Posts filed under ‘memoir’

AIR SHOW: READING AIRPORT IN PENNSYLVANIA JUNE 3, 4, 5

I thought with the upcoming Memorial Day holiday, it might interest some of you to revisit World War II, and see the planes, vehicles and reenactors reliving a time we should never forget.

For those who follow this blog, you know of my love for aircraft and flying.  While in college I enrolled in Air Force ROTC, qualified for pilot training and began flight lessons and soloed before I graduated.  (I knew how to fly before I could drive.) 37 I washed out when it came to flying the T- 37, a small twin-engined trainer that I could not master.

Fast forward.                                     

I am a member of the Mid Atlantic Air Museum (MAAM), and for more than ten years have volunteered at their World War II airshow held the first weekend of June.  If you have a love of history and historical aircraft, and you are in the area or wish to travel, as may do from as far away as England, this show is a must.  Along with the aircraft and vehicles, there are hundreds of reenactors camping on the grounds.  Represented are soldiers and sailor from all sides of the conflict.

Also present are some of the men, and women, who served their country when duty called.

Here is the website for the museum.

 

http://www.maam.org/maamwwii.html

I am also including my first published story which appeared in Enigma, a Philadelphia publication.  Enjoy the story and those who served this country.

 

                                                       REUNION

 

 

 

The June morning was brilliant and clear with just enough of a breeze to keep you cool despite the predicted eighty-degree day.  At the age of eighty-two, for Christopher Johnson, getting up in the morning was not an easy chore and had lately not seemed worth the effort.  He turned his head and looked at the pillow beside him.  “I miss you so much honey,” he said quietly.  His wife Peggy had died less than a year ago.  One night they went to bed as usual.  The last words he had said to her were the words he always said to her before falling asleep, “I love you.”  When Chris awoke, Peggy was dead of a heart attack.  A few days later he was looking into her grave knowing a large part of his life was now buried in the cold earth.  After almost sixty years of marriage, the pain of her loss was intense, almost as intense as the love they had shared all those years. 

With Peggy still on his mind, he sat up and began to stretch his arthritic limbs knowing the pain that would follow.  Next he stood up and took a few steps; those first steps, they were the worst of the day.  He winced with every movement, but soon his joints and muscles settled down to the constant pain that accompanied him these days. 

He had gotten up earlier than usual, for today, unlike most of his days, he had an appointment, something to do.  He opened his closet door and, in the back, he found what he was looking for: his U.S. Army ranger dress uniform, the one he had worn on his return home after being wounded during World War II.  With persistent pain, he maneuvered his body into the uniform that, after sixty years still fit his slender frame.  He looked in the mirror, and the toll of those sixty years stared back at him.  The hair on his head and his mustache had gone gray years ago.  His eyes, once admired by his fellow soldiers for their ability to spot enemy aircraft or fortifications before anyone else, now watered behind heavy bifocals.  He inspected his image, looking over the uniform for signs of moth damage.  The area of his uniform he examined first was his chest; there hung the Purple Heart and the Congressional Medal of Honor.  He was proud to have served his country, proud of his awards but knew, that in combat, a split second could mean the difference between a dead soldier and a hero.  Satisfied that his uniform had survived another year, he returned it to the closet and dressed in his usual summer shirt and khakis.

While Chris hung up his uniform, his mind still held the Medal of Honor and the events that led to its award.

The day was D Day, early in the morning of June 6th.  Chris was among a group of Army Rangers that would be the first to hit the beach.  Their objective was to climb and secure the cliffs overlooking the landing sites.  These cliffs held guns that could hazard the ships and soldiers, and the hazard needed to be removed.  German soldiers were stationed on the cliffs, ready to rain death on unprotected soldiers landing on the beach below.  Chris and his three buddies Frank Grimes, Larry Schwartz and Duck Dupont were together in the landing craft, along with twenty other rangers heading toward the beach.

