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The Value Our Stories Provide to Others – Writing Down Memoirs

We never really know how much we miss someone until they’re gone – and the same could be said for the stories they told us. I had a very loving grandmother in my youth, who was the family record-keeper. She knew everyone’s story and kept in touch with everyone on a regular basis. When she passed, she took those records with her because no one thought to write them down.

As a writer, I wish I had taken the time back then to ask her questions about her past and to keep a journal of the stories she told me. But I didn’t at that time because I was young and those stories didn’t have the meaning they do today as I have gotten older, myself, and developed an interest in my family’s heritage.

About five years ago, I started a search for my family’s history using online resources like ancestry.com. I also started contacting everyone who had any memories of the older generation of my family and interviewing them for their stories. In the process, I was able to create a memoir of my maternal grandmother’s family which included several relatives that I had never met. With their consent and after several phone conversations, we met and are now regularly in touch on Facebook. When I travel back to Massachusetts in three weeks, I will be staying with one of my cousins and meeting her sisters, brothers, children and grandchildren for the first time. They are all interested in hearing my stories about the family we share and I’m just as interested in hearing theirs!

If there is one thing I could impart to those reading my blog, it would be to start interviewing the older generation now. Capture their stories on paper or video and spend the time it takes to create a family memoir. I have gotten so much value out of my own experience of doing this – although it did take about three months and at least five revisions to get everyone’s stories included!

Families hold the key to who we are and who our descendants will be. We share a common history with our elders and they have meaningful stories that should not be lost. Whether you want to hear their stories now or record them for later, I can assure you that you will be glad, someday, that you took the time to do this.

I’ve written five memoirs for seniors so far this year — at the request of their children. Each person wanted to partake in this process and got great meaning out of doing this. I am always happy to assist with this as I have served as a news journalist for many years and interviewed 1,000s of people from all walks of life. Sometimes it’s easier for someone to share a painful memory with a stranger than with their family members because it’s just too personal. I take the time to listen and I enjoy participating in this process that helps others see the value of a life well lived.

Three Day April 2018 Sierra Club Camping Trip on Santa Cruz Island

From April 21st to the 23rd, I camped on Santa Cruz Island, the largest of the Channel Islands and in fact, the largest island off the coast of California. The Nature Conservancy owns and manages the western 76% of the island, while the eastern 24% is owned and managed by the National Park Service. I had previously been there three times before but never for camping and was excited to see what trip might have to offer led by the Wilderness Adventures section of the Sierra Club.

When I arrived at the Island Packers dock at Ventura Harbor at 7 a.m. on Saturday, I was greeted by 10 other Sierra Club campers. Several of us quickly formed a bond on the boat ride over as we watched dolphins playing in the wake of our boat. After about 1.5 hours, we pulled in to the dock at Scorpion Anchorage and began to unload.

Santa Cruz Island, formerly the home of ten Chumash villages with over 1,200 people, was named “Limuw” or “in the sea.” The Chumash people occupied this island for at least nine thousand years until 1769 when the Spanish missionaries began converting the island people. In 1822, the last known Chumash occupant left the island for Ventura where many were forced to work and live at the Mission. Later, the island was known for sheep and cattle ranching, a hunting club, fruit and nut orchards, and for smuggling illicit contraband.

Santa Cruz Island is the most diverse of the eight Channel Islands with grasslands, coastal scrub vegetation, oak woodlands, and 77 miles of sea caves and coastline inhabited by giant kelp forests. This, alone, makes it a natural attraction for kayakers, snorkeling, bird watching, diving and many other activities.

After disembarking our shuttle boat, we set up camp at a group campsite about a mile from the dock, making our tents as comfortable as possible in a grove shaded by Eucalyptus trees. The first hike I took was to Potato Harbor, which is one of my favorite vantage points on the island. Here, at the top of the cliffs, you can look down several hundred feet to the sea caves below and, depending on the cloud action, view a bright green or deep blue sea. The name “Potato Harbor” comes from the oval shape of this scenic harbor. The trail along the top of the island is flat and easy to hike but the climb up is steep from either the campground or from Scorpion Canyon.

After this refreshing hike, we had an hour or two to rest before it was time for Happy Hour – and what a smorgasbord we had! There were close to 40 people in our group and each had brought an item to add to the communal salad. We had hors d’oeuvres galore and no one went hungry.

After our meal, we sat in a circle and each introduced ourselves, talking about what we did for a living and our reasons for coming on this trip. This was a great way to get introduced to the others, most of whom had arrived on Friday and were staying until Monday.
Following that, we had an interesting presentation from Tony Chapman, a legendary kayaking instructor with Santa Barbara Adventure Company, who told us stories about his work leading kayaking trips and rescues, going back several decades. He was briefly interrupted, during his talk, by a group of middle-aged people, camping at the next campsite, who were all dressed up in “onesie’s.” If you don’t know what that is, it’s basically pajamas that zip up, but in this case, many of the outfits also had tails sewn into their rear-ends!

The group were celebrating several birthdays and from the looks of it, they were already pretty intoxicated when they formed a conga line and danced through our campsite in their wild outfits! Fortunately, they had the good sense to take their party to the beach at around 9:30 p.m. so we all go some well – needed sleep!

The following day, we had the option of climbing the 2,450’ Devils Peak, the highest mountain on the island, with about 1,800’ elevation gain. I started the hike with the others but decided, early on, to rest and enjoy my time on the island by taking an optional side hike. After a short nap in a dry river bed with a killer view of the mountain range, I hiked back up to Potato Harbor to gaze, once more, upon that view.

Sunday night, we all assembled for Happy Hour again, after which, we took a short hike to try to see the native bat species when they flew out of their caves into the night sky. We waited, and waited, and as it started to get colder, most people headed back to camp. I decided to hang in there with one other lady, holding my flashlight up to the sky to create a beam of light. Just as I was about to turn in, a bat swooped down by my head to snap up its insect prey. It startled me, but I was glad I got to experience that. (One of my other friends, who was walking back to camp, actually did see five or six bats fly out into the night). All in all, it was very exciting!

