Saturday, August 4, 2012

Hoarder Historian, Two

...a series of posts in which a baby boomer, in the process of cleaning out the file cabinets, boxes, and bookshelves in his basement, discovers memories hidden in long-forgotten artifacts, and waxes, if not eloquent...

Four Dark Days in History: November 22, 23, 24, 1963, Collector's copy $1.00, copyright 1963, Special Publications, Inc., Los Angeles 28, Calif.

Along the bottom of the front cover it says, "A Photo History of President Kennedy's Assassination."  I never understood that.  Even at 11, I knew there was something wrong with the way that was written, as if JFK owned the event.  Inside, all black and white pictures, most of which appeared in newspapers, tell the story with brief, factual captions.  So many of those pictures...

In sixth grade, the classes after lunch were always "lighter," and we had lots of breaks.  We had one of those that day, and I remember that we had the partition rolled open between our room (Mr. Wenner's class) and the one next door (Mr. Campbell's class).  Right at that point, a teacher from down the hall (I don't remember her name) scurried into our classroom and whispered something into Mr. Wenner's ear.  One of the kids in the front row heard part of it, and immediately turned and relayed to us (not in a whisper) "The governor of Texas has been shot!"

She probably saw some pretty puzzled looks.  Why would a sixth grade teacher in Silver Spring, Maryland be so upset about the governor of Texas?  One of the boys in front of me shot back, "Is he dead?"  No answer - because Mr. Wenner was turning away from the other teacher, nodding, and holding his hands up for us to listen.

Inside the front cover there are two yellowed pages that apparently came from a teletype machine (maybe from my Dad's office - he worked for the government) with the date in my cursive 11-year-old handwriting written at the top:  November 22, 1963, my Dad's 43rd birthday.  The type is all in black capital letters, with a symbol at the top '-V-' and a first sentence that drifts vertically down the page, as if someone had started to pull it from the teletype machine as it was printing: 



...and it continues like this for a page.  Then at the top of the second page, there is a headline:


...followed by a one line story, and then back to a Dallas (AP) dateline.

There are several photo pages of documentation about Lee Harvey Oswald in the middle.   The last one is the one of Oswald in custody and a man in a fedora (in the right foreground) pointing a pistol at his midsection.   There are pictures of the funeral, and there is a picture on the inside back cover of a very young sweet-looking John-John with his right hand at his temple in a salute.

My only other memory of that day is the walk home from school (early?) and the strange feeling that something was happening that was somehow different from anything else, even though the street was the same, the trees were the same, and everything was the same on the outside.  Something felt very different on the inside.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Hoarder Historian

...a series of posts in which a baby boomer, in the process of cleaning out the file cabinets, boxes, and bookshelves in his basement, discovers memories hidden in long-forgotten artifacts, and waxes, if not eloquent...

Nick Manoloff's Spanish Guitar Method, Book No. 1...$1.00...copyright 1935, M. M. Cole Publishing Company, Chicago

I think I was probably about 8 years, maybe 6.  My Aunt Selma gave me the old Kalamazoo guitar (which I was to learn later - much, much later - was an early Gibson), and my mother arranged for me to take guitar lessons.  My teacher was Mr. Vesey, a man with little patience, and less sense of humor.  I didn't remember his name - but my cousin Lissa did, and she always laughed when she said it.  She took lessons from Mr. Vesey about 6 weeks later, after I quit.  She stuck with it, until, as a young teenager she taught me some of what she had learned at camp (Talking Blues, and the E, A and D chords, so that I could play Gloria).  I was 15, and I got serious about folk guitar.  Lissa died in February 2010, just 56 years old.

Nick Manoloff's book, according to page 1, is "recommended by THESE GREAT ARTISTS," whose headshots (14 of them) are lined up vertically to the left and the right of the cursively labeled picture of Nick Manoloff himself, wearing a tuxedo and playing his classical guitar in the center of the page.  I just scanned those pictures and names surrounding Nick, and I don't even vaguely recognize a single one.  How could I?  This was published 17 years before I was born.  I'll bet Mr. Vesey knew them.

As I flip through the book, my eye lands on page 31, labeled at the top "The Natural Scale in the First Position."  There's a pencil note just under the title - "Play up & back," and a humorless bracketing of groups of three to nine notes, each bracket labeled with a penciled date, beginning with the first string - April 15 - and proceeding through the sixth string - May 12.

Lissa died of brain cancer.  It was diagnosed almost 10 years earlier as some chronic disease, and the symptoms were treated.  By the time her husband insisted on taking her to a specialist, 8 years later, the tumors had infiltrated her entire brain.  She was a Nurse Practitioner, an artist, and a wonderful mother of two kids (now both successful adults - and both medical professionals).  She had an incredible, sudden, cackling laugh, as abrupt to stop as it was to start.  I learned more guitar from her in one afternoon when I was 15 than I did from Mr. Vesey in a month and a half.  Although she spent most of her life in New Jersey, and I have lived mostly in Virginia and Minnesota, we talked.  Every time we talked, it was as if we were both still living in the brownstone on East 91st Street in Brooklyn...or unscrewing the light bulbs while waiting for her parents to come home.