Tag Archives: Memoir

The Greenwich Village Literary Review Spring 2015, Vol. II, No. 1

TABLE OF CONTENTS

OUR COVER

Cocktails
W. Jack Savage

NON-FICTION

History –
Yip Harburg: A Lyrical Activist Against Social Injustice Leigh Donaldson & Ernie Harburg

Memoir –
Memories of Judson Samuel Bean
My Mother’s Kitchen Erica Miles

FICTION
Tribute Sarah Bates
Sweet Sixteen Magda Benigna
Three Boys V. Conejero
Fire Box 598 Joe Corso
The Reunion Henya Drescher
Two Voices: a Tale from the Ancestors Mindy Kronenberg
Consequences Ann Ormsby
Jack of Hearts Leslie Silton

HUMOR & SATIRE
The Original Survivor Man Bill Batcher
The Good Neighbors James Como
The Art of Sleeping by Tootie translated by Erica Miles

POETRY
Night Duty Mario Ascueta Aguado
Baalbek, Lebanon, Makawao Forest, Opening Night’s Doors, Wind, What the Sky Tells Us Marguerite G. Bouvard
Extra Padding, Sunrise/Sunset, Ute Carson
At the Eye Doctor’s Office, V. Conejero
Seasonal Utterances (Spring), Julie Lauton
If These Walls Could Only Talk, John Lysaght
The Cat, In Memory of a Well-Loved Dog, Richard Merli
The Goose Who Loved Golf, John F. McCullagh
Portrait of My Mother, Erica Miles
The Party, Mindy Ohringer
Untitled No. 2, Dave Rullo
Near Holly Springs: Good Friday, Jeff Streeby
The First Floor Apartment on 84th, Lorien Vidal

ART & PHOTOGRAPHY
Cocktails, W. Jack Savage
Fountain 1, Samuel Bean
Fountain 2, Samuel Bean
Skycrapers with Clouds, Kyle Hemmings

BOOK REVIEWS
Robert J. Cooney reviews Jacob M. Appel’s short story collection Einstein’s Beach House
Richard Merli reviews Gary Beck’s book of poetry Civilized Ways
Erica Miles reviews Steven Jay Griffel’s novel Grossman’s Castle
Ellen Schecter reviews Erica Miles’ novel Dazzled by Darkness

– CONTRIBUTORS’ BIOGRAPHIES –
Contributors – Current Issue 

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Memories of Judson by Samuel Bean

Near the end of his life, the late Reverend Howard Moody had a memoir published, which chronicled Judson Church’s historical role during the latter half of the 20th century.

Judson Memorial Church 1

Judson Church at dusk. Photo credit: Unknown

As the child of one of its long-term members (Reathel Bean), I’d been eager to read Howard’s perspective and ended up reading the book cover to cover numerous times. “It was great to watch you grow in the midst of the story,” reads his inscription inside the front cover of my copy. “Those were the days, my friend.”

My sister Emmy once gave a description of Howard that sizably matched my own memories of him—a grandfatherly figure. As a young child, she was more aware of his deep and soothing tone and cadences than anything having to do with the content of what he was saying. I do remember catching a few snippets of his messages here and there, but his overall value lay more in his comforting presence than in anything else.

As a child, I was only marginally aware of Judson’s unique culture and history of cutting-edge advocacy and artistic revolution. Both had been demonstrated to me in various ways (particularly at parties), but I didn’t ask questions. To me, church was a place where you went on Sundays. It didn’t matter if it involved a crucifix or mache puppets.

Judson had provided Dad a haven from the draft in 1966. Dad had told me that he was a “conscientious objector,” which one of my teachers soon explained was something that was very difficult to be—something that required an explanation likely comparable to the one Morgan Freeman’s character provided for his failure to understand the meaning of the word “rehabilitated” prior to his parole.

In Dad’s case, he was about to fly off to Canada, when he received word that Judson would provide him not only a job as a janitor and handyman but a room in the student house next door to the church. According to another book that was written about the specific history of that building, the okay on both of these things was delivered the same day he received approval from his draft board of his alternative service (cleaning and fixing, instead of killing).

