Vassar Hospital Room 436

Considering how much I have been in and out of Vassar Hospital this past weekend, I’ve decided to use that as an inspiration for this week’s blog post. My grandmother entered the hospital early last week, which was enough time for her to make the space her own. Her hospital room consisted of a single bed, two chairs and a bathroom. Over the course of a few days, my grandmother managed to make it her own.

She had the comfiest chair in between her bed and the windows, so that she could look out at the view of the Hudson River. That chair, although already lined with cushions to make it as comfortable as possible, was then covered with various blankets that she would use to drape over herself for warmth.

For most of her visit, the food tray was in front of that one chair by the window. It held all of the necessities like a tissue box, a water pitcher, and sanitary wipes. However, it had also accumulated various items that she determined necessary for life. This included Hershey’s chocolate bars, sugar packets (hidden of course), and Mallomars. The essentials were always hidden in the various drawers of this tray table. Although this table was mostly stationed in front of her window seat, it traveled over the bed for the occasional breakfast.

Now, the bed was definitely her personal space by the end of her hospital stay. At the foot of her bed we tied extra slipper socks around the bed handles to make sure that she always had a pair available. At the head of the bed, which only ever had one pillow, there was also a lengthy scarf that I gave her for her birthday last month. When I went to visit her on Valentines Day she was wearing it around her neck and although she did look a little ridiculous draped in this long red, white and green scarf, it brought color into the otherwise white hospital room. When she the scarf is not keeping her warm, it remains at the top of her bed with that single pillow and somehow manages to brighten up the horribly drab room. On top of both the scarf and the pillow rests a tiny plush puppy that she recently received as a gift for Valentines Day. The small dog barely left her pillow in the day or so since she got him except to follow her to chair this morning. Regardless of its placement in the room, it also seemed to lighten the air in the room.

This morning when we packed all of these individual items into a plastic hospital bag they lost some of their importance. Then the room became just another messy, unoccupied room on the fourth floor of the hospital. While her stay may have been short, thankfully, my grandmother made the small space they gave her into her own personal living area. Now that room is just another blank slate, waiting for someone else’s relative to lie in the bed and move in their important belongings.

I hope that once this week is over I will not have to step foot in Vassar for a fairly long time. However, if another one of my family members goes in, I have already compiled a list of the essential items they will need with them during their stay in the hospital.

Passatini Press

The passatini press currently lives in the kitchen cabinets of my mother’s home on Long Island. Other cooking tools surround it within her white cabinets. Now, it is used in her kitchen on Sundays to make soup for my grandfather who misses my grandmother’s cooking more than anyone. For years, a passatini press was used in my grandmother’s kitchen to make traditional Sammarinese meals. In San Marino, I realized how the passatini press had made its way through not only two generations of my own family but through generations of so many other Sammarinese homes.

While in San Marino, I went on a couple of hikes. On our last hike, our coordinator, Leopoldo, took us to see the old water mills that had run down and we ended our hike with a tour of the Museum of Agriculture. The museum was established in what is assumed the oldest house in San Marino dating back to 1770. The house had been restored to display the way of life from the past. The museum contains hundreds of ancient items that relate to agricultural life and work such as copper pots, flat irons, looms, and so much more.

The museum preserves these items that relate to the Sammarinese customs and traditions of rural life in the past. When walking through the museum, I remember seeing certain items in the historical kitchen that looked familiar. I saw an old cheese grater similar to the one in my grandmother’s cabinets. On the mantle of the museum, it was placed with others of varying sizes with wooden drawers to catch the cheese and a handle that turned the grater on the cheese. On the opposite wall of the mantle, I also saw an assortment of passatini presses hanging. They looked a little different from the one I have today because it was more of a flat iron sheet with holes and handles on the side. It was explained to us that all of these kitchen tools had been used in Sammarinese households for centuries to make the traditional Sammarinese meals.

I really enjoyed this museum because it showed us the way that our grandparents lived and generations before them. The press has lived in the homes of Sammarinese for centuries. In their kitchens, it waits amongst other cooking tools to bring the flavors and textures of a home cooked meal to a family just as mine does. Without certain kitchen tools, cooking these traditional Sammarinese meals would be impossible. While I know my press is only one of many,  the museum made me realize that the passatini press has been a staple in the kitchens of Sammarinese homes for generations and will keeping being in them through the efforts of the new generation.

