Do You Know Your Neighbor?

Chiune Sugihara was born in Japan on January 1, 1900 and died at the age of 86. He had lived quietly in the years following World War II, supporting his family with a series of humble jobs, including selling light bulbs door to door. At his funeral, his neighbors were shocked to see the Israeli Ambassador to Japan and a large group of Jews from around the world. They had come to show their respect to this quiet, unassuming man. Sugihara’s neighbors had no idea that he was a hero and recognized as “Righteous Among the Nations” by Israel’s Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority in Israel.

Shiune Sugihara, Photographer Unknown, Public Domaine.

Sugihara had been the first Japanese consul posted to Lithuania. Without his government’s approval, Sugihara issued 1,800 transit visas to refugees, helping them escape from war-torn Europe. He risked his own life and the lives of his family. Because he had acted independently and without the permission of the Japanese government, Sugihara lost his respected diplomatic status and was forced to take whatever jobs he could find to support his family after the war.

Sugihara said, “I may have disobeyed my government, but if I didn’t, I would be disobeying God…In life, do what’s right because it’s right, and leave it alone.”

Master Sgt. Roddie Edmonds enlisted in the United States Army on March 17, 1941. During the Battle of the Bulge, he was captured and sent to a German POW camp. Edmonds was the senior noncommissioned officer and thereby responsible for the camp’s 1,275 American POWs. On January 27, 1945, close to the end of the war, the camp commandant ordered Edmonds to present only the Jewish American soldiers at the next day’s assembly. Edmonds knew the fate these men would face. In defiance of the commandant and at the risk of his own life, Edmonds ordered all 1,275 American soldiers to appear. The commandant was furious. Edmonds stated, “We are all Jews here,” thereby saving those men.

Roddie Edmonds, Courtesy of Chris Edmonds.

It was only after he died and his son reviewed his diaries that his family became aware of his heroism. They tracked down some of the men that were present and obtained first person witness statements.

Edmonds, like Sugihara, was recognized as “Righteous Among the Nations” by Israel’s Yad Vashem.

Frances Garnar Kinnear, a resident of Lake Luzerne, New York, joined the Red Cross during WW II. She directed the Red Cross Club in Stratford, England, and later served as an ambulance driver at the Battle of the Bulge (the same battle where Robbie Edmonds was captured). She was injured in the bombing and sent to recuperate in California.

I knew Miss Kinnear. She, along with her friend, Dorothy Baldwin, were Wellesley graduates who founded Pine Log Camp, an overnight girls’ camp in the Adirondack Mountains in 1923. From the time I was 8 years old until I started college, I attended 7 weeks every summer, first as a camper and then as a counselor.

I wrote an article about Pine Log Camp that appeared in Adirondack life magazine. It was while doing my research that I discovered that during the war years, Kinnear had left the running of the camp to Baldwin while she served our country. I was shocked. None of my fellow campers and counselors knew. She never said a word.

Chiune Sugihara, Robbie Edmonds, and Frances Garnar Kinnear lived quietly after the war. Most of their friends and neighbors had no idea of the risks they had faced to make this a better world.

Do you know your neighbor?


About 15 years ago, I took a workshop on worm composting given by the City of San Jose. It changed how I approach fertilizing my organic plants and fruit trees. No more kitchen scraps and newspapers thrown in the garbage. Now those items are fed to some very hungry worms (the Mercury News uses soy-based print) who gobble them up and provide me with lots of casings (poop) that are chuck filled with nutrients.

Although any box can be used to house the worms, the container needs holes to let in air and moisture. The City provided me with my first bin, and I filled it with dirt, newspaper, kitchen scraps (no meat and citrus skins) and I sent away for my first (and last batch) of red worms. When the worms arrived, the bin was ready. I just made sure the inside contents were damp. When I added the worms, they immediately hustled to the bottom of the bin. Once or twice a week, I checked and added scraps and moisture if needed. Too many kitchen scraps will cause the bins to smell and attract critters. Soon I outgrew the one box I started with and purchased an attractive green mini-farm with 5 bins that sit on top of each other. I keep it above the ground in the shady part of the yard (too much sun means too much heat and it will kill off the worms). It’s amazing how fast worms seem to procreate given the right environment.

