The Rowboat at Pine Beach

We grew up at the New Jersey shore in the summers, where my family had a little house on Toms River, a wide tidal estuary that dumped into Barnegat bay.  We could walk out of our house, cross a very unbusy street and walk down a sandy path to the water’s edge to swim and play.  Catching baby eels and crabs in our hands was a common pastime. We always threw them back alive after playing with them.

Into this little paradise entered a used 12-foot long wooden rowboat, which my father bought when I was around 7 and sister Janet was 10 years of age. It cost him $80 at Hotaling's Boat Yard in Toms River. It was solidly made and had a dory-like bow.  It had big wooden oars, which we lugged down to the little pier in front of our house where the boat was docked.  We had only to pull up the oarlocks, insert the oars, and cast off from the pier to gain the freedom to go wherever we wanted to.  We more or less stayed in sight of our house, but we coulda rowed to Spain!.  We didn’t have to wear life preservers in those days.  There were flotation cushions  in case we got in trouble, but in those early days, we never did.

Here is a picture of us crabbing on the little pier.  The back of our rowboat is on the lower right edge.  

We learned that it’s no mean trick to keep a wooden boat from leaking and rotting.  Every spring my father would start the process of preparing the boat to go in for the season.  We would help.  We scraped old paint (always peeling), we sanded, and most fun of all, we caulked the seams that ran along the bottom and side boards.  I loved caulking, and my father praised my great caulking skills. Finally, we would prime and paint the boat, including the trim and floorboards and seats. Despite all that effort each year, the boat leaked like a sieve, so part of our boating activity was constant bailing.  I loved bailing, and my father praised my great bailing skills.  After a couple of years, Daddy attached fiberglass to the bottom of the boat, which he did himself, not well, but which stopped the worst part of the leaking. 

The boat made me into a Huck Finn, competent on the water, close to nature.  Janet remembers it as our passport to a free life.  We experienced seashore life more acutely because of it.  Preparing it for a hurricaine was always thrilling—mainly it meant taking out all the moving parts and floorboards and tying extra lines 
to the boat from the pier. It often sank to the bottom during these storms.  After one big hurricaine, we discovered it gone altogether.   Not sunk, just gone.  We’d lost it. The water had risen so high that the ropes had slipped off the poles.  We rode on our bikes and in the car up and down the river on both sides, but it was gone.  We assumed it had sunk somewhere in the middle of the river. We cried.  To console us, our parents took us into downtown Toms River.  As we were passing a marina at the entrance to the town, sister Joan, then no more than 4, cried out,  “There’s our boat..”  

Sure enough,. there it was, in the water, tied to the back of a yacht.  The yacht’s owner told us he’d discovered it early that morning, just bobbing up and down in the middle of the river, so he brought it with him in hopes its owners would find it.   We were ecstatic,  

In honor of Joanie's great discovery, my father named the boat “Toopie”, his nickname for her.  Despite the fact that I was always jealous of my little sister, I had no reservations about giving the boat that name.  From that day on, it was called The Toopie.

The Toopie continued to entertain us as we grew older, but it also was the scene of the most traumatic event of my life, one that has stayed with me to this very day and affects my attitude toward danger.  At some point, my father had bought a 7 ½ horsepower Evinrrude outboard motor.  On weekends, he’d lug it to the boat and attach it to the stern.  It's handle acted like a rudder.  It was so heavy that the boat would not plane when it was underway.  So, there we would be with the bow half-way out of the water, while my father sat in the stern unable to see except by looking around the sides.

