In Flanders Field

No Mans Land, Flanders Field, France, 1919 (LOC)
No Mans Land, Flanders Field, France, 1919

In Flanders Field
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.

— Lt.-Col. John McCrae (1872 – 1918)

When I was a child, my parents had an old recording of this song and I loved it’s rousing, patriotic cheerfulness, sending the boys off to the War to End All Wars. But in school my teacher recited In Flanders Field to the class, and I found the middle verse chilling: “We are the dead. Short days ago, we lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow…” I still do, and think of it every time I read more young men and women going off to war and dying.

Over There, by George M. Cohan, sung by Enrico Caruso, from the 78RPM Collection on the Internet Archive

A Stop at Willoughby

Gart Williams is a New York advertising executive who is burnt out. His boss, Oliver Misrell (All-Over Miserable?), is a tyrant whose motto is Push-Push-Push, and his wife Jane is a cold, selfish woman who doesn’t care if he’s happy as long as he keeps making money.

After a terrible day at the office, Gart gets on the commuter train home to Connecticut. It’s dark and snowy outside, and the weary Gart drifts off to sleep. When he wakes up, the conductor is calling out the stop for Willoughby. The train has been transformed into something from the nineteenth century, and when he looks out and sees a summer afternoon in a small town of 100 years ago, with a band playing, a couple of barefoot boys walking by with fishing poles, and a horse-drawn wagon waiting at the station. When he questions the conductor about the town, he’s told it’s a quiet place where a man can slow down and “live his life full measure.” When he goes to the steps to look out, the train jars back into motion, and Gart wakes up in his seat, back in the present.
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You Made Me Love You

Just remembering my mother with this movie clip of Judy Garland singing “You Made Me Love You” to a photograph of Clark Gable. My mother loved this song and sang it often, and described this scene to me many times. She was around 13 when she saw this, and thought it was wonderfully romantic. I never saw the movie, Broadway Melody of 1938, so I was happy to find this clip on YouTube.

I’ll Be Seeing You

I’m posting this in memory of my mother, in honor of her birthday. She loved this song, and I often hear it in my head as I sort through all these old photographs, seeing her (and too many other loved ones now gone) in all the old familiar places…Pheasant Hill Street, Westchester Circle, Columbus Street, Swift’s Beach, Crystal Park and more.

Arthur Murray Taught Me Dancing in a Hurry

My aunt has Alzheimer’s Disease. Both my parents died young, and when I see my aunt fade away, I know I’m losing one of my few remaining connections to my parents and their generation.

During one visit with my aunt in the nursing home, I reminisced about what a great dancer she had been. “Do you remember?” I asked her. “You could do all the dances. You taught for Arthur Murray.” I was just talking, I didn’t think she was actually listening. But when she heard the name Arthur Murray, she jumped up and launched into a lively rendition of the song Arthur Murray Taught Me Dancing in a Hurry. She knew all the words and did the whole dance routine, with lots of turns and kicks.
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Hard-Hearted Hannah

My mother loved to sing, in the church choir or just for fun. She sang all the time, singing along with the radio or record player, or just a cappella. I especially remember her singing while doing the housework. She sang all kinds of songs, including hymns, show tunes, jazz, TV jingles, and pop songs from Kate Smith to Herman’s Hermits.

But Hard-Hearted Hannah is the song my sister and I always refer to as “Ma’s big number.” I remember she especially liked to sing this one while vacuuming in rhythm. We found this song slightly thrilling and embarrassing, what with lyrics like this:

An evening spent with Hannah sittin’ on your knees
Is like travelin’ through Alaska in your BVDs

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Sichuan Memories

Tending the public garden

In the summer of 2002, my daughter Kristin, her friend Alejandra and I went to China. My daughter Meg was a Peace Corps volunteer there, and we met her in Beijing and took the long train ride together across China to the city of Deyang in Sichuan province. Meg had lived there the previous summer during her training period, staying with a wonderful family who had become her true Chinese family.
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Polaroid Memories

Instant Karma — “Before Polaroid fades into history, let’s remember how influential — and cool — the art of the snapshot, and the cameras themselves, could be” [Mark Feeney, Boston Globe : March 16, 2008]

Polaroid announced last month that they would no longer produce instant film was just an inevitable step in the long, slow decline of Polaroid and the world of instant photography. Instant film photography, killed off by digital photography. In the world of cameraphones, Flickr, photoprinters, who needs instant film cameras?

But Polaroid really was once so cool. In Feeney’ words:

“…there are those who remember when it was the Apple of its day: feisty, ubiquitous, pioneering. The Polaroid Land Camera was like the Mac, with all other consumer cameras PCs. There was the same sense of engineering superiority and cultural cachet.”

My Father's SlidesWhen I was a child, my engineer father had a serious camera with a light meter and a lot of accessories. He took slides and wrote the technical data on the frames, and he carefully ordered and organized the slides in trays for the projector. My mother had an old Brownie box camera, later replaced by an Instamatic, totally point-and-shoot. She had some of her older photographs in albums and baby books, but most of her pictures were just tossed into shoeboxes, undated and unlabeled.
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Remembering Sputnik

History changed on October 4, 1957, when the Soviet Union successfully launched Sputnik I. The world’s first artificial satellite was about the size of a beach ball… and took about 98 minutes to orbit the Earth on its elliptical path. That launch ushered in new political, military, technological, and scientific developments. While the Sputnik launch was a single event, it marked the start of the space age and the U.S.-U.S.S.R space race.” [Sputnik, the Fiftieth Anniversary]

Fifty years ago, I was sitting on the back porch of our house in Dedham, Massachusetts, playing with some little plastic Disney characters. I was lining them up on the floor of the porch, using the gaps between the floor boards to divide the space into different “houses,” so I could pretend to have them visit each other. I was making Donald Duck knock on the door of Mickey Mouse’s house when my father came outside to talk to me.
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Gottlieb’s Flying Carpet

Gottlieb's Flying CarpetThis is the backglass for a 1972 pinball game that I found on the porch of the The White Elephant Shop in Essex, Massachusetts.

When I was growing up, we spent two weeks at Swift Beach every summer, and I spent a certain amount of time at the penny arcade there. Everyone called it the “penny arcade” but of course you couldn’t do a thing with a penny. Like so much about Swift Beach in those days, the name was an anachronism, a reference to the good old days the older people were always talking about.
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