Tom's Blogs

In these blogs I reflect on people and events
past and present.

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May 7, 2022
Memories of a Classics Major at Holy Cross 1968-1972

May 6, 2022
The Newspaper Must be Preserved!

August 30, 2021
On the Trials and Joys of Gardening

August 28, 2021
On Bread Puns

May 15, 2021
On Irises

April 30, 2021
One Person's Trash is Another's Treasure

April 27, 2021
When Grammatical Terms Walk into a Bar

April 19, 2021
Save the print newspaper!

April 14, 2021
On Being in the Prep Band

April 3, 2021
On Easter in the time of COVID

March 17, 2021
On Tiny Seeds

March 13, 2021
On Pansies are for Memories

March 8, 2021
On My First Year at Monmouth College

March 5, 2021
On Food and Families

March 1, 2021
On Ames' Knob

February 26, 2021
On Studying Abroad

February 25, 2021
On My First Sabbatical

February 24, 2021
On Fox Classics Lecturers

February 21, 2021
On a Biography of Bernice L. Fox

February 19, 2021
On Archaeology

February 17, 2021
On How I Came to Monmouth College

February 15, 2021
On Poor George!

February 14, 2021
On Bernice Fox

February 13, 2021
On Mardi Gras 

February 12, 2021
A Winter Highlight

February 11, 2021
On Snowstorms

February 8, 2021
When I was a senior in high school and thinking about college, I was really happy with my time at St. Peter’s Prep, a Jesuit school in Jersey City, NJ, and knew that I wanted to attend a Jesuit college, but not St. Peter’s College, from which my father had graduated and where I had taken a number of summer school courses (in philosophy and French). I knew I really wanted to have a residential college experience. So, after a chat with my college guidance counselor, I decided that Holy Cross was the school for me, and I applied via early decision in the fall and was accepted by sometime in November. So there was no college application agony for me.

I didn’t actually even visit the campus until sometime in June, around the time I graduated from Prep. I persuaded my parents to take a day trip up to Worcester to get a feel for the school. We took along Bob Ruggieri, one of my Prep buddies, who was still uncertain about his college future. That trip turned out to be life-changing for Bob, who was hooked after visiting campus, and eventually matriculated at the Cross along with me.

I still remember vividly the day my parents took me back to Worcester to start freshman year in the fall. One big question was meeting my roommate. I knew in advance his name was Paul but knew nothing more about him. Fortunately, we turned out to be fairly compatible. We shared a fondness for music, especially Simon and Garfunkel, so he was happy when I returned back to campus from a weekend visit home with a stereo set, which got a lot of use. The most exciting day for the stereo was probably the day Paul’s friend Jim Shields arrived in our room with Abbey Road, the new Beatles album, which got played quite a few times that day.

We lived on the second floor of Carlin Hall. On my bed I had a quilt and a goose feather pillow which my grandmother Sienkewicz had made for me. Believe it or not, I still use that pillow, almost fifty years later. I was quite surprised to learn that the college had maids who would not only keep the dorms neat but make our beds. I was a bit uncomfortable with that. I’d always made my bed at home and continued to do so in college. I hope the maid didn’t mind. I think that by my sophomore year the maids no longer made anyone’s beds.

Holy Cross was still all male while I was there. The first women students arrived the fall of 1972 (after my time at the Cross). Life at an all-male residential college was quite an experience. (Fortunately or unfortunately, there are no more Jesuit all-male colleges and only a handful of all-male small liberal arts colleges left.) Women were only allowed in the dorms at very specified times. Most dormitory floors had not only an RA but also a resident Jesuit. Between the two of them, they generally kept things under control, but I remember one day that, somehow, things got a bit wild in Carlin and a group of guys started dragging everyone they found into the showers. I remember that my roommate Paul and I tried to act as if we were not in our room. We stayed quiet and didn’t have any lights on (which could be seen through the transom over the door), but, eventually, the rowdies started breaking into every room. We were eventually found and taken to the showers. No harm done and, I suppose, a special memory.

We ate our meals in Kimball Hall, known affectionately as “Mother Kimball.” Kimball was built in 1935 and, like many of the buildings on campus, has several Latin inscriptions on its façade: Hospes venit, Christus venit (A guest comes, Christ comes); Benedic, Domine, nos et haec tua dona (Bless us, O Lord, and these thy gifts); Iustitia eius manet in saeculi saeculum (His justice remains into the ages).  Dining in Kimball in those days was usually a fairly formal affair. For lunch and dinner we sat at long rectangular tables sitting at least eight and were served by fellow students. As a work-study student, I was initially assigned to the dining hall, but only lasted one day as a waiter. I eventually found my way over to the library, where I worked much more happily for the rest of my college career.

I remember that Sunday noon meals were always special but Sunday evening meals were not. Often we were served cold “mystery” meat on Sunday evening. I will remain silent on the many theories we had about the source of this mystery meet but I will point out that there is a Jesuit graveyard on campus. Saturday night was almost always Boston baked beans and usually  brown bread, accompanied by hot dogs or sausage. As a non-New-Englander, I was not used to that Saturday night bean tradition but I came to appreciate the predictability. Breakfasts were, then, as now, not well attended, but I almost never missed breakfast if I could help it.
The most memorable meal in Kimball was the Christmas banquet at which the dessert was always the same—baked Alaska. I’ve always wondered how the food service ever pulled off serving that dessert to so many people.

There was a movie theatre in the basement of Kimball Hall. I especially remember the movies shown during study week, between the end of classes and the beginning of finals. The idea, which I think was a good one, was to study during the day and then go to a movie in the evening. One of the movies I remember seeing on one of those study week nights was “Night of the Living Dead”  but the most memorable movie was unquestionably a Dracula film with a scene in which the beautiful heroine was sound asleep in bed with a cross and chain around her neck. When Dracula appeared about to attack the heroine, the entire audience rose to its feet and shouted the football cheer “Go, Cross, go!” repeatedly at the top of their lungs. Only at an all-male school!

Back then, my dorm, Carlin Hall, built in 1922, as well as Alumni Hall, were both freshmen dorms, located on either side of Kimball Hall. Carlin (I am not sure about Alumni), included not only dorm rooms on the upper three floors, but also faculty offices and classrooms on the lower floors. I thought this was a great arrangement. You could roll out of bed in the morning and run down to catch an 8 AM class (like I had in freshman year) without even leaving the building. Very convenient in winter. It was also great to be able to use the classrooms at night for study. I remember typing one of my term papers late into the night in one of those classrooms.

I know that both Kimball and Carlin Halls are much different today but they certainly created great memories for me.

February 5, 2021
My most scary travel adventure took place when I was traveling home from a trip to Mali in 1987. I was traveling with a group under the sponsorship of the Pratt Institute in New York. Our return itinerary included an Air Afrique flight from Bamako, the capital of Mali, to Kenney in New York City with a stop in Dakar, the capital of Senegal. Well, the director of our program saw us off in Bamako and the flight from there to Dakar was uneventful. But, when we landed in Senegal we were all told to disembark from the plane. I thought that was a bit odd, and it got even odder when they directed us through passport control. Only after that did they announce that the flight to New York was overbooked and that there were no seats for us on the plane. Even worse, there were no available seats on any flight to New York for a month! Clearly at Air Afrique there was a lot of incompetence, at least, and corruption, at worst. A few members of our group quickly paid for the few remaining first-class seats on the original flight to New York, but at least three of us were left stranded, me and two young college students.

What to do? It was already late in the day so we had no choice but to find a place to spend the night, which we did, and to find a travel agent in the morning.

When we finally found a travel agency the next morning, we were told that they could book us on an Air Afrique flight the next day in business class seats to Paris and then on an Air France flight in economy to New York. We jumped at the chance and offered our VISA cards, only to be told that the agency would have to call our banks to confirm the transactions. But, we said, it is Saturday and the banks are not open in the United States. Well, then, the agency said they could not sell us the tickets. Fortunately, I had signed up for an American Express card just before this trip and asked the agency if I could use that card. Apparently American Express needed no special authorization and I wound up charging not only my flight but also the flights of my two companions, who had no American Express card. The advertising line, “American Express, don’t leave home without it,” proved very true in this case. If I had not had that card, I would not have been able to book a flight until at least the following Monday and there was also the fear that there would be no more seats for many days after that. The charges on my card amounted to more than $10000 and I had to make a leap of faith that somehow that would work out. I knew that the students would not be able to pay me back, so I had to hope that Pratt Institute would.

So I now had a way back home but my adventure was not over. My flight to Paris didn’t leave until the next day, so I had an opportunity to wander around Dakar. I think I located the Musee Nationale and spent some time there, but my most vivid memory is walking down a street and having my wallet stolen from my pocket by a group of young men. Without thinking, I ran after them—probably a stupid and dangerous thing to have done—shouting “Au secour” at the top of my lungs. But somehow that tactic worked and they dropped my wallet on the ground while continuing to run at high speed. I was lucky that they hadn’t had time to take anything out of the wallet. I was even luckier that they hadn’t just turned around and beat me to a pulp. There were at least three or four of them, but I get my instinctive and unexpected behavior took them by surprise.

After that, things went more smoothly. I was able to board the flight to Paris—flying Business class was great—and then catch the flight home to NYC. And, in the end, the Pratt Institute reimbursed me for all those tickets charged to my American Express card. “Don’t leave home without it!”

February 3, 2021
My family rarely traveled together far from our home in Hoboken, New Jersey. About the longest car ride my parents made with their children, as far as I know, took place when I was probably three or four. At the time they only had two children, me and my younger sister Doris. My father was on vacation and my parents decided to take a drive up to Haddam, Connecticut, with my Grandmother Liguori, for the day, to visit where she was born on December 14, 1895, and, perhaps, I think to obtain a record of her birth. I don’t remember anything about the visit to Haddam or if they succeeded in obtaining a birth record, but I do remember vaguely what happened next. From Haddam I think we drove to the Catskill Game Farm, the first zoo in America and once the largest, but closed since 2006. (It may have been some other petting zoo, but I am pretty sure it was this one.) Anyway, we always remembered and talked about our visit to zoo on this trip because of the goats, which my sister and I were feeding but which preferred to nibble on and ruin my mother’s good goat. She never forgave the goats for that.

From there my parents decided to travel from Connecticut up to Montreal to visit my father’s cousin, Justin Brechun, his wife Helen and their son Donald, who was about two-years-old. While we were there I remember visiting a church with lots of stairs, undoubtedly St. Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal. Funny what a three- or four-year-old can remember.

Well, remember that most of this journey was unplanned. What started out as a day trip from Hoboken to Connecticut became a multi-day journey all the way to Montreal. I am my parents and grandmother had no passports but, in those days, the border-crossing into Canada was much more flexible that it is today and there was probably just a cursory border check. This trip was probably the only time either my mother or my grandmother left the county in their whole lives.

Anyway, the other lore connected with this trip is that when we finally got home my grandfather told my grandmother that that was the last time he would let her take a day-trip with my parents. I think he had a point.

February 1, 2021
When the New York World’s Fair was about to open in 1964, my mother, who had seen the NY Fair of 1939, purchased several tickets which were valid for the entire time the Fair was open, through the summer of 1965. I don’t specifically remember my first visit to the fair but I know that I took many trips to Flushing Meadow Park during the two years the Fair was open. I suspect that the first time I went was with one, or both, of my parents, but most of the time I went there with friends, either from grade school or high school. Those were different times. I doubt that, today, most boys of fourteen, just a entering high school, would be allowed to travel by public transportation all the way from Hoboken, NJ, to Flushing, NY, with no adult supervision. Such a trip would have entailed taking the #63 Public Service bus from Washington St. in Hoboken, through the Lincoln Tunnel, to Port Authority Terminal, and then switching to the NYC subway system for a train to Queens. Even then Port Authority was not the safest place in the world, but I knew that if I minded my own business I would be okay.

The Fair itself was a marvel for a fourteen-year-old who had not yet traveled very far from his native Hoboken. The pavilion I most remember was the Vatican’s, in which Michelangelo’s Pieta was on display in all its glory. I still remember the solemn and sacred atmosphere surrounding the Pieta: stained glass windows and piped in religious music. It was amazing that the Vatican took the risk of shipping the statue by boat to NYC. I doubt that would be done again today.

I also remember the US pavilion which had a ride through exhibits showing scenes from American history. I took that ride many times during my visits. I also liked to take the Futurama ride at the General Motors exhibit. It would be interesting to take that ride again now and see how accurate GM was about predicting the future. The Ford Motor Company mostly moved in the opposite direction timewise with its Magic Skyway in which you rode in a Ford convertible back to the time of the dinosaurs and cavemen, with with a nod to a futuristic city. In the 1960s the auto industry was flourishing much more than it is today. I suspect that in the 21st century exhibits by those companies would be eclipsed by show arranged by Apple, Amazon and Google.

One other corporation exhibit I vividly remember was by Pepsi, with a boat ride around the world with animated dolls and animals singing “It’s a Small World After All.”

I am sure I visited a lot of the other pavilions as well but these are the ones I remember the most. My visits were always on a shoe-string budget, so if an exhibit cost more than the price of general admission I rarely visited it, if ever. And eating in any of the fancy restaurants was not in the cards either.

But in a way, that World’s Fair opened the world to that young boy from Hoboken. It was very appropriate that the Fair’s central exhibit and symbol was the hemisphere, a huge steel model of the world, which still stands today in Flushing Meadow Park. I wonder if the wonders I saw at the Fair inspired me to travel widely in later life.

January 30, 2021
I probably started piano lessons in third grade. My family didn’t own a piano at first, but there was a piano in the living room my grandparents’ house across the street. No too much later, my parents bought an old upright, which they put in our living room. Having the piano in the living room always created challenges for practicing because of competition with those who wanted to watch a program on the television, which was in the same room. My parents' piano moved with them from 1202 to 1223 Garden. In 1223 the piano was in the semi-finished cellar, where we enjoyed having it at parties. I think the piano was left there when my father sold eventually sold the house. The piano in my grandparents home at 1225 Garden was probably left with the house when it was sold.

When I went away to college in Worcester, I didn’t have much access to a piano, but I did get to play a piano every Friday night when a group of us when to a Senior Citizen Home. I played old popular tunes while my buddies danced with the senior ladies, who definitely looked forward to our visits. I still have a pencil holder made out of a glass jar decorated in cord which one of the ladies once gave me.

When I went to graduate school in Baltimore, there was initially no easy access to a piano or time to play but the summer after I got married in 1972 I worked for a few weeks as a checker in a grocery store. I guess I felt that if I was married I needed to earn some income. I actually liked the job, but quickly realized that my time would be better spent on my studies if I wanted to succeed in grad school. So I quit my job and used the money I’d earned (around $200) to purchase an old player piano. It didn’t have the player works anymore, but the instrument was basically sound.

Of course the challenge was getting the piano home to our apartment. I didn’t have lots of money to pay a mover, so I rented a U-Haul and recruited a couple of fellow grad students to help. All went well until we got the piano into the lobby of our apartment, where we had to get the piano up a short flight of stairs and then turn it into the entrance to our apartment. This was not easy and, initially, the piano got stuck. We must have made a racket, because the nice elderly woman who lived in the next apartment—Miss Randall—opened her door and asked if she could help. Her offer spurred us into quick action and we finally succeeded in getting the piano and into the living room, where it stayed for the three years we lived there (at 906 Belgian Ave.).

We got a lot of pleasure out of having a piano in our graduate years. Anne and I both played it. Someimes I would play while she would sing. My most visit memory, however, is when we invited two of my Classics professors, Dr. James Poultney and Dr. John Young, over for dinner. After we finished eating, Dr. Young, who was a crancky and difficult guy, went over to the piano and played a piece or two for us—a side of his personality we hadn’t seen before.

After finishing my Ph.D. and getting a job at Howard University in Washington, D.C. in 1975, Anne and I bought a little house at 252 Minnetonka Rd. (the number was later changed to 1010 Minnetonka Rd.) in Severn, Md., about halfway between Baltimore and Washington, so that she could commute to north to Dundalk Community College, where she was teaching French, and I could commute south to DC. We took our piano with us. I don’t remember the move to Severn, so there is no drama to relate about getting the piano into the house.

We lived on Minnetonka Rd until 1979, by which time our daughter Marie was born, and the commute to DC was getting tedious, so we decided to move into the DC area. Anne gave up her job at Dundalk and we bought a two-family house at 4008 29th St. in Mount Rainier, Md., just a few feet from the DC line. The piano came with us and it wasn’t long before Marie began to show interest in the piano and I started teaching her simple melodies to play. By the time she was in first grade she was taking lessons from a demanding young woman who was a music grad student and Marie was spending at least an hour a day practicing.

But in 1984 I accepted a job teaching Classics at Monmouth College in Illinois and it didn’t seem practical to take that old piano with us, so we sold it to a family in our baby sitting coop for at least as much as I had originally paid for it and moved west.

When we got to Monmouth, we needed a piano, so this time we went to a music store and fell in love with an old, reconditioned baby grand which had spent about sixty years in a church. We bought that piano and had it delivered to the house we were renting at 321 N. Third St. This house was well suited for a baby grand since, on the first floor there was a living room, a dining room, and a kitchen, as well as another room off the dining room just perfect for a piano.

