Sunday, April 29, 2007

Three nickels in a slot…and Dinner is Served

The first time I went to the famous Horn & Hardart Automat it was 1941 and I was eight years old. I was fascinated with the bank of tiny glass windows that protected an array of delicious food dishes. It seemed like magic to me. As soon as you made a selection and inserted your nickels the glass door would pop open and you could retrieve your food. Then, almost as quickly, the food would reappear again…ready for the next hungry customer. (I didn’t know that there was a kitchen staff behind the windows refilling them as needed.)

For a few nickels you could actually get the equivalent of a small dinner. Specialties of the house would be Macaroni and Cheese, Boston Baked Beans or Chicken Pot Pie. Rice pudding was a favorite, as were all types of pies and cakes and my Dad told me it was the best place in town to get a fresh cup of coffee. If I recall correctly I opted for a sandwich and a fancy desert on that first visit.

When I moved to NY City in 1957 and got a job at WABC Radio I couldn’t wait to see if the Automat was still in business. To my great delight, when I got to Third Ave. and 42nd St., I saw that it was ! I had forgotten that there was also a cafeteria line, as well as the machines that dispensed the food and I had a great time getting re-acclimated. I could have sworn that the cashier was the same lady that I had seen 16 years before. She sat primly behind a change booth in the center of the restaurant and dispensed nickels at a rapid rate.

As you can see from the picture of the front entrance to Horn & Hardart’s the ambience was Art Deco. It was a fun place and a nice change from the stuffy, “old lady” dining rooms such as “Schraffts”. Self-service was a boon and you didn’t have to contend with tips or a staff of waiters or waitresses hovering at your table.

Although the prices had increased it was still a great bargain in 1957 and most entrees were under a dollar. Nickels were the only coins accepted and the tinkling sound of them being dropped into the slots made a pleasant background. The clientele was eclectic and the “haves” and the “have-nots” all assembled to partake of the excellent food...prepared fresh every day.

As I understand it, the Horn & Hardart Automat in NY City was the longest hold-out and stayed in business until 1991. It is now a “Gap”. It’s nostalgic to realize that we will probably never again see a time when a handful of nickels and the twist of a wrist is all that was needed to buy a good square meal.

Thursday, April 26, 2007


In 1958 I met and married my husband and we lived in New York City. One of our friends was Wes L., a Set Decorator for the day-time TV soaps, “Guiding Light” & “Love of Life”, as well as many other movie and stage productions. Wes and his partner were renowned for their elaborate dinner parties and we attended many of them.

When we moved from the city we stayed in touch for a few years but then our lives took different turns and the link was broken. We reconnected again this year when I made a trip to Palm Springs. I had discovered through mutual friends that Wes had retired there about 15 years ago.

I think we were both a little apprehensive about meeting again. It had been an entirely different world when we last knew each other but we quickly caught up and were soon as comfortable as we‘d always been. I was not at all surprised to find that Wes, as a Set Decorator, had been awarded an Emmy three times. He is extremely talented. I was pleased to learn that, in retirement, he was donating his time and expertise to a local museum and we made plans to visit there the next day.

The theme at the museum was “Wood-turned Objects of Art” and Wes had designed the three room display. Intricately turned bowls, trays and other wood items were placed in glass enclosed cases and then spotlighted. It was easy to see that Wes still had the special touch that had earned him his Emmy’s.

The next day we spent at the “Living Desert” and Wes presented three miniature figurines of Meercats to me as a memento of our day. Another night, after dinner with our mutual friends, Wes gave me another small gift. This was a “gold” doubloon, one of many that he’d saved from a collection of fake coins that were used on one of his TV Soap segments to simulate stolen treasure.

When I came home to North Carolina I arranged these items like a small tableau at the base of a large rubber plant that I keep in my kitchen. The little Meercats stand straight up and form a circle around the “gold” coin. They seem to be keeping a stern watch that it won’t be stolen and, sometimes, I think they are keeping a stern eye on me too !

Monday, April 23, 2007


Note: Today I met Joe Shelton from Greensboro, NC. Joe is known as the "Dulcimer Doctor" and I had taken my dulcimer to him for adjusting in preparation for my week's stay in the NC hills to try to learn to play the instrument. I was amazed to learn that he is a friend of Ben Long, the artist that I portray in this blog entry, and actually posed for the fresco "The Last Supper". He is the 2nd man from the right with his back to the viewer. What an amazing coincidence...since I had planned to post this entry today !

My interest and enjoyment of frescoes was greatly heightened by my trip to Italy in 2001. When I arrived home to North Carolina, I found, to my surprise and delight, that I had frescoes practically in my back yard.

