Aunt Bea's 1939 Plymouth

Aunt Bea's 1939 Plymouth

Friday, February 5, 2016

The "Pennsy", more than a Monopoly piece

A Lionel Locomotive and tender. Many of us found this one under the Christmas tree.

Routes of the Pennsy in 1918.

The Pennsylvania Railroad was founded in 1846. Commonly referred to as the "Pennsy," the company was headquartered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

The PRR was the largest railroad by traffic and revenue in the U.S. for the first half of the twentieth century. Over the years, it acquired, merged with, or owned part of at least 800 other rail lines and companies. At the end of 1925, it operated 10,515 miles of rail line and in the 1920s, it carried nearly three times the traffic as other railroads of comparable length, such as competitors Union Pacific, the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe, and its most notable rival, the New York Central. NYC carried around three-quarters of the Pennsy's ton miles. 

At one time, the PRR was the largest publicly traded corporation in the world, with a budget larger than that of the U.S. government and a workforce of about 250,000 people. The corporation still holds the record for the longest continuous dividend history: it paid out annual dividends to shareholders for more than 100 years in a row.

In 1968, PRR merged with rival NYC to form the Penn Central Transportation Company, which filed for bankruptcy within two years. The viable parts were transferred in 1976 to Conrail, which was itself broken up in 1999, with 58 percent of the system going to the Norfolk Southern Railway (NS), including nearly all of the former PRR. Amtrak received the electrified segment east of Harrisburg. 

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Downton Abbey . . . my take . . . thus far

Written before the broadcast of Episode 2, Season 6, airing tonight, Sunday the 10th of January, 2016.

We spent more than six hours touring Highclere Castle where Downton Abbey is largely filmed.  Despite breathing the setting's English air, we gained not one insight, clue, or educated guess as to what future for the Crawleys or the staff as depicted in the final season.

Nonetheless, here's what your blogger suspects

1. Carson and Mrs. Hughes will leave the house after their wedding and before the series ends. 

2. Prompting this departure is a falling out between Lady Cora and Mrs. Hughes prior to her wedding. A teaser scene indicates such, when Anna, Mrs. Patmore, and Mrs. Hughes are seen scurrying from Mi'lady's bedroom following an altercation and some miscommunication.

3. Trailers released by the producers also hint that Thomas Barrow, the resident schemer, will be elevated to Butler, perhaps temporarily. But he resigns and declares he's the better man for his exposure to Carson's supervision and his years with the fair and decent Crawleys. Again, based on a teaser clip. His exposure to children George and Marigold have a transformative effect on Barrow and he mellows, becomes more comfortable with his lot in life, and moves on, redeeming himself. 

After all, being a full-time villain must become tiresome, what?

4. Lady Edith, sadly, must bear another tragedy, perhaps involving Marigold. Hinted by Sir Julian Fellowes, the series creator and writer. She needs a new man in her life . . . see below.*

5. Footman Mosely and Upstairs Maid Baxter are promoted to Butler and Housekeeper as they explore the prospect of another budding romance ala, Carson and Mrs. Hughes. 

6. A permanent rift widens between Lady Violet, the Dowager Countess, and Cousin Isobel Crawley over the local hospital and its management. It appears the village clinic is threatened by a takeover from a larger regional center. Hmmm, sounds like a contemporary matter and issue sprawling across today's medical industry.

7. Cousin Isobel leaves the field, conquered by Lady Violet. Nonetheless, the indomitable Dowager realizes she's won a Pyrrhic Victory as she is lonelier now and misses Isobel's companionship.

8. Cousin Isobel announces her return to her former life and location where her husband and son Matthew are buried. She takes up community service there and finds employment in the shop of her ailing sister.  Doctor Clarkson mounts a half-hearted effort to woo or at least encourage her to stay in the area despite his misgivings and resentment over her meddling in earlier episodes.

Lord Grantham begs her to stay, if only for the sake of her sole grandson, George.

9. Tom Branson, the widower and former chauffeur for the Crawleys, returns! 

To allow the Crawleys a few weeks with their granddaughter?  To partner with Lady Mary, now elevated to Estate Manager? 

*To explore any marital possibilities with Lady Edith, both of whom hold the other in high regard?

10. Bates and Anna are finally enjoying their marriage, though the difficulty of becoming pregnant looms. They too announce their departure, planning to open an inn on the coast of Cornwall.

11. The new footman (Andrew?) and Daisy strike up a fondness for each other, if not a romance.

12.  Lady Susan, Marchioness of Flintshire and mother of Lady Rose, commits suicide to the relief of all. 

Every drama must present a perpetually tragic figure and she's it, in my view. Thomas qualifies but even the most hardened and cynical among us can experience an epiphany and make an about-face.