But we only lived on North Third St. for a year while we decided whether we’d stay in Monmouth or move back to DC. We eventually decided to stay and Anne spent several months looking at houses one a week. Our choices were limited because we wanted at least four bedrooms (so each kid could have their own room) as well as room for a baby grand. Anne found just the right house at 1103 East 2nd Ave, where we have lived since the summer of 1985. And we hired Dean St. Ledger, the husband of Nancy, our children’s piano teacher, to move the piano to its new home.

Over the years that piano has seen a lot of action since all three of our children took lessons from Nancy from early grade school through high school and I took lessons from her myself for several years (but that will be a different story). And now my granddaughters play that piano as well!

I do have one more piano story before I finish. When I was chosen to be the Visiting Faculty at the Associated Colleges of the Midwest (ACM) Program in Florence for the academic year, 1992-93, we didn’t want our children to grow stale on the piano so we bought a full 88-key electronic and took it with us along with 12 other suitcases, including one large one which held a French horn, a trombone and a trumpet with lots of socks for stuffing. Watching that go through the x-ray machine at Kennedy Airport was quite an experience. I don’t think the airlines would let us get away with that in 2021!

January 26, 2021
My journey in Classics probably begins with the fact that my father, Edmund Sienkewicz, lived in downtown Jersey City and attended St. Peter’s Elementary School, part of a Jesuit parish connected with the adjacent St. Peter’s Preparatory School for boys. In the nineteenth century there was also St. Peter’s College nearby, but that institution eventually moved uptown. Anyway, my father was a very good student and naturally migrated from the elementary school to the prep school. I suspect that there was some financial support involved because his family could certainly not have afforded the tuition to attend Prep.

My father had to take four years of Latin at Prep. He also took three years of Greek and when I was young he always talked enthusiastically about both languages. So when it came time for me to go to high school it seemed preordained that I would go to Prep, which, in the late 60’s, still required all students to take four years of Latin: elementary, Caesar, Cicero and Vergil. I really liked Latin from the start. As we moved into second year of Prep, there were three tracks: basic Academic, Science and Greek. Although I might have chosen the Science track, I went with Greek, probably because I liked Latin and because my father had taken Greek. So for three years at Prep, I studied two ancient languages, plus French.

Those who enrolled in the Greek track felt a special bond because there was only one batch of us, while there were several classes of Science and Academic. Due to scheduling that meant that we took almost all our classes together, not only Latin, Greek and French, but also English, History, and Math. The Greek sequence was Elementary, Xenophon’s Anabasis, and Homer’s Odyssey. We used textbooks written by Jesuits specifically for Jesuit Prep schools. The Homer text included a page explaining how to sing the first lines of the Odyssey to the tune of the Stars and Stripes Forever. We were really taken with that and often left our Greek classroom and marched up the stairs to French singing the Odyssey to Sousa’s melody. We often left French class singing the ‘”La Marseillaise”, but that’s a different story.

Anyway, reading selections from Vergil and Homer as a senior in high school hooked me on Classics so it was natural to sign up for a Greek seminar (on Aeschylus, no less) as a freshman at The College of the Holy Cross. I wasn’t a committed Classics major when I arrived in Worcester. I was prepared to consider philosophy, history, or even a more practical major like sociology. But I really liked Greek. The Aeschylus seminar was very challenging and probably a bit over my head, but I had a wonderful and very understanding professor, Werner Loewy, a Jew who had escaped from Germany just before the war, who nurtured my love and encouraged my efforts to read a very challenging author. So by sophomore year, I was, indeed, a firm Classics major.

But when it came time to decide a path beyond college, I was still not committed to a career in Classics. As a senior, I applied to Master in Library Science programs at NYU and Columbia (because I’d been a work study student in the Holy Cross library and liked working in a library). I also applied to the Peace Corps. And I applied to several graduate programs in Classics.

Well, I was accepted to both NYU and Columbia. The Peace Corps accepted me and would have sent me to teach English in Korea. And The Johns Hopkins University offered me a very attractive three-year National Defense Education Act (NDEA) scholarship. I probably got this offer due to the recommendation of one of my Holy Cross professors, Bill Ziobro, a Holy Cross grad himself who had only received his doctorate from Hopkins a few years before.

I was tempted by library school, intrigued by the thought of being a Peace Corps worker in Korea, but felt that the scholarship to Hopkins was too good an opportunity to pass up, so I decided to give graduate school at Hopkins a try. If it didn’t work out, I could still go to library school or try the Peace Corps again. But things worked out in Baltimore and the rest is history.

Thanks, Dad. 

January 22, 2021
My paternal grandmother was born Rose Celatko on October 30, 1904 in Peekskill, New York. Both of her parents were immigrants from Polish-speaking areas of eastern Europe. According to my grandmother, her father, Thomas, was born on December 21, 1883, in a small town named Tykosin  in what then Czarist Russia and is now eastern Poland. According to his World War I draft card, he arrived in the United State in 1900. On his draft card his surname is spelled Czelatdko, but in later years the family name was spelled Celatko. Her mother, Mary Bybel, was born in 1882, in Galacia, then part of Austria and now Poland. She arrived in the United States in 1901. I do not know how my great parents met and do not know when they were married, although I do have their wedding picture, which they probably had made to send back to family in the old country. My great grandmother died a few months before I was born, on February 13, 1950. Her husband died on March 23, 1951, in Hempstead, New York. My wife remembers my parents telling her that he had a chance to see me before he died, but I don't recall being told that and certainly don't remember. I do know that the black sedan my father drove when I was small had belonged to my great-grandfather.

 I do not know how long the family stayed in Peekskill, where my grandmother was born, but I do know that their youngest child, Helen, was born in Staten Island, where, according to the 1910 census, my great-grandfather ran a tavern. There were five children in the family. My grandmother was the oldest. Then came twins, John and Anna, then Sophie, and, finally, Helen. Sophie contracted influenza in the epidemic, never fully recovered, and died young. Eventually the family moved to Long Island, where my great grandfather ran a small dairy farm in what is now probably suburban blight. I did get to know all my grandmother’s siblings (except for Sophie). My grandmother did not see her family very much in later years, because then it was a long journey from New Jersey to Long Island and neither my grandfather nor my grandmother knew how to drive an automobile. She was most fond of her sister Helen, who married a Canadian with the surname Dunn. I remember visiting her with my grandmother at her home in Long Island, where, among other things they talked about how they both married non-citizens.

While her family was living in Staten Island, my grandmother met my grandfather, Macej Sienkiewicz, a recent immigrant from Rusaki, a small Polish-speaking town in what was then Czarist Russia and is now in Belarus. I actually visited this village in 2018. On September 16, 1919, my grandmother gave birth to a daughter, Rose. At the time my grandmother was only 15. She did not marry my grandfather until January 29, 1921, at Sacred Heart Church in Staten Island. Her mother and his brother Adolf were witnesses. The timing of the wedding was unfortunate for my grandmother, who lost her US citizenship by marrying an alien, due to the Expatriation Act passed by Congress in 1905. She did not regain her American citizenship until February 19, 1941, when she submitted an “Application to Take Oath of Allegiance to the United States Under the Act of June 25, 1936.

 Once she regained her citizenship, she voted faithfully. I remember going with her to the poling place in 1956 for the presidential election between Eisenhower and Stevenson. There was a sample voting machine available for voters to try before voting and I remember playing with all the voting leavers and pulling the handle as if I were actualy voting--for Eisenhower. I know my grandmother was a Kennedy fan in 1960. And, going back in time, she did tell me once about all the good Hoover did for Europeans in World War I as head of the American Relief Administration.

After their marriage my grandparents lived in downtown Jersey City, where my grandfather worked as a tailor. My father Edmund was born in Jersey City on February 28, 1925. The next year, on May 27, 1926, my grandfather became a naturalized citizen of the United States. At the time he and his family were living in a tenement apartment at 171 Bay St. in Jersey City. (This dwelling no longer exists.) By the time of the 1930 census they were living in an apartment at 204 York St. (now a vacant lot). By the time my grandmother’s citizenship was restored, in 1941, they were living at 252 York St. In the 1940’s they had a little white dog named Smoochie, of whom my grandmother always spoke fondly. Since my grandfather could not speak English very well, Polish was spoken in the home.

World War II was filled with worry for my grandmother since my father, her only son, was drafted and saw action in France and Germany. When he returned from the war he brought with him a German shepherd named Blackie, who bonded especially with my grandfather and remained with my grandparents after my father married.

My grandparents were still living on York St. when my parents were married in 1949, but sometime shortly after that they moved to a basement apartment near Five Corners in Jersey City. I can dimly remember that apartment but the neighborhood was demolished around 1954 to make way for a huge apartment complex.

My grandparents had to move then, about 1954, to 35 Cottage St., where my grandmother became the custodian of a synagogue and my grandparents lived in a house behind the synagogue. As far as I know, my grandmother did not work outside the home before this, but around this time my grandfather was disabled in work-related accident. The bones in his right arm were shattered by a broken machine belt.

I remember visiting the synagogue itself as well as the yeshiva and being intrigued by the Hebrew writing on the blackboard. A new synagogue called Congregation Sons of Israel Nusach has replaced it. The house was two story. On the ground floor was a large kitchen with a black wood-burning stove and a separate dining room. A door in the dining room led into the synagogue complex, first the schule and then the synagogue itself. There was indoor plumbing with a bathroom on ground floor. On the second floor there was a sitting room where my grandparents watched television. I especially remember lots of Lawrence Welk (Polkas!). I also remember watching Shirley Temple films on that little television. There were two bedrooms off the sitting room. One was my grandfather’s, the other my grandmother’s.

My grandmother liked to read but there were not many books in their home. One of the few I remember was a copy of Henryk Sienkiewicz' Pan Michael, which I still own. She did read the Jersey Journal faithfully every day. Also the New York Daily News.

There was some religious art in their home--a statue of the Sacred Heart and always a Polish-language religious calendar. The only other artwork I remember was a small reproduction of Charles Frederi Ulrich's painting  "In the Land of Promise, Castle Garden"  (1884). I was always fascinated by this artwork, depicting immigrants sitting in a waiting room after arriving in the United States. I never knew the name of the artist or the title of the painting until I once found it in the Corcoran Art Gallery in Washington, D.C. I still have that little reproduction hanging in our bedroom.

My grandparents both belonged to St. Anthony’s Polish parish, from which they were both buried. Priests from that parish always came to my grandparents’ home twice a year, once at Epiphany to bless the house and write K+M+B on the door, in honor of the three kings’ visit (Kasper, Melchior and Balthazar). I saw the same writing on many doors in Belarus during my visit there. The priest also came on Holy Saturday to bless the food my grandmother had laid out for the Easter Sunday meal: colored eggs, ham, salt, kielbasy, cheese, horseradish, a lamb-shaped cake and many other things I don’t remember. All I do remember vividly is that the dining room table was filled with food.

I spent a lot of time with my grandmother Sienkewicz.  When I was about three-years-old my infant sister Doris contracted spinal meningitis, a highly contagious disease, so I was sent off to be with my grandparents until she recovered.

About a year after my grandfather’s death in 1957 my parents purchased a three-story brownstone in Hoboken and eventually my grandmother left the synagogue and moved into the top-floor apartment in our house. Since my maternal grandparents lived across the street, we often affectionately referred to our grandmothers as Grandma-Upstairs or Grandma-Across-the-Street. My grandmother continued to live in our upstairs apartment even after we moved across the street (next to the other grandparents) and Grandma-Across-the-Street became Grandma-Next-Door.

For several years in the early ‘60’s my grandmother served as a live-in companion for a woman in Jersey City so she was rarely home. I did visit her frequently while she was working there. When that woman died, my grandmother worked as a cook for Fr. Meehan, the pastor of Our Lady of Grace Church, in Hoboken.

My grandmother was an excellent cook. She was especially noted for her punchki (Polish donuts, chruskchki (Polish cookies), and various pies (especially pumpkin, apple and mince). She often made her own kielbasy and pierogi. Sometimes she would get beef tongue or kidneys for dinner and that would send my father running upstairs to her apartment to eat with her. No one else in the house, however, would eat those meals.

She also liked doing handwork, especially crocheting.

My grandmother also liked plants. I think she would have liked to have had a garden, but unfortunately she always lived in an apartment, which was still filled with house plants, especially amaryllis. I think she enjoyed visiting my house in Maryland where I had a large garden and even kept some chickens.

After my mother died in 1976 my father eventually sold the house in Hoboken and my grandmother moved into the Foxhill Senior Apartments on Willow Ave. in Hoboken. I think she really enjoyed that apartment, which, unlike my parents’ house, had an elevator. No stairs to climb!

My grandmother lived long enough to see her first great-grandchild, my daughter Marie, born in 1977. She was able to attend Marie’s baptism and spend Thanksgiving with us in Maryland. I remember that she was so excited upon her arrival at our house, at the chance of seeing Marie, that she fell down climbing up the stairs. Fortunately she was not injured.

By the spring of 1978, however, she was beginning to fail. She’d always been a believer in dreams. When my grandfather died in 1957 my mother was pregnant and my grandmother told about a dream she had in which my dead grandfather appeared to her holding two eggs in his hand. Several months later my mother gave birth to twins. When my grandmother entered the hospital in June she had another dream in which she said my grandfather told her “it was time.” Bringing her great-granddaughter to visit her in the hospital didn ‘t help. Shortly after that dream, on June 22, 1978, she died in Hoboken.

January 19, 2021

I would always know it was a new year even without checking a calendar when my mailbox starts filling up with garden catalogues. In some ways it seems odd to receive in January a glossy magazine depicting luscious tomatoes on the front cover. One could also call it perverse. Or maybe the seed companies are just trying to bring some joy to a bleak time of year when gardens in Illinois are snow=covered and the ground frozen. But I think the companies actually know human nature well enough to realize that sending out catalogues in January will catch wannabe gardens and even master gardeners at a vulnerable spot, at a time of year when Mother Nature imposes idleness on gardeners and all they can do is dream about the coming of spring. I suspect that folks will inevitably order more seeds and plants in the dead of winter than they would at actual planting time.

The same thing actually happens in the fall when the flowering bulb companies mail out all their catalogues with spring-blooming bulbs, but that actually seems more logical, since fall is the time to plant tulip, daffodil and crocus bulbs. But there is still the idea of teasing folks with the beauty of tulips or daffodils in bloom just at the time of year when the garden is settling down in fall for its winter rest.

I usually try to resist ordering from all those catalogues because I know where my weakness lies. But this year, at a time when I am basically house-bound because of the pandemic, I couldn’t resist. Or rather I was led into temptation by an end-of-year letter from a good college friend who is a master gardener and who waxed poetic in his letter about a new variety of Swiss chard called “Perpetual Spinach”, which, he said, tasted as good as  spinach and didn’t bolt in summer. He liked it so much that he said he might never plant spinach again!

Well that enthusiastic recommendation sent me to the catalogues I was avoiding and I wound up going on line and adding some Perpetual Spinach” Swiss chard seeds to my shopping cart. Of course, I could just order one packet of seeds, especially when the postage and handling would cost more than the seeds, so I added a couple of varieties of interesting beets and several kinds of pole bean seeds I knew I would not be able to find in any of the gardening centers in western Illinois. Then I looked for leek sets and was disappointed only to find leek seeds, but the information on growing leeks from seeds persuaded me to give some a try this year. If the seeds don’t do well, I thought, there will still be time to order some leek sets.

So, in the end, I wound up with a fairly long order, all because of my enthusiastic college buddy who hooked me on “Perpetual Spinach” Swiss chard.

The moral of this story, I guess, is not to yield to a gardening friend’s enthusiasm because it might lead you down the primrose path further than you want to go.

Then, again, I may actually enjoy growing those leek seeds and agree with my friend about the tastiness of Perpetual Spinach” Swiss chard. Only time and my garden will tell.

January 15,  2021

Today I would like to write about serendipity. One day in late 2015 or early 2016 I was curiously browing the Society for Classical Studies website list of upcoming Classics conferences. My eye caught a call for papers for a conference in Shanghai on Globalizing Ovid to commemorate the bimillennium of death of the Roman poet Ovid (who died in 17 or 18 AD in exile in Tomis in what is now Constanţa, Romania). I had remembered reading once about a similar conference held in China in China to celebrate the birth of Vergil. While the call for papers was clearly open to any scholarly papers on Ovid, I was still intrigued about the idea of Ovid in China


So, just for a lark, I googled both "Ovid“ and "China" and, much to my surprise, I came across this webpage with a picture and description of an 18th-century Chinese porcelain punchbowl at the Wintertur Museum in Delaware with scenes of the Triump of Bacchus and the Rescue of Andromeda from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Amazing, I thought. Why in the world was there an 18th-century Chinese porcelain with scenes from Ovid? In all my years of teaching and my long interest in classical mythology and classical reception, I had never come across any references to classical myths on Chinese porcelains.

My curiosity was piqued and I started delving into the subject, only to learn that, in the 18th-century there was a great market for Chinese porcelains in Europe and America and that westerns often sent orders to China for specific subjects. Ovid, it turns out, was especially popular, and, apparrently Europeans would send engravings from books about Ovid to China for artists to copy on porcelain. Apparently, the Chinese artists simply copied faithfully (for the most part) what they saw and shipped the pots to the purchaser. As far as I knew, these Chinese porcelains with Ovidian scenes were not well known in the Classical world but were studied widely among art historians interested in Chinese porcelain.