On our last day, most people opted for a 2.5 hour kayaking trip to the sea caves around the island. However, I chose to stay on dry land and do a hike to Smuggler’s Cove, a delightful harbor on the back side of the island that got its name from the illegal sea otter trade that took place between 1769 and 1848. It was one of the most beautiful hikes I’ve ever done. Just two hours out and an hour and a half back, this hike wove through a cypress grove, named Delphine’s Grove, an olive grove, grassy hills with purple clover, yellow mustard, and white and pink morning glories, Monkey Flower, Lemonade Berry, Santa Cruz Ironwood, and many other native island plants on this island. The final mile of the hike was down, down, down to the sea. At the beach, we saw island foxes and lizards darting around, both of which are prevalent throughout the island. The island blue jay, island fox, deer mouse, and island spotted skunk are only found on the Channel Islands – and nowhere else in the world.

The descent to the Cove was pretty steep and I wondered as I walked down, how I was going to feel climbing back up. Well it was well worth it – it was such a beautiful beach and quite a dazzling vantage point in every direction. Climbing back up the hill reminded me of the Hobbit story with its rolling green hills and the light brown-red dirt on the paths. It looked like a fairytale to me.

The hike was just short of eight mikes, roundtrip, but the views from the top, coming back to Scorpion Anchorage were sensational. It was rejuvenating to see everything from the top of the island. This was a hike that I would like to do again.

After a leisurely lunch, we all lined up by the dock to return to the mainland. After loading the equipment on board, we enjoyed our ride back to shore to return to our individual lives.

Saying goodbye was hard to do because of the great friendships that were formed over these three days together. But as we said our goodbyes, we agreed to stay in touch and try to get together again for another camping trip. I hope that happens because you can’t find this kind of an experience anywhere else. I can’t wait to sign up for my next adventure!

Take Advantage of Spring Rains with Some Helpful Drought-Saving Measures

Springtime in Southern California is a time of rainfall. Given that we rarely get any rain in our Mediterranean and desert climate, now is the time to take advantage of it with a set-up of rain barrels and other catchment devices.

I have several in my yard which are set up under places where the gutter releases a steady stream of water when it’s raining. I ordered mine off Amazon.com and utilized the City of Los Angeles’ rain barrel rebate program, formerly available through the DWP website under their Consumer Rebate Program. When I ordered my rain barrels, I received rebates of a certain amount for up to two barrels, although I remember that it took about a year to actually get the rebate.

My rain barrels cost me $80.00 and $60.00. You can pay a lot more for a rain barrel at a retail store so I felt this was a good price. Unfortunately, the one that was $60.00 lost its effectiveness when I discovered, much later, that it was empty. Apparently, there was a hole somewhere that I didn’t notice. The other rain barrel is still working after three years. I added a few more receptacle to catch water in my yard and now have them in every corner where I can capture rainfall.

I find it very handy to have rain barrels in my front and back yard as I have a pretty extensive garden and my succulents need water more frequently when it’s hot and dry. Having water nearby means I can just open a spout to refill my watering can without having to unroll the hose (which always seems dirty and difficult to manage).

If you are going to use your rain barrel for drinking water, be sure to add bleach to it. I’m not sure what the exact proportion is but you can find lots of information online regarding water purification and safety.

Another way I conserve water during our drought season is I keep several buckets in my bathroom which I use to bail out water after a shower or bath. In other words, I close the drain when I take a shower and then scoop up soapy water in the buckets and haul it outside to use on my garden. The soap doesn’t harm the plants – it actually helps reduce bothersome insects and keeps my garden green all year ‘round.

By having buckets of water in your bathroom or kitchen, you can reduce your water bill greatly and you’ll also become more conscientious about how much water you actually use. I know that after hauling full buckets of water down my stairs , I learned to become more conservative about the length of my showers and the amount I fill the bathtub for a soak. (I used to use eight buckets of water, per bath; now it’s about 4 – 5 buckets).

As I mentioned before, I also recycle my dishwashing water, several times a day. The food particles in the water contribute compost to my plants while the soap wards off insects without having to use pesticides.

By taking a few easy measures to conserve water and reuse your greywater, you will have an abundantly greener yard without a high water bill.

For more information on the DWP’s energy conservation measures, go to: https://www.ladwp.com/ladwp/faces/ladwp/residential/r-customerservices.

My First Service Trip with the Sierra Club

In August 2017, I completed my first Sierra Club Service Trip, where I spent 7 wonderful days at Yosemite National Park working on various restoration projects. The trip was an eye opener for me in many ways: I learned a great deal about my capacity to serve on a work team, I came face to face with my limited stamina and got reacquainted with an old rotator cuff injury. On the other hand, I got to enjoy living and sharing meals with 15 Sierra Club members who were more experienced in this than me, and best of all, I gained access to the behind the scenes workings of Yosemite, one of our best loved and most visited national parks.

For six nights, I camped at a pristine campground shaded by 50’ Yellow Pines alongside the cool and clear Merced River. The view was like nowhere I have ever been before with the towering monoliths of Sentinel Peak and El Capitan on either side of us. When we weren’t working, I was gazing at or swimming in the mountain-fed river. I also took walks to the various scenic points in the park including Lower Yosemite Falls and Yosemite Village.

Sleeping in a tent was not new to me, but admittedly, it had been a few years since I had camped for more than two nights in the open air. What I discovered was that I don’t sleep well in the “great outdoors.” Every twig that snapped, every snore that was uttered, and every zipper that was opened on a nearby tent was heard by me. This was probably due to my fear of bears making an appearance — or it could have been my hyper vigilant state, in general.

On the whole, this trip was well organized by Charlie, our outgoing and always cheery Group Leader, with four days of service work and a day off in the middle of the week for us to explore the many trails that intersect the Park. On my day off I chose to hike to Sentinel Dome and Taft Point off Glacier Point Road. Joining me was a perky and energetic 79-year old woman and another who was 72. Both were in great shape and were excellent companions for the hikes.

We started the hike to the 8,127’ Sentinel Dome first, which was just 1.2 miles from the parking lot off Glacier Point Road. The weather was beautiful although smoke from the two active fires there obscured some of the views. From the top of the polished granite dome, I was able to see Vernal Fall (317’) and Nevada Fall (594’) which were flowing dramatically in full force. There were also astounding views of the monoliths in Yosemite Valley with nice views of El Capitan and a side shot of Half Dome, the most recognized and photographed mountain in the Park.