Chris had begun basic training knowing no one.  Soon he gravitated to three other guys who seemed to be as lost and alone as he was.   The four of them gradually became friends and survived the ordeal together.  Of the three, he was closest to Duck Dupont.  Duck’s real name was Willard; he gained his nickname Duck during a basic training class.  The class was walking past the artillery area when a practice round went off.  Most of the class flinched, but Duck was on the ground with his head covered by his hands.  From then on he was known as Duck.

His thoughts returned to June 6th.

It was still dark and they landed unopposed.  The men quickly and quietly disembarked and headed for the base of the two hundred foot cliff – it would be quite a climb.  When everyone was in position, they fired ropes up the side of the cliff.  This brought the response they expected, Germans began firing down the cliff and rangers began to collapse on the beach.  Chris and his friends were to stay together and climb along with most of the rangers while the rest provided cover fire.  Soon the German fire lessened then ceased as the rangers continued their climb.

The four friends were the first to reach the top of the cliff.  What they saw sent a shiver through them all.  Before them, set back about fifty yards from the edge of the cliff, stood a series of three bunkers. The first light of dawn streamed through the trees beyond the enemy, and all seemed quiet and peaceful except for the machine guns projecting from behind sandbags.  They knew they had to act fast, for if they didn’t, the rangers coming up the cliff would be cut down as soon as they reached the top.  They split up into two groups; Chris and Duck went to the left – Frank and Larry to the right.  The two flanking bunkers had to be eliminated before the middle position could be attacked.  Each group approached the nearest bunker and tossed a grenade inside.  The simultaneous explosions sent German soldiers into action.  The rangers had missed one.  Along with fire from the third remaining bunker, a fourth bunker opened up along with mortar fire from behind the bunker.  The fourth bunker surprised the rangers and had a clear shot at them.  Duck was literally cut in half by machine gun fire.  Larry was attacking the third of the bunkers they had seen, having just pulled the pin from a grenade when he was shot.  They never did find Frank.  Chris entered the first bunker they had taken out, pushed aside the mangled German bodies and manned the machine gun.  He quickly took out the bunker they had overlooked before, creeping up to the last remaining bunker; he destroyed it with grenades.  The actions of the four men had saved the lives of the rangers now reaching the summit of the cliff and helped secure the landing site for the invasion.

           In the early morning silence, after the heat of battle, Chris collapsed on the ground part from fatigue, part from pain, but mostly from grief – his friends were gone.  Chris had shrapnel wounds in his left arm and hip.  At some point his helmet had taken a hit and deflected the bullet but the impact gave him a nasty scalp wound.  Blood now streamed down the side of his face and soaked his collar.                                                                                                                                                             

These are the memories that flooded into Chris’s mind as he put away his uniform and prepared to spend a weekend at the Mid Atlantic Air Museum as a guest of honor, something he had done for the last five years.  This would be his first year going without Peggy at his side.  He knew it would not be the same without her, but he still looked forward to the event.  

          The museum had organized a weekend devoted to the history of World War II for the last ten years.  It was a living history lesson with vintage aircraft flown in from all over the country, and encampments set up with hundreds of reenactors dressed in the World War II uniforms of the United States, England, France and Germany.  The museum also invited veterans from the war who would give first hand accounts of combat.  But none of them told what the war was really like for their memories were selective, cleansed by time, and they all carried within them that area of memory they would never enter again. 

World War II weekend started Friday morning and, although he wasn’t scheduled to give his presentation until Saturday, Chris always went Friday to wander the hanger and apron crammed with vintage World War II fighters, bombers, trainers and transports.  He could remember when the skies were filled with their kind.  Now there remained only a few of each.  On those warm Friday afternoons, he enjoyed walking through the encampments.  At one point he saw three men in ranger combat uniforms.  He smiled to himself, glad to see his branch of the army represented.  Chris loved strolling through the tents.  In his mind, there was nothing like the smell of a real canvas tent; the open flaps were your windows and the grass was your floor.  He had seen the tents his grandchildren used when they camped, it was like camping in a nylon bag, no smell, no character. In one of those old canvass tents, he could stand, close his eyes, and the memories of his days in the army would flood into his brain.

