Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween 2011

OTR sends you best wishes for a safe and happy Halloween!  This unused 1909 postcard features the work of Ellen Clapsaddle, the most popular postcard illustrator of the time.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Halloween Countdown -1

And another unused 1908 postcard from the family archives.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Halloween Countdown -2

Unused postcard, ca. 1910,  from the family archives.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Halloween Countdown -3

Here's another card from Katherine to Charles. This one is postmarked from Camden, New Jersey, October 30, 1911. No message this time.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Halloween Countdown -4

Here's another postcard Katherine sent to my great uncle, Charles. It's postmarked October 30, 1910, Camden, New Jersey.  Seems sending several postcards to the same recipient on the same day was a popular activity.  The message:

Dear Friend: Because I have not written do not think I have forgotten you. I am alive and enjoying life. Have just finished breakfast at 4:30 a.m.  Kate

OTR wonders if she had breakfast after a night on the town or just got an early start to her day.

Dylan Thomas: My Birthday Began With The Water Birds

Yesterday we recalled the birthday of South Carolina's Lowcountry author, Pat Conroy. By coincidence, today marks the birthday of another writer immersed in the themes and images of coastal living. His name is Dylan Thomas, the Welsh writer whose poetry and unforgettable voice brought him great fame in the United States in the decade prior to his early death in New York in 1953.

Thomas and his native land have special meaning to OTR as his great grandparents immigrated from Cardiff, Wales, to the United States in the 1870s.  Though he never knew his grandmother - she died before his birth - OTR's father often recalled how she took pride in her Celtic roots and the Welsh love for song and singing.

It is interesting that he should remember the talk of song and singing. Many critics and authorities write that Thomas's recitations are spoken words that approach song. Readers can reach their own conclusion by listening to the poet reading Poem in October, his recollections of his  thirtieth birthday. Audio quality isn't the best. OTR suggests earphones and closed eyes for this sound journey if you choose not to read along.

What an unforgettable voice. OTR was in elementary school when he first heard a recording of Thomas reading his work. He doubts few students in any grade have that opportunity today. How unfortunate that education has come a long way since then, but not all of the change has been positive.  

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Pat Conroy: Treasure Of The Palmetto Coast

 OTR scoured his Internet sources today looking for a post or two about the birth of the American novelist, Pat Conroy, born in Atlanta on this day in 1945.  Alas, there was nothing to find and he was left with the happy task of writing a few words about the author and his work.

Even in his fiction, Pat Conroy has a way of writing about himself and all of us as we face the challenges and adversities - mental and physical - of growing into young adulthood and beyond. Stated another way, Conroy has extraordinary skill in probing the long childhoods many of us face as we grow old. For him, it's an arduous journey, carried out with the same reality that comes with recognizing nature as a cruel mother. Yes, there is beauty and light along the way, but the mountains can't stand without the valleys, and Conroy's reality has its share of darkness. Some may not enjoy that journey, but it is a good dose of reality and OTR and millions of other readers hold Conroy in high esteem.

In 1977, Conroy's book, The River is Wide, was hardly five years old when OTR moved to the edge of the ocean east of Savannah and a mere five miles across the sound from the book's setting on Daufuskie Island. In a matter of months, OTR succumbed to life on a sea island and having lived there for eleven years - there's a poem about it - was never quite the same.  The coast obviously had a similar effect on Conroy a decade earlier, and  over the next forty years he would blend his experience with the Lowcountry setting and produce many books. His latest, My Reading Life (2010), is a memoir of sorts recalling his love of reading and listing the essential and influential books in his life.

Twenty years have passed since those days when OTR sat reading in his den, feeling and hearing the low frequency vibrations from ship screws in the channel a few thousand feet away. That may seem like an odd recollection from the complex experience of the natural setting and its cultural overlay, but it approaches the unique and remains one of many fond memories. For the most part - small flashes of creativity being the exception - OTR simply enjoyed them. Pat Conroy, on the other hand, took the everyday and unique events in his life journey and turned them into some of the most lyrical writing of our time.

