You Should Have Been Here Yesterday – Part 2

When you ride the Peaks Island ferry at night, the ocean sparkles with the reflection of the lights from Portland. The city skyline is vastly different from the one my Dad sketched in 1985 – when the highest points were the spire of the Cathedral and the dome of the Observatory.

Today, instead of decrepit wharves and fish processing plants sprawled along the waterfront, there are gourmet food trucks, cruise ships, oyster bars, and boutiques. Newly built hotels are located across the street from historic brick buildings constructed after the Great Fire of Portland, July 4, 1866.

 http://www.whatwasthere.com/

There is always nostalgia with regard to the past…for the history as well as the architecture. There are still cobblestone streets in Portland made from the ballast of ships that entered the harbor and stone fountains for horses that no longer walk the streets.

cobblestones

Following the demolition of Union Station to make way for a strip mall, preservationists within the community joined together to form the Greater Portland Landmarks.

The_Union_Station,_Portland,_ME

 

http://www.pressherald.com/2011/08/31/the-ugly-birth-of-preservation_2011-08-31/

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Margaret Mead

I was raised to believe it is possible to affect change. When the Munjoy Hill East End Beach was closed due to pollution (before the construction of the sewage treatment plant), mothers (including mine) marched to City Hall to demand a pool be built so that kids would have a place to swim that summer.

Recently, a referendum was put to a vote by citizens of Portland to halt the sale of the Congress Street Park to a developer. As a result, the city is now creating a city-wide plan for open space.

http://www.pressherald.com/2013/06/14/congress-square-park-part-of-a-global-struggle-for-public-space_2013-06-14/

Prologue

It was July 4th weekend when I finally arrived in Maine. Peaks Island traditions include a participatory parade, family picnics and cookouts on Back Shore, culminating in a fireworks display over Casco Bay.

When I was in 6th grade we had to memorize the preamble to the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. At that time is was a memorization exercise; now it is the blueprint for nations around the globe who are pursuing democracy.

When in the Course of Human…

When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths..….

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/declaration_history.html

I am still conflicted about the concept behind the pursuit of happiness.

Is it happiness for an individual or for the greater good?

Do we pursue happiness for its own sake or to benefit others?.

Guide to Being an Aging Activist

On a holiday weekend, I paddle my kayak between 5:30 am and 9:30 am to avoid boat traffic. It is a quiet morning when I approach the osprey nests located in the bell buoys at either end of House Island.

House Island osprey nests I have never been on the island as it has been privately held for many years. The owner purchased the island to preserve it and prevent development.

The doctor’s house, the old quarantine station and a smaller structure have always been visible. The 1904 immigration building had been demolished but the remaining foundation outlined the footprint of the structure.

Fort Scammel – built in built in 1808 of blocks of granite –anchors the opposite end of House.Fort_Scammel_East_-_3

As I circumnavigated the island, the sounds of the osprey and her fledges were replaced with the sounds of machines. There was excavation equipment clearing the area near the former quarantine station.

Demo pix House IslandSomething felt wrong. Yes, the island had been sold but no plans had been announced. Yes, the island did not have “official” historic designation, but Fort Scammel has long been a companion to Fort Gorges. I wondered if there were permits for what was taking place.

 

 

How to find a reporter on a holiday weekend

The Vinograds (David and Miranda) hail from England but have been long time summer people on Peaks. They have a penchant for old buildings – going so far as to dismantle one scheduled for demolition and then reconstructing it. (Their favorite bumper sticker: Gut Fish, Not Houses.)

When I shared with them the apparent demolition, they suggested I research recent articles about House Island and it’s sale. Sally Oldham (married to Ted the photographer of the 20,000 buildings in Portland….See most recent blog.) wrote an op ed piece in June, 2014 entitled: Properties in Peril. House Island was one of two properties featured.

She concluded:

…Physical preservation of the buildings and landscapes that embody these stories, such a rich part of Portland’s history, could make them the linchpins for successful developments.

We hope that there will be easy public access for Portlanders and tourists to the Portland Co. complex buildings and House Island’s Fort Scammel and at least exterior views of the immigration station buildings so important to this city’s past.

Over the coming months, Portlanders will want to carefully watch the developments proposed for each of these key complexes.

http://www.pressherald.com/2014/06/11/maine-voices-two-portland-projects-highlight-opportunities-pitfalls-of-historical-development/

Tom Bell is a long time Press Herald writer and has covered development issues. I emailed him and he wrote back. I sent him photos of the apparent demolition work and all the documents and photographs I had collected. He called me for an interview.

How to contact city employees on a holiday weekend

Sending an email to the City of Portland permits, zoning, inspection, and historic preservation offices on July 4th felt like putting a note in a bottle, casting it into the sea and hoping it would be found quickly.

Meanwhile, the sounds of the machines continued.

I also contacted anyone who might have even a tangential interest in the island including the Audubon Society, Preservation Maine, and Greater Portland Landmarks.

I researched the Seashore Protection Act, Maine endangered species lists, and the decrease in monarch butterflies due to milkweed loss.

EVERYONE was on vacation.

I had no idea if other options were available to me to halt the work – at least temporarily. I needed a legal advisor.

And the machines continued.

How to find a lawyer (quickly) on a holiday weekend.

How would I find a lawyer on a holiday weekend and one that would be familiar with House Island?

Across from the Peaks Island library and adjoining Brad’s bikes is a window advertizing legal services and a number to call if you need a lawyer.

TwainI called. He did not have the expertise I was seeking and referred me to Tom Federle. He provided his cell number. I called and left a somewhat cryptic message. I did not expect a response until the end of the long weekend.

Within a few minutes, Tom returned my call. He was at his summer home on a nearby island.

His advice:

Let the City Offices have time to investigate the situation. Let them follow the established procedures. But, let’s create a Plan B.

But, the machines were still working.

 How to gain the public’s attention on a holiday weekend

July 9, 2014 Portland Press Herald, front page headline:

             Maine Island With Storied Past set for new chapter

http://www.pressherald.com/2014/07/09/a-rewrite-for-island-near-portland-harbor-with-storied-past/

I decide to hide out in the Maine Historical Society (following my attorney’s advice) and conduct more research on the House Island quarantine station. A volunteer historian goes into the stacks and returns with a manila folder marked “ISLANDS.”

There were yellowed newspaper clippings, a few brochures, photographs of a variety of island and island events. Tucked within the mix was a small, 8-page booklet entitled:

Experiences of My Early Life on House Island on Casco Bay in Portland Harbor Portland Maine

by Roberta Randall Sheaff

Self-published in 1983, it is out of print.

It begins:

I was born on House Island, a quarantine station, in 1909 in one of three houses there.

IMG_1439I looked up Roberta’s obituary. She died in Minnesota in 2004 at the age of 95. ‘She is survived by a daughter, son-in-law, grand children and many nieces and nephews.” I found her daughter’s address and telephone number in Duluth.

I called.

Benita Fuller-Fugelso talked freely about her mother and her mother’s love for House Island. Like most surviving children, Benita wished she had listened more carefully to the stories her grandparents and mother shared. She would now have a greater sense of the contribution her family made to the local history.