Every 3 months or so, I take the bins and empty them upside down on newspapers (usually one bin at a time). The worms automatically move to the bottom to avoid the light.  I start new bins with newspaper, dirt, and scraps and have them ready to go. I carefully separate the worms from the casings and toss them in. Then I collect the casings and spread them around my trees and plants. When there are lots of worms, I simply let them loose in the shade under a tree, making sure the ground has debris for them to hide in. They quickly disappear into the earth. I’m sure they are very happy, and my yard is too!

I don’t spend much time on my hobby and the benefits are great. My yard looks terrific, and I haven’t bought fertilizer in years. Kitchen scraps are never tossed in the trash. What doesn’t go into the worm bins, goes into the compost heap.

Worm composting has been so successful for me that I have taught friends and neighbors how to do it and given them plenty of worms to start their own bins. My 5-year-old grandson is the most enthusiastic fan of my hobby and is always willing to help me harvest the casings. He now has his own worm bins at his home. I know I am doing something to help the environment, and I share my knowledge (and worms) with others in the community.

I hope you might consider making this your hobby too.


Beloved Brooklyn Dodgers

The 2021 baseball season is here, but, for me, it will never be the same as it was in the 1950s. In the years after World War II, America prospered. The economy was robust. Business boomed, and new construction topped the charts. Inflation was at a minimum, and unemployment was low. In 1952, Five-Star General and Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force in Europe, Dwight D. Eisenhower, was elected the 34th President of the United States. I joined a nation of adults and youngsters screaming, “I Like Ike.”


Brooklyn Dodgers

There were three teams in my home state: the Brooklyn Dodgers, The New York Yankees, and the New York Giants. I loved the Dodgers and knew every statistic about them. When they won the World Series in 1955, we cheered and cheered. Pennants hung from my bedroom walls and various memorabilia like baseball cards and Dodger yearbooks lay on my desk and table. Duke Snyder, “The Duke of Flatbush,” was my favorite player, and his framed signed picture hung above my bed. He hit 407 home runs in his batting career, and Snyder hit the very last home run ever in Ebbets Field.

When the Dodgers played, either my ear was glued to the radio or I sat directly in front of the TV cheering them on. TVs were relatively new in the 50s. We had a Dumont black and white 16” model with rabbit ears antenna for better reception. My Dad had built a cabinet and placed the TV inside. He covered the outside with an alligator skin he had purchased from a trip to Florida. It was common for the screen to have static interference when a plane flew overhead, usually during a crucial point in the game. That happened often since we were close to LaGuardia and Idlewild (now JFK) Airports in Queens.

Vin Scully has been considered the voice of the Dodgers until he retired in 2016, but before him was Red Barber who left the team in 1953 when I was 9. He was famous for his country-style announcing like, “They be tearing up the pea patch” or when an infielder couldn’t hold onto a bouncing ball, it was “slicker than a boiled okra.” Thinking back on his commentary style reminds me that it was a different time back then. For one thing, fans had more interaction with the players. The Brooklyn Dodgers were definitely part of the neighborhood. Shoppers could run into PeeWee’s wife at the supermarket. Gil Hodges owned a local bowling alley. It’s been said that if you had walked down any street in Brooklyn, you could hear the game from every window.

Manny Fernandez, in a New York Times article dated February 28, 2011, wrote:

Mrs. Cozzolino lived a few houses down from Duke Snider, the Brooklyn Dodgers’ center fielder…These days, no one brags about living next door to professional baseball players, because the only people who can afford to live next to them have too much money to brag about that sort of thing. But in the 1950s in Bay Ridge, Dodgers fans lived next door to Dodgers players.