Charleston has a landscape that encourages intimacy and partisanship. I have heard it said that an inoculation to the sights and smells of the Carolina lowcountry is an almost irreversible antidote to the charms of other landscapes, other alien geographies. You can be moved profoundly by other vistas, by other oceans, by soaring mountain ranges, but you can never be seduced. You can even forsake the lowcountry, renounce it for other climates, but you can never completely escape the sensuous, semitropical pull of Charleston and her marshes.
                                                                The Prince of Tides

Halloween Countdown

What fun we have on Halloween!

In 1910, OTR's great uncle, Charles, received this postcard from his friend, Katherine, in Camden, New Jersey. She wrote:

Dear Friend Charles: I sincerely hope you are enjoying life to the fullest extent. I suppose you will be out for mischief tomorrow night. Halloween is always the biggest night of the year for me. Katherine

Charles turned 34 that year. He was a successful small-town banker who like many of his generation never married. We have scores of postcards from Katherine in our  archives, but she never signed her last name, and to this day she remains a mystery woman to the family. If there was some mischief going on, it belongs to the ages.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Autumn Serenade

Perfection for a perfect autumn day.

During his lifetime, Johnny Hartman may well have been the most under-appreciated singer of the jazz-pop era in the 20th century. Coltrane, an incomparable jazz saxophonist, liked Hartman's sound and had wanted to work with him, but Hartman never saw himself as a jazz singer. They recorded on March 7, 1963 and the product was an immediate success. Fifty years later, with a boost from the soundtrack of the film, The Bridges of Madison County (1995), the late Johnny Hartman got the recognition he deserved and the classic album, John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman, became legendary.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Early Autumn

Perfection for a not so perfect cold and rainy day.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Ides Of October Past

There is a new generation there these days, all strangers. And the cultural imprint left by those he did know years ago continues to fade away. The gleaming white post and rail fence is all but gone. The cedar pavilion where he played for hours on end, observed the Westvaco picnickers enjoying their Labor Days, and listened to local old time music and fire and brimstone preachers lies in ruin. All the playground equipment - massive and unsafe by today’s standards - shining in its blue, yellow and red paint disappeared. The drive-in theater next door closed a generation ago along with the little air field across the highway. Only the nature endures.

Today, the sycamores along the river may be a bit taller, but they still explode in yellow this time of year along with his favorite walnut tree. And the young maple he climbed as a boy has matured into a massive Fall fire tree. Sixty years ago, he watched when the men brought in their bulldozers to reshape the creek bank and channel. The stone beach they built was much safer for the generation of bathers who enjoyed it, but the creek remembered this affront. Over time, its flowing waters restored the original course and bank to a scene his grandfather enjoyed in the 1930s.

Time can bring change to his “campground,” but it cannot erase the memory of this childhood paradise.

For context, here is OTR's original story, "A Fall Tradition Remembered," posted October 15, 2008
Every October 15, my mind floods with wonderful memories. From birth through my 27th year, the date marked an important event. The story descends out of my dad's membership in the Uniform Rank of the Knights of Pythias. The URKP was an elite military-style company within a fraternal organization born out of the search for national reconciliation following the Civil War. Every good military organization needed a campground, with lodging, mess hall, recreation pavilion, and parade. The URKP had theirs in the small village of Burlington, West Virginia. It also served as a regional park, complete with playground, and was often rented for the day for family reunions, company picnics, church functions, and other large gatherings.

"Camp" at Burlington was paradise for a young boy. A creek bordering the camp offered hours of fun. You could explore the woods and fields forever. The frequent social events made the playground a great place to meet new friends. But "camping" at Burlington was, by no means, a wilderness experience. We were lucky to use a cottage that had every comfort of home. And there was a drive-in theater next door where I enjoyed the snack bar as much as the movies. Across the road was a small airfield with several Taylorcrafts and Piper Cubs, and a hangar that gave birth to many "homebuilts" over the years. I can say with confidence that Burlington was never boring.

