Sunday, April 12, 2020


In Barrio Pezuela Puerto Rico, during WWII, a barefoot girl in her only ragged shift tended her father’s scrawny chickens and bony cow. She had been born in that struggling hamlet a day’s walk outside Lares at the start of the depression. Maria limped from an ailment (polio, undiagnosed and untreated) that had long kept her bedridden—one of twelve in two rooms; the one who hadn’t been able to pull her own weight. They called her ‘Tata.’ In her grandmother’s house, her refuge, they watched the planes headed for Miami, silver birds flying away to America. Just before grandmother died, Maria told her she wanted to go there too. Maria Pelegrina Caban left Mayaguez in 1950 for a new life in America. She landed at Idewyde (now JFK) in winter to never before seen snow flurries, in a second hand cotton sundress and coarse sandals. Alone and bewildered in Spanish Harlem, she found assistance in others who’d left the island before. Now free to be a new person, vivacious and flirtatious, she thrilled to the life of a city unimaginable in the poverty and strife of the village home she’d left for the last time at fifteen; the entire world she’d left behind. The nanny work she’d performed since the age of twelve supported her, that and fine embroidery and sewing: piecework jobs in Soho sweatshops. These skills she refined and enjoyed for the rest of her life. Maria met her first husband Theodore Norton, a blue-eyed rake, while out dancing. Together they had her first child Eric, a baby of her own to love after years of raising the children of others. Tragically widowed early in the marriage and without support from her late husband’s family, she and Eric became nomads in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut, seeking a safe and permanent home. A resolute and creative survivor throughout, she found that home in Westerly, RI. There, she met Thomas Thorpe, a thoughtful younger man drawn to her beauty and uniqueness; Maria’s tempestuousness was a foil for Tom’s Yankee circumspection. They married quickly. Tom and Perry (her nickname then) gave Eric a brother, Henry two years later, and added 3rd child Eddie ten months after that.  After having raised their boys into strong and capable men, she and Tom made a new smaller nest in a cheerful compact cottage with a sunny garden. Surrounded by the bees and butterflies she adored, Maria pursued gardening in a jumbled naturalistic style that reflected her sometimes raucous informality. As always, she continued her penchant for frankness; her quips and observations noted for their insight as much as their audacity. The last stop of her long journey brought Maria and Tom nearer to two of her boys—and importantly, a passel of grandchildren—in Middletown, NJ., close by the ocean she’d flown across a half century before. Struggling with chronic health problems in their later years, she and Tom persevered together as they always had in what would ultimately be a fifty-seven-year marriage; each the others steadfast if not always steady support. Maria Pelegrina Thorpe died peacefully early on March 28, 2018 in her 88th year,  safe and secure in the love of her husband and family that had always sustained her. She lives on in the hearts of husband Thomas Taylor Thorpe; children Eric Norton, Henry Thorpe and Edward Thorpe; daughters-in-law Sandy Thorpe and Tammy Norton; grandchildren and all those fortunate to have known her.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


I think I should start writing things here again, instead of in sketch books and bar napkins.

Sunday, August 09, 2009


Why hello!

Haven't seen you here in awhile. I haven't been around, either.
Though I would surely prefer camping, I am instead 
dry walling the bathroom.
I'll keep you updated if anything interesting happens,
though what that could possibly be,
I can't imagine.


Monday, February 23, 2009

What Remains


How many friend's partners/spouses had you buried by the time you were 40? This is my first.

Her Irish sisters had composed a vignette of her on the hospital bed in the living room, where she died in Marks arms before sunrise. The one who let me in scurried back to the clutch of the others in the kitchen, where they huddled like birds in a stiff and bitter wind. Tiny photos and prayer books were placed in an arc above Patty's face, around which they'd closely laid some of the loose handwoven shawls and throws she favored, masking it off as though for spray painting. It could use the painting too, I guess; all waxy translucent and taught. A mask not like Patty at all. I touched it. It was cool and not at all resilient, all the color faded away. In only a few hours! I wanted to press my thumbs into the cheeks to see if it would leave a mark, but I knew better. Her father sat in the chair where he'd sat since dawn; perpendicular to the mattress, head down over fingers knotted into a beseeching fist, just as still, and just as silent as his daughter. He didn't look up.

