Foreign Coins

When I was a little girl, I used to love to rummage around in the drawers of my father’s desk or in various little boxes around the house where there would be random small objects like buttons, which didn’t interest me, and foreign coins, which did. I don’t know where most of these coins came from, other than the ha’pennies my grandmother brought back from a trip home to Scotland. But I loved touching the coins, studying the words and images, feeling the foreignness, dreaming of travel.

Now I have accumulated a lot of foreign coins from my own travels, and they’re completely disorganized, all mixed up and sitting in various small containers. I still like spilling them out, and looking through them, remembering past trips and dreaming of new ones.

Don’t Let Their Memory Fade

Selling Poppies for Remembrance DayIn November, 2000, my daughter Meg and I were in England. I took this picture of an elderly woman selling poppies in front of Bath Cathedral for Remembrance Day, what we call Veterans Day. We saw people selling these poppies everywhere, and we bought and wore them, too.

On Remembrance Day, November 11, we had just boarded a train in London and were still in the station when we heard the announcement that it was 11 AM, and that the country was now observing two minutes of silence. Everyone on the train, staff and passengers alike, immediately stopped what they were doing and remained still for two minutes. It was really quite a beautiful thing.

[Reposted from 2008]

Dover Country Store

Dover Country Store, Inc., 14 Dedham St. Vintage Post Card

I have often wished that I had a photograph of the Dover Country Store as I remember it from my childhood, so I was happy to discover this postcard on CardCow. This was a favorite place of my family’s in the days when we lived in Westwood and Dedham. In the front part of the store, they sold random household stuff, lamps and dishes and decorative items, if I recall correctly. (I was never much interested in that sort of thing.) They also sold penny candy, including candy sticks, Squirrel Nut Zippers, Mint Juleps, paper strips with candy dots and my personal favorite then and now, red Swedish Fish. They also had old books, which we all loved, especially my father. Many of my parents’ old books that I still have came from there. In the back of the store, there was used furniture, which my mother loved. We bought a big, beautiful round pedestal dining room table there for $5 or $50 or something like that — I was seven or eight and don’t remember the details of the sale, I just remember how pleased my mother was with her bargain.

Bubbling Brook Restaurant : Westwood, MassachusettsWe used to like going for family drives in those days, and more often than not these would end at the Dover Country Store, followed by a stop at the Bubbling Brook for ice cream in season. My father died when I was nine and we moved to Worcester. My mother would still take us to the Dover Country Store once in a while, but it just wasn’t the same.

Happy memories, though, and seeing this picture really takes me back to that place and time. I look at this picture and can see my family standing out in front of the store — the kids with little bags of candy, my mother holding a lamp or ashtray, and my father with a pile of books — PhotoShop of the mind.

Women of Science

Elizabeth Lee Hazen (1888-1975) and Rachel Brown (1898-1980)

I love this Smithsonian photograph of Elizabeth Lee Hazen (1888-1975) and Rachel Brown (1898-1980.) It was taken in 1955 when they won the first Squibb Award for Achievements in Chemotherapy.

Women like this were my role models when I was growing up in the 1950s and 60s. I knew they were out there. I wanted to be a microbiologist. I dreamed of curing cancer. I wanted to wear a crisp white lab coat and pour mysterious substances from a beaker into a test tube. I got a little toy microscope when I was around five years old and a real one a few years later. I had a Bunsen burner and I feel bad about lighting the curtains on fire. No serious damage done, though, and I continued dreaming of my future career in science.

About halfway through high school, I sadly came to the conclusion that science required a level of focus that is just not the way my brain works. But when I look at a photograph like this, I can’t help but think, “Well, maybe if I had just made a little more effort…”


  • Elizabeth Lee Hazen and Rachel Fuller Brown — “E. R. Squibb bought the rights to the patent, conducted clinical trials, and licensed the production and marketing to a wide variety of drug companies. Royalties from these activities were funneled back into the scientific world by the Research Corporation via the Brown-Hazen Research Fund, which gave grants to scientists in the life sciences during the life of the patent.”
    [From the Chemical Heritage Foundation website]
  • Inventor Profile: Elizabeth Lee Hazen — National Inventors Hall of Fame
  • Inventor Profile: Rachel Fuller Brown — National Inventors Hall of Fame

Strawberry Fields Forever

I heard this Beatles song yesterday for the first time in quite a while, and it instantly brought me back to the year 1967. In June of that year, I entered Children’s Hospital in Boston to have a spinal fusion to correct scoliosis. I spent the whole summer there having surgery and other treatment, and was sent home in a body cast to spend the next four months in bed, and then returned to the hospital the first week of January to have the cast removed and another one put on — this one was shoulders to hips, but at least I could get out of bed and walk with it. A few months later, I was back in the hospital to have that cast removed, and to get a brace which I had to wear 23 hours a day, and gradually fewer hours until I was finally free, over a year after the actual surgery.

