your story, history, her story, their story

Letter dated December 7, 1941…a day that will live in infamy

In 2006, I found this letter in our barn.  Written on a sad day in
 American history, we sure could use some of its optimism
 and lack of cynicism, today:  December 7, 2014! 
 addressed to Hib, who was my lovely friend
 Barbara Ballou Schwarz from her brother Richard  Ballou:

Dec 7, 1941

Dear Hib:

Thanks for your letter.  Things have dwindled into a new perspective these days now that we are at war.  Elizabeth and I have been glued to the radio most of the afternoon and this evening.  It does not surprise me that Japan had been doing such a job of double dealing in the past three weeks;  I am surprised that we were not more ready that the success of the Jap attacks on Hawaii.

Remember Miss Collins out there, and our discussion of the possibility of your going there.  In this connection remember my suggestion that you consider the prospect of doing some work in Europe after the war.

Recently two things have passed by us here which I pass on for what they are worth.  Dr. Royon (female), psychiatrist whose husband is second in command, Geneva Int. Red Cross, and who is high up in the Save the Children Federation told a Smith audience that there is a tragic shortage of workers in child welfare fields, a lack which will be acute after the war.

Second, Mary Wagner is closely affiliated with an organization which is working up a course for “volunteer” workers for here and abroad.  If I were you, I’d (1) keep my French and German brushed up in any way I could – reading books, and speaking with people who’d be willing to help;

(2) I’d contact Mary asking for information and to be kept posted, and expressing your interest in the work; at the same time, I’d get in touch with the Save the Children Federation in New York – a Mrs. Sater in Summit, NJ seems to know a lot about the thing.  The purpose being to get yourself in contact with an organization which may one day be in a strategic position.

They are going to need in addition to doctors, nurses, social workers, literally thousands of child-workers who have had training in education and psychology and some substantial experience (your Hearld Trib and teaching experience eminently fit), and who have youth, health, imagination, and a world point of view.

It is my humble opinion that when the mess is over – two to three year hence or more – you will be in a key position to do some brilliant work, work that will challenge your imagination, and put you in a position to do good on a scale none for you family can now imagine.  The experience, looking at it selfishly, will open horizons undreamed of.  Think it for over…

For myself, I am not wholly optimistic these days.  The three  months beginning with Nov. 1 and going through January ’42 are marking I thinking the critical phase of the struggle.  The fight over labor, and the attitude of the ABA, the NAM, and the Tory representation in the English gov’t, the reports which are leaking out about huge profits and fees being given to the dollar a year men, etc. are ever present reminders that our unity over fighting Hitler has weak seams.

If we don’t get out of this struggle an active democratic socialism – with private profits cut down immeasurably, and with control over planning and some of the key industries taken out of the hands of the well-meaning but limited imagination businessmen, we’ll only half win the war, fumble the armistice, and lose the peace.  There are hard days ahead, and I shall e speaking more and more of socialism without using the term because it has lost its meaning.

Somehow or other I can’t help being lad that the suspense is over, that we have our chance ahead still; I am sorry we are not better prepared to meet the test, but is is now time to go to work.  i think we’ll be found ready.

Barbara, the other day, when i was debating Orton (and in technical debating terms he beat me, although I honestly can’t say that because he didn’t meet my definition of the issues), he accused me of being young and unduly optimistic.  Well we are, kid, and that is an asset.

Let’s see where we can pull our oar, not strike the colors of our ideals, and when the die is cast, let’s work patiently, think as clearly as we can, be charitable and cautious in impugning the motives of others, and when the showdown comes, strike hard.

As I thought when I was 21, so I think now that I am 31, it is good to be alive.

Bobby and Susan are well, happy, and looking ahead.  i wish we had twins twice.  Aaron:  son Jonathan Dec. 1; MacDowell daughter recently; Jack Keffe, a son Richard; Steve Bayne a fourth, and he  is now chaplain at Columbia.  Lots of love.  See you at Xmas, and some day in NY.  Cheerio.


My father turned 12 on this day in 1941, he would have been 85 today, sadly I never asked him where he was or how Pearl Harbor affected him and he died in 2005.

