Sunday, May 30, 2010

Memorial Day

Today is Sunday, May 30, 2010 and it is Memorial Day.

At three o'clock this afternoon, I will suspend anything I am doing to concentrate and remember all those patriotic heroes of all wars who gave of themselves to serve our country. Among my heroes, I salute my sons Thomas and Floyd.

However, I want to pay tribute today to two men who became part of my extended family about sixteen years ago and who are a source of inspiration to many young people, and most of all to me. They are Raymond and John.

Raymond is Laurie's father, and Laurie became my granddaughter when she married my grandson Thomas Jr. Since then, Raymond has become a grandfather twice more and I have been blessed twice with the title of 'great grandmother' by handsome Evan and beautiful Maeghan.

Raymond has been involved, in the past nine years, in several missions in our conflicts overseas. His son John, also a father, is now serving his third or fourth mission there. I hope and pray that he will be returning soon safely to all his love-ones.

The other day, in a local newspaper (The Putnam County Courier), I came across an article which filled me with emotion. Perhaps it will inspire you to read and explain to our young folk the true meaning of Memorial Day.......that it is not the beginning of open-season for backyard barbeques or opening-day of beaches.


"Canadian poet John McCrae wrote the famed poem "In Flanders Fields," after his experience as a field surgeon at the Second Battle of Ypres in 1915.

The poem was inspired by the funeral of a friend who died in that battle, and the reference to poppies in the Flanders fields led to the tradition of wearing paper poppies in honor of those who have died in war.

The poppies reference was not accidental: the flower, a source of opium, is a symbol of sleep, and as the poet Sackville noted, its cousin, death.

The American poet R. W. Lillard wrote, "America's Answer," in reply to Flanders Fields in which he said: Fear not that ye have died for naught; The torch ye threw to us we caught, Ten million hands will hold it high, And freedom's light shall never die!

Here are the words of McCrae's poem:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow Between the crosses, row on row, That mark our place; and in the sky The larks, still bravely singing, fly Scarce heard amid the guns below. We are the Dead. Short days ago We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, Loved and were loved, and now we lie, In Flanders fields. Take up our quarrel with the foe: To you from falling hands we throw The torch; be yours to hold it high. If ye break faith with us who die We shall not sleep, though poppies grow In Flanders fields.""

Its a beautiful day here in Carmel; I hope yours is, too.


Friday, May 28, 2010

High School - Chapter 5

My last chapter referred to an event that took place in GCHS and came to a glorious conclusion after many years............

Many times over my long life, I have recounted the story of the swimming pool edict by the principal of GCHS, Mrs. Evelyn Allan. And whenever I completed the story, I realized that no one believed such a tale. But it was always real to me and since I acknowledge that I am a repeater of good stories, I continued to tell it.

One day, in my Life-bio class (year 2006), I chose this particular event as my home-work story. When I completed reading it to the class, I looked up to see a shifting of the eyes from one person to another. I was embarrassed but made no comment and neither did the others. It is an incredible story; why would someone be deprived of graduation for not learning to swim. I'm sure that even my blog friends and followers have been thinking the same thing.

Now, let me bring you to January 1, 2007. On this celebrated day, I was alone in the afternoon. I decided to practice my new-found skills of surfing the internet. (Remember, I started computer classes in 2006). Let me see: "I wonder if any of my high school friends are still living.' No luck! I tried to recall the names of some of the newspapers of 1928.....and the Brooklyn Daily Eagle and the Brooklyn Standard Union came to mind and I scanned about 95 pages. I was about to give up when up popped a page "Brooklyn Standard Union - 1929 News- June. I really can't account for continuing, but I did.......and lo and behold, I came across this article, and I quote it word for word:

20 June 1929
Pupils Have Until Next Tuesday to Obey Edict
Mrs. Evelyn W. Allan, principal of the Girls Commercial High School, is enforcing the rule that all girls graduated from the school must be able to swim the length of the 75-foot pool in the gymnasium, The penalty is loss of the privilege of participating in the commencement exercises, which take place next Wednesday. Instead they will get their diplomas by mail.

