Christmas Letter 2021

15 Jan

Season’s Greetings from sunny, temperate New York, where all the women are smart, all the men have dogs, and 1600 of the Cornell students have COVID.  Recently, a friend of Rhonda’s from her Chem Engineering days at Purdue, who has switched to oceanography, told her that in 2,500 years Earth will be experiencing another Ice Age.  That is a little hard to fathom for those of us who are now experiencing global warming.  Ithaca, New York has been relatively balmy this December.  There have even been a couple days where we haven’t needed to wear coats and forsythia blooms in my backyard.  I can’t really imagine an Earth covered in ice but I guess that is where we are headed.  However, first we will bake in the sun.  From the frying pan into a deep freeze.  

In the midst of all the chaos, we have a new member of the Mapes family who arrived October 5–Jude Elliot Carter. The “Elliot” is my father’s middle name.  My third niece, Anna, and her husband Coleman are his proud parents.  They have recently been visiting from Dallas, as has my niece, Meghan, who is a nurse in Santa Fe, not far from her jeweler sister, Rebecca, and partner, Logan.  Oldest niece and teacher, Gwynne Mapes, and husband, Sean Classen, are tucked away in Berne, Switzerland.   She has held Jude, who is 20 inches long (probably going to be tall since his parents are tall), with hazel eyes, and a fairly calm demeanor, at least when I have been around.  

He is already learning to read:

This summer I managed to get back to Minneapolis, where I saw numerous people and stayed with two couples, who live three houses apart.  I started with Diane O’Donnell and Conrad de Fiebre:

Conrad and Dianne are on the left and right, respectively, and Fred Glazer is in the middle.  We had a delicious breakfast at the Turtle Bakery that is depicted here, the one closest to the river.  They all belong to Walker Methodist Church.  Conrad is a former newspaper man (the Star Tribune), Fred is a draftsman, and Dianne owns a real estate agency.

And then I moved three houses down to Pete and Kristen Lund’s house:

Scott Hanson is in the middle of the picture.  Pete is Scott’s best friend from high school.  They have their own language and way of talking, begun in junior high, and developed over the years.  Pete was an accountant for many years, although his true love was comedy, and he performed out in California.  He is now an Uber driver, while Kristen is a psychologist who runs her own business.  They have two boys.

I had a lot of fun in both houses.  I miss my friends, the place, and the taxes.  I also saw Cindy, Jenna, Lopa, and the people who gathered at Walker church for Tom Manley’s ash ceremony.  Tom, who had come to Minneapolis to study astronomy at the U of M, died of colon cancer about 2 years ago.  Someday I would like to get back to Crane Island on Lake Minnetonka.  I knew a pilot who probably still owns a cottage there.  I did make it out to Excelsior.  Crane Island is the first place I lived when I moved to Minnesota in 1977 and stayed in my Uncle Chris and Aunt Amy’s cottage.

Finally, Barth and I made it to CANADA after not being able to go the previous summer!  I was actually there on August 21, opening day, a day before my birthday and Barth and Rhonda arrived a day later.  We had a good time.  However, when we came back separately, we discovered a big problem, which you will see below:

The beavers had built their best dam ever against the metal bridge that connects the farm and our land.  The water was two feet away from our road.  Barth and his friend spent the better part of a weekend taking the dam apart.  In the picture you see a beaver trying to build the dam back.

I hope you don’t have too many “beavers” in your life and have managed to have a healthy and prosperous year.  Good luck for a happy 2022!

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

5 Dec
Forsythia on December 1
Bittersweet on December 1

Forsythia and bittersweet together in my backyard! They look pretty combined but the forsythia doesn’t belong there. It is one of the first spring flowers to appear. While I enjoy looking at it and taking the long walks this mild weather makes possible, I worry about what this means for the future. Will my great nephew, Jude, born on October 5, have to move from Texas north as a young man? Probably. I like the idea because he will be closer to me but worry what global warming means for the climate. Could the blooming of the forsythia be an anomaly ? Yes, but it’s not likely. (For those who are interested, there is a deep ravine behind the fence.)

East Shore Roadhouse

18 Nov

Mom and I decided to play hooky from church last Sunday in order to check out a new restaurant, the East Shore Roadhouse, which opened recently in Lansing, New York. It’s a breakfast-lunch restaurant that is open from Wednesday through Sunday every week. On Sunday, it closes at 11:00 a.m., which necessitated us missing church. It’s a location that has served as a restaurant/bar in past years.

Luckily for us, since my mother has a walker, the restaurant has a front door that is handicapped-accessible . The restaurant consists of two rooms painted grey and white and we sat in the first one that had about five tables. The second room has a long counter where customers may sit if they choose and several tables. We both ordered the French toast, which is made from Italian bread and I had two eggs over easy, as I requested. I had a choice of fruit or vegetable and chose the fruit. An important item was the real maple syrup. For some reason this item is often a problem in restaurants that serve pancakes, waffles, and French Toast, yet New York State is known for its maple syrup. The woman who served us said that they are attempting to serve local products grown in the area.

We’re looking for different places to go in the area and will definitely go back to this one.

