The Travels of Wedding China

During their married life, our parents Alice and Bill did not do much travelling together outside of the USA. They went to Europe once, late in their life.  That's it.
But, their wedding china has made up for it.

They were married in the Spring of 1940.  They eloped to Virginia, so there was not a big wedding with registries for china and the like.  Yet, somehow they ended up with a complete set of a  pattern by the Japanese "made-for-export" company "Renwick".  It looked sort of Bavarian, but with that Japanese Satsuma-like red color that made it lively and friendly.

We lived with it throughout our childhoods and beyond.  In fact, it is the only "good china" that Alice and Bill ever had.  Over the years, pieces died and went to heaven, so it was harder and harder to set a good table with them.  But the bulk of the set stayed nice and stationary in New Jersey.
When the parents passed away, we had to decide what to do with the remains of the set.  Nobody wanted the whole thing.  We kept it in various garages for a few years, and finally, as one of us was about to downsize and leave NJ, she convinced me to store it in my basement.  So, about 70 years after its arrival in NJ from Japan, the China set found its way to the state of Maryland.

But it was abused in Maryland:  kept in the dark inside a cardboard  box, except for one serving piece (shown here) that I still have as a memento.
About 3 years ago it was my turn to clean out my  basement. As I was preparing to load the box into the car for its final trip to Goodwill, our friend Felicite took a look and admired it.  Felicite IS a world traveler, having begun life in Burundi, received her higher education in Montreal, and landed  in Washington in 2008 with husband and kids.  Because she liked it, I offered it.  She took it, and I felt good.  She told me she uses it for entertaining and that it looks great on her table.

The lucky transfer to the home of world travelers has given a new life to this now almost antique set.  For, early this year Felicite's husband was transferred to the Democratic Republic of Congo where he is responsible for a World Bank program on electrification.  They took it along with them.

So, our Japanese Renwick china is now experiencing life in Africa, with African cuisine piled on to keep Graciella and Noah well fed and happy.  The family's house is close to the Congo Our little Japanese china set is having an adventure!

Here it is on their table, all ready for an African feast.  And there is Noah, contemplating the Congo River from a spot near their home in Kinshasa, the capital city. 

I hope Felicite and the family comes home soon -- there are still years to go --because that serving dish is feeling deprived of adventure.

About Mother

For years I have kept this Jules Feiffer cartoon.  At the time it was sent to me, my daughter was about 3 years old.  Already then, I had an inkling of what the future would hold.  Sure enough, it happened. Now she's all grown up, and...

The Molitor Children of Melrose, Minnesota

Anton and Katherine (Wagner) Molitor lived in Melrose, Minnesota in the late 1800's and early 1900's.  They had 10 children.  This photo was taken before the last three children were born. In the top row are Adell, Rose, and Ambrose.  In the front row are Chick, Alvina, and Alex.  The siblings still to be born were Roman, Anna, Joseph and Pete.   I am told that Chick was well known in Melrose into the 1990's because he had run a boating concession,, an early version of a resort.

If you are a family member who would like to see pictures of Anton and Katherine, contact me through this blog and I will track them down.

In adulthood, Ambrose changed his name to Moliter, to avoid confusion over the multitudes of Molitors doing business at his local bank.  So, some Minnesota Molitors are now Moliters, but the DNA is still shared.

St Louis Park High School, Minnesota Yearbooks - 1950 & 51

Here I am sitting with two well preserved copies of the Senior Yearbooks of Saint Louis Park High School, in (of course) St. Louis Park, Minnesota.  Our family has enjoyed browsing the books, looking for early pictures of self and friends.  But now we're done with that, have scanned relevant photos, and are ready to chuck them.

But, wait!  If you have an ancestor who graduated from St. Louis Park High in the early 1950's, you might want to have those early photos of your guy or gal.  So, I am going to hold on to these for a year and if someone contacts me asking me to search for a specific person, I can scan the relevant pages and email them out.  No cost to me, except for a little time, and teeny more damage to my cervical spine muscles from sitting in front of this damn desktop.  Worth it to link up descendents with grandmas, grandpas, etc.

You can contact me at

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.