One of the earliest examples of Judson’s long history of public outreach efforts was the Judson Health Center—a free medical and dental clinic run by Dr. Eleanor Campbell. Founded in 1921, its mission was to provide care to the Italian immigrant population living on the west side of lower Manhattan, many of whom suffered the side effects of poor nutrition. Within a year of its inception, the health center relocated out of the church basement to a larger accommodation in the church’s Judson House property (next door at 237 Thompson Street), due to its sheer volume of service. By the end of 1924, the clinic was the largest of its kind in the US, having cared for 22,000 visitors and conducted 14,000 field visits that year alone.

Embellished church entrance. Photo credit: Paul Russell

The church’s present-day sanctuary (on Thompson Street and West Fourth Street—across the street from Washington Square Park) was to be a memorial for founder and clergyman Edward Judson’s father, Adoniram—one of the first Protestant missionaries to Burma. It soon became the home of the younger Judson’s Bearean Baptist congregation (also in the neighborhood), which had been expanding beyond the capacity of its original Downing Street building. Completed in 1893, the new building had not only received the backing of prominent Baptists (including John D Rockefeller), but a charming stone and marble building design and inlay from the Italian Renaissance—the combined efforts of noted architect Stanford White, stained-glass artist John La Farge, as well as sculptors Augustus Saint-Gaudens and Herbert Adams.

Just Google “stained glass windows” and you’ll receive digital images of minimal variety—mostly circular patterns and simply drawn images of scriptural figures which are completely non-provocative. A remarkable resemblance between the familiar images on Judson’s windows and specific members of its congregation was apparent to me, while I was growing up there. La Farge put an astonishing amount of detail into his renditions, which served as an unintentional reinforcement of Moody’s trademark claim: “The church is not the building, it’s the people.”

Judson Church Windows

Judson’s stained glass windows. Photo credit: Paul Russell

In grade school, I can remember a feeling of general ineptitude when it came to executing just about any assigned art project. One or more classmates would inevitably point to some misalignment on my part with the stated directions (coloring outside the lines, using the wrong piece of construction paper for the wrong thing). When it came to classroom art, I was always off the mark in one way or another. As both embarrassing and frustrating as this was, I have reason to believe that it might have had something to do with my rather unorthodox and nontraditional understanding of art—the likely result of how the term “art” had been defined and relayed to me by the Judson community.

Over the years, Dad casually mentioned several examples of art, as he had seen it presented by Judson. One involved a guy sitting on a stool smoking a cigarette (and nothing else). Another involved the destruction of a piano and the assassination of a chicken. An anti-censorship campaign I’m remembering from my teenage years took place in the same space and involved a wall-to-wall multimedia display of the human anatomy.

I don’t want to create the impression that these hard-edged works somehow define Judson’s character or culture. Judson was and is far from being a community made up of flaky, uncompromising absolutists, and it has, over the years, hosted plenty of softer elements, too. Some of the best examples are performances by The Bread and Puppet Theater.

Founded in New York during the early 1960s, Bread and Puppet is currently based in Glover, Vermont, and has perhaps been best known for its annual Domestic Resurrection Circus in and around a natural amphitheater. For me, who attended it once in the late eighties, a striking similarity between my memory of the crowded festival grounds and some of the footage from the 1970 Woodstock film was obvious—particularly with respect to what happened on the sidelines. Although the show, itself, took place on a field surrounded by hills, several makeshift stages were set up around the field, each of which would host short performances (presented by both children and adults).

For at least a couple of back-to-back Decembers in the mid-eighties, Judson’s acting group hosted an original play, entitled “The Washer Woman’s Nativity,” which depicted the birth of Christ and the wrath of Herod. At the end of each performance, a large circular loaf of bread was broken into crumbs and distributed to audience members, signifying art as an element as basic to human welfare as bread. While their performances contained political material that would invariably go over the heads of children, there was something inherently child-friendly about their puppets. They were large, imposing figures, which (in many cases) were caricatures of political demagogues. Whether you’d recognize a puppet version of (let’s say) Oscar Romero or not, you’d have to agree that something inherently cartoonish about the puppet and its droll facial expression was apparent—something that anyone of any age could appreciate.

