Category Archives: Family

Dad’s Birthday

Thinking of my Dad on what would have been his 78th birthday.  Image:  Black and white photo from about 1962 of man in his 20s  in a white shirt and dark pants who has tossed a toddler into the air about two feet over his head.  His hands reach up to her, while her hands are at her mouth giggling.

You always lifted me up!  Miss you every day.

Remembering Granddaddy on Memorial Day

My grandfather, Arthur Clendenin (“Clen”) Robertson, became a soldier at the age of 37.  That’s him, second from the right:

Clen army sml

And on the far right of the back row here:

Clen army sml 2

He tried to enlist following the bombing of Pearl Harbor but was turned down based on his age.  From a letter to my Dad:

I then wrote Charlie Nelson, Chairman of Davidson County Draft Board no. 6  asking to be transferred from 4a[*] dependents to 1a., which was granted.  I was inducted at Ft. Oglethorpe June 18, 1942, did basic training at Ft. McClellan, alabama; admitted to OCPS in September and to OCS at the Infantry School in Ft. Benning, graduating as a Second Lieutenant December 23, 1942.

He served from 1942 to 1946 — including a stint in the occupation government (“Office of Military Government”) in Wurttemberg-Baden — achieved the rank of Major, and received a number of commendations.  From his official record:

Decorations and awards

According to the letter to my Dad, he also received the Croix de Guerre and the Legion d’Honneur from the French government for his service in that country.  I knew very little of this when we traveled to France together in 1981.  While there, he wore small colored bands in his lapel — called, I just learned, “lapel threads” — which turned out to be real conversation-starters and respect-generators among the French people we met.

Here are the Three Clendenins (Peter, Bruce, Clen) traveling in France in 1981.  Can you tell Bruce has (1) a cold and (2) a bad attitude about driving around France in a small car with his father, grandfather, and sister?


Granddaddy’s military service provided a lifetime of interesting stories, deep respect for national service, and some of the weirdest political views I’ve ever encountered.**  After he left the army, he got a master’s degree at Colorado College, and taught and tutored in various locations.  He eventually retired to Wisconsin to fish,


and when he could not live alone in a cabin in the woods, re-retired to my father’s house to write the definitive but sadly unfinished history of the Alger Hiss case and argue with my Dad over the proper number of squares of paper towel appropriate for any given use.  Here I am listening respectfully but skeptically to an in-depth, fully-researched, well-thought-out, utterly-off-the-wall political disquisition.


Miss you, Granddaddy, and thank you for your service.


* A bit of research on Wikipedia suggests that he meant “3-A” which was the classification that permitted deferrals for men with dependents. 4-A was for men who had previously served which, to my knowledge, he had not.  While it was very brave of him to change his draft status to serve, and I honor his service to our country, as a point of fact in 1941, he had dependents: my father and my uncle. He and my grandmother had divorced, and I suppose joint custody wasn’t quite as popular as it is now. Nothing’s ever simple.

** This will have to be the subject of a separate post.  After Granddaddy passed in 1997, we had his mail forwarded to me.  His political interests were such that he was on the mailing list of almost every fringe group on the far left and far right.  And God knows who buys what mailing lists, because he just received — at my address — an offer for $10 off an Old Chicago pizza

Old Chicago redacted

My father’s photo archive, part one of many.

I have finally started on the project of archiving and (selectively) scanning my father’s photographs.  He was an avid photographer, if by “avid” you mean “relentless.”  In a pre-digital age, when developing photos was costly and time-consuming, he would take massive numbers of similar photos.  I can’t remotely imagine what his archive would look like had he lived to own a digital camera.

His photos span his own teenage years in the late 40s and 50s to the years just preceding his passing in 1997.  From skinny ties


to sideburns


to grandfatherhood


His equipment spanned the Minox to the Poloroid, but he really hit his stride in the disposable camera era.  I’m not sure he used a non-disposable camera after about 1990.

The organizing challenge is also more intense for more recent photos, that is, those taken after One Hour Photo began offering two-for-one prints.  Dad often got three- or even four-for-one, resulting in giant stacks of photos for each roll, or more frustrating, duplicate rolls scattered throughout the collection.

