How terribly strange to be 70. I’ve used that title twice before in this blog, and you can probably guess when in 2011: on October 13 and November 5.
Now, I’M three score and ten, which is old. Or at least oldish.
Psalm 90:10 in the King James Version reads, “The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.”
In case you don’t recognize the artist, the work was created by my friend Fred Hembeck in 2007. Fred gave me the original black and white piece, on which he indicated, “54 ROCKS!” He’s a full five weeks older than I am. I believe I’ll use this illustration every five years, just because.
The home church
Sister Leslie took the photo on her phone. It was when we visited Trinity A.M.E. Zion Church at the corner of Oak and Lydia Streets in Binghamton, NY, on October 9, 2022.
The room used to be the Sunday School room when I was a kid. My paternal grandmother, Agatha Helen (Walker) Green (1902-1964), taught me. Now, the room is used as a memorial to the Departed Loved Ones of the church.
On the wall, along with photos of Mrs. Armstrong (left of center), and Mr. Woodward, is my Grandma Green, more or less hovering over my head. I don’t THINK that was the photographer’s intent, but it’s a rather cool effect.
Not incidentally, the church – specifically, my father’s cousin Ruth – requested a picture of my parents for the wall. My sisters and I ought to work on that.
Anyway, it’s my birthday, divisible by five (and seven and two), no less, so that’s enough for today.
What IS that old saying? “The family that COVIDS together…” I’m not remembering the rest of it.
As noted, my daughter developed COVID c. Wednesday, August 24, just as we were about to head off to college.
Friday, August 26, we were all going to get more substantial COVID tests at the urgent care place. But my wife opted out, deciding she had no symptoms. I chose to get one because I had a bit of a sore throat. Truth is, I often have a bit of irritation from allergies or whatever. My daughter was still positive, but I was negative.
My doc asked a bunch of questions, such as if I had chest pain. I had more pain in my right shoulder than in my chest, but she ordered an EKG. She discovered a variation from what she was expecting. Now, I was born with heart arrhythmia. My primary care physician calls it a regular irregularity.
A change in plans
The urgent care doc suggested that I go to an emergency room to get further tests. I called my wife to pick me up – taking the bus after I’d taken a COVID test didn’t seem sage – and got some lunch. Then she drove me to Memorial Hospital because it would likely be less crowded than Albany Med or St. Peter’s.
Everyone was very nice, a couple of doctors, a physician’s assistant, and the nurse. The nurse was great, actually, and I was distressed to discover that one of her other patients had tried to assault her while I was there. The hospital ran a bunch of tests and found me A-OK. My calcium was low, and some other minor things were discovered.
By Monday, August 29, I was feeling achy, and I was coughing, sometimes uncontrollably. More rapid tests. I was positive for COVID, and my wife was likewise, even though we were fully vaxxed and doubly boosted.
I can say that I have felt worse, such as when I had the flu a dozen or more years ago. But it is difficult to focus on much of anything. (This blog post of 420 words I had to do in two shifts.) I feel addled. I bollocked my Wordle on Tuesday – I got it in six – because I couldn’t focus. The word, coincidentally, was ONSET, some cosmic joke. My wife, from her activity level, seems to be feeling better than I am.
My daughter won’t get to college until Sunday, three days after classes begin. Whatcha gonna do?
It occurred to me that I’ve written a few times about my paternal grandma Agatha Green. For instance, here and here and especially here. I am reminded that she was born 120 years ago on July 26.
I’ve written far less about my maternal grandma Gertrude Williams, born August 10, 125 years ago. I think it’s because my relationship with her was more… complicated. She was born Gertrude Elizabeth Yates, daughter of Edward Yates and Lilian Bell Archer. For the longest time, even my mother believed she was born in 1898. I always remembered it because it was the year of the Spanish-American War.
Then one day in the mid-1960s, she went to register to vote. Unwilling to lie to a government official, she confessed her true age.
I thought Gert grew up in the house my mother always lived in until mom got married. But in the 1905 New York State Census in Binghamton, NY, she lived at 53 Sherman Place, a street razed c. 1960 to build a park near 45 Carroll Street. By 1910, she lived at 13 Maple Street with her parents and her younger siblings, Edward, Ernest, and Adina, or Deana as everyone called her. Gert had an older sister who had died before she was born.
