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Friday, January 18, 2019

Kittens for Adoption

  1. Jingles, F, DMH, black tabby, about 5 months old. Already spayed at MCAH where she had Rabies and Distemper, utd on deworming.  Very loving, great potential as lap cat, favorite toy is catnip carrot and laser light. Quiet family, loves belly rubs.
  2. Noel, F, DSH, tabby, about 3 months. Up to date on deworming, Distemper combo Jan 17th. Noel is very playful, fearless, curious, but gentle and sweet. Would do well with active family.
Jingles in Front, Noel in Rear

Last Words


Dearest Dad

Your last words?
I would treasure them,
Had they not been unheard,
Lost In that sacred space
Surrounding you,
When you left us,
For we had left you,
Alone.
Now they rest
In my head,
“Like un-cried tears.”

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders Fields
John McCrae, 1872 - 1918

 In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row, 
That mark our place, and in the sky, 
The larks, still bravely singing, fly, 
Scarce heard amid the guns below. 

We are the dead; short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, 
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields. 

Take up our quarrel with the foe! 
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high! 
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

The great question is, after seventeen plus years of war, who are these foes? The parents and wives of the men who continue to go willingly forth deserve to know. Calling these men 'patriots' is not enough.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

The Oven




            Long ago, in the early 50s, my grandfather built a building. It was a beautiful new one story brick factory at 127 Point St. in Providence, Rhode Island, in the heart of what is still called the jewelry district, even though Rhode Island no longer produces jewelry. The phone number was ELmhurst-1-5833. It had sleek, modern, aluminum framed crank out windows, stacked on top of each other to ensure plenty of light.
            The front face of the building consisted entirely of offices. To the right of the entrance was the administrative office, manned by the secretary, Mary Testa, and the bookkeeper, Celia Gereboff. To the left of the entrance, covering the rest of the building front, were offices for my father and Uncle Berrick, then my grandfather, the President of the company. Papa designed all the firm’s jewelry, and showed much of it himself to the biggest customers, right in his office on wooden trays. Papa had been trained as a jewelry maker in Poland, and knew his stuff. He always wore his dress shirt and a bow tie while he was showing samples. I still have those bow ties.
            Beyond that office was a small office for Sam Mosell. Sam was a tool maker. His office was half workshop, and abutted a tool crib at the far end of the building. Sam had worked for IBM during the war, and was as much millwright as tool maker. Sam was one of my favorite people. He would give me little bits of tooling that he no longer needed. There were almost always at least two pieces involved, and they always fit together in some interesting way. Sam had also presented me with other doo-dads that he had made or come across in his career – nothing of value, but little items that fascinated a three year old. I still have some of them. When I knew him he was already very old, and he became the first person I knew who died.
            To a young boy the shop was a magical place, but it was driven by Papa’s brain, from his office. He designed every piece of jewelry that came out of S. M. White during his lifetime.
            After Papa had designed a piece, Dad or Berrick would sit down with Sam Mosell and figure out whether Sam already had the tools that would make the piece. If not, Sam would make new tools. Then a power press would stamp out the settings from a strip of brass. All the jewelry was costume, made with brass settings and rhinestones – no precious stones. Rhinestones might not have been “precious”, but they weren’t cheap. They were stored in a big walk-in vault.
            Once the settings were stamped, the pieces were assembled on small foot presses by “the girls,” who then placed them on racks so they could be spray painted in nice shiny colors and baked to a hard finish in one of two small industrial ovens. These ovens were about the size of a large kitchen oven, but ran hotter, and they could run more often without breaking down.
            Next another set of girls put the rhinestones in the settings and mounted each piece on a white display card. Costume jewelry in those days was packed and delivered in boxes by the gross (144). S. M. White did not own a truck. Herbie Brenan, the firm’s only black employee, used his own truck, and was appropriately compensated. When Herbie’s truck needed replacement, the firm paid him some amount to replace it. I was too young to understand the entire arrangement.
            An interesting side note: Some of that jewelry didn’t get delivered. It slipped into employees’ purses, and ended up for sale on the counters of local diners and drug stores.
            Rhode Island was the center of the country’s costume jewelry business. Each September there was a jewelry show at the Biltmore Hotel in Downtown Providence. Many of the rooms would be cleared of their normal furniture, and be converted to sales suites. S. M. White had a suite. Mom would take me there for a short visit. The suite would be full of jewelry displays, and hospitality materials. Out in the hallway was a sign announcing that it was the S.M. White Company’s suite.
            Some time in the late 50s things went sour. My grandfather had died in 1954. Within a few years my grandmother would say things like “all I see is ropes.” She was referring to the fashion illustrations in the newspaper. They were full of necklaces. S. M. White didn’t make necklaces. We made earrings, pins, and brooches. The ropes were coming from Japan. Business was slowing. There was another problem that I didn’t learn about until years later. My grandfather had been a gifted designer. When he died, my Uncle Berrick had taken that over, and he had no particular talent for design. S. M. White firm was dying.
            But the firm did not die. Dad had a casual conversation with a customer one day. The customer happened to be on the shop floor, and saw some settings coming out of an oven. He remarked that we ought to get into the enameling business, since we were doing it for ourselves anyway, and seemed to have some excess capacity. So S. M. White did an enameling job for that customer, and got a second.
            Berrick was uncertain about the whole thing. Business had been so slow that they were very short of money, and Rhode Island banks were notoriously tight fisted with expansion capital, especially for Jews. Dad hit the road looking for business. He found plenty. Soon S. M. White employees got used to something new –  overtime pay.
            The two little ovens were running continuously. They were eating heating elements on a regular basis. Joe Izzi, a family friend owned Eagle electric, and had done all the firm’s electrical work since they had moved into the new building. He told Dad they needed a new oven. There was no future in the old jewelry ovens. They were made for curing small pieces a few times a day, not the kind of production S. M. White had gotten into. The ovens they had were toys.
            One day after school Mom told me we were going to the shop to see the new oven. I couldn’t imagine what she meant, because I didn’t understand the magnitude of the problem. We drove to the shop near the end of the production day. Mary and Celia had gone home by then. I got to sit in the big leather wing chair in Papa’s old office until Dad had time to bring us out to the shop floor. Mom had brought a book. Finally Dad came by. He had on his white shirt and tie, but he’d left his jacket in his office. He led us out on to the shop floor, past he old foot presses. Not one of them were in use anymore. They were clustered together so that they wouldn’t take up too much room. Gosh, S. M. White had already stopped producing jewelry altogether, I thought. Then we stopped in front of this gleaming silver object. It looked like a gigantic home refrigerator. It had short legs, and a big red oval sign on the front – “The New England Oven and Furnace Company.”
            Dad flipped a latch, grasped the handle and opened the door. Inside were massive racks. The old ovens were toys beside this monster. “Isn’t this something?” Mom asked. As the door opened we heard a loud ventilation fan roaring from somewhere within the oven. I just starred. “Wow,” I thought. Then we had to go. A man wheeled a cart up with parts ready to go into the oven. It had work to do.
           

