Wednesday, March 26, 2008

I haven't listened to Pandora in such a long time. But, for some reason, last night - it was Pandora for me. And it was good. First of all, for those of you not familiar with it, is an innovative radio station website - created as part of the Music Genome Project. Without getting overly technical here, they have somehow concocted a site that plays music according to your particular tastes. The user creates different radio "stations" by genre. And once the user sets up various stations, the system then selects songs that fit pretty much within each particular genre. The whole system is based on the actual make-up of the music and production - (e.g., guitar and bass lines, string arrangements, etc...) One thing I particularly love about Pandora is that I can have it on and be piddling around in my apartment or doing work and all of a sudden I'll hear something I like and have no idea what it is. I'll glance at the laptop and see what's playing and the system gives me the complete info injection - title, band, writers, album , etc ... That's all a throwback to me. I remember the days of listening to the radio when the good DJ's used to actually tell you all kinds of info about the last played song. Remember that? It doesn't happen any more. Then again, how would I know? I haven't listened to music on the radio in a about a decade.

Last night, at one point on my "Crosby, Stills & Nash" station, The Traveling Wilbury's came on - "End Of The Line." I love that song and haven't heard it in a long time. And, one by one, first it was George Harrison's voice. Then Tom Petty's, followed by Jeff Lynn and then, of course, Roy Orbinson. I know Dylan was in there some place, but I don't think he had any solos on that track. Anyway that, of course, got me thinking about how much I miss the Beatles and how I especially loved George Harrison and his writing. Nothing against Lennon and McCartney, or Ringo for that matter. But there was something special about George ... the "quiet" one. Something spiritual that seemed to shine through.

Just a thought for the night.

"While My Guitar Gently Weeps" just came on Pandora.

Right on cue, of course.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Memories of Mr. Tippett

"Mr. Tippet."

I'm smiling as I write this. I'm smiling because when I think about every young man who grew up in Longmeadow, Massachusetts during the 60's, then into the 70's ... and I think about them hearing those words uttered today, my hunch is that as soon as the sound waves hit their ears, their minds immediately make a shift. And when that shift occurs, hunch #2 leads me to believe that the following words then follow, flowing from their mouths in a long, drawn out, monotone-like voice:

"Boys. Step away from the vices."

I hated metal shop. Wood shop, I enjoyed. But metal shop? No friggin' way. While the girls in middle school went to their home economics classes, it was two varieties of shop and mechanical drawing for us. I don't know how it's done these days but, back then, it was all about gender separation when it came to those so-called career-skills classes.

With wood-shop, at least Mr. Shube's classroom presented a lighter, more cheery environment. Was it the light pine or oak? Perhaps it was the smell - I loved the smell of the freshly cut wood, the feathery shavings coating the gray concrete floor. But metal shop? Whoa. Dark and grayish black, the stink of rust - that metallic odor wafting it's way up my nostrils every time I entered that place. It always smelled like something was burning in that room which, to me, always seemed a lot more dangerous than good ole' Mr. Shube's work space. I was always thinking a blow torch was going to sear off my eyebrows or a soldering iron was going to melt my fingers into the table top.

Trip To Bountiful - Okay. So it's not as though I think about metal shop a lot these days. But while home for Emma's birthday a few weeks ago, I had a chance to take a look around the old neighborhood - actually two old neighborhoods. I've done this kind of thing before but, for some reason, never seemed to have a camera handy. This time, with the Canon by my side, I decided to drive through Springfield and Longmeadow to take some photos. I figured it might be nice to share a few on here.

I loved the Springfield house. Whereas my younger brother remembers the next (Longmeadow) home better, this is the house I connect with my childhood. To me, this is the house. As I drove by to snap these photos, I opened the windows to let some of the crisp, cold winter flow into the car. I smelled burning timber - a familiar smell. I'm not sure, but I think there was always some kind of controlled burning area in Forest Park, located right across the street from our house. I remember that from when I was very little and smiled when I thought that now, some 45 years later, the burning apparently still happens, in that very same spot. As I closed my eyes, it could have easily been 1963 again. The birds chirping, the soft hum of the cars driving by on the noisier Dickinson Street side, the sound of melting ice cracking and dripping ... Yep. This is where I grew up all right. And there was the house - 499 Trafton Road.