13. Robert Crawley, the Earl of Grantham, announces no staff members will be added as the economic realities of the estate becoming crushingly apparent. He learns to drive an automobile.

14. A lovers' triangle spins Mary, Edith, and Tom Branson into a major plotting device, episode after episode. This possibility has always been in the wings: Fellowes has dropped plenty of hints through the years. 

What your blogger hopes will happen (or not happen)

1. God forbid, Shirley MacLaine returns to Downton. No more American actors trying to steal scenes from these British (and better) actors and actresses, please. 

MacLaine reminds one of John Wayne. They both ended up playing the persona they and others built, rather than the characters they were cast to portray. And unfortunately, scripts were written for their persona, not the character.

2. And, please, Sir Julian, enough of those dreary Russians. Board then up in Paris, never to be seen or heard from again. (Thankfully, the Bates murder business seems wrapped up after dragging on for far too long. )

3. Likewise, let Lady Rose and Atticus fade into the background. Lady Rose appeared as an exasperating flibbety-gibbet early on but matured into a more likable and sensible character, thankfully. 

But, what plot line is left for them? Depictions of a rocky or happy marriage? The conversion to Christianity for Atticus? Rose wrangling with Susan, Lady Perpetual Nose-out-of-Place? Some health crisis with Lord Sinderby that presents him in a more approachable, pitiful, or disagreeable light?

4. I trust Julian Fellowes is dramatist enough to realize the final season should focus on the old-timers of the cast. Let's bring their lives full circle, or at least to the point we can predict a promising future.

We're speaking of Daisy and Mrs. Patmore, Lord and Lady Grantham, Thomas Barrow, Carson and Mrs. Hughes, Mosely, Cousin Isobel and Lady Violet, Tom Branson, Lady Mary, and Lady Edith. 

These are the folks who captured our interest as their times rolled through the decade and inspired any devotion to the series. If I were consulting, I would advise no new characters at this stage of the thing, unless they can really prove their mettle and worth to the main characters we root for.

5. Lady Mary is too imperious for my loyalty so I'm ambivalent about her future. If she takes up with the Matthew Goode character who is apparently an auto and racing enthusiast, fine. One would think she would have an aversion to sports cars after Matthew's tragic death in one.

6. But, I think I speak for many when we voice a chorus of hopes for Lady Edith who has paid her dues. If she and Tom Branson don't refine this mutual admiration into a fine romance and marriage, I will be disappointed, Sir Julian, mark my words.  Get 'er done.

7. Fellowes is one pretty smart fellow, I think, about these matters of tradition, intrigue, jealousy, and class during the times he depicts. He speaks to all who have experienced boardroom betrayal, office backstabbing, territorial disputes, misplaced trust, and hopes dashed by enemies or realities. Many of us have trod that ground and are loathe to look back. 

Downton Abbey strikes a chord deeper than those who dismiss it as soap opera fare might admit.

8.  Closures, endings, departures are not always pleasant but bittersweet, even sour. I predict when the Hughes and Carson partnership leaves Downton, it will be under a cloud or misgivings. Or let's put it this way: I will not be surprised if regret doesn't taint their leaving. I hope not, but such is good drama, good writing, realism.

9. Same with Isobel Crawley's decisions toward leaving Matthew's death, Doctor Clarkson, Downton in the past and behind. She is destined to be a disappointed woman I admire for her resilience, determination, and good will. It may develop grandson George will remain her only slender tie to the family. Unless she decides or is advised to sue Downton for Matthew's money that bailed out the estate in the early going. Yipe!  

Sir Julian: could she? Would she? Should she?  Here, too, I hope not.

Finally,  personal thoughts on the plotting, cast, and the presentation

Most touching "academy award" performance or at least worthy of an Emmy?

Mrs. Drew's surrender of Marigold to Lady Edith toward the end of Season Five.

Most admired character?

Hugh Bonneville's depiction of the beleaguered Earl of Grantham is spot on. Cannot think of any contemporary English actor who could lend the gravity, the transparency, or the dignity the role requires. Among the very early scenes, Robert Crawley is shown descending that magnificent staircase, looking out over the fields of Downton Abbey. The responsibilities, the worries, the decisions toward the future and the unknowns (and the disappointments) weigh heavily. We can read such even though Bonneville is shown in profile! Commanding.

Favorite Actor?

Hugh Bonneville

Favorite Character?

Easily, Lady Edith. I am mesmerized when she's on the screen. Second choice: Lord Grantham.

Favorite Actress?

Laura Carmichael. She is skilled beyond her years, physically displaying the distress she's often under throughout the series. The fluttering eyelids, the quivering lip––you can "hear" her inner turmoil as well as see such. That's presence. Regardless of Laura's future roles, I think "Lady Edith" will remain her tour de force and the one for which she'll be most remembered.

Favorite Scene Overall?