  Another reason he enjoyed the Fridays was the veterans whose attendance was heavy.  The old men and women enjoyed the smaller crowds and slower pace that Fridays afforded.  He enjoyed conversations with his contemporaries, reliving the past and recalling the days they were once young and involved in the great adventure they shared. 

Saturday morning arrived, the sky again clear and blue.  He went through his morning routine, slowly struggled into his uniform and waited for his nine o’clock ride to the museum.  Chris looked forward to the day.  Although he had never made a big deal about his award, one day bathed in the admiration of people who appreciated the sacrifices made during World War II did not hurt him, not at all. 

With his first lecture scheduled for 10:30, he was anxious to get to the museum.  He found the tent for his lecture.  There were about fifty folding chairs set up.  He took a moment and stood there alone, letting his mind recall memories that he usually avoided, memories that he would touch slightly, just slightly today.

As he waited at the speaker’s platform, the tent began to fill up. At the back of the tent, he spied the three young men in ranger uniforms he had seen the day before, standing together apart from the crowd.  Maybe today they would learn something about the uniforms they wore.

The chairs were full and people were standing in the back as Chris went into his presentation.  He shared with them the events of that early morning on the French coast, sanitized, but with enough action to keep the crowds attention.  After thirty minutes he was done and ready for questions.  Half way through the questions one of the men dressed as a ranger raised his hand and said, “Sir, I just want you to know we appreciate what you did for your country.”

  That brought a smile to Chris’ face, “I appreciate that son,” he answered.

The presentation over, the tent was cleared, and it was time for a little lunch and a chance to watch the vintage aircraft flying.  This was the part he most enjoyed.  The drone of the B-17 accompanied the whine of the Merlin powered P-51s.  He knew the planes were the big draw, not old men wearing old uniforms, but he was happy to be part of the show.

First to fly were the trainers, SNJs and T-28s.  Then the observation aircraft would fly, the L-19s, followed by the transports, the C-47s and a C-54.  Before the fighters and bombers took off, the reenactors took the field in front of the crowd.  To the left were the men in German uniforms, to the right the U.S. Army.

The uniformed men fired blanks and mock mortars at each other.  There were also smoke grenades thrown by both sides.  All this action took place in a grassy area between the runway and aircraft taxiway.  As usual, the fire department stood ready for the grass fires the smoke grenades always started, and this year was no exception.  The grass fires were more of a nuisance than a danger, and they were always rapidly dealt with.  In fact, the dense plumes were greater than any of the regular attendees of the show could remember, and the fire company quickly prepared to hose down the grass.  Chris stood there with the rest of the crowd as the shroud of smoke drifted over them.

Suddenly, he felt a tap on his shoulder.  It was one of the rangers, “Sir, we need your help.”

 “Sure son, what can I do for you?” came Chris’ reply.

  “Could you join us sir?” the ranger questioned.  The ranger started walking towards the smoke set off by the mock battle, flanked by the two other rangers Chris had noticed before, and bewildered, Chris followed.

Soon smoke enveloped the four men.  The crowd, watching the firemen putting out the grass fire saw the three reenactors on the field but could not imagine why an old man in uniform was traipsing in after them.  They saw the four enter the clouds of smoke and lost sight of them.

Chris walked, not knowing where the three young men were taking him.  His arthritis bothered him as he entered the smoke, but a few steps into the haze his pain was reduced, and then gone.  He noticed something else; he no longer wore his dress uniform but wore the ranger combat uniform, same as the reenactors.  All at once he was puzzled and amazed and had no idea what their destination could be.

The three reenactors slowed down and Chris easily caught up with them.  “How in the hell are you, Chris?” asked Duck.  Frank and Larry were slapping his back and pounding his shoulders, his young shoulders. 