Where the jersey sleeps…

When i’m at home for the summer, I typically take all of my sweaters, jackets, jeans, pants, robes, etc. out of my closet here at school and stow them away in my weird attic closet at home because for the past couple of years I’ve always had a lease that was up or I couldn’t stay in the dorms because I was transferring schools. But for the first time ever, I now have a place where all of my outerwear and other accouterments can hang and sleep forever. Or at least until my lease is up here at this apartment too.

Right now, the double-doored sliding closet that’s to my left is seven feet tall on the outside and about nine or so on the inside and each of the doors are offset from each other so they can easily slide back and forth. Inside the closet are like I said, a good portion of my jackets, sweaters, robes and whatever else I happen to have brought up to New Paltz. Being that I wear alot of sweaters, I’ve had to leave some at home so my closet is currently a little lean but from where I’m sitting right now, the left door is open and everything seems to be perfectly in place; my jeans and pants are all hung accordingly in how often I wear them, then there are a few unused plastic hangers, then of course my red wings jersey, next to that is an incredibly itchy sweater that I got from a roommate, and as far as I can see right now, my “dad” robe is clinging to the wool sweater. Below those things are my laundry basket which I’ve had since the beginning of college and next to that are my current pair of jeans that I’ve been wearing for the past few days.

In the closet there are two shelves, the one closest to the hanging stuff has my laptop case, a pair of relatively unused track pants, and my also relatively unused winter hat laid on it. Above that is a shelf with some shoe boxes which I should really get rid of at this point and a terribly uncomfortable “summer” backpack that my current roommate convinced me to buy. As of writing this, all these sit comfortably in their respective places and “sleep” until I decided to wear them or pick them up. As a kid, I always personified objects in this way and for whatever reason, I never really questioned it. I never really named any of my possessions and oddly enough I always thought it was weird when people did. As I got older, I always was worried that things like that; the personification of objects I mean, was a sign of some weird neurological disorder but apparently it’s a relatively normal phenomenon.

Besides all this, I like to imagine that all these objects in my closet are just like I described, sleeping until I choose to pick them up or use them. In some bizarre way, it encourages me to wear everything I have here with me and never neglect what’s all but three feet away from me.

Sargent Joseph M. Chodrow

I have a new object. It’s an old smelling, maroon, hardcover book with faux leather patterning titled Poems on Evening and Night. It’s small, about an inch shorter than your standard Moleskine. Upon opening the cover, on the first page inside, written elegantly is “Sgt. Joseph M. Chodrow / Tokyo, Japan / 14 November 1945.” The inside pages are annotated in pencil, not with personal notes, but with definitions of words copied from the glossarial notes in the back of the book. These same words have been checked off in glossarial section, definition read and learning accomplished. Also in the back of the book is a page in Japanese, the only one in fact, which i suspect is a copyright page since there is none in the front. On this page a price of ¥3-00 has been crossed out with black ink, which bled onto the page before when the book was closed before it had a chance to dry. Opening the back cover, on the last page, is “Tokyo” in both Japanese and English, along with the date 1945 in both Arabic and Sino-Japanese numerals. Finally, on the back cover, is The Hokuseido Press logo.

My roommate bought the book in Boston after she saw the inscription. When I told her I needed a new object, I thought it was funny that she gave me this one, since both Febergé eggs (the subject of my last post) and WWII Soldiers in Japan were mentioned in DeWaal’s book. I had a hard time finding information on this book and it’s owner. At first I assumed Joseph was an American, but as we were looking through the poems we noticed the authors were mostly English, so we tried looking at U.K. data bases too. The U.K. sites turned up even less information than the American ones, so I believe that he was in fact American. Here is a possible profile of Joseph based on my research:

  • Name: Joseph M. Chodrow
  • SSN: 106-12-0340
  • Last Residence: 8816 Saturn Street. Los Angeles, CA 90035-3320
  • Born: 15 Dec 1920
  • Died: 20 Apr 2003
  • Bank: First Republic Bank (He filed a claim for $136.80 from lost interest checks)
  • Phone: (310) 277-6606