Sunday, October 28, 2018

The Bay, The Channel, and The Fish




There was a time, prior to 1973, when there was a naval air station at Quonset Point, Rhode Island. The Navy stationed two Essex Class aircraft carriers there, which meant there was a deep water channel running from just east of Brenton Tower at the mouth of the East Passage to Narragansett Bay, all the way in to the carrier piers at the air station. The station is gone, and the two carriers, the Intrepid and the Essex, are long gone to scrap.
Naturally, this channel was a prominent feature on the navigational charts of the lower bay. In the early seventies recording fathometers became available to the general boating public at reasonable prices, and as you steamed your boat over this channel, it would appear on the recorded trace as a ditch with sides cut at near right angles.
Two things happened almost simultaneously around ‘73. First, Dad shifted from open ocean fishing to working Narragansett Bay. Second, the two major Rhode Island municipal sewerage treatment plants that had functioned improperly for so many years were upgraded significantly, thanks to a federal lawsuit. The second item was critical. In the course of a single year the menhaden, a small fish that held a critical link in the food chain of two important salt water game fishes, returned to Narragansett Bay in massive numbers. With the menhaden came their predators.
Menhaden swim in huge, tight schools, where bluefish and stripped bass feed on them. As the larger fish tear into the schools of menhaden, the schools move toward the surface of the sea in an attempt to escape their predators. In their panic, the menhaden don’t realize they are running out of water as some of them leap out into the air before falling back into the sea. This causes a ‘boiling’ effect on the surface as the (most often) bluefish feed on the smaller fish. Blues are voracious feeders, with four rows of teeth.
If Dad and I were out on the Bay and spotted the menhaden ‘boiling’ we would make a bee line for the area, taking care to stand off from the ‘boiling’ spot itself. If you cruised your boat right through it, you would drive the menhaden school under and disperse the fish.
We would lie to about ten yards off the school, casting our spinning rods or fly rods into that feeding frenzy. With luck we would entice one or more large bluefish that were feeding on the menhaden to take our lures. Blues are great fighters. A twenty pound blue will give you as good a fight as a forty pound stripper. The idea was to give the feeding frenzy a wide berth; sometimes it broke up on its own.
But back to the carrier channel. The really big blues and strippers didn’t come to the surface much except at night. To get them you put a line deep, just down to the edge of the carrier channel, using lead or wire line. Dad was a master of this. He would run the boat at about two to three knots, trolling those lines just right, back and forth over the edge of the carrier channel. He’d watch the fathometer to ensure the lures were floating back and forth along the edge, and get us into plenty of big blues. That wasn’t as exciting as casting into an acre of boiling menhaden, but it got you into big fish that took quite a while to bring to the stern of the boat. It was exciting to see that dim gray form come into view from deep in the water as the details of an eighteen pound bluefish came into focus, and you tried like heck to not lose her in the last few moments before Dad set the gaff.
Long after Dad could no longer go out on the water we would sit and talk about those days with a special fondness. When dementia had robbed him of so much, it never robbed him of those memories. During the last full day of his life, when he was confined to a hospital bed, he motioned me close, and in a soft voice we talked about those trips on Narragansett Bay, about the different lures, and how they were effective in different circumstances. He even brought up the fact that the flasher on that fathomer wasn’t much good, so it was a damned good thing that we had the paper trace.
After Dad died, I took one of his best salt water reels, a Penn Mariner, that I had cleaned up and lubed so that it was ready to go, and sent it to my son. He is an avid collector of all things family, and he treasures it. It’s not just a relic. The same reel is coveted by fishermen on the Alaskan coast. I know he’ll treat it right, and he has my stories about fishing with Dad.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