It seems that a North Carolina artist by the name of Ben Long had apprenticed in Italy to learn the art of true fresco. He became an international master of the technique and was anxious to introduce it in this country. When an artist friend introduced him to the Rev. Hodge of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in the small community of West Jefferson, NC, he offered to paint a fresco in the church as a gift.

That was in the early 70’s and it was the beginning of an amazing venture. St. Mary’s congregation is known as “The Parish of the Holy Communion” and today it includes both St. Mary’s and another small historic church just 12 miles away in Glendale Springs, called Holy Trinity.

At the time that Ben Long painted his first frescoes at St. Mary’s, however, the two churches were not united. The Holy Trinity church was in disrepair and had been closed since 1946. Rev. Hodge started a campaign to restore the old church and renovations began in 1980. It was at this time that Ben painted the fresco “The Lord’s Supper” behind the altar at Holy Trinity and it became the crowning glory of the restoration.

In 2002 three friends and I made the trip to the mountains of North Carolina in search of the two small churches. They are located just off the Blue Ridge Parkway and are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week for “prayer and meditation”. Docents are church members and are usually in attendance during daylight hours. There is no admission charge but a donation is appreciated.

It was exciting to see frescoes in such good condition. So many of the ones in Italy are faded or chipped. Ben Long certainly was a master of the technique and his frescoes have brought a bit of notoriety to the area. And the little church that was closed for so many years is alive and thriving.

Friday, April 20, 2007

1943, Entertaining British Sailors in New England, WW II

In 1943 I was living with my parents and four older sisters in a big old Victorian home in Wellesley Hills, Massachusetts...nothing fancy, just lots of rooms filled with love.

In February my father asked me what I would like for my 10th birthday. "A British sailor" I replied...and that's exactly what I got. Dad and I went to the Union Jack in Boston and came home with 2 British officers...a big mistake. They were exceedingly dull, snobbish and unappreciative. We almost gave up but decided to try our luck again and this time we hit the jackpot with a 16 year old sailor and his older mate. They took to our family like ducks in water.

The first night was spent in playing jokes on each other...short-sheeting the beds, etc. and just becoming acquainted. I remember that, after I went to bed, I heard a sound like sobbing and tip-toed downstairs to see my mother cradling the homesick young sailor in her arms. I'm sure he got a good night's sleep after that.

Writing about those days in 1943 has made me realize that I was too young to understand the loneliness that so many of those boys must have been experiencing. For me, at age 10, it was a time of great excitement and expectations. We lived quite near the railroad station, and it was a treat to watch the incoming trains from Boston and to see "our boys" arrive. Many of them were based in Boston at the Fargo Naval Base and would come out every weekend or day that they had off. We often had 5 or 6 boys at the same time.

As I mentioned before, the officers proved to be unacceptable...very Britishly (is that a word?) proper and no fun at all. But the regular, run-of-the mill sailors were a delight. Ron Brown was a regular, as was Bert Entwistle (father of the yet-to-be-famous son John, of the "Who"). Bert and his wife actually came back to the states years later to help my Mother celebrate her 90th birthday.

We only deviated once away from the sailors. That was to invite two Australian belly gunners to our house. Their names were Happy & Jack and Happy became my special friend. When he finally left to go back to action I remember saying "Happy landing" and being very proud of my 10 year old's ability to make a pun of his name. Sadly he was the only one of the entire group that we entertained that was killed...and his friend Jack was shot down and finally returned to his home, but in an almost vegetated state. Obviously, being on a ship was much safer than being in the air. (I sorely regretted my parting remark.)

Another fond memory is drinking tea by the gallons and then having our tea leaves read by Paddy (from Wales). He managed to make it seem like the future was to be a wondrous place...even in the midst of that war. He was just one of the 126 sailors who graced us with their presence during World War II...a life-changing experience for us all.

*Note*....this is a re-writing of one of my earliest blogs and I apologize to the loyal bloggers (who have been with me since I began my blog in July of last year) for the repeat. However, I have only so many memories and want to intersperse some of the earlier ones in the next few months so that I will have enough to finish out a full year of blogging by this July. Thanks for bearing with me. Ginnie

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

ITZHAK PEARLMAN at Wolf Trap, Va. 1987

To say that I was thrilled to hear Itzhak Pearlman in person is a vast understatement. His performance was the culmination of a wonderful two days spent at Wolf Trap, the National Park for the Performing Arts in Vienna, Virginia.

The year was 1987 and the month was July. I had planned the weekend for almost a year, ever since I heard that the reigning virtuoso of the violin, Itzhak Pearlman, would be performing there. My husband and I were living in North Carolina and we made plans to meet friends from Connecticut at the concert.