In 1955, when I was 10, my father decided we would cap off the season with a boating excursion to the other side of Barnegat Bay.  That entailed motoring to the mouth of the river (only a half mile or so), and then across the bay for about 2 miles.  We’d never been out on the bay with the boat.  My father, Janet and I started off on a very hot Labor Day Sunday.  Janet was steering, and my father was in the bow, navigating for her. I was sprawled across the middle seat with a towel over my head, dozing.  Suddenly, I felt a thud – that’s all I remember – I looked up to see my father smiling at me with blood gushing out of the top of his head.  I remember screaming, “Daddy, you’re bleeding!”  He smiled again, put his hand up on his head and pushed back the U-shaped flap of skin that had been sheared back on the impact with a speed boat.  Neither boat was damaged, probably because my father had lunged out to push the speed boat away as it hit us in the bow.

Another speedboat named “Sea Witch” came up and took my Dad with them and disappeared to a big dock on the other side of the river where they could get him to the hospital.  The teenagers in the boat we’d hit guided us to that same dock.  Janet managed to keep her head together to get us safely to shore.  I remember running the length of the dock to the shore and feeling as if my whole body was light and bouncing.  By the time we got to the shore, the ambulance had already left for the hospital. 

I have no idea how we got back home to our house on the other side of the river.  Were we driven by car?  Did our next door neighbors the Furhmeisters come out in their big motor boat to pick us up?  It’s all a blur.  My mother had already left for the hospital, so we joined Joanie at the Fuhrmeisters’ house.  . I remember sitting at the Furhmeisters' dinner table enjoying the most delicious roast beef, asking for seconds.  The. Fuhrmeisters were the kindest people, with four grown children of their own, and I am sure that they would have told us that our father would be fine.

Later that night my mother arrived home with my father, who insisted on being discharged after receiving 82 stiches in his scalp.  I remember him lying in bed that evening with his head covered in bandages seeping blood and my mother fretting.  Finally, she called home to our North Jersey town, and an hour or so later the Amvets ambulance arrived and transported him to our local North Jersey hospital.  A bit later that night after hurriedly packing up all our summer things, Mommy and the three of us piled into the car and drove the 65 miles home.  I cried all the way, while  both Janet and Mommy derided me for my hypocracy.  I had no right to cry now when I had had such a healthy apetite at the Fuhrmeisters. 

Later we learned that my father had fractured his skull but suffered no internal bleed .and there were no long-run consequences of the head injury.  For me, though, the long-run consequences have been major.  In the blink of an eye I had gone from a 10-year old’s sense of control to the realization that catastrophe could come at any moment.  I have never been able to sleep in a car.  I’ve never been comfortable with other people driving.  For many years I had trouble making decisions about which route to take on a trip, for fear that I would make the wrong decision and end up in an accident.  Finally, at age 45 or so, I learned how to trick myself by imagining equally awful things about each alternative, thus freeing myself from the responsibility for a poor choice.

The Toopie lingered over the years.  We became more desultory about launching her each spring, and she finally rotted away behind our garage.  

Throughout my adult life I have fantasized about having the money to buy a house on a lake, with a pier and a wooden rowboat securely tied to it.  I’ve rented rowboats, but it’s not the same, because the rental agencies always require you to wear a life vest.   I even rented a rowboat on Lake Como in Italy 15 years ago so that I could know what it feels like to row a boat on an Italian lake. (Frederick's  escape to Switzerland in A Farewell to Arms was my model.)   My rented boat was very tiny compared with Lake Como's Excursion Yachts. Here is a picture of me rowing in the rain on Lake Como in 2001.

So, even though the Toopie is associated with a chilling memory, it is also a symbol of the perfect life. A little house on a clear lake with a little pier and a wooden rowboat with big oars waiting for me every morning.

Fireworks on the Fourth - Another "J" Weighs in

Here is more memoir on the Fourth of July at Pine Beach from another "J", (J' #1) written in response to my previous blog.

