The Furnace

      On an ordinary, run errands afternoon, I drove from place to place listening to Eli Wiesel’s recorded book “Night.” When Wiesel was fifteen the Nazi’s sent him and his family to Auschwitz. “Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the small faces of the children whose bodies I saw transformed into smoke under a silent sky.” Wiesel used the word incinerator, and its meaning awakened a childhood memory.

The eerie cellar in our 3-family house on W. Runyon Street in Newark also had furnaces that sent smoke to the sky. Chunks of coal were incinerated and transformed first into heat and then into smoke. At the end of the cycle ashes were saved and mixed into garden dirt as fertilizer. Some ashes were stored and sprinkled on winter’s icy sidewalks. All those ashes at Auschwitz — what happened to them? I don’t know, but the story my mother and Wiesel told made the furnace an instrument of death.

When I was probably about nine years old, my mother wanted me to know about a woman, her baby, and a furnace. As a newborn I lived with my parents in an apartment building on South 15th Street. Ralph Martinelli, a roughly cut, good-natured Italian, or wop, as my father might have said, worked part-time hours as the building superintendent. Mazie, his wife sold lingerie at Bamberger’s, a downtown department store. Already married five years, Ralph and Mazie wanted a child of their own, yet nothing ever came of their desire.

On an afternoon of her choice when my mother and I were alone, she began a story. Upon reflection, I did not need to know about the Martinelli’s or their son. His birth and adoption made no difference to me, especially at age nine. The two couples stayed friends for years, even after Ralph moved his family out of Newark. I suppose my mother wanted me to know that families are formed in more than one way.

“Ralphie, Jr. is adopted. He’s not the Martinelli’s real child,” my mother began as if telling a secret. “Ralphie’s mother wanted to throw her baby into a furnace. Big Ralph saved the boy’s life, and they raised him as their own.”

My mother said an unhappy and poor woman took her baby to the cellar. I imagined a cellar likes ours on W. Runyon Street — a dirty, dank place with shadows, coal bins, and storage cribs where feral mother cats gave birth to litter after litter. On winter nights I hated going to the cellar. Scary down there when I had to set the damper and adjust the flue. A winter fire needed to be banked just right. 

Back to the story —the sound of someone in the cellar brought Ralph out of his workroom. As I listened to my mother, I imagined his shock. A woman stood in front of an open furnace fire with a baby in her arms.

“What are you doing, Anna?”

“I don’t want the baby,” she cried. “I’m going to throw him into the furnace.”

“Are you nuts, Anna? Gimme that kid!” Ralph grabbed the child from her arms.

“I can’t take it anymore,” she sobbed. ” He cries all the time. I’m going crazy. I don’t want him.”

The horror of what might have been had a happy ending. From the cellar to talks in the upstairs apartments, the Martinelli’s and the woman reached an agreement. My mother never explained the legal details, and those would not have matter to me. She said that after a few months and with great joy, Ralph and Mazie adopted the baby. The birth mother turned away, moved away, and never looked back.

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A Few New Images

I love the juxtaposition and humor of street scenes. Anonymous, creative people make travel fun, especially as I try to figure out what’s going on. Then there are those nuanced images I see with my own eyes and record just because they are unique. A few months ago travels took me to Boston, Quebec, and Montreal. That said, here are a few new images.

Woman texting on the train from Boston to Salisbury.

On a morning walk along Newbury Street, I saw two retail stores that might attract similar customers.

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Here’s an inspirational message left in the ladies room of North Station, Boston. One anonymous woman giving encouragement to another. Thanks for the kind words, sister.

The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts will exhibit works by Alexander Calder until February 24, 2019. Hens and roosters are favorite creatures, and here’s a Calder that makes me smile.

On to Old Town in Montreal with its cobblestone streets and plenty of restaurants. A great find was the Stash Café on St. Paul Street, W., serving Eastern European food.

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Last stop was Old Quebec. A funicular takes passengers up top of the city, then you can walk down. I did not photograph historic buildings or statues. Images of a clothing store with an audacious name and a restroom dispenser concluded my trip.