Cayuga Heights, a Helicopter, and a Third Gunman

13 Nov

Autumn from a Couple Years Back in Cayuga Heights, Top One–Overlook, Bottom One–Wyckoff

On Tuesday, November 9, I went to Cayuga Heights School for tutoring. As I walked in the front door just before 2:30 p.m., I heard police sirens and turned around to see three police cars take off below me down into lower Cayuga Heights. Had I known better, I would have walked back out. Unfortunately, I sat down in the library and heard over the loudspeaker that we were under lockdown. The lockdown included Boynton and Ithaca High School. The four of us in the library remained there until 5 p.m. when all the children had been picked up. I even saw Luvelle Brown, the superintendent of schools, walk one little boy out.

Shades of Minneapolis and the whirring of helicopter blades at night. In South Minneapolis, there was a fair amount of crime and helicopters were often used to detect criminals on the ground. Eventually, I became used to the drone of the blades, but it was strikingly out of place the other day. All afternoon we heard the helicopter, not a sound heard often in Cayuga Heights, the most exclusive and removed neighborhood in Ithaca. How I can afford to live there is another story, but I am living there again, as I once did when I was a little girl and we lived on North Sunset Drive in an apartment. I have always felt safe there, but I did not feel so safe on Thursday when Claire called me and said a third gunman had fled into Cayuga Heights and the police had been unable to catch him.

What started as police investigating gunfire in a house in downtown Ithaca ended up as a many-police car chasing one car into lower Cayuga Heights. The criminals’ car ended up on someone’s front lawn and the cops almost immediately caught two men, one who had remained in the car. Of course, Cayuga Heights is not safe, just a nowhere else is safe, but in Tompkins County most of the gunfire occurs downtown and on West Hill and those of us who live right above the high school are not accustomed to that kind of criminal activity. On the other hand, my brother, who lives in Ithaca, has a house near him with fresh bullet holes from the past year. A difference of only a few miles between me and him.

What makes us feel safe in Cayuga Heights is the canopy of trees, ravines, large, imposing houses, and let’s face it–money–that separates us from downtown Ithaca, but that is only a mirage. And Cornell University, that is right above Cayuga Heights, had just experienced a bomb scare the previous weekend that turned out to be a hoax. The third gunman, who has yet to be picked up, was considered to possibly have made it as far as North Campus. He probably pulled out his cell phone and called a friend to come get him. I did find my back door open and wondered if he had come in.

And the Supreme Court is considering striking down New York’s laws against the carrying of guns in public. No thanks!

Duck Pond at Stewart Park

1 Oct

This is a picture of me looking out on the old duck pond at Stewart Park. I was born in 1953 so I was probably 2 1/2-3 1/2 and the year would have been 1955 or 1956. I imagine my father took the picture, since he was the best photographer in the family and the composition is good. Stewart Park lies at the southern end of Cayuga Lake, the biggest of the eleven Finger Lakes in upstate New York. It is a park operated by the City of Ithaca. While Cayuga (the Great Swamp) is the name of the tribe that inhabited the land near the lake, Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) is the name of the indigenous confederacy of which the Cayugas were a part.

If our stale bread hadn’t already been commandeered for French toast, we often brought it down to the park for the ducks and the swans, which were located in a different part of the park. The main attraction for me was the merry-go-round, but I also liked the slide and the swings. One magical day, my parents brought another family to the park with us. As we walked toward the merry-go-round, the husband from the other family kept finding coins in the grass and telling us to pick them up. I only realized years later that he must somehow have been dropping the coins down his pants.

July 1977-November 1979

25 Sep

Kathy and Lauren, 1977

Lauren and Frank, 1977

Amy, 1977

Lauren and Kathy, maybe two years later

When I arrived on the shore of Lake Minnetonka, west of Minneapolis, in July of 1977 the temperature was 100 degrees.  Somehow, I immediately picked up a germ and ended up in a doctor’s office in nearby Excelsior, where a doctor announced that I had a temperature of 104 and put me on antibiotics.  I had originally thought I had a heat stroke.  I was being introduced to the state where I would live for the next thirty years and its wide-ranging temperatures, which range from extreme heat in the summer to bitter cold in the winter.  I had not even planned to visit Minnesota.  

What happened was that I drove my grandfather’s black Buick Special to Columbus, Ohio to see my mother’s younger brother, Chris. Expansively, he offered to have me drive…

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July 1977-November 1979

25 Sep

Kathy and Lauren, 1977

Lauren and Frank, 1977

Amy, 1977

Lauren and Kathy, maybe two years later

When I arrived on the shore of Lake Minnetonka, west of Minneapolis, in July of 1977, the temperature was 100 degrees.  Somehow, I immediately picked up a germ and ended up in a doctor’s office in nearby Excelsior, where a doctor announced that I had a temperature of 104 and put me on antibiotics.  I had originally thought I had a heat stroke.  I was being introduced to the state where I would live for the next thirty years and its wide-ranging temperatures, which range from extreme heat in the summer to bitter cold in the winter.  I had not even planned to visit Minnesota.  

What  happened was that I drove my grandfather’s black Buick Special to Columbus, Ohio to see my mother’s younger brother, Chris.  Expansively, he offered to have me drive the two of us in my car to see his and my aunt’s new cottage on Crane Island in the middle of the lake.  I ended up being their summer guest.  They went back to Ohio in the fall and I stayed with the car and rented out an apartment, which had been attached to the back of an old house in Hopkins, several miles from the lake.   My best friend from high school, Jeanne, and I had planned to move to New York City together, but here I was alone in Minnesota.

