Monday, October 29, 2007

1908 - 2007

To follow up on my previous post...

My grandfather passed away today. He was 99 years old, had a good life, didn't suffer at the end - just slipped away - all that stuff that's supposed to make you feel okay about death.

So, yeah, it's okay. But it still sucks.

And by way of retraction -- I most certainly should have done some fact-checking on my grandfather's career before the previous post. I completely screwed up the timeline of his employment. Insomnia and the constant distraction of my darling little urchins do not make for accurate reporting, it seems. Talking to my dad about what he was going to include in the obit made me realize I was totally confused about which company my grandfather worked for when.

Oh well...that's why you shouldn't trust anything you read on the internet!

I'm trying to think of a good story to end this with, don't know...don't trust myself to get it right at this point. And to remember too much might disrupt the grand scheme of emotional repression that I'm working on right now.

A few years ago, my aunt sent me a copy of something her pop (my grandfather) had written when he was about 90 years old...I wish I knew which buried pile of papers I placed that letter in, because his words alone could bring this post to a proper conclusion.

The gist, as I remember it, was that he found happiness in his later years just "being" -- and this is my paraphrase -- as if he need ask no more of the world than to just be a witness to it, in all its mundane and profound glory.

And now, he belongs to the very fabric of the universe, whatever and wherever that may be.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Reddi-Wip Man (and so much more)

If you've ever tied a maraschino cherry stem into a knot with your tongue, or sucked Easy Cheese from a nozzle, you've got my grandfather to thank.


The man helped invent aerosol foodstuffs. He put the "Reddi" into Reddi-Wip.

My Grandfather

Isn't this a great picture? (And shouldn't everyone have a photo of a grandparent peering into a giant pressure cooker?) When I asked him for the circumstance under which this photograph was taken, he was fairly vague on the details -- besides telling me it was a giant pressure cooker, that is.

But if you're in your late 90's, details do tend to get lost sometimes.

Today he's 99 years, 4 months & 8 days old. And, after a life unmarred by serious illness...well, he's not doing so great right about now.

So -- I felt like writing something now; not waiting until whatever I would write would be in the form of memorial. Just a story or two.

About five years ago, I began to (finally) take an interest in the family genealogy. Even at the age of 94, my grandfather was able to give me vital clues that helped me take the family tree back several generations. And learn so much I had never known about him.

Like -- he was raised a Quaker. (And I would easily trace his mother's family back to Quakers that came to Pennsylvania with William Penn.) But more than that, it explained his demeanor...the anti-war stance he took throughout his life...and the quiet dignity with which he has dealt with the limitations of his later years.

When asked about the past, he would tell the same stories over and over -- with nearly the same words used each time -- because he could not quite remember if he had told us before. But we never tired of them, because each provided a glimpse of the past, and a hint of the secrets we would never know.

One story oft told -- how he left college (after deciding not to pursue his doctorate in chemistry...which is another good story I shall save for another time) and sent out hundreds of resumes. Unfortunately, it was the height of the Great Depression, which I believe is the definition of a bad job market.

He got one - just one - response, and in turn was offered a job at Francis H. Leggitt & Co. (a food canner in South Jersey.) He found a room to rent nearby in the house of the postmistress - a widow living alone with her youngest/spinster (30-year-old) school-teacher daughter.

(Can you tell where this is going...?) Yes, that spinster would become my grandmother. Although when my grandfather tells the story, he seems just as impressed that the house didn't have indoor plumbing in 1932.

Any Q & A about the past would undoubtedly bring up how he "invented the cocktail cherry."

When I pressed for details (on his 95th or 96th birthday) he clarified it a bit by saying he came up with the method/machinery to enable the removal of the pit from a maraschino cherry whilst leaving the stem attached.

Mankind, and sugary girlie drinks, have not been the same since.

Whether the depitting mechanism was an individual invention or a team effort, I do not know for certain; but he seemed to imply it was a group assignment for which he devised the solution. I am unclear, even, as to what company he was working for at the time. Google has failed me in this regard, I'm afraid.

I do know that he is not a man prone to braggadocio. So I have no doubt that he did indeed have a hand in that fateful moment in bar drink history.

June 1966 Seaside Park
Grandfather & granddaughters

And then...there's food in a spray can.

My siblings and I grew up with the understanding that every time our fingers pushed on the slender white nozzle atop a can of whipped cream, that my grandfather was somehow responsible

See, after conquering the cherry pit, he wound up working for Crown Cork & Seal, and later the Clayton Corporation.

I'll avoid turning this post into "Valve Talk"...but, if you will, travel back with me to the mid-1940's and imagine a wondrous time in our nation's past when the scientific community could conceive of nothing more glorious than devising ways to make various foodstuffs sprayable out of a can.

