Spring to Life, Persephone!

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yellow sunflower

BY JULIE SEYLER

It’s spring. At least the vernal equinox announcing the change of seasons arrived on March 20. Despite the frost and snow that hit us in New York and New Jersey a few days ago, I have faith spring is about to pop in full blast. Hopefully, it will hang long enough before we are slam-dunked into a 100- degree heat wave. (The ironic joke of this obstreperous winter.)

Meanwhile, according to Greek mythology, the only reason we have spring is due to devoted mother love. One day, the goddess Persephone, daughter of Demeter, goddess of corn, grain and the harvest, was playing with her Nymph pals in a field. Hades, the god that ruled the underworld, abducted her.

Bernini’s sculpture “The Rape of Persephone,” in the Borghese Gallery in Rome, depicts the massive strength of Hades, known as Pluto in Roman mythology, as he digs his hands into the goddess’s flesh. (Even in the hard marble, you can see the tenderness of her skin.):

Gian Lorenzo Bernini, "The Rape of Persephone", 1621-22.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini, “The Rape of Persephone” 1621-22.

After Persephone is carried off, her mother searches all the world for her, but to no avail, and in so doing, neglects her duties:

‘Ungrateful soil, said she, ‘which I have endowed with fertility and clothed with herbage and nourishing grain, no more shall you enjoy my favours.’ Then the cattle died, the plough broke in the furrow, the seed failed to come up, there was too much sun, there was too much rain, the birds stole the seeds-thistles and brambles were the only growth.
~ The Age of Fable in Bulfinch’s Mythology.

Demeter finally learns that Persephone is alive but stuck down below. She begs Zeus, the most powerful god on Mount Olympus, to allow Persephone to return to the earth. He agrees on one condition. Her daughter must not consume a single morsel of food. But Hades is a trickster, and through wily self-preservation presents his wife with a delectable piece of fruit – the pomegranate. She eats a few of the seeds, and as a result, can never be completely free.pomegrante

Instead she is allowed to return for six months of the year, and as her daughter comes back, Demeter does her job. Flowers bloom and vegetables grow, and we revel in the beauty of spring.

So let’s tell Perspehone to stop playing hide and seek. We are so ready for her!

The Pursuit of the Perfect Easter Egg Hunt

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Easter Bob

All the eggs in one basket.

BY BOB SMITH

When our kids were little – like 7, 5, and 1 – we started a tradition of hiding eggs for them to find on Easter morning. Vincent was too small to participate that year, but Bobby and Abby happily ran around the living room, dining room, and family room ferreting out the colored hard-boiled eggs Maria and I had hidden the night before under sofa cushions, on top of picture frames, and on the windowsills behind the drapes.

But trouble quickly developed. Bobby, older and by nature more competitive, discovered twice as many as Abby, and quickly exhausted the cache of eggs to be found. He proudly displayed the eight eggs that were “his” as Abby mournfully moped over her paltry three. And to top it off, Abby had found the “rotten egg” – the one egg we deliberately made ugly by dipping it repeatedly into each of the red, green, yellow, and blue dye cups until it was a nauseating, mottled gray-brown. Finding that egg was not a good thing.

We quickly moved on from real eggs to fake eggs for the Easter morning hunt, and relegated the “rotten egg” to a place of shame in the center of the communal Easter basket on the dining room table. The “eggs” we now hid were plastic, and came in festive spring colors. Approximately the size of real eggs, they snapped apart into two pieces at the middle so you could fill them with jelly beans, M&M’s, or Hershey’s Kisses. These were immensely popular with the kids, because whoever found the most eggs got the most candy.

And again, the two older kids (now 9 and 7 to Vincent’s 3) dominated the finding-game, with Bobby edging out Abby by a fairly wide margin. Because Vincent was so small we convinced the older two to leave a few eggs behind for him, lest he be left with nothing.

But the system was still flawed.

After only one season using that model, we started labeling the plastic eggs with a dot of masking tape on each with a handwritten “B,” “A,” or “V” so each kid would know whose eggs were whose. If you found someone else’s egg, you left it in place and could taunt your sibling when they had a hard time finding it. Anyone unlucky enough to have eggs still hidden when the other two had found all theirs had to endure the “you’re getting warm … warmer … now cooler, etc.” game to locate their final eggs.

As the kids got a little older, mere candy in the eggs wasn’t sufficient inducement for the hunt, so we started loading the eggs with money. Because of fierce sibling rivalry, we strictly counted out the same number of eggs for each kid and distributed the same amount of money among their eggs. I think we started with a total of $20 per kid when they were smaller, and progressed to a total of $50 in each kid’s eggs every year.

But shortly after we started with the plastic eggs, there was a year when even Maria and I couldn’t remember where we had hidden them all, resulting in a frustrating 15 minutes that Easter morning with the whole family poking around under the furniture.