You might ask why I would stay in the middle of the country when I planned on living in New York City.  The answer had partly to do with the lake itself.  I had grown up on Cayuga Lake, part of the Finger Lakes Region in upstate New York, my nuclear family went to Bob’s Lake, Ontario for our summer vacation, my Aunt Becky had a cottage on Lake Wanaksink in the Catskills, and my mother had grown up near Lake Erie.  The only unhappy time in my life occurred in Springfield, Ohio where I was an undergraduate, far from any lake, so I guess I had pretty positive associations with lakes.  Here was another one to explore.  

My youngest cousin in that family, Lauren, was a toddler and I helped take care of her, went swimming in the lake, and drank Hop, Skip, and Go Nakeds with my uncle.  His version of the drink included vodka and lime juice.  My overburdened uncle needed the drinks because he spent most of the time working on the cottage, which had belonged to an older woman named Camilla. I didn’t have much of a focus that summer but I was intent on putting my imprint on Lauren.  This was my shot at her.  Amy took care of Lauren, cooked the meals, and braided my hair.  Our “family,” which included my two foster cousins, Frank and David, my uncle, and my Aunt Amy, would sometimes go to the other side of the island where her parents owned a cottage and have supper with them.  Amy’s dad was a minister and his forebear was one of the three ministers who had helped to develop the island.  That first summer was lazy and fun.  My parents came to visit from New York and bought me an aluminum fishing boat with a 10 horsepower motor, so I could travel back and forth from the mainland to the island.

At night my aunt, uncle, Lauren, and I would sleep in beds on the second floor, while the boys shared a room downstairs.  It was hard to go to sleep because it was so hot and we only had a fan.  In addition, Lauren insisted on standing on the edge of the mattress inside her big crib and rocking back and forth, causing the other end of the crib to lift off the ground. Even if it had been cool, we would not have been able to go to sleep with her constant banging of the crib.  Finally, she would tire herself out and we could all go to sleep.

But there was another reason I chose to stay.  I fell for my aunt’s brother, Scott, that summer.  He was logging with his brother in northern Minnesota at the time.  He was married with two young children but his marriage was falling apart.  I don’t have a picture of him so you’ll just have to take my word for it that he was/is very good-looking with icy blue eyes and chiseled cheekbones.  He was tall and in good shape, probably because of the logging.  I was at the age where women often think they’re pretty fascinating and I knew he was attracted to me.  I had always been drawn to guys who were good with their hands and worked outdoors.  I also had not been around him very much because we were not related.  My aunt and I were relatives by marriage.  I think the not-knowing exactly what someone is about adds to the mystery.  It sounds crazy but I thought to myself, “This looks interesting.  I think I’ll stick around.”  I didn’t see him again until the following summer when I found out I had caused some disruption in his family and involvement with him was not a possibility.  He went on to divorce and marry again and I only ran into him a couple times after that. By then I had started to put down some roots, shallow though they were.  I had been working at the Radisson for a year and was in the process of switching apartments and moving into Excelsior.  I had my boat and there was yet another man, a pilot, I was becoming interested in on the island.

My third summer in Minnesota was the last one I was to spend alone on the island when my aunt and uncle weren’t up for vacation.  I had to move out of my apartment and into the cottage when my lease came to an end because my cat had peed on the carpet inside my apartment and the carpet outside.  At the last moment my aunt wanted to rent to a group of guys but I had nowhere to go.   Unfortunately, I think my aunt felt like I was taking over.  Some years later my aunt and uncle divorced and my uncle never returned.  I came for very short visits during the summer to take my cousins, Lauren and Gillian, out for the day and to return at night for a quick supper on the island.  However, that last fall it became about me being out in nature by myself.  I liked the experience of having deer swim to the island and view me from afar, which would never have happened when all the cottagers were present.  I could walk around with my own thoughts and read uninterrupted.  I was starting to think about returning to school and attending the University of Minnesota and the intense reading provided a prelude to that endeavor. 

Slowly, my focus on Lake Minnetonka had shifted to Excelsior, where I met a young woman named Cindy and her recalcitrant husband and young toddler in the Excelsior Apartments.  They moved to a new house in Excelsior and I started taking showers at their house when it became too cold to go swimming in the lake.  Thereafter, her husband referred to me as the refugee after the Tom Petty song.  Cindy was always welcoming, however.  That fall I washed my clothes in a laundry in Excelsior and bought strawberry sodas with strawberry ice cream and vanilla ice cream at Bacon Drug where a man named Mike Bacon was the pharmacist and a couple of crotchety, older women held sway.  I would take the soda and walk to the beach, where I would sit and read.

The negative aspect of living alone on the island became apparent in my last terrifying adventure as a hermit on Crane Island.  It was November and I had been busy moving my possessions to a house in Long Lake.  I recognized that I was in trouble when I was wiping off a counter on the back porch and the water on my cloth froze.  This was before cell phones and I believe the island phone account had already been closed.  Since I had been criticized for everything not being perfect on other occasions, I was taking extra time with the cleaning, but I had really stayed too late in the year.  Eventually, I finished and headed down to my boat.  It was dusk and the wind was up, causing the water to be choppy and rough, but the movement of the water hid a serious problem that I soon discovered.