In March 1912, her father died. Yet, in July of that same year, her mother Lillian married a guy named Maurice Holland, a guy from either Texas or Mexico, depending on which subsequent Census you believe.
In the 1920 Census, the household was Harriet Archer (Lillian’s widowed mother), Lillian, Maurice, and Lillian’s four children. Gert, now 22, was working as a maid.
My mom enters the picture
Gertrude married a guy named Clarence Williams around 1927, and they had a child named Gertrude. (She will hereafter be referred to as Trudy to avoid confusion.) And they had a second child, who did not live long and died in early 1929.
In the 1930 Census, the household consisted of Lillian and Maurice; Gertrude, Edward, and Deana, Ernie having moved out; a nephew of Lillian named Edward Archer, 17; and my mother Trudy, 2. Here is a picture of Gert with her mother, sister, and daughter.
But where’s Clarence? Fuzzy gossip suggested that Lillian and maybe even Harriet (d. 1928) drove him away. I never got the real story. Gert is 32 and working as a servant.
By the 1940 Census, the residents were Maurice (Lillian d. 1938), Gert, Edward, Deana, and Trudy. Gert only had a 6th-grade education, and she was working as a housekeeper.
My sister has many undated pictures of people visiting 13 Maple Street, eating in the not-very-large backyard. So it was some sort of cultural mecca. What was THAT all about?
I’ve just seen the 1950 Census
It shows Edward, 47, as head of household, naturally(!), because he was the eldest male; he was a truck driver. Adenia, 42, was a stitcher. Gert, 52, was now listed as separated from Clarence (d. 1958) and not working outside the home. Trudy, 22, is a shipping clerk. She married Les Green, 23, on March 12, 1950; he was a cleaner doing remodeling work.
Eventually, in 1950, my parents-to-be moved into 5 Gaines Street, about six blocks away. It was owned by Gert and presumably her siblings.
I enter the picture
I was born in 1953. In 1958, when I was going to kindergarten, I was supposed to attend Oak Street School. Since my mother worked outside the home, at McLean’s department store, it was determined that 13 Maple Street would be my school address so that I could go there at lunch and after school, tended to by Gert and Deana. Ed had moved out by then.
Deana was cool. We’d play 500 rummy and Scrabble. I taught her canasta, which Grandma Green had shown me.
Gert was a pain. She would tell stories, but it was difficult following them or believing how much, if any, was true. She would indicate that we should not go near this person, who turned out to be a relative. Worse, she forbid her adult daughter and us to see her brother Ed because he was living with a woman, Edna, who was not his wife. After Ed died in 1970, my strongest memory was of Gert and Edna crying on each other’s shoulders at the funeral.
There were “bad men” lurking in the Oak Street underpass, we were told. The boogie man existed. When I washed the dishes, which I did at home regularly, she told me I shouldn’t because it wasn’t manly. This was one of the several times that Deana said to Gert, “Leave the boy alone!” When Deana died in 1966, I was devastated.
My mother was in a tug-of-war between her mother and her husband, which I alluded to here. Dad clearly did not like Gert. One time, we were having dinner, and someone asked Gert if she wanted some peas. She said, “I’ll have a couple.” My father put two peas on her plate. It was shocking and bite-your-lip funny and may explain why I can be such a literalist.
Mom’s first cousin Frances Beal, Ernie’s daughter, tells a Gert story here, in the fifth paragraph from the end.
When my parents and baby sister Marcia moved to Charlotte, NC, it became clear to everyone except Gert that Gert needed to move down with her daughter and son-in-law. She had a coal stove, which required going to the basement to shovel the coal into pails and carry it up rickety steps. I did this a lot as a kid, which I oddly enjoyed.
It was the task of sister Leslie and me to take Gert to Charlotte. She railed against it. Where would she get stockings? “They sell stockings in North Carolina.”
She lived in Charlotte until she died on Super Bowl Sunday in 1982. She was cremated in Charlotte but buried at Spring Forest Cemetery in Binghamton, less than 100 meters from 13 Maple Street.
I did love Gert, I believe. But I didn’t always like her.