When Lord Grantham unveils the plaque placed on the side of the church, recognizing the sacrifice of Mrs. Patmore's nephew, Archie.  He was shot for cowardice, allegedly, during action in WWI.

Other Favorite "Stuff"?

Lady Edith is a knockout in a wardrobe that seems especially tailored for her. Very flattering, always.

Reflecting the interests of your blogger here, the vintage cars are always eye-catchers as are the views of the countryside. Carriage horses and the dogs get my attention. Mrs. Patmore's kitchen creations. The good country manners, for the most part, and tasteful dialogue in contrast to today's vulgarity. 

Final Thoughts?

I suspect landholders in both the British Isles and the states can relate to the Earl's plight. Shrinking revenue, rising costs, capricious markets, passing the farm down, escalating pressures from encroachment by non-farming interests or regulatory oversight––all require strategies and decisions that might prove to be wrong or ill-advised.

And those of us not on the land can identify with the relationships and situations Fellowes presents. Yes, some of the plotting and plot devices are a bit tacked-on but not so ramshackle they won't do in a pinch. Good drama makes things plausible even if they're not likely possible. We're thinking of coincidence, convenience, contrivances that help move things along. Without such, boredom might set in and quickly.

But even if we might dismiss such as play-acting, there remains enough grist in Downton Abbey to make it stick and apply to today's lifestyles. Certainly, tradition, class, expectations held sway back then, accented by the well-documented and highly lampooned stiff upper lip of the Brits soldiering on. Yet, it's evident to any thoughtful consideration of the series, such served the characters well as Carson so admirably exemplified. And the Earl. Sometimes, there's need of a stuffed shirt of two to keep things in perspective. Such provided continuity, good will, and concern for the greater good.

And, one is compelled to think that herein lies the core perhaps of the appeal. These characters stood for something, something permanent and of lasting value. Of course, there were shysters like Bricker, the art dealer; the low-life that attacked Thomas at the fair; the card shark exposed by Michael Gregson. 

But what appeals to us today might be the standards expected within the mainstream of that society long ago: that society is best served by good will and an acute sense of propriety. 

Today, we seem gluttonous, feeding on trends, fads, vulgar and demeaning pop culture, and generally poor manners stemming from a populace ill-bred and lacking respect for what enduring and grounded values still exist in special places. Basically, I expect we'll find we're not as smart as we think we are.

Do we yearn for the decency and core values Downton's characters and their lives portray?

The characters of Downton Abbey reflect their times but much more. They demonstrate a basic concern that we are obliged to treat our fellow citizens and neighbors within the ethics of a Golden Rule. It served them well. Might it do the same for us, a century later?

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Aunt Bea's Plymouth: "The Gad-abouts"

Somewhat strange, I suppose, for a twelve-year-old to tag along with his aunt as she made her rounds for the church. Yet, calling on old members and friends, new families fresh with babies or Beagle pups, farm folks and city dwellers––every visit made a memory for me.

One could peek down the hall or up the stairs of the homes we entered. I'd note the Victorian antiques or if the television was a DuMont, Philco, GE, RCA, Sylvania, or an Emerson. Then record what calendars or portraits hung on the wall, find the creaks in the hallway, smell the aromas that clung to the wallpaper. 

Church visitation was no respecter of persons: some homes reeked of old times and infirmities; others were upscale where finned Cadillacs were berthed and, on the Hi-Fi, lush violins played country club music to complement the plush draperies and polished heirlooms.

The Breathwaites lived close to the "fashionable" side of town and life back then. Often pictured in the Tribune, they could out-Carnegie Dale Carnegie, author of How to Win Friends and Influence People––a very popular book back in those days. They drove Buicks. A dignified Roadmaster sedan for Cecil; a smaller, sportier Century hardtop for Virginia.

We were ushered into the stone foyer just as Cecil's cousin was leaving, and my Aunt Bea was elected to negotiate an argument.

Yes, Cousin Jim told us, the elder Breathwaites were still holding forth on the family place. "Mom and Pop rent most of the land and pasture, and that's fine with me since I din't want to farm. And, . . . so here I am, trying to get these two down yonder to see 'em while they're still around."

"We're driving down soon's we can," Cecil laughed, embarrassed enough that even I could see it.

"That's what I heard the last time we had this discussion," Jim told us. "Every time we get into this."

"Jim," Virginia piped up, "we're busy people, just like you and Karen."

"I painted this house a year last summer," Jim told the both of us. "So I kept track of the to and fro around this place. Cecil would pull out, first thing in the morning. Then there goes Virginia, driving off. Cece comes back, then he leaves again. Virginia comes back. Cece drives back in, then Virginia takes off. Then Cecil takes off, and Virginia, in the meantime, comes back––"

Cecil shook his head and laughed, "Oh, Jimmy, now––"

"Y' might as well leave the garage door open––be easier. Needa traffic cop out here."