After untying the boat from the dock, I climbed in and pulled the cord to start the motor.  Nothing happened.  I kept on trying.  When a motor won’t start, you’re supposed to pause, but I was excited to leave.  I managed to flood the motor.  Then the fuel line broke.  It was that cold.  The boat had floated into shore and I couldn’t push it out into the lake, so I stepped into the freezing cold water, pushed off, and stepped in.  I was pretty good at rowing and initially just thought it would be a matter of extra exercise.  Next, the wind stopped and immediately a thin layer of ice formed on top of the lake.  It was obviously colder than 32 degrees.  Every time I brought the oars down I had to slam them into the ice to move forward.  

I kept on rowing and rounded Crane Island until I could see the mainland.  I realized that with wet feet and increasingly thickening ice I would not be able to reach the parking lot where my car was located.  Instead I headed toward the nearest part of the shore where a large house beckoned.  Two women who shared an apartment in the house came out, shouting words of encouragement, and then pulled the boat in as far as they could.  They were actually able to walk on some of the ice that had formed.  The following morning the people who stored my boat had to come down and chop it out of the lake.  It was a scary end to what had been a fairly pastoral experience.

Postscript:  My Uncle Chris and Aunt Amy both died young.  Chris died of melanoma at age 63 on July 27, 2004.  Amy, who had ALS, died of breast cancer at age 60 on January 29, 2005.  I only have a couple pictures of Chris because while we were having fun he was working.  I can’t seem to find them.

Clark Family History

26 Jul

I’ve always loved the smell of cigar smoke.  In fact, I once went over to a man at Chicago Union Station, the big Midwest hub of Amtrak, and told him how much the smell of his cigar reminded me of my maternal grandfather, Caspar Charles Clark (1897-1976).  It’s funny how certain smells trigger memories of people from our past.  Many people hate cigar smoke but not me.  We could not leave the dinner table at 1256 Arlington Road in Lakewood, Ohio, a western suburb of Cleveland, until he’d had his postprandial cigar.  I could have done without the waiting to watch TV, but my longing for the smell has not left me.

Grandpa Clark’s Family Background and Early Biography

Caspar Charles Clark, or CCC as he and other people would sometimes refer to him, was born in 1897 in a little town called Francesville, Indiana where his father, Charley, was the town grocer.  His younger brother was named Keith and my mother has always insisted that Keith was her grandmother’s favorite.  His mother, Sarah Garrigues, was a housewife and was very involved in the Christian Church.  She was tall and thin with an elegant carriage befitting her French Huguenot ancestry. The French Huguenots fled France because of religious persecution.  In Sarah’s case, her ancestors ended up in Philadelphia where one of them came to know Benjamin Franklin.  My grandfather was always proud of his French background, of which there are two volumes of family history. 

Sadly, I was only able to meet her once.  She gave me a box full of sand with a huge shell and smaller shells.  My main impression of Indiana was that it was very hot with row after row of corn.  It was a significant meeting though, partly because she was the only great-grandparent I was able to meet.  The second time I went to Francesville was for her funeral.

Interior of Grocery Store

Exterior of Grocery Store, Worker on the left, Great-Grandfather Clark on the right.

Sarah Garrigues, Our Great-grandmother as a Young Woman

Aunt Bess was Great-Grandma Clark’s sister

His father Charley, a hard working man, was short and heavyset as an older man, although in earlier pictures one can see the family resemblance between him and Caspar.  Grandpa was never interested in his father’s family history because Azel (also spelled Asel) Clark deserted his wife, Maria Wheeler Clark, and fled to Iowa.  She was forced to raise Jerry, Jenny, and Charley by herself, relying on taking in wash from the neighbors and money from weaving rugs. 

I chose to focus my attention on the Clark family and my uncle, mother, and I traced them back to Connecticut.  They ended up in Clarksfield, Ohio because someone in the family served in the Revolutionary War and the Clark family was awarded land in the Western Reserve.  Azel Clark did manage to serve in the Civil War and Maria was later awarded his pension.  The National Archives reveal that he had black eyes, the color of Barth’s and my eyes when we were born.  Mom has said that her first funeral was that of Maria Wheeler Clark.  She said there was a very peaceful feeling in the room and that a ray of sun fell over her great-grandmother whom she had never met.

Terre Haute’s Championship Baseball Team. CCC, second from left, Top Row

Reunion of Championship Baseball Team in 1961, CCC, 2nd from left, bottom row

A passion that carried Grandpa through his childhood and teen years was a love of baseball.  Indiana State University was established as the Indiana State Normal School in Terre Haute in 1865.  That is where he went to college as an undergraduate and that is also where he batted over 400 on the school’s team.  His baseball team won the state championship in 1919.  During the summers he worked on a road crew for the railroad. 

He went on to be a catcher during spring training for the Chicago White Sox on the south side of Chicago, who were then being ridiculed as the Chicago Black Sox because some of their players threw a game.   His parents did not want him to be tainted by the team’s reputation and he reluctantly quit.  When he graduated from college, he went on to teach at his first school. It was a one-room schoolhouse.  My grandfather’s first post as a principal was at a school in Monrovia, Indiana, where he met my grandmother, a teacher. 

She went to a normal school (two-year Teachers’ school) before she met him.