So I researched more deeply the punchbowl in Wintertur and learned that the bowl actually had four Ovidian scenes, not only the Triumph of Bacchus and the Rescur of Andromeda, but also the Rape of Proserpina and the Fall of Phaethon.

By then I was hooked and I said to myself that this seemed to be a great Ovidian topic on which no classicist had written and why not propose it for the conference in Shanghai. What better place to talk about Chinese porcelain decorated with Ovidian scenes? So I submitted an abstract and, >mirabile dictu, , it was accepted and I did travel in May 2017 with my wife Anne to Shanghai to attend that conference. It was a great way to celebrate my retirement from teaching at Monmouth College. Since we were going to Shanghai, we added on a trip to Xi’an to see the Chinese Terracotta Warriors and to Beijing to see the Forbidden City and the Great Wall.


But that is not all. Many of the papers at the Shanghai conference are being published in Chinese by Peking University Press, Here is the citation: "Scenes on 18th-century Chinese Porcelain"  (transl. Bailiang Ma 马百亮译)in The New Frontiers of Research on the Roman Poet Ovid in the Global Context 全球视野下的古罗马诗人奥维德研究前沿


\Also, inspired by the conference in Shanghai, where I learned about a fascinting project to translate all the works of Ovid into Chinese, I organized two conferences enttled "Ovid in China“, one at the Classical Association of the Middle West meeting in Albuquerque in the spring of 2018 and a second in summer of 2018 at a joint meeting of the Fédération internationale des associations d’études classiques and the Classical Association in 2019. I talked about my Chinese punchbowl at both of those conference.

And, finally, all this has also led to a book proposal to Brill Publishers for a volume entitled Ovid in China: Translation, Reception, and Comparison. Our proposal was accepted so now I am editing all the essays from my colleagues before we submit the work for Brill’s reviewers to critique. Exciting! A great way to spend my retirement in a pandemic!

None of this would have happened if I hadn’t been browsing that day on the SCS website. So, three cheers for serendipity!

January 13, 2021
When I was born my parents were living in a fourth-floor walk-up apartment on 12th and Park Avenue in Hoboken, NJ. We lived there until I was eight-years-old so I have vivid memories of the space. You had to climb a short flight of stone stairs to enter the building. Inside the front door was a small lobby with mailboxes and doorbells. You had to ring the bell for someone to let you into the building. I suspect there was an intercom so you could identify yourself but I don’t specifically remember that. There were two apartments on each floor and to go from one floor to another you had to climb two sets of stairs, one leading to a mid-flight landing with a window facing west and the other leading to a landing with the two front doors leading into the apartments. The entrance to each apartment led into a long hallway. The two apartments shared a wall along these long hallways which, I suspect, reduced the amount of noise between the two apartments, but I do remember my parents being worried about our making too much noise for the apartment below ours.  Our apartment was on the left side of the landing (the north side). The only windows inside the apartments were either at the front of the building (west side) or in the rear (south side). There were no windows on the north or south walls of the apartments because these walls adjoined other apartments or buildings.

Right inside the front door of the apartment was a door on the left leading into a large living room with three windows facing west. This wall was not straight but apse-like. My parents had a couch on the right (north). Over the couch was a mirror. There were two easy chairs on the left (south) wall. The walls were covered in dark green floral wallpaper. The east side of the living room opened (with no doors) into my parents’ bedroom. I think there was one window in this room, facing the back of the building. My parents' mahogony bedroom set is the same one Anne and I use today.

To get to the rest of the apartment from the front rooms you had to go down the long corridor. The first door on the left led to the children’s bedroom. The next door on the left was a bathroom with a tub but no shower. We were lucky to have a bathroom inside our apartment. I remember visiting other families in Hoboken who had to share a bathroom with the other family who lived in the adjoining apartment. At the end of the corridor a doorway led into a dining room. This room had two windows on the north side (looking out into the back of the apartment house). My parents had a telephone in the northwest corner of that room.

The children’s bedroom had one window which I could look out while lying in my bed. At night a revolving spotlight from the Empire State Building shined into the room. It took about a minute for the light to revolve and I remember going to sleep watching for that light. I also remember that at some point I drew a picture on the wall by my bed. I suspect that my parents were not happy with that artistic effort but I don’t think they did anything about it.

A door in the east wall of the dining room led into the kitchen. There was a metal and black formica table with matching chairs in the center of the kitchen. We ate almost all of our meals in the kitchen. There was no high chair for a baby. Instead my parents used a baby butler which was a low table on wheels with a seat in the middle. This arrangement was very practical because there was a lot of table surface on which a child could scatter bits of food.

Besides a gas stove and refrigerator there was a washing machine in the kitchen, but no clothes dryer. My mother had to hang the clothes out on a line attached to a tall pole five stories high.

There is a story connected with that clothes pole. In 1954 the New York metropolitan area was hit by two severe hurricane (Carol and Hazel). I don’t know which of these storms it was but one of them blew down the clothes pole. I remember my father coming into my room at night to tell me that the pole had been knocked down. It must have been very difficult for my mother to do laundry when that happened and I don’t know how long it was before the pole was replaced, but I vividly remember that my poor father had to climb that pole himself to rehook our clothes line to the pole. Probably they could have hired someone to do it, but I suspect they were trying to save money. I don’t think I could have done what my father did that day.

Also in the kitchen was a dumbwaiter which ran from the basement all the way up to the top floor. This dumbwaiter was controlled by a rope pulley. Every week the superintendent of the building would collect trash from each apartment in this dumbwaiter. Also whenever my parents went grocery shopping, they would use the dumbwaiter to get the bags of groceries up to the fourth floor.

We lived in that apartment until 1958. By then there were five children sharing that one bedroom. Since the last two children were twins, my mother basically became housebound. It was impossible for her to leave the house with the children because she would have to carry one baby down four flights of stairs in a carriage, leave that child below and go back up and get the other one. And that doesn’t account for the other three children! No wonder my parents finally bought a house less than a year after the twins were born.

January 9, 2021
In earlier blogs I have written about my office at Monmouth College and some memorable events which happened there.  Now I would like to turn to many of the artifacts I have accumulated in my office over the years. There are, of course, may family photos, of my wife Anne, my children and my grandchildren. My favorite of these is probably one of Anne and our infant daughter Marie taken at Dundalk Community College after Anne had successfully defended her thesis in 1978. There are also several photos of students at graduation. Another favorite is one of me with Tom Watkins, who taught history at Western Illinois University, at the Pont du Gard in France—a memory of a great tour of Roman France which we co-led.

Hanging on my window are two paintings on glass, one of Christ Pancrator and one of Copernicus, created by my colleague and friend, Bill Urban. Hanging on the walls are various awards and certificates I received over the years, including my Phi Beta Kappa and Eta Sigma Phi membership certificates.

My favorite wall hanging, however, is a sign which I sought out special for my office at the Audubon Society Office in Portland, Maine. It shows a disturbed loon with the warning “Watch Out for Loons.” I thought that warning was perfect for an academic office. I also have a stuffed loon which gives a loon call when squeezed.

There were/are also several other stuffed animals. “Were” because I have given away the stuffed wolf, which howled when squeezed. I always brought that lupa to oral exams for students to hold. If they got nervous they were encouraged to squeeze it and make it howl. But I still have the stuffed monkey which I often brought to Latin class when we were reading about the monkey named Socrates in our Latin textbook. There is still also a stuffed Grinch, left from when I taught Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas in Latin. Also a stuffed owl bearing the logo of the Archaeological Institute of America.

There are also some student projects, like a cardboard model of the Parthenon and a Monopoly game transformed into Mythopoly (Monopoly about Classical Mythology).

I also have a Buddha board on which anyone who came into my office was invited to draw a painting with water and watch the picture disappear as the water evaporated. They could do this, at least, when I remembered to fill the water trough.

There are two souvenirs in my office from my first trip to Greece, as a rising college junio, in 1970: a kylix of the god Dionysus which unfortunately broke in shipping and which I repaired; and a statue of Athena in white soap stone. The statue of Athena became an important participant in many Eta Sigma Phi initiation ceremonies over the years. At one of them she lost her head, but I glued it back on and that accident just made it all the more special.

There are a lot of other mementos: a framed certificate which the participants of an NEH seminar  on mythology at Harvard in 1985 made as an inside joke (because it is filled with turns of phrase popularized by our seminar leader); a brick made at a kiln in Nauvoo, Illinois, on one of my visits there; a crossstitch scarecrow made by my daughter Julia; a wooden owl and a small ceramic owl, surviving souvenirs of Illinois Latin Tournaments hosted by Bernice Fox at Monmouth College many years  ago; a coffee mug from the 2000 Illinois Latin Tournament; coffee mugs from colleges for which I served on the accreditation team for North Central evaluations; a little wooden Trojan Horse bought on my trip to Troy in about twenty years ago; a bobble-head of the statue of Vulcan in Birmingham, Alabama, which I have because I was planning a CAMWS meeting there for the spring of 2020 but aborted by the pandemic; lava and pumice from Mt Vesuvius; brandy glasses which my parents got at Parents’ Weekend when I was a freshman at Holy Cross in 1968; cloth roses given to me by various students at Commencement (a custom at the college for a few years but now abandoned); the pen and pencil set which sat on my father’s desk at his office for many years; mementoes from Caesar’s Palace given to me by an MC alumna;  a miniature Roman helmet given to me by another MC alumna; a  tabella, a Roman-style wax writing tablet made by my father-in-law; and a purple paper fan inscribed in Latin with the words Sum Latina Fabella (which becomes a bilingual pun when translated into English as “I am a Latin fan.”). I am sure there are other such mementoes hiding in various nooks and crannies, but this is at least a sampling. I wonder what archaeologists would think if they came upon my office preserved intact several centuries from now.

January 7, 2020
Yesterday, January 6, 2020, was a bleak day for our country. It was difficult not to be overwhelmed with the horror we all witnessed on our media screens, but I have promised myself that these blogs will not be political. So I will not focus here on those events which took place in our nation’s capital. Instead I will write about light instead of darkness, joy instead of sadness, and hope instead of despair. For our family, January 6 was the Feast of the Epiphany and we were fortunate to have the excitement of a five-year-old to distract us somewhat from political turmoil. When our granddaughter woke up on Epiphany morning she immediately ran to the front door to see if the Three Kings had left their mark in chalk on the door and she was thrilled to see that they had. Then she went to our crèche to see if the kings had finally arrived at the stable and found the newborn king they had been searching for. And there they, indeed, were at the stable kneeling before the child. Then our granddaughter turned to the tree and was brimming with excitement to see that the kings had indeed left gifts under the tree. She knew that the kings had done that because they had scattered pictures and paintings of themselves all around the gifts. And then she told us that all those gifts were for her, that they kings only brought gifts for children.

Watching her open the gifts was sheer pleasure. She seemed to squeal with delight even more than she did as she opened gifts on Christmas morning, perhaps because these gifts were just for her. The Kings always have a theme with their Epiphany gifts. Since this granddaughter is very interested in dinosaurs, there were all sorts of dinosaur-related gifts, including a tyrannosaurus hand puppet which devoured a lot of parental and grandparental hands during the day. The kings’ other theme was art material—paints, colored pencils, drawing paper, dry erase boards, etc.—all very much appreciated by the recipient.

The kings, being kings, also brought tiaras and scepters, which were worn and wielded throughout the day and enabled the person who possessed them to perform feats of magic and wonder.

And then there was our Epiphany feast in the evening, with the Three Kings arranged as the centerpiece of our table and a gallette des rois as the climax of our meal. There was great excitement and anticipation as our granddaughter hoped she found find the whole almond hidden in her slice of gallette and thus be able to wear the crown. Unfortunately, no one found the almond in their gallette that night. Nor did anyone find it tonight. Inevitably the monarch will be crowned at tomorrow’s evening meal.

So that is how, for us, January 6th was a day of joy which we did not allow national events to tarnish.

Thanks to the Kaspar, Melchior and Balthazar for giving us a Happy Epiphany!

January 3, 2021

Today, the Catholic Church, at least in the United States, in its infinite wisdom, celebrates the Feast of Epiphany, the Feast of the Three Kings. For centuries this feast has been celebrated on January 6th, the Twelfth Day of Christmas. In many countries it is still celebrated on that date but for Eastern Christians who use the Gregorian rather than Julian calendar, January 6th is Christmas Day and Epiphany is celebrated on January 19th. But here in the United States, at least for American Catholics, Epiphany is no longer a fixed date, like Christmas (Dec. 25th). Rather the feast has now been moved to whatever day between January 2 and January 8 falls on a Sunday. How boring! So much for the Twelve Days of Christmas and William Shakespeare’s play Twelfth Night.

For me and my family the Feast has been and always will be celebrated on the fixed day of January 6th. While my parents never acknowledged the holiday, my Polish grandmother did and Epiphany marked the time when a priest would come from her Polish parish of St. Anthony’s in downtown Jersey City to bless the house for the new year and to mark in chalk above the entry door a sign of the Three King’s visit. If the priest were coming this year he would write:

20 + K + M + B + 21

20 + 21, of course, mark the year. K + M + B refer to the names of the three kings: Kaspar, Melchior and Balthazar. The plus signs are the sign of the cross. The priest couldn’t always come on the very day of Epiphany but that feast was the occasion for the visit.

At the beginning 2017 I was in Toronto, Canada, for a professional meeting and some Episcopalian friends invited me to attend Epiphany Mass at a nearby Anglican church (St. Mary Magdalen). I eagerly accepted and was thrilled when the service began outside the church with a blessing of chalk and the writing of the Three Kings' message on the front door of the chuch. And everyone in the congregation was given a piece of blessed chalk to do the same on the doors to their own homes. I still have that chalk and have used it every year since.

When I visited my grandfather Sienkewicz’ native village in Belarus in the spring of 2018, I saw those same marks on many doors, both in private homes and in churches.

In the United States, even this custom has been Americanized and Catholics are now encouraged to write C+M+B (instead of K+M+B). Granted Kaspar can be spelled Caspar, but then most Americans would think of a Friendly Ghost instead of one of the Magi. The CMB, Catholics are told, stands for the Latin Christus Mansionem Benedicat (“May Christ Bless this House”), a worthy sentiment, indeed, but one which removes all reference to the Three Kings.

I have written in an earlier blog about the Galettes des Rois, which I first learned about while living in France and which my wife Anne makes every January 6th in honor of the Three Kings.

When our children were very small, we also decided to follow the practice of many Europeans in having the Three Kings leave gifts under the tree for our children on Epiphany. We spent some of our first Christmases as parents with our families in either New Jersey or in Maine (or both) and thought Epiphany could serve as a special occasion just for our family, a time not marked by all the commercialization of Christmas itself. Besides, we realized, the Three Kings could often find good deals on toys in after Christmas sales. The Kings also brought gifts Santa missed. For example, our daughter Marie yearned for a doll as big as she was. Santa didn’t bring it but the Three Kings did. And our kids knew the kings had come because they saw the chalk on the door….

January 1, 2021

My parents were always great fans of New Year’s celebrations. We always stayed up to watch the ball fall in Times’ Square and listen to Guy Lombardo’s band play “Auld Lang Syne.” My mother always made lentil soup because she claimed that would bring us good luck and “money in our pockets” in the new year. I’m not sure the lentils brought money but they certainly tasted good. At midnight many of our neighbors, especially those of Italian heritage would come out on the stoops and bang pots to celebrate the new year. When we saw the new year 1993 in in Florence, we heard many pots banging in the new year as well.

Sometimes we would have company for New Year’s but we spent at least one holiday at the home of my parents best friends, Lou and Gloria Parisi, who had recently moved from Jersey City down to a house down on the Jersey shore. They has six children. My parents had five. The Parisis were godparents for my parents’ youngest child and my parents were the same for theirs.  I don’t remember many details from that New Year, probably around 1962 or so, but that is probably because all those new year’s celebrations were pretty much the same, Time’s Square and Guy Lombardo.

One year when I was in college, probably for 1969 but maybe 1970, I persuaded a group of my high school buddies, to go into the City on New Year’s Eve for a play and dinner. There were at least four of us: Bob Ruggieri, Joe Buzzerio, Richard Michalowski and me. The play was "Fiddler on the Roof". It was Bob Ruggieri's first Broadway play, but not mine. I don’t remember where we ate dinner. I don't remember this, but Bob Ruggieri tells me that we all stopped at a bar for a drink after dinner. In those days the drinking age in New Jersey was 21 but it was 18 in New York, so we were legal. I also remember vividly wanting to stay to watch the ball fall in Times Square. All but one of my buddies agreed to stay as well, so I can boast to have greeted the new year in Times Square once. I doubt I ever will again.

Anne and I once saw the new year in with her family in Waldoboro, Maine. I must admit that was a big disappoint. No one wanted to stay up to watch the ball fall or listen to Guy Lombardo.

New Year’s Eve celebrations were also often memorable in Monmouth. We spent one of our first New Year’s in Monmouth with the families of two of my teaching colleagues, Ron Tyler and Ira Smolensky. We had gotten into the practice of taking turns having Sunday brunch once a month at our homes and decided it would be fun to have all the families gather to see 1986 in. That meant six adults and six children. It was a sleep over and lots of fun.

For many years after that we celebrated the new year at the home of another Monmouth College couple, Doug and Nell Spitz who invited a number of college folk together for a great spread of food and conversation. One of the people at these parties was always our friend Bill Urban, who was born on Dec. 31st, so we always had a birthday to celebrate as well as a new year.