From Sentinel Dome, it was another 1.2 miles to Taft Point which ended at Inspiration Point, a sheer cliff that dropped about 1,000’ to the Valley below. Taft Point is at 7,100’ elevation (as compared to the 4,000’ Yosemite Valley floor). While we were there, we got to see a group of young men who were straddling a thick cord tied to two points, about 40’ apart, above the abyss. As we watched them, the young man slipped and hung upside down by his hands while suspended in his harness. It was a frightening sight and one that I didn’t wish to watch for long.

Both hikes offered wide views of dramatic scenery and a good workout with all the ups and downs on the trails.

For our four days of service work, we started each day at 9 a.m. and worked until 3 p.m. duffing and fluffing, weeding and seeding, and shoveling and breaking up hard dirt surfaces for new plants to be set in the ground. Each day started with a visit from Park Service personnel who instructed us on our mission for the day. This included a background explanation of what the Park was trying to accomplish, whether it was for recreating a wetlands environment for birds and water mammals, removing invasive plants from the meadows, collecting seeds from native plants for replanting, or removing duff (mulch) from a Native American historical site.

Each task was within our capability and we had plenty of time for rest and water breaks when they were needed. On the first day of service, we got to meet “Bill,” a Miwok/Paiute elder who oversees the sweat lodge at Camp 4, the site where his ancestors lived and where he grew up. He told us about the old days and what it was like living in Yosemite for four seasons and how his grandmother made traditional baskets that were sold there. While we were working on shoveling the duff into the back of the truck, we got to watch the felling of a 70’ tree that had to be removed due to damage from beetles. Seeing the tree fall in the forest was amazing. The thud from the weight of the tree shook the ground and reverberated off the mountains!

Back at our campsite, we enjoyed freshly-made meals by our excellent cook, Laurel, who prepared three meals daily for each of our days there. I can tell you from my own experience, no one left hungry and each meal was nutritious and healthy. As each of us enjoyed our meals, we also got a chance to help assist in their preparation and in the clean up that followed, overseen by our “Sanitation Engineer” Group Trainee, Doug.

At night, we sat around a roaring campfire and listened to informative presentations on the history of Yosemite by the Acting Supervisor of the Park, who explained the Park’s policies and various environmental concerns. We learned about photographer Ansel Adams and how he helped put Yosemite on the map and we heard a proposal by one of our group members to create an integrated Hut-to-Hut system for America, similar to what they have in Europe and Scandinavia. We also got schooled, by our group leader, on Sierra Club policies, procedures, facts and figures, as it related to Yosemite.

After a long day of working outdoors, I loved swimming in that cool river and gazing up at the stars at night. But what I will most remember are the meaningful conversations I had with my fellow Sierra Club members, who each brought with them experience in being a part of Service Trips. On this trip, I got to give back and to be involved – not just as a “taker” but as a “giver.” It was a new role for me and one that I hope to repeat again as I help spread the word of “leave no trace behind.”

Photos by Doug Pilcher

Writing Family Memoirs: MEMOIRS CAPTURE SIGNIFICANT ACHIEVEMENTS IN FAMILY HISTORIES

One of the most interesting aspects of my work is in writing family memoirs by interviewing the eldest member of the family and capturing the significant moments of their lives. I am honored to provide this service to people all over the world through telephonic interviews as well as Skype interviews, and sometimes in person. By doing these interviews, I am able to record stories from senior family members whose legacies then live on to benefit future generations.

Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of working with a variety of interesting people, such as:

  • Lawrence, a wealth advisor and investment broker who wanted his family’s ethics and values to be preserved for future generations
  • Vito, an Italian-American banking official whose very colorful memories of growing up on Long Island may someday become a comedic screen play
  • Gloria, a psychotherapist in Burbank, whose traumatic journey to her present career began with her parents sending her from Iraq to America, all alone, at the age of six to attend boarding school
  • Israel, a Chicago-born Hasidic Jew who defied his family by choosing a career path other than that of a rabbi, breaking their centuries-old lineage of high – ranking religious leaders

Everyone has a story to tell, whether of family members who fought in the war, grew up during the depression, or survived difficult circumstances that they wish to impart to others.

For my own family history, I chose to blaze paths in all four directions through my mother’s and father’s parents’ lineages, and in doing so, I learned who my ancestors were and what their struggles entailed in coming to America from Russia, Germany and Austria. Like most kids of the Baby Boomer age, I always tried to blend in and not be different, but now as I get older, it’s important to me to know more about the past.

My family histories were interesting and painful, joyous and sad, but most of all, they were enlightening. I got to interview more than 35 surviving members of one branch of my family and about two dozen for the remaining 3 branches. I learned of family feuds that kept going until death, of commonalities in the causes of death of my ancestors, and I learned of tragic losses that people bore and survived. It was fulfilling to produce these stories and it brought the surviving relatives all closer together.

Memories are important – and that’s why I love to write people’s memoirs. Once I capture stories on paper they live on after a person’s life ends. Story telling is an art and involves the ability to compassionately listen to the telling of stories, along with the ability to document and retell it in living color. It is the type of writing I enjoy doing most and the one that gives me the greatest satisfaction in doing what I do as Writer For Hire.

If you are interested in capturing the memories of a loved one, don’t wait too long. Memories can fade as one ages and waiting too long can make a big difference in the accuracy of a story. Most of all, once a person passes, there is often a big gap in information that no one else can fill.

How does it work? The process is relatively easy:

A family member serves as my point of contact with the loved one who I speak with by phone or sometimes in person. I then document their memories and turn it into a story. The process can be as short as one afternoon or it can evolve into a series of conversations that are told in the form of an essay. If more than one person wants to interact with me, I can involve them in the conversation or speak with them privately. For more information on Writing Memoirs, please email: pat@writerpatkramer.com or call me: (818) 353-5699.

