Damn, I miss him. He would have been a glorious 80-year-old. This from our travels in China in 1983.
In yesterday’s installment of “adventures in remodeling,” we packed up our kitchen. For the next few weeks, we’ll be camping out in the living room, cooking with a single burner and a microwave. In other words, the same way we’ve been cooking for the past 20 years, but in the living room.
This process required us to pack up everything except a small collection of kitchen equipment that we’ll use in our living-room camp-out. I thought it was telling that our first two must-have choices were a martini glass (Tim) and a colander for pasta (me). What we’d want on a desert island.
As I packed up the various drawers of random kitchen equipment, I came across a couple of interesting items that I think I tossed in the boxes coming from my Dad’s house in 1997. I find them funny for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is: my father essentially didn’t cook. He knew how to make his own standard breakfast (two fried eggs over easy; burned* & buttered toast); a couple of standard dinners (hamburgers;** steak; roast chicken****); and vacation food (lobster*****). I don’t think he was unable to cook; he just liked those things and didn’t see any reason to expand his food horizons. When he and I traveled to China in 1981, he survived largely on packaged peanuts.
Anyway, here are some of the tools I inherited from Dad. First, a snicker for your inner 11-year-old:
* Intentionally. And when he ordered bacon in a restaurant, he would go to great pains to insist that it be burned as well.
** Classic divorced dad moment: he wanted to make hamburgers for us; little shits that we were, we*** wanted McDonalds. Dad: “OK, then, if you want a McDonalds hamburger, I’d be happy to step on your burger before I serve it to you.”
*** And by “we” I mean “Bruce.”
**** IIRC, Dad’s recipe called for dowsing the chicken in butter every five minutes while it roasted. No question, that was an excellent roast chicken.
***** Steamed; dipped in butter.
****** This has to do with the temperature of light, not some weird-ass reverse affirmative action.
From our neighbors’ Hawaiian vacation
From my Dad (of course!):
To celebrate our southwestern holiday season:
I think this started out as a Golden Retriever Angel, but over time the wings snapped off, so now it’s more like Golden Retriever in PJs.
And of course of course:
Happy Everything You’re Celebrating Whenever You’re Celebrating It!
My Jewish grandmother, Edith Spivack, was born in Kiev, Ukraine in 1904 or 1905. The family immigrated to the U.S. when she was young, and her remaining four siblings were all born in America. She’s not in this photo, but her father (my great-grandfather), Zacharias, is the second from the right in the back row, and next to him is his sister, Fanny. The older woman in the middle is Zacharias’s mother, my great-great-grandmother.
Update: My mother just sent this excellent old-world photo, though by dint of the cast of characters, taken in the U.S. in about 1907 or 1908. (Thanks, Mom!)
From my mother’s description, with my commentary: Back row: Rachel (Toporovskaya) Palkin; Ida Toporvskaya (apparently not yet married when this photo was taken); Fanny (Toporovskaya) Spivack [my great-grandmother]. Middle row: ? Palkin (Rachel’s husband); Samuel Spivack [Fanny’s husband; my great-grandfather; Zacharias from the photo above — Samuel was the English name he selected]. Front row: Palkin child; [my great-uncle] Max Spivack (on Samuel’s lap); [my grandmother] Edith Spivack (later Blau; standing, her mother’s hand is on her shoulder). Rachel, Ida, and Fanny were sisters.
On the Protestant side, you have to go back a couple more generations: my great-great-great-grandfather was born in Colne, England. I have fuzzy memories of my father — an enthusiastic if not terribly well-organized genealogist — telling me that that he or another early family member essentially absconded from England with a patent that he did not, technically, own to start a manufacturing business in Massachusetts.
Update: My Protestant peeps deserve a photo, too, right?
My grandmother Helen Farr Smith [Robertson] [Love] and my great-aunt Elizabeth (Betty) Lees Smith [Carey], in 1911.
So we were strangers, once, and possibly of that criminal immigrant element you keep hearing about. And yet here we are, a largely productive and law-abiding bunch. I am grateful for the country that welcomed these people from such different places. I’m grateful for the opportunities that allowed my grandmother to go from the shtetl to Radcliffe in the span of a single life.
I’m grateful for the mixing bowl that allowed a Protestant college guy and a Jewish college gal to meet and marry and have the quintessential American mutts that are my brother and me. I’m grateful that many of us still welcome the strangers from many places, and hopeful that those who don’t will gradually find room in their hearts for their fellow immigrants.*
Scripture tells us that we shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger – we were strangers once, too.