I circled around to the other side and, after snapping off a few more photos, headed toward Tiffany Street and then past my elementary school, originally called, aptly, Tiffany Street School. Now it's named after a woman, Alice Beal, but, other than the name change, the place looks exactly the same. A quick memory: I was what? Five? Six? What age are you when you're in kindergarten? There was a hill outside, with a playground (both are still there, of course). I remember one day back then, heading back into school after recess and something about the lining around one window caught my attention. The building was brand spanking new and I discovered some kind of gummy sealant around the edge of the window, where glass met concrete. Of course, I started to play with it, digging my finger in as far as it could go; it was kind of like "Silly Putty." I made all kinds of designs in the gooey, mucky stuff and I'm sure they appreciated my arts & crafts contribution to the building. I remember checking out a number of the school's windows in the days that followed; it's a good thing the whole building didn't fall down with the chunks I was taking out of the place. Come to think of it, that's probably the single most destructive thing I've ever done in my life. And now, it's 2008 and I remember those windows; that's funny to me. Part of me wanted to get out of the car, walk over to the side of the building to see if my artwork was still in place. But I didn't go and proceeded to head to my next stop. Anyway, I'm guessing there have been some new windows installed since 1963.

"Well, We're Movin' On Up ... " - My family moved to Longmeadow when I was in the 4th grade. That was a strange year for me which I won't get into here. New home, new school, new friends - a lot happened in a very short time. 4th ... then 5th ... then on to 6th grade - it was time for a shift. But not just any shift - a pioneer-like shift, in a manner of speaking. That was the year Massachusetts changed their school structure with the concept of junior high becoming a thing of the past. 5th grade graduation meant it was time to head to ... middle school.

So, don't worry. I'm not going to recount every memory from my childhood on here. So, it's time to go back to the two words that triggered this entry - "Mr. Tippett."

As I approached Williams Middle School, I decided to take the turn down the familiar long driveway, lined by the ball fields where I played some of my first baseball games, with the Senators. I remember the navy hats with the big red "L." And as I drove up to the building, I found myself drawn to one side of the school, in particular. Then, I drove the car up to one door on that same side. Stepping from the car, I pulled out the camera and, after walking up to one of the entrances, carefully placed the camera lens up against the door window.

There it was. The hallway. This was the same hallway where I remember walking to gym a few times a week, yes. But that's not the reason I was peeking through this window, staring at this view. No, no, no. This was all about the route to a very different destination. This was all about that dark place. That gloomy, rusty gray-scale of a dungeon room.

"Mr. Getzov, where are your safety glasses? How many times do I have to warn you boys about your safety glasses."

I snapped off a few photos, then turned the camera to get another angle.

"And, don't forget the rivets. The rivets, boys."

For some reason, that line about the rivets popped into my head. I think it had something to do with a spatula which was, from I can remember, my first metal shop project. I'll have to ask her later, but I think my mom actually used that spatula in the house every now and then - to flip burgers or pancakes.

My contribution to the family. Manufactured with fire, sweat and yes ... rivets.

Thank you, Mr. Tippet.

Monday, March 3, 2008

"This Day"


Like the Toto song. Or Maxwell Smart's girlfriend.

I like that number. I like the look of it. The last of the two digit combos. One step in front of an obvious watermark.

Emma Foote is now an official member of the 99-year club. It was her birthday yesterday and it was time to celebrate.

The Comeback Kid - After two touch 'n go months which some of you may know about since I wrote about it a few weeks ago, Emma was ready to move ahead to the next level. I've been thinking about this particular birthday for some time now, as I'm thinking about the next one, if it comes, God willing. We're all looking forward to that day. Emma used to joke about her name being mentioned by Willard Scott on The Today Show.