As we concluded our conversation she added:

“I have about 100 of my mother’s remaining books. I would be happy to give them to you to use in your efforts on my mother’s behalf to highlight the history of House. She would be thrilled to know her words will be shared with those who care about “her island.”…..

Generosity: kindness – willingness to give money, help or time freely.

How to Start a Controversy with Emails after a holiday weekend

Email #1:  Zoning and Permits – Thank you for contacting us. I searched our records of the site and have not found any demo permits.

Email #2: Inspection Services – Inspections Staff will visit the island to ascertain the situation first hand.

Email #3: Greater Portland Landmarks – we request that a representative of the historic preservation office attend the inspection as well.

Email #4: Lawyer – I made the argument that he is re-engaging in demo work and that requires a demo permit. If he is removing foundations, I would argue it is demo, not clean up as he stated.

Email #5: Me - I request that House Island be considered a historic district.

Email #6:  July 16th, the Historic Preservation Board meets to determine if they will move forward with the nomination of historic district. There is a multi phase process that culminates in 2 public meetings:

Preliminary workshop – August 6th to share report on history and significance of House Island.

Public Hearing – September 3rd

Email #7:  Following the inspection, a stop work order was issued.

The machines stopped for 7 days.

 

Epilogue 

I realize I cannot prevent the eventual development of House Island. I hope to encourage an examination and documentation of the buildings, the land, the fort, the untold history. I hope that its historical significance will be proven. Because -

When it’s gone, it’s gone.

I spent the morning, once again, kayaking across the channel from Peaks Island to House Island to observe the osprey. On this particular day, the fledglings were poking up from the nest. Mom and Dad were bringing them food and discouraging me from getting too close.

There is no reclamation of history when the physical evidence is removed.

When it’s gone; it’s gone forever.

Addendum

Please take the time to voice your opinion regarding the historic district designation of House Island, by contacting:

Deb Andrews, Historic Preservation, City of Portland

DGA@portlandmaine.gov

Or attend the public meetings.

 

I wish to thank the Joel and Linda Abromson Fund for their generous support of my research of the history of House Island and its relevance to the immigrant heritage of Portland.

 

You Should Have Been Here Yesterday – Part 1

You Should Have Been Here Yesterday – Part 1

If oral historians had a bumper sticker it would read:

“You should have been here yesterday.”

My hopes of interviewing Aunt Bunny were dashed – she is too ill for visitors. I had driven 10 hours to meet with her. However, her sister was willing to meet with me. So, I made a detour to Massachusetts.

A woman of a “certain age” i.e. over 90, Bobbie lives in a two-story home, bowls twice a week, plays mahjong. She had spent the day before my visit with her son pouring over a 100 years of family photos – and still able to name every person. She handed me a faded photo of Millie.

Mildred Markson. Wife of Maurice. Born 1880.Died February 10, 1966.

Millie is somewhat serious looking. Thin. She was known as the “beauty of the family.” She was a founding member of the Portland Council of Jewish women.

Aunt Bobbie has many stories, especially of her childhood at the family summer compound in Maine. Millie was alive during those years. She often slept on the porch as she had suffered from TB. No stories were told about immigrants or House Island or even the good works that Millie had done. Aunt Bobbie ended our conversation by saying:

“Millie was the most generous person I ever met. She didn’t wait to be asked. She helped everyone in the family – sent me to college, provided for widows, and never expected anything in return….”

You should have been here yesterday…Brandeis Law Library

Generosity: Kindness – willingness to give money, help or time freely.

I had hoped to Bobbie would be able to provide more information but instead, I left with one word – generosity. Millie and the other women who provided assistance to the immigrants were generous with their money, their help, and their time.

I was still in Massachusetts so I checked the map and made another detour.

“Chief Justice Louis Brandeis was born to Jewish immigrant parents. After graduating from Harvard at age 20, he established a law firm and became know as the “People’s Lawyer.” Brandeis later fought against powerful corporations, monopolies, public corruption, and mass consumerism, all of which he felt were detrimental to American values and culture.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_Brandeis

Brandeis University was named for him. I am hoping that the Brandeis Library will have a link to the case files related to Bela Gross’ habeas corpus decision. His plight might have been reported in Jewish newspapers or law related periodicals of the 1920’s.

It is summer. The campus was virtually empty. There was a smattering of students following signs to a conference center.  The library didn’t open until noon. I waited. As I entered, I looked around and noticed there were 3 of us at the research desk:  me, the research librarian, and a delivery guy trying to find out who had ordered Indian food for the library.

I handed my list of topics and questions to the librarian. He would research the Brandeis databases. I headed to the stacks.

Many universities are no longer purchasing books or are de-accessing their collections. Colby College in Maine has moved 170,000 of its books to storage. There is even a campaign to bring back the books. 

Button

http://www.slate.com/articles/life/education/2014/05/college_libraries_should_keep_their_books_in_the_stacks.html

However, the stacks are often where I find what I am seeking — even when I have no idea what I am looking for.

The shelves at Brandeis hold treasures. There are large leather bound books whose content I cannot understand – books written in Hebrew, Islamic texts, Yiddish newspapers. There are Jewish periodicals, Jewish newspapers. Titles refer to Jewish history, Jewish politics, Jewish film.

I am drawn to the film lists. I am looking for films that re-create the sounds and feel of the 1920’s. After an hour of reading film synopses that span the years from 1920 to 1994, I return to the front desk.

The librarian looked deflated. He was an ‘on-line research wizard’ and had pursued multiple avenues to locate the information I wanted. He was stymied. After apologizing profusely he added:

“The Law Librarian just left for the summer. He’ll be back in the fall. (…You should have been here yesterday.)”

You should have been here yesterday… Portland Press Herald

           When we die, we leave behind a midden: photographs, bank accounts, letters, clothes, teeth, bones.         Whatever patterns the artifacts in these piles of rubbish carry are usually and mercifully lost as they are mixed into the compost heap of time past. Biological artifacts are especially evanescent: as fire eats wood by oxidation, so air eats paper. Librarians call this process “slow fire.**”

Without the help of research librarians, I would be lost amidst the miasma of continually expanding information. Fortunately, every library has at least one “gem.”

The Portland Room at the Portland Maine Public Library (PPL) is ‘the city’s hub to preserve and provide access to Portland history.’ The growing collections include printed books and periodicals, maps, archives, manuscripts, photographs, digital records, as well as microfilmed and digitized Portland newspapers. http://www.portlandlibrary.com/locations/main-library/portland-room/

The ‘gem’ at the PPL is Abraham Schechter, Special Collections Librarian and Archivist. http://laviegraphite.blogspot.com/search?q=living+history

Abraham

The day I arrive, Abraham was scanning glass negatives rescued from the basement of the former home of the Portland Press Herald newspaper founded in 1862. These negatives will become the Portland Press Herald Still Film Negative Collection. “….The collection measures approximately 310 linear feet, shelved. There are approximately 550,000 negatives in the collection.” It is a Herculean task.

