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Childhood pets can run the gamut from cats, dogs, hamsters, goldfish, turtles, etc., to pigs and ferrets.  If Mom and Dad don’t want to deal with an animal, they can get pretty creative, suggesting hermit crabs and ant farms.

 

My first pet was a cat, which I named Felix, after the cartoon.  We lived near a heavily trafficked corner and, sadly, Felix was hit by a car. 

Felix the Cat

Felix the Cat

 

 

My next cat, Boots (named after the story Puss n Boots), had to be given away because it gave me ringworm.   

Puss n Boots

Puss n Boots

Share a story about your first pet.

 

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I received my first camera – a box Brownie – when I was about 8 years old. It didn’t take me long to go through a roll of film. I took pictures of anything that moved.

My father’s camera didn’t have a flashbulb (early 1960s). Instead, he would hold a T-shaped bar with three very large bulbs that could light a stadium. He had to take our pictures quickly, before we were blinded.

When my uncle decided to become a professional photographer, he asked me to sit for him so he’d have some shots for his portfolio. He suggested a nearby park. I said, “Fine,” but, was secretly mortified. I was in high school, and was afraid someone I knew might see me. Ah, teen angst.

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Legend has it that Hemingway was once challenged to write a story in only six words.   His response:  “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” 

Smith Magazine decided to tap into that creative exercise as to one’s life story, and produced a book of compiled six-word memoirs, entitled “Not Quite What I Was Planning.”  Examples of submissions:

404: Life could not be found.

 

Rode the hare instead of tortoise.

 

Found success, lost relatives, then friends.

 

Ignored instructions; still picking up pieces.

 

I still miss my big brother.

 

Took road less traveled. Skinned knees.

 

Always the last in from recess.

 

 

Submit your own six-word memoir here.

 

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Duplex Planet

Duplex Planet

If, for some reason, you’ve been out of the loop for the last couple of decades, I wanted to bring the wonderful “Duplex Planet” to your attention.  I bought this book about ten years ago, and share it whenever I get the chance.  It’s an example of why I enjoy the biography business.  You never know what someone is going to say.

As activity director of the Duplex Nursing Home, David Greenberg became friends with the residents.  He had the idea of asking common and wacky questions to the residents, from “How did you meet your wife?” to “Who was Frankenstein?” and record their responses.  Because it was a nursing home, the mental processes of the residents varied.  “… the names of their conditions of deterioration mattered little to me,” wrote Mr. Greenberg.  “What did matter was that this was someone still very much alive, very interested in conversing, in entertaining or being entertained, in connecting with someone else.”

 

Excerpts:

 

What’s the most valuable thing you ever lost?

 

Well, to me it was valuable.  It was a letter written to us extolling the virtues of my son from the Superintendent of Schools.  He said it could be used as a letter of recommendation anytime in his life.  It told that he was not only good scholastically, but he had good character as well.  I lost it somewhere. It fell out of my pocket.  To me it was valuable.

 

Herman Seftel

 

What can you tell me about the Beatles?

 

I don’t know nothin’ about the Beatles.  I can tell you more about the Salem Fire.  June 25th, 1914.  It burned seven days and seven nights.  We had doughnuts and coffee by the Salvation Army. I also wrote a book on the Salem Fire.  Worked with the Salem Public Works Department, fifteen years.

 

Walter Kieran

 

What’s the worst trouble you were ever in?

 

Probably I’ve been in plenty, but I don’t remember it.  My memory isn’t as good as it used to be.  Used-to-be.  How long ago is that, huh? 

 

Fergie Ferguson

 

Treat yourself to this insightful, humorous and poignant book of collected conversations of seasoned individuals.

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1963We couldn’t afford store bought costumes, so ours were usually hand-made, like this witch’s outfit which Mom sewed, which included stitched-on orange felt pumpkins and other shapes.  My two younger brothers and I didn’t care that the costumes were handmade.  We were happy just to dress up and see what the other kids were wearing.

 

We lived on a horseshoe-shaped street, and we’d cover its entire length, running back-and-forth across the street (with Dad walking along keeping an eye on us), from house-to-house filling our bag.  And, I mean, filling it.  We used grocery bags – yes, the big paper ones – which we would decorate, and it almost topped out by the end of the evening.  Can you imagine?  A grocery bag completely filled with candy!

 

For a couple of years, to save money, Mom made popcorn balls with crazy food coloring to hand out.  I can still see some of the kids’ faces trying to figure out what to make of them.  The 4″ size usually won them over, however.  

 

Abbott & CostelloEvery Halloween, at 6:00 p.m., the local television station would play “Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein.”  (For some reason, Dracula and Wolfman didn’t get equal billing.)  I would watch it after we got home, digging through my saccharine bounty.  Sweet Tarts were the best, and the marshmallow peanuts were the worst.

 

One thing I avoided every Halloween were haunted houses.  I was too jumpy. (Did I mention I have two brothers?)

 

What were your favorite costumes?

 

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How accurate will your biography be? 

Dorothy Parker, writer and wit extraordinaire, was witness to two plays written about her.  One was written by Ruth Gordon, and the other by George Oppenheimer, which made her leery about writing her autobiography.  “If I did, George Oppenheimer and Ruth Gordon would sue me for plagiarism.”  Read the rest of this entry »

So, what?  Biographies are not just for “famous people.”  Every single person has an interesting story to share.  Everyone. 

Ask five people you know the same question and see what different responses you get.  For example:  “When you were a child, what was something you got away with?”

Share your results here.

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A fellow historian recently attended an aging conference in Switzerland, where she learned that, in Germany alone, there are over 10,000 residents over the age of 100.  One of them was quoted as saying, “I stopped worrying about my children when they entered rest homes.”

Who is your oldest relative?  What is his or her earliest memory that you find really interesting?

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“We are such spendthrifts with our lives,”  Mr. Newman once told a reporter.  “The trick of living is to slip on and off the planet with the least fuss you can muster.  I’m not running for sainthood. I just happen to think that in life we need to be a little like the farmer, who puts back into the soil what he takes out.”

Paul Newman

Paul Newman

Thank you, Paul, for sharing your time on the planet with us, and setting a high bar for others to aspire.

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“Who are those people and why do we have photographs of them?” Read the rest of this entry »

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