My Dad

Bertram Camp Bruce

Bertram Camp Bruce

Today is the centennial of my father’s birth. He lived not much over half of that century, a period that has grown shorter in my eyes with each passing year.

Dad loved music in many forms–opera, chamber, symphonic, piano, vocal, jazz, Big Band, and more. Around 1950, he opened Bruce Piano Company. The store sold Steinways and provided pianos for performers visiting the Fort Worth Symphony and Opera.

We often argued during the years that were to be his last and my first as a nominal adult. There were the perennial favorites of politics and religion, but special features such as how I didn’t understand what it meant to grow up in the Great Depression, what was wrong with contemporary pop music, and how I would benefit from more direction in my life.

I’m stubborn like Dad was, so my views probably haven’t changed much since then. Still, I’d give a lot to have the briefest time with him again, even if it were an argument. I might even be able to listen better.

My Dad was a good husband, father, friend, and community member. At his funeral, our minister quoted Jesus, “The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth that which is good.”

On the whole, I have fond memories and few regrets. However, one big regret is that he knew his children only as teenagers, and never met any of his six grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. I know that he would have been very proud of all of them, and that they would have richer lives knowing him.

Light from the Castagna

Castagna

Castagna

Over a century ago, on February 17, 1914, the Italian bark Castagna was thrown on the backside of Cape Cod near the Marconi Lifesaving Station. See Italian bark Castagna comes a cropper on the Marconi Station beach and Shipwrecks on South Wellfleet’s Shore.

There’s a large photo of the Castagna in the Wellfleet Post Office and the general story is well known. But there’s a side to it that not many people know.

The Castagna was bound from Montevideo for Weymouth loaded with guano. It struck ground during a blinding snowstorm and northwest gale. Lifesaving crews shot three lines for breeches buoys across the Castagna’s deck, but the sailors were so cold that they were unable to handle the tackle. The skipper of the Castagna was washed overboard, four men froze to death in the rigging and one died in the lifeboat on the way to shore. The loss of life was the largest in a wreck on Cape Cod in 12 years.

The Life Line, Winslow Homer, 1884

The Life Line, Winslow Homer, 1884

My Great Uncle Jack Whorf, had just turned 13 years old. When he heard about the ship going aground, he and a friend decided that going to see the wreck would be more interesting than whatever was planned for school that day. When they arrived at the ocean, they saw the crews from the Nauset and Cahoon’s Hollow stations set up with their beach gear.

The crews had managed to rescue the ship’s cook with a breeches buoy. Presumably he had survived in part from being in the warm galley, rather than up in the rigging. He was set up in a chair on the beach. Jack and his friend were told to rub his arms to keep him alive.

The next day, Jack and his friend scavenged some teak from the wreck and made a desk lamp from the wood. A Wellfleet lampshade maker painted a Cape Cod map and a picture of the ship on the shade. He and Great Aunt Polly used that lamp in their den. For them it was a quite ordinary fixture; for me, it was a talisman to adventure and tragedy.

Ripley, RIP

Rainer Maria Rilke, Sonnets to Orpheus, XXVII [Book Two], (tr. Cliff Crego)

Does Time the Destroyer really exist?
When, on the mountain, will it bring /
down the fortress?
When will the demiurge overpower this heart
that belongs to the infinity of the gods?

Are we really so frightfully fragile
as Fate would have us believe?
Does the promise of childhood, the depths,
remain later quiet in the roots?

Ah, the ghost of that which is transient;
it passes through the guileless receptive ones
as if it were but a bit of smoke.

As that which we are, the driving ones,
still we are considered a custom of the divine
by the powers which do not change.

Ripley, the snow dog

Ripley, the snow dog

About two weeks ago, Ripley, the snow dog, came into being through an act of love and homage, only to be destroyed shortly after. The destruction was obviously part of the artwork, representing something about the fragility of existence. But “are we really so frightfully fragile as Fate would have us believe?” (Ripley is named after Ellen Ripley, who is Sigourney Weaver’s character in the Alien films.)

A three-year-old, one of snow Ripley’s co-creators, leaped into her, exploding her material being into a flurry of snow. This took what I estimate as somewhere between 7.5 and 9.5 seconds, just long enough for the horror to sink in, but not long enough to prevent it: A snow dog, who should live a week or two, lasted but a human breath. The demiurge had won.