Barbara Ballou Schwartz went on to serve in the American Red Cross in France and was present for soldiers at the end of the war when she told me they ate with wild abandon.I have passed the original and copies of this and other letters to her daughter and granddaughter.



The long walk of history

December 7, 2014 Posted by | HIstory, Photos | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The central garden

central garden July 8 2010d 046

Often I’ll go outside and just place my hands on the soil, even if there’s no work to do on it. When I am filled with worries, I do that and I can feel the energy of the mountains and of the trees.”
― Andy Couturier, A Different Kind of Luxury: Japanese Lessons in Simple Living and Inner Abundance

I have often thought about writing about the gardens we have here and so I may give it a whirl this winter.  After all, it may inspire me, when confined, to think about why we tolerate the confinement.  It is still fall and we are now in the middle of our second snowstorm.

The backstory on this garden:  when I first moved here, I said, “New husband, I need a garden of my own.”

“Ok, how about that one.”  He pointed to a row of flowers, three tiers of unorganized, tall flowers that abutted the clothesline.  The clothesline stretched from this area to the barn and faithfully, Barbara (see December 7 post) put her laundry up to dry several days a week.

I plotted my garden out and I bought lots of plants…as I recall, one season it looked really good, but then…reality hit. Reality being work:  the work I attended to every week, my job; the housework and grocery shopping on weekends; and the world of weeding.  It felt too big  and so, I believe eyeing its potential and my subsequent abandonment during a few summers, the new husband, who was not so new and had summers off, said:  “I know it is a lot, if you don’t mind, I can take it over.”

In came the variation of plants, the bench, a little pond, yellow tulips, and a Japanese Maple, not all at once, of course. This picture is pretty close to how it looks today: fourteen years later.  It is lovely.  I can’t begin to name all the plants. But for me, it is where I  learned how wonderful it is to dig in the dirt on a rainy misty day and see fushia colored flowers and my beloved peonies bloom.

Sadly, Barbara died shortly after this garden was finished.  The garden then looked more like a template of things to come. The last place I saw Barbara was on the bench pictured above.  She then went in to watch the US Open.  That night, a short two days before she died, she called a friend and expressed a tremendous sense of peace sitting with my husband and I that day.  

As if everyone she loved was right there with her.

This is the central garden and I will probably revisit it in these posts..

photograph & content:

quote under photograph from Goodreads

December 10, 2014 Posted by | Country living inspired Ithaca, Farm Stories | , , , | Leave a comment




December 9, 2014 Posted by | Photos | Leave a comment

Letter dated December 7, 1941…a day that will live in infamy

Letter dated December 7, 1941…a day that will live in infamy.

December 7, 2014 Posted by | The Stories | Leave a comment

RIP Honey Bunny cat


Honey Bunny Summer 2014



Today at apx 11am, my cat Honey Bunny was ferried by our lovely vet, her assistant, my husband, and myself, to another plane. She was 20 years and 7 months old. She was a soft, beautiful bundle of love. All day I have been waiting for her to push the door open, hop up onthe bed, or sip her water. I’ve cried a stream down to the garden where we buried her. I wish our journey together hadn’t flown so fast, but she opened my heart in many ways and so I am grateful!

December 2, 2014 Posted by | Country living inspired Ithaca, The Stories | | 3 Comments

Artifacts…an old car

Artifacts a country story from an old blog 11/09..the car is still here but there is less of it

old decaying car

old decaying car

In any environment, there may be those pieces of human history left over that try to tell their own story.  On the property here, there are neat things: glass bottles piled in a heap; large boulders that line hedgerows between farmland; and four abandoned cars.

The cars are placed throughout the property,

when you reach the pink car, you know you have almost reached the southern end of the land.  Closer in, toward our house, is the decaying car featured in the picture.  You may not even be able to tell it is a car.

Since the beginning of my life here, I have made up stories about who sat in these cars, and why they were dumped in these spots.  Through the mist of time, I recreated Bonnie and Clyde or their 1940s, 50s, 60s counterparts and had them running in the middle of the night to our house where they paid the owner to dump their car.

“Nah,” said my husband, “this is just what people did with trash back in the day, put it on the farmland.”

Then one Sunday night, I would say circa 2000, I cannot remember now, a phone call came at 10pm.