After Doug and Nell could no longer host these parties, there was at least one new year, probably in 2010, when we celebrated Bill’s 70th birthday with a surprise party at his house.

Otherwise, I fear that, over the years, Anne and I have become more and more like her parents. Anne does make lentil soup for dinner on Dec. 31st and we always break out a bottle of champagne, but we no longer wait until midnight to open it. By then we are always in the land of Nod.

What I never got used to, though, was waiting until midnight Central Time to welcome the new year. I always felt that the ball falling in Times Square marked the start of the new year. I guess you can take a Jersey boy out of Jersey but you can't take Jersey out of the boy.

We’ve often had the custom, weather permitting, of driving over to the Mississippi River on New Year’s Day to look for eagles at Lock and Dam 19 in Gladstone. Sometimes we have seen hundreds. Sometimes only a few. I remember bringing Jad, a Syrian student whom we hosted, to see the eagles once. Another time we took Lew Gould, another friend who had recently moved from Texas.

I’d been hoping to see eagles to welcome in 2021 but that was not to be. We had a bad ice storm overnight. Maybe we will try once the roads are better.

But let’s hope that 2021 turns out better in other ways than 2020 even if it did not offer us the opportunity for eagle-viewing on January 1st.

December 31, 2020

When I was in graduate school at The Johns Hopkins University, I took a linguistics class from James Poultney. One of his favorite topics was bahu-vrihi compounds. Bahu-vvrihi is a Sanskrit word which means “much-rice” and the term was used to refer to a wealthy person. This compound word consists of an adjectival word (“much”) and a nominal word (“rice”) which are used together to describe a person or thing associated with the object to which the compound refers. So “much-rice” describes a person whose wealth is defined by possession of a lot of rice. This, of course, is an example of a figure of speech called synecdoche, in which a part represents the whole, the “rice” represents the “rich person.”

There are bahu-vrihi compounds in English Dr. Poultney always cited “hard-hat” as an example because the term could refer to a construction worker.  Some of my personal favorite English bahu-vrihi compounds are “motormouth” (referring to someone who can’t stop talking), a “bonehead” (referring to a stupid person), a “busybody” (referring to someone who intrudes on someone else’s business) and “butterfingers” (referring to a clumsy person). So these bahu-vrihi compounds can be very poetic and very funny. Just think about how buttered fingers can cause an object to slip out of someone’s hands or how someone who talks constantly seems to have a mouth run by a motor. If you’d like to see a long list of English bahu-vrihi coumpounds, this is the best place to go.

Dr. Poultney’s bahu-vrihi compounds became a bonding-reference for the Classics students at Hopkins. One of us would say “bahu-vrihi’ or “much-rice” and we would all burst into hysterical laughter. It was one way that we maintained our sanity in a challenging situation. Even in later years if my path crossed with that of a fellow Hopkins students we never failed to share our fondness for bahu-vrihi compounds. Does that prove we were all “egg-heads”?

I was recently reminded of Dr. Poultney and his bahu-vrihi compounds when my daughter mentioned at lunch that she had been teaching her home-schooled five-year-old about compound words. So I piped up and said “Well, then, you should also know about bahu-vrihi compounds” and a long and enjoyable conversation ensued in which my granddaughter actually grasped the concept of bahu-vrihis and started giving examples in English. Now, if you ask my granddaughter what bahu-vrihi means she will tell you “much-rice” and then say “hardhat.” I am sure this is knowledge which will serve her well in later life.

December 30, 2020

My office at Monmouth College is filled with many happy memories. Here are some examples:

Very early on in my teaching career at MC, probably even in my first or second year (1984-1986), I was meeting with my advanced Latin students and we came to the word montes (Latin for “mountains”). None of them could translate that word and I said, jokingly, “Of course you don’t know that word. You are all from Illinois and have probably never even seen a mountain!” Well, they got their revenge. The next day I came into my office to find a mountain range cut out of construction paper and taped to my window. I have no idea how they managed to get into my locked office to do that. They must have had some cooperation from the janitor.

Another time I came into my office on my birthday to find the room filled with balloons and streamers.

But the best memory came in my last year of teaching in 2017. This story starts with Monmouth hosting the convention of Eta Sigma Phi, the national Classics honorary. There is a tradition at these conventions for the host institution to provide attendees with a special memento to take home. Sometimes this has been a t-shirt, but there have been more exotic gifts, such as sunglasses, jump drives, etc. Well Emma Vanderpool MC’17 came up with the great idea of giving everyone squishy rubber owls because the society’s mascot is an owl. Emma had Eta Sigma Phi inscribed on each owl. When she showed me the design, I said “Why don’t you add the owl’s name?” This name is a tri-lingual pun: Quiz-Tis. Quis is Latin for “who” and tis is Greek for who. So, translated into English, the owl’s name is “Who-who.” I vividly remember the convention at the University of Missouri at which this name was chosen. We had announced a naming competition, and someone suggested Quis. It wasn’t long before the Hellenists in the room added Tis and the rest is history. Anyway, Emma had already ordered the owls without “Quis-Tis” before I made this suggestion. I thought that was the end of the matter until MC graduation came along. When I went into my office to put on my academic robe for commencement I found the room filled with Eta Sigma Phi owls, all of them inscribed with “Quis-Tis”—clearly a deed perpetrated by Emma! The owls were everywhere: on the bookshelves, on my desk, in the file cabinets, in so many places that I still occasionally find one I hadn’t noticed before. I have given many of these owls away but there must have been at least 100 of them because I still have many in my office. A great way to end my teaching career.

December 28, 2020

During my entire teaching career at Monmouth College my office has always been located in Room 101 of Wallace Hall. For the first few years it was the only office on that floor. There were several classrooms on that floor, as well as a large unused space which had once been the math department. So the floor was usually not very busy.  Eventually, however, the Presidential Suite took over the northeast corner of the building, which had included the Classics Classroom. The loss of this teaching space turned out to be a blessing for Classics because it led to a generous gift from Mr. Keith Capron, who had already funded an endowed chair in Classics, to convert another classroom, Wallace 115, into what was then, in the late 1980’s, a start-of-the-art teaching space, complete with projection room, large projection screen, a television and a VCR. Because of this gift Wallace 115 was renamed the Capron Classics Room. Most of that audio-visual equipment long ago became obsolete and was replaced with computer projection but the room still retains some signs of Mr. Capron’s generosity, not only a plaque commemorating his gift in memory of his mother as well as a photograph of Mrs. Minnie Billings Capron, but also a variety of reproductions of Classical artifacts like Greek vases in a handsome display case. 

My office was located across the hall. It was long and narrow and not very large, maybe 8 ft by 15 ft. Behind the office door was a little closet with shelves and hooks behind the closet door to hang a coat (and my doctoral robe). There was a large window which originally looked out on a small parking lot and across to what was first known as the old Carnegie Library and which was eventually remodeled and renamed Poling Hall. With the advent of Poling Hall, the parking lot was removed and replaced by a sidewalk.

Next to that office window was a boarded up door covered with corkboard. The door used to open up into an adjoining classroom. When Wallace was built in the early 20th-century several classrooms in the building had adjourning offices like this, reflecting a old practice enabling a professor to enter a classroom directly from his office.  This adjoining classroom has always, in my time, been a handsome seminar room with a large rectangular table surrounded by chairs in the center of the room. I taught many of my advanced language courses in that room (called the Wells Room).  

In my office there was barely room for a desk and several file cabinets. In any available wall space I had the college install bookcases so that the room was covered, wall to ceiling on two walls with book shelves crammed with books. The Greek books were on the south wall and the Latin books on the north wall. 

Next to the closet door was an old-fashioned green chalkboard, which I found convenient on the occasions I taught a tutorial in my office or was reviewing material with a student. 

The door into the office was built into a wall with a large set of window panes which I eventually covered with curtains to offer some privacy.  

For most of my thirty+ years teaching at Monmouth, when I wasn’t teaching in a classroom, I was usually in my office (except for “sacred swim time” from 11 to 11:45 every weekday). While I posted official office hours, students knew that they were always welcome to stop by to chat. But I did manage to work out a system so that I had at least some time every day for some writing and research.  

Wallace 101 had been the Classics office long before my arrival. For many years Harold Ralston and Bernice Fox had shared that small space. After Prof. Ralston retired, Prof. Fox shared the office with her student assistants, one of whom was LeaAnn Smoley (eventually Osburn) MC ’72, who told me how she would have to type under the careful supervision of Miss Fox. 

I don’t think that the “ghosts” of Harold Ralston and Bernice Fox have every left that space and I was always conscious that I was using a special room with lots of history.  

One day someone in the Green Army showed up at my office door with an old bronze plaque which had been found in storage. The plaque read “Jamieson Greek Room.” No one I asked could tell me what room that plaque had belonged to, so I eventually suggested that it be placed outside Wallace 101. So my office became, and still is, the Jamieson Greek Room. 

At one point there was a short period of concern when the administration started talking about adding an elevator to Wallace Hall and running the shaft right where my office stood. I think I may have staged a sit-in in they had actually tried to build that shaft, which fortunately turned out to be pie-in-the-sky talk and nothing came of it.

So from my arrival at Monmouth in 1985 until my retirement in 2017, the Jamieson Greek Room (AKA Wallace 101) was my home away from home. It is still technically my office and in a future blog I will write about a lot of the memorabilia contained there.

December 27, 2020

As I have mentioned already in blogs, Anne and I lived in Paris as poor graduate students during the academic year 1973-74.  While we spent the actual Christmas holiday visiting friends in Britain, we were able to get a taste of the Christmas season in France. I have already written about the santons or French Christmas creche figurines. We also purchased a few fancy tree ornaments (some birds, a lute, and a santa) in the big French department store called La Samaritaine. We still have those ornaments to decorate our tree every year. But today I would like to write about two French Christmas pastries, the Buche de Noel (Yulelog) and the Gallette des Rois (Three-Kings’ Cake),  which are found in all the patisseries at Christmas time. I realize that I have been writing a lot about food in recentl blogs, but it is that time of year for special foods.

The Buche de Noel is basically jelly-roll cake filled with cream instead of jello and rolled up into the shape of a log. It is iced with chocolate frosting to look like bark. Each buche is unique. Some are pretty fancy and some relatively plain, one for every budget, even that of poor graduate students. But we tasted our first buche on New Year’s Day at the apartment of Mr et Mme Fouché, the parents of one of Anne’s school friend, who basically adopted us while we were living in Paris. They had purchased a buche and put it, still in its box, out on the kitchen window sill to keep cool, but whené they went to serve it, they realized that it had fallen  down to the ground six flights below! Mr Fouché ran down to retrieve it and much to everyone’s surprise the cake was relatively intact and was still delicious. We probably had the only free-falling Buche de Noel in Paris that Christmas. We have never found Buches de Noel for sale in the United States, although I suspect some fancy bakeries to create them, but Anne does occasionally make a buche at Christmastime. Here is her recipe along with a photo of one of her creations. This year she and our daughter are making  two cakes, one for us and one for Julia to bring to her in-laws in Rockford.

Right after the new year, there were no more Buches de Noel to be seen in the patisseries. Instead their windows will filled with Gallettes des Rois, a flat cake made out of puff pastry and filled with almond paste, to celebrate Epiphany, the Feast of Three Kings, on the Twelfth Day of Christmas. Inside each cake the chefs had placed either a traditional bean or a little ceramic figure of a baby. By French custom the person who gets the bean or figurine in their piece of cake is named king or queen and is supposed to buy champagne for the host of the meal. For this reason every gallette was adorned in the pastisserie with a golden paper crown as part of the celebration. We still have one of those crowns and Anne has made a gallette almost every year since. Here is the recipe Anne uses. She usually cuts a crown into the top of the pastry.

December 23, 2020
Growing up in a family with Polish heritage has always meant pierogi for Christmas Eve. My grandmother Sienkewicz made them herself. Hers were always filled with cheese and potato. We were never fans of the sauerkraut ones. She also often made her own kielbasy with home-grated horseradish. I was frequently asked to grate the horseradish root. The grating itself was easy but the strong fumes were overwhelming and the tears would flow. But the result was worth the effort. My grandmother liked to add some grated fresh beet to the horseradish. Delicious. Before eating the pierogi we would break and share oplakti, the traditional Christmas wafer.

Anne and I have continued this Christmas Eve tradition. We never made our own kielbasy but found a good source for good fresh (not smoked) Polish   kielbasy up in the Quad Cities at Stashu’s. But now that we are vegetarians we skip the kielbasy and concentrate on the pierogi. My grandmother used to roll the dough out by hand, but we “cheat” and use a pasta machine to roll out the dough. I like the machine, which belonged to my mother, because it ensures that all the dough is rolled out to the same thickness.

We usually make the pierogi the morning of Christmas Eve or the day before and it is always a family production. All our children were often involved. For many years my Aunt Frances was with us for Christmas and she was an expert pierogi maker. This year we had our daughter Julia and her five-year-old daughter Dorothy. We are amazed at how well Dorothy does. Once the dough is rolled out and cut, she is able to add the potato filling, fold, pinch and crimp the dough to make a finished pierogi all by herself.

Another component of our Polish Christmas is the babka which Anne bakes only at this time of year—an egg bread with raisins. I especially like it toasted for breakfast in the morning. The babka are usually baked a week or two before Christmas, so I get to enjoy them even as Christmas approaches as well as on Christmas itself.

So now tomorrow evening we can celebrate Christmas Eve with our own Polish meal, oplatki and pierogi (but no kielbasy).

December 22, 2020
One of my summer jobs in college was with the Post Office in my hometown, Hoboken, NJ. I was hired to cover for people on vacation. I worked out of the main post office on River St., down near the Erie Lackawanna Station. This post office, a Depression project built in 1931, is brick with an impressive Classical façade. Sometime after my employment it was named the Frank Sinatra Post Office, after Hoboken’s most famous son. I still remember the old fashioned grilled windows from which stamps were sold during my youth. I never worked behind the counter as a postal worker. All my time was spent either delivering mail on a foot route or driving a mail truck to empty collection boxes or deliver special delivery letters. Like air mail, special delivery is now a thing of the past but in the early-70s it was still the fastest way to send a letter because it would be delivered as soon as it arrived, even on Saturday or Sunday. Many of the special delivery letters I handled were sent from Puerto Rico to family in Hoboken. I guess that was a more reliable way to communicate between the island and the mainland. One of my most regular duties was to take a mail truck across town to the 14th St. Sub Station to collect the outgoing mail at the end of the day. My route back to the Main Post Office took my right past my grandparent’s house on 12th and Garden and my grandfather Liguori was almost always sitting on the stoop waiting for me to pass by and wave. I learned a lot about the city on the days I had a foot route and it was actually fun to deliver mail in tenements where I had a special key to open up the mailbox with separate slots for each apartment. Sometimes people would be hovering at the box waiting for a particular letter. I was glad when I could oblige but they were just as often premature in their eagerness. I still have admiration for postal employees who are working foot routes. Delivering mail in the heat of summer can be grueling and sweaty. As a summer temp, I never experienced the challenge of delivering mail in a winter snowstorm. Occasionally, but not very often, my supervisor would ask me to work upstairs at the Main Post Office where they sorted mail. It was fascinating to learn how that was done using a sorting system invented by Benjamin Franklin. My most challenging day working for the Post Office was the day I took a postal truck for my daily run to the substation but forgot to check the gas gauge and ran out of gas on my way back. Someone had to come and rescue me. I was surprised I wasn’t fired that day.

In 2020, especially in this time of COVID, the job of postal workers is especially challenging. Many of them, on the East Coast in particular, have contracted the virus and the postal system is working with a significantly reduced staff. This situation is compounded by the unfortunate policy of the current president and his postmaster general to cut back on staff and equipment to save money. The result has been that millions of packages will probably arrive last for Christmas this year, especially if they are traveling between the Northeast and the Midwest. My sister had a package mailed to us in late November which still hasn’t arrived and I mailed several boxes to Maine in early December which are also currently AWOL.

On the other hand, I am heartened that so many people still send real Christmas cards in the mail. Anne and I send out around 250 every year plus another 150 people to whom we send only electronic greetings. The physical cards are certainly more satisfactory than the electronic communications. Many of the people to whom we send cards we only hear from once a year, but it is good to catch up and to recollect our shared live experiences. Sadder are the cards which are returned to us as undeliverable. We are of such an age now that the intended recipients of those cards are now deceased. So the Christmas season is sometimes also a time to mourn the death of friends and acquaintances.

So three cheers for the Post Office in these difficult times!

Monday, December 21, 2020
Today is the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. Tomorrow the days start to get longer and, hopefully, as more and more people receive the COVID vaccine, the days will get safer as they get longer. |

Last night I tried to catch an early glimpse of Jupiter and Saturn converging in the southwest sky, to the right of the moon. I saw the moon but no planets. I was probably looking too late. Tonight is the planets come closest to each other so I will try again.