Within the special collections are Census Books, Federal Court Records with applications for Naturalization, Tax Records, Marriage Licenses, and Obituaries. It is a virtual treasure trove chronicling human existence spanning centuries in the city of Portland, Maine.

To access the information, you must have a name, a birth date and a death date. The best place to find that information is in the obituaries. Although most city data since 1924 is digitized and on-line, the only way to read the 1923 news is via microfiche. There are no newspapers existent.

Scrolling through reel after reel of scratched, dimly-lit microfiche, I find myself reading ads and articles that reflect life today as yesterday. Corrupt politicians, murders, scandals, wars….and sales of the day.

In 1924, the City of Portland tax division took photographs of every building in existence at that time. Markson’s Clothing was one of those images. Beginning in 2011, this same process is being replicated by Ted Oldham. His goal is to photograph each of the 20,000 buildings in Portland. He has already completed 13,000.   He believes that…“Our buildings are a physical expression of what our values are.”

http://www.pressherald.com/2011/12/28/new-collection-takes-shape-man-photographing-20000-buildings_2011-12-28/

Dollar Down and a Dollar a Week.

Markson Bros. Clothing store became known throughout New England for both men and women’s clothing. Bunny/Bobby’s great aunt Millie’s husband, Maurice. – founded Markson Bros. with great aunt Jennie Markson’s husband, Elder. (Whew…family trees are confusing especially if they are someone elses.)

March 10, 1925.

Mrs. Jennie Markson , a prominent Jewish woman, died last evening of pneumonia, after an illness lasting a week….

Mrs. Markson was a prominent club woman and an interested and active worker in all community affairs. She was a member of the Council of Jewish women, a director of the United Hebrew Charities, a past president of the Etz Chaim sisterhood, a ….

Jennie died at age 46 from pneumonia on March 10, 1925. Only 2 years after starting the Portland Council of Jewish Women with her sister Millie. Only 2 years after establishing the House Island immigration assistance program.

At the end of a very long day, I had only found obituaries for 2 of the NCJW women. I did find obits for some of their husbands. (If a husband died; a wife sent in an obit. The reverse was not necessarily true.)

You should have been here yesterday…NCJW documents

Faith Rogow’s book: Gone to Another Meeting, chronicles the history of the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) from 1893 – 1993. It is a fascinating read because the organization’s history mirrors the trajectory of women’s rights and roles in American society – not just the history of Jewish women.

Cover Rogow

http://www.amazon.com/Gone-Another-Meeting-National-1893-1993/dp/0817306714/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1405784278&sr=1-1&keywords=gone+to+another+meeting

The Library of Congress has 48,000 items; 216 containers and 91.8 linear feet of the NCJW documents. The Portland Maine chapter documents are NOT included.

So I write letters:

National Council of Jewish Women Headquarters– DC

Nothing

National Council of Jewish Women Historian – NYC

Nothing

Mary Herman, former president of southern Maine/Portland area

Nothing

ASIDE: Angus King is her husband, Maine Senator and former Governor

Mary directed me to the current NCJW Portland president: Lynn Goldfarb.

Lynn Goldfarb

Nothing

However, Lynn remembered a story about a fire in which the records were destroyed.  MAYBE Gail Volk (several time past president) might be holding some documents “for safe keeping.”

Gail Volk

I call her. She has 2 “clipping” albums. One labeled 1920-1948; the other labeled 1948-1980. They have been in her attic for ‘safekeeping.” Although she summers at the lake and is inundated with relatives and friends, Gail is willing to drive the albums to Portland.

I contact Nina Rayer – a paper restoration and conservation expert – in case the documents need stabilizing before we review them.  We arrange to meet at the Maine Jewish Museum.

We cover a table with plastic, don gloves and masks. Nancy carefully opens the bag and removes 2 scrapbooks. They are literally falling apart.

We document each step in the process. How a document appears; how it is packaged; how it comes apart and goes back together; which items are next to each other…all this matters to an archivist and conservation specialist. It is their ‘art.’

CU album

ribbonThe most recent album is in better condition. Nina recommends we number the pages, separate them carefully and have them scanned.

The older album is held together with yellow ribbon. The front cover is detached from the pages. We carefully remove it and set it aside. We read the first entry. It is a newspaper clipping of an event that took place in 1926.  The first entry is not 1920 but 1926. The primary source materials describing the work of the NCJW on House Island would span the years from 1920-23. Those pages are missing.

First page

We reviewed both albums again, hoping the missing materials might be misfiled but to no avail. (I did, however, confirm that in 1969 I received a college scholarship of $500.00 from the NCJW of Portland.)

 

You should have been here yesterday…House Island sold!!

House Island has been sold. There is an excavator and a bulldozer visible from the deck of the ferry as you approach Peaks Island.

Courtesy Gregg Bolton

Courtesy Gregg Bolton

Rumors abound. Condos. Helipad. No one has seen plans. It will not be retained as a historic site.

Once the existing structures are removed, we will have lost the opportunity to honor those who made the immigrant journey – those who were detained – and those allowed to remain….as well as those who ‘welcomed the stranger.’

We should have been here yesterday.

 

 

 

**A slow fire is a term used in library and information science to describe paper embrittlement resulting from acid decay. The term is taken from the title of Terry Sanders’ 1987 film Slow Fires: On the preservation of the human record.

 

 

 

No Coincidence – No Story (Part 2)

Bashert…meant to be.

 Who were the immigrants held in quarantine on House Island in 1923??

I am a long time mystery reader. Following in the foot steps of my favorite detectives: Detective Porfiry,Sherlock Holmes, VI Warshawski, Kinsey Millhone, and my latest Flavia de Luce (an 11-year-old amateur sleuth), I begin my ‘investigation.’ I contact everyone in Maine who might have information about the immigration history of Portland.

Many of the early immigrants coming to Portland, Maine settled in the Munjoy Hill area. Italians settled on India and Middle Streets and started businesses such as Amato’s bakery (1903.) http://www.amatos.com/

Munjoy-Hill-Map

Aside: Mystery of the Black Dahlia

One of the greatest unsolved mysteries involved a woman who had grown up on Munjoy Hill and moved to Hollywood where she was brutally murdered. http://mainetoday.com/profiles/the-black-dahlia-lived-on-munjoy-hill-an-unsolved-murder-from-the-vaults/

 The Irish immigrants congregated in two main neighborhoods and the streets connecting them along Portland’s waterfront: the west end, later known as Gorham’s Corner, with its Saint Dominic’s parish (the oldest Catholic Church in Portland, dating from 1833); and the east end, better known as Munjoy Hill, with its Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception (1866). Michael Connolly http://www.amazon.com/They-Change-Their-Sky-Irish/dp/0891011102

Book Cover

I contact the Maine Irish Heritage Center www.maineirish.com and Italian Heritage Center www.italianheritagecenter.com in Portland. They generously send out my request for anyone whose relatives were detained or were processed through the quarantine station on House Island to contact me. No positive responses to date.

 COINCIDENCE: I went to school with the Maine Irish history expert as well as the editor of the Italian American Heritage newsletter. Both are from long standing Munjoy Hill families.