His wife (most likely) was:

  • Ruth Rebecca Chodrow
  • Born: 1 Apr 1923
  • Died: 30 Apr 2009

And that’s about it. I tried calling the number and all I got was weird tones. The publisher and author are also shrouded in mystery. According to imcbook.net The Hokuseido Press, “established in 1914, is one of Japan’s oldest publishers of English books” which today focuses on textbooks to help Japanese students learn English. The height of their publishing occurred during the late 1930s to the late 1980s. The author, or compiler, does not give a first name, and signs only Y. Otagiri or Y.O. The prefatory note to Poems on Evening and Night states that the book had it’s origin in the lectures delivered on the same subject at Hōsei University, Tokyo, during the third term January-March 1926. Otagiri intended it as a study guide of texts to be finished in one or two terms.

In terms of changing use, instead of ending up in the hands of a Japanese student, this book lands in the ownership of an American soldier. Possibly, like Iggie, Joseph was deployed in Japan, and unable to read Japanese, he finds (and can pay for) the available books in English. As we read, wartime inflation hit the Yen hard from 1941 to 1949, and the internet tells me no true exchange rate existed. Then, in 1949, the U.S. gov. fixed ¥360 to equal $1. Using the 1949 rate, ¥300 is equal to 83 cents, which with inflation rates is equal to $8.31. Not bad for someone who is well off, but maybe too expensive for the Japanese who were selling off their precious belongings just to survive. Or maybe the Japanese didn’t need so many books to learn English anymore with the influx of English speaking soldiers during this time period. Either way the book seemed to fulfill it’s purpose. Otagiri wanted people to learn from his book, and I think Joseph’s notes show his wish came true. I may not be learning about William Blake, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, or John Keats (who was possibly Joseph’s favorite), but I sure am learning something.

Our Father

The object is held by a voluminously looping gold chain; each chink taking on a rounded rectangular shape. The chain connects to a golden cross that is shaped liked logs rather than flattened wood and gives off a glassy sheen. A forlorn man, cloaked in silver, is pinned to to the cross by spread limbs with minute detail; including a downcast forsaken head. This crucifix has had many owners, most of whom are unknown, but now rests forever around my grandfather’s neck. The only known origin of the cross can be tracked back Emmanuel Gonzales; a Jersey City Resident, railway worker, and an unknown illegal immigrant. Emmanuel met Mary Scirocci  in 1932 and immediately became amorous. It took only two years for them to get married and be expecting a baby boy, which they would name Emmanuel after his father. They suffered together through the horrific ebb of the Great Depression, when neither of them could find permanent vocational positions. Both being immigrants and having no educational experience made it extremely difficult for them to find adequate work. Emmanuel would stay out at odd hours gambling and nursing a horrible drinking habit, while Mary was left alone to raise young Emmanuel. They would gather as a proper family only once a week; on Sundays Emmanuel would don his only suit and kneel soberly and solemnly on the church’s pew with the rest of his family with the gold cross hung around his neck. By 1937 prospects took an auspicious turn for the Gonzales family; Emmanuel was given a low paying job working to realign the Hudson and Manhattan Railroad to Newark Penn Station. Despite the somewhat promising circumstances, Emmanuel began to drink heavily again and disappear for weeks without work only to come home disparately to yell expletives at his wife and show her cheek the back of his hand. Mary, frightened, started to look into her husband’s disappearances only to find life shattering discoveries. Emmanuel had been gambling their family money away to the New Jersey mafia, hanging around and indulging in prostitutes, and, most shockingly of all, was in this country illegally. On one night of extreme physical and verbal abuse, Mary called the police on Emmanuel. Emmanuel woke his little son, now around 5 years old, to tell the story of his cross’ history and upon finishing he took the cross from around his neck and slipped it over his son’s head. Emmanuel patiently awaited the police, was arrested, and never seen or heard from again.

