Friday, June 29, 2007

Forty-four dollars, a new country, and a new life for the family

My great-grandfather Raffaele Prata came to America at age 28 on the ship Spartan Prince from Naples to Ellis Island. His home town was Roccamonfina, a comune (municipality) in the Province of Caserta in the Italian region Campania, located about 45m northwest of Naples. His listed profession was doctor, and he arrived with $44 in his pocket, significantly more than the others on his entry page, who were all laborers carrying only a few dollars. As a matter of fact, laborer was originally listed but it was crossed out and doctor written above it. He must have insisted.

Below is a crop from the 1920 Providence RI census page. My great-grandfather Raffaele's profession is listed as embalmer by that point. He and his wife Giovaninna had 6 children, Julia the oldest, Anna, John (my grandfather), James, Rose, and Michael became naturalized in 1915. The family had started Prata Funeral Homes, by the time I was growing up there were 7 covering the state from Providence in the north to Westerly in the south.

I lived with my mother and my father above the Funeral Home for two years before we moved to the suburb of East Greenwich.

The flagship funeral home in the historic 1850s Providence building is now luxury condos. Of course.

Is your state road-worthy?

How are Maine Roads? Georgia? Rhode Island? A new report has been released, Source of data: Reason Foundation, Performance of State Highway Systems, 1984-2005, 16th Annual Report by David T. Hartgen and Ravi K. Karanam. Project Director, Adrian T. Moore, Ph.D. In addition to the actual report and its summary and methodology description, I went right to the visual: the interactive map. If you click on each state it will reveal the following information:

Maine 2005
Overall Rank: 23
2004 Overall Rank: 22
Mileage under state control 8684
Total disbursements per mile $68343.62 (Rank: 14)
Rural interstate miles in poor condition 0% (Rank: 1)
Rural primary road miles in poor condition 2.41% (Rank: 44)
Urban interstate miles in poor condition 1.47% (Rank: 17)
Urban interstate miles congested 2.94% (Rank: 5)
Rural primary roads with narrow lanes 25.89% (Rank: 44)
Fatality rate per 100 million miles 1.132 (Rank: 11)
Deficient bridges 29.87% (Rank: 36)

Click here to see which states fare the best and which have the worst roads.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

What a whiz!

Car Rolls Into Pond, Sinks When Driver Stops To Urinate On Side Of Road

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. -- A motorist in Orange County who stopped near a road to urinate lost his car when he forgot to put the parking brake on, allowing the vehicle to roll into a pond and sink to the bottom, according to fire officials.

Authorities said the driver of a Toyota Echo was traveling along the 417 early Tuesday when he decided to stop and relieve himself.

However, in his hurry to urinate, he forgot to put the car in park, the report said.

Seconds later, the man watched as his car rolled down a hill and into a dark pond near Boggy Creek. Orlando's dive team put six people in the pond but were not able to find the car, the Local 6 report said.

The fire chief said he feels bad for the driver. "It could happen to any one of us," Orlando fire Chief Ian Davis said. "He waited a little too long to use the bathroom and thought this was a good spot and it turned out to be not so good."

Davis said the dive team will resume its search for the vehicle later Tuesday.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

"We took the kids to Jumparoos...

..." and the air conditioning was out," said my friend to me.

I can't imagine being a mom...taking a pile of kids to an indoor gym/play station... in the Georgia south...on a 90 degree day...and the A/C was broken.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Kids doin' stuff

The children of our county...busy, happy, working. These are pics I've taken that were published in the Athens newspaper over the last few months.

Free Puppy

Head Start playground

The Haircut

Play time at the Daycare

Waiting to bat, Spring TeeBall

The Town Fair

Friday, June 22, 2007

Language matters

For those of you who know me, I've often spoken about and editorialized about the importance of constructive and informative language in the political arena, language that is precise and not evasive, and language that solves, not destroys. With anonymous blogging, those qualities are all too often abandoned as a first resort and the lowest linguistic denominator is used instead.

I found this clip on the Maine political forum As Maine Goes, where its Administrator, Scott K. Fish, posed the entry entitled "Why Language Used on AMG Matters". It's a short clip from C-Span that demonstrates once again that what we say shows us who we are.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Dreams come true

From Darren and Christie's blog, thanks Christie for the heads up.

"Congratulations to Paul Potts for his outstanding performance of Nessun Dorma and his eventual win on Britain's Got Talent. Watch this clip even if you aren't an opera fan. This guy is amazing."