I should have taken a picture of the starting point:  three large (3’ x 3’ x 3’) boxes of unsorted photos — most stored in all of the variations on envelopes that developers used from the 40s to the 90s, but many loose photos and negatives as well.  I have now gone through all of the photos that remained in envelopes and more or less figured out their year or at least decade.  This process brought home the need for some sort of consistent way to organize them — and a search for what turns out to be a rare thing:  a no-frills way to store large numbers of photos.

Working hypothesis:  Damn you, scrapbookers!

A search for “photo envelopes” yielded sites willing to sell me heavy-duty envelopes just thick enough to mail one presumably very important photograph, but no envelopes sufficient to hold a roll of 36 (or 72 or 108) photos.  I moused around for a couple of days, and then hit our local Mike’s Camera to see if perhaps they sold in bulk the sort of envelopes you used to get your developed photos back in.*  They didn’t but the guy behind the counter recalled he’d purchased them in bulk back in the day when his store actually developed photos.  He had the name, no!, not the name, but he did have the 800 number.  And bless the internet, a search on the 800 number took me to the Mackay Mitchell Photopak company, which sells “print boxes,” 100 for $25.10, in two sizes.

Print box 1Print box 2

So, I figured, I had just been using the wrong term.  Clearly all I’d have to do would be to search on “print box” instead of “photo envelope” and I’d have a wide range of choices.  Not!  Here are typical results for “print box”:

Print box 3

print box 4

print box 5

And here’s where I blame scrapbookers:  it is apparently no longer acceptable to store photos in cheap, plain, buy-in-bulk envelopes or thin cardboard boxes.  They have to be archived — no, make that “curated”** — in something cute, expensive, and space-consuming.

I placed my bulk order with Mackay Mitchell.

This post took a sort of unexpected Andy Rooney turn, so I’ll wait til the next to start posting some of my Dad’s more remarkable photos.


* Yes, I did that grammar on purpose.  Grotesque but sorta cool, no?

** It will not surprise you to learn that I’m planning a post on the overuse of the word “curate,” which has escaped its home in the museum and wandered off to cover any set of two or more things that someone has chosen to put side by side for any reason in any medium.  For example, “I curated my eggs and toast this morning.”  See!  How awesome is that?!

Happy Birthday, Dad

Miss you every day.

Photo from a trip to Scotland in 1985.  I was taking the long way home from Taiwan to start law school in the fall, and we met up in London, drove around England and Scotland, and ended up at a friend’s wedding in Edinburgh.  Driving was an adventure, including England’s almost impossibly narrow country roads, which we shared with all types of wild and domesticated animals.  Here’s Dad attempting to clear the road of flock of ducks who insisted on waddling rather than flying.

And where but Scotland could he find a store bearing his name:

In honor of Banned Books Week

The copy of Ulysses that my grandfather bought in Paris in 1928, at which time it was banned in the US.

Shows spine of weathered copy of Ulysses



Flyleaf of Ulysses signed Clarence I. Blau Paris 1928


He was, of course, much smarter and more literate than his granddaughter, but I enjoy displaying the books I inherited from him so I look well-read.  Biography of Henry JamesHistory of the English Speaking Peoples?*  Of course!  Um… how about that Peyton Manning!?


*Clarence was actually my Jewish grandfather, though his reading tastes tended toward the WASPy and Anglophile.  My Christian grandfather, on the other hand, was a big-ass Zionist and Nazi-conspiracy-theorist.  And you wonder why I’m confused!

Happy Mothers’ Day

And a tribute to the awesome mothers in my life.  Thanks for all you’ve taught me.

Mom Ruth Blau and mother-in-law Nora Fox at our wedding in 1993.

Grandmother Edith Blau sometime in the 1980s.

Grandmother Helen Farr Smith (Robertson) Love sometime in the 1950s.

And my sister-in-law Terri Robertson with my niece & nephew and their Aunt Amy — my favorite title!   Photo ca. 2000.  The kids are graduating from middle school & high school, respectively, next month; I have waaaay more gray in my hair; and somehow Terri still looks the same!