Emmanuel grew up to cherish the crucifix. He found solace in his weekly participation in the church. He found virtue, guidance, and forgiveness from Our Father to replace the father he was now bereft of. The crucifix followed him to Seton Hall where he played baseball and studied theology. It followed him to the military, where he served for four years; all the time writing love letters to his future wife Lois. It followed through his wedding day, the birth of 5 healthy kids and one sorrowful miscarriage, and, despite his attempts to pass it along through the family tree, it follows him to church every single day at the age of 80. My grandfather gives the crucifix for all of his descendants to wear for one year following his or her communion, so the crucifix has been made into an important family tradition which imbues it with so much meaning. And despite my complete lack of faith, I still feel a sacred aura emanating from this crucifix.

Capturing a Moment: The Image and the Written Word

dog drawingA moment must be captured swiftly lest it be taken away with the waking of the dog, or the sudden rush of an autumn
storm that changes the landscape and blows away all your materials. Intention, deft and dexterity must be observed when lifting paint from the pallet. In art you must choose what to keep and what to leave out. Writing is this way too, like the painter whose every move will be documented on the canvas, the poet must be careful about the words they choose and how they will arrange them. These choices will be cretinously examined by critics and peers alike. Disaster or Infamy hang in the balance.  The private journal leaves more room for error and mulling over the most absurd notions. You can draw funny faces of your friends in here or phallic images and none will be the wiser of your still juvenile tendencies.

My leather bound journal has pages made of linen, inspiring both the written word and the art of drawing. Arielle, my little sister, is an art major here at SUNY New Paltz. She gave me this journal for this past birthday. In my mind I want to say something short and profound about the relationship I have with her. It is strange how when we need to say something important the words are hard to come by. Maybe I chose not to write about this object originally because in my writing I’ve journal6been trying to get away from the personal. I wanted to step back and leave myself out of my objects. Bringing myself into them and into my writing makes me vulnerable, a feeling that I’ve been trying to get away from my whole life and one of the reasons I began writing in the first place. I try not to take words for granted, try and put them in their proper place at the right time. They are not objects themselves, or are they? They are brought into being and then erased, re-written. Aloud, they exist in air for a nano-second and disappear. I sweat over them, rubbing my hands beneath the table, chewing on a nail, wanting to speak but never wanting to say the wrong thing. Misunderstanding and failure are too close at hand for me to voice an opinion. It is only through many years of practice have I learned to overcome this.

journal7With the pen it is different. Here, you can speak up, work through your thoughts before presenting them. The details of a life are mundane to those who stand outside its sphere. You must choose carefully what to write to make it true, or else it’s just another slip of paper being put away in a draw. What you leave out becomes more important than what you keep. I have been writing in journals since I was a little girl drawing in them, pressing flowers and writing poetry. In this private place however, you can write as much as you want about whatever you want. I knew I wanted to be a writer before I turned thirteen. My sister followed my lead; the books I would read would become hers, but more often she would use my paints and art supplies to make her own creations. We flourished in our shared little world of imagination.

I’ve been told not to talk vaguely of experience. Seek truth. No one will ever experience the exact same things that my sister and I did. There is a great Tolstoy quote: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” In my family, our father was prone to lighting things on fire, not out of anger or for the love of the flame, but out of sheer drunkenness. The garbage can was a victim often, but mostly the couch felt the brunt of it. He ate, read and slept there every night and would fall asleep with a cigarette in his hand. Next to him were two kerosene heaters he used to heat the house. The heaters themselves, if left till the wick burned out, would fill the house with smoke. Arielle and I would wake up in the mornings and there would be soot on our faces. It looked like you were rolling around in dirt.  The windows were lightly coated with the stuff. If you wanted to look out through barren trees and see the frozen lake clearly you’d have to get a wet towel and clean off the glass.

I broke my little sister’s heart when I left that place behind, she was only fifteen and would spend another year there before moving in with an Aunt. Our relationship suffered for a while, but recently we’ve grown close again. Her gift was a reminder to me that no one else will ever get that close to understanding who I am than her. I didn’t think I could give an object that much importance and meaning until I set down to write this.

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My Voodoo Doll

For this weeks blog post, I decided to write about an object that I purchased myself. This is a voodoo doll that I procured from a gift shop in New Orleans, when I went during Spring Break last March for a volunteer trip with friends from a club that I’m in (SASS, or the Student Alliance for Social Services). After watching American Horror Story: Coven, we were all pretty excited to be going to such a spooky, fascinating, culturally rich place.

