Posts tagged ‘New York City’
Yesterday was serene and sunny here in North Carolina, an easy early-fall day. Schools opened three weeks ago, and summertime feels distant, even though it’s barely a week since the heat and vacation-mood faded away. New York City feels distant too, in place and time. I thought about 9/11 now and then throughout the day, not because of news coverage or conversations, but more when I was writing the date on checks at the grocery store and post office, or glancing at an e-mail message. I like remembering that day. It still feels heavy, sad, resonant. For me, remembering and acknowledging September 11th feels comforting. I don’t need immersion or analysis now, but I like remembering.
What I kept thinking about was not so much the planes, the images of smoke billowing and flames and of people rushing to rescue or trudging silently away. I think about what came afterward, and kept coming, for many months, long after the transition from emergency to tragedy began.
I think about “Portraits of Grief”, the lovely, on-going series of small obituaries in the New York Times. Times writers contacted the family and friends of the people who didn’t come home, to interview them and learn a little bit about that person, what they liked to do, where they came from, why they were missed.
The reporters requested a photograph and then wrote up small pieces: an anecdote or two, a tribute, a mini-history. Those pages of vignettes were medicine for me, profound and sweet and poignant. I loved those little chapters, small windows into each person’s life lifting each person up up so I could see them just a tiny bit before letting them go, one by one. I got just a glimpse of who we’d lost: how they got through the day, what they liked to do and where and how. It was profound on-going comfort, made from words gathered up and chosen with compassion, thoughtfulness, humor, generosity. Over the phone, I imagine, it was two strangers sharing a story, connecting, doing a job, and putting out the results for anyone who needed it to read.
Throughout the fall, I went and bought the paper from a coin-operated box. I usually took it to my favorite coffee shop, a quiet place tucked back in the woods where I like to work, read, do the crossword puzzle and pay bills. I would sit with a cup of their marvelous coffee and read each profile, one by one. Sometimes they made me grin, or think, or sigh. Often I would cry, just a little bit, not over any one story, but over all of it. I loved reading them, counted on it, and rarely missed a day. I devoured news coverage of 9/11 in the paper, and less often on television; but that was completely separate. Mostly, I bought the New York Times and read “Portraits of Grief”. It helped a lot.
I am so thankful for this idea, which must have bloomed out of unimaginable shock, sorrow, confusion and desperation. My gratitude still wells up, for every reporter and editor, for copy people and printshop people and place-paper-stack-in-metal-box people. I am thankful for the family and friends who shared their dear ones with reflections, stories and pictures. I am in their debt, still, all of them. What a simple, brilliant, beautiful, respectful, compelling idea. What an extraordinary group effort to make it happen, and keep happening, day after day, week after week, month after month. For me, it never became sloppy, or routine, or old. I never stopped needing to read it, and they never stopped gathering, writing and publishing the stories.
I looked online yesterday, and there it was. I knew it would be, and I am so glad. There’s a book, which I will want to get, but not yet. There is also a newer project following up with some of the families and friends, including video. I looked at a couple and they were wonderful, too. I will be going back there to read and view these stories. I’m glad it was all on newsprint in black and white at the time, and I’m glad it now lives online, with movies and sound and color. Now I’m ready for that, too.
To read Portraits of Grief, click HERE.
To read and see Portraits of Grief Redrawn, with video and updates, click HERE.
To read the story of “Portraits of Grief”, published on December 31, 2001 as the Times moved from daily publication to weekly publication of the section, click HERE.
To read a post by Pam Spaulding and see a beautiful photograph of the Twin Towers she took during a visit to New York City in July of 2001, click HERE.
With Father’s Day 2011 landing deep into the month of June this year, I’ve had many reminders of it in the form of advertisements, family conversations and themed stories in magazines. At our house, the day will start with breakfast in bed for my husband, presents (watching for that UPS truck today to deliver a brand new…oh, no, wait, my husband may read my blog!) and then instead of easy at-home day and celebration dinner, we’ll be driving our daughter up to music camp in the North Carolina mountains. All day long, I’ll be thinking of my father, James Patrick McDermott, born in 1920 in New York City, and the long, happy 89 years he lived on this earth. He passed away peacefully in October of 2009, with our family all around him, while living with my sister and looking back on his life with gratitude and delight. I feel lucky to have had such a father, and to have had him in mine and my family’s life for such a long time.
