley face badge worn by the Comedian in order to lighten the overall design, and added the splash of blood.  He later said that he and Moore came to regard the blood-stained Smiley as “a symbol for the whole series” and he pointed out its resemblance to the Doomsday Clock ticking up to midnight—another prominent symbol in the story. 

          At the end of Watchmen we learn that one of the retired superheroes has killed the Comedian and stage-managed the exile of Dr. Manhattan to Mars as part of a plan to save humanity from an impending atomic war between the United States and the Soviet Union.  He intends to fake an alien invasion in New York City, killing half the city’s people, in hopes of uniting Russia and the U.S. against this perceived common enemy.  And although the others try to stop him, in his hideaway in Antarctica, it’s too late; the death and destruction have already been unleashed on New York.  The Doomsday clock has struck 12.

          Literary analysts have called Watchmen “Moore’s obituary for the concept of heroes in general and superheroes in particular.”  Moore himself said in 1986 that he was writing Watchmen to be “not anti-Americanism [but] anti-Reaganism”.  He added he was “consciously trying to do something that would make people feel uneasy.”

          Plans to make a film of Watchmen went through many different hands and scripts and studios and potential directors. In 1986 producers Lawrence Gordon and Joel Silver acquired the film rights for 20th Century Fox.  Alan Moore was asked to write a script, but he declined. After spending more than 20 years in development hell, passing through a multitude of scriptwriters, directors, studios and producers, Watchmen was finally released on March 6, 2009 in both conventional and IMAX theaters.  Watchmen grossed $55 million on the opening weekend.  It grossed over $185 million at the worldwide box office (and had a budget of $130 million).

     Smiley had been the cover, the symbol and the star in “the book that changed an industry and challenged a medium,” as it says on the back of the Watchmen graphic novel.   Inevitably Smiley’s worldwide fame and his ability to symbolize everything from innocence to drugged euphoria to rabid consumerism to dystopia brought him a flock of roles in film and television.  Even though he didn’t get an Oscar nomination for Watchmen, everyone in the entertainment business wanted a piece of him.  So Smiley went Hollywood big time.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

How Many of These Banned Books Have You Read?

Recently I walked into The Tatnuck Bookseller in Westboro, MA and was fascinated by this display titled “Banned Books Week, Sept. 22-28, 2019.  So I photographed it!

 I’ve read most of these, and Amalia has read the “Junie B. Jones” series and all of Harry Potter.

 I was reminded of how, when I was 18 in 1959 and coming home from a student trip to Europe, we all bought banned books in Paris--the ones with blank yellow paper covers and the pages you had to cut apart—and then read them on the boat and threw them into the sea before we got to Customs in NYC. 

There was  "Lady Chatterley's Lover" and  lots of Henry Miller  and the Marquis de Sade.  Wish I had kept those yellow paperbacks with the rough paper edges.

But how could anyone ban my childhood favorites, Jack London's "The Call of The 
Wild"? And "To Kill a Mockingbird?"  And "Tom Sawyer"?  And "Grapes of Wrath"?

When I was small my mother told me I couldn't read "Gone With the Wind" until I was 21.  So naturally I read it the next week.  And loved it (as well as the movie.)

What banned books have you read and loved?

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

About Our 11-Course, $600 Dinner

When you’re traveling, it’s the unexpected adventures that can be the most fun (or the scariest—or both.)  Nick and I are currently staying at Costa Navarino Resorts in Messinia, Greece, overlooking the Ionian Sea.  It’s my favorite resort in Greece for so many reasons, including their respect for nature, the environment, and the people, animals and traditions of the surrounding area.

When we checked in to Costa Navarino this time, we learned that they now offered a “Funky Gourmet Summer Pop-Up Restaurant” -- an “unconventional culinary experience” presented by the owners and chefs of the two-Michelin-starred Funky Gourmet Restaurant in Athens.  The pop-up restaurant at Costa Navarino, I read, is “located in the brand new Earth-sheltered Club house at the Bay [Golf] club house.” Nick made us a reservation for Saturday night, to my great excitement, because I had never ever eaten in a two-Michelin-star restaurant, even (especially!) in my single-girl days in the sixties when I lived in London and traveled frequently to Paris.

In our room in the Romanos section of the resort complex, I found a magazine which had an article about the two young, married Greek chefs—Georgianna Hiliadaki and Nikos Roussos--  who opened the “Funky Gourmet” restaurant in Athens in 2009, the only restaurant in Greece to serve a degustation menu. (The couple originally met at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City. They have two children, aged four and almost two.)

