Saturday, December 1, 2012

Turning the Page

Breakfast in Fontainebleau.
In November 2012, I packed my bags, left Randolph, and flew to France. I'll be here, in Fontainebleau, until May 2013. This hiatus seems like a fitting time to bring the Hale Street Gang blog to a close. It gives me pangs to do so, but there is such a thing as hanging on to a good thing too long. Even as good a thing as the Hale Street Gang and Me. My new blog is called Sadie and Company. I hope you will visit me there. Thank you, dear readers, for your support of the Hale Street Gang. The gang, by the way, will be featured in my next book, which I'll work on during my winter in France.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Saying Good-bye

D'Ann Fago and "Bootlegger's Daughter" at SPA.
On Monday, three days from now, I'll leave Vermont and head to NYC, then to France. I've been saying good-bye to old friends this week. Yesterday I paid a visit to Ellie Streeter and D'Ann Fago; today I'll have a trio of girlfriends here for lunch and a little band of high-school classmates in for evening pizza. Ellie is a contemporary of my mother's; we've shared a fence line for over 50 years. Two days before my mother died, Ellie came over unexpectedly for a little visit. "Did you have a premonition?" I asked her yesterday. She thought for a moment. "No," she said. "But I told myself I shouldn't put it off any longer." Maybe "intuition" is the better word. We sat on her couch and held hands; I shed a few tears. "I love you dearly," she said. "It's okay to cry." D'Ann is a member of the Hale Street Gang's Tuesday group. It is hard saying "so long" to my friends, especially the old-timers. "You won't be here for my birthday," said D'Ann yesterday. She said it twice, in fact. "Just stab me in the heart!" I yelped. We discussed the ramifications of Skype—both she and Ellie knew the term and had ideas about what it meant. In the end, I promised to send them postcards. 

SPA director Sue Higby (center) reviews coverage of D'Ann's show.

PS The pictures here were taken at Studio Place Arts in Barre last summer; I drove D'Ann there to see the show a couple of weeks after it opened. Her work, which spans 70 years, has been touring New England since 2010, when a retrospective opened at the Governor's Reception Hall in Montpelier. For the record, a pile of credit for the tour should go to our friend Jack Rowell, who is a fan of D'Ann's work (and of D'Ann herself) and knows the gallery folks in this part of the world.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Countdown to Departure

"Jan 4, 1921: I did not go to school today for I was sick."
Antique ankle weights.
Eighteen days from now I'll leave Vermont for New York, thence to France. (Pardon the archaic language; I've been living in the nineteenth century for the past week.) Meanwhile, I'm saying my good-byes. Last week it was the Tuesday group at the Senior Center, which will meet without me through the winter. The group has acquired some new members, including Bob Soule, who used to tune John Jackson's piano; they would have enjoyed hearing each other's stories. Yesterday I spent the afternoon with Cynthia Jackson and we had a fine time comparing family memorabilia—she definitely has me beat in the antique serving-spoon department. I didn't even know such things as tomato servers existed until she pulled one from a drawer yesterday. Fascinating. Then there was an odd-shaped thing that we guessed was made for serving asparagus, and an elegant trident that the Jacksons refer to as "the toad stabber." We talked about John and Idora a little (they died less than two months apart), but mostly we joked around and had fun. It was a warm, sunny day and we sat on the porch until we got too hot (!) and had to go inside. That's when Cynthia pulled out a box of old letters. I'm talking old-old—we even found her grandmother Lily Hazwell's handwritten guide to the flag signals young Lily and her next-door neighbor devised in the late 1800s. The red, black, and white flags hung in the windows of their respective houses, in various combinations, transmitting such messages as "Can you come for tea this afternoon?" and "We've got extra butter if you want it." The photographs here are relics from my own family's past. The little diary, above, was kept by my aunt at age eleven. It tells a sad story. The first entry, on October 18, 1920, reads "This is a beautiful day. My birthday is today. I got 2 books from Mama, a dairy, and a bottle of perfume from Marion a tabet (sic) from Ransom and a hair ribbon from Grandma and twenty five cents from Aunt Manda and a dollar from Auntie and a banner note book from Grandpa." On Christmas Eve, Madeline listed her presents, which included two handkerchiefs and a bottle of "perfumery." On January 4 and 5, she noted that she didn't go to school because she was sick. The next two weeks' entries record a visit from her sister Marion, who was attending school in Waitsfield, a visit from the doctor, and her father's purchase of a milk separator. The last entry was made on January 19, 1921. It records her grandfather's trip to Waitsfield, where he "saw Marion." Fourteen days later, on February 2, 1921, eleven-year-old Madeline died of rheumatic fever. My grandmother kept the diary, which was given to my aunt Marion, then to my mother. The ankle weights are of a newer vintage—mid-twentieth century, made by Elmer's of Lubbock, Texas. How they found their way into my mother's attic I have no idea. I am drowning in memorabilia! Maybe it's time to open an Etsy account.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

France and the Attic

South-facing window, overlooking Highland. Spool bed in foreground.
Today is my last day at the Randolph Senior Center until next spring. Soon, I'll be leaving for France, to spend the winter in Fontainbleau, in the lovely apartment of my mother-in-law, who is now in a nursing home. In preparation for leaving, I've been straightening up my mother's house, where I've lived for the past five years (and where she lived for 67 years, until her death in July). Last week, I ventured into the attic. Wow. Lots of dusty old boxes filled with treasure (and some junk). Among the finds: photographs of my father's family dating back to the 19th century, a letter that my mother wrote at age eight (saved by her aunt), a 100-year-old button collection, lace made by Grandma Tucker, and 1960s costume jewelry (remember mood rings?). The rescued boxes are piled in the front hall, awaiting their photo shoot. Note: Grandma Tucker (née Lamb) wrote names on the backs of every one of the hundreds of ancestral portraits, bless her. More pictures on my Facebook page (click here).
College text books: Anthropology, philosophy, art history.

