Posts Tagged ‘nostalgia’
December 10, 2013 | by Yona Zeldis McDonough
Once upon a time, I was part of a small army. The army was not made of soldiers, no, it was more like a children’s crusade, a throng of aspiring young ballet dancers that marched up and down New York City’s long avenues—Broadway, Seventh, Eighth—that were dotted, in those years, with so many studios. The School of American Ballet, feeder for the New York City Ballet, was the most famous, but there were others too and it was at John Barker’s studio on West 56th Street that I took classes six days a week for most of my high school life.
Weekdays, class was from 4:30 to 6:00; Saturdays, it was at 11:00 A.M. The studio itself was unremarkable: ruined wooden floor, bleached and pocked by the amber nuggets of rosin ground into its surface, long barres that lined three of the walls and full-length mirrors that lined the fourth. We spent about forty-five minutes at one of those barres, perfecting a series of exercises that had been born in the court of France and refined in the glistening winters of Imperial Russia. Pliés, tendus, and rond du jambs, all executed to the strains of Chopin. The barre was followed by work in the center: an adagio, and petit allegro. Then there were the big jumps, like grand jetés, and some point work, which allowed us the giddy sensation of rising up on our toes, defying nature and even, for a moment, mortality itself. Finally, there was the obligatory reverence, in which we curtseyed to our supremely difficult and demanding teacher.
After that we were free—until the next day, when the ritual began all over again. For it was a ritual, and, as such, had its sacred preparations. The brushing and winding of our hair into the tight bun, the sewing of ribbons on our ballet shoes, the donning of the requisite pink tights and black leotards were acts performed with both sanctity and love. The studying of ballet creates its own kind of religious order, and the girls who do it are akin to eager novitiates, fired by their all-consuming faith and their utter willingness to undergo daily mortification of the flesh. And as with any religion, the ballet hierarchy decreed that there was an established scheme of things and that a young dancer could have a secure and known place within it. When class was over, I once more joined the swarm of girls with turned-out walks and bony shoulder blades, girls who paraded down the street wearing the marks of their collective discipline: the buns, still wound painfully tight, the big, punishing bags weighed down with their heavy loads. We knew we were of a different tribe—recognizable and unique—and it filled us with pride. We were purified by our discipline, etherealized by our shining goal. Read More »
December 6, 2013 | by David L. Ulin
There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein. —Red Smith
I wrote my first first book over the course of three months, from July 23 to October 23, 1979. Four weeks in, I turned eighteen. This was a novel, and not the first I’d attempted; in fifth grade, I had written forty pages of a saga called Gangwar in Chicago, inspired by The Godfather and taking place in a city where I’d never been. Setting the story in Chicago meant scouring the map in World Book for locations: Canal Street, I recall, was one. I chose it because I knew Canal Street in New York, and it seemed the sort of landscape in which a gang war could take place. To this day, I have never seen Chicago’s Canal Street, despite the twenty years I spent visiting my wife’s family in a suburb on the North Shore.