Strawberry Fields was very popular that year, and I remember it as part of the soundtrack of the hospital, along with Red Sox games on the radio and the endless “Paging Doctor So-and-So” announcements on the PA. I heard Strawberry Fields drifting in and out of rooms as I was wheeled down the hall on a gurney going back and forth for various tests and treatments. It was the first thing I remember hearing when I was coming out of the anesthesia after surgery. I wasn’t sure if I were dead or alive, awake or sleeping, and I remember just floating along with the song for a minute or so until I heard someone ask if anyone knew the score and I knew I was alive and awake. 1967 was a big year for the Red Sox, and the whole hospital staff seemed to be listening to every game. The hospital is close to Fenway Park, so for home games you could practically hear the cheering crowds and people were always joking about possibility of a home run ball coming through the window and knocking someone out.

The psychedelic dreaminess of Strawberry Fields seemed perfectly suited to the hospital, where we were having our own drug experiences, though not by choice. Even when the song wasn’t actually playing, I used to hear it in my mind, intentionally replaying it over and over, drifting along in my mind’s own music video.

I’d close my eyes and send myself far away.

“Living is easy with eyes closed
Misunderstanding all you see
It’s getting hard to be someone
But it all works out
It doesn’t matter much to me”

One thing I learned at Children’s Hospital was how to deal with medical treatment and many other problems in life: Just do what needs to be done, and don’t ever complain or feel sorry for yourself. I was in an orthopedic unit, and we knew we were lucky, because although we lived in all sorts of casts and braces and traction, we weren’t actually sick and were unlikely to die from our conditions. We were aware of other units of the hospital, filled with children and teenagers with much more serious conditions.

So I tried to make the best of things, and instead of feeling sorry for myself, I’d distract myself. Strawberry Fields was perfect for this, filling my mind with music and beautiful images. Music is still my first choice for managing pain, anxiety and depression, and it really helps. For that, I’d like to thank The Beatles and Children’s Hospital.

Also Apple, because when I got my first iPod I started creating custom playlists that really help me cheer myself up, calm myself down, or otherwise keep myself moving forward!

Overheard Today

A little boy about six years old: “Daddy, Daddy! Since you forgot your camera and can’t take pictures, I know what you can do! You can take pictures in your mind, and then later, you can just remember them!”

This was a large, noisy family group, and no one seemed to hear the boy or respond, but I thought that was excellent advice!

My First Favorite Flower

Day 133: May 13, 2011

I love the dandelion; it was my first favorite flower. In our neighborhood, fathers tended the lawns in a casual manner and dandelions were plentiful. We learned young that you were supposed to ask before you picked flowers from the garden, which made it impossible to pick them as a surprise. But dandelions were free — kids could pick as many as they wanted from anyone’s yard. They were easy to pick, too, no knives or shears needed for their soft, hollow stems. We’d run into the house clutching a fat bouquet of sunny yellow dandelions and surprise our mothers, who would profess delight and stick the bunch in a small bottle and put it on the kitchen windowsill. I loved those little bouquets when I was a child bringing them to my mother, and years later as a mother when my own daughters were bringing them to me. Now I am looking forward to the day when a visiting grandchild will run into my house calling out, “Grandma! I have a surprise for you!”

On Sending Christmas Cards

A Merry Christmas - Santa and Child in a Vintage Car Vintage Postcard

I have great memories of looking through my mother’s Christmas card list. Looking through those names and addresses was part of the Christmas ritual.

We had old family friends named Helen and Henry who lived in the town with the lovely name of Maple Shade, New Jersey, on the street amusingly named Forklanding Road. We sent cards to Uncle John and Aunt Bessie who lived on Rochambeau Avenue in the Bronx. Uncle John was my grandfather’s brother but I have no memory of actually meeting him and Aunt Bessie in real life. Still, I marveled at their exotic address. Why was it “the Bronx” and not just “Bronx?” And how elegant Rochambeau Avenue must be! I pictured it as French, with ladies walking poodles past sidewalk cafes. My mother’s Christmas card list was a family history document, a collection of names and addresses of relatives near and far, old and new friends from various phases of their life.