“We’re on a mission and need your help,” said Frank.  “We need the squad together,” he continued. 

“I’m your man,” said Chris taking off his helmet and running his hand through his thick dark hair.  His mind still could not wrap itself around what was happening.

Some of the crowd there to watch the flying saw four figures begin to emerge from the smoke, the figures of four young men.  The men entered another cloud of smoke before them and were gone.

Chris and his three buddies came out of the haze.  They were on a dirt road surrounded by a forest.  They were all holding rifles, but Chris could sense no danger.  They were on patrol and Chris felt better than he had ever felt in his life.  He was with his best friends, men he had missed all these years and men he loved.  The sky was so blue it almost hurt his eyes. The trees and grass were the greenest green he had ever seen.  He set out with his three friends, easily matching their stride.

Suddenly, Chris’ eyes filled with tears.  He did not know how, did not understand what was happening, but somehow he knew his young and pretty Peggy was waiting up ahead.

 

                                            THE END 

  

 

 

 

May 27, 2016 at 10:18 pm Leave a comment

POEMS AND FLEETING THOUGHTS: REMEMBERING MY NIECE, LISA

Written 11/23/15

Lisa Eckert, died when 25.

Today would have been 41.

She is remembered.

 

Lisa

There is a love beyond description,

Beyond the commonplace,

The love of a child

Fractured by fate,

Innocent of understanding

In a world

Where that may be a gift,

Surrounded love,

Existing in love,

Until love took her home.

 

 

April 18, 2016 at 7:28 pm 5 comments

A FRIEND GONE, SALLY

A companion, living most of the past months on my lap, Sally is gone.  I have mentioned her in this blog before. 

Originally my daughter Lynn’s cat, an SPCA rescue, but as education and work took Lynn to other locations, Sally stayed behind

At the age of nearly 16 her kidney failure overpowered her.  She left this world on March 8, 2016, barely able to stand.  I had to make the final decision.   She had bounced back numerous times in the past, but this time was different.  There was no bouncing back.

I never thought I would be become a ‘cat person’, but I did become a ‘Sally person’.  We shared many nights together on my recliner, and many mornings when her hunger wanted me awake.  I miss her.  She won my heart, and I will always remember her.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

March 12, 2016 at 8:59 pm 3 comments

HOPE

I don’t like to get too personal in my blog, but here it goes.

On this Christmas Eve, I’m reviewing the year and it hasn’t been very good.  First a divorce, and now my best friend is dying.  I’m trying to stay positive but it’s hard.  Then I watched once again this video.  The little girl is my great niece and the death they mention was my sister.

I wanted to share this video to show that there is still good in the world.  Hope and kindness still exist.shttp://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/lady-antebellum-surprises-9-year-old-new-jersey-fan-today-for-third-7for7-installment-277805761.html

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December 24, 2015 at 8:24 pm 2 comments

A PERSONAL LOSS

Just recently I learned that my baby is beyond repair, rust of the underside is the culprit.  This was the second car I ever owned, purchased in 1975, a 1973 Super Beetle.  The reason for the purchase was the theft of my first car, a 1970 Beetle while I was working in the Bronx.  I drove my 1973 Beetle in New Jersey.  Next was a trip to Florida.  After driving to Florida I drove my love to California, and finally it was transported to Pennsylvania in 1985.  Residing in Pennsylvania became its death knell.  What has ceased to exist is not so much a car, but the representation of a fountain of memories.

Here is a brief history.

I learned to drive while in the air force during pilot training, stationed in Selma, Alabama, in a Beetle.  I knew how to fly, but not how to drive.  I recall driving the backroads and, when another Beetle passed, honking at each other.  I purchased my first Beetle in 1970 while stationed at Sheppard AFB, in Wichita Falls, Texas.  I loved it; my first car.  When released from the service, (I washed-out of pilot training and became a missile crew commander)  I drove my car home to Newark, New Jersey.  As previously mentioned, while working in the Bronx my car was stolen.  The sense of loss I experienced was extreme.  My first car was gone.

