Posts Tagged ‘family’

“Over There” and the Ongoing Cultural Transformation

February 13, 2014 Leave a comment

File:Over There 1.jpg

A grim day will soon arrive: July 28, 2014, the 100th anniversary of the date that Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia following the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie. The declaration brought into play mutual defense treaties that soon engulfed Europe in one of the most terrible wars in history, World War I.

WWI was the beginning of the end of a world civilization that had arisen with the Renaissance, a cultural revolution that arguably started with Europe’s Black Death in the 14th century. And, just as the end of the Middle Ages extended over many decades, so we in the post-modern world are still struggling to establish a New World Order, one that, it is to be hoped, will hold onto the gains, such as women’s suffrage, that have been made already, while adding other steps to the grand march of humanity forward, for instance a global bill of rights and a moderate, democratic world government capable of implementing and enforcing it.

What started RT thinking about this recently was the further progress he’s made in fleshing out his chronology for his grandfather the actor. The war’s cultural fall-out in the United States, which suffered “only” 116,708 casualties during the fighting (out of a total 25 million), was pronounced. The  roaring twenties is famous for its departure from established tradition, of which RT will note one almost immediate instance: woman won the vote in America with the ratification of the 19th Amendment on August 18, 1920. (Women in Britain won full enfranchisement–that is, the vote on the same terms that men enjoyed it–with the passage of the Representation of the People Act 1928.)

Back to grandfather: in 1916, his most active year by number of plays counted so far, he appeared in such fare as “The Call of the North,” “Sinners,” and “The Angelus.” By 1926 he was being seen in “The Cat and Canary” and “Some Girl” (a production that also featured a famous female impersonator). And in 1930, he was involved in modern theater. Another tidbit: in the early 1920s, he was robbed in Baltimore (the thieves absconded with $40–the equivalent of about three week’s typical salary).

So far, RT has no indication that granddad performed in any WWI-themed productions. But if he finds that he did, he won’t be surprised.As a singer, he may well have publicly performed George M. Cohan’s extremely popular song, “Over There.”


RT is beginning to suspect that his forebear, in addition to being a damned hard worker (in the period 1915-1917, he appeared in 43 plays, often back-to-back from one week to the next), was also something of a post-modernist. After WWI, revolution was in the air. In a gentler, but no less ardent, way, his grandson’s generation is struggling to bring the enormous changes wrought by WWI to a happy conclusion.

Image“Over There” (sheet music). Cover, page 1 of 4. Duke University, WikiCmns. Public Domain.


Coney Island and my Grandfather

January 14, 2014 4 comments



Information can appear from unexpected sources. My grandfather the actor registered for the draft (WWI) in 1917 while he was performing in Montreal. He gave a Coney Island address near Mermaid Avenue; the building has apparently been torn down. The chronology I’m compiling of his life is spilling over onto page 5, with new plays being added at a fairly regular clip.

Just what was Coney Island all about? It appears to have had several incarnations: as a distant resort for New Yorkers in the mid-19th century, then as a day trip once NYC transit arrived at the end of the century, then as the amusement park/area in the 1920s…and then into decline after the WWII…and now reviving again with a stadium for minor-league baseball (don’t quote me on all that, but i think it’s more or less correct).

Which was the Coney Island that my grandfather knew? Why did he choose to live there? Was he, in his mid-20s, in possession of sufficient cash to be able to send money home to his mother, as he claimed on his draft card (“supporting mother”)? To that last question, given his steady work and good reviews, RT is inclined to answer, yes.

And by the by, just exactly what did actors get paid in say, 1915?

Stay tuned for more…  RT


PhotoBeach patronage on Coney Island, New York on Fourth of July 2006. Author: Jaime Haire. WikiCmns. CC 2.0 Generic. 