Boy with Snowman Old Postcard

I sometimes feel defensive about clinging to the habit of sending out paper cards. A lot of people think that sending Christmas cards is a waste of time, paper and postage, and that it’s totally unnecessary in the age of electronic communication. Every December, newspapers, magazine, blogs, etc., are full of articles about how to simplify Christmas, and it seems that reconsidering the sending of paper cards is always one of the first suggestions.

And I’m just fine with that — if you take no joy from sending Christmas cards, don’t do it. I remember the days when the sending of Christmas cards was a social obligation, and people worked hard to maintain their Christmas card lists. I remember people checking off names as people received cards — if someone who you didn’t send a card to sent you one, you were supposed to quickly send one out to them, and if someone you sent cards to didn’t reciprocate for two years, you could safely drop them from your list. Or at least this was what the advice columns said: my mother was not the type to be checking lists and dropping names. But in those days, the same kind of people who today care about how many Facebook friends they have measured their popularity by the number of Christmas cards they received.

But it doesn’t need to be like that. We should all send as many Christmas cards as we want, which might be fifty one year, zero the next and twenty the following year. Who’s counting? We should all graciously receive whatever cards we happen to receive, and send whatever we feel like sending — which for a lot of people is none. When you see Christmas cards as obligations, and associate them with pride on the one hand or guilt on the other, you’ve lost the spirit of the season.

I’ve always liked sending cards as a small way to keep in touch with people who are important to me. This includes some people who I see all the time or perhaps communicate with frequently via e-mail, Facebook, etc. There are also a few people who I mainly keep contact with through the annual Christmas card — sad, perhaps, but better than nothing, and just writing their names and addresses once a year reminds me of the good times we’ve shared. I wish I could say that I individually select cards for each person and wrote thoughtful little notes on each card, but I don’t. I just buy UNICEF cards, sign them and send them, most years anyway, and I hope that people I care about don’t sit around wondering why they did or didn’t get a card from me this year.

And whether by card, e-mail, Facebook, or just a good thought, I wish all my friends a merry Christmas and/or a Happy New Year!

A Merry Christmas Postcard

Chatham County Courthouse: Pittsboro, North Carolina

Confederate Memorial, Chatham County Courthouse, Pittsboro, North Carolina

Tonight a Flickr member posted this comment on my photo of the Chatham County Courthouse: “I will miss this building terribly.” Miss it? Was he moving away, perhaps? Surely they weren’t planning to demolish it? I looked at my statistics and saw that I had gotten a spike in views on this picture this evening, and wondered what was going on. A quick search have me the answer: this building was seriously damaged in a fire today. A sad thing. I hate the fact that nearly every article about the fire at this 1881 building mention its role in the John Edwards sex tape dispute. It shouldn’t be remembered that way.

When I talk about why I take so many photographs of buildings and want everyone else to do the same, I always say, “It could burn down tonight! It could be gone tomorrow and then all we’d have is photographs.” Which is true, but then when buildings I’ve photographed happen to burn down, I have a small, irrational feeling that maybe I caused it.

I remember taking this picture. I was visiting my daughter and her boyfriend (now husband) in North Carolina and we drove out to Pittsboro for lunch and spent some time poking around in the shops. It was a cool, damp, overcast day, but I was happy to be in the South and away from the New England weather. We were getting back in the car and I stopped for a minute to take this picture. Not an especially good picture, but good enough to remember the building and remind me of a very nice day. And now it’s gone.

Christmas Music and Memories

Good King WenceslasI’m working on my Christmas playlist, and I want to put in songs dedicated to family members no longer with us. For my mother, it’s “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” for my father, “Good King Wenceslaus,” for my brother Peter, “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”

But I am finding it more difficult to choose the right one for the living. For my sister, I think it would be “We Three Kings.” Not sure if she now considers it her favorite, but she certainly enjoyed dramatically singing the more depressing verses when we were young. For me, it’s definitely “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” but I’m not sure anyone knows that. For others in the family and some of my friends, I have some ideas, but I’m really not sure.

Does everyone have a favorite Christmas song? What’s yours, and why? Do you know the favorites of your parents and grandparents? We should record these things — I am currently working on family trees for both sides of my family, and I’d be much more interested in knowing the favorite Christmas songs of my grandparents, great grandparents, etc., than in finding their graves or figuring out if they were really born in 1896 or 1897.

Maybe people should put this in their wills — I hereby request that my heirs and their descendants play ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’ once each year, and think of me.

For my mother, here’s her favorite, as sung by Judy Garland in the movie, “Meet Me in St. Louis.”

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