"The only way to make the girls learn how to swim," said Mrs. Allan today, "is to pursue more or less drastic means. Barring a girl from her commencement will act as a tonic on her to learn to swim."

Mrs. ALLAN said that the pool will be open all day every day until next Tuesday, the last opportunity to satisfy the requirement, and those girls who have not yet traveled the 75-foot tank under their own power still have ample time in which to master enough of the art of swimming to cover this distance.

Mrs. ALLAN declared that the Girls Commercial High School has occupied its new building for five years now. All this time the girls have been aware of the swimming requirement and they have had four years in which to learn, the pool being available to them during their entire stay at the high school. A month ago, more than fifty seniors had still failed to swim the length of the pool. Yesterday this number had dwindled to twenty-nine. Mrs. ALLAN said that she expected the number to melt away considerably during the next few days.

Mrs. ALLAN said 249 seniors are to be graduated from the school next Wednesday and of this number, she expects to have only a handful barred from the commencement exercises because of failure to swim the length of the tank. "Barring this handful," she said, "will not only stimulate those barred to learn to swim, but will act as a lesson for the seniors to come, who have thus far been backward in availing themselves of the opportunity offered by the new, beautiful pool we have here."


You will note that Mrs. Allan became a bit more lenient in her threat a year and a half after I graduated. It was no longer 'loss of graduation'; it was 'the loss of participating in commencement exercises'.

I quickly made ten copies of this on my printer on January 1, 2007, and at my next bio-class handed each one a copy, and smilingly said: "He who laughs last, laughs best".

Yes, I was in my glory. After 79 years, I have been vindicated.

I've mentioned several times that I'm not computer literate. The easiest way for me to locate this EDICT quickly is to Google Search as follows: Mrs. Evelyn Allan - Brooklyn Standard Union - June 20, 1929.


Tuesday, May 25, 2010

High School - Chapter 4

This will bring me to the last two weeks of my attendance at Girls Commercial High School.......................

Several days after the family's happiness regarding the Life Extension incident, on arriving at school, my first class of the day was swimming, which was to be the last swim session of the term. Ater roll-call, one teacher said that she had just received a bulletin from Mrs. Allan, our school principal, and as soon as all the chatter stopped, she proceeded to read from it: 'That any girl who had not learned to swim at least across the width of the pool, would not graduate.'

I can't recall my immediate reaction except that my whole world collapsed. I sat down on the floor, shaking and sobbing uncontrollably. Then I felt the arms of my teacher embracing me, whilst assuring me that I still had ten days to learn.

The last ten or twelve days before graduation were usually spent by most students 'just-fooling around', visiting friends and teachers in different classrooms, signing autograph books, and attending to last minute details. But, not for me! I didn't dare say a word at home. For the next seven days, I rose, dressed and walked to school in a trance. There, I would don my bathing suit and report to the pool area. My teacher, realizing how dreadfully scared I was, patiently kept coaxing me. I kept going in and out of the water but hanging on to the ledge constantly. Then I heard the teacher call me back into the water: Elvira, please come back...I'll be right here with you; just have faith in me; you will not drown. Eventually, very slowly, I walked down the several steps into the shallow end of the pool. "Now Elvira, just do as I say: Now throw yourself backward (yes, I'm holding on to you), wave your arms through the water (yes, I'm still holding you), splash your legs up and down (yes, still holding)...........and about minute or two later, I heard several teachers and a few students yelling and clapping their hands, and the teacher in the water with me, saying "mission accomplished". Then I was told.......that without my realizing or being aware of it, and after the last 'yes, I'm still holding', she released her hold and I just floated across on my own steam. Her report to the principal's office was that I swam across the pool.

Are you out there listening to me? I've told you more than once.........REAL angels are everywhere, and they are just ordinary people.

Yes, I graduated from Girls Commercial High School with Rose Lorber in January 1928. In my new autograph book, this time she wrote "Too bad we won't be going to three schools together". And, in the Year Book, under my picture was printed:

Elvira you're not so unoberved
We know you're doing your share
Twixt printing room and typing
Your days are not free from care

A very lovely and very distinguished lady, Louise Hoover, was our Commencement Speaker. A year later, her husband, would become the President of the United States. Unfortunately, only seven months into President Herbert Hoover's administration, sounds of newsboys, down on the streets below offices, resounded with "EXTRA! EXTRA! READ ALL ABOUT IT!"......and the whole world remained in a Great Depression until World War II.