The next year we kept a detailed list. Late on Easter Eve, Maria and I filled the plastic eggs with cash and candy and then walked around the house together, one of us with a basket of labeled eggs for hiding, and the other following with a legal pad and pen, noting the location of every egg in each room.

It had taken us a number of years, but at last we had a foolproof egg-hiding system. It was fair, because the kids all got the same number of eggs and quantity of cash, and their eggs were labeled so no one could poach. And because of our master list, no one got shorted even if Maria and I were too muddled to remember where the heck we’d squirreled away all those eggs.

Soon the kids were all teenagers, going through the motions of enjoying the Easter morning egg hunt just to please us. They were in it only for the cash. Sometimes one or all of them wouldn’t even roll out of bed until almost noon, leaving no time for the egg hunt before Maria and I had to start preparing Easter dinner. Eventually the tradition died away entirely, and we just gave each of them Easter cards with a little cash gift.

But should grandchildren ever appear at our house on Easter, we’ll be ready. I’m sure those plastic eggs are someplace in the basement, too. I just have to find them.

Short, Shorts

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Author Lydia Davis, in her new book, “Can’t and Won’t,” has perfected the art of the short story. The very short, short story – a story that captures a scene or a persona in a sentence or two – ala Ernest Hemingway, who created a Six Word Story.

We were intrigued. And gave it a go:

Celine knew she was the sweetest person in the world because she baked a cake every day with chili pepper.

Norbert’s life was a lie, but since he didn’t know it, it was the truth.

The minute she decided to walk down the aisle and say “I do,” she wish she had said, “I don’t!” But she didn’t, and never did, so she spent her life decluttering the aisle of his debris.

Hello! I am so delighted you took the time to call, because I am utterly miserable and hope to bring you down with me. Have a great day.

As she had for years, Jane anticipated the splendor of the Manhattan skyline as she drove her car out of the Lincoln Tunnel, only to discover it had been hijacked by a real estate developer.

A Courtroom Stop on Our Nationwide Trek

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Mockingbird pic

The courthouse in Monroeville, Alabama, which was recreated in “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

BY FRANK TERRANELLA

There are a lot of lawyer stories on television, and in movies. Most of them are not very flattering. I think of TV shows like “L.A. Law” and “The Good Wife.” Lawyers are often called upon to do the most unpleasant things for us. They sometimes have to act like monsters, so we don’t have to. It’s no wonder the public has such a poor perception of lawyers. And yet, the practice of law can be an honorable, even a noble, profession.

Exhibit A is a Southern lawyer with the unlikely name of Atticus Finch, the protagonist of Harper Lee’s book, “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Now, there is no nobler lawyer in American literature than Atticus Finch. His demeanor, intelligence and ethical values are what many lawyers aspire to, but seldom match.

Atticus doesn’t want his children to have guns and doesn’t have a gun in his house, but when a rabid dog needs to be put down, the police chief calls on “deadeye” Atticus to make the shot. He accepts payment from poor farmers in produce. He is known far and wide as a fair man. That reputation gets him appointed counsel for a client that no one else would represent – a poor black man in Depression-era Alabama, who is accused of raping a white girl.

If you’ve seen the marvelous 1962 movie starring Gregory Peck, no further explanation of the story is needed. If you haven’t, I envy you the thrill of meeting Atticus Finch for the first time.

A few years ago, my wife and I were touring the Southeast as part of our decade-long plan to visit every state in the nation. We learned that the courthouse in Monroeville, Alabama was the one that was recreated in Hollywood for the movie. That’s because Monroeville is the home, to this day, of Harper Lee. She grew up just a couple of blocks away.

As we headed South on I-65 from Montgomery on our way to New Orleans, we took a slight detour to visit the old Monroe County Courthouse. It’s now a museum, full of items that lawyers of Atticus Finch’s time would have used. The museum is nice, but the star attraction is the old courtroom itself. It looks exactly like the movie, since Henry Bumstead, the art director on the film, came there, and took pictures, and made drawings, so that he could reproduce it in Hollywood.

As you walk into the courtroom, you can just imagine yourself in a scene from the movie. Fortunately, it is possible to climb the stairs up to the balcony, where the less prominent citizens, including children, could watch the proceedings.

In the story, Jem and Scout (children of Atticus), and their friend Dill (who Harper Lee based on her childhood friend Truman Capote), sit on the floor of the balcony, dangling their legs through the wooden supports that make up the balcony railing. The accused’s family sits nearby, along with their minister. Pat at Mockingbird My wife and I were able to sit and get a Scout’s-eye view of the courtroom. It was a surprisingly moving experience.

But that’s the power of good storytelling.

And they do more than just have the setting for “To Kill a Mockingbird” in Monroeville. Every summer, they actually populate the courthouse with actors, and put on a play-version of the story. The audience gets to sit in the spectator portion of the courtroom, while the actors stage the trial. It’s the hottest ticket in Alabama.