“Sir, this is the state police office.”

“Yes, what can I do for you?”

“Does your son have access to some old cars?”

My husband’s son lived out-of-town then. “Yes,” replied my husband.  “Why?”

“Well, he apparently gave one of the license plates to this young man we have just pulled over, do you know a Bud D?”

“Ok, that is possible, Bud D, is his friend.”

“And, this license plate belongs to a man wanted for killing a very important person a few decades back, we will be over to check out the cars tomorrow.”

“Oh,” replied my husband and hung up the phone.

“That was weird” and he told me the story.

We were both gone the next day and no note was left signifying the police stop.

The cars looked unmoved.  Nevertheless, what I learned from that is something like the old statement about paranoia, “just because you make it up, doesn’t mean it isn’t real.”

The artifacts around us tell a story. This car has been here since before my husband moved here in 1979. We no nothing about the specific owner, not even the name.


November 23, 2014 Posted by | Country living inspired Ithaca, HIstory, Photos | , , | 3 Comments

Gate A-4


This is a lovely human story: posted by David Kanigan, by Naoim Shihab Nye who also wrote the poem Kindness, which you can read at After reading this, I think I’ll always take a plant with me wherever I go:-)

Originally posted on Live & Learn:


Gate A-4 By Naomi Shihab Nye:

Wandering around the Albuquerque Airport Terminal, after learning my flight had been delayed four hours, I heard an announcement: “If anyone in the vicinity of Gate A-4 understands any Arabic, please come to the gate immediately.” Well— one pauses these days. Gate A-4 was my own gate. I went there.

An older woman in full traditional Palestinian embroidered dress, just like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor, wailing. “Help,” said the flight agent. “Talk to her . What is her problem? We told her the flight was going to be late and she did this.”

I stooped to put my arm around the woman and spoke haltingly. “Shu-dow-a, shu-bid-uck, habibti? Stani schway, min fadlick, shu-bit-se-wee?” The minute she heard any words she knew, however poorly used, she stopped crying. She thought the flight had been cancelled entirely. She needed to be…

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November 19, 2014 Posted by | The Stories | Leave a comment

It is really lovely here, but it is also messy

In 2008, I thought it might be fun to write a blog.  I did not get around to it until 2009. I found this tonight on my computer.

My old homeland is the suburbs and if you live in the suburbs, or have lived in the suburbs, you can just imagine how discombobulating all this country life can seem to a born suburbanite.  But as I look back, I have to say that I’ve learned a lot about the cycle of nature and processing bio-mass here.

photograph of our Boxer Phoebe among the daisies

Phoebe among the daisies



Blogging~this is what

Tazz & Honey Bunny

cats 2006

I would have posted in September 2008.

September 4, 2008

Below are the peaches that have fallen from the tree. The peach tree stands next to our house and this is the 2nd year in a row it produced. I picked several and sent my husband off to work with 5 containers, I will also take five this afternoon.

When I look at the peaches, I feel duty and obligation: duty to clear them out and obligation to use them for something good: donate the ones that are edible, pick the beauties still on the tree and freeze them. These are tough times; the earth has been good to us, and wasting the peaches seems a sacrilege.



The picture above is of my cats, Tazz and Honey Bunny. They are often in the basement under a heated light because Tazz’s age led him to incontinence. Tazz doesn’t know it yet, but he needs a flea treatment. His bedding is airing outside. I went downstairs with the big ol’ shop vac to begin the flea fleecing and one minute into the procedure, the lights and vac went dead. This morning the fleas were going to be gone for good.

The procedure includes vacuuming up all the remnants of the pine shavings (sustainable kitty litter), numerous cobwebs that have accumulated since Christmas 2004, or whenever it was I vacuumed last, and a lot of random dirt…hoping to start with a clean, dry slate. When the lights went dead, I retrieved my reading glasses and a flashlight, opened the electric box and began switching away to no avail. There is other work to be done, no use wasting precious time on this endeavor.  I’ll just leave it for Ram;-)

I think that is when I really saw the peaches by the basement door calling me. The next job also called, dumping the kitty litter. Back when I lived in suburbia, I just bagged it up and sent it on its way. Too expensive here, weekly I clean out the kitty litter boxes and take a garden cart full of “crap” down to our own little recycle area. We use the pine shavings to help shore up a pond so at least we do not waste plastic and landfill space.