However, in February 1928, I entered the business world with the economy rather
good. No longer was I the little girl who worked in her Mother's grocery store. I was a stenographer and bookkeeper on her way to a job in a medical office in Manhattan. I had become an American young lady whose heart was wrapped up tightly, enclosing forever, all that warm Italian culture. which, to this day, has sustained me throughout my extraordinary journey in this life.

There is one more chapter regarding the incredible event that took place in GCHS, which, after many years, came to a glorious conclusion for me.

So until next time........Elvira

Monday, May 24, 2010

High School - Chapter 3

In my last blog, I wrote that I had two years left of high school days---------

The last two years at Girls Commercial High School found me exceedingly happy. Days flew by quickly, Before I knew it, we were preparing for the 1927 Christmas-time festivities. With only a few days more than a month away, we talked a great deal about the expected graduations; my younger sister Marie from grade school and bound for GCHS, and my graduation from GCHS and bound for-who-knows-where. I was 17-years old, but very naive regarding the world outside of my neighborhood. No one seemed to ask, nor did I ever question what I would do with the knowledge I had acquired over the past four years. The answer came again in the form of real angels..............

Returning to school after the Holiday-break in early January 1928, recruiters from the Life Extension Institute presented themselves at GCHS seeking soon-to-be-graduates with excellent stenographic skills who would be able to take rapid dictation from doctors. Four students were to be hired to start working immediately after graduation..... and I was selected as one of them.

At dinner that evening, my family was in a state of jubilation: Elvira was going to be a stenographer and take dictation from doctors. Every morning, she would board a St. John's Place trolley car, which would take her to Flatbush Avenue; and from there, go underground to a subway train which will carry her to 42nd Street Times Square. Best of all, she was going to earn $15.00 for 43 hours per week....nine to five Monday through Friday and nine till noontime on Saturday. Wow! 35-cents an hour. And just imagine, she didn't have to spend time scanning newspaper ads or pay an employment agency to find a job. How lucky can one be!

It's true. There was not a dark cloud in the sky; just a lot of blue, blue skies.

My last two weeks at GCHS is still another story.


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

High School - Chapter 2

In my last post, I told you about the wonderful Christmas present given to me by my Father.....that he fully supported my wish to graduate from high school. So let's continue.....

With my new found happiness, I set the ball rolling. I changed my studies from an academic course to a commercial one, which included bookkeeping, typing and the handwritten 'lost' language of stenography in which I excelled and enjoyed tremendously.

The transition from academic to commercial caused me to lose quite a few credits....and if I still wanted to graduate with Rose Lorber, somehow, I had to recover those credits. I sought the advice of my Grade Advisor (a music teacher whose name, at the moment, I can't remember) and she directed me to summer school classes at Erasmus Hall High School on Flatbush and Church Avenues in Brooklyn. I enrolled and the summers of 1926 and 1927 were spent at this school accumulating the necessary credits.

During the first two years of my high school days, a new building was being constructed for Girls Commercial High School on Classon Avenue and Union Street.....opposite the famous Brooklyn Museum and across from the Prospect Park Botanical Gardens. In the interium, some of the students were temporarily housed in annex buildings throughout the borough. Rose and I were placed in an annex on Gates Avenue, between Tompkins and Stuyvesant Avenues....and each morning at eight o'clock, we boarded a Gates Avenue trolley at Greene Avenue and St. James Place after walking four long blocks.

Christmas 1925! What a wonderful Christmas; it continued to reign gifts. On returning to school shortly after the holidays, the students at the annex received a surprise announcement, but to me it was a gift: The new term, beginning the first school day in February 1926.....we were all to report to the new building on Classon Avenue; that all Girls Commercial students, for the first time, would all be together in a magnificent building, with a very large auditorium and a huge swimming pool.