Being Open to New Experiences: My First Airbnb Stay

I recently booked time at an Airbnb residence in the Ventura/Oxnard, California area, which is about 60 miles from my home. My plan was to drive to the beach early in the weekend and then stay overnight at this person’s home, leaving late in the day on Sunday. I must admit, booking time at an Airbnb was a bit perplexing: I was not sure it was “safe,” I was concerned about whether it would be awkward staying with someone I didn’t know, and I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I only knew that other people had done it before me and they had survived!

For those who have limited knowledge of Airbnb, it is a booking service for travelers seeking to rent a room, an apartment, a home or a shared space in a private residence. Airbnb is now worldwide – you can rent a private room in an English castle, a cozy cabin in the Netherlands, stay on a boat in Ventura harbor, or in a yurt or an RV, somewhere in the United States. There are many, many options available, ranging in price from cheap to luxurious. The main draw for people booking through Airbnb, in my opinion, is that it offers a host of options that weren’t previously available and at a lower cost than most motels.

Anyway, back to my story: My choice was to rent a room in a private home in Ventura near the beaches that I love to visit. The cost was a mere $66.00 for the night, which included the taxes and fees. I got to see photos of the place before I booked and I also got to read a number of reviews about the host, which were all exceptionally positive. With that tidbit of information, I set off to explore my first Airbnb experience.

I started my day by heading to one of my favorite beaches to cool off. While there, I received a text from the host, asking when I would be ‘checking in.’ I texted him back that I would be there between 4:30 and 5 p.m. That was my first point of communication with him. Later, I met “A.,” a young man in his 30’s with a ponytail, who showed me my room and the different amenities available. He was very thorough in his explanation of everything and had prepared a small pile of brochures on different attractions in the area. By my bed were two bottles of water and some candies. On the table was the house key, a remote control for the ceiling fan, the code for his Wi-Fi and some sightseeing books. After showing me where the towels were in the bathroom, he invited me to join him and his girlfriend for a glass of wine, then departed, leaving me to my privacy.

So far, so good, I thought. He’s respectable, very professional, and he obviously cares about his customers.

A little later on, after a shower and a change of clothes, I was introduced to his other house guest who were renting a room and a couch from him. I then left to join some friends for dinner and headed out for the evening. When I returned, a few hours later, he and his girlfriend, “L.,” greeted me and asked how my dinner was. We then had a nice conversation about his residence, neighbors, and the amenities offered at his complex. Being a news reporter by trade, I asked a lot of questions, which they didn’t seem to mind answering. One had to do with his mention of the facility’s salt water pool.

Now I’ve never been in a salt water pool and that sounded very cool. So I asked whether I might be able to try it the following day. A. told me that they normally don’t bring their guests over to the pool because it’s reserved for residents, but seeing that I was really interested, he said he’s make it happen.

That night, I enjoyed one of the best night’s sleep I’ve had in a long time. The air was cool, the complex was exceptionally quiet, and the bed was extraordinarily comfortable! When I awoke, there were pastries laid out on the kitchen table and coffee waiting to be made on the counter. It really felt like I was in my own home, for all intents and purposes.

Later that morning, I got to experience the salt water pool where you can float effortlessly, suspended in the salt water like a balloon. It was heaven!

I indulged myself in another shower at A.’s place before leaving. To my surprise, they greeted me with homemade lemonade and hors d’oevres before I left. I was not hurried out but treated like a member of their family. This was probably because they didn’t have a booking for that night, so there wasn’t a firm timeframe for check out.

I eventually left at around 2 p.m. that afternoon and when I did, A. told me that I would be welcomed back again, should I like to stay with them – and you know, I think I will. As someone who has traveled a bit, I definitely know what I like and what I don’t like.

I’ve stayed in very nice hotels where I’ve paid a lot more and still had to deal with noise issues from traffic and neighbors. I’ve also stayed in hotels in major cities where parking was expensive or non-existent. And let’s not forget the campground experiences where I’ve had people keep me up all night because they wanted to party till the cows come home.

Unfortunately, you can’t pick your neighbors – it’s always a roll of the dice – even in expensive hotels.

For the price of my Airbnb, I got a great location in a private home with really nice, caring hosts who did everything they possibly could to make my visit comfortable. So for my first Airbnb review, I’m going to give it 5 stars. If you are interested in experiencing Airbnb, it helps to go into it with an open mind. For the record, I got more than I paid for!

My Visit to the Sierras: Lake Isabella for July 4th

Lake Isabella is in the southern Sierras: I chose this location because of the beauty of the lake and the proximity to the Sierras with their majestic redwoods. Unfortunately, when I arrived on Sunday, July 2nd, 2017, my companion and I found the lake covered with a thick green slime – algae, which is caused by excessive heat conditions. This pretty much rendered the lake unswimmable, although the dogs didn’t mind wading chest deep into the green goop to cool off. Give that this was Day 1 of my 4 day vacation, things were looking grim.

Meanwhile, the KOA campground where I was staying, offered me a lovely little log cabin that perfectly met my needs. It had a double bed with a thick cushion mattress and a bunk bed with room for two more people. My roommate took the bunk bed and one of the dogs decided to share it with him (we have four between us). The bed was comfortable and with the air conditioner on its highest setting, we were prepared for a good night’s sleep.

Not so, as we quickly found out: We were situated in the middle of ten other cabins which were all rented out to a very large family from India. There must have been 75 adults and children all competing for attention. While the children and teens ran around playing a game of musical chairs out in front of the cabin next door, the adults began socializing with a beverage of their choice and it started to get loud!

I don’t fault anyone for enjoying themselves. Camping offers the opportunity for people, who may not have seen each other in a while, to get reacquainted in a laid back setting. But this party was non-stop and lasted well into the night. Because we were in the middle of their cabins, we were also in the middle of a busy traffic area and people did not seem to notice that the sound of their voices was being heard within our little private setting. Despite that snafu, we managed to get a few minutes of sleep and move into the next day.

Day 2, we awoke early and began setting up our breakfast table on the picnic table out front. I was pleased to learn that the proprietors had arranged for a free pancake and sausage breakfast for everyone as a holiday celebration! The food was great and because the camp store had ready-made coffee, I didn’t have to heat up any water to make my own. In a short time, we were in the car with the dogs and off to our next adventure: the Kern River.