Mattie Bodenhamer (note spelling of last name with “a”) went to a two-year normal (teaching) school. Her sister, Mary, is the one who paid for her education and she is also the one I believe who changed the spelling from Bodenheimer, which is the true spelling. Bodenheimer is a German Jewish (Ashkenazi) surname, so it’s surprising that Mattie’s father’s name was John Wesley. Mary was probably trying to avoid the prejudice against Germans after WW I, but it’s hard to know. When doing genealogy, remember that there are two different spellings.

Grandpa and Grandma as a young couple at the the beach right after their engagement about 1921. They were vacationing at Bass Lake with “Daskers (sp?). It also says, “She moved.”

He was a beautiful, striking man at 6 ‘ 1” with high cheekbones. My grandmother, Martha Bell Bodenheimer Clark (1896-1967), was also good-looking but diminutive in comparison, with big breasts that she wrapped in what they called a huck towel to make sure her beads hung straight.  Sadly, none of us has inherited them– not the beads but the breasts. 

The couple recalled being blissful in New York City where they married and where he did his graduate work in education at Columbia.  One of their favorite things was to attend the theatre.  My grandfather’s favorite actress was Helen Hayes, the first lady of the American theatre.  They left us their Playbills after they died and I made sure to save one of each play.

Grandma and Grandpa Clark and Their Children

Grandma Clark as a Young Mother

His second post took place after the NYC-Columbia interlude at a school in the U.P. (Upper Peninsula) of Michigan.  I’ve been there during the summer and in the course of that season it’s a beautiful region, especially along the shores of Lake Superior.  During the winter, it becomes a completely different creature.  If New York City was heaven, the U.P. was an icy hell.  My grandmother was pregnant and when she delivered her first child, a daughter, Carol, she almost died.  She was attended by what used to be called a “society doctor,” a physician who had a certain prestige and popularity. Unfortunately, he didn’t know what he was doing, and when she hemorrhaged he was at a loss.  His nurse, on the other hand, had studied up since the last time he had lost a patient, and she was able to save my grandmother.  However, baby Carol was not a happy camper as a consequence of colic.  Because my grandmother was having trouble breastfeeding and their baby didn’t like formula, my grandfather was forced to go out in the cold and walk through walls of snow that were higher than his head to obtain another woman’s breast milk.  He kept a newspaper picture of the icy tunnels in Ironwood, Michigan in his wallet for the rest of his life.

Three years after my Aunt Carol was born my mother, Martha, made her entrance.  The family lived at French Ave. initially, but they ended up moving to 1256 Arlington Rd., where my grandparents lived out the rest of their lives.  My mother has always liked big dogs and that goes back to their German Shepherd, Yippy, who lived with them from four to five years.  Eventually her father decided to give the dog away, without giving Mom a good explanation.  The dog did bite a child one summer, but she wasn’t sure that was the reason.  Yippy’s new family lived on a busy street, and he was run over.  This was a source of some bitterness on my mother’s part and I think she chiefly blamed her father.

Martha, Friend, and Carol Biking

On the other hand, he had a good sense of humor and liked to tell jokes.  My brother and I bought him joke books.  Sometimes he would do fun things that would surprise everyone.  If he came to a turnaround road made for u-turns, for instance, he would sometimes keep driving around and around it without stopping.  He was also thoughtful to my mother when she was in bed sick and often brought her sweet peas and a chocolate bar. She has happy memories of him teaching her to ride a bike and also playing catch with him with a softball, although the ball hit her in the face once and bent her nose.  She didn’t think he understood how different it was to play with a little girl versus a professional ball player.

Carol, Chris, and Martha

Fourteen and a half years after his sister Martha was born, Christopher Charles Clark made his entrance.  He was a planned child and served to buoy his parents’ marriage.  His mother was forty-five, definitely an unusual age to be having a baby, his father was forty-four, while he had one sister who was in ninth grade, and an even older one, who was in college and feeling a little left out of all the excitement going on at home.  The two girls did get to name their brother, making CCC his acronym and his nickname, Kit. When he found out his mother planned to name him Robert. he said he would have preferred that, but his mother said she wanted them to be involved.

He had a good relationship with his father, but over the years became much closer to his mother.  Since his parents were older, it was left to his sister Martha to do all the things that young parents often enjoy with their children like riding roller coasters.  Sometimes, especially when he grew a bit older, however, he felt as if he had three mothers.  He did stay close friends with Martha.

Carol, Chris, and Martha as Young Adults

Martha Clark Mapes and Barth Mapes, Carol Clark Brown and Massey Brown, Day of Carol’s wedding

Chris’s Graduation from Dennison-1962

Clark Children’s Relationship with Sarah G. Clark, Their Grandmother

Carol, Their Grandma Clark, Martha

Chris and His Grandmother

Chris and His Father Leaving Chris’s Grandmother

All three of the Clark children loved visiting their grandparents in Francesville.  The oldest, Carol, chose to be buried in the local cemetery because she had such good memories of times spent with her grandmother.  Martha  has fond memories of dancing around the room while her grandmother played the piano.  Chris loved it so much that he cried one time on the way back to Cleveland and ended up getting spanked. 

Although they had good memories of picking out penny candy at the grocery store, unfortunately, because their grandfather spent so much time in the store, the siblings didn’t get to know him as well.  He also died early of a heart attack when he was out shoveling the snow.  Grandpa was very careful of his weight, partly because his father was so overweight and that was thought to have contributed to the heart attack.