Their first Michelin star came in 2012, the second in 2014.   Now they’ve closed the Athens restaurant temporarily, except for private events, and in November of 2020 they will reopen it in the newly re-launched Athens Hilton.  Meanwhile they opened the pop-up version here in Costa Navarino from July 8 to August 17, creating an all new 11-course menu based on their research about the traditional cooking of Messinia.  In the month of November, they will open a similar pop-up restaurant in Salzburg, Austria.

The magazine article stated that “There’s something ‘funky’ about all of their dishes, be it the unusual shapes, colors, textures or aromas.”  That was certainly true.  The meal we enjoyed was made up of eleven courses, and as we were told at the beginning, there were surprises and gifts throughout.
After a ten-minute taxi ride to Costa Navarino’s newest golf course, we were escorted to a table overlooking a stunning view of candlelit tables, green swards, olive trees reaching down toward the bay, and stars and a new moon overhead, appearing as the sun set.  We were welcomed by two servers, a man and a woman, who would be the main actors in the drama we were about to enjoy—explaining every course and adding ingredients, including special sauces and spices, to our plates as we watched. 

The first surprise of the evening was the price.  The servers handed us each a menu which began, “MESSINIAN LAND, Degustation Menu 220 Euros per guest, Wine and Drinks Pairing 90 Euros per guest, Picnic under the Olive Trees (Supplement 45 Euros per guest.)
Without a word to each other, we quickly decided to forego the opportunity to begin our meal while sitting under the olive trees on the sloping hill below for 45 euros.  We also chose to avoid the 90 euro pairing of a different wine with every course, choosing instead a bottle of a local rosé to take us through the meal.  (But two dishes were still presented with a special wine that the chefs felt was an essential partner to that course.)

Our servers warned us, before the food arrived, that we might be unwilling to try certain ingredients, namely fish roe, sea urchin eggs, and lamb’s brains.  I opted out on the brains, but okayed the fish roe and sea urchin eggs, which I’ve had many times in Greece.  Nick, being Greek, is fine with eating brains, not to mention the eyes of the roasted goat or lamb, which are often given to the honored guest in his native land.

Then the drama began with a “welcome course” that was not even on the menu.  Our servers brought us each a wrought iron tiny olive tree supporting three small, round, crusty appetizers called “travihktes” which they said were traditional in Messinia (but probably not served exactly this way, with pure gold leaf on one, bits of honeycomb that crackled like glass on another, and tiny marshmallows on a third.  They also included truffles and caviar.) I thought they would be sweet, but the flavors hovered between sweet and savory and were absolutely delicious!
Next course, housed in the first surprise gift of the evening, was presented as a small wooden box with a clasp, on top of which was burned: “Joan welcome to Funky Gourmet in Messinia!”    Nick received the same message, but written in Greek, welcoming “Nikola”.  Opening the boxes, we found in each one a single “Dipla”. I think of Diples as a Greek version of fried doughnuts, but this single Dipla was stuffed with something delicious (I think cheese) and decorated with fruits, veggies and cheeses.   And set on a bed of cut and dried figs.  The servers whisked the boxes away, saying they would be given back at the end of the meal, and they were—but now they were each filled with four small bottles of “Navarino Icons”—the famous olive oil of the region-- combined with different flavors

The third course, called “Kobe”, was a piece of watermelon flavored with thyme, fleur de sel, and including cheese underneath.  Then a beef demiglace was poured over it, as it sat in a large beef bone.
Course number four, called “Salad of the region” was arranged to look like a summer wreath, and included orange, potatoes and quail eggs, with siglino consommé poured over it.

The sun had slipped below the horizon and it was getting dark as we were presented course number five—called “Kolokythokorfades Ladera”. 

 “Kolokythi” means “zucchini” and “Ladera” means cooked  in olive oil, for which the region is famous.  But this dish looked to me like a poinsettia flower that had been dried.   (I knew that poinsettias are poisonous, so hoped I was wrong!) I learned that this was a flower of the zucchini plant that had been cooked and then dried for 24 hours in a desiccation machine, making it flat, crispy and tasty.  Hidden beneath the flower was an oblong thing that looked like a meatball.  Nick said that it was delicious because of the flavor of the hamburger, but it turns out that this was a vegetarian dish, featuring quinoa.  The last touch was to have an olive oil concoction poured over it.

Before course number six, listed as “Gourounopoula”, our servers cleared the table and then covered it with brown parchment paper.  Then they brought in round plates decorated with colorful (desiccated and edible) leaves and flowers, laid on a translucent circle which we were told was edible rice paper.  In the center was something that looked like lasagna, but was in fact pork belly on top of what, I can’t remember.  And nearby was placed a pot of plum sauce that we were told to add as we wished.  Then, around the table, were scattered crunchy things that we were told were fried pork, also to be dipped in the plum jelly.  There was no cutlery for this course, as we were supposed to roll up the circle of rice paper and eat it all like a taco.  This was tricky, but, as with several  other courses, we were furnished with warm, damp towels to clean our hands afterward.