"The crowning jewel of the Fourth of July weekend has always been the fireworks, but there was so much more.  Grandma, Grandpa & aunts all crowded in. Sleeping on top of each other. Sandy sheets. It was a treat sharing a bed with J'#3  who slept on the diagonal.  The weekend usually included one movie night with the aunts at the Community Theatre in downtown Toms River.  It also included Grandpa's shish-ka-bob and Grandma's iced tea and trying to teach Aunt Rose and Vi to swim.  Of course, there always was the parade of decorated bikes, floats and 1,000 fire trucks.  Some things never change.  I didn't participate in any of the parades.  I don't know if I was too old or too shy, but remember that Joan did and I think J'#2 did as well.  I have enjoyed watching my own grandchildren in more recent years."

(Editor's note:  J#2 distinctly remembers that J#1 decorated her bike for the parade, but has no proof and no confidence in her own memory.  So that shall remain a family history mystery.  However, there is photographic evidence, given here to show that J'#2 and J'#3 were in the parade.  And, we are proud to report that we have evidence that the grandchild generation has kept the tradition alive.  Here are the pic's:)

Now back to J'#1's Reminiscenses:

"Then there was the early morning flag raising ceremony next door when the Klauders moved to Pine Beach in the late 1950's.  Mommy pressured us to attend and we complied.  About 3 years ago, Joan mentioned this to Bill &Terry, our current next door neighbors, who  embraced the tradition 50 years later.  It is now a pleasure to get up and start the 4th with the pledge of allegiance and donuts - and maybe mimosas (but I'm not absolutely sure abut the mimosas). 

Back to fireworks - the anticipation always started with the procession of boats coming into the river right before dusk.  I don't remember the flare with the flag at the finale and the ensuing melee.  That seems like it should be a chapter in the three 'J's  Book of Hazards.  My early memories of the fireworks are from the beach in Beachwood or Jersey Beach where we had a great view of Beachwood's fireworks.  And, yes, there was time in between.  We enjoyed each rocket in its entirety from the flare to the embers hitting the water.  The fish fireworks were always the best, as Mommy said.  Beachwood's pyrotechnics have come a long way with a continuous dazzling display leaving little time for oohs & ahs.  The best Pine Beach view is now from the Bluff that previously housed Admiral Farragut Academy. 

Best memory, sitting quietly on the porch watching the boats peacefully leave the river.

Fireworks on the Fourth

We were very lucky, the three J's.  We lived on the bank of Toms River in the early 1950's, before CIBA Geigy decided to pour its effluent directly into the River.  Hence, before the Atlantic blue crab, the flounder, the fluke, the bluefish, the blowfish, the shrimp (yes, shrimp) , the eel, and the perch disappeared, along with almost all other living creatures.

The river was magical, but never more so than on the night of July 4th (any year) when we dragged our lawn chairs across Riverside Drive to watch the fireworks put on by the volunteer fire departments of Beachwood and Island Heights, at opposing ends of the River.  We could barely see the Beachwood show, but one of us would watch upriver at the western sky for the tell tale rocket while another would look north across the river for the same sign of imminent illumination from Island Heights.   "Here it comes," the watcher would say, and we would all crane our necks in the same direction to catch it.

All along the river, we audience members expressed our appreciation with our noise makers, little metal contraptions that sounded like kazoos when you cranked them.   (Bad description I know, but it is hard to describe the party noisemakers of the early 50's. )  Boats and yachts anchored in the river-- in increasing numbers over the years -- would toot their horns in appreciation.  And the river carried the noise, so that I honestly believed that the sponsors of the shows could hear the roar from boats and shore and know we loved them. Of course we were also invited to show our appreciation  to the firemen who drove slowly all along the river soliciting donations.  That was part of the excitement, when the Beachwood fire engine would come by and we could put our quarters in the cups held by the firemen themselves.

With 60 years' perspective, I have come to understand that the Toms River shows were limited in variety and opulence.  We waited a minute or longer between flares.  There weren't that many bursts, let's face it.  We even had time to chat between bursts.  But we didn't know better, and it was something else again to listen to mother Alice share her unbounded enthusiasm for the ones with the blossom of twirling  gold fishes that made a hissing sound as they twirled.  I swear to you, even today when I see a firework with the gold fishes I think of Alice and her definitive statement, never to be challenged, that the fireworks with fishes are the very best in the world.