Judson Memorial Church 3

Judson Church, a Village landmark. Photo credit: Paul Russell

A few years later, my youth group leader openly scoffed at the idea of having an actor as president. My father was a professional actor, so I guess the matter in question didn’t seem as outlandish to me as it might have otherwise. Not only had Dad depicted Reagan (and rapped as him) in a cabaret down the street from Judson a few years earlier, but he also delivered a mock address in his Reagan voice at a Judson party one night during this period. Still, the question looms: How did we feel about having a professional performer (someone whose job it was to put on a face) in charge of the country?

I remember no social issue more observable during my upbringing than the AIDS epidemic. It killed several members of the Judson community (at least one of whom was a close family friend), so I had no excuse to ignore it. Fortunately, I received plenty of preventative education in high school (involving the unrolling of condoms onto wooden rods in health class), and was also aware of the many ways in which AIDS could not be transmitted (i.e., by hugging and/or kissing someone who has it). Still, the AIDS epidemic provided a far-too-early exit for an unbelievably large fraction of the population and was (for the most part) labeled as a divine punishment for homosexual acts by The Moral Majority (who publicly sided with the Reagan administration).

For several years, Judson has serviced a syringe exchange program on the Lower East Side, by way of assembling harm reduction kits at regularly scheduled work parties. Saving the lives of drug addicts (in my mind) is an honorable act, yet I’m sure that this type of ministry (providing the addicts with clean equipment rather than intervention) could easily have received scrutiny and controversial reactions. The late Arlene Carmen’s hospitality bus project (ministering to prostitutes in Times Square) likely received such reactions, as well. She, herself, even spent a night in jail during a law enforcement sweep, which obviously targeted not only the prostitutes, but anyone identified as their associate.

It’s become obvious to me over time that Howard’s role was unique and irreplaceable. His leadership was followed by that of an interim, a shorter-term replacement, one or two other interims, and (currently) a more established and permanent replacement.

In 1990, I attended a performance of “Christmas Rappings” (a narrative musical covering most of the same ground as “The Washer Woman’s Nativity”) during Judson’s bicentennial celebration. The focus of the performance was largely on the music of composer/clergyman, Al Carmines, who opened the piece at the piano (which was the performance’s focal point), singing the scriptural list of who begat whom. The rest of the company would hit the stage in pairs or in small groupings (and even solo maybe once or twice) and would then disappear to make room for whoever was slated to perform the next number. Seventeen years later, the exact same musical was presented in the space in a completely different format.

The company (made up of a mostly younger generation) opened the performance, taking turns with different lines of the “begat” number from different corners of the room. At one point, two large puppets (inspired by a Bread and Puppet element, no doubt) depicted Herod—one before the slaughter, and one (with blood on his hands) after it. The focus was clearly not on Al, his piano playing, or the company of players surrounding the piano to support him. “Christmas Rappings” had become a true ensemble piece. No member of the company had an observably more or less important role than any other.

My Mother’s Kitchen by Erica Miles

Ruth isn’t my mother. She’s my stepmother. She’s nothing like my mother. Opposite, in fact. My mother died over 20 years ago. She once wept when she lost the rainbow acrylic scarf I crocheted for her. “It’s all right, Ma. I’ll make you another one,” I assured her at the time. But I never did. Ruth and my father have been married for 17 years.

It was one day, when my father had been dating Ruth for a couple of months that I visited my parents’ home on Clara Street in the Kensington section of Brooklyn. I climbed up the stairs of our landlord’s house (he and his family occupied the first floor), past the chalk drawing of a horse I’d done at the base of the steps, up to the second floor landing, entering the bright yellow ”L” of my parents’ kitchen. My mother used to hear my mounting footsteps and meet me in the doorway with the warmest hello in her voice, her eyes brimming with welcome.

Now my father and Ruth were sitting at the kitchen table, which was covered with the usual orange tablecloth. I entered the room and started to talk about my train trip and the trivia of my morning.

From where I stood, I could see my flushed face reflected in the sun shaped mirror with the Indian silver frame on the wall beside the doorway. I stood facing my Dad and Ruth, next to the wall on which hung four of my pastel drawings (my mother had framed them all). Miniature landscapes, arranged in two rows, side by side, forming a square of orange, chartreuse, ochre—earth colors. I could see into the two living rooms—the “green room” leading into the “blue room,” as we called them, after the color of their carpets—with a glimpse of my mother’s black, wrought-iron plant stand with trailing leaves of philodendron at the far window. I could almost see my mother’s delicate, lopsided back, as she bent over the stove, frying scrambled eggs and onions with mushrooms, because it was one of my favorite dishes.