"Jim, we're social people––"

"Gadfly gad-abouts, I say."

"Well, you saw us on a Thursday and that's our busiest," said Virginia. "Miss Cotton knows all about how many things go on in this town." Jim started ticking off his fingers.

"They sing in two different church choirs, Presbyterian and Stone Methodist––practice every week for that. Then, Ginny plays the organ over at St. Paul's. They're both Gold Coaters, so have to get out and meet the tour buses comin' through. Then there's Rotary, and her garden club, Kiwanis, and the library board, something up at the college, and the Art and Book Guild, the Bird and Tree Club, the balloon fest, the pancake breakfasts––"

"And there's always work to be done and volunteers have to do it," Virginia pled her case.

'Well, Gin, let someone else take that stuff on." Jim scowled her way. "They pawn these jobs off on you two 'cause they know it'll get done."

"Jim, Ginny and I've talked about this very thing. We're going to bring the kids––"

"Dad's got four tracks for his trains now. Goes clear down one wall and around the corner, across the other. Mom's family tree quilt is done finally. Th' folks would be tickled to death to show those grandkids around . . . and get acquainted a bit."

"Yes, just as soon as they have a free weekend, we'll load 'em up––"

"Do it before they turn sulky, . . . couple pouty teenagers don't want to bother with us old duffers."

"We will, we will. We'll get it done."

Jim made his way to the front door of oak and wrought iron. "One of these days, Cuz, you're gonna get the call, 'The funeral's on Friday, hope yunz can make it.'" 

The cousins said their goodbyes, and Aunt Bea and I were ushered into a den cozy with tartan upholstery, bookshelves built into the pickled oak paneling and a robust rock fireplace, trimmed in copper.

Church stuff took up most of the visit and most of which I don't remember. I do recall, though, the bit about pouty teenagers and pawning jobs off on folks entrusted and known to get such done.

Monday, December 7, 2015


If your mailbox is bulging with catalogs, or your email trailing down the page with holiday specials, why not make it easy this year and give a gift for all seasons and ages? 

Here's our shameless promotion!

The Boys of Summers Run is written for seniors . . . parents . . .  grandparents . . . middle-grade teens . . . and boys, likely the reluctant readers in most households.

The back cover reads:

Fatherless boys become the Four Horsemen of the Outfield

Autumn, and high above the fields and forests of his family's historic farm, Claude Kinkade surveys his life there thus far. His future in rural Pennsylvania remains cloudy. His mother's marriage may move him to the deserts of Las Vegas and far away from his beloved Little League Baseball team, the Panthers.

Worse, Claude's loyalty is spreading its cloak over Shadeland, his father's ancestral acreage. He senses his departed father's shadow following him as he becomes the "farm-boy-in-training" of Summers Run. Must he forsake the memories he yearns to make among the Clan Kinkade? Will Shadeland suffer in his absence?

"Runs" are the brooks and streams linking the countryside together in Claude's new world. Summers Run is one of these, and The Boys of Summers Run is a story of deep roots and timeless springs, nurtured by traditions of family and folkways. It describes the friendships only boys can forge while learning of life and loss, the triumphs and tragedies of it all. One unsolicited reviewer writes:

"I think this is the best book I've read in a long time. I enjoyed it because it taught so many lessons. . . . I would recommend this book for all ages."

Be aware Boys is not a sports story. Nor the typical coming-of-age account. It is a story of a family preserving the land and the values it is duty-bound to protect and honor.  

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And, Pennsylvania, . . . folks, is the setting featured in this work. Yes, there are detours taken through Las Vegas and Montana, but P. A. is where most of Claude's story of his search and grounding take place. Read Boys and discover if it rings true.

Sunday, December 6, 2015


Can't seem to pass a bowl without looking at its contents. Folks get pretty creative. 

This time of year, a bowl often contains the season's holiday greeting cards. Some are receptacles for the more mundane things of life: car keys, cell phones, the dog's leash, a shopping list, mail coming in or going out, and the like. Here's one of ours:

Along with a couple Amur Maple leaves, you might recognize seeds from one of our favorites, the milkweed. Not a glamorous plant, it makes itself useful as well as ornamental as the perfect nesting perch for the Monarch caterpillar and butterfly. A much preferred habitat for this threatened or endangered species.

When fields are farmed right to the road, beneficial plants such as the milkweed are often the victim of overly aggressive weeding programs. If you have a ditch bank or area that's perpetually moist, try planting some milkweeds. While the flower isn't pretty, the seeds are among nature's most exquisite we think. Plus our world's dwindling Monarchs will thank you.

It was an "off" year for our little orchard. So no McIntosh for us in 2015. But, the apples and bowl below were set on a table by my wife more than 40 years ago. A good harvest in both fruit and film.