(Dear Reader, I’ve walked you through the first six courses of our $600 meal and this is long already for a single blog post.  Tune in to my next post if you want to hear about the final five courses in which we eat: raw eggs , “Clever Sea Urchin Eggs”, a sherbet that began as a Greek salad, and a dessert --one of three--that exploded!)


Sunday, June 16, 2019

A Photo Tribute to Two Dads and Two Grandpa's

I first posted this on Father's day in 2011, then updated it in 2015, when granddaughter Amalia was 3 1/2 and grandson Nicolas only 11 weeks old.  By then, I wrote, my husband Nick had proved himself a super Papou (Grandfather), even to changing the occasional grandchild's diaper, something he never did with his own kids.

                                                                  Nick &; Christos 1972 
When our three children were born in the 1970’s, my husband Nick was not the kind of dad who'd change diapers, take a kid to the park or coach them in sports. But as these photos suggest, he was always an important presence in their lives, ready to offer support, advice and unconditional love when they needed it.
                                                               Nick & Eleni circa 1976
This past week, President Obama launched the “Year of Strong Families” to do something about father absence, which he experienced growing up without a father.  Nick experienced it too, because, as he wrote in “A Place for Us”, he never knew his father, a short-order cook in Worcester, MA, until he and his sisters arrived in the U.S. as refugees in 1949 after their mother was executed during the Greek civil war.  Nick was nine years old.  His father, Christos, was 58.
                                                         Nick & Marina, circa  1979
My father, Robert O. Paulson, was born in 1906 and died in 1986.  Because my parents lived far away, he was not a real presence in our children’s lives, but when we visited California in 1973 I took these photos of him showing our son, Christos, his first view of the ocean, and reading to him at bedtime.

I only met my paternal grandfather, Par Paulson, once.  He was stern and completely deaf and the only way to communicate with him was by writing on a blackboard in chalk. But my step-grandfather, John Erickson, my grandmother’s second husband, had a special relationship with me during the years I lived near their small town of Monticello, Minnesota. 

 I still have a small garnet ring that once belonged to his mother. I remember vividly how he taught me to shoot his rifle across the wide Mississippi river, and in the spring, when it was time to get new baby chicks for the chicken yard, he would take me down to the hatchery, pull open drawers of chirping chicks and let me pick out the ones I liked.
                                                                                                   Ida & John Erickson circa1952

 In the current "People" magazine President Obama wrote, “I grew up without a father around. I have certain memories of him taking me to my first jazz concert and giving me my first basketball as a Christmas present, But he left when I was two years old.”

 As he knows, even a one-time memory—choosing chicks at a hatchery, showing a grandson the ocean, reading a bedtime story or unwrapping a first basketball can be a gift that a child will cherish for a lifetime.

Now that we're celebrating Father's Day 2019, I have to add  one more Dad to my tribute:  Emilio Baltodano, the father of our grandkids Amalia, now 7 and Nico, 4.  Emilio is definitely a SuperDad, like many young fathers today.   He attends every school performance, and takes his kids somewhere virtually every weekend--fishing in Central Park at the Harlem Meer, the Brooklyn Zoo, Governor's Island, the Natural History Museum, Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty.  Of course every SuperDad has a SuperMom beside him, and the photo above shows Emilio and Amalia at the Father's Day Brunch Eleni put together today to honor  Emilio and her dad, Nick Gage, complete with goat cheese and zucchini frittata, lox, bagels and cream cheese, mimosas, and her famous Strawberry Cake. Papou Nick loved it!

Monday, May 6, 2019

Our Big Fat Greek Easter

Easter is always the biggest holiday in the Greek Orthodox calendar, but this year we celebrated the best Greek Easter ever, because it brought together grandchildren from both coasts for a week of fun and adventures and getting to know each other.

Here's the crew--left to right: Stone Suire age 3 1/2 and his sister Eleni, 1, Nicolas Baltodano, 4, baby Gage Antonia Hineline--four months old and meeting her cousins for the first time-- and Amalia Baltodano, age 7.  Stone and Baby Eleni belong to Frosso, the daughter of "Big Eleni" Nikolaides,  who has lived with us for 40-plus years. Nico and Amalia belong to our daughter Eleni, and Baby Gage is the firstborn of daughter Marina, so they'll all grow up together, we hope,  as loving cousins.