RT’s Status Update and the Willies

November 21, 2013 2 comments

File:1940 Willys Coupe.jpg


RT has learned from hard experience not to pronounce any manuscript of his finished, but he will allow that the latest round of corrections on A Daughter’s Song and Dance, his mom’s memoir of her childhood and early adult years, has brought that manuscript easily over the 200-page mark. What remains to be added? A new chapter to attach the last third of the story to the earlier parts, an epilogue, and a couple of sections here and there. After that? A read-through with his mother, accompanied doubtless by debate over what to put in and leave out (not to mention themes). a further set of corrections and any adjustments to take account of theme and message, and then, RT imagines, fine-tuning. Getting another editor to vet the manuscript, and well, then RT might be willing to use the joyful word, finished. And what then? The vast vistas of publication in, say, 5 or 6 months. He will only mention in passing such objects on the distant horizon as Gilgamesh; he’s still there, and doubtless the GE fever will grip RT at some unpredictable point, but for now he is beginning to savor something like relief…

… and along the way, RT has learned that the first car his mother owned was a Willys Americar…but really, that’s not what he’s feeling.     RT


Photo: 1940 Willys Coupe; Author:; Source: WikiCmns; CC 2.o Generic.


RT’s Early August Status Report

August 6, 2013 2 comments

File:Anders Zorn - Emma Zorn läsande.jpg

You read it here first, folks: the Rag Tree has crossed the 50,000-hit mark!!! Add to that 2,200 social media followers and RT doesn’t mind saying he is just plain proud of himself! But he will also add something he learned soon after starting his blog: blogging is mainly about the relationships it generates, that is, the amazing people that you get to know–and RT has met many in his nearly 3 years of blogging. & that reminds him of something he realized long before he began The Rag Tree: writing isn’t about getting published; writing is about community.

That being said, there is no doubt that publishing this blog has given RT a stronger sense of being a writer: of writing everyday (or so) for an audience. And that may have something to do with his continuing progress on Gilgamesh and improvements in other aspects of his life.

At 53+ and still kicking, RT has had a few recent reminders of his place on the timeline: a floater that appeared in his right eye and after several days vanished; a strained muscle in the right hip region (now better), the painless loss of a single tooth. His mother, on the other hand, seems to be doing better with her macular degeneration (she recently received freebies via federal program such as a powerful magnifying glass and a telephone with big numerals…she’s even been reading a bit!).

this is life…   RT


Painting: Emma Zorn Lasande (1887); Anders Zorn. WikiCmns; Public Domain.


too cute…

T-L-E photo 2--good edit

As summer comes in, RT’s thoughts turn to Brazil, the land of his birth, and in particular, to Rio de Janerio, where he was born. This morning, RT’s mom asked him to scan the above photo, and, well, RT just can’t help sharing it.

In case your wondering, it’s me and my two brothers photographed, RT would hazard, somewhere in late ’61. RT, as it happens, is the dashing gentleman on the right, but he thinks his little brother steals the shot with his Mohawk hair-styling. Ah, those were the days…   RT

RT’s Related Posts: 1) In Memoriam, Oscar Neimeyer, the Great Brazilian Architect.

My grandma is cooler than yours!



more fun…   RT

(reposted from Yellow Wellies Photography)


My grandma is cooler than yours!.

Architectural Details & DNA

File:Elephant - Nyhavn, Copenhagen - DSC08416.JPG


One of RT’s great-grandfathers was a successful building contractor; another was a housepainter. Seemingly disparate occupations, but then again, maybe not.

What is certain is that RT has always loved architecture and architectural details; his sojourns in Baltimore, MD and now Martinsburg, WV have brought him in close proximity to many beautiful buildings, and RT has developed an affection for pre-WWII American buildings, the kind that often run riot with whimsical or majestic ornament. In fact, RT lives in such a building (though w/o the ornament); what his apartment does offer is its one-of-a-kind floor plan, quiet, wood floors, a certain period character, and a great view out over the town’s roofs.

Now RT’s mathematical skills being what they are, he will never become a builder. And yet he has always wanted to design his own house, and he responds strongly to buildings of all kinds, and especially the neglected architecture of early suburban America. And then again, the Assyrian wall murals from Nineveh and elsewhere have also entranced him…

and of course, he’s a poet. what else could he be, what with poetry’s ornamental details and carefully measured rhythms? The past is in our bones, the cells that make up our hair, the way we feel when we see a peony. When RT finds one of his great-grandfather’s buildings (some of which are on the National Register of Historic Places), he learns a bit more about his own interests and love of detail…   RT


Photo: Elephant, Nyhavn, Copenhagen. Author: Daderot. WikiCmns; CC 1.0 Public Dedication.