The Kern River meets Lake Isabella and fills it with a steady stream of fresh water, which should keep it clean as the water is moving. But since the algae was already well formed, we chose to avoid the lake and go directly to the source. The Kern River was accessible from Riverside Park in Kernville where we found a large shade tree to set up our lawn chairs and hook up our dogs. The view of the river was magnificent and it was exciting to watch the rafters and kayakers navigating the rapids and white water! To our dogs delight, we even found a few coves off the river where it was safe to wade in and enjoy the refreshingly cool water.

This experience proved so delightful that on Day 3, we returned again and just relaxed all day in the shade of a tree by the river. Back at the campground, our friendly neighbors continued to party, so the second night was only slightly better for sleeping than the previous one. We still could hear them chatting into the wee hours – well past 2 a.m. – although my ear plugs did help a lot.

After the second day on the river, I returned to my cabin where I took in a long walk with my dogs on a lovely open dirt road that ran from the back of the KOA property to a Wildlife Reserve. The backdrop for this hike was a majestic view of the high Sierra Mountains which were surprisingly clear and well defined in their beauty. As dusk fell and the stars came out, the sky came alive with brilliance. The sky was especially vivid at 2 a.m. when all the lights from the nearby RVs were out. It was very clear that night and I relished the view of the heavens, having not seen so many stars in my neighborhood of Los Angeles in a long time.

On Day 4, I packed up, walked and fed the dogs, then ate a nice light breakfast at my picnic table before hitting the road home. About halfway back to L.A., I stopped for lunch in Mohave, CA where some close friends drove up to meet me. It was hot in Mohave – 106 degrees (although the inside reading on my car was 115 degrees). After a little rest for the dogs and I, under a large tree in a park, we started the second leg of the trip home.

Driving back to the city, I was thankful to be returning to the place and people I love, but was glad to have gotten away from the fireworks and explosives that people seem to enjoy setting off around the 4th of July. This trip introduced me to a place that I might like to return to again – albeit in the Fall, when the foliage changes color. Hopefully, there will be fewer people at the campground, although I would settle for quieter neighbors!

My dogs had a good time and for a change, I didn’t have to feel guilty about leaving them behind. It’s nice to been welcomed, dogs and all, when traveling somewhere new. 

Till then, I’ll sign off with this: Don’t be afraid to explore unknown places, because in doing so, you get to open your world to new sights, tastes, and experiences that make your life richer~

My Family’s History: The Morochnicks of Massachusetts

Introduction:

This is the story of my maternal grandmother, Anna Morochnick Kramer, her family – the Morochnicks of Massachusetts – and the values they taught me that stay with me to this day.

This story is the combined result of many months of research on Ancestry.com, phone calls and extensive interviews with members of my family, some who I met while on this journey. With their help, I have sorted out conflicting facts and built a series of stories about each character (yes, they were “characters!”) to resurrect our family tree. This is a multi –layered story that includes everyone’s perceptions, opinions, thoughts and maybe facts about what life was like – over 100 years ago – when the “original” Morochnicks set foot on Ellis Island. Some started their transcontinental voyage from Russia by foot, horse and buggy or train to the docks in England where they boarded a steamer to America. Others came via China, Israel, Canada and other parts. Together, they built this family and its descendants.

From what I have been able to establish, life back then was incredibly difficult and money was scarce. Yet, the family stayed closer than we do today (even with all our devices to help us do so) based on a mutual love, respect and a genuine interdependency that existed between family members living in close quarters in a strange country that was often hostile to Jews.

My story is just that – my story. It is a compilation of many remembrances of people to whom I am very grateful for their time, willingness to share information, and the desire to have our family’s history set down on paper so future generations can know from whence we came.

Chapter 1:

My grandmother’s father, Boroch (Barney) Morochnick, was born in the Ukrainian village of Shepatovka, as were five of his seven kids. Barney or “Zeide,” as he was known (1877 – July 1956), died a year before I was born. His wife, “Bubbi” or Sarah Ainbender Morochnick, gave him seven kids then died at the age of 66 (1878 – 1944).

Zeide Morochnick came to the U.S. by himself at age 27 on June 11, 1904. It took six years for him to send for his wife and five kids to come to America in 1909. This included my grandmother, Anna Morochnick, who was eight when she arrived at Ellis Island with her mother and four brothers: Abe, Louie, Isaac and Murray. After settling into their first home, an apartment in the old West End of Boston by the Esplanade, they moved into their longtime home at 99 Winthrop Street in Roxbury (now an African-American neighborhood).

Although I never got to meet my great – grandfather, I often heard tales about Zeide Morochnick. We knew that he had two brothers in the U.S., Max (Mottel) and Shia, but he may also have had two sisters, and a brother who was deaf-mute, who stayed behind in Russia. Barney’s father (my great, great grandfather) was known as Yankul David (Yankul is English for Jack.) His mother’s name was Tabila (Thelma). We believe that Thelma and David never left Russia.

Chapter 2:

MY GREAT GRANDMOTHER, “BUBBI MOROCHNICK”

(Photo: Sarah Morochnick with Isaac Morochnick)

Sarah Ainbender Morochnick was born in Beresdiv, Russia. Sarah had two brothers – both named Samuel. One later became known as “Fehter” (Yiddish for uncle) Sucha, a Kosher butcher and cantor in Boston; the other brother was known as Sam Aines. (Sarah may have also had two sisters who stayed in Russia).

Sam Aines was fondly remembered by the Morochnicks as a wonderful man. He married a woman named “Goldie” and they had three sons: (Isador) Joseph Aines, Maurice Aines and (Adolph) Andrew Aines. Andrew, who married Bea and lived in North Springfield, Virginia, was said to have worked for the State Department in some high-ranking position at the Pentagon. Joseph was married to Virginia (“Ginnie”) and they lived in Sharon, Massachusetts. Maurice also lived in Sharon but no one seems to remember much about him or his family.

Samuel “Fehter Sucha” Ainbender married Zelda (Celia) Kauffman and settled in Peabody, Massachusetts where they had five kids: Sarah, Abraham, Louis, Sol, and Hyman. During my search on ancestry.com, I met my third cousin, Ellen Zirin, who was Abraham Bender’s grandchildren (after shortening his last name).

