Archive for the 'family' Category


Watching Over Me

Watching Over Me, originally uploaded by neocles.

A portrait of my father taken when he was a young man, probably about 1918 or so. Here it is up in my mom’s apartment in Albany CA. 2009.

It hung on the wall in the living room, in the corner, next to the door, over the couch, when we lived at 1210 Griffith Way. When I was really little, up until at least seven or eight years old or so, I was scared to be alone in the room with it at night–i felt like the eyes followed me. I surely loved my father, and i was not scared during the day, but somehow, at night everything changes.

I can’t quite bring myself to put it up in my mom’s room at the rest home. I’ll have to scan it and print a copy for her to have there.

i was holding it in my hand today, and really looking closely at it, noticing the various imperfections, damaged corners and so on. I also really noticed what a fine looking young man my father was. He was 63 when I was born, so my concept of him is, of course, of an older man. I wondered too, about his motivation for having such a portrait made of himself, at 18 or 20 years old, fresh off the boat in New York and not speaking much English at the time. Was it a simply convention to do so? Was it vanity? Was it for family?

I’ll never know.


The Last Supper with More Than a Grain of Salt 2

This print of the last supper had always hung near the breakfast table in my parents’ home. It was no different here at my mother’s last apartment, although it had fallen off the wall and sat around for a few months. I set it back here the other day, and it seemed a fine place for photo. A detail shot would reveal drops of this and that, and a spattering of tomato sauce.

It is a bit of an odd assortment off things on the cupboard, most sitting for weeks without notice from mom. Tomato sauce, orzo, salt, vanilla flavoring, the Greek coffee pot (the briki), and assorted trivets. A couple times in recent months my mom had cooked food with some odd flavorings, like baked chicken with a heavy dose of cinnamon or ground cloves. Eventually she gave up on seasonings and then finally on cooking much of anything besides boiled eggs, green beans, or broccoli.

Today, we went to Kaiser for an eye check-up and to start the process of getting a new pair of glasses. She had misplaced her only pair. It turns out that her right eye needs just about the strongest lens available. The doctor could not determine a prescription for the left eye at all because she is nearly blind from a cataract. So, we’ll be going back for cataract removal, and then eventually for a prescription for the left eye. Shit, no wonder the apartment was a mess. And no wonder the chicken was seasoned with salt and clove instead of salt and pepper.


Suitcase 4

Suitcase 4, originally uploaded by neocles.

I’m slowly making my way through photographing the items in my mother’s apartment. I only vaguely remember the suitcase. It was not used very often. In fact, the only time I remember it being used was when my mom visited Greece once. When we moved my mother up here we just packed it full of curtains she had made for her house. She would not let me throw them away.

The chair and end table are part of a set purchased when we moved into a new house my dad had built on Griffith Way in Fresno, back in 1967. There are two chairs and couch which, unfortunately, were reupholstered around 1980. The sofa was cobalt blue and I’ll never forget that thing. But I can’t quite picture the original color of the chairs.

The furniture all has to be gotten rid of soon. I was all ready for that. But now I feel more sad about seeing it all go. I had a fantasy while I was going through stuff the other day that I could move my mom back into her house in Fresno and find a wonderful, reliable, relatively inexpensive 24/7 live-in caretaker for her. Then all the power objects could stay together for another couple years. But these childish dreams must be left behind…


Leaving Home For Good – Family Snapshot

The Grocery Cart #2

The Grocery Cart #2, originally uploaded by neocles.

My mother, Efrosini Serafimidis, will be 90 years old this month. For the last five years she has been living down the street from us in a little one bedroom apartment. We moved her up here to Albany from Fresno and the home in which she had lived for over 30 years. I was resistant to moving her at the time, but my cousins insisted it was necessary. It is not easy for a person in their 80’s to switch gears like that. She still complains bitterly everyday about this place, and I think she still is a little resentful towards me on that count. But she did okay for two or three years.

The last couple years have been increasingly challenging. She has had a hip replacement and big surgery on a broken elbow. Also, she has been pretty lonely during the days when we are at work, and the lack of interaction and stimulation has taken a toll on her.