Now the memories associated with my 1975 Super Beetle.

My mother who died in 1981 at the age of 59, rode in that car.  The car transported me and my mother on shopping trips and excursions to buy Christmas trees.  I drove the car from Newark to Miami to continue my career in nephrology research.  When the location of my job changed, I drove my Super Beetle from Miami to Los Angeles, my brother as my companion.

My Beetle and I spent seven years in Los Angeles where one time my next door neighbor needed a ride and got to meet Peggy Lee, quite unexpectedly.

So many memories caught up in a vehicle.  Now I have only memories for my Super Beetle is dead.

October 7, 2015 at 8:24 pm Leave a comment

SEASIDE HEIGHTS: I’LL NEVER RETURN, CONTINUED

You can tell my memories of summers spent on Sumner Avenue in Seaside Heights are fond and cherished. I tried to pass some of that fondness on to my kids – didn’t work.

It was shortly before Easter when I drove my wife and two daughters through the pine barrens of New Jersey to visit Seaside Heights for a weekend to renew my love and establish theirs for this beach town. It had been more than twenty years since I last visited the resort. I expected some change, or course, but was not prepared for the amount of change I discovered. I guess Thomas Wolfe was right. Driving down Sumner Avenue I was stunned. Where were all the bungalows, the salt water toffee selling that traditional costal confection, the bakery where daily we purchased rolls for lunch – all gone? The eccentric guy who lived on the corner of Sumner Avenue across the street from the boardwalk whose overgrown yard was the source of fantastic stories – gone. All replace by an endless parking lot surrounded by loud bars. My mind’s eye could see what was once there, but nothing could be shared with my family other than what was now.

But there was still the boardwalk.

Surprisingly, the boardwalk was more or less as I remembered. It was off-season so the only ride open was the indoor merry-go-round. Of course the penny arcade – gone, replace by mindless video games, no chance to claw-up those precious little false teeth. At least my girls got to play skeeball and watch their prize tickets accumulate to be redeemed for useless junk precious to kids their age.

Driving home, I know my family wondered what the big deal was, while I sought to regain the memories dashed by our pilgrimage, trying to erase the reality of our visit. Now, only the boardwalk anchored my memories of what used to be, and that young boy with his pennies and his dreams of the rewards they would win.

Then Sandy came for a visit and the roller-coaster was ocean-bound and the wheel-of-chance booths blown asunder. Rebuilding slowly accomplished only to be erased by fire.

First, all my memories finding no renewal other than that beloved boardwalk, and then the double dose of destruction visited upon the memorial of my youth. I cannot revisit Seaside Heights. That little boy haunting the boards did not survive fire and flood.

Here are some links where you may purchase my work.

Melange Books

http://www.melange-books.com/authors/walttrizna/index.html

 

 

Barnes & Noble.com

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/walt-trizna?store=book&keyword=walt+trizna

 

 

Amazon.com

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=walt+trizna

November 30, 2014 at 9:14 pm Leave a comment

SEASIDE HEIGHTS: I’LL NEVER RETURN

When I was young, growing up in Newark, New Jersey, a week’s vacation at the shore was rare for our cash-strapped family, but they did occur. When they did take place, it was always at Seaside Heights and always the same bungalow on Sumner Avenue. The event was an extended family affair with my mother’s siblings and always with her oldest sibling, unmarried Auntie Zosia (Polish for Sophie). I have a feeling she contributed a great deal of my family’s share of the cost, she was always helping us out. Perhaps, a future post will be dedicated to Auntie Zosia. She deserves to be remembered.

Another unusual characteristic of our shore vacation was that every night my dad would be handing out cash to us kids to spend while walking the boardwalk while normally little money was available. I think this was Auntie Zosia in action again behind the scenes. Nothing was ever said about the source of this new-found wealth, but that was the way she usually worked.