The other immigrant group that may have entered Maine via House Island were Jews.

Documenting Maine Jewry is a collaborative genealogy and history of Maine’s Jewish communities. MaineJews.org is a kind of crowd source web site for gathering and posting pictures, articles, oral histories, music, etc. related to Jewish history in Maine. www.mainejews.org

As an artist, I unravel my ‘art-related mysteries’ by spending hours in library stacks. Most of my ‘clues’ are obtained in face-to-face interviews and through personal networking.

This investigation will take place in on-line archives. There is so much information to wade through. It is daunting. The study and practice of organizing, preserving, and providing access to information and materials in archives is called archival science. Science is the operative term. Finding information requires thinking like a scientist – not necessarily like an artist. Fortunately, archivists (and librarians) are incredibly helpful individuals who are generous with their time and expertise.

Harris Gleckman knows the content of the MaineJews.org site – both catalogued and still to be catalogued. He directed me to an out-of-print book published in 1954.

COINCIDENCE: My aunt babysat for the web master when he was a child living in Forest Park. (Seriously.)

 Band, Ben,  Portland Jewry: It’s Growth and Development , Jewish Historical Society, Portland , Maine, 1954

Written in celebration of 300 years of U.S. Jewish settlement, Band wrote in his preface:” Jewish communities were asked to compile a record of their development and growth.” His book was a collaborative approach – an example of early crowd sourcing. There were 17 chapters that outlined the history of Jews in Maine beginning in the 1800’s. It is only available on line.

I read.

Looking in the past

Maine’s earliest Jews came from Germany in the late 1880’s.

They learned English and established “religious services, supplies of kosher meats and a burial ground. They often earned their living peddling, the junk trade and the second hand clothing and tailoring.“

tailorASIDE:

The skill listed by most immigrants coming to Ellis Island was “tailor” due to the great need for garment workers. Most had no training. They learned through word of mouth during quarantine that it was the skill to have to gain entrance to the US.

Most of the 2 million Jews that came to America in the 1920’s were from Eastern Europe. Often less educated and less affluent than their earlier counterparts, they came to America hoping for a chance for a better life.

In the 1920’s, the City of Portland struggled to assimilate the influx of Eastern European Jews and other recent immigrants. One of the largest anti-immigrant Ku Klux Klan rallies (by some accounts, 10,000 Klansmen) gathered in Portland in 1923 to protest the presence of these new “foreigners.”

I read more.

….When immigrant ships landed in Portland in 1923 and 1924, 218 passengers were detained on House Island. The Council of Jewish Women set up kosher kitchens there under the supervision of Mrs. Lena Perry. Chapter X: New Social and Fraternal Organizations-Band

Looking in the present

The names of the original settlers of House Island also appear on the gravestones at the Peaks Island cemetery. So, I send out my request to the Peaks Island list serv. Responses were supportive of my efforts but yielded no leads. Then a photo attachment appears in an email from Kim Mac Isaac.

Kim, a historian and archivist herself, is the former executive director of the 5th Maine Museum. Kim’s family has been on the island for generations. She even remembers rowing over to House Island to explore the old quarantine station before its demolition. She had a photograph. (So far, it is the only one I have seen.)

quarantine-lge

COINCIDENCE: While sculpting a memorial bench for my dad and creating a native plant garden on Peaks Island in 2008 -10, I was able to support myself by cleaning the 5th Maine Museum. http://www.fifthmainemuseum.org/

 

The Maine Jewish Film Festival features films that ‘explore the Jewish experience through drama, comedy, documentary and short film formats.’ Works are screened at multiple venues and in multiple cities throughout the state.  http://www.mjff.org/

I create a postcard to hand out to each attendee. I distribute the postcards in hopes of finding anyone who had family members that were detained on House Island or allowed to immigrate into Maine after being processed there.

ASIDE:

My short film – Chorus of Stones – that chronicles the creation of the memorial on Peaks was rejected by some of the best film festivals including the Maine Jewish Film Festival. https://vimeo.com/2999812

pcback500 postcards later, I had not received one solid lead. Everyone thought it was an interesting mystery but could not provide any additional clues.

COINCIDENCE: A researcher who works at the US Holocaust Museum in DC picked up my postcard while she was at the festival. She thinks she can help find the names of the immigrants who passed through House Island quarantine station. I work a few blocks from the Museum.

Looking in the Archives

I continue to delve into the archives of the Maine Historical Society, the Memory Network, the Portland Room of the Portland Public Library, the New England Archives in Waltham, the Osher Map collection and Judaica Collection at the Glickman Library, University of Maine. I read books about immigration and U.S. immigration policies of the 1920’s including those cited in the Congressional Record. The rhetoric and debate reflects the immigration concerns of today.

As the implementation date of the 1924 Quota Act approached, passenger ship companies worried about the loss of business that would result. So, they doubled the number of ships leaving for America. When Ellis Island and Boston could not manage the deluge of immigrants, some ships were re-routed to other quarantine stations: House Island.

Immigrants allowed to remain in the U.S. could then be sent by rail to New York or Boston. Others were returned to their country of origin.

  • What I didn’t find were all the names of people who were held there.
  • What I didn’t find were the names of Portland residents whose family members came into Portland through House Island.
  • What I didn’t find were the names of those returned to their country of origin.

What I did find were the names of the women who established the Portland Council of Jewish Women (later the National Council of Jewish Women) who set up the Kosher kitchen. *

A friend once described the State of Maine as a small town. If that is true, the Jewish population of New England must be a neighborhood. I have just enough postcards to send to synagogues from Maine to Boston.

It is Passover week in which Jews commemorate the exodus of the Jews from Egypt more than 3000 years ago. It is an 8-day holiday in which you are obligated to tell the Passover story. This year, I listen with a new perspective: Passover could be thought of as a story of immigrants.

It is also a week of consuming symbolic foods. We eat matzo rather than leavened bread as a reminder of the haste in which the Israelites fled Egypt. There was not enough time for the bread to rise. http://homecooking.about.com/od/foodhistory/a/passoverfoods.htm

MatzohA week passes. Passover ends.

I arrive home one night and listen to the message on my answering machine:

My name is Jim Waldman. I am the Controller at the Temple Beth Elohim in Wellesley, Massachusetts. Our secretary was out today and I had to open the mail. http://tbewellesley.org/index.aspx

Imagine my surprise when the first 2 names on the list of the founders of the Portland Council for Jewish Women were my great grandmother Millie and her sister.

Millie’s great niece  (Bunny) lives in Maine. She is 94 years old and has a perfect memory.

Bashert?

I had just purchased a ticket to Maine to visit my Mom. I guess now I am going to visit ‘Aunt Bunny,’ too.

