May 10, 2016

The Butterfly Nebula has been on leave, or hiatus, so until there are new chapters to post, I’m filling in with some fiction or memoir scribbling as they occur.  ~seh


From a Family Memoir (also a separate blog to be accompanied with photographs).

In his later years he lived with my grandmother on Central Avenue in Ridgefield Park. Their small apartment was behind a store and the only way to reach the apartment was through an alley. My father would take me there for family visits when I was a boy. The alley had a slate walkway flanked by cracked concrete gutters. Sunlight barely penetrated the cavernous alley and it always felt damp and cool back there. There was curled and broken shingle siding splotched with moss. In that period of time—the 1950s and early 1960s—the neighborhood would have been characterized as lower middle class, but my father grew up somewhat closer to poverty. There were years when his sole Christmas gift had been a comic book.

I never saw a street entrance to the place—probably would have been physically impossible. The alley provided a front and back entrance that opened into a tightly crammed mud room packed with junk. We were normally greeted by Ichabod, my grandparents’ beagle mutt who was notorious for his goat-like appetite. The mud room joined the kitchen: an old aluminum-legged table stood immediately on the left as you entered; the Formica counter and sink were on the right and the stove directly ahead. Two doorways led you out of the kitchen: one into a hallway that terminated in a bedroom on one side and a bathroom on the other; the second doorway was to the living room that had only two windows facing the alley. These rooms and a closet or two made up the alley. From what I’d known, my father had lived here for over ten years with his two brothers, his mother and father and a maiden aunt. No wonder he’d left as soon as possible. During the war the number of occupants was reduced by two because my grandfather was away at sea nearly all the time, and my uncle was fighting in Europe for one-to-two years.

What I remember most was a pervasive darkness, particularly in the bedroom and the living room where we sometimes gathered for tea and cookies. The objects in this space, though often difficult to discern and identify, had been brought back from my grandfather’s circumnavigations around the world while commanding ships for the merchant marine. There were paintings in umber lacquered tones badly in need of restoration, Wedgwood trays, exotic silk and ivory fans, tall porcelain vases from the Orient adorned with cherries and peacocks; ebony cabinets, gilt-edged, with bone and pearl inlay; large antique reading lamps; samovars and decanters; hand-blown paper weights; damask with tasseled fringe; a brass genie lamp with a turquoise stone; an ashtray coiled like a serpent with the head of a merchant from Turkey or North Africa, and those were only the objects I was able to see.

On Sunday night at 10:00 the adults watched black and white television shows and the one I recall most was, “What’s my Line?” Everyone from the host, John Daly, to the panelists, Arlene Francis, Bennett Cerf and Dorothy Kilgallen, were all dressed in formal evening attire with their black eye shades as though attending a masked ball, all quite charming and urbane as though they’d just stepped away momentarily from their columnist or editor’s desks at New York’s grand old newspapers and Random House by way of the Algonquin Hotel and strolled over to CBS studios for the live show to entertain and be entertained by the audience and mystery guests. To play was simple, a variation of “20 questions.” The mystery guest signed in so that only the audience could see who they were and then the blindfolded panelists attempted to guess the person’s occupation or “line” of work. If one of the panelists’ question was correct they received a small amount of money and then continued with their questions, and when their question was incorrect the questioning moved on to the next panelist. There were normal people with normal occupations but each show always had a celebrity guest. Cash prizes didn’t factor heavily into the game; it was more about celebrity and deductive reasoning, which like most problem solving used the left hemisphere of the brain to work through language and reasoning and then the right visual and intuitive hemisphere of the brain to “see” the answer, to see the person beyond the blindfold.



Will was in third grade when they’d adopted Hermes, a four-month-old tuxedo kitten discovered along with his mom and siblings behind a gas station. Originally, the gas station owner had contacted the local ASPCA after his wife and kids shamed him into not drowning the mother and her litter (apparently he wasn’t much of an animal lover) and the family had wound up taking one of the kittens for themselves. The mother and three remaining kittens were then placed in foster care until Shannon adopted Hermes for Will. At the time Will was sad and Shannon believed it would be a good idea to have a new family member to replace the one who’d recently left. She thought the cat would be soft and gentle, loving and affectionate, and not abusive like the one who’d recently left, or the one she’d thrown out before him, neither of whom were Will’s father. Will’s father, Curt, had made his stunning exit one night in a near 100-mile-an-hour burst of speed, stoked up on bourbon and meth, his Harley mating with the rear end of an abruptly careless tractor trailer lurching onto the freeway. Will had turned two a week later.






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