Soccer shoe, mateless mittens, cap gun, 1970s best seller.
Button collection started by Grandma Tucker a century ago.

Contents of the Dingo boot box.

19th-century graphic novels!
Wartime letters from my father to his mother.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Kitchen Sink: Pictures of My Mother's House

From the album "House," a documentary for my brothers and sisters.
Soap dish and miniature plastic flower arrangement. 
Glass bottles and leaf.

Clock and owl.


Mid-morning, September 14, 2012.

A Lasting Legacy

The Randolph Herald's "Editorial/Comment" this week is a tribute to Hale Street Gang alum John Jackson. Herald editor M. Dickey Drysdale gave me permission to reprint it here:

Not many people leave a mark on their communities as clear and imposing as the Main Street monument left by Randolph's John Jackson, who died Saturday at the age of 83.

Jackson accomplished many things, as his obituary on the opposite page makes clear, and he was also one of the most fascinating conversationalists Randolph has seen, a man who never lost his sense of adventure. And his greatest adventure came in rescuing Chandler Music Hall from the decay and neglect that nearly led to its demolition.

His fascination with Chandler began soon after he moved his family to a first house on School Street. His 11-year-old son came home one day with the exciting news that there was an old music hall next door.

From that moment, Chandler Music Hall became John Jackson's passion and compulsion. Under his leadership, the brand new Randolph Singers agreed to produce the musical "Brigadoon" in the hall in February. Snow was coming through cracks in the walls and had to be swept from the stage before rehearsals. The electrical system was so inadequate that Jackson had to supplement it by using flashlights for stage lighting, as he described in a memorable 2002 interview with Greg Sharrow for the Vermont Folklife Center.

In the next few years, Jackson plunged into the nitty-gritty of renovation, tunneling through four feet of concrete to bring upgraded electric service, building an orchestra pit, driving to New York at 20-below zero to procure used stage curtains from a Broadway show.

But he also devised a long-term strategy. By convincing the Randolph Singers to stage yearly musicals at the hall (with the constant help of Francis "Red" Hartigan), he created a fundraising stream while at the same time developing enthusiasm and loyalty for the hall among audience members and participants. He organized that enthusiasm into a new organization, the Friends of Chandler.

Jackson also displayed a sharp political acumen when faced with the reluctance of the town-appointed trustees of the hall, who were uneasy about the Friends' ambitious agenda. All of the trustees resigned within a year, and Jackson was asked to replace them with people who shared his own sense of adventure.

In the restoration of Randolph's cultural gem, John Jackson eventually had lots of help from other talented and dedicated people, including Chandler's current leadership, but he's the one who got the ball rolling and pushed it well along the road. The community owes him its thanks.
—The Herald of Randolph, September 13, 2012

Monday, September 10, 2012

Our Friend John Jackson

A 2009 reading at the Senior Center.
Our dear friend John Jackson, one of the 12 founding members of the Hale Street Gang, died Saturday at his home in Randolph. His wife, Cynthia, and their two children, Mindy and Chris, were at his side. John wrote two years ago about the hard choices he was facing after being diagnosed with prostate cancer. Two weeks ago, I learned from mutual friends that his time was running out. It is hard to believe that the youngest member of our original group has left us, and so soon after my mother's death.

John was only 81 when he joined our memoir-writing group in the fall of 2009. He was in what we always refer to as "the Tuesday group," which also included Charles Cooley, Ruth Godfrey, D'Ann Fago, and Margaret Egerton. Margaret was then 99, almost a generation older than John, an age gap that was especially obvious when they compared memories of World War II: John was a mere teenager at the time, and remembered helping his dad, a WWI vet, watch for enemy planes from a lookout station on New York's Walkill River; Margaret was in her early thirties, unmarried, and so desperate to leave home that she was preparing to join the WACs.

John's life story touched me deeply. He never seemed to hesitate before an opportunity to enjoy life to its fullest. He often wrote about the influences that caused his world to expand—a steamboat trip with his grandmother, an unforgettable date with the pretty girl who worked behind the Fanny Farmer candy counter. He wrote about travel and music, key friendships, and, most moving of all, his experiences as a son, a husband, and a father. The last time I spoke with him, in July, he called to say he had nearly finished his book-length memoir and was wondering if I'd have time to print it this fall.

The Tuesday group had loads of fun together. How I miss those days. There's a little 4-min video on YouTube that we made during the winter of 2009–10, in which John comes in at the end with a joke about two bears and a nudist colony. (To see it, click here.)

I remember one Tuesday when John and Margaret just happened to mention the same Irish folk song in their readings. Pretty soon, we were all sitting around the table, spontaneously singing:

Just a song at twilight, when the lights are low,
And the flick'ring shadows softly come and go,
Tho' the heart be weary, sad the day and long,
Still to us at twilight comes Love's old song,
Comes Love's old sweet song.

I can still see and hear us—D'Ann, Ruth, Charles, Margaret, and John—sitting around the table in the craft room on a gray winter afternoon, swaying slightly from side to side as we sang the refrain of that impossibly sentimental old song. It is one of my favorite HSG moments.

Thank you, John, for the tremendous spirit and dedication you brought to our writing group, and for the many ways in which you graced our community. Your capacity to enjoy the good things in life—jazz! fish! love! corny jokes!—is an inspiration to me.