He holds the Ohio state record for years served as a junior high school principal–forty-one years–and our family was given a posthumous award for that honor.  That tells you a lot about him.  The three unifying principles for that part of our family were, in order: God, family, and education.  His three children were expected to attend school, unless they were about to keel over.  He always made the family breakfast, which was very extensive, and often included melons (he was an expert on their readiness for eating) and Cream of Wheat.  If they received any grades other than As they had to explain why.  This sounds pretty tough, but all of them were allowed to pick the colleges they wanted to go to, and having received mostly As that was achievable.   

Grandpa thought Cornell was a bit far from Cleveland, but my mother wanted to be a nutritionist and Cornell had one of the top schools in nutrition.  I don’t think my grandparents ever considered not paying for their children’s education.  My grandmother’s father didn’t believe in education for women, so her older sister paid for her to go to normal school (teachers’ college).  My grandfather was ABD (all but dissertation) from Columbia in New York City, so it was likely that he responded positively to Cornell partly because it was part of the Ivy League.  I don’t know who paid for his education, but this was the Depression and he had just married and had to stop his education in order to support his family.

My grandfather began his forty-one year stint as a principal in Lakewood, Ohio, becoming the junior high school principal at Horace Mann.  From his first year on, he started to memorize his students’ names, so that when he finished his career he knew all of them.  He was unusually bright, but I’ve always wondered if he had some kind of mnemonics system.  Twice my family ran into his former students while traveling with him around the country and he was able to call them by name.  One such occasion occurred at Mount Rushmore.  The conversations would go something like this:  “Hello, Doris.”  

“Why Mr. Clark, I can’t believe you remember me.”

“Doris, how is your brother , Bob?”  and so on.

He told us he would often ask them to solve simple math problems and they didn’t always know the answer.  They were probably so flustered at being remembered that they couldn’t concentrate.  

My mother felt he had one bad inclination and that was to be forgiving of bad behavior by a student if the person had a high I.Q.  That probably comes in part from the fact that his generation, the WWI generation, were the first ones to be given IQ tests.  The Stanford-Binet IQ test was the one used to screen WWI draftees and I believe it was still in use when I went to school.  My IQ appeared on my college transcript, but I think the tests have fallen out of favor.  It appears that the WWII generation had already begun to question them.

Clark Grandparents and Their First Set of Grandchildren

Grandpa, Grandma, and Me at Westgate, the suburban mall closest to their house

Grandma, Grandpa and Me at 1256 Arlington Road

Barth as Baby with Grandma and Grandpa Clark, on North Sunset Drive in Ithaca

Happiness at 1256

It was when I was a small child that we got along the best.  He would take me for long walks when he went out for his “constitutionals,” as he called them.  One thing we did was to walk to the bridge over the rails and wait for a train called the Nickel Plate to come through.  He had a nine-month appointment as a principal and would always fill his summers with some part-time job such as painting.  It was a time in our country when a white collar worker would take no shame in picking up a blue collar job.  One summer he was in charge of recreation programs for the Lakewood School System and I took pride in accompanying him as he made his stops at various schools and consulted with the recreation supervisors.  At one point I sat down and was shown how to do boondoggle (braided cord of plastic, often used as key chains), something I was never very good at, but I enjoyed being part of the recreation.  When my brother Barth and I watched T.V, my grandfather would delight in coming into the sun room and pulling our ears, especially Barth’s.  He would sometimes bring out the old toys for us to play with.  When he wasn’t with us, he would often be sweeping up the pears that the squirrels had dropped from the pear tree in back of the house.  If he were still alive, he would probably admit that he enjoyed fussing after those squirrels.  In fact, that was often the first thing I heard in the morning when I woke up.

While Grandpa, Barth, and I were in the sun room, Grandma would be cooking in the yellow kitchen with its white tile counterspace.  As she cooked, she would often chew on a fresh green bean or a piece of raw potato.   Each one of us had a special dessert or food item that she would try to include at dinner.  I liked vanilla pudding, while my Uncle Chris liked spiced peaches.  A favorite salad of all of ours was bing cherry jello with grapefruit.  The kitchen had a small table in the shape of a crescent that jutted out of the wall and its window looked out on the garden where my grandfather liked to gather black berries.  She would often have her afternoon tea there with slices of lemon and a sweet roll. 


Fredonia, New York, Halfway Point Between Ithaca and Cleveland–Little Carol Brown, Massey Brown Grandpa Clark, Little Barth, Big Barth, Me in Front of Grandpa

Me, Mom, Carol, and Little Carol

Kathy, Carol, and Barth at 1256 Arlington Road

Kathy and Carol in Ithaca, NY

Grandma had a third grandchild, Carol, her daughter Carol’s daughter.  Her favorite story about Carol involved Carol changing into her black and white bathing suit.  Carol didn’t want her grandmother to see her naked, so she went out the front door and changed behind one of the bushes in the front yard.  At least, she thought she was behind the bush, but she forgot that although her grandmother couldn’t see her changing, she was visible to everyone in the neighborhood.  Grandma got quite a chuckle out of that.