I love this photograph, taken on a New York City rooftop in 1941. Possibly he was at his family’s apartment on East 53rd Street, having just feasted on Mama’s wonderful cooking, most likely roast leg of lamb enjoyed after mass. Possibly he was at his friend Vinnie’s family’s apartment in Brooklyn, having recently feasted on Vinnie’s mama’s Sunday dinner. From the grin on his face, I am certain that a glorious meal was either in the offing or a very recent memory. Daddy loved to eat; he loved to celebrate and spend time at the table; he loved spending time with friends and family, and he loved enjoying New York City’s pleasures. He felt so proud throughout his life of being a Marine, of having served his country in World War II. He loved to read, he loved to travel, he loved to have company at home and to host as many friends as I could gather together for a big dinner out. He loved classical music and opera, reading nonfiction and history, and going to the movies, particularly Clint Eastwood’s entire body of work, from “Rawhide” to “Gran Torino”. He loved his daughters and his grandchildren with all his heart; he loved to work and he loved to learn new things; he loved teaching Sunday School and ringing the bell for the Salvation Army at Christmastime, and delivering Meals on Wheels with my stepmother well into his 80′s (‘helping the old people’ as he would say). Politically, he made a right turn somewhere in his 70′s, and we chuckled over the fact that in election years, his and my votes cancelled each other out.
Daddy didn’t worry much — he didn’t exercise, didn’t hold a grudge, didn’t look back except to recall good times gone by. “You can’t live in fear…” he would advise me when I was much younger and fretting about whether I ‘should’ go here or there, do x or y, choose a or b. I found on my own, that he was wrong on that — one can indeed live in fear; and in fact many of us do. Living in fear is easy to do; in fact it is actually encouraged in many circles. But what Daddy meant is that living in fear has a great cost, and a terrible one. He chose not to live in fear, and he was right. Nowadays, when I get stuck, I think about Daddy’s wisdom on that, and about many other lessons from him that serve me still. I wish I could go by for a Father’s Day visit, and ask him the story of this picture. Where in New York City was he, and who took it? Was it on Vinnie’s rooftop, and even if it wasn’t, what did Vinnie’s mother serve that time he and his buddies went by for a meal? Though in the last few years he didn’t remember day-to-day issues such as whether he had taken his medicines or paid a bill, he could have told me every detail around such a picture: location, occasion, what he ate, and who was along for the fun. In his last few years, he couldn’t have named my cookbooks, but he knew that I wrote them, and he was deeply proud of me, just as he was back when I got my Baptist Junior Memory Work Tournament award, my driver’s license, my first teaching job, and my first newspaper byline.
I love this photograph below, taken in my house in the spring of 2009. In it I see his walker, his hat, a newspaper, and his breathing machine, since he would be spending the night on that sofa. In front are my husband and daughter, and beside him is his nephew Tony Smith, visiting from Ireland and just about to play some tunes on his fiddle for The Man Himself. We’ve got him surrounded, with people who love him and the prospects of music, food and a good night’s rest in the offing. A good day. As he wrote on the postcards he faithfully sent out to a host of friends from my kitchen table during Southern California visits, we are clearly “Having a grand time!” Here’s to Father’s Day, and to remembering those people in our lives who have taught us, encouraged us, fed us, inspired us, and loved us. Here’s to passing that along, while having a grand time!
Why do I deeply trust anything suggested by my friend Nicole Taylor, food writer, host of Heritage Radio Network’s “Hot Grease”, and food justice activist? Because during a recent visit to New York City, she told me to check out Four & Twenty Blackbirds in Gowanus, Brooklyn, cause she knows I love pie. The shop’s website (www.birdsblack.com) gave directions for subway travelers,
so we headed for the F train on a recent sunny afternoon and found our way to 439 3rd Avenue, a white-painted brick building at 8th Street.
Get in line (it goes fast) and either make wise choices, or do as we three did: order all five pies they were serving that day.
We did just that, and given the distance between Piedmont North Carolina and Gowanus, Brooklyn, I’m so glad we did.
Pie doesn’t need to be Southern to be fantastic and worth a journey to get it. The Elsen sisters know just what to do to make pie magic. Of course, they are originally from SOUTH Dakota. Just sayin’.
The Elsen sisters of Four & Twenty Blackbirds have shared the recipe for their extraordinarily wonderful Salty Honey Pie in this February 2011 story by Lisa M. Collins in the South Brooklyn Post:
Why not stir up and bake yourself a Salty Honey Pie, and then sit and read Sandra Nygaard’s fine feature story (South Brooklyn Post, March 20, 2011) for deep dish on Four & Twenty Blackbirds, what it’s like and how it grew?
To follow Nicole Taylor, you’ve got four options:
1) her weekly radio broadcast/podcasts (http://www.heritageradionetwork.com/programs/23-Hot-Grease)
2) on Facebook (@ Food Culturist )
3) on Twitter (@foodculturist) and
4) at her website (http://www.foodculturist.com/).