I hadn't seen Emma for a couple of months and certainly hadn't seen her since she went through her ordeal, so as I was driving to Springfield for the first visit, I was a bit apprehensive about the Emma I was about to see. But, before heading over to see Emma, it was time for Stuart and I to pick up ... yes ... the cake at the Noho Stop & Shop (of course, I had to snap a good photo for all of you to see. I know my brother loved this). "That's chocolate icing," I asked. Stu made a face and we both decided the day wasn't so much about the state of the icing. So, it was on to Agawam, to HeritageHall, where Emma now resides.

As we walked into Emma's room, we peeked in but didn't see her so we walked down the hallway to the nurses station. When we turned the corner ... there she was. Smiling, eyes bright, there was no doubt about it. Emma was back and fully aware of the two men standing in front of her - the two little boys whose lives she's helped to shape. We leaned in - and immediately, I felt that familiar soft skin brush up against my lips. I thanked God I was able to have this moment. This year. This day, as Emma always likes to say. "To thank God for this day." As I gave her a hug, steadying myself on the wheelchair arm, trust me, I was thanking God at that very moment. Honestly, I didn't think it was going to happen.

The Fiesta - It was great. Billie Joe, Novis, Ruth, Mamie, Bernice - Emma's family up north - and their kids and grandkids. I don't have a chance to see these folks much since I live far away now, but I love visiting with them when I do get home. People like Novis, (my favorite, by the way - she's one of the first people I can remember seeing as a child - that's her above). That would've been the early 60's when Emma would always invite her family over to our home for visits and I remember playing with Novis and Grace like it was yesterday. Since then, whenever Emma celebrates her birthday we make sure we all get together. Add to that some unbelievable Thanksgivings at Ruth's house ... (Note:I don't think I've ever had better macaroni and cheese in my life) ... Let's face it. Emma's family is my family, too. I've already asked Ruth and Novis if I can interview them for the project when I'm back East in a few months, so I'm looking forward to that.

So it was good Stuart was able to snag the large conference room down the hall so we had plenty of room for Emma's family as well as other Heritage Hall residents who wanted to join in the fun. It was good seeing Emma enjoying the afternoon in her quiet way. I loved being able to read all the cards to her, which, I've noticed, has become sort of an event fixture at these parties. Of course, then it was all about the cake which was pretty good, I have to admit - fake chocolate? mocha? tan? beige? icing and all.

Three hours was about enough for Emma - I could see her eyes tiring. Quite frankly, I was surprised she wanted to hang out with all of us for that long. But before it was time to shut things down, Stuart and I promised our sister, Marla, that we'd call her, as well as our Mom and Dad - that part of the family all living in Florida. One by one I reached them on the phone and Emma chatted away, eagerly accepting their long-distance love and birthday wishes.

And that was that. The room cleaned, hugs and kisses exchanged and there we were, back in Emma's room, helping her to get comfortable for the evening. Of course, that was about the time they brought in her dinner in through the door and Emma chuckled, shooing them away, saying she wasn't hungry after having her fill of birthday cake. Still, I noticed that didn't stop her from eating the pears. It's good to see that her appetite has come back like that. At one point, she kept fumbling around with the plastic cup, doing her best to snag the last piece of pear. I was going to help her, but I knew Emma would have frowned at that. Finally, after working on it for what seemed like ten minutes, Emma was able to pierce that last piece of pear, lifting the forkful into her mouth and laughing hard the entire time. It was actually pretty funny.

* * * * * * * * * *

As Stuart and I left, saying goodbye to a few folks on the way out, I thought again about my phone call with Emma a few weeks back. She wasn't able to talk that day and Stuart was relaying some pretty bad observations to me and Marla at the time. And there we were: Emma up in Massachusetts. Me in Missouri. Simply put - I wasn't sure I'd ever see that smiling face again.

But, I did see her. And I hope to see her again tomorrow if that's the way it works out.

And when I see her, you better believe I'll be thanking God for that very moment. For allowing me to see Emma Foote - This Day.

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