The bungalow on Sumner Avenue was only half a block from the boardwalk, and because of its close proximity to the ocean, the house was permeated with a constant salt-tinged moistness, not an unpleasant benefit of a life near the ocean.

The week was filled with family bonding and boardwalk adventures. An early morning visit to the beach to claim our piece of sand with an army blanket, in those days everyone had an army blanket, then a patrol exploring the area of the boardwalk under the shooting gallery to harvest the small copper shell casings that would fall through the boards. Why, because we were kids.

The days were spent on the crowded beach with the occasional dip into the frigid ocean jumping the waves. Nights were spent on the boardwalk playing miniature golf and going on rides. The adults would congregate around the spinning wheels of chance hoping to win towels, candy and yes – cigarettes.

Those were also the days of the penny arcade when a pocket full of pennies could entertain you for hours. Investing pennies in claw machines harvesting tiny sets of plastic false teeth along with other plastic junk you kept forever or until your mother cleaned. One of my favorite ways to spend my pennies was at the card machines. For two cents inserted, out would pop a post-card sized picture of a baseball player or airplane, depending on which machine you chose.

Rainy days were not a washout at the shore thanks to the penny arcade. If you wanted to make a slightly larger investment of a nickel, you could play the baseball pinball machine. A steel ball was pitched and the lever you worked was your bat. Depending on your skill, and of course luck, you scored runs. The best part was, as the runs added up, you were rewarded free games. A nickel sometimes brought you an hour’s worth of entertainment if you were ‘hot’ that day.

To be continues…

Here are some links where you may purchase my work.

Melange Books

http://www.melange-books.com/authors/walttrizna/index.html

 

Barnes & Noble.com

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/walt-trizna?store=book&keyword=walt+trizna

 

Amazon.com

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=walt+trizna

November 29, 2014 at 9:35 pm Leave a comment

THE DAY KENNEDY DIED

With this being the anniversary of the Kennedy assassination, I thought I’d re-blog a post i made some time ago.

November is the month of thanksgiving, when the weather no longer bounces between summer and winter, when the chill of fall sets in with a vengeance preparing us for the hard cold of winter.  It is also the month John F. Kennedy died at the hands of an assassin.

During November 1963 I was a junior at East Side High School.  I already had a deep interest in science and forfeited my study hall to work in the school biology lab.  I designed an experiment to study Medallion heredity.  The experiment required two black and two white mice, which I purchased, and began mating the mice in all the various combinations possible, trying to predict the color of the littermates.  I soon ran out of space in the cellar where I was keeping my mouse colony and asked permission to move my many mice to school  I pressed on, until I began seeing litters with brown siblings, something I had not anticipated.  This brought an end to my experiment and an introduction to the unpredictability of science.

It was while I was working in the school lab one November Friday afternoon that someone came in and said that the president had been shot.  I recall reacting to the news with horror and disbelief.  The emotions of I felt will always stay with me, the sense of experiencing a moment that defied all logic, the vitality of our young president in jeopardy.  I sensed that the world had changed; this quiet November afternoon would become a milestone in history.  All I knew was that the president had been shot; there was still hope of survival as I headed home from school that day.  But as I walked the mile and a half home from school, I saw something I shall never forget, something that dimmed my hope.  On my way, I saw clusters of people standing on corners and most were crying.  The residents of Newark are not known for their emotional displays so this sight was disturbing.  It was the first signal I had that something was extremely wrong, that the world had changed, and not for the better.

When I reached home, my father was already there, not unusual for he began work early in the morning and was home before me most of the time.  I would find him sitting in the kitchen with his beer and paper, but today he was in the parlor watching the TV and he was crying too, something I recalled seeing only once before.  The last time I saw my father cry was when my mother lost a baby girl shortly after birth.  Ironically, my sister died almost the same time the Kennedy’s lost their third child and also for the same reason, underdeveloped lungs.  As my father sat weeping before the TV, he told me that the president had died.