 

 

*Portland Council of Jewish Women, 1920

Name First Name Home Address Husband’s business
MRS. Eldar MARKSONb. 1879 –d. 3/10/1925 Portland ME) Jennie 237 State St. Markson Bros. Clothing504 Congress Street
Mrs. Maurice MARKSON(b. 1880 – d. Feb 10, 1966) Mildred S. 100 Neal St. Markson Bros. Clothing504 Congress Street
MRS. Jacob SCHIEBE(b. 1873 – d. 12/12/1964) Jennie 94 Vesper St. Tailor22 Monument Sq #402
MRS. Jacob ROSENBERGd. 5/12/1949 Helen 48 Western Promenade. Rosenberg Brothers real estate85 Exchange St. Room 305,
MRS. Benjamin PRESS Molly 224 Eastern Promenade Real Estate
MRS. Jacob SAPIROd. 3/13/1968 Anna D 93 Morning Street Husband worked9 Plum Street
Mrs. Eli PERRY Lenna 170 Cumberland Ave. E. Perry and Co Junk117 Lancaster St.

No Coincidence – No Story ( Part 1)

A recent This American Life examined the role of ‘coincidence’ in our lives. There are those who see all events in life as just random occurrences. There are those that see connections between disparate events – possibly guided by a ‘Co-incidence Coordinator’- as an indication of the existence of synchronicity. http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/489/no-coincidence-no-story

Julia Cameron, in The Artist Way, writes about ‘Synchronicity and Spirituality:’

Once you accept that it is natural to create, you can begin to accept a second idea: that the Creator will hand you whatever you need for the project. Be alert: there is a second voice, a higher harmonic, adding to and augmenting your inner creative voice. This voice frequently shows itself in synchronicity.

And, there is a Chinese saying: No Coincidence, No Story.

I am a story teller. I tell stories through my art.

The Past is Prologue

I grew up in an area of Portland, Maine known as “The Hill.” Munjoy Hill was a neighborhood of immigrants – Irish, Italian, Eastern European. We were connected by our sense of place, our values, our diversity.

We filled multi-unit housing with our extended families. We could venture out into a neighborhood of grandparents, aunts, uncles who watched over all of us – relative or not. We walked to school together. We shared homework assignments. We shoveled sidewalks and coalesced on corners.

The Eastern Promenade (‘The Prom’) was our backyard: We listened to free concerts at Fort Allen Park, oo’ed and aah’ed at the July 4th Fireworks, sledded at the Monument, and watched the “submarine races” with our dates. http://easternpromenade.org/2013/10/17/our-video-is-live/

Casco Bay and its ‘calendar’ islands were our constant companions. (It was once thought there were 365 islands hence “calendar islands.” In actuality, they number between 180 and 222.)CascoBayMaps

There was alcoholism, sexual abuse, mental illness, evictions, divorce….but the close knit Hill community provided its own version of a safety net. If you needed an egg, you could borrow one; corner stores let you run a tab until payday; friends with cars drove you to hospitals, grocery stores, appointments. Overwhelmed by life, you went next door for a cup of tea with cream and sugar.

We formed life-long friendships: ones easily renewed even with the passage of time. We worked; we loved; we moved away and joined other neighborhoods.

Looking to belong

I was usually the only Jewish kid in the class. As such, I was frequently called upon to explain Jewish holidays to my Christian classmates. My family struggled financially and spiritually. My parents were unable to provide me with a Jewish education. I sometimes felt like a stranger – an outsider – in my neighborhood as well as in my religious community.

As kids growing up on the Hill, we were more interested in hanging out on the Prom, playing pick up baseball, and finding beach glass. Studying history was an anathema: too many dates and too much war. Until I toured the Portland Observatory a few years ago, I did not know that the street where I grew up (Moody) was named for the man who developed the flag system for incoming ships.

Visit the Portland Observatory" Maine art Project by WPA c. 1937

The Portland Observatory is the only remaining maritime signal station in the United States. Tower operations were paid with annual fees collected from shipping merchants, who purchased the right to have their flags stored in the building and hoisted up its flagstaffs when their ships were sighted.

sanctuary21-1200x383My mother resides in an assisted living facility so we often go on ‘outings.’ The Etz Chaim Synagogue at the bottom of “The Hill” has recently been restored. Changing demographics, changing politics, changing economics led to the shuttering of its doors. It re-opened as an ‘inclusive’ synagogue and the Maine Jewish Museum that features art work by contemporary Jewish artists from Maine.  www.treeoflifemuseum.org

Around the age of 13, I stopped attending the Orthodox shul. I was tired of sitting in the balcony – detached from the Torah and relegated to a passive role of watching the men and boys participate in the service. A budding feminist before feminism was part of the national zeitgeist, one day, I just stomped out.

The tour starts.

The Guide begins to explain the history of the synagogue. Seeking participation from her audience, she poses a question alluding to the beginnings of Etz Chaim. My mother speaks up to add her 2 cents (actually more like a dollar) and says:

My grandfather  (my great grandfather) started this synagogue.

The Docent continues, expounding on the events that led up to the 1921 opening of Etz Chaim. http://mainejewishmuseum.org/history/story-of-etz-chaim/

As the tour continues, my mother leans towards me and whispers:

There was a big fight. A disagreement between the Rabbi at the Shaarey Tphiloh Synagogue and your great-grandfather. He stormed out with half the congregation and eventually established Etz Chaim.

(I guess stomping-out behavior is part of my genetic make up—It appears that in my family, we vote with our feet…)

Why don’t I know about this?

Forty-five years after I left Maine, I still struggle to resolve my sense of being a stranger in my own community.

Seeking my belongings

I am on the ferry to Peaks Island again. It is time to open up cottages for the season and to take my kayak out of storage.

Following the memorial service for a friend’s young daughter, I went on- line and bought a red 2-cup coffee maker and a red 16.5 foot long sea kayak. The brevity of her life was the impetus to act. (The coffee maker was an impulse buy; I had been thinking about buying a kayak for over a year.) I took kayak lessons while creating the memorial garden and bench for my father. https://vimeo.com/29998120

I go out early in the morning – before the sun heats the air and waves begin to form. I glide easily across the glassy surface of the water. As the air warms, the waves increase. wave

As a friend and I paddle around the tip of House Island, we see the remains of blocks of granite – used in the construction of Fort Scammel. My friend jokingly says something about ‘free’ stone for sculpting. House Island is privately held so we remain on the water.

As we give a wide berth to the osprey nest (too early to see the fledglings http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/osprey/lifehistory) she asked me:  “Did you know….House Island was known as the ‘Ellis Island of the North’ – and in 1923, 218 immigrants were detained at the quarantine station on House Island.”

I spent a great deal of my childhood traveling among the islands of Casco Bay and had never heard this story.

Why don’t I know about this?

Longings

According to the Maine State Archivist, there is no information about those held at the House Island quarantine station in existence from 1904 – 1937. Neither the Maine Historical Society or the Maine Maritime Museum or the Portland Room of the Public Library or the University of Maine has any resources pertaining to the construction, management or removal of the facility.

Even Captain Hal Cushing (the current House Island owner) has no photographs or documents relative to the history of the quarantine station.

Much of my previous artwork examined family relations, untold secrets, little known histories. I make connections between seemingly disparate pieces of information. I create artworks that focus on a moment in history that reflects larger issues within a current context.