You knew when the firework show was about to end, as the popping noises like gunfire started, but on Toms River the very last flare contained a little American flag that wafted gently down from the sky.  That's when we would hear all the motor boat engines starting up, green lights on their sterns moving along the dark river in the direction of the falling flag.  Only in New Jersey could emergency responders deliberately arrange an accident waiting to happen:  a motorboat race in the dark in pursuit of a little American flag.

I thought of all this last night, when the golf course up the street put on its annual pre-July 4 firework display.  Just by chance, they go off directly in front of my bedroom window, between two huge Beech trees, affording me a mezzanine seat on my bed for my own personal show.  Early in my life, Toms River conveniently brought fireworks to our front door.  Late in my life, Kenwood Country Club has seen fit to continue the tradition.  Don't worry about the hassle of getting to the Fireworks at the Capitol, Judy.  The fireworks will come to you.

Chi Phi Class Pic: F&M 1935

Looking for an ancestor (grandpa? great-grandpa?) who was a member of Chi Phi Fraternity at Franklin and Marshall College in 1935?
 Here is a photo taken in 1935 of the entire membership.  Even better, a handwritten index of the names in the photo is available Chi Phi 1935 pic - index of names

Find someone whose picture you really want? Our own Dad (in the picture) loved his fraternity so much that when we were little girls, he made us swear "Chi Phi Honor" to the truth of any statement.  We grew up knowing that we must never-ever tell a lie and then swear "Chi Phi Honor," or we would be forever without that tool of verification.  A very big liar in my time, I never-ever did violate the Chi Phi Honor code.
My own college had a Chi Phi chapter, but I never got inside.
Find someone whose picture you really want? Chi Phi High Resolution Picture

Our Armenian Genocide Story

Here is my best attempt to outline our family's connection to the Armenian Genocide of 1915.

We are part of the remains of the Bakalian family of Diyarbakir Turkey.  Our direct ancestor, Kevork Bakalian, was a sucessful merchant married to Takui Eguinian, daughter of an influential family. (Takui's brother, Haigag Eguinian, had immigrated to the USA in the late 1800's and founded the first Armenian language newspaper in the U.S.)  The Bakalians had four children, Almast (b. 1892), Simpat (b.?), Victoria(b. 1902), and Artin (b.1908?).

Almast (our direct ancestor) married Yakob Kedersha in Diyarbakir in 1911 and emigrated from Turkey to the USA in late 1912, arriving in early 1913.  That happened before the beginning of the Genocide on April 24, 1915.  Yakob (Jacob) was Assyrian, the son of a rich merchant family.  Although Almast's family had been quite comfortable during her childhood, the sudden death from natural causes (Typhus or Typhoid Fever) of her father in 1910-11 led her mother to accept a proposal of marriage from a young Assyrian man and his family.  Once married, Almast lived with her Assyrian in-laws, and was unhappy to be ruled by a tyrannical mother-in-law.*  Yakob decided to "visit" America to scope out business opportunities for his family.  They expected to return after a year or so, but after World War I began, his family wrote to tell him not to do so, as conditions were very bad. Almast and Yakob were cast off from the family's supply of funds and had to make their way in America.  They were immediately made poor.  Yakob  (called Jacob in the USA) got himself into the dry-cleaning, tailoring business.  They lived in New Jersey for the rest of their lives, where he had a small dry-cleaning and tailoring store, Centre Cleaners, on Clinton Avenue in Irvington NJ.  He died in the late 1950's;  Almast lived until 1986.  They never returned to Diyarbakir.