In the story, Atticus puts on a splendid defense for his client, Tom Robinson, after which, with head held high, he packs up his briefcase and heads for the door. Tom Robinson’s family waits for Atticus to gather his things and stands in silence while he walks to the exit. In a show of the depth of the respect for Atticus in the community, the minister prods the Finch children to, “Stand up. Your father’s passing.”

Can you imagine a lawyer today being that beloved?

Fixing the Sinkhole that Engulfed My Toe

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photo-24

BY JULIE SEYLER

Here is the thing. I went to see a doctor about a bunion on my right foot, and emerged with a surgery date for a toe cyst. (This is why one of my oldest and dearest friends never goes to doctors! She knows they are going to tell her something she has no interest in hearing.) But this doctor had me from the word, “sinkhole.”

He said he had seen other cysts in the big toe, but nothing the size of mine. The cyst was the toe; it had eaten all but one millimeter of bone. Any minute, the flesh, tendons, and all the sinewy matter of my toe could be sucked like a, whoosh! into the sinkhole that was my toe. But he had a solution. Graft some bone from my hip onto the evaporating bone in my toe. I would be in and out of the hospital the same day, and would only need to keep my weight off that foot for six weeks. As it turns out, it’s not actually the toe, it’s my first metatarsal, the soft plushy part right under the toe. But it didn’t matter. I scheduled the surgery because had I not, I would have spent every walking moment wondering if my next step would yield a toe implosion.

So on Tuesday, April 8, I checked into the hospital at 8:30 a.m., and checked out at 4:30 p.m., with a set of crutches, a walker and a foot wrapped liked a half-opened present. I keep it elevated, and wait impatiently. Hop hop hopping like a bunny rabbit to get a glass of water is exhausting, and ultimately makes me bad company because I whine with fabulous passion:

toe cyst surgery left Jenna totally defooted

But I just need to hold out a few more days. I see the doctor this Friday, and (hopefully), he will say, “Your bone has grafted just fine. Time to put on the boot!”

Then I can ditch the devices, and at least walk on my heel, which means mobility! I’ll be ready to rock and roll by Memorial Day. Yeah!

Want a Classy Name? Put an “E” on It

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Bob estates

BY BOB SMITH

The people who name residential and retail developments always pick names that sound classy – or at least that they think will sound classy to the rest of us. For instance, if there’s a stream of any kind flowing near the property, they include the term “brook” in the title. And if they really want to be fancy, they spell it “brooke.” They seem to think that the linguistic extravagance of having a useless, silent vowel at the ends of words screams opulence:

“Hey – we know there’s an extraneous ‘e’ there, but dammit, we can afford it.”

If there’s a bridge across the “brooke,” then the namer has two choices. The first is to coin a “bridge” word by pairing it with any descriptive, or other cool-sounding term (e.g., Woodbridge, Westbridge, Longbridge, Cambridge, Bumbridge, etc.). The beauty of “bridge” is that it comes with its own silent, trailing “e,” so it pairs well with the other pretentious words in the name.

Then couple your newly-minted, “bridge” word with another term that purports to describe the nature of the homes being offered for sale, such as “Estates,” “Manor,” or the highfalutin, “Mews.” I can see “Estates” and “Manor” evoking luxury, since both terms refer to pieces of real estate owned by feudal lords – although I doubt any self-respecting lord, feudal or otherwise, would stoop to live in a McMansion on a quarter-acre lot in New Jersey.

But “mews?” In British usage, the word means stables built around a small street, or a street having small apartments converted from such stables, neither of which seem like particularly enviable places to live, unless you’re a horse. On the other hand, it could make for a pleasant-sounding, vaguely evocative name:”Neighbridge Mews.”

The other option for naming a development, including any kind of bridge, is to pick an upscale term for “bridge,” and feature that up front: “The Crossings at _____.” You could even double down on the bridge theme, and construct a name like, “The Crossings at Neighbridge Mews.” Or throw in another extra “e” word for good measure: “The Crossings at Neighbridge Mews Pointe.” Fun, isn’t it?

The same basic rules apply to naming retail areas: “old” becomes “olde,” “center” is “centre,” and “town” becomes “towne.” They’re all pronounced the same as the lower-class versions, but because of the trailing “e,” they’re classier, and just plain better. And of course, if there are any stores in the center of this old town, they’re not “shops,” but “shoppes.”

Here’s the lineup the developers want you to expect, depending on the spelling:

Olde Brooke Towne Centre Shoppes: Tiffany jewelry store, yogalates studio, organic vegan wrap and smoothie bar, a full-menu Starbucks, and hand-crafted, boutique clothing by Zoe, tastefully presented in an exclusive, village-like cluster of gleaming mahogany and glass storefronts. All on the banks of a pristine stream filled with darting minnows, dotted with stepping stones, and spanned by a carved teak footbridge.