The word “solstice” has an interesting etymology. It comes from from Latin solstitium which means "the point at which the sun seems to stand still," from L.  sol "the sun" (from PIE root *sawel- "the sun") + past participle stem of L sistere "stand still, take a stand; to set, place, cause to stand," from PIE *si-st-, reduplicated form of root *sta- "to stand, make or be firm." So “solstice” refers to the point when the sun reaches either its northernmost point in the sky in relation to the equator (around June 21) or its southernmost point (around December 22). Actually the solstices are reversed in the northern and southern hemispheres. In the north the December solstice is the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, but in the south the December solstice is the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. It would seem odd for someone from the northern hemisphere to celebrate Christmas at full summer. Not only Christmas but also Hanukkah are feasts linked to the winter solstice. Both are festivals of light celebrated the point when the days start to get longer again. The ancient Romans had a similar feast called Saturnalia, in honor of Saturn, a Roman agricultural deity. According to the late Roman author Macrobius Saturnalia was, like Christmas and Hanukkah, a festival of light at which many candles were lit to represent the quest for knowledge and truth. In the later Roman Empire, on December 23 the Romans celebrated Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, the "Birthday of the Unconquerable Sun", as a renewal of light at the start of a new year. Since no one knows exactly when Jesus was born, it is no surprise that Christians would decide to celebrate his birthday at the time of the winter solstice, at a time of rebirth and renewal.

The convergence of Jupiter and Saturn tonight is significant because it occurs on the night of the solstice, at a time when the Romans honors the god Saturn. Since at least the 17th century, in fact, some people ave thought that such a convergence was the astronomical event known as the Star of Bethlehem from the Gospel of Matthew. That is the “star” which led the Wise Men in search of a newborn king. It is unlikely, however, that a convergence of Jupiter and Saturn was actually the Star of Bethlehem. Here is an excellent discussion about attempts to identify the Star of Bethlehem.

Even if tonight’s convergence is not a repeat of that Christmas event, it is still worth a look. I hope that the sky is clear for tonight’s planetary performance.

Sunday, December 20, 2020
The recent reports of cyberattacks on various US govenment departments and agencies are certainly troublesome from the point of view of national security, but I would like to approach these attacks from a slighly different direction, namely the almost exclusive reliance today on electronic rather than print records.As a Classicist I have long been aware of the fact that only a miniscule amount of the written literature and knowledge  of the ancient Greeks and Roman authors is still extant today. While estimates of the percentage of surviving texts vary widely (between 1% and 10%), we simply do not know how much has actually been  lost. We do have reliable information about some texts. For example, only 33 of the 948 plays produced by Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides at the Greater Dionysia survive today. That's 3.5% for an extremely central group of ancient texts. I would argue that the percentage for many other forms of written documents is probably much lower than that for ancienet tragedies.
The reasons for this great loss are varied but include political turmoil and the rise of Christianity (which preferenced Christian over "pagan" writings). Also significant was the fact that all books had to be copied by hand, an expensive and time-consuming process. As a result there were a limited number of copies of any ancient book, most of which probably rested in private, wealthy hands. There were also very few major library collections (most significantly, in Alexandria, Rome, and, later Constantinople). The great library in Alexandria strove for univerality and must have come closest to a comprehensive collection. We know that the library suffered from a fire in the time of Julius Caesar but we have little knowledge about the library's later history. It is likely that the building was destroyed in one of the sieges of Alexandria during the third century.
In medieval Europe most texts were preserved in monasteries. As manuscripts deteriorated, a decision had to be made to recopy or destroy it. There was time and desire for only so much recopying.
Even in China the preservation of ancient texts was precarious. For example, in the third century BC the First Emperor of the Qin Dynasty ordered most books to be destroyed.
The invention of the printing press by Gutenberg in the mid-fifteen century has made the dissemination of the written word much easier and its preservation more likely. Public and research libraries became storehouses of printed copies of books and journals so that if one copy was lost, other libraries proably still had copies.
Storing print copies of records in multiple places is essential. I cite the sad story of the local newspaper of my wife's hometown, Waldoboro, Maine. The building in which that newspaper had been printed for over a century burned down in the 1950's. The entire archive of the paper was destoyed and there was no other archive.
So, you say, if the paper had been digitized, this record woud not have been lost. All well and true, but I would like to turn this around. Nowadays most records are only preserved electonically. Many libraries are cancelling print subscriptions to journals in favor of digital ones. Many important conversations and decisions by corporations and institutions are made only via email with no paper trail. Academic institutions now record grades electronically rather than on paper. The same is true for medical records in hospitals and physicians' offices.
 What happens if that organization's server is hacked or hit with a ransomware attack? Either pay a large sum to an extortionist on line or lose all your data. What were to happen if the US Government were ht with a ranswomware attack by an international crime ring?
Making an electronic backup on another server is not enough because there is also the matter of fromat and storage medium. How many folks can access data they stored on a 5.25" floppy, for example? It is likely that a lot of material has already been lost because it was "archived" in a format which is now obsolete.
And what if there is a major electrical grid failure and the entire world goes into total darkness temporarily or even long-term? There may indeed come a time that only a fortunte few or even no one will have the means or ability to access all the knowledge we are only preserving digitally. Are we facing another Dark Age and loss of knowlddge in the future?
Wouldn't it be better to backup printed records both digitally AND in print? Shouldn't libraries remain a place for printed books and journals (as well as digital ones)?

Saturday, December 19, 2020
In an earlier blog I mentioned my grandfather Sienkewicz' pocket watch which my son Richard now has. I don't know when my grandfather acquired that watch and don't actually remember seeing him wear it. He died when I was seven so I don't really have many memories about him. My father, unfortunately, was never very interested in my grandfather's early life, so I grew up knowing almost nothing about his family or even where he had been born. All I knew from my grandmother was that he came from "Vilnya," a region which was then part of Czarist Russia and today spans parts of Lithuania and Belarus. The only other thing I have which belonged to  my grandfather is the prayer book which he brought with him when he emigrated to the United States sometime around 1912. The book is in Polish, which I  cannot read. There is a handwritten inscription in the front which my grandmother told me was written by the parish priest. I could also recognize my grandfather's name "Maciej Sinkowicz" but I was not able to decipher the full inscription until I sent a scan of the inscription to my cousin Donal Brechun in Canada. He told me that the full inscription read as follows: "This book Belongs to Maciej Sinkowicz, please do not in any case Please give it back, I will thank you, and I will thank that person, and give it back to the Udelo parish Signed by priest Marsal Jancewicz." This inscription was enlightening because it showed that my grandfather came from the same village (Udelo) as Donald's father, Justin Brechun, did. I had always thought that Justin was my grandfather's nephew and this inscription was one step in confirming that relationship. Since I had been invited to give a paper at a conference in Vilnius, Lithuania, in May 2018, Donald, who has visited Udelo several times, graciously agreed to meet me in Minsk and take me to the village to meet our cousins who still live there. It was an incredible experience to meet many descendants of my grandfather's brother, Bronislaw. These descendants were my second cousins whom I didn't know I had. What a great shame that my family lost contact with them after my grandfather left the village. I wish I could ask him today why he left and why he did not remain in contact with this family there. Of course that area suffered through incredible disruptions after my grandfather left, starteting with the First World War, then the Russian Revolution, then the Treaty of Versailles after which Udelo was part of Poland, then the German and Russian invasion of Poland in 1939, after which Udelo and its surroundings were absorbed into the Byelorussian SSR, i.e., the Soviet Union. Then the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, Udelo was part of the nation of Belarus. Despite all these disruptions, Donald's father in Canada stayed in touch with the family in the old country, but my family did not. Why will always remain a mystery now. But the visit to Udelo in 2018 also led to some successful geneological detective work by another cousin, Svetlana Romanchuk, in the Minsk National Archives. With the help of the documents Svetlana uncovered we have now been able to trace the family back to the beginning of the 19th century. Of course this discovery has only uncovered more mysteries, like why the family name changed back and forth between Brechun and Sienkiewicz several times in the 19th century and why my grandfather, who,  now know, was born Brechun, changed his name back to Sienkiewicz when he came to the United States. I have written about this family history in more detail here if you are interested. I never thought that I would be able to learn about my grandfather's family, let alone meet some of them, visit the village where he grew up and even attend Mass in his parish church.

Friday, December 18, 2020
I fear that this blog is a rant on terms of respect and endearment. When I was growing up in the 1950's in New Jersey, my little world was filled with people who had special relationships and titles, not only my parents and grandparents but also a bevy of aunts and uncles , as well as teachers whom I addressed as Sister, Father, Mr, Miss, or Doctor.  There were also special family friends who were given the honorific titles of aunt or uncle. The only adult I can remember for whom I was encouraged to address by first name was my piano teacher. Looking back, can't really explain why he was Alfred instead of Mr. Agostino. I later took lessons from a woman whom I always called Miss Mae. I don't even remember her last name, but the Miss was definitely a form of respect. Even in graduate school at Johns Hopkins, such forms of address were normal. We would never have dreamed of addressing our professsors directly by anthing but Dr. (How we often referred to some of them in the thrid person is a diffferent matter.) I remember that after I successfully defended my doctoral thesis, my advisor informed me that I could now call him by his first name. This was definitely intended to be a sign of rite of passage, but I have never really been comfortable with adrressing him by first name or even thinking about him without the title Dr. When I began my first teaching job at Howard University in 1974, I addressed my department chair as "Dr Snowden." I wouldn't and couldn't address him as "Frank", even though he invited  me to do so. He reemained Dr. Snowden to me until the day he died.
When I moved to the Illinois to teach at Momouth College in 1984, I was taken aback by the informality of the Midwest where almost everyone used first names, even for complete strangers. At Monmouth College I was able to accept the custom of referring to teaching colleagues and even high-ranking administrators, including colllege presidents, by their first names, but I have never felt comfortable with the practice. I always expected my students to address me as Professor or Doctor and suggested to them that they could safely use Professor for all their college instructors but should be careful with the title Doctor, since not all their instructors had earned doctorates. Even then I was swimming against the tide, since many of my "hip" colleagues were already comfotable being addressed by first name by their students.
In recent times I have even become familiar with children who call their own parents by their first names. This seems to me to be especially unfortunate, since that undermines the very special relationship between a parent and a child. I have come to accept the fact that the spouses of my own children call me by my first name but I shall never really like it. I also find it sad when neices and nephews try to abandon the title "uncle" or "aunt" in reference to their parents' siblings, because I always cherished the aunts and uncles in my own life.There are also a few former students and offspring of friends and colleagues who now call me "Uncle Tom" as a term of affection which I appreciate.As I have moved into grandparenthood, I have been pleasantly amused by the way my granddaughters have found ways to address me. To one granddaughter I am Grandad. To the others I am Grandpa. This reminds me that my own children called both of their granfathers by a title of their own creation, "Poppi." I can't even imagine a grandchild calling a grandparent by first name alone.
I especially lament the loss of terms of adddress in more formal professional contexts. I will pass over the now almost universal use of first names at professional meetings. Instead I will focus on the medical world where MDs are always referred to as "Dr." but most everyone else is known only by first name. I became especially aware of this when my GP retired and I started seeing a Physician's Assitant instead. Everyone had always referred to my GP as Dr. but the PA only has a first name. Then there are the patients, including me, who are only addressed by first name as well. I must confess that when I am being called from a medical waiting room by first name I usually feign hard-of-hearing, until the person, in frustration, adds my last name. I once unfortunately created a scene in a medical office when a very young woman taking my vitals kept addressing me by my first name. When I told her that I was much older than she was and that she didn't know me well enough to address me by first name, she burst into tears. I'd like to think that she had just been having a bad day which I had made worse, but I do feel that the use of first names should be reserved for people you know well and who have ageed to such informality. I have also noticed in nursing homes that all the residents are addressed by first name, as if they are young children.
I may be out of tune with general practice, but it would be much better, I think, for those who work with the public, not only in medical facilities but also in any business environment, to use Mr. or Ms. with their clients and customers.
One last related rant. I have always been "Thomas" to my family. Starting in high school, everyone called me "Tom". So when some stranger calls me "Thomas" today, it expecially rankles. Organizations which send me solicitation letters beginning "Dear Thomas" are unlikely to reeive a sympathetic response from the recipient.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020
Last night we had potato pancakes (latkes) for supper. These have always been a staple in the Sienkewicz family. I think that my Polish paternal grandmother showed my Italian mother how to make them. And when Anne and I were living in Paris in 1973-74 in a one-room apartment with only two burners for cooking, I showed Anne how to make them. My grandmother and mother always used a cheese grater like this one to grate the potatoes and this was hard on the fingers. I know from personal experience since I was often asked by my mother to do the grating. So when we saw this Moulinex grater on sale in Paris, we bought one and were so thrilled with the way it grated the potatoes (as well as other things like carrots and celery root), that we actually bought two more to send to our mothers. I don't know how much either of them used them, but we have continued to use ours, now considered a "vintage" model because the bodies are now only made in plastic (sigh) instead of metal. But we were glad to be able to pass on a graters we'd bought for his grandmother to our son Richard, who likes to make potato pancakes, especially for Hannukah. We always serve them with sour cream and apple sauce on the side and we make the leftovers into a casserole of layered pancakes an sour cream. Whenever my mother made potato pancakes for her family of seven in Hoboken there were never leftovers. Many times her sister Frances and sometimes one of her brothers would "smell" the pancakes frying from across the street and invite themselves in for some. Often the panckes would get eaten faster than my mother could fry them. At least once, my mother had so  many customers for the pancakes that she actually ran out of potatoes in the middle of the process and sent me to the store to buy more. A few years ago Anne and I decided to have a latke party and invited a lot of friends from Monmouth. Our dining room was filled to the brim with friends eating latkes. It was a lot of work but also a lot of fun. Last night we had our daughter Julia and granddaughter Dorothy with us for dinner and I was thrilled to see how much Dorothy enjoyed eating potato panckes. The family tradition cotinues....

Tuesday, December 15, 2020
In my opinion there are few things more delicious in wintertime then a pear so ripe that the juice drips from it as it is sliced. We have been enjoying such pears recently because friends have sent us boxes of pears from Washington State. We have our own pear tree in the yard, but it is only a few years old. It produced its first seven fruits this season and we are looking forward to a more prolific harvest in future years. The tree is a Kieffer pear, a cross between the European bartlett pear, Pyrus communis, and the Asian sand pear, Pyrus pyrifolia. This vareity is not usualy sold in the supermarket but is an old American variety. Pears are members of the Rosaceae family along with apricots and apples and are native to both China and the Near East. The Kieffer blends both geographic types. This is our second pear tree. Our first was supposed to be a dwarf tree with five different types of pear but both dwarf and the multiple varieties turned out to be inaccurate. Over the years the tree flourished, produced incredible ccrops and grew more than twenty feet high. The more I pruned it, the higher it grew. We really liked the fruit it produced (whichever of the five types won out) but, since it was supposed to be dwarf, I had unfortunately planted it very close to my vegetable garden. Eventually the tree started to shade the garden too much. I couldn't move the garden, so the tree had to go. Sigh.
We have many memories related to pears. One of my most vivid youthful memories of my grandfather Ligouri is of him sitting in his easy chair in front of the TV  in the living room and eating a pear. What amazed me as a child was that he ate the entire pear, core, seeds and all. The only thing left was the stem.
Another pear memory was the night Anne and I stayed at the Hotel Lungomare, a small seaside pensione in Rimini in the spring of 1974. For our simple breakfast we were served homemade pear preserves with our bread. The preserves were so delicious that Anne asked the proprietess for the recipe which she gladly gave us and which we have used many times over the years. Here is that recipe, which we used again this year with a batch of pears I got this year at a yard sale, of all places. The people runnning the sale had a sign saying "free pears" and actually invited me to pick as many as I wanted from their tree. I couldn't resist.
Another pear memory took place in Florence while I was a visiting faculty member for the now defunct Associated Colleges of the Midwest Program. The director of program at that time was Janet Smith and she and I organized a food spread for the students, for which Janet brought ripe pears and a cheese spread of marscapone and blue cheese. I don't usually like blue cheese, but we enjoyed that pear and cheese combo that we still make it today, ususally with cream cheese instead of marscapone (which is sometimes difficult to find in Monmouth and which is pretty pricey).
Anne also makes a wicked pear custard tart a la française.