In the years after 1912, Takui Eguinian Bakalian was left in a large house in Diyarbakir with her three remaining children, with little source of income due to the loss of her husband's business to a distant cousin (who, in family lore, cheated her out of her husband's share of the business).  She lived by selling the gold, jewels and rugs in her spacious home, and when they ran out she attempted to sell foodstuffs to eke out a living.  She may also have taken in laundry (hazy memory).

Both Almast and her sister Victoria (Bakalian) Bezazian told me that the house was large, had an inner courtyard through which ran a canal carrying water from the Tigris River. The "brook" was the source of their fresh water.  Both Almast and Victoria remembered that courtyard as a small paradise, with many flowers and vegetables.  Victoria also told me that the house was on the same street as the main Armenian Church: Sourp Giragos.  It was just a block or so away.  (In a future post I will write a bit more about Victoria's memories of the Church during World War I, and how she and I came to discuss it.)

When the mass murder/deportation of Armenians began in Diyarbaker, Victoria (13 years of age at the time) remembered that soldiers came to their door to take Takui and her children on the march out of Diyarbaker.  Takui sent for the Assyrian priest, who brought papers showing that the family (on the Bakalian side) was descended from an ancient sect called the "Shamsi."  According to Victoria, the Shamsi were a sun-worshiping sect that had been folded into the Assyrian Church centuries earlier.  Takui and her children were spared by the soldiers, but Takui's sisters and brothers (Eguinians) and their families perished, except for one girl in her teens (Sirhanush Keshishian, daughter of one of Takui's married sisters). As she and her family and many other Armenians were marched out into the desert, Sirhanush feinted and was left for dead by the soldiers on horseback.  When she revived, she found herself alone and made her way back to her Aunt Takui's house.  Takui hid her and sheltered her for some period of time. 

Takui and her children remained in Diyarbakir throughout the war.  Victoria remembered eating nothing but rice and apricots through one entire winter late in the war.  It was the only food available to Takui.  She had bought them in bulk earlier in hopes of re-selling them, but her potential livelihood became the food that kept her three children alive during a late-war famine.

At some point during or after the war, Takui rented the largest part of the house to a family from Baghdad.  The father was the governor of the Diyarbakir region for the Ottoman Empire, according to Victoria.  That family was very good to Takui and her family.  Victoria remembers playing with their small son in the courtyard.  Eventually, they left to go back to Baghdad.  Of course, these events occurred during Victoria's adolescence, so whether the "governor" was actually the governor or some lesser Ottoman official, and whether the house was rented to the governor or was commandeered on his behalf, leaving Takui and her family to act as servants, will remain a family mystery. Whatever the truth, in Victoria's memory, they treated Takui well.  There were fond farewells when the official and his family departed for Baghdad.

In 1923, Takui and her three children left Diyarbakir and moved to Aleppo, Syria.  The circumstances of that move, and of their life afterward, were never explained by Victoria, so we have little to go on.  Takui lived the rest of her life in Aleppo, with her youngest son, Artin.
Victoria and Simpat in France:
In 1925, Victoria and Simpat emigrated to France, living for a year in Marseille, where Victoria worked as a seamstress and hat maker.  She taught herself French by learning songs on the radio. After a year or so, Victoria and Simpat (who changed his name to Andre' at some point) made their way up to Paris, where they lived through the 1930's and the second world war.  Simpat worked for an Armenian printing press in Paris;  Victoria worked as a hat maker and dress maker.  Victoria married one of Simpat's co-workers, Kegham Bezazian.  In 1950, Victoria and Kegham immigrated to the USA, where they found work in Philadelphia.

More about Simpat:
During World War II, Simpat was sent to a German labor camp to work in a factory.  When the war ended, he walked back from Germany to Paris, where he lived to a ripe old age as a bachelor.   He ate every dinner at a little restaurant called Chez Janet, in the 16th Arrondismont, close to his room.  He had no phone, so relatives from America were told to go to Chez Janet, where they would find him. He visited the USA once, in the early 1960's, reuniting with his older sister Almast for the first time since 1911.  We all met him and I still have the pretty plastic necklace (amber diamonds) that he gave me.  He didn't speak any English, but his warmth made us love him.  My father took him to Washington DC, because he wanted to see the White House.  Driving past it on Pennsylvania Avenue (a thing one can no longer do), he was appalled to find out that the legendary White House was so small and puny.  It is fun to imagine him telling his cronies back at Chez Janet how underwhelming the White House is compared with the great buildings of State in France.