The next move is now necessary. This month, Effie will be going to a board and care facility somewhere nearby. It is going to be hard to do, and the transition is going to be a struggle, I’m sure. But her hips are not holding her up very well, and she is suffering from some dementia. She has wandered off a couple times, but her incredible luck with coming across non-Greek-speaking people who are charmed by her old-country, head-scarved, four-foot-ten-inch figure has held up. Each time we got her back none the worse for the wear.

Of course, Sarah and I both work full time, and have a five-year-old to attend to. And living in the Bay Area has its own challenges. So, I would not say I have been an overly conscientious caregiver, but nonetheless, I see her and give her her meds almost every day, try to keep her reasonably safe and fed, bring her back and forth to my home, clean her apartment, pay her bills, take care of her legal and financial matters, manage the renting of the family home in Fresno, and so on.

Chief among the challenges of moving her to a care facility is going to be the dissolving of her apartment home and figuring out what to do with all the things in it. We got rid of a lot of stuff when we moved her to Albany. But a lot of stuff is still packed away in her apartment. I am very nostalgic about these things and have a tough time just trashing them even though they are otherwise pretty worthless.

In response to all this I am planning a photo series. Right now the idea is simple snapshot-like photos of, basically, every object in her apartment. Where possible, descriptions will accompany the photos. Eventually, the series will include photos of each and every object I still have from my parents. I may be an old man myself by the time I finish.


Russian Christmas Dinner

Russian Christmas Dinner
at Chez Serafimidis
Rocky Hill, Executive Chef 

Our fun, Russian-themed menu for Christmas dinner this year.

First Courses
Chicken Pate,  Neo
Dolmas,  Neo
Smoked Salmon,  Neo and Rocky
Pickled Herring,  Rocky
Black Bread, Rocky

Soup Course
Christmas Borscht, recipe ideas, 1, 2, 3, 4, Ray and Marge

Main Course
Mushroom Pie, recipe ideaRay and Marge
Red Beans with Herb Dressing, recipe idea, Carrie
Egg Noodle and Cottage Cheese Casserole, recipe idea, Kate
Goose stuffed with Apples, recipe ideas, 1, 2, Neo

Apple Charlotte, Rocky
Sour Cream Cake, Rocky


Throwing (away) the hand grenade

Diane Arbus, Child with a toy hand grenade in Central Park, N.Y.C. 1962

Here is a train of thought that moves from photography to childhood, and the change in outlook that occurs over time.

Joe turned me on to a wonderful post on The Year In Pictures about a Washington Post article on Diane Arbus. In it, some of her subjects were interviewed 40 years after they were photographed as children. Of course, one of the famous images discussed therein is that of the “grenade boy”. The subject, Colin Wood, talks about how, for a time, he was very interested in guns and grenades, and how this led his teachers to believe he was deeply troubled and in need of therapy.

This brought to mind my own childhood obsession with guns and war, World War II in particular. I played with army men, built models of tanks and planes, and played with toy guns for years. My friend Doug and I used to march around with replica WWII firearms and army surplus gear even in seventh grade. Kids where I grew up did not do this in the 70s

I used to make tiny little flags for the army men. I’d get an old sheet and cut tiny little rectangles and color them with crayon or felt tip markers. Mostly it was American, British, and German. They were pretty good, too. Once when I was in 5th or 6th grade, I was playing during recess with a few army men I had brought to school. Among them was a German flag, which had, of course, a swastika. To me this was just historically accurate, as I had German soldiers. But to some teacher it was extremely distressing. I got hauled in and lectured and had to stay after school. The offending item was taken away and destroyed, of course. And I was told, “you can’t just bring that to school and play with it. You just don’t understand what that means, what it stands for.” In fact, I did, and I didn’t. I knew in a matter-of-fact way exactly what it stood for, since I constantly read all about it and knew perfectly well what the Third Reich did. But I had no real emotional sensitivity to the reality of it all, the suffering, the inhumanity of the deeds; I just had a kind of text book understanding. I had no idea what the emotional meaning was for people a mere 25 years or so after the end of the war.