Late comment:  What does it say about my obvious genetic heritage as a nerd that both of my *grandmothers* are wearing suits?  Between that and the fact that I was partially gestated at a law school, my inevitable nerdiness was predestined.

My mother is lucky I wasn’t born with a copy of Black’s Law Dictionary in my hands!

Public service: talking to your politically-deluded family members.

If you have a relative who is completely deluded politically  with whom you graciously disagree on various political matters, you may have trouble from time to time coming up with something to talk about at family gatherings.  As regular readers of both of our blogs have discerned, my brother is completely deluded politically a Republican and I am correct in all things a Democrat.   Yet we have many fascinating, non-political things to talk about.  Herewith, as a public service at these family-oriented holidays, a working list of the things that can completely occupy our conversation in the absence of politics:

  1. the awesomeness of my niece and nephew.
  2. our weird extended family.
  3. nasal allergies.
  4. solutions to nasal allergies.
  5. things his kids have puked up compared with things my dogs have puked up (I win — neither of his kids ever puked up a tennis ball).
  6. food (generally not immediately following item #5).
  7. decades old in-jokes involving pointless things our grandfather said.
  8. sports.
  9. hilarious things our father used to do, for example, applying lotion to his face while driving by pouring a big puddle of lotion on the dashboard and dabbing it on his face.
  10. Fart jokes.

Your mileage may vary.

Documenting the gelled mullet

Over on my brother’s truly funny blog, he fesses up to a Jim McMahon-style gelled mullet, but only offers indirect proof, that is, in the form of a photo of Jim McMahon.  I, however, have definitive proof of the actual Robertsonian gelled mullet:

My law school graduation in 1988.  I have several other compelling memories from that day, besides the usual getting a diploma, completing a major educational stage in my life, facing the future, blah blah blah.  I seem to recall that Dad spent most of the photography time trying to get Bruce to take off his sunglasses.  Ooops.  I also recall a wonderful family dinner at which Bruce and I had a great time making fun of the way the waiter said the word “Calvados” … not because we were great connoisseurs of  French brandy, but because we’d never heard of it before and thought it sounded hilarious.

Early-adopters and never-let-goers

Christopher Buckley’s Losing Mum and Pup is a wonderful book for many reasons.  For example, anyone who has kept a vigil for a loved one in the ICU will not want to miss Buckley’s hilarious updates from his father’s hospital bed.  But the part that rang the truest for me was his description of his father’s devotion to WordStar.  Remember WordStar?  William F. Buckley was apparently an early user of this ancient word processing program, and would be goddamned if he was going to give it up, even as it required extensive and increasingly energetic technical support.*

My father, too, was an early-adopter/never-let-goer.

Throughout our childhood, he always talked about wanting to be the first kid on the block to have a Buck Rogers Ring.  I think that was something related to a comic book that came in a cereal box or something.  Bruce and I did what we always did with pronouncements like this:  ignored it.  Turns out it would not have been a bad thing if he had actually gotten a Buck Rogers Ring and, say, held onto it so he could bequeath it to his kids:

Anyway, Dad led the pack in buying things like a Polaroid camera.  The first one looked like this:

and required him to apply some vile smelling chemical** to the photo with a tiny squeegee.  The final Polaroid camera looked like this:

and produced color photos that would develop before your eyes.  I think that was the last camera he owned.

Dad was also a very early adopter of the cell phone.  He was a big telephone talker, which was really annoying when we had kid activities on his agenda and he just had to finish up a few more words with, say, Al Blumrosen, but a huge boon when I was living in Taiwan and he was willing to ignore the killer international phone rates to call up and chat.  The cell phone opened up vast new parts of his life during which he could talk on the phone, though it often seemed that its primary use was calling us from the driveway to help him carry things into the house.