#MeToo

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When I was a 16-year-old high school student, I worked part-time at Sears (Newark, NJ). Since I could type Louise Gleason hired me to work with her in the personnel office. After graduation and on to Rutgers, I kept my little job. On Saturdays I finished clerical work for the store manager’s secretary. The upstairs offices were empty, few people were around. The telephone operator and I might be the only employees on the 3rd floor. Merchandise managers and the store manager rarely showed up. Saturdays were quiet.

Harry P., the manager of store 1044, was a good-looking guy in his 40’s, married with kids. On two separate Saturdays he interrupted my work by inviting me into his office. Each time he began with small talk, then wanted to know what my boyfriend and I did on our dates. (I was dating a Sears management trainee.) I figured Harry out for a voyeur and decided not to feed his perversion. The next Saturday he evened the score. I had stacks of paper and five file cabinets in front of me – sort and file, that was my job for the next few hours. Harry, the snake, approached silently from behind and clamped his hands on to my breasts. I swung away and screamed. His response: “I just wanted to see if they were real.” I don’t need to explain what “they” were. That Saturday Harry P. showed himself to be a predator. I needed my job and I loved working at Sears. That’s my store. The secret had been mine alone until #MeToo became an option.

Mr. Griffith, the previous manager, had a carved wooden sign above his office door. The sign read: A Peacock Today, A Feather Duster Tomorrow.

As women continue to react to sexual injustice, more men will become feather dusters – a euphemism for all washed up.

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Final Stop – Sitka, AK

Our week-long cruise on Wilderness Discoverer ended in Sitka, a city I had missed on previous trips to Alaska. Yes, we had rain. Then the sun came out until the rain began again. Alaska had an exceptionally wet spring and summer. That’s what a friend who paints houses in Juneau said.

 

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I’ll remember Sitka for gorgeous flowers blooming everywhere a flower might grow. I thank the drivers for not taking aim at tourists. They were easy-going, patient people who slowed down to let wayward pedestrians cross the street. Next best – the dogs. In Sitka people walk the nicest, friendliest dogs, and I missed my Abby. Most of all, I will be grateful for Ana Dittmar, the heritage museum curator at St. Michael’s Russian Orthodox Cathedral. Ana agreed to accept my mother’s prayer book.  (See WP post  Sept. 2, 2017.)

 

 

Even though I had a map, the entrance to the Russian Orthodox cemetery was hard to find. Eventually, I met a tourist who had visited the cemetery, and she gave a simple direction – walk straight up Observatory Hill. Pass the houses and go to the end of the road. At the end, a dirt path snakes into a forest with topsy-turvy graves, triple-bar Orthodox crosses, headstones, and flowers. Visitors like me stepped into a eerie place of  lush plants, moss, and slipper slopes that were magical and spooky.

 

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Jackson Hole & Other Places

First impressions — the city center plaza of Jackson Hole reminded me of Santa Fe. Western art galleries, shops ’til you drop, and restaurants line the square and trail along the side streets. Tourists love the place. In winter elk do, too. They live outside of town on the vast National Elk Refuge. To get started we drove straight to the visitor’s center for information and maps. Our list of places to see — National Museum of Wildlife Art, Grand Teton National Park, the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve, Teton Village tram ride, and the byways that took us away from the main road.

Snowmelt cut our Snake River float trip time in half. The water raced along carrying logs, branches, and debris. Eagles, herons, pelicans, and beavers didn’t seem to notice the high water and flooded riverbanks. On our fifth and final day we returned to an old favorite, Yellowstone and the Hayden Valley.

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Memories of First Grade

How many of us remember our First Grade? Luckily, I have newspaper clippings, report cards, and letters. I decided to post a photo and text from the Winfield Park (NJ) annual school report. The school is gone. Destroyed in a fire years ago.  Where am I in the photo? I’m in the second row from the top – bows and braids atop my head. I’m standing next to Carol Simon. The cute kid behind me is Robert Peters. Marie Lupo is in front of me. I loved school and, amazingly, I remember the names of so many kids.