Ebbets Field

Mr. Snider and a few of his teammates who lived in the neighborhood like Pee Wee Reese or Carl Erskine would car-pool together to their home games at Ebbets Field or the Polo Grounds, where their National League rivals, the New York Giants, played. Mr. Snider used to go to his neighbor Gus Barwood’s block parties in the summer, used to greet the children and teenagers waiting for him outside 178 Marine Avenue after a game. “He would always tell us to keep out of trouble,” said Mrs. Cozzolino, 69, a retired public school teacher who has lived in a house on 97th Street all her life. “We just got used to it. A friend of mine used to walk Pee Wee Reese’s daughter to school. They were so unpretentious. They really were. Baseball was different then. They weren’t playing for the multimillions.”

It came as a shock in 1957 when General Manager Walter O’Mally up and moved the team to Los Angeles. Brooklyn went into mourning. A pall fell over the Borough. Black drapes hung in windows. I felt betrayed. I had given my heart away, and they didn’t care. As far as I’m concerned, there will never be another team like “dem bums.”

In Brooklyn, you can still hear the joke: “If Hitler, Stalin, and O’Malley were walking toward you and you only had two bullets in your gun, who would you shoot? O’Malley twice.”

2020 Reflections and Resolutions

It looks like 2021 may be a similar year to 2020. As if Covid 19 isn’t enough, now there are mutations of the virus, so we’re advised to continue hunkering down and leave our homes only when necessary. Government administrators in California have become our big brothers and sisters, insisting they know best how we should lead our lives, and ordering some businesses to close, justifying their directives with their interpretation of scientific facts and sticking their noses in our faces by ignoring their own advice. Employees who can continue to work remotely are doing so and still receiving a paycheck; others, have lost their jobs. Public schools are closed with parents going crazy because they have to take on the extra work of schooling their children. Masks have become a necessary clothing item and have led to a new direction for the fashion industry. The list of the effects of Covid 19 goes on and on.

Lockdowns have caused many of us to spend more time at home. For me, it’s easy because I’m retired and don’t have school-age children, and I’m not an extrovert needing constant association with others.  I love my house and my yard, and I can easily adapt to staying inside with my pets. Zoom has proved to be a novel and successful way to attend meetings. I actually prefer that form of interaction over the alternative, one reason being that I don’t have to bring food for the potluck. I can sit at my desk looking great from my chest up, and still wear the pajama bottoms I slept in.  I’ve invested in a treadmill, a stair stepper, and various assortments of bar bells and straps. By now, I would have paid that much in gym fees. Working out at home is easy. No need to join a gym anymore. My daughter is a personal trainer so I can get whatever advice I want (or don’t want) for free. Amazon and others deliver whatever I need. 

Still, there’s no getting around the fact that, except for family visits, I’m alone with myself. I can’t dilute my thoughts with jumping up and running out to shop, or meet friends, or buy groceries. Nor is TV a distraction since I’m not really a watcher. Books are a different story. I love to read mysteries, especially quality Scandinavian noir, and the chills I ecstatically suffer when I read about the woman walking home on the frozen pond who looks down and sees a body under the ice staring up at her.

But I can only read so much before it’s time to look in the mirror, to face up to the reality that more time has passed than will be coming. Am I content with my life? Is there anything to change going forward? The start of the new year is a good time to reflect because it’s a universal custom to make resolutions at this time. Yes, I want to lose that elusive 5 pounds, to publish more, and make my house and yard more comfortable, to spend more time with family, to read more mysteries, to dabble in photography, watercolor, and other crafts.

But I also want to look in the mirror.  If there is anyone important for me to understand, it’s got to be myself. Maybe I can imagine I’m writing a realistic autobiography of how I became the person I am. I believe it was the author Joan Dideon who said that writing about your past is like getting to know the stranger that was you so many years ago. I’m not the same person. I’ve changed because of the seventy plus years under my belt. I’ve seen loved ones die, experienced health issues, and so many dreams unrealized because of others and my own limitations. But all that is tempered by the joy of family and love, holding a baby, trips to Hawaii, friendships, and accomplishments, like starting a company, winning history research awards, publishing a novel, and short stories, and more than I could ever list here.