The picture on top is of Phoebe. A little boxer, large in size. She is the tenderest of our animals, naïve, does not really know about evil in the world, and just laps up the love. She is hopin’ and a prayin’ I’m going to take her out with me so she can finish the Gradew left by the neighbor’s dog in the yard, sampling it earlier wet her appetite.

So that is my life in the country today. Not quite as it is pictured in the glossy mags except for one thing. It is soothing here. I look straight a head at a wind that gently rocks orange and yellow sunflowers, a white butter moth flits around, and in the distance a pond, a body of water surrounded by trees, still in this moment, listening to the sustained late summer sounds.


Note:  November 2014, RIP Phoebe and Tazz

November 17, 2014 Posted by | The Stories | Comments Off

My Child, You are the devil’s stool!!

You get old and you realize there are no answers, only stories.  Garrison Keillor

St Patrick's 21st Century, adobe water color, source below

St Patrick’s 21st Century, adobe water color, source below

 Link to St. Patrick’s picture, source Wikipedia commons.

This is St. Patrick’s Grammar School, the one my grandfather, Harry J. Lagonegro, an Elmira businessman and co-founder in 1912 of the Arctic League*, attended with Hal Roach, the famous Elmiran who produced the The Little Rascals comedy series.  According to my Mother, they became life-long friends because they were  outsiders, my grandfather was Italian and persona non grata in an Irish Catholic milue and Hal Roach was protestant.

At this same grammar school, my Mother, years later, with some real Irish blood in her, attended grammar school during World War II.  I later attended religious education here. It is now, residential apartments.

This is the story…

sitting at my Mother’s kitchen table Saturday, I mentioned I might like to write a book about my public school teaching experience: the high school I taught at recently closed.

“Well,” boomed my Mother, “you will have to start with my getting hit with a yardstick in grammar school!”

“What?” I replied.

“Yes, one day Sister took me out into the hall, whacked me on the arm with a yardstick and screamed, ‘You are the Devil’s stool, You are the Devil’s stool.’

My mother started to laugh…”That is what I heard, but, of course, what she really said was  ‘You are the Devil’s tool, you are the Devil’s tool.’ “

My mother was born in 1931  and three of her five brothers were soldiers in World War II.  She went on to tell my husband and I that when she was having a bad day, she’d start sniveling a bit, and say, “We got a letter from my brother yesterday.”  I surmise this kept some of the yardsticks away.

Recalling a different incident and not specifying whether it was before, or after, her whacking, my Mother said,

“I was so naïve, one day Sister asked the class if anyone had any old yardsticks they could bring in for her.”

 My Mother continued, “I enthusiastically raised my hand and brought one in for her.”

My Mother raised her eyes to heaven as it to say, can you imagine.  Yes, I can, women always at the ready to be helpful, and teachers that abused authority so badly the logical counterbalance was to take their authority away.

*Arctic League-The Arctic League began in 1912 as a group of baseball fans who met regularly at Harry J. Lagonegro’s cigar store at 157 Lake Street. 


November 10, 2014 Posted by | The Stories | , , | Comments Off

Social Media is a powerful tool for sharing stories even from rural areas!

Originally posted on Blandin on Broadband:

This weekend I attended the Twin Cities Media Alliance Forum – we talked about the power of storytelling to raise under-heard voices. Attendance was diverse – lots of colors, several native languages, plenty of religions, ages ran the gamut, lots of viewpoints – although most of them urban. Today I wanted to share what I learned through a rural-focused lens, including lessons to help amplify the rural stories and advice for reaching the under-heard (minority) voices in a rural community.

Social media is a powerful tool for sharing stories

“Social media is a powerful tool for sharing stories,” noted Nekima Levy-Pounds, a lawyer, advocate for racial & social justice and a pretty amazing speaker. The conference happened the day after “Pointergate” – where Minneapolis Mayor was accused of flashing gang signs by a local news station and social media went wild questioning the accusation. Pointergate was a…

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November 9, 2014 Posted by | The Stories | Leave a comment


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