Through the summer of 1974, I spent many weeks at "camp" every year, including several weekends of "cold camping" in the off-season. Opening the cottage and grounds for the summer, though exciting, was not especially memorable. Freezing temperatures lingered into May, so the campground usually opened on Memorial Day weekend. On the other hand, winterizing the place was like saying "Goodbye" to an old friend. Thoughts of family, friends, the big fish, fireworks, that scary movie, the old biplane, all those memories accumulated over the past six months filled your mind. Amid the blazing gold sycamores, brilliant fire oaks and maples, the smell of wood smoke, and a harvest of black walnuts,

we went through the years-old closing procedure until the last item - pouring anti-freeze into sink traps - was checked.  At that point, it was time to load the car, proceed with all those repetitive tasks one does "just to be sure," then close and lock the big red door until Spring.

As American society changed, the URKP fell out of fashion. Lodge members grew old and passed away. In 1974, the lodge itself and all its assets dissolved. I haven't locked that big red door for 34 years now, but I still have the key and a remarkably detailed mental picture of the cottage and landscape that I loved.

In many ways, Burlington is with me every day, for the experiences helped shape my personal values, career, hobbies, and general interests. The impact has been so profound that I have asked my children to do their best to provide the same opportunity for their own families.

In weaving all of the memories about this weekend, I ask you, my readers, to do the same: Find a nearby paradise and escape to it often while your children are young. There will be no sorrow there.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Roger Williams: American Pianist, 1924-2011

The noted American pianist, Roger Williams, passed away last Saturday (October 8) at the age of 87. His Wikipedia entry notes that "Billboard magazine ranks him as the top selling piano recording artist in history with 18 gold and platinum records to his credit." In tribute, here is his last hit recordings, the theme from the 1980 film, Somewhere in Time.

Older boomers will remember him well for his 1955 recording of Autumn Leaves, "the only  piano instrumental to reach #1 on Billboard's popular music chart."

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Prohibition Comes To PBS: Don't Miss It

If you're curious about the prohibition of alcohol in the United States, OTR supposes one could always read a general history book or two. For those who seek a more vivid source of information and some entertainment as well there is a new alternative. It is the work of  documentary filmmakers, Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. well-known for their films on the Brooklyn Bridge, the Civil War, baseball, and much more. In Prohibition, they have given us another superb window into our past through their usual fusion of historic images, academic commentary, participants, and music.

This production is an efficient one coming in three episodes totaling about four and one half hours. It has good balance exploring both sides of the issue, but has no qualms about exposing the folly of attempting to legislate morality. That said, one cannot watch this program without seeing the remarkable - perhaps astounding and unsettling - similarities between our earlier war on alcohol and our current war on drug use. OTR will leave it to viewers to draw the conclusions. The important instruction here is a simple one: if you enjoy American history, don't miss Prohibition.

Time for a touch of Dickel on ice.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Obama Lola Lola

As OTR sits gazing across the early fall pastels in his woods, he thinks of the incredible seduction of the American voter by Barack Obama and the Democratic Party in 2008. How could the electorate make such a poor decision? Emotions and unrealistic expectations? Yes. Looking back, it's almost laughable how easily people can be deceived. But we live dangerously without reason and practicality. The great German director Josef von Sternberg captured this to perfection in his 1930 film classsic, Der blaue Engel (The Blue Angel).

Der Engel is a cabaret featuring the stunningly beautiful Lola Lola - Marlene Dietrich - as its star performer. She encounters an accidental - and most innocent - patron, Professor Immanuel Rath - Emil Jennings - whose infatuation with her leads him to a sad end.
The following scene - Lola's flirting, Rath's almost child-like behavior - is a perfect analogy to Obama's 2008 performance and the voter response:

Downright sleazy, wasn't it. Just like the campaign rhetoric, in hindsight.

This performance - like Obama's - was star-quality. Fortunately, Dietrich's talents were such that she went on to a fifty year career as one of the world's most cherished entertainers.  Not so for Obama. Perhaps he could have a future if the Chautauqua movement, less its religious accessory, spontaneously revived.

Monday, October 3, 2011

October...On And On


And the trees are stripped bare
Of all they wear
What do I care

And kingdoms rise
And kingdoms fall
But you go on
And on