The weather was perfect and we were thankful because the first night was spent on blankets outside of the Filene Center. Music is piped out from the building and the acoustics are amazingly fine. We were among hundreds of other music lovers enjoying the warm summer evening and listening to the orchestra pay tribute to George Gershwin. "Rhapsody in Blue" and "An American In Paris" have never sounded as sweet as they did that evening.

The following night, Saturday, was the big thrill, however. We were inside for this performance. We had 8th row, center seats in the orchestra. The excitement was palpable when the lights dimmed and Itzhak Pearlman made his entrance. Although Polio has greatly diminished his ability to walk and he gets by with the aid of crutches attached to his arms, he exudes such charm and joy that the audience is hardly aware of his infirmities.

Once he was seated and the performance began I realized that I was truly in the presence of a superstar. His irrepressible joy of making music was transferred to the audience and, although his technique was flawless, he made it seem almost easy.

I will always remember that evening with Itzhak Pearlman, a man with incredible talent and a love of humanity.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

My Respite from the sizzling streets of NY City…1957

There’s nothing much hotter than the city streets of Manhattan in mid August. This certainly was the case when I lived and worked there. I had acquired my job at WABC Radio in the fall of the previous year so I was unprepared for the changes that occurred when the full blast of summer heat hit NY City.

On this particular Saturday morning in 1957 I was taking a long walk and feeling especially forlorn and sorry for myself. The streets seemed to be deserted and the usual hustle and bustle of the “Big Apple” had come to a standstill. Air conditioning was practically unheard of, with the exception of the movie theaters, so it was near impossible to find a way to keep cool.

The main reason that I felt so low was because most of my friends had fled to the beaches and I couldn’t afford to join them. I was living in Tudor City and the rent, although miniscule by today’s terms, took up most of my paycheck. The longer I walked the more I though of the gentle ocean breezes. I was hot and miserable and green with envy.

Suddenly I remembered what a long-time city resident had told me about the Staten Island Ferry. “It’s the biggest bargain in town“, he said. I decided to give it a try and it turned out to be one of the best decisions I’d made since moving to NY City.

The Terminal was near Battery Park and the Subway that I took to get there actually cost more than the ferry ride. 10 cents for the subway and just 5 cents for the ferry. It was mid morning when I boarded the ship and, although it was crowded, there was room for all. I was thrilled to feel a breeze as we took to the open water.

I found my depression ebbing away as I immersed myself in this new adventure. The steam generated ferry seemed to be in no hurry and we had plenty of time to enjoy spectacular views of Ellis Island and The Statue of Liberty. Within half an hour we had reached Staten Island and I spent a few hours getting acquainted with the town and visiting the local zoo.

The return trip provided even better views. We passed very close to Governor’s Island and watched in awe as the lower Manhattan skyline materialized. It was the perfect ending to an enchanted day and I felt lucky to live in this wonderful city where a nickel could buy such a treat.

That nickel fee for the Staten Island Ferry lasted for many years but steadily increased until it hit a high of 50 cents per ride in the ‘90‘s. Then, in 1997, the city of New York decided to suspend all charges. The same trip that I had enjoyed for 5 cents was now FREE … amazingly making it an even bigger bargain than it had been 40 years earlier !

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

DULCIMER … “dulce” (sweet) and “melos” (song)

I first heard the “sweet song” of the dulcimer in the year 2000. My friend Bonnie and I were at the Malcolm Blue Festival in the nearby town of Aberdeen. This is a yearly event and is held at the Blue farm, a historical spot here in North Carolina.

At the festival visitors can shop for a variety of hand-crafted articles and watch a potter at work on his clay. They may also listen to the sounds of the bagpiper and the music of country musicians. We were doing all these things when we chanced upon an older gentleman and his wife softly playing the dulcimer. We were enchanted by the sweetness and purity of sound, as were many others, and we stayed glued to the spot as they finished their song. They then proceeded to tell us the history of the Appalachian (Mountain) dulcimer and to show us some lovely ones that they had made and that were for sale.

Now, you have to realize that neither Bonnie nor I were adept at reading music or playing an instrument. So, it was a great surprise to me when Bonnie decided to buy one of their hand-crafted dulcimers. It was a beauty but I was sure it would end up on a shelf somewhere and never be played.

It did get ignored for a year or so; but, eventually, Bonnie decided to learn how to play the instrument and she went in search of lessons. We are fortunate to live just a few hours away from the Appalachian area of North Carolina and she signed up for “Dulcimer Week”, hosted by Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, NC. That was in 2003, I believe, and she has gone back every year since then. She learned to play the dulcimer and now takes lessons once a week from a local teacher.

The reason I am writing about this is that I am going to join her this year and try my luck at learning to play the dulcimer. I have no high expectations because I can hardly carry a tune, much less make music; but, I am going to give it a try.

