Maybe…Maybe Not. Part 1.

HOLD THE DATE:

Welcoming the Stranger: hachnasat orchim

                  Maine Jewish Museum, 267 Congress St.

Portland Maine 04101

September 3 – October 25, 2015

( daily 10 am – 2 pm; closed Saturdays)

http://mainejewishmuseum.org/

HANDS:

I am staring at my hands as I type. It is 14 degrees outside (up from 10). Due to icy roads, closed schools and general winter malaise…I have been sequestered for what seems to be weeks – but it has only been 4 days.

The disadvantage of being at home during the day is the visibility of the dust bunnies under furniture, cracked plaster in the hallway, dirty fingerprints on switch plates and the ever increasing list of to do’s that grows from these observations.

I am staring at my hands as I type. With their broken nails, flaky skin, visible veins and ‘age’ spots- they look more like my grandmother’s hands than mine.

When carving stone in Italy, at the end of the day, artigiani apply olive oil to their dry skin.

Growing up in Maine, the ubiquitous tin of bag balm sat on the sill behind the kitchen sink.bag balm-lg

Aside:

Originally used on cow udders, Admiral Byrd took a tin with him to the North Pole. http://www.bagbalm.com/our-history.htm

The smell of Nivea Crème reminds me of my mother squeezing out a small amount on the top of one hand and rubbing it in and reversing the process for the other hand.

Wrinkles are also more obvious during the day.

I sit across from my 21 year old Research Assistant.* I am struck by the smoothness of the skin on her hands. I am somewhat nostalgic for the beauty that is youth – but at 21, I was too busy working two jobs and going to school full time to appreciate it. I often wish for a ‘do-over’ – to be able to pay more attention the 2nd time around.

In the 1986 Movie – Peggy Sue Got Married – Kathleen Turner faints while at her high school reunion and travels back in time. We spend the movie wondering if she will make the same decisions that led to her current state of despair.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0091738/?ref_=nm_flmg_act_43

Aside:

I was in line at Whole Foods at Thanksgiving and heard a gravelly voice so distinctive – I knew it belonged to Kathleen Turner. I looked up from my magazine and there she was – placing her groceries on the conveyor belt. I apologized for bothering her but wanted to say how much I admired her work. We talked recipes for the holiday (she was cooking) and the health advantages of the Paleo diet (she has rheumatoid arthritis.) She then paid, bid farewell and carried her own bags out the door…

2015 is the year that Marty and the Professor journeyed to in the movie Back to the Future.My exhibit is scheduled for September and October of 2015.

Although we never tire of that desire to start over, to go back to right a wrong, to take another path, to change the outcomes of our choices,

the only way to travel back in time is through research: newspaper articles, documents, meeting notes, publications, letters, obituaries, ephemera and interviews.

Eyes:

I need new glasses. I haven’t been able to thread needles for quite a while. Whenever I visited my grandmother, she would ask me to thread her needles. It didn’t make sense to a 10 year old. It does now.

I can barely make out the words on some of the PCJW documents I have been sorting.  NCJW papers

A typewritten document has emerged with a handwritten note on its cover:

         “Only copy – do not lose.”

Written in 1955 by Selma Black, A Cavalcade: Thirty Five Years of Council in Portland “ is a summary of the history and work of the Portland National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) from 1920 – 1955.

In the Book One Summer In America – 1927, Bill Bryson highlights the events – natural and human – that took place that year including Babe Ruth’s achievements, the Sacco and Vanzetti trial, the great Mississippi River Flood, Charles Lindberg’s Atlantic crossing.  1927 is considered to be the most extraordinary summer in American history – one that changed forever how America was viewed by the world. http://www.amazon.com/One-Summer-America-Bill-Bryson/dp/0767919416/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1421076991&sr=1-1&keywords=bill+bryson+1927

LindbergAside:

Lindbergh, while on his post Atlantic flight publicity tour, landed on the beach in Old Orchard, Maine. The Scarborough Airfield was fogged in. He may have flown over House Island as he approached the area.

Black took a similar approach – dividing the work of the PCJW according to who was the president of the organization at the time.

1922-24 Mrs. Jacob (Anna) Sapiro President

Thirty five years ago. The first World War had ended,,,the country was launched on its biggest era of prosperity. Prohibition was here… presumably to stay. Women had at last won the right to vote.… Bathtub gin and the first WCTU meeting: the promise of peace and the prospect of marvelous things to come…radio, air travel, and equal rights for women… This was the climate of Portland when a small group of civic minded and far seeing women felt the need for united action in the local Jewish community…Providing kosher food was nothing new to them, and now a group began to furnish food for immigrants arriving at House Island. The immigration committee had a busy schedule, meeting the immigrants, preventing some of them from being deported, outfitting them and sending them on to their final destination.

I have less than 9 months before the opening of Welcoming the Stranger. It will be an installation and community-based artwork that grows from my research about the House Island Quarantine and Immigration station, the role of the Portland Council of Jewish Women (PCJW) and immigration of the 1920’s reflected in the immigration issues of today.

I am determined to create a family tree for each of the women with the goal of locating living relatives. My assistant signs up for Ancestry.com and begins the journey into the past.

After many hours sitting at the computer scrolling through census records, marriage and birth certificates, obituaries, tax records, city directories, we locate Anna Sapiro’s obituary:

Abby

Obit: Portland Press Herald, March 14, 1968

Mrs Anna Dorothy Meyerson Sapiro, 82, wife of Jacob Sapiro of 59 Codman St. died Wednesday…

…resided at the Jewish Home for the Aged…

…Mrs. Sapiro was a member of Temple Beth El, a charter member of the Portland Council of Jewish Women….

Besides her husband, she is survived by a daughter, Mrs. Maurice J. Rubinoff, Portland, three sons: Dr. Howard M. Sapiro, Portland; Lester E. Sapiro, Portland and Dr. Sumner M. Sapiro, Brockton, Mass. and nine grandchildren.

There are still Rubinoffs living in Portland. One of them is living in the family home.

And I send a letter.

No response.

And I send an email.

No response.

Holidays come and go. Planning and Zoning unanimously supports historic districting for House Island.

Kenneth Thompston, the expert on harbor fortifications, testified at the House Island hearing. Because he had been instrumental in the effort, I wanted to send a hand written note.

I asked for his address.

         His home was in the Deering High School (rival high school) neighborhood.

How long have you lived there?

Since he was a child.

Did you know the Rubinoffs ?

They hung out when they were kids!

And yes, he would be willing to knock on his door and tell him I have been trying to contact him.

He did.

So it’s time to find my parka, boots, mittens and scarf and head to Maine….Maybe it will be warm. Maybe not.

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2 comments on “Maybe…Maybe Not. Part 1.

  1. Kathy O'Dell says:

    I will likely be in Portland during your exhibition, Jo! Love following your process, as always.

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