The days that followed were surreal.  Long before the age of cable and satellite dishes, there were only three major networks and a few independent New York stations broadcasting to Newark.  All normal broadcasting ceased; TV carried nothing but news and insight into the assassination.  On the radio, all normal programming came to a halt.  The radio played nothing but somber music and news of the assassination.  Everyone watched the news all weekend, watching history unfold before our eyes.  Shortly after Kennedy died, Oswald was captured.  The nation viewed live, the instrument of their sorrow.  We watched Oswald’s murder at the hands of Jack Ruby, adding confusion on top of the misery.  Everyone’s thoughts were in turmoil as these historic events concluded with JFK Jr. saluting his father’s casket.

The day Kennedy died; I learned something of the unpredictability of life.

November 22, 2014 at 5:27 pm Leave a comment

MY FARMER DAUGHTER: ANOTHER VIDEO

Bear with me as I play the role of ‘proud dad’, for I am.

Attached is another video about Lynn’s work on the farm.  I find it so interesting that this kid from Newark, New Jersey has raised a farmer.

http://nationswell.com/st-lukes-rodale-institute-farm-grows-produce-hospital/

I’ve also reposted a memoir piece of my childhood gardening experience.

You might say agriculture is in our roots. (Ha, Ha)

MEMOIR

 

 

GARDENING

I have always been amazed at the resilience of plants. There are those you can abuse and they come back stronger than ever. My small garden in Newark, New Jersey did not endure the harsh treatment I unknowingly subjected it to. But I enjoyed that patch of green and my small connection to nature.

Have you ever stopped for a red light while driving and gazed over at the concrete median and there, against all odds, growing through a tiny flaw in the concrete is a plant? I am amazed to see how life persists even under the most adverse conditions. As a child in Newark I simulated those exact conditions, although I called it gardening.

The yard we had on Christie Street was actually quite large. Large enough to have kickball and baseball games, but then again, we were quite small. Once I was older, we would have barbecues on our charcoal grill, summer nights spent sitting on beach chairs on the hard-packed soil, enjoying burgers and hot dogs as we listening to the sound of the city as night closed the day.

Next to our house was the landlord’s house, which was a small two story one family dwelling with and alley running between the two houses. Behind the landlord’s house was a garden, fenced in. On the opposite side of this small house was a driveway, which was actually quite long, and when I was old enough to shovel snow, it seemed to become longer still.

Our yard was large enough to hold a couple of cars, with some scraggly patches of grass growing defiantly, despite the conditions. To the rear of the yard was a three-car garage, one of which my father rented, and this was the reason I was given the opportunity to shovel the driveway. Next to the garages, and beyond the area of the yard where we were permitted to play, was another fenced area where the residents were not allowed. An old glider swing back there, but nothing much more. At the edge of this restricted area was another small fenced space, about six feet by six feet, sheltering a small garden belonging to the old woman across the hall. She had mostly zinnias and marigolds and it was a great place to catch whatever butterflies found their way into our yard. I admired her garden. She was always out there tending her flowers, pulling weeds, tying up plants with wooden stake and old stockings, the traditional way of supporting tall plants back then.

One day the fence bordering the back of the yard came down and that area of the yard was no longer restricted. I’m not sure why the fence came down. The glider swing came down about the same time. Now a whole new area of the yard was available, an area perfect for a garden. With our landlady’s permission, my sisters and I started construction

The ground was as hard as concrete; there was a total lack of anything that resembled topsoil. So off we went in the old Chevy for some rich loam. We traveled a short distance to where my grandparents lived in Hillside. There was a little-used park along a stream not far from their house, and that is where we headed for our soil. We parked as close as we could and, armed with a shovel and several large containers, started digging up the bank of the stream.

Once our topsoil was obtained, my sisters and I framed out small areas. We each had an area about twenty to twenty-five square feet backing up to the fence separating our yard from the neighbor’s yard. We made a feeble attempt to turn the soil before adding the topsoil, but the product of our digging was only reddish soil and rock, so we dumped our topsoil on top of our little garden areas and started planting.