My daughter and I were at church in December. Someone, a person around her age, I think, heard her calling me by my name. They said to me, “Did she just call you Roger?” And I acknowledged that she had. Moreover, she’s been doing it for so long, I can’t remember exactly when she started.
I can tell you HOW it began, though. She had gone into the attic. The doorknob came off in her hand, and she could not get out. She reportedly pounded on the door and called me several times, “Dad” or “Daddy”. Finally, she yelled, “ROGER!” That I heard. And she’s been calling me that ever since, probably close to four years. I don’t prefer it, but it’s become just what she does.
A few months later, she started calling her mother by HER first name. My wife is far less than happy about this than I am, and my daughter knows it. Every once in a while, the daughter will appease her mother by calling her “mom.” In fact, on the Christmas packages my daughter gave to my wife this past year, she indicated the recipient as Mom or Mommy.
My daughter has actually taken grief from her friends for addressing her mother and me in this fashion. One chum said that if they called THEIR mothers or fathers by their first names, the parents would kill them. Having met the parents, this may, or may not, be literally true.
She’s got my number
Not that she NEVER calls me by a title, but it’s usually tinged with a bit of sarcasm. “I’m going out now… FATHER!” Did I mention she’s a teenager who we get along with? Well, usually.
I guess I’m just glad that she calls me at all. When she’s out, and occasionally when she’s in her bedroom, she usually Instant Messages me on Facebook, rather than texting me. This is undoubtedly a remnant of the time when texting or calling me would have been foolish because my phone would usually be turned off. This was back last year before I finally got a decent cellphone.
Mar 5 – After playing pool with Uthaclena, I stopped at the vending machine. I took off my boots to keep my roommate’s floor clean. One of my socks came off. I walked into my room. I saw a stranger, the Okie’s roomie, then my father near the window, and my sister Leslie near my roomie’s mirror. SURPRISE party! Shocked was more like it.
Marcia, Mom, and of course, the Okie and the roomie were there. My family brought Kentucky Fried Chicken, cake, and some beverages. The roomie made a general birthday page in the dorm, and a few people came by. Leslie took her friend Joe to the bus station, then returned. The Okie’s mother and baby sister visited.
I got from my family two rolls of Scotch tape, a bottle of Stridex, 24 8-cents stamps, underpants, a nice blue shirt with a strange VOTE button, and some albums: Color Blind – the Glitterhouse Stoned Soul Picnic – the Fifth Dimension Santana III There’s A Riot Goin’ On – Sly and the Family Stone The Okie was worried I wouldn’t like the Leadbelly album she bought me, but I did, especially Bourgeois Blues and Gallows Pole.
The Okie’s father arrived before my family left. Apparently, he was nervous to meet them for some reason, the Okie told me later.
The Okie and I went to see the movie Last Summer, which she found very upsetting, relating to Cathy Burns’ Rhoda. (Burns, who died in 2019, was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.)
After the party
Mar 6 Yesterday must have really thrown me because I was so disorganized. Couldn’t find my checkbook or notebooks. Forgot the meal ticket booklet, the fact that one of my classes was canceled, and that my gym stuff was in my laundry
Mar 7 My 19th birthday. Also, the day of the New Hampshire primaries. According to WNPC: Muskie 42%, McGovern 34%, Yorty 8%, Hartke 4%, with votes for supposed non-candidates Mills (5%) and Kennedy (1%). (Official numbers were slightly different.)
Did three loads of laundry. Uthaclena gave me the John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band album.
Later, I suddenly became very depressed, in part about off and on communication with the Okie.
A lot about snowball fights, doing schoolwork (I really like my Basic Economics II class), Uthaclena reading comic books (e.g. Green Lantern/Green Arrow 89), the Okie’s unreliable car, writing letters, and eating ice cream sandwiches.
Feb 24 – Uthaclena received the Bangladesh album. I gave him Absolutely Live – the Doors. A couple of days later, he bought Pictures at an Exhibition – Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. Feb 26 – Bruce Goldberg had said on WNPC (college radio) that Muhammad Ali was going to meet the kangaroo boxing champion of the world. Apparently, MSG was going to sue Bruce for defamation of character over what was a joke.
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