I make an appointment to meet with the Curator and Director of the Maine Jewish Museum. I tell them I am an artist. I tell them about my great grandfather. I tell them about House Island. I broach the idea of creating a piece for the museum. (When my mom was in high school, she spent summers as an au pair. One of her charges was the Maine Jewish Museum curator: Now, why don’t I know about that?)

I am not sure if the ‘Coincidence Coordinator’ is at work here. But there is a Yiddish word to describe what I am experiencing: Bashert – loosely translated as “meant to be.”

I am a story teller. I tell stories through my art. And I believe there is a story to tell.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Rose in Winter

I have measured out my life in coffee spoons.”

T.S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock and Other Poems

I am sitting here drinking a cup of coffee and holding a letter in my hand. It arrived on Valentine’s Day – addressed to me – in my own handwriting. I still haven’t opened it.Image

At the end of the 2013 Northfield Conference, we wrote a letter to ourselves: A Rose in WInter. It was less of a letter and more of a reflection – and a reminder.  We were encouraged to imagine what path we would follow throughout the year. To consider what changes would we make in how we live our lives. http://thestonepath.wordpress.com/2013/09/03/laying-fallow/

I am hesitant to open the letter. I am afraid of disappointing myself and disappointing others. I am still exhausted from working on the Liber sculpture. I am still recovering from moving my mom to assisted living and dismantling her home. And this winter seems endless…I can’t seem to move forward…I am ambivalent about continuing on the stone path …I seem unable to take the first step.

So, I pick up a book….

…Once Upon A Time…

Garrison Keeler, in a Prairie Home Companion monologue, lamented the end of the ground baloney and miracle whip on white bread sandwich at funerals. As members of the “ground baloney” generation pass on, we lose, not only our connection to these foods, but knowledge of their preparation. We lose the sense of community that comes from interacting with each other as we share a communal experience. We lose another cultural memory.

We’ve all used books to prop up a table leg. Or placed phonebooks on chairs for young guests to sit on at Thanksgiving dinner. I think sharing books is another path to building a sense of community. There is even a movement to leave books in public places and then track their itineraries. Wikipedia describes BookCrossing (also: BC, BCing or BXing) as “the practice of leaving a book in a public place to be picked up and read by others, who then do likewise.” The term is derived from http://www.bookcrossing.com, a free on-line book club.

The ‘crossing’ or exchanging of books may take any of a number of forms, including ‘wild releasing’ books in public, direct swaps with other members of the websites, or “book rings” in which books travel in a set order to participants who want to read a certain book.

The library saved my life. As a child, I spent every afternoon and many weekends in the library running my hands along the spines of books  – waiting to find that day’s adventure. There was a sense of  “preciousness” in their handling. There was no folding down of pages, or eating while reading or underlining a passage. I found knowledge, escape, solace, and possibility in the pages of books – as I still do.

Books can transport us to another time and place or introduce us to a different way of seeing or thinking. The imminent demise of the book has been a topic of discussion since the arrival of electronic readers. Within my book club, how we read is changing: some of us hold an actual book, another reads on a Kindle, while another listens to a CD. We are still able to share our opinions, ideas and questions. However, the containers from which they arise are as different as we are.

Last summer, Amazon sold more e-books than hard cover. Even the Library of Congress (LOC) has problems deciding which books to retain or discard and in what format. Nicholas Baker (Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper) describes schemes used to determine whether a book was still fit to retain. Various ill-fated ideas befell the disposal of tomes leading up to Baker’s dumpster diving at the LOC. Using his retirement fund, he built warehouses for books and early American newspapers and magazines once destined for destruction.

At the annual Peaks Island Library Book Sale sponsored by the Friends of the Library, it was rumored that more books were donated to the sale than were purchased. The unsold books seemed destined for the landfill.

ImageHowever, the Friends of the Peaks Island Library sought a creative way to use the unsold books. They sponsored an Altered Book workshop. Artists have long created Artist Books. Some use books as the starting point of their work. Others start from scratch and construct a book-like work. The finished pieces are more like sculptures than traditional books. There are whole conferences and collections dedicated to the exhibition and collection of these one-of-a kind or limited edition books. http://www.centerforbookarts.org/.

There were tables of altered books from the Portland Public Library book art collection. We could look and touch without white gloves (a rare opportunity.)  Then Book Artist, Anastasia Weigle, http:www.anastasiaweigle.com gave an overview of the process she uses to create Artist Books.

Image

Attendees then chose a book from the pile of discards on the porch of the library. (Flashback to Filene’s basement.) I grab a book – not for the cover – but for the title: The Family Orchard by Nomi Eve. I quickly thumb through the pages. Throughout the book were images of family trees.  At the end of each chapter, the names of members accrued through marriage and birth were added.

Born in New England, I always wished to be one of those people whose family tree goes back for generations…that you know where everyone came from and where they ended up. My family immigrated from Europe under duress – and left the family history behind.Image

Since I had no intention of reading the book per se, I began to tear out the narrative pages. I left intact the genealogy charts and pages with images of branches, fruits, trees. The floor around me was littered with the discards – like fallen foliage.

A few hundred ‘leaves’ later, I arrived at the final page of the book – a completed family tree. The genealogy chart had started in 1820 with just two names and now filled two pages. Mothers became grandmothers and great grandmothers…and so on and so forth.

In 1935, Leah Levinsky married David Lily and bore 2 children: Jacob and Betty.

My grandmother’s maiden name was Levinsky. Her birth name was Betty. She was an immigrant who anglicized her name to Elizabeth and never spoke Yiddish. Her brother’s name was Jacob (aka Uncle Jack.)  His business began with a wagon and horse and evolved into Levinsky’s Army Navy Surplus Store, Portland, Maine.

I frantically collect up all the loose and crumpled pages from the floor and cobble the book back together.

First, I read the book.

The Family Orchard “ is a rich tapestry of Jewish life and humor and yearning, woven from timeless themes: the evolution of family, the setting down of roots, the sorrow of immigrants and the joy of pioneers, the secrets that bind families together and the legends that sustain them. http://www.bookbrowse.com/reviews/index.cfm/book_number/666/the-family-orchard

Then, I called Nomi Eve’s agent.

I explained how I came upon the book. About the Levinsky name.  About my artwork. By the end of the conversation, the agent’s assistant (somewhat assured I was not a stalker nor that I was looking for an book agent) agreed to forward an email with my story. Within a day, I was corresponding with Nomi Eve.

And they lived happily ever after….

If this were a fairy tale, Nomi would have been a long lost relative and I would have stumbled across another branch of my family tree. Maybe I would even have figured out my next step along the stone path.

We corresponded about how I discovered her book and the workshop on the island. She had visited Maine and had fond memories of her trip. Finally, I asked her about the Levinskys in her family tree. She responded:

There had been a soda shop in Philadelphia where she grew up called: Levinsky’s. She substituted the Levinsky name for the real names of family members to protect their privacy. There was no connection between us. It was just a story.

Afterword:

I finish my coffee. As I turn the envelope over, I read the words written on the flap:

                           Today, while the blossoms still cling to the vine

                           I’ll taste your strawberries, I’ll drink your sweet wine

                           A million tomorrows shall all pass away

                           ‘Ere I forget all the joy that is mine, Today

http://www.sing365.com/music/lyric.nsf/Today-lyrics-John-Denver/459497E755B

Image

For Today, maybe it’s okay to just drink another cup of coffee.