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Miss Beck

How exciting First Grade has been. At first we studied about the dairy farm. We made a large frieze with cows, chickens, ducks, and other farm animals. One day we visited the Walker-Gordon farm. We saw real baby calves and big cows. Miss Pietrowski and Mrs. Lulic ( Mary, my mother) took pictures of us at the farm.

We enjoyed very nice parties at Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and Easter. Miss Holton helped us make Jell-O for one of our parties.

Playing in our grocery store was fun, too! Our own churned butter made a big hit and was pictured in the Newark News. We had real cans, all kinds of groceries, a register for money, and a telephone in our store. Each day two children were storekeepers.

In March we studied about the wind and airplanes. Our kites and windmills were very gay. In April, we took a trip to the Newark Airport. It was thrilling to see the big airplanes land and take off.

Spring came and we studied about the circus and the zoo. Our frieze of lions, monkeys, tigers, and giraffes made our room look like a real zoo.

Our best trip was to the Bronx Zoo. We talked about this trip for days and days. Then along came the great day for our May Festival. Will you ever forget our Tom Thumb Wedding with Miss Pietrowski’s First Grade?

It’s been lots of fun this year! We hope that Second Grade will be just as exciting next September.

Miss Pietrowski

This was the very first year we attended school both in the morning and in the afternoon. This was the first year we became such good actors and actresses. Just read on and you shall see what many different roles we played.

First of all, we were farmers who took good care of their farm animals. And since we like farms so much we went all the way down to the Walker and Gordon Milk Farm to see the cows and calves as well as the Rotolactor machine.

Next we were Indians who lived in wigwams and beat upon tom-toms. We made feather headdresses and painted our faces for our program.

Right before Christmas we decided to stop acting for awhile and be as good as we could –for Santa Claus was coming.

Santa was very good to us and so we decided to resume our acting. This time we were Eskimos who made igloos and loved the Northern Lights.

Last of all we were animal keepers at the zoo. We got to know all these strange animals quite well, especially when we visited the Bronx Zoo.

For the May Festival we helped Miss Beck’s first grade with a Tom Thumb Wedding but no one really got married.

Actors and actresses must be kept busy. We learned to read, to write, to count, and to work together cooperatively.

We are really very good at our play-acting and since school must go on, we are ready now for Second Grade.


Barnegat Beach

Barnegat Beach

Barnegat

A clacking seagull
Raised his scissor beak to the sky.
His shrill cut the silence of the sea.
You and I stood beneath the blue and saw
A sunny bank across the bay.
The sea lapped a wooden pier,
Green foam circled, then vanished.

Hooks were baited, lines were tossed
Flounder ran and fishermen waited.
Hopes were high as flat
Brown-speckled fish swallowed hooks.
Along the sandy pebbled beach,
Colored stones and shells hid beneath
The crush of booted feet.

You and I stood watching the silent scene,
As if intruding, we stepped into another’s dream.
The scene seemed done in black and white,
A woodcut carved by crafty hands.
Yet we knew the hues were plainly there.
A deceiving trick hung over us.
The sassy gull cried again,
Announcing intruders to the group
Of silent, patient men.
Life’s second-hand paused a moment
To let us pass.

We wandered on another path,
Passed wind-bent bony scrub
Crushing clam shells as we stepped
To reach the point of Barnegat Light.
Its splintered wooden doors shuttered
With metal bolts and bars, held secure
To a lock chained from within.
Did he know we stood waiting?
Only a speck on the horizon’s edge
Would stir the keeper’s curiosity.
A bronze bust faced the lighthouse doors.
A man who loved the sea, his face turned
Inward from wind, light, and distant bar.
He was guardian of the bolted doors.

Fresh winds blew the clouds away.
Shadows deepened in the bright,
As light dissolved to orange, blue, and gray.
You and I laughed and tossed in sandy folds
As the wind watched and waited,
Then quickly hid our scattered prints.
We did not sadden to see our traces taken.
Gusts of wind cannot claim
The gifts of joy from a summer sea.

                                 ♥