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Where do the buffalo roam?

In Comer, Georgia. This ranch has a herd of cows, a herd of goats, and, unbelievably, a herd of buffalo. They are rotated around, so I never know which herd I get to look at as I drive by on my way to the grocery store in Hull. The (large) grocery store is about 15-20 minutes away.

Most folks around here say they want to drive to where the stores are rather than ruin the rural character by having the convenience of the stores nearby. Each of the six towns in Madison County have their version of the Dollar Store and a small grocery store, and a few restaurants and gas stations. Enough is close by so you can scoot to the corner and get milk when you run out.

I admit, I don't mind driving the 15-20 minutes to the big grocery store once a week, because I'd rather see buffalo than neon.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

We need better soup

For a while this winter, I worked for a woman who telecommuted from her house. She had a home office and my job was filing and organizing her mounting paperwork. It was a nice environment, a quiet home with a beautiful garden to look at, and a kitchen so I could heat up my lunch and wash the dish after.

For a while they had a heating problem so it was cool in there sometimes. Hot lunches became a priority.

One day as noon approached, I was working on the computer doing her expense reports and I heard her come up the stairs. She went over to the walk-in pantry and opened the door. There was the clatter of shuffling potato bags, pasta bags crinkling, aluminum cans rattling. She was muttering, obviously looking for something. Finally, in an exasperated sigh, she said, “We need better soup.”

I burst out laughing because I knew exactly how she felt. It’s not just sometimes when the little things are most satisfying. It’s most times.

My life has been blessed with material comforts and adventures beyond compare. I’ve eaten at the world’s finest restaurants. I’ve attended cultural events on Broadway, London, Paris. I’ve seen the Mona Lisa and Michelangelo’s David. While those things are memorable, it’s truly the little luxuries that have been most pleasurable.

Coming out of church Sunday evening, I stopped dead at the door, causing a little pileup. Oops. But I was struck by the beauty of the open space green pastures before me, the healthy cows grazing, the red cardinals singing, the warm air wafting.

The other day I dug an old towel out of the bottom of the laundry closet, my newer, fluffy, pretty ones being in the laundry. As I used the thin, ragged towel, I mused on how luxurious it feels to have a fine towel to dry my face. I even briefly thought about writing a poem entitled “Ode to Fluffy Towels.” And how great does it feel to put on your favorite pajamas out of the dryer? Don’t even get me started.

I have only seen the Mona Lisa once, and at great time and expense. But I use a fluffy towel every day. I put on my favorite pjs every night.

That winter day, my boss went to the grocery store and came back with a shopping basket full of Progresso chicken soups. “There,” she said, stacking an entire panty shelf with a variety of them. For a long time we all enjoyed those tasty, thick soups as the temperatures plunged. It was quite a luxury.

A fluffy towel, a pretty view, singing birds, fresh pajamas…I don’t need Robin Leach to show me the ‘Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,’ when with a little creativity and some appreciation, I can have all of life’s little luxuries at my fingertips. Not when all it takes is better soup.

Friday, June 15, 2007

I'll have the roast duck with the mango salsa.

Now that the Geico Cavemen have been chosen to star in their own sitcom, Geico should start a thing where the Gecko is depressed at being overlooked, and now he sees the therapist.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Friday, June 08, 2007

On Madison County's coonrod competition

Madison County historian Charlotte Bond explains the origin of the "Coonrod" area of Madison County GA.

"Coonrod, Norcross and Shiloh. These are the names that identified the same little community at the crossroads of Jones Chapel-Shiloh road, Hwy. 174 and the Fort Lamar Road..."

"Coonrod was the more popular name back in the 1920s and ‘30s and old timers still love to call it that. The name always invokes questions about the origin of the name by new comers. They seldom, if ever, get an answer. It took nearly 50 years for me to get the answer. I don’t know the exact year the name originated, but I do know how it came about."

"There was a rather large country store on the corner of present day Hwy 174 and Jones Chapel-Shiloh road, where our Fire Department now stands. It was owned by John Chapel Tyner and Thomas W. Dean. It operated prior to the Civil War. They had order forms bearing the name Dean & Tyner. One of these was carried by a young soldier, probably as writing paper, into battle and afterwards he wrote a poem on the paper about his fallen comrade and friend."