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This voodoo doll was handmade in the city itself, and I was told by the shop owner that my money would go directly towards the locals who crafted the doll. Since it is an authentic voodoo doll, some would believe that it actually has power, if you actually use it for it’s magic. This particular doll is supposed to be a “Goddess to Dominate Your Man”, and inside the tag if gives specific instructions on how to use it. Supposedly, you can personalize your doll with hair, a small photo, or any small personal item by tucking it (or pining it) on to the doll. It says to make a ceremony every morning and every evening by lighting a candle or incense, sticking a pin into the heart for good, stomach for bad, say aloud your desires or intentions and concentrate on your objectives for three minutes. If you repeat this process for nine days, your wish is supposed to come true. This doll was an interesting discovery for me because before actually going to New Orleans and looking at the huge assortment of voodoo dolls, I had thought that they were always used with evil intentions. I looked up history of voodoo dolls and found out: “the voodoo tradition was brought to the New Orleans region by African slaves, often via Haiti and other islands in the eastern Caribbean. Voodoo’s arrival in the Louisiana region caused it to interlope on other traditions already in place, such as Native American and Atchafalaya Gypsy nature and rootwork practices. Ultimately, African Voodoo’s assimilation into these practices resulted in a potent regional hoodoo tradition that persists to this day. Popular among slaves, some speculate that making voodoo dolls and sticking them with pins was one method by which the slave could exert some control over the master: from the very start white plantation owners, mostly of European descent, feared this and its obvious connection to the more familiar poppet magic of their cultures. More often than not, however, the voodoo doll was employed as a weapon against other believers in voodoo, or vodusi, who did not hesitate to use it and immediately recognized its consequences.”

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I have never actually done the ritual that is explained on the tag of the doll, although I did choose this particular doll for a reason. Around the time I was in New Orleans, my (now ex) boyfriend was planning on moving to California and I did not want him to go. Perhaps if I used the doll and held a ceremony when I woke up and before I went to bed for nine days, it would have actually stopped him from moving! Though he did end up returning, with no help from the doll, we still broke up…

Maybe one day I will learn if the voodoo doll truly works if I ever feel like I need to use it again, but for now it sits as a decoration in my bedroom. I also think that it’s quite beautiful because of the colorful feathers, fabric, and glitter, so it’s not like I bought it for nothing!

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“Let Love and Friendship Reign”

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The vibrant Latin Quarter of Galway City

For this week’s blog post, I decided to use my object, the claddagh ring, as a means of transportation. I wanted to explore the origins of the ring style and iconography and how the history of the ring has transcended time. As with much of Irish lore, the stories associated with the origins of such antiquities is a bit fuzzy. Determining a concrete history of the claddagh is a bit difficult but I’m beginning to piece together how the ring and its meaning came to be.

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Here’s a shot of Galway Bay from late September–the river was quite low at this time in the day!

Firstly, the word “claddagh” means, “shore”, specifically a flat stony shore in Gaelic or Irish. Claddagh is a small fishing town of Galway Bay, outside the city of Galway in the west of Ireland. Galway lies on the River Corrib and cannels throughout the city allow for the passage of water from the harbor. I visited Galway when I was abroad in Ireland and walked from the city center to the outskirts of the city to the shore of the harbor. The city itself is vibrant and bustling and you can feel the history of the city in the air. I loved how the river was interwoven with the city itself—you could tell that the bay had a strong relationship with the culture of the city. I’m kicking myself a bit for not exploring the history of my claddagh ring while I was there, I even remember seeing a plaque for fishing town of Claddagh and the iconography of the claddagh ring everywhere throughout the city. I guess I was too caught up in the overall experience to even think about the small object on my own hand and how wearing that ring connected me to the foreign city.

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Here’s one of the many shops in Galway that sold rings–particularly claddagh engagement rings as seen by the signage painted directly onto the wall of the shop!