The other novel, the one I finished, was motivated almost entirely by a specific case of envy—of my friend Fred, who had spent the same summer working on a novel of his own. Fred and I were high school writing buddies, confiding to each other, as we wandered the grounds of our New England boarding school, that we both wanted to win the Nobel Prize. Now, he’d written a campus novel, tracing his difficulties as a one-year senior, parsing the school’s social hierarchy in a way that seemed enlightening and true. Fred was more serious, more focused; he not only knew what symbolism was but also how to use it. It made sense that he would write a novel, and that it would be good. A year later, he would write another one, and then we lost track of each other, until six or seven years later, when his short stories started to appear in magazines. Read More »
November 27, 2013 | by Michael Croley
This Thanksgiving will be only the second time in thirty-six years I won’t be with my mother for the holiday. Last year was the first, when I spent it with my wife and her family. All day long I sat in her mother’s condo above the shores of Lake Erie—ice floes stretching to the horizon—and I thought about my mother, how she always labored over the turkey and dressing, deviled eggs, mashed potatoes, dumplings, corn, green beans, and three of four pies. That’s probably not that uncommon in a lot of homes across the country or in the Appalachian South where I was raised and where we like to serve two starches for every vegetable. But what is unusual is the sight of my mother, a Korean woman of five feet four inches, with beautiful salt and pepper hair, and a round face and almond-shaped eyes working away in the kitchen. Forty-three years ago she left Masan, South Korea, after marrying my father, and when she came to this country, after brief spells in Phoenix and Toledo, they settled in the hills of southeastern Kentucky. She was a vegetarian then but that was not a lifestyle decision. It was borne of necessity. Her family had never had enough money to afford beef, pork, or poultry, items considered expensive delicacies when she was a child, and her body had not learned to digest them. Rice (bop) was scarce and precious, as precious as cornmeal to my father’s family when he had been a child, and it was often the only thing she had to eat. And when there was no food at all, my halmuni still lit a fire and boiled water so that smoke would rise from their chimney and the other villagers would not know the family had nothing to eat.
October 3, 2013 | by Ross Kenneth Urken
Down among the counties that help earn New Jersey its Garden State moniker, there lies the hamlet of New Egypt. Within it is the sixty-acre blueberry patch my grandparents used to own. Drive down I-95 through Newark toward the shore to see the world flash from soot gray to Granny Smith green as you are surrounded by towering cornstalks.
Four years ago, my wife, Tiffan, and I made the pilgrimage to Jersey from Manhattan in lieu of our usual fall foliage trip (long story short: I had seen a movie that dissed soi-disant leafers and felt suitably shamed). Plus, I had heard that from back-to-school time through Thanksgiving, Emery’s Farm offered seasonal activities—pumpkin picking, hay rides. Tiffan is from Oklahoma, and I seize any opportunity to conjure country trappings.
But I did have some legitimate claim. This farm, after all, was whither the brand name “Ross da Boss Blueberries” sprang, emblazoned on the cellophane securing the fruit in its green cardboard cartons. When my grandfather, Danny Passoff, retired from running a successful tomato business, he bought the blueberry farm as a pet project with my grandmother, and during summers, my sister and I would work on the farm.
Standing there on that fall day, I told Tiffan about those summers on the farm, about picking the choicest berries and dropping them into my pail—an old coffee canister—with tinny thuds. In the onomatopoeic language of Robert McCloskey’s classic children’s book Blueberries for Sal, this is described as “ku-plink, ku-plank, ku-plunk.” By July, the bushes are heavy with the luscious blue fatties, their puckered sepals folded back, mushy marbles that squish deliciously between the teeth. In my memory, that time in my life is, like Sal’s, rendered in the book’s distinctive navy-and-raincoat-yellow palette.
In McCloskey’s book, a childhood favorite, little Sal goes with her mother to Blueberry Hill, only to get lost and temporarily switch mothers with a bear cub. Sal’s mother finds her wandering child by recognizing the cacophony of the berries—“ku-plink, ku-plank, ku-plunk”—she throws into her bucket. Read More »
October 1, 2013 | by Sadie Stein
“What would Ben Franklin make of this, if he were sitting here right now?” mused my father. We were driving on the West Side Highway. I was living with my parents following a breakup. This was fairly typical, topic-wise.
“I’d have to explain, Dr. Franklin, you are sitting in a conveyance known as a ‘car.’ These horseless carriages you see are also cars. They operate via combustion engines. Those lanterns you see there are powered by something called ‘electricity.’ And then, of course, I’d have to explain about movies. Dr. Franklin, those large posters you see are advertising something we call ‘films.’ You go into a large room and see a talking picture projected onto a screen by means of—”
“Why do you have to say ‘talking picture’?” demanded my mother irritably. “Why can’t you just say ‘movie’?”