My fellow Americans, we are and always will be a nation of immigrants. We were strangers once, too. And whether our forebears were strangers who crossed the Atlantic, or the Pacific, or the Rio Grande, we are here only because this country welcomed them in, and taught them that to be an American is about something more than what we look like, or what our last names are, or how we worship. What makes us Americans is our shared commitment to an ideal – that all of us are created equal, and all of us have the chance to make of our lives what we will.
Barack Obama, November 20, 2014.
* Well, most of us. I realize these heart-warming words need some editing for those whose ancestors crossed the Atlantic in the hold of a slave ship or were already here when our ancestors got here and started waxing eloquent about welcoming each other. Bottom — un-heart-warming — line: white people who would close our borders need to stfu.
With love and appreciation for all that they taught me and the ways they enriched my life, and sadness for those no longer with us.
Dad in Beijing in 1981.
Grandfather Clarence Blau (and his granddaughter) in 1992.
Grandfather Clen Robertson with brother Bruce Robertson at Bruce’s college graduation in 1984.
Step-father David North on the occasion of his 85th birthday earlier this year with my Mom doing one of their favorite things: exploring an interesting new restaurant.
Father-in-law Denver Fox this past Easter, which we celebrated in the traditional fashion of being the least hip people at the Denver Biscuit Company. (Thus the cigarette machine in the photo relates to DBC’s hipster status and not to any bad habits of my father-in-law.)
Extra bonus dad: my brother Bruce with my niece.
I am so very blessed.
I’ve been gradually scanning my father’s photos, posting them to Flickr, and encouraging my family — especially my mother — to comment so as to identify names and places that are unfamiliar to me. I recently scanned the photos from my parents’ travels during the summer of 1959, including a trip to the Soviet Union.
I posted the photos and invited my mother to tag and comment . . . and ended up with mentions on a number of Russian websites, a couple of Russian commenters on Flickr offering their thoughts on the photos, and over 50,000 views since the photos went up a week ago.
With the help of Google Translate and my mother, who speaks Russian, I’ve been learning more about the photos and commenters.
For example, here is a Live Journal page by “Finnish Passenger”
Google translates this as:
In 1959, the American Peter Robertson on a tourist visa to visit the Soviet Union. Under the cut I have selected 48 photographs from his archive. Photos from the trip are interesting in that a Soviet citizen would not do at all these pictures, because ordinary is happening, and in ofitsilnyh magazines and newspapers printed entirely different subjects.
Yeah, the translation is a bit rough.
Another Russian blogger turned the photos into a guessing game and then provided answers (in addition to the answers in the comments).
My favorite of the bunch is this photo and some of the commentary around it:
I had no idea what this was. A Flickr commenter, Leonid Paulov, explained,
Machine for the disabled. When I was 8 years old living in Kazakhstan. Roads there was not. After the rain this car off the road. The driver of a war veteran with Germany very loudly berated those who made this car
Remember, this is Google Translate talking, so it’s not that everyone in Russia actually sounds like Boris and Natasha. Mom did a better job with the translation:
It’s a machine for disabled people. When I was 8 years old, I lived in Kazakstan. There were no roads for automobiles. After it rained, this machine could go out on the shoulder. A bus driver who participated in the war with Germany loudly berated those who made this automobile.
So this is car that would be used by a disabled person? Like a wheelchair with an engine?
Mr. Paulov responded,
Yes, this is the first vehicle for persons with disabilities in the Soviet Union manufactured 60 years ago.
Still not clear on the role of the veteran/bus driver. Here’s another Russian site commenting on the same photo.
The last paragraph reads,
In this collection you will actually find a lot of interesting details. For example, a rare three-wheeled wheelchair in front of the historic journey to Moscow.
There were a number of photos of women working on roads or in the fields. One commenter noted — tersely but (to me) poignantly — that, because of the war, there was a dearth of men:
(Pretty buff commenter, though, eh?)
A theater showing “War and Peace.”
Reading the newspaper:
The photo below is apparently a tank of something called kvass, which my mother described as a drink made from fermented rye bread. Truly a testament to the ingenuity that can arise from the combination of great deprivation and great thirst.
The sign says “place for feeding pigeons.” And that’s Mom — in her travel gear — a far cry from the jeans and hiking shoes I wore for my post-college travels.
The requisite giant portrait of Khruschev.
and the people tasked with schlepping the giant portrait:
More to come in a future post — by me or perhaps a guest post by Mom!