 Later, when he retired, Grandpa took a job working at a funeral home in Lakewood named Daniel’s.  He had always been a people person and, of course, he knew many people in the area, and not just because of his school connections.  When Grandpa went out into the community in his black Buick Special, he would make sure to greet all the people who waited on him, including the people at the grocery store, Heinen’s, and the people who waited on him at the bakery, Hough’s.

My grandmother, on the other hand, only went out to church, to the beauty shop where she had her hair and nails done, and to Westgate, the local mall, where she went clothes shopping.  Her problem with her knees kept her from taking long walks around the neighborhood.  As she became older the problem became worse.  She also did not drive and my grandfather liked to do the grocery shopping, which deprived her of a motivation to get a license. However, I always had the best that Cleveland had to offer from the two main department stores, Halle’s and Higbee’s.  One Easter she sent two dresses, one green and one yellow.  I was supposed to pick one but ended up receiving both of them. 

When she was at home, she spent much of her time cleaning the house and talking to her best friend, Bonnie Flint, on the phone that was for some reason located in the dining room.  Bonnie’s husband, Roy, was also a principal.  They had one child.  The couples were lifelong friends but the relationship between the two women was the most important friendship, and the most significant part of that connection took place in a small corner of the family dining room.

Grandpa’s favorite entertainment was to go to the movies, a passion that I picked up on.  He delighted in taking us to the old movie theatres in downtown Cleveland, with their seats for the orchestra (no longer used then) in front, and their velvet curtains that were pulled back from the screen just before the movies would start.  The theatres with their red, plush decorations were owned by Lowes and were much more extravagant than the mall cinemas of today.  I saw Gone with the Wind in one of the theatres, which is pretty amazing the first time you see it.  However, my absolute favorite experience when we were alone with him was seeing two movies: The Three Stooges Go Around the World in a Daze (1963) and Romulus and Remus (1961) about the founding of Rome, plus fifteen cartoons, all in one sitting.  My grandfather went up in my estimation when some men from Indiana came to visit him in Lakewood and one of them was one of the Larrys from The Three Stooges (more than one person had filled that role.) (clip from My Three Stooges movie)  

Later we saw Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), my first adult movie, and one we all enjoyed, and Ryan’s Daughter (1970), which he did not enjoy because of the partial nudity.  The first one was a great film, and the second a good one, but the ambience was not the same because we saw them in mall cinemas in Lakewood.  As more years passed, there was more nudity and more of what he thought was vulgar language.  He was especially annoyed with the language in Love Story, which seems quite tame now. 

My favorite experience of going to a movie with both my grandparents was when we went to It’s a Mad, Mad World.  It’s a crazy ensemble road movie with Spencer Tracy as the only lead.  Grandma laughed and laughed.  That was the most fun I ever had as a child experiencing a movie along with someone else.

She died when I was in ninth grade, in the fall of 1967, from a blood clot after she had returned home from an operation.  Ironically, the operation was meant to correct some reproductive damage that had occurred during her first delivery.  It was not considered to be a major operation.  She was found in my uncle’s old bedroom upstairs.  We think she went there when the clot hit.  The burial took place on a cold, blustery day.  We stood under a tent as the minister pronounced his last words from Ecclesiastes.   Later visits to the Lakewood house never seemed quite the same.  She had a good-natured, sweet presence and she had spent more time in the house than my grandfather, so thereafter it felt like something was missing.

As I moved further into my teens, my grandfather and I didn’t get along as well, which is something I lived to regret later.  I argued with pretty much everything he said.  I started out as a tea drinker.  He insisted I would become a coffee drinker, which I resisted.  Nowadays I can’t start my day without going to Ithaca Bakery for a vanilla latte.  I went through a period of resisting Christianity.  He thought that didn’t make sense because I came from a Christian family.  When I was in college in Springfield, Ohio, he made a point of keeping up with Wittenberg University’s football scores.  I was not fond of my college and didn’t keep up with the scores, although I should have to enable myself to respond in a friendly way.

During my college years, my girlfriend Jeanne and I made plans to attend an Alice Cooper concert in Cleveland.  I asked him if we could stay at his house because I knew he planned to be away on vacation.  However, when he found out we were coming he changed his plans.  Following the concert, we went to the hotel where the band was staying for the after party.  Somehow we were split up: I ended up in the suite where Alice was holding court and Jeanne ended up in a hotel room with the group’s manager, desperately trying to get out.  Before I departed with a member of Alice’s security, I left a note at the front desk.  She somehow managed to get out of the manager’s clutches and took a taxi home.  My grandfather thought it was scandalous that we came home to Lakewood after 2 am, separately!  Of course, he told my mother and all hell broke loose.

The Second Set of Grandchildren

Cousin Frank Niven, Amy Clark holding Lauren, Uncle Chris Clark, and Cousin David Niven. My grandfather was able to hold Lauren.

My grandfather died in 1976, the year of the Bicentennial and the Tall Ships.  The nurses who helped him at the doctor’s office when he had heart trouble later in life came to his funeral at Daniel’s when he died.  He had treated Lakewood as though it were a small town like Francesville.  Our family was there, including Frank and David Niven, Chris and Amy’s two boys, and our two foster cousins. Lauren, Amy and Chris’s third child, was then under a year old. Even an old boyfriend of Mom’s, Bob Milner, showed up. Quite a number of people put cigars in his pocket when he was lying in state at the funeral parlor.