Old Brook Town Center Shops: a 1970s vintage strip mall featuring, Pawn It – We Buy Gold, a mani/pedi joint called Nail Me, deli/newsstand, 24-hour laundromat, and a concrete bunker with welded steel cages on the windows and the words, “Check Cashing / Payday Loans,” in five-foot-high letters dominating the entire side wall of the building.

The bail bondsman’s office is just around the corner, downstairs from the Happy Lucky Massage Parlor, and next door to the Amble Inn Bar. All bordered by a weedy trench, filled with sludgy goop sprouting a rusting refrigerator door, old sneakers, and puddles of fluorescent fluid, that in some alternate universe passes for water.

Where would you rather shoppe? Pointe taken.

Hold the Flowers. It Might Snow

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flowers in snow

Springtime in New Jersey.

BY ANTHONY BUCCINO

When cherry blossoms bloom in Belleville Park, it’s time to put away the snow blower. Usually by this time of April, in Belleville and Nutley, we watch the falling cherry blossoms and think, oh, they’re like little pink snowflakes. But this year, things have changed. We predict snow falling just once more.

Can anyone blame us? It seems like we’ve endured the winter of “Dr. Zhivago” here in the Northeast. Don’t bother me with the old, “We’ve had worse winters with more snow.”

That’s all ancient history. What matters is right here, right now. Will it snow again before the May flowers bloom?

This was the winter we finally made up our mind that we were going to do it. Yup, this was going to be the year of the snow blower for us. Too bad we dallied when we should have dillied. We got hit with the first snow storm before we made it to the store. As soon as we recovered from shoveling, and clearing our driveway apron a few times, we headed to the nearby big box store.

It was easy to spot the snow blower section. It was the rows of empty racks with little picture cards of what snow blowers would look like if they had any in stock. Stealthily, we eavesdropped as the man in the orange apron explained to a befuddled snow-shoveler the subtle differences between the petite, sissy snow throwers, and the humongous, super-charged blowers that will toss snow over your rooftop onto the path of that annoying neighbor so he’ll think it’s still snowing.

As soon as that dolt shuffled off, it was our turn to be tutored. The man in the orange apron patiently went through the differences between the wimpy and the walloping snow movers.

You got your sizes: 21″, 24″, 28″, 30″. You got your stages: Single-stage, gas-quick, chute snow blower; two-stage, electric-start gas, and three-stage, electric-start gas. You got your accessories: heated handle, shear pin kit, clean-out spade tool, silicone lubricant, snow blower cover, engine additive – fuel stabilizer, oil – synthetic, gasoline, and a heavy-duty, floor-protective mat.

And while we actually began to understand what he was saying, in the end, there were none in the store. He suggested we order online.

We hadn’t been that excited tracking a delivery in 33 years. This time they delivered it to our door. The crates go to a local service shop for assembly, and then delivery to eager new parents, er, owners. We have to say the guy was thorough explaining everything from the forward speeds, reverse, chute direction, on-off switch, pump-primer, pull cord, and where the extra shear pins were for when our big blade tries to throw the ice block of our newspaper.

Dang. We couldn’t wait for it to snow. And so it snowed.

Dang. We couldn’t wait for it to stop snowing.

For years, whenever it snowed, we’d wait until our neighbor finished snow blowing his walks, then he’d hand it off, still running. He moved down the Shore last year, and we couldn’t really expect him to bring his snow blower up, and clear the snow for the new owner, now, could we? They were nice neighbors, but, apparently, not that nice.

The perception is that a snow blower makes clearing snow easy and fun. And you’ll be so popular with your neighbors when you do their walks because, no, you’re not a nice guy, you haven’t figured how to stop, and turn around, so you go all the way around the block.

The reality is that it’s more like plowing the south 40 acres behind an ornery mule. It’s great on a straight run, but try turning that baby, or backing up, or squeaking past the cars parked in the driveway. Not to mention the trudge across the deep snow to the storage shed to get out a shovel to clear out the doorway to get the snow blower out to start it. Yikes.

And don’t forget the fun clearing the driveway apron over and over with each pass of the town plow. We’re sure the plows carry an additive that makes apron snow heavier, colder and wetter than real snow anywhere else.

After several snow falls, we’d worn a path through the snow to the shed. Our technique in clearing apron snow has been nominated for an award for our precision directing the chute to toss across our cleared walk, and create a four-foot decorative berm on our lawn.

Sure, we’ve had worse winters. One winter started so early the autumn leaves weren’t cleared until March along with the wooden-stick deer and Santa ornaments on our lawn. That was then. This is now. When this last spring snow falls, we’ll be right over to do your walk. As soon as we remember how to start this thing. anthony snowblower

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