Monday, December 14, 2020

I just read in the news today that the iconic 21 Club in New York City is closing permanently due to the COVID pandemic. Certtainly the loss of so many lives as well as so many jobs in these difficult times is much more serious than the closing of a nightclub and restaurant, but the loss of 21 Club illustraes one of the ways that this panemic is going to leae a lasting imprint on American society.  Originally a small speakease which opened in 1922,  21 Club eventually moved to its current location, 21 West 52nd Street , from which it got its name. The facade of the building is famous for the parade of jockey statues lining the wrought iron staircase and balcony and, inside, the walls and ceiling are filled with all sorts of toys and memorabilia collected over the years from many patrons, including every president since FDR. There is even a special President's Table in the center of the dining area. I only visited 21 Club once, but it was for a very special occasion: the 60th birthday of my youngst siblings, Toni and Eddie Sienkewicz, on September 9, 2017. Fortuately, I had retired from teaching in the spring; otherwise I would not easily have been able to be in NYC for the occasion. We began the festivities with a ferry ride from Weekawken, New Jersey, across the Hudson to "The City." Then lunch al fresco in Times Square followed by a performance of "Wicked". Then finally dinner at 21 Club. There were eight of us at dinner: in adddition to Toni and Eddie, there were our sister MaryBeth, my wife Anne, Toni's daughter Christina, MaryBeth's son Roy, and our cousin Laura. Here is a photo of the group dining at the President's Table. Here is a photo of the celebrants aligning themselves with the jocky statues. It was a memorable celebration which cannot be repeated in the future, thanks to COVID. I wonder what will become of all those jockeys and the restaurat's memorabilia. Sic transit gloria mundi.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Both of my mother's parents were basically orphans. My grandfather Liguori had been brought by his father to the US from Italy at the age of three and was left to be raised by his maternal grandmother when his father returned permanently to Italy after a short time in America. My grandmother Ligouri's parents had both died by the time she was about twelve and she and her two brothers were left to fend for themselves. There were no child labor laws then and she worked in factories in Hoboken as a young girl. That is where she met a young woman named Elise Graumann, the daughter of German immigrants. They became such good friends that when my grandparents were married on November 30, 1916 in St. Joseph's Church in Hoboken, Elise was my grandmother's witness. Elise and her sister Julia, neither of whom ever married, became lifelong friends of the Liguori family and attended many family gatherings. Here are photos of Elise and Julia as young women. Here is a photo of my grandmother (on right) with Julia (on left) and Elise (in center. And here is a photo of my grandmother (on left) and Julia (on right) at Christmas sometime in the late 1950's, after Elise's death. One amusing story I remember is that when my Uncle Jerome was born my grandparents disagreed on his name. My grandmother wanted Jerome but my grandfather wanted to name the baby Ferdinand after a good friend of his. Elise and Julia were present for the "discussion" and the decision was made to draw the name out of a hat. So my grandmother and her buddies apparently made a fix by only putting Jerome ballots in the hat and the rest was history. I do not remember Elise, who died when I was only a few years old, but Julia became an adopted aunt. I wish my children had been able to know Aunt Julia, who died about a year after our daughter Julia was born. Our daughter was named after her. Everyone always told me that if I thought Julia was nice, I should have kown her sister. Aunt Julia was especially famous for her baking and a number of her recipes are in our on-line family recipe book. We especially remember her at this time of year when her recipes for Spritz cookies, ribbon cookies and cream cheese roll-ups are a Christmas staple. But she is probably most "famous" for her "Aunt Julia Cheesecake" which is a winner not only here in the United States but also across the pond with friends in Britain. If anyone has additional memories about Aunt Julia, let me know and I can add them to this blog.
My brother Eddie adds this memory of Aunt Julia: She decorated her little artificial Christma tree not with lights and glass ornaments but with chocolate ornaments. Anyone who came to visit was invited to take an ornament off the tree.

Friday, December 11, 2020
When I was growing up in Hoboken, New Jersey, we always had a live cut tree. In my youngest years, we lived in a fourth-floor walk up on Park Ave and one of the challenges was getting the tree up four flights of stairs. I also have a childhood memory of the tree being tossed out the window after Christmas, carefully, of course, to avoid hitting anyone or anything, but that may be pure childhood imagination. Both sets of grandparents also had live cut trees. I particuarly  remember the trees my grandparents Sienkewicz had, with bubble lights which especially fascinated me. We stilll decorate our tree evey year with ornaments my gransparent had and I made a special point of getting bubble lights for my own children, and now grandchildren to enjoy.
Anne and I have continued the traition of getting a live tree, but one of our first Christmas trees, in 1974, was not live cut, it was a 2 ft. living tree which we brought up to Maine after the holiday. Here is a photo of the tree decorated in our apartment in Baltimore. Anne's father planted out behind their house where they could see it from their kitchen window and, over the years, Anne's parents got great pleasure watching it grow. Here is a photo of the little tree planted behind the house in Waldoboro. It is now about twenty feet high and very wide. I am sure that my brother-in-law is not happy when he has to mow around it, but he is also the sentimental type and is unlikely to cut it down. Here is a photo of the tree taken in 2012 with Anne, me and our granddaughter Sylvia standing in front of it. There were only one year we did not have a tree, in 1973 when we were living in Paris. We even had a small tree  in 1992, when we were living in Florence. We didn't take any of our ornaments from home so we all had fun making origami ornaments and ornaments from walnut shells. We still have some of those ornaments as well. The angel on the top of our tree is one which Anne embroidered many years ago.
As a Mainer, Anne has always been fond of balsam fir trees, which were difficult to find when we moved to Illinois. In recent yeas we had actually been getting 8ft. tree sshipped to us from a tree farm in Maine and it was always exciting to see it delivered by FedEx in early December in a big box. This year, however, our supplier had only small 4 ft. trees to sell and we couldn't find any reasonably-priced alternatives  on-line. We were worried that we would not find a balsam fir this year, especially in a pandemic which made shopping difficult, but mirabile visu, just before Thanksgiving I was at the local hardware store and saw a wide selection of trees, including some beautiful balsam firs (probably from Michigan). Apparently the pandemic has actually led to a resurgence of interest in live cut trees. Since I knew that most folks in Monmouth put their tree up Thansgiving weekend, I bought a tree on the spot, tied it on the top of my station wagon and drove it home. Since then it has been sitting on our east deck waiting for Christmas.
By tradition we don't put our tree up until just two or three days before Christmas and keep it up until after Epiphany. Last year we reluctanly had to take the tree down right after Christmas because we had to go to Washington, DC for a professional meeting at New Year's. Painful.
And this year I think we will start putting up the tree today because all three of our granddaughters will be here this weekend and I'd like them to help decorate it.

Thursday, December 10, 2020
Anne and I spent our third years as graduate students at Hopkins in France in 1973-74. We didn't have much money and didn't travel very much but one place we visited more than once was Chartres and its magnificent cathedral. Getting to Chartres from Paris was not difficult or too expensive, just a one and half hour trip from the Gard du Nord. So it can be done as a daytrip. We made our first trip to Chartres with Bonnie Isaac (one of Anne's fellow French grad students) and her husband Fred. Later we took Anne's parents there as well. Both visits were in the wintertime and the weather was quite cold. The cathedral is not well heated, at least it wasn't in 1974, when there were only floor heating grates scattered around the building. One of my lasting memories of our visit was watching French curate read from his breviary while standing over one of those grates with the bottom of his cassock puffed up by the forced air. He was quite content.
Just standing in the cathedral and admiring the varied colors of the stained glass windows is an experience in itself, but we were fortunate on our first visit to sign up for an English language tour. We'd felt a bit guilty not signing up for the French language tour but thought that both Fred and I might get more out of the English one. It turned out to be a good decision because our tour guide turned out to be excellent. His name was Malcolm Miller, a British ex-pat, whose knowledge and enthusiasm for the building was addictive. I still remember vivdly his description of the sculptures of Abraham and Isaac on the facade as well as his discussion of the stained glass window depicting the Root of Jesse. His cathedral tour was not onl a highlight of our stay in France but is one of the most memorable experiences of my life.
When I started teaching at Monmouth College in the mid-1980's, I quickly found myself appointed to the Public Affairs Committee, which was then in charge of arranging speakers and programming for the weekly convocation series attended by almost everyone at the college. In search of good programming I thought back to Malcolm Miller and even wrote him (no email bac then) to ask if there were any chance that he would be available for a lecture in the United States. Much to my delight, he actually was available and I was able to arrange his visit to Monmouth for a convocation presentation on Chartres. At least one of my Monmouth colleagues, Jim DeYoung of Speech and Theatre, has also experienced one of Miller's tours and was eager for his visit. Even speaking far away from his beloved Chartres, Miller's enthusiam for the building was still addictive.  I hope that at least some of the students who attended that convocation were later inspired to visit Chartres Cathedral in person and perhaps get a tour from Miller himself. I do know that at least one of my students did,  visit Chartres, although I don't think she had bee a student at Monmouth when Miller gave his talk there. At my encouragement she had been spending a semester in Paris and decided to make a pilgrimage walk across the field toward the cathedral.. Unfortunately she suffered a terrible allergic reaction as a result of her walk and wound up in a hospital, causing her frantic parents to call me at home at 4 or 5 AM the next day. Thank goodness, she recovered quickly. A Google search tells me that as recently as five years ago Miller was, incredibly, still giving his tours in Chartres. I myself have not been back to Chartres since my graduate schoool days but I do occationally visit the cathedral in my mind's eye and think back to Miller's tour. For many years Anne and I subscribed to a magazine published by the Cathredal and filled with excellent photographs of the cathedral. Perusing those magazines, which we still have, is another way to recreate the experience of visiting Chartre Cathedral.

Wednesday, December 9, 2020
Having "Event Past" and "Event Present" sections to my blogs seemed like a good idea when I started by now I think those headings are a bit limiting and artificial, so I am abandoning them going forward. Today I would like to reflect on an email I received yesterday from someone in Monmouth asking me a question about a course handout I used in my Word Elements class for many years. Many of my syllabi were posted on line over the years and I recently copied them from the college server to my own website ( Somehow this person came across a handout entitled Christmas Carols the Hard Way, which I always shared with students "just for fun." I didn't compose these myself and don't remember where I found them but in the handout lyrics of familiar carols are rephrased using more unfamiliar language. For example, "Adeste Fideles" (#1) appears as "Move hitherward the entire assembly, of all those who are loyal in their belief." I don't provide an answer key on line and I guess my inquirer was able to figure them all out except #13 ("A witnessed vision of maternal emotion exhibited toward the popular personification of the spirit of Christmas.") I am not going to give the answer here but I will say that apparently she was thrown off by using "mother" for "maternal." She needed to find a more popular term for "mother." I did send her the answer in an email. I taught Word Elements for many year, first at Howard Univerity and then at Monmouth College. It was always fun to teach and it was rewarding to see how students' vocabulary and understanding of words improved throughout the semester.

Tuesday, December 8, 2020
Event Past: Some past events are etched vividly in our memories. The death of John Lennon on this day, December 8th, forty years ago, is one of those unforgetable memories for me. I remember hearing the horrible news on NPR that Lennon had been shot. Even our two-year-old daughter, Marie, was upset, although she did not learn to appreciate the music of Lennon and of the Beatles until she was a bit older. Four years later I remember waking up in the morning to NPR playing a recording of Lennon singing "Grow Old Along with Me," which had just been released on the Milk and Honey album.  Anne and I both dissolved into tears as we heard that song. What a loss his death was! His "best" was never meant to be. What fate decreed for him was not a long life. He did not get to grow old. And the number of public deaths by gunshot has only increased since then. When will we ever learn?
Event Present: Here is a link to the recording of Lennon and Yoko Ono singing "Grow Old Along with Me" which we heard that fateful day but the album was not released until 1984, four years after his death.
Here are the lyrics:
Grow old along with me
The best is yet to be
When our time has come
We will be as one
God bless our love
God bless our love
Grow old along with me
Two branches of one tree
Face the setting sun
When the day is done
God bless our love
God bless our love
Spending our lives together
Man and wife together
World without end
World without end
Grow old along with me
Whatever fate decrees
We will see it through
For our love is true
God bless our love
God bless our love
My daughter Marie reminds me to mention that Lennon's song was based on a poem by Robert Browning called "Rabbi Ben Ezra." Yoko Ono had a companion song called "Let Me Count the ways," also on the Milk and Honey album and inspired by this sonnet by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. 
Here are the lyrics to Ono's song:
Let me count the ways how I love you
It's like that gentle wind you feel at dawn It's like that first sun that hits the dew
It's like that cloud with a gold lining telling us softly
That it'll be a good day, a good day for us
Thank you, thank you, thank you
Let me count the ways how I miss you
It's like that oak tree in my childhood garden
It's like that first summer I spent in Egypt
It's like that warm evening you read to me
Both knowing deeply
That it's a good time, a good time for us
Thank you, thank you, thank you Let me count the ways how I see you
It's like that lake in the mountain you heard about
It's like that autumn sky that stays so blue It's like that air around me that holds me gently Whispering strongly that you're always there, always for me
Thank you, thank you, thank you
One really nice feature about these complementary songs is their integration of the Brownings' poetry into musical form.

Monday, December 7, 2020
Event Past:
I wonder how many people will remember that today is Pearl Harbor Day. Indeed, how many Americans will recognize Roosevelt's description of the Dec. 7th as "a date that will live infamy" and know why he said that? While I am too young to have heard Roosevelt's "Infamy Speech" to Congress on Dec. 8, 1941, I certainly heard reference to it many times in my youth in the 1950's. After all, my parents and granparents were all alive when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. My father fought in the Battle of Heilbronn during the Battle of the Bulge and uncle who fought in Africa and in Italy. My father's good friend Lou Parisi fought in the Pacific, where he was badly wounded and has lived with a metal plate in his head ever since. I remember a grade school teacher at my Catholic grade school noting that war was declared on Dec. 8th, a very inappropriate day, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Very few people are alive today who remember that day and its terrible consequences, concluding with the dropping of atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
It is remarkable how different the world is today and how much American attitudes towards the Japanese have changed. My father-in-law, who had several friends die in the Bataan Death March, would never buy a Japanese care. Now Japan is one of the stauchest allies of the United States. Thank goodness our nation has apologized for the poor treatment of Japanese Americans during the war. During my teaching career I had several students from Japan, all, excellent scholars, and have kept in touch with a number of them. Many of my American students were fascinated with Japanese culture because of Anime, and my own son Richard wound up majoring in East Asian Studies in college because of that. He even spent a semester studying in Japan and later went on to live and teach in Japan for more than a year. I was lucky enough to visit him while he was there and during that visit connect with one of my former students. Richard and I also once made a pilgrimage to DC to see the Enola Gay, the plane which dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.
Event Present: So while December 7, 1941 was, indeed, a Day of Infamy which caused so  much suffering and loss of life, not only during the actual attack but for four additional years, I think we should also consider it a lesson in the dangers of militarism, nationalism and arms proliferation and also look for at least some good coming out of such horror. The frienship which Japan and the United States share today is a living testament to the possibilities of such positive outcomes from an evil nightmare.

Suday December 6, 2020
Event Past:  
I have lived around house plants for as long as I can remember. My mother raised African violets, which I have never been able to raise sucessively, although my siblings have. My theory is that I have never found quite the right light in my house for African violets. My grandmother Sienkewicz always had house plants, especially the amayllis mentioned in an earlier blog. I also remember her growing mimosa ("sensitive") plants from seeds I brought back from my grade school teacher. In recent years I have been buying a mimosa plant in the nursery every spring, but I have not had much success in making the plant flourish or live into the fall. I wish my grandmother were still alive to ask he what she did. In college and graduate school I always had one or two potted plants in my room or apartment. Even in Paris Anne and I tried to keep a plant in our tiny apartment. We had bought a pretty cyclamen at the Marche des Plantes but needed to find someone to tend it when we went to Britain for Christmas. Anne's friend Annick agreed to take care of it. Shortly after we returned to Paris, we happened to meet Annick at the Marche (which be visited frequently) frantically trying to describe our plant to the merchant. Annick thought she had killed our plant when it acutlly had just gone dormant! A great laugh was had by all.
Many of my houseplants have histories and stories connected with them. I will share one in this blog about the plant I have had the longest. I first got this plant in 1972 when Anne and I were visiting the greenhouse at the University of Maine shortly after we were married. Anne used to visit that greenhouse occasionally as an undergradute and showed me an unusal plant which had always attracted her attention because it produced offspring on its leaves. We surreptiously took a leave filled with baby plants with us when we left the greenhouse and have managed to maintain plants propagated from that original leaf every since.  We have always called this plant a "monster plant" because it can grow several feet tall, but its botanical name is Kalanchoe daigremontiana, although it used to be called Bryophyllum daigremontianum. It is actually native to Madagascar and has lots of common names including "mother of thousands" (a great name, for obvious reaons), "alligator plant: (maybe because a leaf filled with babies looks like an alligator's open mouth?) and "Mexican hat plant" (perhaps because of all the tassles which hang from Mexican hats).  Early in our experience with these plants, one of them surprised us by bursting into bloom with purple flowers after it had grown tall. After blooming the plant died but we, of course, had lots of babies to replace it. Since then we have looked forward to the unpredictable blooming of one of our monster plants. I am also pleased that all three of my children have taken babies to grow in their own homes.
Event Present:  These days I keep almost no plants in the house during the summer. They all have their places on the deck or in the garden. In the fall they all get brought in the house, where some live in various rooms and others thrive under grow lights in the basement. (I have often wondered why the local police never questione those lights shining all night throught the baseement windows.) In the spring all these plants get carried again outside. (This includes the all the amaryllis pots.) I can no longer manage this myself but have been able to find helpers to assist me. Every year I say to myself that I should cut back but every fall I take pity on the plants which will die with the frost and bring them inside. It is actually nice to have a room in the basement filled with plants. They smell nice and create a greenhouse-like humid environment. I sometimes think about putting a comfortable chair in that space and going down their to read.
In case you are wondering about the monster plant, this year it is living in the basement for the winter (although sometimes I have kept it upstairs). Here is a photo of my current crop of bryophylla. Unfortunately no offspring are growing on the leaves at the moment and these plants are, of course, much too small to be in bloom. I would be happy to share one of my offspring with anyone who reads this blog. Just come by for a "baby" (wearing your facemask, of course) or I can even mail you one.