Yes, I proudly walked through the Union Street door of this magnificent building on the first school day in February 1926. There was no need for a trolley; I walked ten short blocks straight up Washington Avenue. And on most Friday afternoons for the next two years, I stopped and chatted with my Aunt Filomena (my Mother's youngest sister) whose house I passed-by each day. I decided I would try to do my very best in all the activities assigned to me,

Part of the Gymnasium curriculum was a swimming class once a month. Students were required to purchase a standard-style swimming suit at the school store, and when I asked Mother for the money, I thought she was having a heart attack. She screamed and cried: "No! No! No! You can't go in the water. You will drown." And once again, I sat down and listened to a tale of woe from my dear loving Mother: In Italy, when she was 17 years old, she was riding a horse across the meadows, when she came to a stream she had crossed many times before on her way to and from her home. This particular day, something in the water disturbed the horse and she was thrown into the stream, rendered unconscience and nearly drowned. Fortunately, she was rescued by a neighbor but remained slightly incapacitated for almost a year. "So you must understand; you must not go into the swimming pool; you must promise me; promise me." What could I do, I promised....although I had no idea how to handle it.

Well, I don't recall what excuses I gave once a month to the swimming teachers. However, there is one excuse I used legitimately and frequently; but I can't recall what the others were. As I sit here typing, I calculate there must have been at least 20 swimming sessions during the next two years, and perhaps for the five or six legitimate excuses, I truly can't recall the other fourteen or fifteen ones. Since I can't remember any stress, it probably didn't matter much to the teachers. I'm wondering if I just said "I don't want to swim today"....or did the teachers say to each other "We don't force anyone to climb the ropes, so what's the difference."

Was I a tomboy? Yes, I was. Did I play basketball and all the rougher ball games? I sure did! I remember qll the long black stockings that had holes in them from the falls, scraping the grounds. Did I climb the ropes? Why do you ask? What a snap.....heck, all the way to the top!

I remember clearly....that every Monday morning, we assembled in our beautiful auditorium and after pledging allegiance to our Flag, I can bet that even the people staffing the museum could hear us sing our school song:

We're Girls Commercial
Yes we are, yes we are
In everything, we are the star
We are the star
Ooooh say by jinx
Now don't you wish that you
Belonged to Girls Commercial too.

Two years to go and I will graduate from high school.

To be continued.


Tuesday, May 18, 2010

High School Entry

My last posting referred to the fact that by sheer luck I was going to be a student in a high school. The story continues as follows:

Rose Lorber had signed up for an academic course at Girl Commercial High School to prepare her for a two-year college course at a teacher's training school. Since I was going to high school for only one term (five months),....shucks, I might as well go there too; at least I would be in school with Rose.

As the end of the five-month reprisal date approached, once again my brother Nicholas spoke on my behalf. He told my Father that it would be a shame to withdraw me from school: "Elvira is doing so well." After a rather heated discussion, with pros and cons being bantered about, Dad relented, and "Bene, go five more months".....and after that period expired, another five months.

I was 15 years old at Christmastime 1925 and I had decided it was time to stand up to my Father and his old customs. Ho! Ho! Ho! What a joke! After a late and rather long Christmas breakfast with home-made struffoli, panzarotti, demi-tasse with a touch of anisette instead of coffee with milk, Dad rose from the table and went to the basement to attend to some of his daily chores. After clearing the table and attending to my other duties, I went down to confront my Father. As he was placing some wood in the stove, I blurted out: "Papa, I want you to know that I'm tired of your five month extensions; I've been in high school almost two years and I've decided to go through the full four years and graduate. My Dad turned, looked at me standing in the doorway; then quietly but sternly said: "Come here." Afraid of the thrashing I was about to receive for speaking so disrespectfully, I stood there petrified. As father drew closer to me, he took me by the hand, walked to his chair, sat down....and with the warmest embrace I can still feel, my Dad gave me the best Christmas present I could ever have received. It was nothing tangible.....just words. Words that have been forged in my memory-bin forevermore. "Now! Now! is that what has been bothering you? Who said you would not graduate! Of course, you will." Suddenly, I realized that my Italian father was slowly, but surely, becoming an American.....and, by golly, I WAS an American.

I'll stop here; I'm a bit tired Will stir up some energy and try to get back tomorrow.