Yes, it was during that fantastic era that my grandfather was a researcher/inventor in the field of "food aerosols." Working for a man named "Bunny," he developed a revolutionary way to package and dispense whipped cream.

And thus, Reddi-Wip was born (as well as the valve that would later happily deliver Cheese Food Product directly into the eager mouths of people with munchies all around the world.)

When he retired in 1968, an article in "Aerosol Age" referred to my grandfather as "one of the pioneers of the early days of the aerosol package." (That wacky aerosol terminology! So pithy!)

But before you sic Al Gore on the man for inventing the Evil That Would Destroy the Ozone Layer, let me tell you another defining characteristic of my grandfather -- he has always been 100% Democrat.

Oh, besides the period when he was writing socialist propaganda under an assumed name, that is.

But that's another story...

Sunday, October 14, 2007

You know you've bought too much dark chocolate...

...when the check-out person says, "Having a party, are we?"

And you're not.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Six Easy Ways to Scare the Heck out of Your Neighbors

(The following was written for a publication that I will not name, in order to protect the innocent from being associated with the rest of the nonsense I post.) (And yes, they actually pay me to write this stuff.)

I love the month of October. The crispness of the autumn air – the splendor of the fall foliage…

Or at least I used to love October. I’m not really sure it exists anymore. Because nowadays it seems we go directly from September 30th to Halloween.

If you’re an old-timer like me, one who thought Halloween was simply the last day of October – well, you are sadly mistaken, my little goblins.

At least in my neighborhood (location undisclosed, as I would like to continue living there) there is a mad rush to adorn the outside of one’s house with all things Halloween-y the very instant the calendar page flips over from the 9th to the 10th month of the year.

With elaborate front-yard tableaus of pun-bearing fake tombstones, garbage-bag witches smashed into trees and synthetic-fiber cobwebs adorning front porches…well, you can’t really blame a homeowner for wanting to get the maximum amount of display time for their Halloween decorations when so much effort is put into the process.

But somehow, my heart just isn’t into making my property look like the queue area of The Haunted Mansion.

Besides, those fake tombstones aren’t scaring anybody.

I say – if you’re going to go to all the trouble of decorating your front yard for the month of All Hallows’ Eve, why not make your display really frightening. And so, in my continuing effort to help all of mankind, I suggest the following Halloween themes:

The Kiddy-Party Mascot: Consider the impact of a strategically-placed Chuck E. Cheese animatronic lawn ornament. Any parent who has ever had the pleasure of escorting a child to the place where a kid can be an obnoxious kid (that is their theme, isn’t it?) will break out in a cold-sweat upon the sight of the larger-than-life mouse. Warning: may prompt a post-traumatic stress disorder lawsuit.

The Rachel Ray: Place a life-sized cardboard cut-out of the ubiquitous TV-talk-show-host/chef/product-shill on your front porch and line the sides of your walkway with boxes of Wheat Thins. The neighborhood children will run screaming as they imagine the horrors of whole wheat snacks being tossed into their trick-or-treat bags in lieu of candy.

Mime-o-rama: Honestly, can you look at a mime without feeling somewhat uneasy? I rest my case. Anything even vaguely mime-y will do the trick for this decorating theme.

Our Unemployed 20-something’s Moved Back Home: Piles of dirty laundry and unwashed dishes randomly scattered across your front lawn, along with a dummy clutching a joystick leaning against a tree or lightpost, will remind parents of the frightening prospect that their nest may never be truly empty.

Coulrophobia (AKA Fear of Clowns): If you really want your Halloween display to provoke palpitations and inspire general feelings of dread, skip the skeletons and go with a clown motif. Fact: Clowns were invented to give children nightmares. It’s true. There’s no other logical explanation for their existence.

The only reason my kids will ever get within 20 feet of anyone in clown makeup is if said clown is making balloon sculptures (evidently balloon sculpture is akin to crack for the elementary-school set.) And even then, they grab the twisted balloon thingies and run away from the creepy person with the painted face as fast as their terrified little legs will carry them.

Oh, but Ronald McDonald is cool. He’s not a real clown – he’s a McClown, which is an entirely different beast.

And finally, my own personal Halloween décor choice – which scares the bejeebers out of our neighbors year after year --

The No Decorations Theme: Imagine leaving your front lawn and porch completely unadorned for nearly the entire month of October! Your friends and acquaintances will be bewildered - befuddled even - by your apparent indifference to the impending holiday. Are you ill? On an extended vacation? Kidnapped by killer clowns? (Oh, sorry, that’s my own little phobia…)

Then, on or about October 30th, place a pair of custom-carved jack-o-lanterns (preferably fashioned by someone of school age) on either side of your front door. That’s it!

It’s a minimalist statement, to be sure – but one that will truly mark you as a trendsetter.

Happy Hauntings!