I asked my niece a few years back what her resolutions were for the forthcoming year. She said to do more of the same, but better. I like that, and I, too, will do more of the same but better; however, my number one resolution is more concerned with character than achievements:


The Old Coal Stove

On Sunday, December 19, 1948, fourteen inches of snow fell on Long Island, New York. I was 4 years old. We had recently moved into a 2-story house on several acres in Glen Cove, a small city on the north shore of the island only a few blocks from Long Island Sound, a tidal estuary of the Atlantic Ocean between Long Island and Connecticut. The house was old, and my mother had wanted the old Kalamazoo kitchen stove replaced by something modern. It had 4 gas burners on the top right surface and a cast iron box on the left that could burn either wood or coal.

Snow had fallen all night. When I rose in the morning and looked out the window, the white glare hurt my eyes. I hurried to find warm clothes, dressed, and ran down the stairs. Dad was putting on tennis racket-type snowshoes. He planned to walk to town to get groceries and the Sunday papers.

Kalamazoo Stove

The snow continued to fall. The day before, my father and older brother had taken the old green army jeep into the forest behind our home and chopped a large fir tree down and placed it in the living room. We cut strips out of construction paper and made red and green garlands. Mother made popcorn, and we strung more garlands.

Just before bedtime, the lights went out and the oil burning furnace quit. We started to get really cold. Dad went outside and filled a bucket with lumps of coal from the pile left by the previous owner. Then he cut up the Sunday paper into scraps and placed it in the stove box with coal on top. After several attempts with matches, the coal started to burn, and warmth filled the kitchen. We carried our mattresses down from the bedrooms upstairs and placed them on the kitchen floor where we slept comfortably. My parents took turns staying awake to add coal to the fire box.

My mother never complained about the old stove again.

I Like Ike

I’ll never forget the summer of 1952 when I was eight years old and living on the north shore of Long Island in New York.  World War II had been over for seven years, and war hero, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, was campaigning for president.  He was a popular candidate.  My Mom and Dad and everyone I knew hoped he would win the election.  My friends and I would chant his campaign slogan over and over, “I Like Ike, I like Ike.” 

Early one Sunday summer afternoon as we were driving to my grandmother’s house, motorcycle policemen waved our Oldsmobile over to the side of the road.  They told my dad to “let the kids have a good view” because the future president of the United States was driving to Teddy Roosevelt’s house in Oyster Bay and his motorcade would pass right in front of us.  Dad quickly followed their direction.  We joined other cars in a small parking lot fronting the road, and Dad told us to get up on the hood and be prepared to yell and wave.

The once busy road suddenly emptied.  We waited for what seemed like hours in the hot June sun.  Then, there was movement in the distance, and it came closer.  The whirring sound of motors got louder.  The motorcade was coming!  My mother got so excited that she climbed over a small fence and got up as close to the road as she could, leaning forward with her head turned toward the direction of the noise.  The policeman motioned for her to get back, but she didn’t see him.  I looked at my ten-year-old brother.  His eyes were big, and his mouth was wide open.

Soon we saw a long procession of uniformed officers on motorcycles, small flags blowing from their handgrips.  They were staring straight ahead and looking very serious.  Four green Jeeps filled with soldiers followed, their arms and legs visible through the open sides.  Next a long, black, shiny convertible appeared. Large, colorful American flags attached to the car flapped in the wind. Ike was sitting up straight on the back of the convertible smiling and waving.  The car slowed as it approached us, and we could see that the front of his brown uniform was covered with medals that reflected in the rays of the sun.  His smile filled his entire face. My brother and I started screaming, “Ike, Ike.” He removed his cap and waved it at us, revealing his bald head gleaming in the sun. We jumped up and down on the hood of the car flailing our arms wildly.  

Dwight Eisenhower was elected President of the United States that November.  He was one of the most popular presidents America ever had. Those were the years of national prosperity in the aftermath of the war when our parents dreamed the American Dream of a house in the suburbs and a station wagon in the garage.

Eventually Dad sold the Oldsmobile.  He couldn’t get the full resale value because of the dents on the hood, but he said it was worth it.   We agreed.