The 6-day conference starts June 24th and, luckily, I do not have to own a dulcimer to attend. They will loan an instrument to beginners like me and it will be a great opportunity to see if it’s something I can, and want, to continue learning.

Even if I don’t learn to pluck out a tune it will be a wonderful and mind-expanding experience. The hills of Western North Carolina are beyond mere beauty...and to experience those hills alive with traditional “old-time” music will be a special treat.

Registration is open until June 15th so maybe some of you out there in “blogger-land” can join us. Don’t worry, though. I intend to commit it all to, stay tuned ... ”details at 11:00”.

Sunday, April 08, 2007


The Maness Pottery & Music Barn is a “must-see-to-be-believed” attraction in Moore County, North Carolina. It is open every Tuesday night, all year long, and features Blue Grass, Country and Gospel “pickin’ and singin”.

When my daughter and her husband were visiting me last year we decided to check it out. We were not disappointed. We found the barn six miles west of Carthage...a mere 30 minutes from my home...but light-years away from my usual Tuesday night.

The first thing that we noticed were the haphazardly parked cars lining the street and people of all ages streaming into the large barn. Many of them carried violins, banjos and other musical instruments and a lot of the women were toting food. The click, click of some shoes told us that there were cloggers among them. We hadn’t been sure what to wear but we found that it didn’t matter. The dress code was eclectic and we fit right in.

The crowd was rowdy, friendly and welcoming.
There was no admission charge and we made our way to the large auditorium where we were actually lucky to get a seat. The show had already begun and a group was performing on the huge stage that spanned the front of the room. It was a trio of fiddlers and the average age seemed to be around 70 ! They were wonderful and stomped and played to the delight of the audience.

On either side of the row of chairs was a wide aisle and we soon saw why. People of all ages and genders would suddenly get up & start to dance...some of them clogging and others just doing what felt good to them. An older man approached me and asked if I wanted to dance and I did ! It just seemed the thing to do and it proved to be fun for me and for all those that cheered us on.

We were to learn that it was considered a great honor to play at Clyde Maness’ barn. Musical groups of all types performed there and often a well-known Country or Blue Grass star would show up unannounced. The night we were there I heard a cello rendition of “The House of the Rising Sun” that was outstanding.

As I looked around the room I realized that there were many people there who would never see a Broadway show, or, frankly, be able to afford one. They could care less. A basket had been passed for donations and people paid what they could afford. No one was left out and everyone had a wonderful time.

It was a night to be remembered and we were still filled with music as we made our way home...tired but happy and ready to do it again the next time they come for a visit.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

A Gourmet’s delight…the foods of Umbria & Tuscany

I have never enjoyed food as much as I did when I spent a month in the Umbria and Tuscany areas of Italy. From the day that my friend Douglas and I set our feet on the Roman soil until the day that we flew home to North Carolina we delighted in the variety and freshness of the food that was offered.

Neither of us drank alcohol, much to the dismay of the Italians who couldn’t imagine a meal without wine...but the bottled sparkling water (called “agua con gas”, to my amusement) was a fine accompaniment to any repast.

We were lodging in Monasteries (7 of them in all) and the typical breakfast was a HARD roll and a pot of very strong coffee. We augmented this with fresh fruit and it would be enough until lunchtime. We quickly learned that our best bargain, food wise, was to get carry-out at a local “mercato”. We would often opt for the delicious Tuscan bread, cheese and grilled vegetables. These we would eat in the open air as we watched the locals and the tourists parade past us.

We did eat a few dinners out but came to realize that the best meals offered were right at our Monasteries. They were inexpensive but superb and would consist of three courses...first would be pasta, rice medley or a hearty soup. Then a platter of fish or meat (usually veal, chicken and once, rabbit) with vegetables and then the final course of fresh fruit and cheeses. Always a surprise and always delicious.

We decided to treat ourselves to a night out when we were in the small, isolated town of Gubbio. The sisters at that monastery had recommended a spot just around the corner. It was poorly lit and you could barely make out the small sign with the name of the restaurant. Imagine our surprise when it turned out to be the most elaborate meal of our trip. We could barely move after 3 hours spent on course after course of rich food !

Nothing that we were to experience in Rome, Florence or Venice came near to the excellence of that meal...but, to be honest, we never again spent $90 per person as we had in that little town. I wonder if the sisters got a kickback?? I hope so.

Monday, April 02, 2007


Spring is when your little girl wears pinafores,

When hopes are reborn and the rent is paid on time.

* * * * *

Spring is feeling ten feet tall and brand new,

A fairyland of green-on-green where all things are possible.

(I wrote this in 1966 when my little girl was almost 5 years old.)