Ellen provided me with a wealth of information about her family, who we never knew.  She and I have since become friends and actually got to meet in person in 2015 on one of my trips back to Massachusetts.

Her grandfather, Abe Bender, married Frances Abrams and they had three kids – Louise, Ralph and Ann Gail. Louise and her husband, Philip Epstein, were Ellen’s parents.

Back to my Great Grandmother Sarah: By all accounts, was not a healthy woman. My 3rd cousin, Sylvia Loman, recalls that she suffered from asthma and as such, everyone was instructed not to smoke around her. My 2nd cousin, Jerry Curley, who grew up in the same house with Bubbi and Zeide, had this memory:

“My grandmother was always leaning against one of those big, black pot-bellied stoves. She would make me fried latkes in the morning and we’d sit and talk, but she was a very sick woman. She had a bad heart, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Bubbi was a very quiet, gentle woman and though full -bodied, she was weak and frail so she spent quite a bit of time in bed. When she was up, for family occasions, I always remember her wearing a housecoat.”

Chapter 3: 

SARAH’S BROTHER FEHTER (ISSACHER) SUCHA

Fehter Sucha, the Kosher butcher, was mentioned every now and then by my father, Lester Kramer, and my Uncle Arnie Kramer. They talked about him being a very traditional Eastern European Jew who was kind of scary and shouted in Yiddish when he spoke.

Ellen had similar memories of her Great Grandfather: “He died in 1963 when I was 15, so I have memories of him. He had this big, long white beard and he used to wear a black silk kippah (skull cap). He was scary. I believe he spoke English but not willingly; mostly he spoke Yiddish. When I saw him he was either in his butcher shop or praying. I remember going to their home in Peabody for different Jewish holidays. They lived in very small quarters; their dining table was basically in his bedroom and he was reclining (as you are supposed to do on Passover). I don’t believe I ever had a conversation with him but I remember that I disliked it when he kissed me, and to this day, I detest beards because of his.”

As for her grandfather, Abraham Bender, Ellen says, “He was bald and he owned a liquor store that my father worked at on Main Street in Peabody. I went in there often and when he came to visit me, he always brought Beechnut gum. He had a beautiful voice but what I remember most about him is that he refused to speak Russian because he left the country under fear of probably being conscripted and he didn’t want to recall Russia. He was here in America and he was American; that was it.”

Chapter 4:

ZEIDE’S BROTHER: MAX (MOTTEL) MOROCHNICK

After Zeide arrived in America, he sent for his brother, Mottel, who was known as “Max.”  Max eventually married Anna Behm, a Polish Jew, and they had two daughters, Mary and Sylvia. Max’s family lived at 57-55 Lucerne Street in Dorchester in a three-story building that housed six families. Sylvia, who is now 89, says her father occasionally spoke with contempt about Shepatovka, the community he was forced to flee due to pogroms, which were quite common in the early 1900’s.

“My father was a handsome guy with black hair and blue eyes,” says Sylvia, “very typical Russian looking. He was the most gentle soul and of high integrity and moral character. Like many of the Morochnicks, he was a Union housepainter. During the winter he didn’t work much, so money was very, very scarce, but I never thought I was poor because we always had food. I do remember, however, that one year, my father told me and my sister Mary to write to Santa Claus for toys – and on Christmas morning, there were toys – this from a man who was a member of the Reform Synagogue!”

Locally, Max was a member of the Shepatovka cemetery keepers. When he died, Sylvia received a telegram from the Independent Sons of Shepatovka acknowledging his loss. Max only lived to be 69. He died of a heart attack in 1958 brought on by years of heavy smoking. Max is buried with the rest of the Morochnicks in West Roxbury beside his mother, father, and brothers: Shia and Barney.

Max’s oldest daughter, Mary, married David Berlyn and the two lived in Tarrytown, NY. Mary lived to be 83 after surviving breast cancer for twenty years. Their daughter, Debra, has two daughters, Anna and Katie, while their son Steven lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Max’s younger daughter, Sylvia, (who was my dad’s 3rd cousin) married Mel Loman and had two sons and a daughter. After 55 years of a loving marriage together (including a rededication ceremony for their 50th anniversary), he passed away in 2009. They had two sons, Harold and Lee, and a daughter, Marci. Harold is divorced with a son, Kyle, and a daughter, Taylor. Lee and his wife had two children: Sam and Carly (an Emerson graduate like me!). Their daughter, Marci, married David Cohen and had two children, Douglas and Lauren.

Chapter 5: 

SYLVIA MOROCHNICK LOMAN

 Sylvia Loman is the last remaining Morochnick of that generation. Meeting her has been one of the highlights of my research into my family roots. Sylvia is an active senior citizen who uses Skype and Facebook, as well as email, to keep in touch. We spoke about her memories of my great-grandmother, Bubbi Morochnick, in whose lap she remembers sitting when she was a little girl. She loved her aunt very much for it was she who brought her parents together:

“My grandfather – my mother’s father – was a religious Jew and just before my parents first met, he was run down in the streets of Skokie, Illinois by the KKK and killed. After this tragedy, my mother went into mourning – and it was at this time that my father first met her, all dressed in black. My father told his sister-in-law, my Auntie Sarah, that he thought my mother was very pretty but she wasn’t interested in going out with him. After about a year, Auntie Sarah told my father to go see her again. Back then there were no phones and it was proper to have someone announce your visit before you arrived. So Auntie Sarah sent her two little girls, Sophie and Jenny, to the house where my mother lived to tell her that their uncle wanted to see her. When he arrived at her house, my mother’s heart was beating so fast that it led to a romance that lasted for many years. While they didn’t have much money, they were deeply in love.”

Her mother, Anna Behm Morochnick, lived to the age of 75. After Max died, her daughter moved her to a senior development in Peabody where she lived for the last five years of her life. Although she was the only Jewish resident there, she was well-loved for her easy going personality.

Sylvia, who was 26 years younger than my Nana, was raised with my father’s generation. As a young woman, she wanted to be a cantor but her father discouraged her telling her she would never “wear the robe,” so she never pursued her knowledge of Hebrew. However, in her later years, she came back to it and at the age of 85, she completed Hebrew school and got to carry the Torah at her temple. Says Sylvia, “I sang in my temple choir for 20 years but I never learned Hebrew. Learning Hebrew and going to Israel were big turning points in my life.”