Saturday, December 5, 2020
Event Past:
In early December our kitchen always gets filled with ingredients for Dundee cakes: almonds, currents, candied cherries, etc. Making Dundee cakes reminds us of many dear people. We ate our first Dundee cake in Ferndale, in the Rhondda Valley in Wales, at Christmas 1973, in the home of Tom and Hattie Edwards. Anne and I were spending that acdemic year in Paris. Anne was taking courses with scholars like Jacques Derrida and I had projects at the Lourve and the manuscript room of the Bibliotheque Nationale while also preparing for my doctoral orals. At Christmastime we travled to Britain to visit Viv Edwards, whom Anne had met while they were students at Laval University in 1970-71, and her husband Chris. Both Viv and Chris have since become lifelong friends, but this was at the beginning of our friendship. We went first to Reading, where Viv and Chris were living at that time, in a little apartment with a dark purple wall, and managed a daytrip or two into London for sightseeing. (Anne and I were first-timers in London.) There was a miners' strike in Britain that December and I remember things beging pretty bleak and cold. Then Viv and Chris took us west to her parents in Wales. On the way we drove past the Westbury White Horse and stopped at Avebury to see the Neolithic Stone Circle, but visiting Ferndale was definitely the hightlight of our trip. Mr and Mrs Edwards were wonderful hosts and welcomed us like family into their beautiful home, which they had built themselves with splendid views of the Welsh hills covered with grazing sheep. Christmas dinner was a feast highlighted by Mrs Edwards' Dundee cake. I remember that we ate so much delicious food at that meal that we literally could not eat another bite. We left Ferndale with Mrs Edwards' recipe for Dundee cake which Anne has faithfully used almost every Christmas since 1975. (It has always amused me that we got our recipe for a Scottich fruit cake from a Welshwoman.) Over the years we have given many Dundee cakes to friends and relatives who requested them. In particular Anne's mother. was very fond of the cake. For many years we have also given a Dundee cake to our friend Bill Urban for his birthday (Dec. 31). So when we eat Dundee cakes at Christmas we remember not only our many Dundee cake fans but also of our wonderful Christmas in Wales with Mr and Mrs Edwards.
Event Presnt: When Anne starts making Dundee cakes in December, it is always a major production which consumes all her time and attention. For many years obtaining all the ingredients (especially candied cherries and currants) here in Monmouth was a major challenge but internet shopping has made that a bit easier. The cherries need to be sliced in half and the whole almonds blanched, peeled and slit in half. Once the batter is made and in the pans, the top of the cakes need to be decorated with the blanched almond halves arranged in the form of a large petaled flowers. (Tom often helps with that part of the production.) Nowadays our Dundee fans all seem to want smaller cakes but are still eager to have them. So you know what will be happening in our kitchen in the coming weeks.

Friday, December 4, 2020
Event Part:
When I was little, the only dog in my family circle was "Blackie", a black German shepherd who lived wih my Grandparents Sienkewicz behind a synagogue on Cottage St. in Jersey City. Blackie was one lucky dog. He was born in Germany during World War II. God knows what horrors he experienced in his early days, but my father Edmund who fought in Germany in the final months of the war befriended the dog and somehow managed to have him shipped back home after the war. My memory is vague about this but I don't think Blackie could travel on the troop ship with my father. I think he traveled separately.  I think my father had to "cut some deals" to make this happen. But my father always had a soft heart and he had clearly bonded with Blackie. Anyway, after his discharge my father went home to live with his parents, who were then living on York St. in downtown Jersey City, and, of course, Blackie came with him. My father then lived at home with his parents for four years, until he married my mother on June 18, 1949. The problem for Blackie was that my parents were moving into a fourth-floor walk-up apartment in Hoboken and it would not be easy to keep a big dog there (if it was even allowed). Furthermore, my mother did not grow up with dogs. She came from a poor family of ten children in which there were no extra rescources for pets. So, needless to say, Blackie did not go to live with the newlyweds. He stayed with my grandparents, who liked dogs. I know that they had had a little white dog named Smoochie, about whom my grandmother always spoke fondly. Smoochie was alive when my father entered the service but I don't know if she lived to meet Blackie. Certainly she was not alive when I was small. There are family pictures with Smoochie but I didn't think there are any of Blackie but when I wrote this blog my brother found two in an old album, one of Blackie by himself and one of Blackie with a woman named Ruthi, dated February 1946. Both photos were taken in Waldmühle, Germany, and someone (not my father) has written the following on the back of the photo: "'Blackie, sit down or I beat your brains out,' says the look sometimes every minute." (I think that the reference is to the look on Blackie's face.) Despite his rough early life, Blackie was a calm, loving dog who apparently even allowed a young child, namely me, to take food out of his food dish even while he was eating. My grandmother fed him well with meat she cooked special for him. Blackie bonded especially with my grandfather and I have memories of the dog sitting next to him at the kitchen table or next to his chair while he watched TV. My grandfather died in 1957 and Blackie died shortly after him.
Event Present: It is odd to think that I am now the only one alive who remembers Blackie and his story. In future blogs I plan to write about other dogs who have been part of my extended family.

Thursday, December 3, 2020
Event Past:
Amaryllis is a flowering bulb, native to South America, found blooming in many homes at this time of year. The true botanical (genus) name of this plant is Hippeastrum, The word Hippeastrum meaning "knight's star" was given to this plant by the 19th century British botanist William Herbert. Botanists actually use the term Amaryllis to refer not to the common amaryllis but to a genus of flowering bulbs native to South Africa. Both genera (Hippeastum and Amaryllis) are members of botanical family called Amaryllidaceae, which also includes other flowering bulbs like daffodils, snowdrops, onions and chives. The word Amaryllis is borrowed from a woman's name mentioned several times in ancient Greek and Roman pastoral poems. In Vergil's Eclogues I, for example, a woman named Amaryllis is the beloved of the goatherd Tityrus. An Amaryllis loves Corydon in Eclogue II. Damoetas' lover in Eclogue III is also called Amarylliss and a woman by the same name provides Alphesiboeus with a love spell  in Eclogue VIII. Vergil actually borrowed the name Amaryllis, which is derived from a Greek word meaning "to shine," from the Idylls of the Greek pastoral poet Theocritus. In Idyll III a goatherd named Tityrus loves Amaryllis.  In Idyll IV two goatherds named Corydon and Battus vie for the love of Amarylis.  Linnaeus first described the genus Amaryllis in his Species Plantarum in 1753 but it took some time for botanists to distinguish the South African Amaryllis from the South American plants Hippeastrum. In this blog I will refer to the Hippeastrum as amaryllis, since that is the common name for this bulb.
I remember that for a number of years my grandmother Sienkewicz grew amaryllis bulbs in pots. I suspect that they had bloomed at least once but I never remember seeing a flower on any of her plants, just leaves. My mother grew African violets, not amarylllis, so there were none in the house where I grew up. I had my first amaryllis bulb in 1972, when Anne and I were first married.  It grew manificently and we proudly placed it on the air conditioner in the living room of our apartment on Belgian Avenue in Baltimore. We we very saddened, however to come back from Hopkins one afternoon to find the pot on the floor and the bloom broken. Apparenetly the plant had gotten too top heavy and fell over. That is when I learned how important it was to stake an amaryllis stem. Over the years since I have had many amaryllis plants. I can't resist buying at least one every Christmas season and giving some as gifts. When Anne and I visited the famous flower market in Amsterdam a number of years ago, I was overwhelmed by the huge amaryllis bulbs for sale and wished I could bring one back to the States with me. Unfortunately none were approved for export and I had to resist the urge. I still yearn for one of those bulbs but they do not seem to be sold in the United States.
Event Present: Today I actually have many amarylllis bulbs which I store in their posts in a dark corner of the basement every winter. In the spring I have to remember to watch for new growth and take the pots outside where at least a third of the bulbs bloom gloriously in May. Every year I tell myself that I have enough amaryllis and shouldn't buy any more. Every year I cannot resist buying one when they appear on the shelves at Christmas time. This year I bought two and received another as a gift, so the collection continues to grow. I am also pleased that my daughter Marie has gotten the amaryllis bug and has a few herself.

Wednesday, December 2, 2020
Event Past:
  Timepieces, whether clocks or watches, have always been an important part of my life. We are conditioned from early years to structure our lives around time. Learning how to tell time is an important lesson for young children to learn. Of course, the growing transition from analog to digital timepieces makes telling time easier.  When I was young I, like many others my age, had a Mickey Mouse wristwatch. Later, my father persuaded my grandmother to give my my Grandfather Sienkewicz's pocketwatch, which I wore frequently when I was wearing suits in high school. That watch became less practical in college and graduate school, where dress was less formal. Eventually I passed this watch along to my son Richard. I doubt that he uses the watch very often but it is a time bridge back to his ancestors. And that is what I would like to reflect upon here. We tend to think of timepieces telling us about future time, but many timepieces, like my grandfather's pocket watch, help us look back in time. Indeed, our home is filled with such timepieces, like the simpe old wooden steeple clock which belonged to Anne's great-grandmother Sylvia Brown Waterman, or the antique ceramic mantle clock painted pink and decorated with flowers which was in the house on Main St. in Waldoboro when Anne's parent purchased the building from Bowdoin College in the 1950's. For many years this clock stood on the mantle in the front room, which was used as the waiting room for Anne's parents' medical practice. In high school Anne was the receptionist and one of her jobs was to keep the clock wound and ticking. Then there is the anniversary clock, in a clear glass dome, which stood for many years on the mantle in my Grandparents Ligouri's home at 1225 Garden St in Hoboken. I think that their son Paul brought that clock back for them from Germany, where he had been stationed in the army in the early 50's. I remember being fascinaed with that clock and watching its works spin in the glass dome. When we inherited these timepieces, we spent some time (no pun intended) and expense to get them functioning again, which they did for a number of years, but now none of them are working. They don't "tell time" anymore as they were made to do, but they do have histories and tell about past time. There is one other "sentimental" clock in the house. This is a battery-operated kitchen wall clock which belonged to "Aunt" Julia, after whom our daugther Julia is named. Aunt Julia was not a biological relative. Her sister Elise had been a witness at the wedding of my Grandparents Ligouri in 1918 and the two sisters were part of our family for the rest of their lives. This clock is a plate decorated with bunches of grapes. The works of this clock broke several years ago, but I was able to replace them. Every time I look up at that clock in our kitchem I rememer Aunt Julia. We do have many other clocks in our house which actually do tell time. The most important and prominent is probably the grandfather clock in our dining room. Anne and I purchased that clock in the late 1987 as a promotion for University of Maine graduates. The seal of the university is engraved on the pendulum. We bought the clock as a 15th anniverary present to ourselves so there is a little placque on the door engraved with our wedding date. It is very comforting to hear that clock chime a tune every quarter hour and then ring out the hour. This clock needs to be wound the old-fashioned way every week. My only regret about this clock is that it uses Arabic rather than Roman numerals. I have acquired other clocks through my professional life. In my study I have a clock given to me by the American Classical League at the end of my term as vice-president. In our living room is a similar clock which I received from the Classical Assn. of the Middle West and South at the end of my term as Secretary-Treasurer. I also have two clocks given to me for service to Monmouth College. I got one of these to mark my 30th year of service to the college. This clock can be read in 12-hour or 24-hour time. It's face is the globe and the minute hand points with an airplane instead of an arrow. I think I got this clock in part because of my many years as coordinator of off-campus study at the college. The second clock was given to me for 35 years of service. This one is a bit unusual because the clock sits in a mahogony box with a lid which can be closed. But why close a lid on the face of a timepiece? One very interesting clock was given to me by a student. It is shaped like a rock and the face shows Sisyphus trying to roll his rock up a hill. A fitting statement on the futility of conquering time. All of these are battery-operated. I should mention two other timepieces, both wall clocks: one in our upstairs bathroom which has pictures of birds instead of numbers and which plays recordings of the birds on the hour (at least when I remember to replace the batteries). The second hangs in my ofice and uses letters of the Greek alphabet instead of Arabic or Roman numbers. Very cool and unusual. I will pass over all the digital clocks scattered through the house, like the ones on stoves and the microwave.
Event Present: The most important and common timepiece in the 21st century is undoubtedly on the cellphone which sits in everyone's pocket or purse. This clock has probably replaced many writstwatches. (I certainly stopped wearing one a number of years ago.) While the clocks on these phone can sometimes be set for analog faces, most people use digital and I wonder how many children born in the 21st century will actually learn how to read analog timepieces? Will that skill go away along with the ability to decipher handwriting? Due to  the short lifespan of cellphones I have already had five of six different ones. The old ones, once obsolete, are useless. Sometimes they can be traded in. Or else just disposed of. Unlike all those wonderful timepieces of the past filled with history and memories. If I had to choose,  I'd give up my cellphone and stay with those old hand-wound timepieces.

Tuesday, December 1, 2020
Event Past:
Sixty two years ago today, on December 1, 1958, the students at Our Lady of the Angels School in Chicago were preparing for final dismissal when a fire broke out in the school basement. 92 pupils and three Roman Catholic nuns died in the Inferno. Here are some photos of that tragedy. I was only eight-years-old in 1958 but I remember that event vividly from newspaper reports and identified closely with the students at that school because I, too, was a Catholic school student and realized that what happened to them could have happened to me. Yesterday, I was reminded of that horrible event by reading this op-ed in the Chicago Tribune witten by Kerry Lester Kasper. It was a only a miracle, Kasper notes, that more did not die, and that miracle was due, in part, to the bravery and self-sacrifice of the nuns who taught at that school. Kasper wrote about the bravery of Sister Helaine O'Neill who laid herself down across a flaming stairwell so her students could across to saftey. Or Sister Andrienne Carolan who led her students througth the smokey building to safety. And then there was the quick-thinking of Sister Davidis Devine who showed students how to stuff textbooks under their classroom door to keep out the smoke and then helped more than 50 students to evacuate onto a canopy outside their classroom windows. She was the last to climb out. Her obituary, written in 2006, did not even mention the fact that she had been a survivor of that fire! The school building was constructed in 1910 and was a fire trap. This disaster led to major fire safety changes in schools throughout the United States and in other countries as well.
I was lucky in 1958. My grammar school, St. Ann's School in Hoboken, New Jersey, was brand new, built of cinder blocks and therefore much safer than Our Lady of the Angels. (St. Ann's no longer exists as a parochial school. The building now houses the Hoboken Catholic Academy.) While St. Anne's never experienced a fire like the one in Chicago, it still had heroic and self-sacrificing women serve the school as teaching sisters. Grade school nuns get a bum wrap today. Alumni of Catholic elementary schools talk about the meanness of their nuns and the use of coporal punishment. While I indeed remember similar incidents at St. Ann's, I would like to counter these with other memories. For example, when the parish school opened in the fall of 1955 (I was a member of the first Kindergarten class), there was no convent for the nuns, who had to live and sleep in classrooms on the upper floor of the school. This continued to be the case even after I graduated from 8th grade. Eventually a convent was built but those intervening years were certainly challenging for the nuns. These were women who had dedicated their lives to God and to educating children in a religious context. If they used coporal punishment it was because they had learned no other way and had the best of intentions as heart. My favorite nun in grade school was my 7th and 8th grade teacher, Sr. Mary Matthew, who also had to serve as school principal (--another indication of the challenging lives these women lead). Yet Sr. Matthew was a dedicated and loving teacher who, like many others at that school, went out of her way to provide her students with a meaningful and wholesome education. I specifically remember her lessons on opera, on the Italian language and on Longfellow's poem Evangeline--all special activties she brought to the classroom as educational treats.
Event Preent: Mostly noteworthy about Catholic elementary school education today is the absence, in large part, of teaching nuns. The Catholic school here in Monmouth has not had a religious sister in residence since the early 1990's and the same is true for many schools throughout the country. There are certainly many dedicated teachers in Catholic schools today, but the teaching religious--sisters, brothers and priests-- were a special breed whose diminished numbers have changed the face of Catholic schools from Kindergarten through college. Perhaps, however, members of religious orders have turned their focus from teaching to other forms of social action. In her Tribune article Kasper notes that the building which replaced the burned school of Our Lady of the Angels now serves as a food pantry and neighborhood mission served by another special breed of women like "Sister Stephanie Baliga, a former Division I runner at the University of Illinois — who set a treadmill marathon world record this summer, raising a whopping $253,000 for the mission in the process" and  "Sister Jess Lambert, who gave up an engineering career to become a Franciscan" and  "Sister Alicia Torres won the television show “Chopped” in 2015," and "Sister Emily Persiketti, a pediatric nurse, recently gained some internet fame by being featured on a Newsy segment, “Say Yes to the Bless,” dispelling seeming contradictions of being a millennial nun." Such remarkable women following in the footsteps of women like Sister Davidis Devine of Our Lady of the Angels School in Chicago or my teacher Sr. Mary Matthew of St. Ann's School in Hoboken are inspirational role models for us all.