Nothing was cooking on the stove while my father, Ruth, and I were talking. But I twirled around in the open space of the kitchen, breathing in the coffee and food smells that still hung in the air of my parents’ home that had also been my home till just a year ago, when I moved to my own apartment in Manhattan.

It was the second time I was meeting Ruth. The first time had been at a family gathering—it was almost an extension of the “sitting shiva” for my mother we had done three months earlier. I saw Ruth, my father’s girlfriend, across the room, and at first glance, she looked like Ava Gardner. (My father has taken up with a much younger woman. . . . ) When she came closer, singling me out, extending her hand, calling me by name, knowing I had just lost my mother, I saw the sagging cheeks and wrinkles, but there was still a certain Je ne sais quoi that animated her. Yes, she had sex appeal at seventy-something years. Je  ne sais quoi was probably the one thing Ruth had in common with my mother.

Now, in my mother’s kitchen, she was smiling at me in a forced way. “Sit down,” she finally said in the manner of a gracious hostess.

I cannot tell you what I felt.  Can you understand that I was shocked? This was my home, and she, who had been dating my father for two months, was telling me to sit down in it. I didn’t let my emotions show. I kept the conversation civil. I don’t remember whether I sat down or not.

Later, I used to want to write about it, changing the dialogue, jumping off into a fantasy of what might have been.

“I should be telling you to sit down!” I might have said. Or “Don’t tell me to sit down. I live here. I’ll sit or stand as I please.” Or “How dare you? Who do you think you are?”

But she already knew. She was the next Mrs. Ehrhardt, and she would soon be telling me to sit down in her own kitchen in her Sheepshead Bay apartment, after my father would move in with her.

But for now, I only knew a tremendous sense of dislocation, of inappropriateness, of her assumed proprietorship of my father and my home.      (Yes, I could write about it and elevate and dramatize the dialogue and exorcise my rage and helplessness.)

But I never did. And you know, many years have passed since then. And Ruth has mellowed a bit. And I have gotten older–and used to her. My father and Ruth, as I mentioned before, have now been married for 17 years.

In all this time, I’ve never sent Ruth a Mother’s Day card, but this year, I regretted not doing so. This year, Ruth had a gallbladder attack and had to have her unhealthy organ removed. My mother had once had a gallbladder attack, too. Another thing they had in common. A condition that affects older women. Ruth became more vulnerable after that, more responsive to my attention, my phone calls, the cards I sent, more appreciative, or at least showed that side of her nature more. That is to say, we now have more of a relationship, though she still dominates the conversation.

In her Sheepshead Bay apartment, Ruth has a tiny, hygienic kitchen with a refrigerator magnet which flaunts the words: “Ruth’s kitchen.” She doesn’t want anybody else to go in there. She doesn’t even let my father near the stove, though he did the cooking all the time I was growing up.

Just outside her kitchen, there’s a circular table with a white plastic cloth. It is a mini-dining area, set off from the living room by a brass railing. And that’s where I park myself during my appointed visits, when she asks me if I want orange juice or coffee. Above the table dangles a giant, crystal chandelier. And two steps down, beyond the brass railing, stretches the small but immaculate living room.

Near the window, I can see my mother’s plant stand, which my father brought over from the old house. Ruth’s spider plants, as well as the longstanding philodendron, are shown to full advantage on the many levels of its winding stair. The plant stand fits right in with the red velvet sofa, the sentimental painting on the wall of a woman holding a basket of fruit, the floral patterned wall-to-wall carpet, the many photographs of Ruth’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and the one unframed photo of me that has been stuck into a corner of one of the larger frames.

When I first come in, my father usually greets me at the door with a peck on the cheek, his one good eye flickering with affection. Ruth is next in line for a kiss, her black eyes sparkling with animation and renewed health. We make small talk for a few seconds. When Ruth tells me, “Sit down,” I sit. So does my father. After all, this is her house.