Ripley's defiance of Time the Destroyer

Ripley’s defiance of Time the Destroyer

Later, however, when I went out to check on the diminishing snow, I looked to where Ripley had once proudly stood. I saw her ears, her nose, her eyes, and her collar. There was even the slightest mound of snow from her fragile body.

Time the Destroyer may yet win this one in the end. But Ripley, the snow dog, lives on the soil and the plants attempting to break out of winter. The “promise of childhood … remains later quiet in the roots.” His spot in the yard will not disappear and his memory is now part of Ripley himself. Perhaps Rilke is right that “the ghost of that which is transient; it passes through the guileless receptive ones as if it were but a bit of smoke.”

First encounters with snow

Preparing to face the snow

Preparing to face the snow

OK, I confess.

All those about me were complaining about the never-ending snow and what accompanied it: bitter winds coming off the ocean ice, people trapped in their homes, snowplows closing off newly shoveled driveways, while burying or knocking over mailboxes, falling on the ice, roofs collapsing, and such. Meanwhile, I prayed for it to continue. I wanted it to be here for my family from Austin who were to visit during spring break.

Front yard

Front yard

They had never seen snow before, at least not of this magnitude. But they prepared as well as they could.

We prepared for the visitors as well. I had stored some clean snow in the freezer for making snow ice cream, just in case the outside quality wasn’t up to standard. We had sleds, extra hats and mittens, and topped off the propane tank. We’d also made a list of indoor activities–the Brio train, the dollhouse, piano, rummy for indoors for inside the house; the visitor centers at the National Seashore’s Salt Pond site and at the Audubon sanctuary, to get out in case of freezing rain.

Out the garage window

Out the garage window

When they came, we took full advantage of the snow. we had snow ice cream in the classic vanilla as well as the maple syrup varieties. We made snow angels and devilish snow balls.

We made a snow dog (aka Ripley), when our planned snow man didn’t cooperate. We also got to see how much fun it is for a three-year-old boy to jump on top of a snow dog and scatter the snow in all directions. And how annoyed his six-year-old sister can be whenever he does something like that.

Frozen Ripley

Frozen Ripley

And we went sledding. There were awards for being the first to go beyond the end of the run into the sand road, for going furthest off the main track, for unintentionally going down backwards, for getting buried the deepest in a drift, and for screaming the loudest.

The visit was wonderful for me, although way too short.

Testing out the equipment

Testing out the equipment

Now that we’ve completed it, I’d like to amend my earlier call for lots of snow. It’s still beautiful to see, but it makes it hard to walk in the woods without snowshoes or skis. I’m starting to tire of putting out a special bin for mail with the mailbox packed in ice. I sympathize with the friend who’s decided to move after five weeks of being shut in. So, let’s have a few more days of sledding or skiing, then move on to another season.

People of the rebus

Camp family, 1900

Camp family, 1900

If you’re curious about the rebus baby announcement––Who sent it? Who was the baby? Who was Dorothy?, this may help a little.

Camp family, legend

Camp family, legend

The picture to the left (click to enlarge it) is of the Camp family, around 1900. In the center is Samantha Ann Harris Camp (11), who was known to the others in the photo as “Grandma.” She was born in southern Pennsylvania on July 3, 1835. When she was one year old, her family went down the Ohio by flatboat, then up the Mississippi and Illinois to the beautiful area of Sharp’s Landing, not far from where I’ve done some youth media work in Beardstown and Virginia.

Sharp's Landing area, by JaySRT4

Sharp's Landing area, by JaySRT4

Samantha Harris taught school in Vermont, Illinois, then married Sterling P. Camp and moved with him to his farm in Walnut Grove. They had five children: Thomas (5) William (12), John R. (21), Frank (1), and Anna (13), who surround her in the photo. They later moved to Bushnell. John R. Camp became Editor of The Bushnell Record, the local weekly.

Unfortunately, Sterling died young. One consequence was that Samantha outlived him by more than 40 years and had to raise the five children mostly on her own. She died on January 10, 1913, thirteen years after this photo was taken in front of their family residence in Bushnell.