Monday, November 30, 2020
Event Past:
Swimming has always been an important part of my life. Even though we lived in a city environment, my parent made a point of making sure that all five of their children learned how to swim. My father could swim but I don't think my mother could. Most of our swimming lessons took place during the summer at Lake Stockhom, New Jersey, where we spent many summers while we were young. I think I also had some lessons at the Y in Hoboken and also one summer in summer camp. My sister MaryBeth did the best at swimming and reached lifesaver status. For many years swimming was mostly a pleasurable summertime activity for me, not only growing up in New Jersey, but also, after I got married, at Lake Damariscotta in Maine. It was only as I grew older that I began swimming for exercise. As a graduate student at Johns Hopkins, I occasionally swam in the university pool but swimming did not become a routine in my life until I moved to Monmouth in 1984. It was not long after I started teaching at Monmouth College that Bill Urban invited me to swim with him and several other colleagues every weekday. The group included not only Bill, but Head Librarian Harris Hauge, retired Religion Professor Charles Speel, and, sometimes, History Professor Cecil Brett. At that time we swam in the Waid Pool in the basement of old Memorial Gymnasium. There was no lifeguard. We had to watch out for each other. But those were very enjoyable and refreshing times during a hectic week. We swam at 11 am every weekday and that became so regular that students knew not to look for me between 11 am and noon, which was "sacred swim time." Eventually, Harris, Charles and Cecil had to stop their daily swims, but Bill and I continued the custom, except for a year's hiatus in 2002-03, when the Waid Pool was permanently closed and the Huff Center was being built. When Huff opened in the fall of 2003, we began swimming in the new Pepper Natatorium, but now only when a lifeguard was present (which meant no more swimming during school breaks). To commemorate Armistice Day in 2011, the college asked people so share photos of what they were doing at 11 am on Nov. 11, so Bill and I had our picture taken at the pool. After Bill retired in 2015, he too gradually gave up dailty swimming, but I have continued, at the college until I retired in 2017 and then at the local Y.
Anne and I also made sure that all three of our children learned how to swim. Most of their lessons were at the Y in Monmouth and also, for a few summers, at Lake Damariscotta in Maine. But for Marie and Julia the summer of 1982 was a particularly memorable swim time. Anne was on bedrest during her difficult pregnancy with Richard and I took Marie and Julia to the Mt. Rainiier pool nearly everyday, where they both took lessons. Marie recalls that Julia's instructor was a middle aged woman but her  instructor (a young man) had a bit of a mixed history. There was some acquaintance of Marie's that he pushed off the diving board when he (or she?) was timid about trying a jump. But when Maire was hesitant he jumped off the board with her (perhaps because Marie's father was watching?). No gradual steps in jumping into the pool in those days. At least as Marie remembers it, her first jump was off of a diving board and not poolside! By the end of the summer Marie and Juliaa were both tan. Someone took a picture of us to show their reverse tans underneath the bathing suits.
By the way, the Mount Rainier pool was a private, memer only institution when we moved there. Furthermore, it was segregated. None of the families in our babysitting coop would join the pool because it was segregated. Eventully we petitioned the pool memembersrhip board to change their policy, which they eventually did (probably more because of the financial incentive of more paid memberships than because of the issue of segregation per se.) No one in our social circle joined the pool until this happened.
Swimming has also been an important part of my relationship with my three granddaughters, with all of whom I am spent much time frolicing in the water, usually in hotel pools. This past summer I spent many hours in Lake Damariscotta in Maine teahing granddaughter Dorothy. She made great progress this summer and was swimming like a fish by the time the season ended.
Event Present: So swimming in COVIDtime is more of a challenge. The pool at the Y was actually closed for several weeks in the spring because of the pandemic. When it reopened, the number of people in the pool was severly limited and it it was necessary to reserve a swim lane. After a while these restrictions eased up, but I still tried to swim at times when not many other people were using the pool. As COVID cases increased in the fall, I became more and more concerned about safety and actually stopped swimming entirely for a week. The Y eventually reimposed limitations on pool use and has stricter rules about mask wearing, so I am swimming again.  It can be difficult, however, to practice social distancing in a locker room, but I have moved my locker to a relatively isolated part of the locker soom. In theory the chlorine in the pool water inhibits the spreaad of the virus, so swimming is probably one of the safer forms of exercise in these difficult times.

Sunday, November 29, 2020
Event Past:
Anne and I spent the academic year 1973-74 in Paris. As a doctoral student in French at The Johns Hopkins University, she was expected to spend her third year of graduate school in Paris to study with scholars like Jacques Derrida. I was a doctoral student in Classics and talked the professors in my department to let me go along for the ride. We lived on a bare shoe-string budget based on our paltry graduate student stipends. We had to watch every franc we spent and avoid extravagant purchases. But one day we were walking along the street near the impressive St. Sulpice Church when we happened to look in the window of a small religious articles shop named La Maison Georges Thuillier. It was November and the window was filled with an incredible number of nativity figures, not just the ones we were familiar with in the United States, like the Holy Family, a donkey, a cow, shepherds, sheep, the Wise Men and their camels, etc., but a wide vareity of figures dressed in traditional French costumes and performing traditional village tasks like blacksmithing, crocheting, etc. These hand-painted clay figures were in a variety of sizes from puce (literally "flea" sized at 2,5 cm.) to very large 18 in. high figures dressed in real clothing. We were entraced and made the fatal decision to enter the shop where we could not resist stretching our budget and purchasing not only the Holy Family but also a drummer boy and an old couple standing under an umbrella. We chose the "standard" Elite size of 7 cm. What we learned is that these little figures, called santons, were the traditional art of southern France. The ones in this shop were made in Marseilles by a firm called Marcel Carbonel.
For many years after our time in Paris, we maintained a special checking account for foreigners in France specifically so that we could order one or two santons every year from Georges Thuillier. One year we decided that we really needed a stable for our santons and negotiated with the shop to send us one which would survive trans-atlantic shipping. Eventually, however, French banking laws changed and we could no longer keep that account. As a result it became very difficult to purchase any more santons from Georges Thuiller, which would unfortunately not accept credit cards. Tom did visit the shop at least once during a later visit to Paris and remembers buying an elephant on that trip. On another trip to France he also found a shop in Avignon which also sold Carbonel santons. And when he was beginning to walk the Camino de Santiago, he saw in a shop in Saint Jean Pied de Port a santon of a pelegrin, a pilgrim, which he arranged to have mailed home. The Italians have a similar craft tradition and we have supplemented our French santons with Italian figurines purchased especially in Bologna and Naples. For example, we have a man selling watermelon and a man selling pizza.
Event Present: Needless to say, after almost fifty years our santons display has grown significantly. We no longer get them directly from France but have found a small US firm which sells the latest Carbonel figures. So much easier then the old days when we had to send a check in francs issued by a French bank! We can even now pay by credit card! How times have changed. We have so many now that we have to remove three shelves of books from the bookcase in our living room to display them. We traditionally take out our santons on the first day of Advent. We probably should take them down right after Epiphany but we usually can't resist keeping them up until early February (but never past Ash Wednesday). As we take each figure out of the box we study each one and think about what occupation it represents. There are no computer programers, UPS deliverers, librarians, stock sellers, financial advisors, or other modern occupations in the collection. Even if Carbonel made them we wouldn't buy them. There is something special about all these traditional villagers coming to visit the Christmas stable and bringing the work of their hands to the infant in the manager. As we set up the creche we will also think back to the many advents when our children were small and got so excited to see the figures come out. They really knew Christmas was coming then. We will also think about little Gareth Cordery who visited us regularly and was so fascinated with the creche every year that once he was big enough, we actually invited him to help us set it up. He was in seventh heaven. So, today, on the first day of Advent in a year in which we cannot even attend Mass because of COVID, Anne and I can still spend several hours setting up our Christmas creche and can look forward to many weeks of enjoying the scene. By the way, in our creche the infant will not go into the stable until Christmas Day and the wise men will not arrive until Epiphany.

Saturday, November 28, 2020
Event Past: Ever since I can remember, newspapers have  been an important part of my life. My parents and grandparents always subscribed to at least one local (Hudson Co. New Jersey) daily newpaper which was usually out on the kitchen table where someone had been reading it. My parents preferred the Hudson Dispatch (now defunct) while all of my grandparents read the Jersey Journal. These papers were delivered directly to the house by a paper boy who would expect payment weekly in cash. Grandmother Sienkewicz was the only one who regularly read a New York paper, which could not be home delivered in Hoboken. You had to purchase one at a newstand or newshop. She frequently bought the New York Daily News that way. My grandfather Liguori devoured the paper everyday. I swear he read every word but he was particularly interested in the sports page, especially the doings of his beloved Yankees. My parents-in-law in Maine subscribed to at least two newspapers, the local Courier Gazettte as well as the Portland Press Herald. These were not delivered by paper boys but arrived by US mail the day they were issued. Sitting down at breakfast to read the newspaper was a great way to start the day. Sundays editions of newspapers were always special and everyone would fight over who got to read the comic section first. Anne and I always subscribed to a newspaper. As graduate students in Baltimore, we got the Baltimore Sun, which was actually produced in both a morning and evening edition back then. While living in Mount Rainier, Maryland (on the border of DC) we got the Washington Post, which we sorely missed when we moved to Monmouth, Illinois, in 1984. In Monmouth there was the Review Atlas, which was published daily but barely covered either local news or news from the wider world very much. The Chicago Tribune was a better choice for good national and international news coverage. Both of these newspapers offered home delivery in Monmouth but by then there were no more paper boys. The papers were delivered by carriers in automobiles and payment was made by mail. While living in Florence in 1992-93 and again in 2011 we were very spoiled newspaperwise. The Italians have always devoured newspapers, sometimes reading two or three different dailies. So one of my great pleasures in Italy was walking down the street to the local newspaper shop and buying one or two papers,  always La Reppulica and usually the Florentine La Nazione. Occasionally also the International Herald Tribune (now the International New York Times), when we felt deprived of the comics and crossword features.
Event Present: Reading newspapers in 2020 is no longer the great pleasure it was in earlier times. In Monmouth we can no longer get any daily newspaper delivered to our home the same day it is issued. We could subscribe for mail delivery but the paper would not arrive until the next day. Gone is the joy of finding the paper on one's doorstep first thing in the morning. Instead I have to get in the car and drive about 1.5 miles to a gas station to buy the Chicago Tribune and the Peoria Journal Star and I don't get to read these papers until lunchtime. We share these papers with friends who give us their copies of Monmouth Review Atlas (now published only once a week on Wednesdays) and the Galesburg Register Mail, but the Peoria, Monmouth, and Galesburg papers are all now published by the same company and many of the same articles appear in all three papers. About the only things now unique to each paper are some of the obituaries and local sports coversage (which does not interest me). I do read both the Washington Post and the New York Times on-line but that is just not the same as rustling the paper in your hands and getting a solid view of the world's events. Although they were raised with newspapers surrounding them, none of my children now subscribe to a physical newspaper. They do keep up with current events on-line but that is not quite the same. Anne and I also subscribe to daily comics on-line and Anne makes a point of sharing them with our oldest granddaughter who would otherwise not have access to them. I suspect that within a very few years there will be no more print newspapers, only on-line versions, and that will be a great loss.
Friday, November 27, 2020
Event Past: Ten years ago today I became a grandfather for the first time. Anne and I were fortunate to be visiting our daughter when this happened. Thanksgiving fell on November 25th that year, and Marie was due anytime around that date. When she told us that she planned to prepare a full Thanksgiving meal and that her mother-in-law would be there, we told her that we would come up and help her with the meal. I jokingly added that if we came she should plan to have the baby on Saturday the 27th so we could be there. So we did spend that Thanksgiving in Wauconda with Marie, her husband, and his mother. Anne and I were planning to head back to Monmouth over the weekend so I could teach my classes on Monday. Marie actually did go into labor early on Saturday and her daughter Sylvia Marie was born around mid-day. Anne was fortunate to be in the Labor Room with Marie and we both felt very lucky to be able to see our granddaughter the day she was born. I returned to Monmouth to teach my classes the following week but Anne stayed in Wauconda to help Marie.
The birth of a grandchild is, in many ways, as much a life-changing event as the birth of one's own child. It certainly challenges one to reflect on the reality of mortality as well as birth. It also reminds one of all those who have gone before. Both Anne and I, I think, had the memories of our own parents and grandparents on our minds as we held our new grandddaughter in our arms. Becoming a grandparent, of course, has more of the joys and fewer of the responsibilities of parenthood. We have been able to enjoy our grandchildren without having all the worries about their safety and well-being. I must admit that I also feel that grandparents usually have the privilege of spoiling grandchildren rather than serving in a more authoritative role. We can leave all the worry and discipline to the parents and just concentrate on enjoying and loving the grandchild. I can highly recommend grandparenthood as the special joy of later life.
Event Present:  While we have often visited our granddaughter for her birthday almost every year since she was born, the current pandemic makes it impossible to do so this year. I suppose we will try to find a chance to zoom with her, but that is not quite the same as being there. I realize that the pandemis has made zooming a fact of life, but I must admit that I am not a fan. Perhaps it is a sign of my "advancing" age, but I much prefer face-to-face interaction. I am very relieved, in fact, that I retired from the classroom before I had to deal with the pedagogical challenges of teaching in the time of COVID. My negative feelings about zooming are, perhaps, intensified by the fact that I wear hearing aids. It is hard enough for someone with a hearing impairment to understand a person speaking face-to-face. It is harder on zoom and I won't even mention the challenges of communicating with someone wearing a face mask!

Thursday, November 26, 2020
Event Past:
Especially in the time of COVID, Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate family, not just being with family, which is not really possible this year, but also remembering family and Thanksgivings past. My own memories of the holiday center around family gatherings at the home of my grandparents Liguori at 1225 Garden St. in Hoboken, gatherings attended by various aunts, uncles, cousins and family friends. The house would be so full that the adults would eat at the dining room table while the children were relegated to the kitchen. A typical meal was a multi-course extravaganza which began with stracciatella (Italian egg drop soup), followed by some form of pasta (preferably lasagna), then stuffed artichokes, etc. There was always a turkey but sometimes it was never brought to the table because everyone was too stuffed with the rest of the feast. I had one aunt (Rose), who was particularly fond of artichoke hearts and if you weren't careful as you were eating yours, she would steal your heart.
When I was in high school band, my Thanksgiving began with attending the annual football game between St. Peter's Prep and Dickinson High School at Roosevelt Stadium at Droyer's Point in Jersey City. Dickinson was a much bigger school than Prep, so we usually lost. But we always had fun in the band.
Event Present:  Thanksgiving 2020, I fear, will long be remembered as the Pandemic Thanksgiving. Last night I listened to the stirring Thanksgiving address by President-elect Biden. He is a good man who projects empathy and wholesomeness. I hope that his speech offered Americans both the inspiration to fight the COVID virus and the hope that life will improve in the months to come. Anne and I will celebrate the holiday with our daughter Julia and our granddaughter Dorothy. Unfortunately, Julia's husband, Victor, cannot be with us. He is at his childhood home in Rockford to tend to various family matters. Since Anne and I are vegetarians, there will be no turkey, but we will have cornmeal and spinach stuffing with mushroom gracy, candied yams, brussles sprouts from our garden and a leek and tomato salad (also from our garden). For dessert, pumpkin and strawberrry-rhubarb pies. Last night we actually used the last of our garden tomatoes to make some fresh tomato sauce for pasta to eat along with some eggplant parmesan which Anne and I had made (from our garden eggplant) and frozen several weeks ago. 2020 may be the year of pandemic but for us it was also a very successful garden year, with bumper crops of tomatoes, leeks, brussles sprouts, beans, strawberries and cherries. Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 25, 2020
Event Past: President John Kennedy's funeral took place 57 years ago today. I remember the sad events surrounding his assassination and funeral as if they took place yesterday. In 1963 I was in 8th grade at St. Anne's School in Hoboken, New Jersey. Kennedy was a great hero in Catholic circles since he was the first Catholic president. I vividly remember my teacher, a nun who also served as principal, being called out of the classroom and returning ashen-faced. She told us that the president had been shot and turned on the TV where Walter Cronkite was reporting upon events as they unfolded. We all watched in silence until school was dismissed early. I stayed glued to the TV once I got home and was watching live when Lee Harvey Oswald was shot by Jack Ruby. I remember calling to my mother in the kitchen with the awful news. My mother's siblings, Uncle Paul and Aunt Frances Liguori, decided to drive down to DC for the funeral. They took me with them. We drove through the night to reach Washington early on Monday morning. We watched the funeral procession from in front of the Blaire House, across from what was then known as the Executive Office Building (now named after Eisenhower).  We were able to see the White House down the street. The crowd was somber as the funeral cortege came by. I was struck by the fact that so many people were walking behind the horse-drawn caisson carrying Kennedy's body. Besides Mrs Kennedy and her children, as well as members of the Kennedy family like Bobby and Ted, I especially remember seeing the tall, imposing figure of Charles de Gaulle of France walking close to the much shorter Haille Selassie of Ethiopia.
Event Present: In recent years we have occasionally celebrated the holiday with our daughter Marie and her family in Chicagoland. Sometimes we have spent Thanksgiving alone. Now that we are vegetarians, we are not particularly enthusiastic about a big traditional Thanksgiving meal with all the trimmings. Actually, the trimmings are what we like: the stuffing, creamed carrots, candied yams, and, especially, pies. Not being with family for Thanksgiving in this time of COVID is particularly hard. Anne and I are fortuntate, however, that our daughter Julia and her husband Victor are academics whose academic semester ended last week due to the pandemic so they have driven from Virginia to Illinois, where they will remain until sometime in January. So we will not be alone this Thanksgiving. Julia and her five-year-old daughter Dorothy are spending the holiday with us.
Today Dorothy and I harvested some of the bumper crop of brussel sprouts we had this year. Dorothy had helped me plant those plants last spring, so it was particularly rewarding to have me help with the harvest. She would get very excited when she found a particularly nice brussels sprout and would say things like "Wow, this one is as big as an apple!" (--a bit of an exaggeration) or "This one is just perfect!" 

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