For Today, maybe it’s okay to just smell the roses.

For Today, maybe it’s okay to be unsure of my next step on the stone path.

For Today, maybe it’s okay to spend the day reading a book.*

**In 1947 Jimmy Durante sang:

There’s one day that I recall, though it was years ago.

All my life I will remember it, I know.

I’ll never forget the day I read a book.

It was contagious, seventy pages.

There were pictures here and there,

So it wasn’t hard to bear,

The day I read a book.

It’s a shame I don’t recall the name of the book.

It wasn’t a history. I know because it had no plot.

It wasn’t a mystery, because nobody there got shot.

The day I read a book? I can’t remember when,

But one o’ these days, I’m gonna do it again.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wlsQIEIEeKA

Moving Forward

Endemic:

characteristic of a particular place, or among a particular group

Sharing:

We are now a world community. We can share with the entire planet – even those in space – 24/7 – with just a  “click” or “tap” or our voice.  First, we shared documents then music files and then our thoughts on any number of subjects. Now we post photos and videos and intimate details of our daily lives – sometimes to our own detriment.

But, to some, this shared world is not new – it is a way of life born from necessity and continued as a cultural norm. For some, sharing is endemic to the geography of their lives. Islanders have always lived in a sharing community .

If you live on Peaks Island, Maine, you learn to share from the time you learn to walk. When you are trudging through snow or carrying groceries, running to make the boat, someone will offer you a ride. You can call a friend to check on the dog if you are unexpectedly delayed. Don’t have the tool you need, ask at the Peaks Café.

There is an island listserve that announces art openings, school events, thanks you’s, lost dogs, found glasses, rides needed or offered or the start of a cancer support group. Recently, a friend needed a high chair for a visiting niece and within 15 minutes received 14 responses – including delivery and a story of the chair’s history.

During the past year, I was a recipient of the islanders culture of sharing, as we continued the search for a place for my mom. When I needed information about various nursing homes and assisted living facilities, islanders shared their experiences, penned reviews, supplied contact names and emotional support. When I needed home care providers, high school friends offered names of caretakers they had used or even offered to come themselves.

When I needed a car – everyday for a week – to visit the rehab center in the morning and nursing homes and assisted living places in the afternoons, people I knew (and some I didn’t) entrusted me with their vehicle. No one asked about my driving record or insurance. Each person trusted that should anything untoward occur – I would behave as a member of the sharing community and act responsibly.

However, I did have to learn the island system for locating a car in the parking garage. You have to denote whether it is parked  “Inside/outside” – the specific entrance on a numbered level – and whether you can see the whale wall or the restaurant.

 Sharing My Home:

 Respite:

Time out, break, recess, pause, hiatus, suspension, rest period, relief,

Many of my friends are caring for a parent or relative or spouse.

  • One is providing hospice care to her mom as she approaches the end of life:
  • Another is monitoring the care of her aunt and dad located in another state:
  • Another is alternating with her other siblings the home care of her parent.

Many of us do not live next door to our parents or even in the same state. We do not have lives that allow us to stay home to care for another. The Portland Press Herald paper ran a series called: Challenge of our Age. A woman was featured in an article about a woman who left her job and became the full time caretaker of her mother who had been diagnosed with vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s. She acted out of love; she had no regrets; but she was exhausted – depleted.

http://specialprojects.pressherald.com/aging/part-2-liz-havu/

What caregivers have in common is the need for respite.

Throughout the past few years, I have left my home and studio for longer and longer periods of time to help care for my mom. While in Maine, friends provide housing and support. They give me a key and keep the porch light on. They make up the bed and leave dinner. There are no expectations (Well, sometimes the dog wants petting or letting out …)

I now provide respite care for my friends traveling up and down the coast. I leave the key, clean sheets on the bed, soup in the fridge, and if I am there, emotional sustenance.

I have even developed a ritual with one friend who returns often.

We eat a healthy, home cooked dinner. We then head to the local restaurant to procure 2 pieces of cake: chocolate with peanut butter frosting and carrot with cream cheese frosting. We go so often that the waitress points us to the cooler and lets us select our own pieces. We take our cake home and return the empty plate on the next visit.

Sharing the Fear:

My mom watches the news religiously. Monsoons in the Phillipines, tornadoes in the Midwest, floods in Colorado – 1000’s are left homeless. Even with all the assurances from our family to the contrary, she is afraid of becoming homeless. Her anxiety prevents her from sleeping.

Each time I visit, she asks:

  • What is going to happen to me?
  • Where will I live?

Gloria Steinem, feminist icon, in an interview many years ago when asked her greatest fear, she replied:

  • I am afraid of becoming a bag lady.

She echoes the refrain I hear from friends as we grow older. Many of us are single or have no children. The fear of being homeless resides deep in the recesses of my own mind.

I never realized how brave my mom is. She learned to use a walker after recovering from her broken hip. She agreed to in-home assistance with cooking, cleaning and meds after her broken pelvis. She endured weeks of rehab after her broken arm. After months on waiting lists, she will be moving to an assisted living facility that is 23 minutes and 18.1 miles from her home. It was a difficult decision made easier by the fact that there was only one bed in one facility that was available.

I am uniquely qualified to help with the transition. I have been a professional clutter buster and personal organizer for 20 years. (Actually, according to my mom, I started young. I was bounced out of nursery school for rearranging the cots during recess. In my defense, they probably needed it.) http://jotheclutterbuster.com/modules/publisher/item.php?itemid=53

Mom taught us to share with others – no matter how little we had.

She will decide what she wants to take with her to the assisted living place. She will offer items to friends and family who have made specific requests.Tchotkes

We will go through her apartment and identify items to be given to homeless shelters. We found an organization that accepts furniture to give to families that were previously homeless.Truck full

I will store the photographs until a later time when we can sort and label. Then I will scan them and make disks for everyone.

I am in awe of her willingness to focus on the sharing and not the loss.

 

Sharing the Heart:

I will arrive in Maine on the Solstice. The word solstice comes from the Latin words for “sun” and “to stand still.” In the Northern Hemisphere, the solstice days are the days with the fewest hours of sunlight during the whole year.

winter-solstice_10792_990x742

During the darkest months, I stay in bed later in the morning. On Sunday mornings, before going to Quaker Meeting, I listen to “On Being” hosted by Krista Tippett. (In my opinion she runs neck and neck with Terry Gross as an insightful interviewer.) During her program entitled: Contemplating Mortality Tippett interviewed Ira Byock MD, a palliative care specialist. In his book: Dying Well: The Prospect for Growth at the End of Life,  he distinguishes between the concept of the good death and actually dying “well”  – whole. www.onbeing.org/program/transcript/4655

He offers 11 words that he feels are important to maintaining or repairing relationships to use during any transition:

  • Please forgive me
  • I forgive you
  • Thank you
  • I love you

My siblings and I have worked hard to coordinate the process. The last time we had to work on something together was my father’s funeral – 25 years ago. The process has been exhausting – for everyone. Completing applications, copying and scanning documents, submitting paper work and re-submitting the same paperwork, researching and visiting facilities, filling out more forms, waiting lists, telephone calls, doctor visits and interviews. Amidst communication breakdowns and misunderstandings, text messages, emails, phone calls – we attempt to preserve relationships and find a way to care for my mother.