1256 Arlington Road

1256 turned out to be a better resting place for our memories than Lakewood Cemetery, although I do try to stop at the graveyard in Rocky River whenever I go through Ohio. Everyone from my immediate family has gone back to the house and been given a tour by the Yonkers. Several families lived there before we built up the courage to stop by. I’d have to check but I think the widow’s walk is gone. When I stopped for my visit, one of the old windows was still left–the one on the landing, from where I could see the pear tree and the garage. In my mind’s eye, I could hear Grandpa sweeping up the desiccated pears and complaining. I could see all the old license plates inside the garage and the blackberry bush in the backyard. Some of the pavers in the front yard have been replaced and there are no longer geraniums, but it’s the same old house.

P.S. One more Clark arrived in the Chris Clark family after Grandpa’s death. Gillian Sarah Clark popped out almost three years later in December of 1978. Her middle name, Sarah, is the name of our great-grandmother, Sarah Garrigues Clark.


17 Apr

I ended up reading this narrative for today’s writing group and decided to re-release it.

Harley 3

I dropped my first cat off at a field near a country road in the late seventies.  Shana (of the Jungle) was what she sounded like, a tough cat not particularly fond of humans or other cats.  Sometimes she would leap at me with her mouth open and I would duck just in time. She refused to use a litter box and she pulled up the carpeting in the hallways with her claws.  I was on the verge of being thrown out of my apartment, so one night my best Minneapolis friend at the time, Don,  arrived in his car and we headed to the Golden Valley Humane Society.  Shana climbed and clawed her way all around the car as he drove.  She managed to scratch me and draw blood.  Once there we were rejected because a vet was not present for the intake.  Don said, “I’m not going through…

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Luvelle Brown Escapes?

18 Jan

Luvelle Brown Escapes?

On January 13, I celebrated a late Christmas dinner and exchanged Christmas presents with my brother and my sister-in-law.  Along with the after-dinner ingestion of apricot bars and ginger snaps, we discussed the fact that Superintendent of the Ithaca Schools, Luvelle Brown, was resigning.  This is the biggest local news we have had for a long time, unless you count the recording of COVID cases, and, in our family at least, the lack of news,“Why hasn’t a ninety-four-year-old woman (my mother) received her vaccine yet?”  

My brother stated that Brown probably wanted to leave before the test scores went down, which they are bound to do, both because of online classes and some students’ lack of involvement therein.  He was acknowledging that Brown has had a very good record at the helm of the Ithaca schools.  But then my sister-in-law let the other shoe drop: Brown’s wife, whom he started divorcing in 2013, was angry and had filed a petition against him with the school system, both local and state.  

Although not a follower of the national news, she does have her hand on the beat of the pulse of local news.  She is like my mother used to be when she was head of the P.T.A. Council and later when she was working at Cornell and she knew all the scuttle-butt.

After dessert we retired to the family living room and all three of us took out our cell phones.  For about ten years now, this has become a way of shutting down the conversation and going inward, but we all headed to two of the articles in The Ithaca Voice, one published January 12 that extolls Luvelle Brown’s virtues as an administrator, including “Receiving the New York State School Boards Association Champions of Change for Kids Award-Aspiring Educators Award and Program” and “Having US News rank Ithaca High School in the top 2.5% of high schools in the nation (Gold Medal Distinction).”  The second article, published January 13, is entitled “Complaints, letter of allegations emerge in wake of ICSD Superintendent Brown’s resignation.” It entails the legal steps Brown’s ex-wife Anjanette Brown has taken, including a petition asking the local Board of Education for an investigation.  They failed to take up her petition, saying it was a family matter and she has since moved on to the State Department of Education and the Office of Human Rights.

A nugget that appears partway through the article says that one wrongdoing was hiring a woman as an administrative assistant with whom he allegedly became involved during that period.  Of course, if it’s true that makes it hard to determine whether she actually had some legitimate complaints against him, because obviously someone in her situation would be very bitter.  Luvelle Brown did not want his son to receive special attention because his father was superintendent, something to which she objected.  She ended up enrolling her children at Covenant Love, a small religious school in Dryden, which has the reputation of being a school with a warm embrace but wouldn’t necessarily be the place one would choose for specialized help.  Of course, it’s private and therefore out of her husband’s purview.

During our cell phone discussion we discussed his looks and my brother said he thought Brown had average looks. My sister-in-law and I looked at him mystified and both said he was very good-looking.  Men often have a strange way of evaluating the looks of other men.  I would actually say he is Brad Pitt level.  I ran into him fairly often over the years when I substituted because I had to get a special form from Human Resources and walked by his office, which was a modest one.  He was always friendly.  I last ran into him one year when I was selling raffle tickets during a snowstorm and he turned around and smiled.  After I thought, “Who is that good-looking man?” and then realized it was Brown.

For some reason, it feels relaxing to think about local news rather than the Capitol insurrection and COVID.  It’s as though ordinary life goes on despite all the mayhem and turmoil in our lives.  Brown says he has been planning on leaving for a while and that he has already been working with Discovery Education, his next employer when he finishes his job with the Ithaca schools at the end of February.  We may never know whether his ex-wife has legitimate “complaints” against his wielding of his power as a superintendent because of the way she intertwined her personal grievances in her letter.  As my brother says, Brown may merely be choosing to leave the Ithaca public schools at a high point rather than trying to get out of Dodge.