Easter was a beautiful day here — there were blossoms on trees and it seemed like spring arrived in Boston overnight. It was still light when I was on my way home from Easter dinner in Jamaica Plain, and I decided to visit the nearby Forest Hills Cemetery. Forest Hills, founded in 1848, is an example of the garden or rural cemeteries of the 19th century, and was inspired by Mount Auburn Cemetery, founded in 1931 in Cambridge.
Although I have been to Mount Auburn many times, I had never been to Forest Hills. I was only able to spend a short time on Sunday, but I will definitely go back as soon as possible and spend much longer exploring, admiring and taking photographs. And before I do, I will do some research and prepare a map — there’s just way too much to see here to just wander around aimlessly! (Although garden cemeteries were actually designed to make them perfect for exactly that.)
Death the the Sculptor
I subscribe to a the free PhotoJojo Time Capsule service that sends me an e-mail message every two weeks with a few of my most interesting photos from a year ago. Sometimes it reminds me of a trip or other special event, sometimes it reminds me of favorite places I may or may not have been lately, and sometimes it reminds me it’s time to get out there and find something new to capture.
Today I was happy to get this message from a trip to Washington, DC, last year, because on Saturday I am headed down there for the Computers in Libraries conference. Going to here to DC in April is always fun, because it doesn’t feel like going 450 miles south, it feels like going 4-5 weeks into the future, where the grass is green and it’s really and truly spring!
This little book is an old school edition of “A Traveler’s Tales” by Washington Irving. My father bought it used at the Dover Country Store in the 1950s, and it looked antique to us even then. My father neatly wrote the title and author on the spine in black ink. The book is in terrible shape, and I wouldn’t even try to read it, but it’s been part of our family library for more than fifty years and it’s not going anywhere.
As a child, I was fascinated by this book because I loved the title, wondered where the traveler had been and what sort of tales he was telling.
My earliest memories are set in Westwood, Massachusetts, where my family lived until I was seven years old. I was passing through Westwood a few days ago and pulled into the parking lot of Town Hall to take a look at the Scout House. It looks exactly the way it did before I started school, when my mother used to bring me to meetings of the town’s Girl Scout leaders. I loved this little building. Town Hall is a large and impressive building, and it seemed something like a castle to me. The Scout House is directly behind it, down what seemed like a secret path which made it seem like a something out of a fairy tale, like a cottage in the woods where the young Prince or Princess is being hidden from danger.
I was the only child tagging along to these meetings, and I knew it was important that I entertain myself quietly and not disturb the meeting. I would sit on the window seat and look at my books or draw. I felt proud of myself. I enjoyed the praise of my mother and the other women for being so quiet and good. I also like hearing my mother tell my father and others how well-behaved I was and that she could take me anywhere. The first time I went to the Scout House, I behaved well because I wanted to please my mother, but I loved the praise. I was showing off by sitting quietly during these meetings. I wasn’t trying to be good, I was trying to be the BEST LITTLE GIRL IN THE WORLD.
I liked being the center of attention. I still do.
I have always liked revisiting places that were significant to me at different times of my life, but I find I get more out of it when I am taking pictures. Maybe it’s just because it makes me get out of the car, walk around, focus my attention, look at different angles, and spend enough time to let the memories develop, like watching the image slowly appear and become clear on a Polaroid print.
Snow all day yesterday, followed by rain all night, and the unsurprising result was a street full of slush.
“On November 11, 1932, Girl Scouts baked and sold cookies for the first time in the windows of the Philadelphia Gas and Electric Co. here. This endeavor soon became a Philadelphia tradition. In 1936 the Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. adopted the annual cookie sale as a national program.”
In January, 1944, my parents got married in a simple ceremony in the rectory of St. Peter’s Church in Worcester, Massachusetts, their hometown. My mother was 18 and my father was 22. He had graduated from WPI in February, 1943, an accelerated wartime class, and was doing war-related work in Philadelphia. After a honeymoon in New York, they took the train to Philadelphia and started their married life there. They lived there for a few years, and it was a great adventure for both of them to be away from home for the first time. In my mother’s words, they felt like grown-ups.
My sister was born there in 1945, and they used to reminisce about their time there. I didn’t like hearing about it because I felt excluded from this part of their life. I especially didn’t like our annual visit to family friends in Philadelphia, when they kept pointing out places like the park where they used to walk baby J. in her stroller. On one trip, they took a picture of my sister at that park and suddenly I couldn’t stand it anymore and demanded to have my picture taken too. In the picture of my sister, she’s standing by the entrance to the park, smiling sweetly. In the picture of me, I am standing in the same spot, with my arms folded, my chin raised defiantly and my face a perfect picture of bratty jealousy.
When I was older, though, I liked to hear my mother reminisce about her time in Philadelphia. She talked about the cold that first winter and their drafty apartment. She used to walk everywhere to do her shopping while my father was at work, and she liked to treat herself to hot pretzels and roasted chestnuts bought from street vendors, good to heat but also good for warming her cold hands. My father had passed away when I was a child, so it made me both happy and sad to hear her memories of that special time when my parents were young and happy and just beginning what would be their all too brief life together.
I just spent the weekend in Philadelphia, and walking around I tried to imagine my mother arriving there this time of year, walking through the snow, feeling excited to be away from home and starting her new life with my father. A lot has changed in Philadelphia and I don’t know what part of the city they lived in, so I always picture her holding a bag of groceries, looking up at the magnificent City Hall Tower.
In the summer, Philip Coleman’s Calle Casa mural blends so well into the Casa de Moda building and surroundings that the black posts were added to keep people from trying to drive down this street and crashing into the building. In the winter, seeing the man in his summer shorts and tee and people enjoying the fine weather at sidewalk tables is like a window into summer. Walking past this today, bundled up in the cold, it brought a smile to my face as I thought of summers past and summers yet to come!
Calle Casa — Summer photo of the mural showing how it fits in with the rest of the Casa de Moda building.
The Rexall sign at the Connolly’s Pharmacy in my neighborhood is illuminated again! When I went by on my lunch hour a few days ago, I saw a truck with a ladder extended to the sign, and I thought for sure it was being removed for good, but when I came by after work, it was lit up for the first time in my memory! I’m an Old Time Radio fan, and I’ve been working my way through the Phil Harris and Alice Faye program, sponsored by Rexall. Every episode opens with the word “Good Health to All from Rexall” and now I hear those words every time I drive by!
When I was growing up, Rexall stores were everywhere. Now they’re gone. To see more pictures of Rexall signs, check out this collection by state on the Roadside American site: Rexall Drug Store Signs, or Flickr’s Rexall Drug Store Group.
To learn more about the rise and fall of Rexall drugstores, read The Rexall Story: A History of Genius and Neglect by Mickey C. Smith.
44 Bay Road
South Hamilton, Massachusetts
On Friday night I flew from Boston to Washington, DC. It was a short flight and we were either flying low or the sky was unusually clear, perhaps both. We could see New York quite clearly and then Philadelphia and Baltimore. Coming toward DC, the view was was amazing. There’s a sweet spot for this, when you’re low enough to see the lights below as beautiful, almost abstact patterns — lines and clusters. Fly a little lower, and it’s still beautiful as you start to be able to recognize the patterns as cities and coastline and highways and rivers. A little lower, and it’s less beautiful as you recognize shopping centers and parking lots and traffic.
And then you land and go on your way, becoming part of the pattern of lights on the ground.