One origin story that I read about the claddagh symbol and ring revolves around the Joyce family, a significant tribe of Galway, and their history dating back over 300 years. The story is slightly complicated but it goes something like this: Margaret Joyce married Domingo de Rona, a wealthy Spaniard. His fortune was left to Margaret when he passed and with his wealth she had bridges built in Connacht, the province of Ireland in which Galway is located. Legend has it that Margaret, who later married the Mayor of Galway in 1596, was rewarded for her charitable work by an eagle that dropped a gold claddagh ring into her lap (hmmmmm, curious). Another story that involves the Joyce family comes later in history—Richard Joyce of the Joyce Family, was captured by Algerians en route to the West Indies. In captivity, a Moorish goldsmith taught him the art of metalwork. Richard was eventually released from slavery thanks to King William III of England in 1689. Joyce decided to return to his home of Galway and became a goldsmith (in some stories, a silversmith) himself! The claddagh motif is now attributed to him, as it was a design he created in captivity. His initials appear on one of the earliest surviving claddagh rings from around 1700!

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Richard Joyce’s Claddagh Ring circa 1700 http://weldons.ie/rare-claddagh-ring-by-richard-joyce/

In modern time, this particular ring has been acquired by JW Weldon, a fourth generation family jeweler located in Dublin—they specialize in modern and antique diamond rings in other antique jewelry as well as rare 17th and 18th century Irish silver pieces. It’s kind of crazy to think that this ring has survived all this time! What is this Richard Joyce had never been captured and taught the goldsmith craft?? Would the claddagh ring design exist? I also found out that the claddagh ring’s popularity rose so much so that it became the only Irish ring worn by Queen Victoria, Queen Alexandra and King Edward VII! The Royal Patent for the claddagh ring was later issued to Dillon of Galway where it is still made and supplied today at Thomas Dillon’s, established in 1750, located in the city of Galway. I actually went to this shop! There’s a sign on the outside of this bright red building that reads: “T. Dillon and Son / Home of the Original Claddagh Ring / The Hands are for Friendship, The Heart is for Love, And Loyalty is shown with the Crown up above”. Now I’m not sure if he gets the title of “Home of the Original Claddagh Ring” because he patented it and started the reproduction of the ring—it appears the way on the stores website where they do indeed give credit to Richard Joyce as the creator of the claddagh motif. It’s hard to be sure if this is precisely how the claddagh ring came to be but I rather enjoy the story and all its fascinating pieces! It was interesting to learn how it involved people interacting with other cultures but always returned back to Galway. It gives me a curious foundation for the rings iconography and the various peoples involved in its peculiar history.thomas-dillon-s-claddagh

Here is the citation to the website for Thomas Dillons. It gave me the most thorough and legitimate story about the history of the claddagh ring after looking through other abbreviated stories online.

“History of the Ring.” Thomas Dillons Claddagh Gold. 1 Jan. 2010. Web. 7 Feb. 2015. <http://www.claddaghring.ie/content/7-history-claddagh-ring&gt;.

My Nametag

This small piece of paper was the only object that came to mind for this week’s post. The small yellow paper was and still is a nametag that identifies which of the Christmas presents or Easter baskets belonged to me. On one side, there is a personalized sticker that has my name on it.

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My grandmother made one of these for each of her children and grandchildren to make sure that everybody got their respective gift. She cut each square out with those designer crafting scissors that leaves the edges wavy looking. Then she personalized eighteen different stickers with each of our names and put them on one side of the square. My sticker has snowflakes on it because she could use it for both Christmas and my birthday. The other side of the tag was always blank or would say something generic like Merry Christmas. This allowed her to reuse the tags over and over again for each Christmas and Easter instead of making new ones.

All of us Seipps have this money saving trait that we like to thank our grandfather for. My grandmother’s recycling of the nametags was the last great example of our frugal ancestry. Each year after we finished unwrapping all of our gifts we would have to return the tag to her to make sure that none of them were thrown in the trash or lost under mountains of wrapping paper.

Last Christmas was the last time we got those nametags. Our Christmas last year was after my grandmother had passed away. Our aunt handed each of us our present and my eleven cousins and I took a collective breath. Some of the younger cousins decided not to open them; while us older ones felt that opening it anywhere else would only make it harder. For a while I just played with the nametag. Its ownership had changed right then. Finally, we didn’t have to hand back the tags.