Sylvia’s sister Mary also achieved her educational aspirations later in life, enrolling in college at age 50 where she earned a teaching degree and a Master’s degree. She was working toward her Ph.D. when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, but survived to live another twenty years.

Chapter 6:

SHIA, MY GREAT-GRANDFATHER’S MYSTERIOUS BROTHER

Shia, Zeide’s brother, came over last to America after his brothers paid for his passage from Israel. The story is that Shia had escaped from a work camp in Siberia. Sylvia Loman recalls Uncle Shia telling her that he had climbed over an electrified fence to escape and didn’t know why he hadn’t been electrocuted.

After making his way to Shanghai, Shia married and had a son, Alex, who was later killed during a bombing. It’s unknown what happened to his wife – whether she also died in that bombing. He later married, Sima, who he met in Israel after making his way there from China. Sima had a son, Abraham, who took on the name Morochnick. (My Cousin Ruthie says Abraham later showed up on the doorstep of Zeide’s home, years later).

After arriving in America, Shia worked with Murray Morochnick, painting and providing maintenance services for an apartment complex. Jerry “Curley” Morochnick remembers: “Shia was good friends with Murray; the two worked hand-in-hand together. They were like Laurel and Hardy but they got along well.”

Shia lived in the attic of Jerry’s family’s home at 99 Winthrop Street. While Shia was residing there, his wife Sima was living in Canada waiting to enter the U.S. to join him, but due to immigration restrictions, had to stay there for many years.

Cousin Sylvia remembers Sima as a nice, soft-spoken Russian woman and Shia, as somewhat of a womanizer. “He was not as good looking at my father but he had money. He liked life and he liked women. He was always good to my sister and I and would tell me stories about his servants in Shanghai.”

My own memories are few of my Great Uncle Shia. I remember meeting him at my grandfather’s funeral when I was eleven and being in awe of him after my dad told me that he had escaped from Siberia. I viewed Shia with great respect and regret that I didn’t get to know him better as he was the last of that generation. What I do remember was that one year after Shia died, Sima also died. People told me that she died of a broken heart.

Chapter 7:

CHILDHOOD MEMORIES

My Dad’s mother was Anna Morochnick Kramer and her family were a huge part of my early memories of growing up in a large, extended Jewish family. My “Nana” had several brothers and sisters whose names, my brother Bob and I, used to like to memorize: There was Abie, then Louie, followed by my grandmother Annie, Isaac, Murray, Sophie, and Jenny. Everybody was lovingly referred to with an ‘ie’ at the end of their name. (This tradition continued with myself, “Patty,” and my brother “Bobby,” while my sisters Nancy and Julie naturally had the ‘right’ ending – so it didn’t need to be changed).

Friday nights were always spent bringing in the Sabbath with a large dinner at my grandmother’s house at 88 Longfellow Road in Worcester, Massachusetts. My grandmother, like many women of her generation, was a fantastic cook of Eastern European culinary delights. Dinners were several courses long and lasted for hours. They always began with matzo ball soup followed by a green salad, chopped liver and crackers, a tray of pickles and other condiments and Challah. The main course was usually roasted chicken or brisket with potatoes, carrots, onions — and my favorite – mach bones! For dessert, there was always jell with canned fruit or baked apples.

How I enjoyed those Friday night dinners when I was a kid! The men would discuss politics, business and the news, while “we” kids would stuff ourselves to the gills then search for the chocolates that my grandparents hid in their polished wooden armoire.

My other beautiful memories were of walking Reggie, their black toy poodle who I loved so much, and of cutting fresh flowers from my Nana’s vibrant and aromatic gardens. My grandmother was a very skilled gardener and her gardens were always full of beautiful flowering plants including three, tall lilac trees that rose to the second story of their home outside of my Aunt Ronnie’s bedroom windows. The lilacs were lavender, white and purple and their aroma was intoxicating to me as a child.

For Sabbat dinner, my grandfather, Harry Kramer, was always seated at the head of the table with my dad, Lester, and my Uncle Arnie seated on either side of him. My Aunt Ronnie was living in New York (and later, Los Angeles) at that time so we only got to enjoy her presence on special occasions. But I remember that she would call, long distance, all the way from wherever she was and everyone in the family would take turns speaking to her. Back then, it was very expensive to speak to someone long distance so the calls were often abbreviated to “Hello Patty. How are you? Do you like school? Okay let me speak to your Dad now.”

My “Papa,” Harry Kramer, was only in my life until I was eleven but my memories of him are large and well established in my memory. He had a great sense of humor and spoke with a Russian accent. He was kind to me, loving and protective & I loved him like I loved no one else.

Chapter 8:

FAMILY VISITS

When the entire Morochnick clan was present, my grandmother’s home really came to life. It was noisy, the men were smoking cigars or pipes, the women were sharing stories in the kitchen, and Aunt Ida was usually playing the piano and singing. Those memories of family gatherings are most precious to me.

My grandmother, Anna, was very family-oriented. Everyone who knew her always mentioned how she would keep in touch by phone and by mail with everyone, never forgetting birthdays or anniversaries. She really valued the family bonds and instilled those same values in all of us.

At any family gatherings there were always a lot of people in the house. As kids, we weren’t all that interested in talking to the adults, so we would sneak away on an exploratory trip to the attic, which was only accessible from my Uncle Arnie’s bedroom. It was dusty with creaky floorboards but contained real ‘gems’ from WW2 (his Army uniform and various weapons). It was definitely a great place to hide out and let our imagination run wild!

The other great playroom was my grandparents’ cellar which contained a large family

room with a full bar, an antique telephone that hung on the wall and high, red barstools. Often, we kids would play ‘bartender’ and pretend to be mixing drinks for each other – although I don’t think we actually opened any of the bottles.

Besides the main room (or rumpus room, as my grandmother called it), was the room that contained the furnace, which was dark and scary. I only went in there when we were playing ‘Hide and Seek’ and then only for a short period of time as I believed my brother’s tales that it contained ghosts or demons and that they were going to ‘get me’ if I went in there alone.