"The store became a gathering place for the whole community, but especially the men. They sat around, chewed their tobacco, played checkers, a game of cards and discussed world affairs, i.e., the local gossip. Most of the men were hunters; fox, rabbit, squirrel, dove, opossum and raccoons. They were competitive when it came to their dogs. "My dog can tree a coon quicker than yourn!" The competition spilled over into story telling and the size of their last catch. The competition ran its gamut though, when they started keeping a chart at the store for the one who brought in the longest rod a raccoon."

"Now if you’re shy or easily embarrassed, don’t read the rest of this story. OK, I warned you!"

"The "rod’’ of the raccoon was his male appendage. It had a small bone that ranged from 2 and a half to 3 inches long with a curved hook on the end. These were measured and the results posted on the chart. I imagine the prize for such a feat was the prestige it brought."

"Now, if you think these men were a little strange, just hang on! They had a specific use for these little "Coon-rods". They used them for toothpicks. You can let go now and catch your breath! They were called Arkansas tooth-picks. Why the name? I don’t know. I’m told they made a great tooth-pick because of the curved end that would reach to the back of the tooth."

"Well, all I can say is, truth is stranger than fiction."
By Charlotte Bond

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Don’t bug me

New to this area, I haven’t spent a summer here yet. Locals laugh knowingly when I tell them this. It will be quite a show, I know, this Yankee will be melting like a puddle of butter in on a hot biscuit.

Maine’s cold weather for most of the year means for most of the year we don’t have to deal with bugs. We have to deal with frigid temperatures, snow, mud, heating issues, fuel prices, but bugs? Not so much. Overwhelmingly, the bugs stay on their side of the battle lines, outdoors.

Here, it’s a different story.

Over the last week I’ve noticed these fruit flies in the kitchen. I don’t have any fruit in the kitchen. I’ve got spiders, too. They’re fast and black and they scurry across the wood floors, quite visible and a little too bold, if you ask me. “Go get it!” I’ll tell Abby the cat. “What kind of a cat are you?” Nada. Adding insult to injury, she’ll lay there with one eye open, tracking the spider’s progress across the carpet. I was OK with the fruit fly intrusion and the occasional spider. Apparently Abby was, too.

But I was not prepared for the fire ants. And that they invaded my apartment in horrifying numbers last weekend was just wrong. Very, very wrong.

I noticed them in my closet, where I had set my damp laundry bag. Unbeknownst to me, these things out of a science fiction movie are sensitive to even the tiniest changes in humidity. I thought they were regular ants, and I thought there were only a few, so I shook off the clothes and started to sweep the ants up with a paper towel. Secure in the knowledge that I am way bigger and have superior intelligence, I was muttering something akin to “I’ll get you my pretty,” when they started to bite.

All over my hands, they bit. I had been concentrating so hard on getting the scattering ants on the floor, I had not noticed their pointed and strategic attack on the killing machine that was my hand. It worked, I stood up and shook my hands and yelled a few things. Then I started stomping on them. However, that was a poor tactical move on my part because I was barefoot. They climbed on my ankles and bit me harder. Now who is the higher intelligence, one may ask. Let’s not dwell.

I shot to the store and bought traps and spray. When I came back I noticed a neat line of ants crawling along the kitchen, bathroom, and emerging in the bedroom closet. Long lines, always in one direction. Being a smart human, one who is now shod in high ankle sneakers and armed with deadly spray, I intuited that they were likely being driven inside by the severly dry conditions and looking to set up a nest behind the damp bathroom wall. I set the traps and sprayed. Mocking me, they just re-routed. I sprayed again. The fire ants re-routed again. This was serious, the blows to my ego were too much to bear. I called in the big guns: my knowledgeable landlord.

I’ve never seen a person move so fast. Arriving a few minutes later, unscrewing a trap door in the closet that allowed access to the areas behind the bathroom along the length of the building (very, very smart!) she sprayed with some stuff that I am sure has higher concentrations of poison than Bikini after the hydrogen bomb tests. I didn’t care. And neither did my cat, who for the last 12 hours had been attacked wherever she slept and had plunged her nose into her food dish that had been crawling with fire ants. The landlord then went outside and sprayed the perimeter. For the last day I have not seen hide nor pincer of these frighteningly intelligent and vicious creatures.

I have learned that it is important to wear shoes in Georgia, indoors or out. And that your home is your castle, as long as there isn’t a smaller but more aggressive creature that wants to move in.