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That’s when I realized the other side of my tag wasn’t blank. In her scribbled handwriting it read: “Love Always – Gma S”. I checked the other tags as my cousins took them off of their presents, but only mine had a message on the blank side. Later my aunt told me that she didn’t have enough time to write on everybody’s tag. A lot of the presents were not even wrapped yet. Now instead of being Grandma’s nametag, the little yellow piece of paper is my last note from her. It now stays taped to a picture frame and serves as a daily reminder that somewhere an angel still loves me.

Post Script – The Man Who Would Not Take Off His Shoes

Emilio de Jauregui, left, and  Stella de Jauregui, back, and their children Emilio Ricardo , right, and little Stella, center. Thought to be a beach in San Sebastian

Emilio de Jauregui, left, and Stella de Jauregui, back, and their children Emilio Ricardo , right, and little Stella, center. Thought to be a beach in San Sebastian

Having traced a tenuous link between the brightly colored ticket stub and the little family photographed on the beach, I feel a sense of satisfaction. So, this is where you come from, I think to the ticket. These are the hands that accepted you from the ticket clerk, sliding you into a jacket pocket or, perhaps, into a small clutch-style handbag. I focus on the little girl in front, my great aunt, Auntie Stella, imagining her holding out her hand for the ticket, turning it over and over before resting it (with the epic struggle between bull and steed facing out) on the top of a bureau in their temporary San Sebastian residence. Yet, as I stare at the photograph, it occurs to me that these faces, despite being directly related to me, are as unfamiliar as strangers. Indeed, as I inspect the various photos my mother has sent me, I sometimes have trouble picking out who is who. With not a little chagrin, I reflect that while I can spot a random celebrity in a crowd photo, I cannot spot my own relatives. I stare harder at the beach photograph, hoping to imprint their features in my memory. I try to connect the scene with what I have been able to discover about their lives. Who are you? What are you like?

I focus particularly on my great grandfather, the elder Emilio. In the photo, he stands just apart from his family, his head turned to his left so that he can adjust his tie. There is something in his posture that strikes me as at once as being both debonair and uncomfortable. In his handsome double breasted suit, he looks like he is ready to sit down for a dinner party not a day at the beach. When I mention this detail to my mother, she passes on an anecdote she heard from Auntie Stella. While everybody changed into their bathing outfits to jump into the surf, Emilio would sit on the beach under an umbrella, fully clothed. Auntie Stella could not recall a time when her father even took off his shoes. Glancing again at his face, pulled into a slight grimace due to his effort with the tie, I wonder what his smile looks like and how often he uses it. I look through the other photos. Hmm, not even a ghost of a smile. Why so serious? Perhaps, it has something to do with his obligation to uphold the de Jauregui reputation. Or, perhaps it has something to do with being the second son. According to my Uncle Phil, the de Jaureguis are connected through marriage and relations to some of Latin America’s most influential families at the time, with ties that crisscross not only Central America but also the United States and Europe. Although this influence brings status and power, it also brings responsibility. As the youngest of four, Emilio is the baby of the family. His elder brother (technically, stepbrother), John, would mostly likely be expected to take point, taking over as head of the family affairs. However, Emilio cannot simply be the baby of the family for the rest of his life. He must do his part to preserve the family’s image of respectability. And, what is more respectable than a dental surgeon?

The de Jaureguis, circa 1930s,

The de Jaureguis, circa 1930s. Young Emilio and Stella (clutching a doll) standing with their parents on what appears to be the deck of ship.

Emilio graduates from the University of Pennsylvania in either 1900 or 1901 (my mom has graduation certificate, but could not be reached at the time I am writing this). In a recent email, my uncle mentioned that Emilio went on to practice in London during the early 1900s, helping to reconstruct the faces of soldiers coming home from the war front. I look back at Emilio’s face. Maybe I have gotten it wrong. Maybe he is serious because he realizes how fragile it all is. When he looks into the faces of those around him, does he see the wounded faces of the soldiers? Emilio retires from dentistry fairly early. By the time the photograph is taken (circa the 1930s), he is already several years into retirement. Yet, this is not a man who is not willing to let down his guard, to simply rest on his laurels. Rather, this is a man who keeps a tight grip on his image, even during a day on the beach.

A Passenger list for U.S.S Wyoming dated 1936, listing the de Jaureguis. Note their occupations.

A Passenger list for U.S.S Wyoming dated 1936, listing the de Jaureguis. Note their occupations.