When I started junior high, I took as an elective class something called military science. We did a lot of military drilling, learned how to read maps, practiced target shooting, and once a week we came to school in uniform. This was the California Cadet Corps. It was a pretty geeky thing to do at the time (1974), because kids were growing their hair, hanging out, smoking cigarettes or pot, and trying to figure out the opposite sex (or whatever sex they were attracted to).

I stuck with it through the seventh and into the eighth grade. During my eighth grade year Fort Miller Junior High became a “renaissance school”. This just meant that they were bringing in a hard-ass dean of boys and dean of girls, cracking down on bad behavior and getting back to the basics. So, at one point the decision was made to entirely close the east fields during breaks and lunch to make it easier to police the smokers, etc.

Naturally, there was a huge outcry. It was going to upset all the social patterns to simply lop off 50% of the open space. So, the students did what students did in those days: they had a sit-in in the east field to protest the closure. I participated as we sat there through lunch and 6th period. It happened to be on a Friday, which was cadet uniform day. The protest led to some dialog with the school about use of the field, no one got in trouble, we got some limited use back.

But in the meantime, the next Monday, something awful happened. Naturally, the cadets in the protest were easy to spot. I got called into Mr. (Lieutenant) Eggers office where I got busted down from master sergeant–and Battalion Supply Sergeant–to corporal. This was for bad behavior while in uniform. I was totally bummed. (This was on top of some other minor trouble that I got into over the summer when our battalion went to summer camp at Camp San Louis Obispo. A friend and I had wandered over and climbed onto a couple old Japanese tankettes mounted as display pieces on the parade grounds.) I had started to see, and now it was painfully clear, that military life was not for me. Any wandering off the narrow line was not tolerated. Any questioning of authority and free thinking could not be tolerated. I was not all that good at keeping myself from questioning things, or from straying away when I was supposed to be marching in lockstep. And I could not see the sense of some of the many, many rules laid down. I could not see why exercising my voice in protest was a source of shame for the Corps. That’s not to say there is not in fact a point to these things. But I, the 14-year-old, did not see it. In any case, it was a turning point for me.

I quit the Cadets the next quarter. I lost interest in all things military. I got more into rock and roll. I started reading Carlos Castaneda, I started… well I’ll leave the rest of that thread for another time. For now, let’s just say I ended up studying philosophy, living in Berkeley, taking up photography, and appreciating the work of Diane Arbus.


Efrosini Holding Neocles

Efrosini Holding Neocles, originally uploaded by neocles.

My earliest memories go back to the house my parents lived in when I was born, at 818 “S” St. in Fresno CA. We were Greeks on the edge of Armenian Town. I don’t quite remember living there, since we moved when I was about two years old. But I almost do. I remember being at the house, although I think it was when my parents were going back and fixing it up to sell when I was about three and half years old.

I remember the look of the old wooden house, the wood floors, the old door knobs, the pulley clothes line that stretched from a window to the far reaches of the back yard. I remember the feel of the hot, powdery dirt in the Fresno summer, and the way it smelled when the water from the bib fell onto it, making dusty explosions that turned to mud. I vividly recall, even now, the smell of the cellar we retreated to for lunch once the sun was high and hot. We sat at a card table and ate in near darkness, the only light streaming in from the cellar door at the top of the stairs. There was a certain musty smell of damp concrete that I encounter every few years, and when I do I am transported back to that cellar more fully than any sci-fi invention could ever achieve.

I toddled around the front yard and wandered into the yard next door. There I encountered the old Armenian woman who lived there. She was very old and bent over, wrinkled and gray. In my memory, she was wandering around her garden tending to her plantings, she wore nothing above the waist and her breasts hung low and flat. She spoke to me in Armenian and I understood nothing of what she said to me. I stood and stared up at her, a little afraid, but not too much, perplexed by the sound of this language. She smiled as she spoke and chuckled around the edges. My mother called and I turned to go, running through the powdery dirt that burned my feet. The smell of Sycamores wafted by as I scrambled up the front steps.