In an interview, Jane Gross author of Bittersweet Season: Caring for Our Aging Parents –and Ourselves and the blog: The New Old Age, talked about her state of being “between guilt an exhaustion” as she and her brother made decisions about the care of their mom. She emphasized the need for “family repair” as a result of the process. http://www.amazon.com/Bittersweet-Season-Caring-Parents-Ourselves-ebook/dp/B004DEPII8

I am hoping, after my mom is settled in her new “home”, that we can share these 11 words with each other.

Sharing the Future:

With the current technology, we are so used to being able to predict: weather, traffic, up-coming events. We are always looking towards the future. We are under a delusion that predicting means knowing the outcome.

Almost a year ago to the day, I was starting a public art work: creating a legacy – occupying a permanent space. http://thestonepath.wordpress.com/2013/06/11/next-steps-on-the-stone-path/

Once the piece was installed, I realized how in between my mom and I were in our lives:

The Space Between *:

Between the end of a project and the path to a new artwork.

Between my home in Maryland and remaining in Maine.

Between caring for myself and caring for another.

 

Between living independently and being dependent on others.

Between the familiar and the unknown.

Between continuing or stopping.

 

Between present and absent

Between then and now

Between breath and no breath

 

We are no longer in the space between. We are now moving forward.

* http://thestonepath.wordpress.com/2013/09/03/the-space-between/

The Space Between

I grow old… I grow old… I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled. – TS Eliot. J Afred Proofrock

http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/20220#sthash.tEnOctkT.dpuf

 I am in the space between.

Between the end of a project and the path to a new artwork.

Between my home in Maryland and remaining in Maine.

Between caring for myself and caring for another.

My mother has never lived more than a mile from where she lives now. She has been part of the lives of her compatriots and their children and their children’s children. She has witnessed the transformation of our lower middle class neighborhood of immigrants to the most sought after housing in the city of Portland, Maine.   http://www.pressherald.com/news/looking-up-on-the-hill_2013-02-25.html?pagenum=full

For every house we walk by, she can recall the names of former owners and those of their children who darted in and out of our house when we were young. It was a time when you shared news while hanging out the laundry. Shared troubles over a cup of tea. Doors were left unlocked so you could borrow an egg, the proverbial cup of sugar and even an article of clothing.

My mom loves to tell the story of finding a young woman she had never seen rooting through my closet. She was looking for a skirt to borrow for a concert. She became one of my closest friends. And another daughter to my mom.

For the past several years, my mom has needed increasing levels of help. Her daily walks to the coffee shop have stopped. She learns news only from television and depends on others to fill her days. At 84, after a series of falls and a broken pelvis, hip replacement and now a broken arm – my Mom’s ability to care for herself is being questioned.

I am visiting assisted living facilities and nursing homes and talking with friends who have faced this same conundrum – how to preserve the dignity and independence of someone and insure their safety at the same time.

The conversation has begun in earnest. She is at a rehab facility now.

She is in the space between:

Between living independently and being dependent on others.

Between the familiar and the unknown.

Between continuing or stopping.

I Can’t Keep From Singing (sometimes)

I’ve decided to learn to read music. I sang in my junior high school choir and in a really bad rock band in high school. While sculpting my dad’s memorial on Peaks Island 7 years ago, I sang with the Peaks Island Chorale directed by Faith York.

My PI Chorale audition consisted of singing Happy Birthday while waiting in line for the ferry. Trust me – it wasn’t very professional or pretty and certainly, not on key. Faith York maintains it was not an audition, but “a recruiting effort.” Because I could not read music, Faith made audiotapes of my parts so I could memorize them.

For me, when I sing that first note, all current cares fall away. I let go of family responsibilities, financial worries, medical concerns, war weariness and political differences. More importantly, when you take the first breath, you are completely in the moment. You listen with an intensity usually reserved for intimate conversations. Your voice blends with the voices emanating from those on either side of you. We act as one entity – trying to bring to life a phrase, an experience or feeling contained within the piece.

While at the Northfield Conference (Read blog entry: Lying Fallow), I participated in a workshop let by Kate Munger: Intro to Threshold Singing. Kate, like her east coast dopple ganger Faith, embodies music. She sings, plays a variety of instruments, composes music, and conducts chorale groups. She is able to take a disparate group of people of varying skill levels and create community through music.

Kate writes:

The seed for the Threshold Choir was planted in June of 1990 when I sang for my friend Larry as he lay in a coma, dying of HIV/AIDS. I did housework all morning and was terrified when the time came to sit by his bedside.  I did what I always did when I was afraid; I sang the song that gave me courage.  I sang it for 2 ½ hours.  It comforted me, which comforted him.  The contrast between the morning and the afternoon was profound. I felt as if I had given generously of my essence to my dear friend while I sang to him. I also found that I felt deeply comforted myself, which in turn was comforting to him.  http://www.thresholdchoir.org/

Two to four singers are invited to sing at the bedside of a person who is dying. Many of the songs are composed by members of the choir and are “ to communicate ease, comfort, and presence.” It was a remarkable workshop because the simplicity of the notes and words released emotions I did not realize I was holding. http://www.studio360.org/2007/may/11/threshold-choir/

There is a threshold choir starting in Maryland. Because the songs are sung a cappella, I need to learn to read music. My first lesson is about the “family relationships” within music. The spaces between white keys and black keys; the space between Bass clef and Treble clef.

Faith asks:

What do you know about music?

My response:

What I recall from Fourth grade music class is the following mnemonic:

Staff

EGBDF  (lines on the staff) – Every Good Boy Deserves Fun – seemed sexist in the 4th grade and still does , oh well-

 

FACE – (spaces on the staff)

 

A friend’s music teacher explained that this notation system originated from European monks. With no formal way to share music sung at one monastery with another, they designed a system based on the hand.  Fingers represented the EGBDF notes and the spaces between fingers signified the FACE notes. Using a hand like a recording device, they memorized the music and taught others using their hands (There are many theories about the beginnings of musical notation that have been thoroughly researched http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Musical_notation.  I can’t verify the monk theory – but it is a great explanation.)

Growing Old is Not for Sissies (Paul Newman)

Everyone dies.

Most everyone I talk with is not afraid of death. They are afraid of the space between – losing the ability to care for themselves, losing their memory, losing connections to others, losing who they were.

Everyone wants to die with dignity.

When I visit the nursing home, I am acutely aware of how we are all in The Space Between:

Between present and absent

Between then and now

Between breath and no breath

I am hoping during this space between that I will be able to read and sing the music that accompanies these words:

Walking Each Other Home: Lyrics Ram Dass

We are all walking each other home

We are all walking each other home

We are all walking each other home

We are all walking each other home