The final room in the basement was the laundry room, which was the ending point for a chute that started on the second floor of the house, directing dirty laundry down to the basement where it landed in a cart by the washing machine. This made for a great play-tool for my brother, sister and I. Often, one of us would run upstairs and stick our head in the chute and the others would wait down below to see if we could see them. We also would toss items down the chute on whomever was waiting below, not suspecting that the balled up toilet paper was coming their way until it hit them square in the face!

My Cousin Steve Morochnick Curley recalled: “The house at 99 Longfellow Road with curling steps that led to the attic was filled with Arnold and Lester’s comic book collections. They had tons of funny books and we could sit and read for a long time!”

He adds, “You’re grandmother was a great cook and Sunday in Worcester was a great treat for all the Mishpocha from Boston, cause we knew we would get great food and desserts.  And Uncle Harry was the best joke teller (sometimes even a little racy with spicy Russian words).”

This story continues for about another 20 pages, but because it is about living people’s personal information, I will end this story here, as this is just an example of the type of family histories I create as a writer.

ALL I WANT FOR BREAKFAST IS TOAST WITH SLICED CHEESE: A TRIBUTE TO MY DAD

As I was eating my toast with sliced cheese this morning, I had a flashback to my dad, Lester Kramer, sitting across the table from me at his home in Framingham, Massachusetts ten years ago. My dad was sick with cancer and nearing his last year of life, but I remember so well his simple contentment with a breakfast of toast and sliced cheese. I realized in that moment that I had taken on some of my dad’s habits – not only his culinary “likes” but his speech and expressions, and also his appreciation for nature, birds, and the beauty that one tends to see when we aren’t preoccupied with everything else in our busy lives.

But getting back to the toast, I started thinking about the different kinds of toast my dad loved: light rye, dark rye and pumpernickel – all reflections of his early life in Worcester, MA during the depression years. It was a very different time: loaves of bread probably sold for ten cents and sitting at the table with your family in the morning and having breakfast was a real event.

I thought about how my dad and my grandfather tried to pass on these traditions to me by taking me, as a small child, to Water Street – then, the Jewish commercial section of Worcester, where there were two bakeries (Lederman’s and Widoff’s), a produce market (Sheppie’s), and two good delis (The Broadway and Weintraub’s). I have fond memories of shopping for produce with my grandfather when I was six or seven years old.

Many years later, I got one of my earliest jobs working at Widoff’s Bakery as counter help. It didn’t last long – maybe three months – but I got to be a part of what was a very important business in my community and of course, I got to learn humility by working very hard for minimum wage!

What I know now, as an adult, is that bakers are a very unrecognized and under-appreciated profession. These are people who are up at 3 a.m. to bake fresh bread, muffins, pastries and other delicacies that we take for granted. They don’t make much money and it’s very hard work as well as very long days.

So today, I’m reflecting on the memories I still hold dear from my childhood of that time from the past when my dad and I got to share breakfast and he commented that all he really wanted for breakfast was a piece of toast with cheese (not melted) and a sliced orange – and that was enough.

Today, I’m so grateful that I can relive these memories. They are all valuable reference points to who I am as a person and the values I carry forward.

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Pat Kramer, aka “Writer For Hire,” is a professional business writer, ghostwriter, and content & social media writer who helps individuals better express themselves and improve the visibility of their business branding campaigns. For more info, see: www.writerpatkramer.com.

Animal Lovers Pull Together for an Abused Dog

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

For more info. please contact:

Pat Kramer, (818) 353-5699

Pat@writerpatkramer.com

 

Los Angeles (February 10, 2010) – “Toto,” a 7-year old Chihuahua/Schipperke mix, spent his life tied up in a locked garage before a neighbor alerted L.A. City Animal Control.  He then spent another five months sharing a kennel with three other dogs at the West Valley Animal Shelter before a concerned dog lover noticed him and initiated a massive media campaign to find this dog a home.

Writer For Hire Pat Kramer spotted the 14-pound Chihuahua mix with the ‘huge eyes’ last November while visiting the Shelter to adopt another dog.  At that time, “Toto” was on the shelter’s ‘Green List,’ one step away from being euthanized.  Due to being kept in the dark for so many years, his little eyes bulged from exposure to sunlight.  But according to the Shelter’s staff, he was one of the sweetest, most loved dogs there.

Pat recalls, “With the number of dogs needing a home, I was afraid he might get ‘put down’ before I could help him.”

When she returned to adopt him a few weeks later, Toto had kennel couch and was not expected to survive.  However, a few weeks later, he pulled through and on January 5th, Pat began fostering him at her home until a permanent home could be found.  “I was intent on seeing this through,” she says, “no matter how inconvenient it might be.”

To help her along, the local animal rescue foundation, New Leash on Life, pitched in donating a sleeping crate for Toto.  To help socialize him, Jami, a local animal trainer, began teaching him basic social skills.

Over the next few weeks, Toto’s photo and story were posted by on Facebook, Craigs List, and animal rescue sites: New Leash on Life, Second Acts Foundation and Pet Adoption Fund with  Animal Control Officer Gabi Hartel and Mae Ross of 321 Talent Showcase helping with the postings.  Through these efforts, thousands of people were acquainted with Toto’s plight and on January 26th, a local family adopted him.

Today, as a result of many people working together, Toto is now a ‘pet’ for the first time in his life.  No longer tied up or left alone, he has a family to love.

Says Pat, “In the process of helping this little guy, I became aware of the many wonderful people out there who give of their time to rescue unwanted pets.  These people are real ‘saints’ for what they do!”

She adds, “For those who can adopt, please do so now. It’s so critical that these animals get some help.  The love you get back will more than compensate for your costs — and as we know– no act of kindness goes unpaid, especially as it relates to animals.”

Addendum: In April 2017, Pat learned that Toto passed away recently from a heart condition. But during the six years that he lived with his “forever family,” Toto was one of the most loved pets, ever. He grew to love his “little sister,” a Chihuahua, and had a fenced yard to play in and a bed to sleep on inside his family’s San Fernando home.

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Pat Kramer, a freelance writer living in Los Angeles, is the founder of Writer For Hire® and a proponent of animal rescue work and charities supporting humane treatment of animals.