Even though they were too little to join the egg hunt in the front yard, these two stole the show.

Eleni and her kids got to Grafton, MA, Friday night, (Emilio flew in later) and on Saturday they ventured to the Hebert Candy Mansion to see the Easter Bunny.  Amalia's expression is meant to signal that she is highly suspicious of the identity of the Easter Bunny, but I warned her not to say anything that would make the Bunny feel bad, as well as the crowd of little kids waiting in line, and she complied.  After the bunny, we got sundaes at the make-your-own sundaes bar.

On April 21, Eleni and Papou Nick went to church for Greek Palm Sunday and then we had carrot cake with one candle for Baby Eleni and four candles for Nico (he's lower left, behind Amalia), both of whom had recent birthdays.

That day was when Amalia began making Easter eggs with the "Egg-Mazing Egg Decorator" to use as place cards for all 23 people who would join us the next Sunday for Greek Easter.  (This year it fell a week after Catholic Easter.  The two Easters are sometimes on the same day, or as much as a month apart.) Amalia worked all week, customizing the eggs by asking everyone's favorite colors.

On Wednesday we all went to church for Holy Unction, which involves the priest putting holy oil on your eyes, mouth and hands, so that you will see, say and do beautiful things instead of bad ones.  "Does this mean I can't say 'Poop' any more?" worried Nico, referring to his favorite dirty word.

On Thursday we went to nearby Green Hill Farm,  a (free) petting zoo, and everyone met peacocks, llamas, goats, exotic fowl, miniature donkeys and horses and very fluffy sheep.

On Good Friday, daughter Eleni and "Big Eleni" Nikolaides prepared the traditional red eggs, making patterns on them with flowers and leaves held in place by pieces of panty hose wrapped around and tied with dental floss before the eggs are put in the dye.  After they're taken out and cooled, the eggs are rubbed with oil to make them shine.  The photo at right combines the red eggs with Amalia's striped ones.

On Holy Saturday everyone hurries to church for the "First Resurrection" after having fasted throughout Holy Week (or, for the very devout, for the seven weeks of Lent.  The priests at St. Spyridon Cathedral in Worcester dramatize the joy of the moment by tossing bay leaves everywhere (which Nico tried to pick up) and giving out hand bells to ring (when the priest said so.). Then we all gathered at an IHOP to order  the kind of breakfasts we've been forbidden until now--but no meat until after midnight.

Despite all the Easter preparation, these three moms, Frosso, Eleni and Marina, managed to complete this puzzle of Great Americans in time to photograph it, then clear it up to set the kids' table for tomorrow.  Eleni and her father went to the midnight resurrection service, then came home to crack red eggs, saying "Christ is Risen!" "Indeed He is Risen!" and eat the traditional Mayeritsa soup.  While everyone slept, the Easter bunny hid more than 150 eggs in the front yard and filled the five  large Easter baskets with goodies (as well as five smaller baskets for the kids coming tomorrow.)

Finally it was Easter Sunday!  Amalia found the golden egg on top of a pot of pansies.  Then Tia Marina helped everyone open the eggs to discover what was inside.

Next everyone checked out their Easter baskets.  Yiayia Eleni pointed granddaughter Eleni to hers.   Nico admired his new disco cup (it flashes) and Amalia tried her new stick-on nails, while Marina and Baby Gage watched from the sidelines.

It was time to go to church for the Agape service followed by another egg hunt, this one in the church auditorium.  St. Spyridon's was so crowded that we were sent upstairs to the choir loft, where we got a beautiful view of the congregation below, with everyone trying to keep their candles lit to take home.  The patriarch of the family uses his flame to mark another cross on the top of the house's door.  Amalia kept hers lit too, a tradition that always makes me nervous, waiting for the odor of singed hair.  (Children get fancy decorated candles, called "Lambadas" at Easter, from their godparents.)

Back home the table for adults was set in the dining room.  Amalia was thrilled to hear that she was going to be the boss of the kids' table in the living room (because she was three years older than anybody else.) She even wrote down a speech which began, "Hello, I'm Amalia and I'm the boss of the kids' table.  If you have a problem, come to me.  If you get bored, there is a paper with instructions and a coloring sheet..."

Then the feasting began: lamb, of course, spinach pie, chicken and rice pita, giant beans, Marina's special salad and so much more, ending with a dome-shaped Princess Torte from Crown Bakery. The party went on until Eleni and family had to leave for New York.  Marina and Baby Gage flew out to San Francisco the next day, leaving two grandparents grateful for this best Easter ever, and hoping that we will all come together again as the little ones grow, to make more Easter memories.