By the time of the photo, Samantha’s son William had married Jennie Daniels (4), who came from Spokane. Their children were John (20), Glanville (19), and Dorothy (18).

Fannie Daniels (not shown) was one of Jennie’s siblings, the others being Minnie, Annie, and Willie. As far as I know, none of them married or had children. (Aunt) Fannie was the one who created the rebus for Dorothy, about five years after this photo.

What did Dorothy think of it? Did she decode it on her own? Was Fannie in the habit of making rebuses for her nieces and nephews? The Camp family seemed adept at producing offspring; why not the Daniels? How did William from rural Illinois connect with Jennie in Spokane? I need to find a flatboat and go back in time to find out.

A rebus baby announcement

In these times, we hear about family events through cell phones, Facebook, Twitter, and for a few old-timers, email. I got to meet a new grand-nephew that way just last week.

Chloe & Bishop

But that wasn’t always so. I came across an older technology while we were cleaning up our attic. It’s a rebus announcing Sunny Baby Jim, with at least 230 cut-outs from newspapers and magazines pasted onto a continuous roll of brown wrapping paper. It not only announces the baby, but also provides a glimpse into life in the US in 1905.

The paper for the rebus has become brittle and is starting to crumble. Some of the cut-outs are faded.I decided I should photograph it and decode it before it disintegrates completely.

It’s probably from my Great-Great-Aunt Fanny in Spokane, writing to my Grandmother, Dorothy in 1905. See whether you can decode it. The images aren’t very clear in the small versions, but should be more readable if you click each one to enlarge it.

There’s a scrap cityscape of Spokane, which probably came first. So, I think the first part says,

Spokane

Dear Little Dorothy,

I send you a puzzle to make you laugh.

It is raining cats, dogs, and babies.

The babies shown include the Gold Dust Twins, mascots for Gold Dust Washing Powder. Those racial caricatures were wisely phased out, but not for another 50 years.

Aunt Fanny goes on to ask:

Would you like to hear about the new baby in this house? He weighs nine pounds and sleeps all night, that’s the way babies grow. When he smiles we call him Sunny Jim Baby.

Then, there’s a comment about babies in general, and some local news:

Before babies sleep and after babies sleep, they eat, all the time.

I have a new pair of shoes and they hurt my feet and corns.

We got awakened one night. A shot was heard around the house. We called two policemen and he ran away.

How is Grandmother? I am getting so fat.

Spokane is soon to have a circus. [There’s then a six-frame comic strip set in a circus ring.]

While looking up information on that circus, I learned that a steel bridge with power wires for streetcars and overhead lighting was constructed over the Spokane River Gorge after the wooden bridge burned in 1890. The new bridge vibrated badly, and in 1905 the National Good Roads Association declared it unsafe. The Ringling Brothers Circus elephants refused to cross it. It was replaced in 1911.

The closing of the rebus reports some national news:

It is time for a bath and bed.

Love to the whole damn family.

PS: Teddy Roosevelt is in Colorado. [He went bear hunting there in 1905.]

Your Aunt [Fanny]

I don’t know how long we can keep the original of the rebus, thus this post to preserve it in a limited way. But it’s held up surprisingly well after 106 years, especially since it had not been cared for, just tossed into boxes in attics or garages. Will we be able to read this blog post as well in the year 2117?

Thanks, Aunt Fanny for your fascinating artwork. I suspect that few aunts (or uncles) today could or would invest the time to make such a detailed token of love for their niece.

An old English dinner

deer at birdbath

deer at birdbath

With all the snow, it’s felt like a storybook Christmas time.

The deer are regular visitors. They have to resort to holly leaves, which is not their favorite, because they’ve eaten everything else in the yard that is now, or ever was green.

home at Christmas time

home at Christmas time

We’ve been sledding and Emily and Stephen went caroling twice. They also cooked an old English dinner, in the traditional style. However, I should add, “traditional” here requires you to take Harry Potter as your source.

Harry Potter menu

click to see the full menu

The Harry Potter Restaurant’s December Feast started with Warm and Hearty Mulligatawny Soup, followed by Brussels Sprouts with Chestnuts and Mashed Parsnips. The libation was Pumpkin Juice and we finished off with Blancmange. It was a delicious meal, perfectly appropriate for a snowy December evening.

You can see the menu below left.