Category Archives: Family

Remembering my Dad on what would have been his 80th birthday

Damn, I miss him.  He would have been a glorious 80-year-old.  This from our travels in China in 1983.

Image:  White man in suit reading wall posters in Chinese.

Kitchen technology

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.

Just kidding.

Sort of.

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:

Image: scissors-like tool with two scoops at the end, in package that reads "Swedish & Cocktail Meat Baller."

If the meat baller weren’t enough, he also had a melon-baller, though from Spain or Mexico, so we miss the English-language snicker.  I love  “¡¡si!!” on the packaging.  Whatever problem this tool is solving, we are clearly intended to be very happy that it has solved it.
Image:  tool with very small scoop at the end; packaging is in Spanish.
I loved the idea of a culture so into eating sardines that it would develop a single tool for opening the sardine can and eating the contents.
Image:  Tool still in packaging that permits opening a sardine can and eating the sardines using the single tool.
What is this and why did Dad have one?
Image:  unexplained tool with hook at the end.
What is this and why did Dad have two of them?
Imate:  Two identical tools consisting of a handle and an approximately two-inch by four-inch set of parallel blades.
Prehistoric food processor:
Image:  small cylindrical grating blade in a plastic housing with a turn handle.
And finally, just a couple of cool, old, weathered kitchen tools:
Image: old cheese parer with handle and single blade.
Image: weathered bottle opener.
Image:  Old style jar opener.
Detail:
Image:  close up of old style jar opener showing the words  "jar wrench wizard."
In conclusion, show of hands, how many people think I should (1) learn how to use the white balance****** features of my camera and software; and (2) get some real lighting equipment:
Image:  Camera set up to photograph objects on a table.  Lighting comes from a desk lamp on top of a cardboard box on top of a stool.

***********

* 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.

The FoxRob Christmas/Chanukah/Festivus/New Year Tree

Of course

Image: coffee cup ornament

From our neighbors’ Hawaiian vacation

Image: Hawaiian dancer ornament with text Mele Kalikimaka

From my Dad (of course!):

Image:  Lobster and life jacket ornaments

To celebrate our southwestern holiday season:

Image:  chili pepper ornament

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.

Image:  ornament consisting of Golden Retreiver in baggy green gown.

And of course of course:

Image:  Denver Broncos jersey ornament

Happy Everything You’re Celebrating Whenever You’re Celebrating It!

“We were strangers once, too.”

Image:  slighly blurry black & white photo of a group of 6 people.  In back, a young woman, two middle aged men and a middle aged woman; in front of them, an older woman, and in front of her, a child of about 10.

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!)

Image: sepia (brown and white) photo of eight people in formal dress of the early part of the 20th Century.  In the back row, three women (standing) in high-collared blouses, all apparently in their 20's or 30's; in the middle row, two men (sitting) wearing suits; the one on the left has a moustache; the one on the right has a full but neat beard.  In the front row, three children.  Two toddlers sit on the men's knees.  One perhaps 4-year-old stands on the right, with one of the women's hands on her shoulder.

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?

Image:  sepia photo of two young blond girls in white dresses with white ribbons in their hair, standing in front of a painting or backdrop of a beach with a rowboat.

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.

Image:  black & white photo of a middle-aged woman with short salt & pepper hair and wire-rimmed glasses, wearing a suit jacket and a lace blouse underneath

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.

Thinking of my Dad on what would have been his 79th birthday

Photo:  A man and a girl (about 10) stand on the shore facing the water.  The man is in a white shirt and dark pants; the girl is in a blue shirt and pants.  The man has his hand on the girl's shoulder.

Me with my Dad on a family trip to the west coast in 1970ish.

Happy [Grand] [Step] Fathers’ [-in-law] Day!

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.

Image: Caucasian man standing in Tien An Men Square in Beijing in front of the iconic building from the Forbidden City with a giant portrait of Mao Tse Tung.

Grandfather Clarence Blau (and his granddaughter) in 1992.

Image: photo of an older white many in a linen jacket and open colar white shirt and a white woman in her 30s with short dark hair also wearing a linen shirt.

Grandfather Clen Robertson with brother Bruce Robertson at Bruce’s college graduation in 1984.

Image:  An older white man in a suit and tie who is wearing a graduation mortar board.  Standing next to him is a younger white man in a graduation cap and gown wearing the older man's fedora.

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.

Image:  older white couple.  Woman on the left wearing a plaid scarf; man in the right with a full white beard and wire-framed glasses.

 

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.)

Image:  photo of older white man in a blue fleece and yellow shirt; his glasses are hooked over the neck of the fleece.

Extra bonus dad:  my brother Bruce with my niece.

Image:  white man in his 40s wearing sunglasses, a sports coat and an open-collar shirt; next to him is a white girl with long light brown hair.

I am so very blessed.

 

To Russia With Love

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

{Snip from LiveJournal page in Russian. Translated below.}

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:

{Black and white photo of a cobblestone street and sidewalk.  In the foreground is a very small three-wheeled vehicle, suitable for at most one person, open on top and looking almost home-made out of pieces of welded steel.  In the background are pedestrians and in the far background, indistinct buildings.}

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.

I asked:

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.

Gazeta in Russian

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:

{Image snipped from a blog showing a black and white photograph of women working on a road and Cyrillic (Russian) letters in a caption above the photo.  The image also includes an icon representing the commenter, who looks like a buff comic book hero.}

(Pretty buff commenter, though, eh?)

A theater showing “War and Peace.”

{Black and white photograph of people walking in front of a building with a large banner in Russian.}

Reading the newspaper:

{Black and white photo of men gathered in front of a newspaper that is posted on the exterior wall of a building.}

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.

{Black and white photo of an old time pick up truck towing a small tank of liquid, parked in front of a building.}

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.

PCR-1444

The requisite giant portrait of Khruschev.

{Black and white photo of a building with a giant portrait of Nikita Khruschev leaning against the columns in the front of the building.  The portrait is over twice the height of a man standing near it.}

and the people tasked with schlepping the giant portrait:

{Black and white photo of a giant portrait being carried horizontally by five women in scarves.}

More to come in a future post — by me or perhaps a guest post by Mom!