Letter to My Father

March 30, 2013 1 comment

poignant & beautiful… RT

(reposted from Hotpot)

Letter to My Father.

the nitrate angel

March 5, 2013 2 comments

File:Albrecht Dürer - Winged Man, in Idealistic Clothing, Playing a Lute - WGA07044.jpg


My grandfather haunts me. I never met him (he died almost 20 years before I was born), and yet because he was an actor, I have been able to find out a great deal about his career and life. There are so many questions I’d like to ask, but am not allowed to: what was your favorite experience while acting? Which of the several women who loved you did you love in return? Could you tell me about the night you met my grandmother?

There is time yet, and I will find out more about him. In the meantime, I wrote this hurried draft of the beginning of a biography I’d like to write: here is what I have so far.


The Nitrate Angel

I could start with statistics, what the records show about 1891, the year my grandfather was born; they would show an America significantly younger and less anxious than our own, so different from the one we know as to confound and amaze us. But that’s not what Stewart’s life was about. They can’t tell us why he was important.

To begin with, he went much farther along the path to fame and success than most. He was a hustler, self-made, pure American. He was tough, so tough that, as a teenager, he was willing to go for a week on coffee and donuts alone, so tough that later he thought nothing of hopping a train from New York to Baltimore for a week’s work, then going back up to start a totally new engagement. He sang, he danced, he carried off pure drama with flair, he performed in drag. He made it in Scranton, the testing ground for Broadway, and then he performed on Broadway, and then he started over on the west coast. He never stopped–and died six months before his 50th birthday.

© copyright, The Rag Tree, 2013.


DrawingWinged Man, in Idealistic Clothing, Playing a Lute. Albrecht Durer, 1497. Silverpoint on dark paper, with white highlights. WikiCmns. Public Domain.


Angel’s Silence, a poem

January 3, 2013 2 comments


File:Broadway theatres 1920.jpg

As loyal readers of this blog will remember, RT has been researching his family’s background. His greatest success to date has been creating a detailed chronology of his mother’s father, who was an actor on Broadway in NYC, and later on the west coast.

Each revelation concerning RT’s peripatetic grandfather has brought with it an ongoing series of reactions–he was cynical, carefree, an idealist, self-absorbed, or whatever, always ending with reflections on RT’s life and the life of his family.

Certainly one of the most intense moments in the search came when RT discovered on the Net two interviews that granddad gave, one in 1913, the other in 1927. He was able to read out to his mother her own father’s words–the first time she had ever heard them. She was 81 at the time.

A moment like that lasts–maybe forever, and in this case impelled RT to write a poem. Repeatedly throughout this genealogical hunt, he has realized how important intact families are; if we cannot be a part of one, then at least we can hope to recover the lives of its members. He has also been struck by how quickly things change in the world; it’s not just our ancestors we discover, but the world that they made. Here is RT’s poem:


Angels’ Silence



so this is death—

a driving 70s beat on

the speakers, the names

sliding by—james taylor, paul

simon (for $6!), abba,



the guy (with brillantine

blond hair)

at the checkout

 wears a pressed shirt

 & a “Win With Willkie”

 button:

couldn’t stand The Black Pearl,

myself,” he says…



then there’s the matter of


you met him a couple of

 days ago–or was

 it 1913, at the interview with

 The Sun’s theatre critic?

You’re playing hooky!” he declares,

 proceeding to elaborate on his theme:

Be a sticking plaster; persevere

 in your chosen occupation!”


and he should know, thin as a rail,

dressed in rags, a boy’s goosedown

on his cheeks—

Betake yourself to a good school

 of elocution and dramatic art—then go after

 what you want until you get it.”



but his attention has shifted, to your mother, a

girl with a barrette in her silver-blonde hair; &

he is taller now, wearing a gentleman’s jacket &

white tie—I can’t make out what they’re

telling each other, but presently,

 she turns to me and says

“Do you believe in God?”



I could see that father and daughter liked each other

both raconteurs, deeply restless, their voices

beautiful & I realized that they weren’t singing

because I couldn’t; my skills coming from

some other spring, a place of bog and kelp and unknowing:

 a sip of life’s water.


So, the angels have reminded me: “you will be making the return trip,”

leaving these new buddies**********to get acquainted.


Photo: Broadway, 1920, Looking North from 38th Street; WikiCmns; LOC; Public Domain.