More about Artin:
Artin Bakalian stayed in Syria, married a Turkish woman, and lived out his life as a pharmacist/businessman.  Takui lived with him until her death in the 1930's.  A story  from Victoria has it that Takui had a box of gold that she had hidden within the walls of the house in Aleppo, but she never told Artin where it was hidden, and when she was on her deathbed she couldn't talk well enough to be understood.  So the box of gold was lost.  We know of only one child, Rita Bakalian. Rita lives somewhere in the USA.

More about Sirhanush:
Sirhanush Keshishian came as a refugee to the USA in 1925.  Family lore has it that she was the first refugee to the USA.  We have no documentation of this legend and we know nothing about the years between her hiding  at Takui's house in Diyarbakir and her appearance in New York City ten years later.  We did meet her several times, however.  She lived with first cousin Almast's  family for about 6 months. She was divisive and unstable and so she was asked to leave the house.  At some point, Sirhanush took on the name Madalyn Kashian.  She fancied herself an artist and lived out her life, never marrying, in Jersey City, NJ.  None of Almast's children or grandchildren was comfortable around Sirhanush.  Of course, none of Almast's children or grandchildren had ever experienced the trauma that Sirhanush did, losing her entire family on a death march and fearing for her life for many years thereafter.

When Almast was getting old, Sirhanush Keshishian (Madalyn Kashian) made an oil painting  from memory of the Tower of Sourp Giragos Church, which she gave to Almast as a present.  That picture hung in Almast's house until she died and the house was sold, after which it languished in Victoria's hall closet in Upper Darby, Pa.  When Victoria died, the painting was thrown out with the trash.  Luckily, we have a snapshot of that picture that hung on Almast's living room wall. Though the resolution is poor, the family's connection to the church is documented by a picture we didn't value enough to save at the time.

Sourp Giragos Church Tower, oil painting by Madalyn Kashian.
(now destroyed).

* There is an alternative version of the reason for Jacob and Almast's departure from Diyarbakir.  My mother told me that Jacob was a handsome young man, and he had talked back to some Turkish men, who were out to get him.  There was also a hint of a story about sexual interest in Jacob by a Turkish man.  My mother's understanding is that they left for his safety.  The story above, about her oppression by her mother-in-law, is also true.  I am just not sure which motivation is more accurate in describing the reasons for their leaving Diyarbakir in 1912.  I do know that Almast could not swim and was deathly afraid of water, so her willingness to travel over the ocean meant that her life could not have been very sweet.  On the other hand, she may have had no choice in the matter.  These are the kinds of family history mysteries that can never be solved.  Life is so complicated.


Cornell University's Armenian Archaeological Dig

Here is a beautiful tour of remains of early Armenian civilization, uncovered by Cornell's archaeologists.  Perhaps this is where our Armenian Grandmother got the genes for reading the future in the remains of an empty coffee cup.

Vehslage Masonic Lodge of Irvington NJ

Here is a pamphlet listing all members of the  Vehslage Masonic Lodge of Irvington, New Jersey in 1922.  The Lodge was new in 1921.  It was named after the Reverend Henry Vehslage, pastor of the Reformed Church of Irvington.  That's all I know.  We found this in family papers.  I scanned and put it up for anyone searching an ancestor who might have been a Mason in vicinity of Newark or Irvington, NJ.

Vehslage Lodge - Irvington NJ 1922

I am no expert on the Masons or their Lodges in America.  Wikipedia can tell you all you need to know if you aren't either.