Instant Relatives

There used to be a store in Half Moon Bay, California, named Half to Have It.  I loved to walk through the front yard, a labyrinth of wrought iron furniture—gates and swings, fountains, and birdbaths—all connected into small outdoor rooms by sweet-smelling flowered vines.  Colored crushed glass blended with white pebbles and gray pea stones crunched under my feet.  Sounds of Eddie Fisher singing, “Oh My Papa,” drifted from the store and brought back memories of the 1950s and my home on Long Island in New York.  This store was a step into my childhood.

Life-sized cardboard cutouts of Marilyn Monroe and Mickey Mantle greeted me as I entered.  A left turn took me into Grandma’s kitchen where dated cookbooks and carefully folded checked 1950s aprons and dishtowels sat on top of a hutch.  Good china and silverware were placed on a dining room table.  As I walked from room to room, I saw bedroom furniture with hand-sewn linens and quilts.   A brown plaid suitcase with straps stood open on one bed, ready to be packed.  Period paintings adorned the walls, and display cases housed vintage jewelry.  Small tricycles and wind-up toys lay against cribs filled with period dolls.

A large table in the corner of the store was spread with old photos dating from the 1920s through the 1970s.   There were family pictures of all occasions—weddings, picnics, birthday parties, babies.  Professionally posed men and women with children stared up at me along with prom shots of girls in Cinderella dresses and boys in tuxedos.

A sign on the wall behind the table suggested that the people in these photos could be your “Instant Relatives.” A clever businessman has filled a niche. If someone didn’t have a family, or his family just didn’t take pictures, these would be perfect. For just a small amount, I could buy several, frame them, and hang them on my wall.  Then I could introduce my guests to my family. I could pick my mother, father, and siblings.  I could even pick the family dog.  If I’m really clever in my choices, my visitors might say, “You look like your mother.”

Do I want to hint at royalty?  I could hang my picture between a store-bought Prince Charles look alike with jug ears and a 1950s prom queen with a tiara.  I could frame an old picture of one of the royal families and hint at being the grand offspring of a love child spawned under the royal sheets.

I saw one picture of a 1940s lady with her poodle.  “That’s mom with Tiffany,” I could say.  “Poor Tiffany, she was hit by a Knudsen Milk truck back in 1952.”

I was amused at the countless possibilities this table offered me to change my life by creating a new family.

Who are the people in these photographs?  Why are they here?  Did their families die out leaving no one to care for them?  Did remaining family members take them to Good Will because they didn’t want them?  These pictures represent important times in people’s lives.  How could they end up discarded on a table to be picked at by strangers?

 Is this where my picture might have ended up?  Would someone look at my photo and say, “Who is this woman?”  Would they pick me out of all the pictures on the table to be their new mother?  What would they say about me?  “There’s Mom.  She smelled of roses and made the best brownies!”

I don’t have to purchase an instant family of unknown persons because I already have one sitting in boxes in my garage.  They were my cousins or uncles or aunts or grandparents or even great grandparents. Their story has meaning for me, but I am left to make that meaning up—just like the instant relatives at Half to Have it.  Why couldn’t someone in my family have taken the time to jot notes on the back of the photos indicating that this woman was my grandmother, or this man was my father’s best friend.  Why couldn’t I have been more interested in these pictures when my mother and father were alive so I could have asked them who they were?

I don’t want the photos in my garage to end up in the memorabilia section of a store, but I’m sure the people who I’ve viewed on the table at Half to Have It didn’t want that to happen either.  Maybe I don’t know my relationship to the people in my family photos, but I can do something.  I can take the time now to write my name on the back of my pictures and identify the other people and animals with me.  Even if my photos end up in boxes in grandchildren’s garages, they’ll bring them out eventually and will know who they are looking at.

I hope my photo doesn’t end up on a table at Half to Have It in Half Moon Bay in the future, but at least the person who purchases me as an “Instant Relative” can turn my picture around, see my name, and say, “This was my mom.  Her name was Mary.”