Kids today probably barely remember roaming charges; back when my Dad bought his first cell phone, there were roaming numbers.  To contact a cell phone owner who had traveled away from home, you’d have to dial some sort of access number first.  As Dad drove from Washington to New York — a trip he made often — we’d have to guess where in the journey he was and call the appropriate number:

My favorite example of his early adopting/not let going was his word processing . . .  machine.   Dad had a very early word processor called a Lexitron, and in my memory it had green text on a black screen and was approximately the size of an upright piano.  A Google Image search reveals that I was only slightly off on the size:

Dad started using this beast sometime in the late 70s or early 80s.  As I recall, the only advantage the Lexitron had over a typewriter was that you could draft your document on the screen before printing it.  While that was a huge advantage, you had to do all the formatting manually:  hard returns; footnotes; pages; etc.

When he passed in 1997, the machine was still in his office.  While his secretary had kept up with PC technology, he had never moved on from the Lexitron’s green and black screen.  She later told us that when she showed him how to put a music CD in her desktop PC, he exclaimed, “the typewriter is playing phonograph records!”

From time to time, I try to imagine what he would think of the technological world as we now know it.  The summer before he passed, he sent his first email and looked at his first website.  He just couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about until I found a copy of the Code of Federal Regulations online in a click or two.  Government nerd catnip!

I’m guessing he would be a staunch defender of books printed on dead trees rather than streamed to a tablet, Kindle, or iPad*** and that the world of Facebook and Twitter would have been lost on him.  But I think he would have been a world-class texter.  He loved his cell phone primarily because he loved to stay in touch with people and he was a big writer of long, newsy letters to my brother and me, and to other family members.  I’m guessing the ability to write to his kids and grandkids from his cell phone would have been irresistible.

*  This is not comparable to my continuing use of WordPerfect, which I do not because I am an aging conservative political commentator incapable of keeping up with technology, but because WORDPERFECT IS A BETTER PROGRAM.  Think of it this way:  Word is McDonald’s; WordPerfect is your local farmer’s market.

** Who are we kidding?  I LOVED the smell of Polaroid developing chemicals, almost as much as I love the smell of magic markers!

*** He often opined that if God had intended baseball bats to be made of metal, He would have made metal trees.  I’m guessing the response to the Kindle would have been similar.


UPDATE:  My brother has a “camera museum” of Dad’s old cameras and reminded me that one of his real early adopter feats was the Minox:

I’m guessing he got this in the 50s or 60s sometime.   Maybe we really were a Russian spy family!

Bruce also had a photo of the actual original Polaroid:

I would also like to note that we have a history of museums in our family.  None of us is very good at getting rid of things, even when we replace them.  For example, the kitchen in our summer house featured a toaster museum:

Addams Family Robertson

My wonderful husband organized a surprise party for my 50th birthday and my wonderful brother brought a bunch of hilarious family photos.  Here, for example, don’t we look like the photo in the newspaper after one of us shoots the other three?

In the resulting Lifetime movie, I’d definitely be played by the early Christina Ricci, reprising her role as Wednesday Addams. Early Ricci both because in the Addams Family movies, she was the absolute master of the pre-teen, smartypants, fuck-off attitude to which I aspired throughout my childhood, and because after her Addams Family roles she, um, developed, so the verisimilitude would be less compelling.  Still, this has to be one of my favorite scenes in all of moviedom:

All in all, I like her braids better than my combover.  There was simply no time in human history when that was fashionable on an 8-year-old girl.

Bruce, of course, is nothing like Puglsey Addams. In fact, isn’t he ADORABLE!   Brothers — they’re so cute at that age!  Before they grow up to be (sigh) Republicans.

From our group mugshot above  — and of course from growing up in the same household with him — I imagine he’d be played by the kid who played the son in The Ref:

Seriously, compare that face with Bruce’s above.  Good likeness AND this is the teenage kid who takes his dysfunctional family in stride by developing a lucrative talent for business.  Sounds like Bruce, eh?  That the kid’s business was blackmailing his military school administrators with dirty photos is, um, beside the point.

Seriously, though, you have to watch The Ref.  BEST CHRISTMAS MOVIE EVER.  Best. Ever.

As for my folks, I just have to blame the photographer.  They are/were both good looking people, and we were only ordinarily dysfunctional, not actual axe murderers, as portrayed in this photo.   Had no one invented the concept of “Cheese!!” yet?

Just to show that we did, in fact, know how to smile:  cousins!!