A Beautiful Kitten Who Died too Young


  

Sweet Kitten

You left us so young,
Left your joy behind,
Hanging in the air,
Like an unused set of clothes,
Barely touched,
You had frolicked in them
But a short time,
A tiny form,
Playing like a big cat,
In a little body,
Charming everyone,
And everything,
Until you burned out too soon,
Sweet Bernice.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

When Walmart Came to Town




My wife was the rabbi of a small congregation in the Virginia Piedmont for about ten years. She loved them, and they loved her. Then some particularly crazy folk came on the synagogue board of directors, and decided that they didn’t like her. She was gone after a very unhappy year of harassment during which the congregation tried to keep her, and the board explained that it was their decision.
The area isn’t exactly seeded with congregations, and we weren’t inclined to move, but she did continue to conduct weddings, funerals, and baby namings. As the High Holidays approached, I told her that I thought we should rent a hall, invite every Jew we knew, and put on services. At first she was skeptical. We had neither prayer books nor Torah nor any other necessary furniture of a synagogue.
Nevertheless we decided to make a go of it. We found the former base theater at what was once the Army Intel Command Vint Hill Farms Station at a reasonable price.
My wife went to work putting together our own machzor. Instead of wondering how many pages the rabbi would skip, the congregation would get a crisp, compact prayer book, with plenty of English and Hebrew transliteration, easy to understand, with some nice illustrations. The built-from-the-ground-up prayer book would be readable, because it would be large enough to fit in an 8.5 x 11 loose leaf notebook, and it would contain only those pages used in the service – no wondering about how many of those 300+ pages the rabbi might skip.
We had no web or Facebook pages, but we did have a pretty good mailing list, in spite of our old synagogue’s membership director’s position that ‘the rabbi has no need to email congregants.’ We sent out announcements, and hoped for the best.
Attendance seriously exceeded our expectations. If we had made back our expenses, we would have been happy, but we did much better than that, so we went back the next year.
But the theater we rented was not ideal. It was meant for movies and plays. The lights were ‘house lights,’ too dim to comfortably read by. The rabbi found another place, an auditorium at the Community Center in Marshall, Virginia. It had big windows, bright lights, great parking right in front of the building. Heck, you could almost mistake it for a synagogue. We moved there in year three, and things were great. We continued to make a small but tidy profit to go along with my wife’s wedding and funeral work.
Putting on the services took a lot of effort. We had to schlep lots of paraphernalia up to Marshall at the last minute, but the results were worth it.
More and more Jews were moving to the central Piedmont, however. Chabad moved a couple up to Gainesville from Tennessee. At first they were only part time while they got settled, but they held Purim and Hanukkah celebrations for the community. When the young couple was settled, they actually invited us to lunch in their sukkah.
This year we heard Chabad was holding High Holiday Services at a club house right in the midst of the area where much of our congregants came from. Rosh Hashanah would include a dinner. Sure enough, our attendance was down to about half, less than that for some services.
Now I know how local merchants feel when Walmart comes to town. Chabad is a juggernaut. We offered a service. They offered a service with a dinner, and pushed it out there with plenty of publicity.
It was nice while it lasted. There was a difference between the two. My wife offered a beautiful service, highly accessible, even to interfaith couples, with superb sermons. But I think this will be the last year.