The Yankee Protestant dead are covered immediately, and vanish into the backs of black Cadillac or Lincoln hearses as soon as stunned/exhausted/relieved spouses or children can marshal shaking fingers into pressing the right sequence of digits into the phone. Three or four days later facsimiles of the departed appear - after spray painting - in mahogany or bronze shadow boxes lined in pale ruched silk, determined by propriety, taste and budget.

I worried myself up the stairs, running through all the platitudes and cliches recalled from all the funerals I've attended. Are they as hollow to hear as they are to say? I went with saying nothing, just holding him and stroking his head while we cried. Later, from halfway down the stairs, the scene below hadn't changed; the green and gold shawls and sad grey man in a red leather chair; a guttered out candle visage. Cold.

Nope. What remains is not Patty at all - so the half open, dull eyes weren't creepy,
just curious.


Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Seventy Eight

Happy Birthday Mom!

Friday, October 31, 2008

It's Halloween!

After WW II, as the vacancy left by white flight started to fill with migrating blacks in much of greater Philadelphia, my Fairmount neighborhood began contracting. The working class Polish and Ukrainian residents retreated behind bulwarks of the walled campuses of an orphans' school and a nursing home to the north, and at the broad demarcation line of Corinthian Avenue to the east . That avenue ends at the colossal white marble columns of the school's main building, standing sentry over the wide no mans land street dividing the neighborhoods, like the Brandenburg gate thousands of miles away between the then new East and West Berlins. Fairmount kids were herded off to one of two Catholic schools to the south, while the black kids outside the fiercely defended perimeter continued to attend the public schools. The system remains today. Over the years the locals worked tirelessly to keep the sometimes real and sometimes imagined dark skinned hoards off the local streets, meeting any sort of encroachment with hostile stares, threats - and sometimes worse. That's all diminished somewhat in the ten years I've lived there, with the influx of the monied and educated, but some of the bunker mentality remains. One of its manifestations is Halloween - we have two in the neighborhood - sort of a trick or treat apartheid.

Each October, the parents of the Catholic school students determine a date shortly before the holiday, and spread this information among themselves; it is not posted on fliers or websites. The date is disseminated to the new professional residents via market, coffee shop, and dry cleaners. At 6pm on the selected day the costumed children of Fairmount canvas the local streets in the gaze of their stoop sitting elders, and the warm orange glow of pervasive plastic pumpkins mounted over the porch and front door lights of homes in the network. It's all over before eight.

On October 31st, the neighborhood is mostly quiet, the residents shut behind tightly closed doors and drawn blinds, the plastic jack o' lanterns dark and the stoop and porch lights out. At dusk, along frontier streets like the one where my current home is located, bands from the north will approach the beacon lights of the few obviously occupied houses. Those residents are either not in on it or oppose the "local" trick or treating date on principle.

This year things may be a little different. World Series Madness has gripped the city. Right now the streets are jammed with a red shirted hoard a million strong surging around the stadium on Broad Street. After dusk they will return to the cars they jammed into my neighborhood (and others) this morning, zombified by plastic pints of Bud Lite, Yuengling Lager and twenty six years of pent up euphoria, and we will hide from a different invasion, our pumpkins already safely stowed away for next year.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Half Life

During my recent extensive and ongoing cleaning marathon, I discovered a copy of the last genealogical update compiled on my Old Yankee Family by my gay uncle. He, only only a dozen years older than I, has shouldered the moth eaten mantle typically born in clans such as ours by one of the Maiden Aunts or Eccentric Bachelor Uncles. There's always at least one. This is fortunate, as I am far too lazy for the task myself and my cousin R. is far too involved with her 4x4 and softball league to have the necessary time. I suspect no Keeper of the Name will be found in my generation, and curatorship of the boxes of photos, letters, documents and disks of files will pass to my brother Henry's third boy: kittenish, doe eyed, "creative", and who at age seven - upon glimpsing the disco ball which dangles from the rear view mirror of my car - immediately pronounced it to be "fabulous".

Anyway, the factoid relevant to this post ( rather than say a much juicier one; like that a horrific house fire which consumed all members of one branch of the family [save my future great great grandfather who was away] has recently been determined to be the murder-by-arson conclusion of an Appalachian blood feud rather than the accident he always claimed it to be) is that over the last one hundred and fifty years or so, death greets male members of my family in the eighty sixth year of their age. On average. Many in fact lived well into their 90s, but a few less sturdy and resilient succumbed earlier, bringing down everybody's numbers.

Forty three more years to go!
Who Links Here