“That would be too confusing. I have a lot of ground to cover, acquainting him with the modern world. And I’d say, Dr. Franklin, perhaps I shall take you to a moving picture. Would you like to see a comedy? A romance?”
“Take him to see a period piece,” I put in eagerly. “Then you could acquaint him with some of the historical events that occurred in the intervening period!”
“Good idea,” he said. “Now, Dr. Franklin—”
“Why are you calling him doctor?” said my mother.
“He was given an honorific by the Royal Academy!” said my father impatiently. “It was what everyone called him. It was what he preferred to be called! That’s common knowledge, Priscilla!
I suppose you could call this a low point. I lived in my childhood room. I commuted to and from my job every day via MetroNorth and spent most of my free time with my family. For the first time, I went to see a therapist. This was kind of a big deal, since no one in my family really did therapy. Once, in the eighties, my mom and dad had gone to a marriage counselor, who suggested they get divorced. Anyway, this woman and I hated each other on sight, and she told me I should disengage from my parents. This seemed impractical, under the circumstances. Read More »
September 10, 2013 | by Sabina Murray
One recent evening, my father and I were sharing a bottle of wine when our conversation turned, as if often does, to his father. We like to call my paternal grandfather “the Judge,” and we use this moniker in a spirit of camaraderie. My grandfather, who died eighteen years ago, was a forceful sort of person. The discipline that he exercised on my father, his eldest son, bordered on tyranny, but in my life, this seasoned toughness was inspiring, fun, and a recognizable expression of love. My grandfather, Frank J. Murray, was a self-made man. Born in 1904, he grew up in the rough Dorchester neighborhood of Boston and played football at Commerce High, a school for clever, working-class kids. A field goal in the final game of his high-school career caught the attention of a Dartmouth College scout, but he was saved from the Protestants—at his mother’s insistence—by a priest, who secured a place for him at the Catholic Georgetown University. At Georgetown, he was quarterback, although he had no depth perception, due to a childhood accident that had left him blind in one eye. He went on to Georgetown Law, during which period he himself scouted for the Georgetown football team, and—in a series of successes—became a well-respected Boston lawyer, married my grandmother (who came from better circumstances), had three sons, bought a house in the solidly middle-class West Roxbury, sent his kids to the prestigious Roxbury Latin for high school, ascended to the Bench—Massachusetts Superior Court—and, some time in there, was appointed a federal district judge. When my father and I talk about this man, there certainly is a lot to cover, but on this particular evening, we were thinking of the Judge’s love of poetry.
My grandfather did not have an innate sense of good taste, but he could recognize it, and, as one might assume from his career successes, he was a quick study. As an adult, he wore nothing but Brooks Brothers suits, playing it safe; his one fashion adventure, a salmon-colored sports coat, also came from Brooks Brothers. He had a learned poise, and even his accent, which was an acceptable Back Bay Boston, was an acquired thing—the Dorchester snarl packaged away, placed securely in the past. This need to acquire the accoutrements of privilege gave my grandfather the passion of a convert. He wanted you to appreciate the fine wine, the prime rib, the Royal Brougham—but more than all of that, he wanted you to appreciate the great gift of his education, which was not law, but poetry.
As a law student at Georgetown, he had taught both poetry and math to the freshman. For the math, as is part of the legend, he cowrote his own textbook, but for the poetry, he used the standard reference of the time, The Golden English Treasury, edited by Francis T. Palgrave, commonly referred to as Palgrave’s. I remember the Judge—at this point reluctantly retired—bringing this book out on evenings, when I stayed at his house in Cohasset, on Boston’s south shore. Mostly, when I visited him, it was just two of us. We would go out for lobster, then return for tea, and if the Celtics, Red Sox, or Patriots weren’t playing, we’d continue to sit at the dining room table, each with a glass of Gewürztraminer, and he’d read me poems. Read More »