I was rather ambitious when I planted my garden. I bought tomato and pepper plants, planted carrot, beet and parsley seeds all in neat little rows. These poor plants and seeds did less than thrive. I grew everything in miniature. My beefsteak tomatoes were more like their cherry cousins, the plants barely needing any support at all. My peppers were the size of plums. And my carrots – I grew those tiny carrots that they feature in seed catalogs, ones as big as your pinky, but I in fact was going for the full-sized edition. Why I attempted to grow root crops in concrete-like soil is a mystery to me now. But I was proud of my little garden. When my sisters lost interest, the size of my garden grew. I watered and weeded the few limp weeds that dare take up residence amongst my crops and generally enjoyed the little area of green I had created out back.

Then one summer it happened, a true sign that I had truly established a growing zone in Newark, I was infested with insects. The leaves on my plants were full of holes. This phenomenon amazes me to this day. How you can grow a plant that is unknown to the area, yet an insect that specifically attacks that plant will find and destroy it. And so it went for my little plot in Newark. I purchased a powder that I thought might remedy the situation, and after a heavy dusting that left my plants white under the strong mid afternoon sun I read the directions. This pesticide was to be applied lightly and only during the cool of the evening, always avoiding exposing the plants to this killer during the heat of the afternoon. By nightfall, my whole garden was withered and dead. I eliminated my insect infestation and in the process eliminated my garden.

The next year I planted again with a new knowledge of pesticide use. I branched out to flowers, planting some morning glories in a corner of the yard near my garden, another small square of the yard taken over for horticulture.

I have my own yard now, much larger than the yard of my youth. I enjoy my vegetable garden and the flowers planted around the property, but there are days when I think back to my little plot in Newark where I teased life from the concrete soil.

October 23, 2014 at 5:07 am Leave a comment

OUR BIRDFEEDER DRAWS A CROWD

It may be time to upgrade our squirrel-proof birdfeeder after this new challenge by the masked intruder.

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Believe it or not, this is in a sense, a memoir piece.

We live a suburban life where homes occupy half-acre lots. Not far from home are fields of corn and stands of forest. Our piece of land is bordered by a gully, once the home of railroad tracks. Overgrown now, it is a natural highway for wildlife.

Groundhogs and fox have made dens in the gully’s confines. The groundhogs can be seen lumbering around the front and back yards, or heading towards my garden. Foxes can be heard more than seen, although on winter afternoon I caught the sight of a red fox against a new snow. Summer nights they call, to one another or pierce the tranquility with a rabbit kill. In recent years, deer have appeared in the gully, up to five does occasionally accompanied by a buck, a sure sign of the species overpopulation in the area. Also, a sign of danger for our road is a busy one. Skunks are around, but see almost never only smelled.

The birdfeeder pictured attracts a host of birds, chickadees, cardinals, titmouse, goldfinches and the occasional woodpecker. Now, for two day running the sunflower seeds have also attracted our masked visitor.

“How is this a memoir piece?” those of you still with me are probably asking. The observations above reinforce in me the memories and contrast in my mind my present conditions and those I experienced while growing up in Newark, NJ. When looking out on the tranquil area I call home, I recall our backyard in Newark, dirt and cinder, defying the growth of grass. Our wildlife consisted entirely of squirrels. Our birds were limited to sparrows and starlings, with the occasional robin looking forlorn and confused. Those distant memories help me appreciate the surroundings I inhabit now, help me appreciate my Pennsylvania home.

Some future day, I hope to spend part of the year near the ocean. Its vastness provides a ceaseless source of peace and contemplation. I could never live on its shore year-round, for I fear that that endless body of water would become commonplace and lose its magic. My Newark youth provides no problem in keeping the wonders of nature in prospective.  

September 4, 2014 at 12:07 am Leave a comment

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