Frances Wanderman eulogy

For those of you following along, my mother passed away last Friday night.

I had made a pre-arrangement ten years ago with a funeral home in Los Angeles and they handled everything including getting her safely and on time to New York for a service held graveside for her burial.

I flew her remaining first cousin and his wife out as well as my mother’s helper for the past eight years so they could take part in her burial. Many relatives came who I’ve not seen in 20 plus years as well as friends and my own extended family. It was a nice group.

Members of the group told stories about my mother, and her cousin who is a spritely 87 played his ukulele and sang a song he’d written for her.

I knew I’d be a bit wiped out and upset so I wrote and read a eulogy which is below.

I can say with little doubt that my mother would have been very pleased with this service and on her next birthday (May 26th) we’ll put a stone on her grave.

My almost 99 year old mother watching me take pictures

Frances Wanderman Eulogy, as read by her son Richard at her burial

It will be debated whether my mother was manic, ADHD, or just driven by high energy and insatiable curiosity but she had an unquenchable thirst for experience. What my wife calls “whiplash of the senses” my mother might not even notice.

She wanted her gravestone to say: “She loved life” and when we make the stone it will include those words.

Speaking of words, my mother loved them and it would flatter her to hear that people thought she had great character but it would not offend her to be called “a character” which she certainly was.

My wife taught me how to live, my mother tried but it didn’t take, but my mother taught me how to open myself up to experience the world and to value my own experience and it did take and I thank her for that.

Living 101 years can give a person perspective and my mother took great advantage of that perspective every chance she got.

She experienced the birth of commercial airline travel all the way to men routinely walking on the moon.

She didn’t walk on the moon although if it would have been possible she’d have been the first person to sign up. She did travel the world and loved every county she visited.

She experienced Russia and Ukraine turning into the Soviet Union which she couldn’t visit and then back into Russia and Ukraine which she did visit to see the town her mother was born in.

She proofed and edited John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row on a pile of yellow pads while at Viking Press but also got to experience reading on an iPad.

She experienced the birth of the interstate highway system and the birth of the internet.

She visited every national park, her favorite was Death Valley, and she connected with friends all over the world via letters and postcards as well as email and she had a large worldwide fan club on Flickr.

She experienced and took part in the early civil rights movement and she lived long enough to vote for and experience two terms of Barack Obama.

She had a finely honed intuitive sense of what would be good, dragging me to Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts at Carnegie hall, seeing Hair at the Aquarius theater, Rent on Broadway, Doubt at the Forum, the King Tut show at the Met, the Picasso show at MoMA, hundreds of other plays, hundreds of movies, hundreds of books, gallery openings and almost anything that looked like it might be interesting. She was there.

The few times she visited us at our house in rural Connecticut she would remark: “How can you live here, there’s nothing to do.” We did take her canoeing on a lake near us once and she liked it, but she couldn’t wait to move on to New York.

She was a loyal daughter, sister, wife, mother and aunt who believed strongly in actively keeping family and friends together which she did through correspondence, phone calls, frequent family dinners at her house and frequent trips to New York for as long as she could travel.

She was a creature of habit: up early, breakfast of cut orange, Special K, prunes and decaf, then into bed with paper and the daily morning phone call to cousin Doris.

Frances to Doris: “Are you still alive?
Doris to Frances: “Yeah, how about you?”
Frances to Doris: “Barely.”

Then they’d go on talking for an hour.

Her indulgence was lunch out almost every day, the same half tuna sandwich and blended mocha.

She routinely saw Saturday matinees with cousins Bob and Mary, even after she couldn’t see the picture or hear the sound. And, always remarked at the end, “that was the best movie I ever saw.”

She had a great sense of humor and wasn’t ashamed to say she enjoyed The Three Stooges but also cartoons in The New Yorker. In fact, she enjoyed being outrageous and her use of language, while sophisticated could be colorful.

It was her wish to stay in her own house until the end of her life and as she got older and lost the ability to drive, she hired Marta Daniel to work for her. I was concerned about this because to say my mother could be “difficult” is an understatement. But, they made a great life together and Marta was with her for the last years of her life.

Marta was there when my mother needed her but still allowed my mother to do her own routines and run her own life for as long as she could. There is no question that one of the reasons my mother lived until 101 was that Marta was there for her.

My mother gave me explicit instructions on what she wanted done at her passing:

“I want to be wearing this white dress and this yarmulka Anne made.”

“Send me to Brooklyn and don’t bury me next to my sister Bunny or at my parents’ feet, I want to be next to my father.”

In typical fashion, she would then follow up with:

“Listen, once I’m gone do whatever you want. If it’s too much trouble to send me to Brooklyn cremate me. I’ll never know the difference.”

My mother led a terrific life and was a terrific mother to me and it’s only right that her last wish be granted: she’s right next to her father wearing Anne’s yarmulke and the white dress although Mt. Hebron is in Flushing, not Brooklyn.

My mother passed away last night

Frances is 101 today


Frances Wanderman. Born May 26th, 1915. Died June 17th, 2016.

This was taken on May 26th, a little over two weeks ago in Los Angeles, California on my mother’s 101st birthday.

Since then she’s been eating and drinking less (and she was already eating and drinking very little) and two days ago she stopped.

She passed away last night at 8:30 pm. Her helper Marta and my cousin Mary were with her. It was peaceful and easy.

She’ll be buried sometime this coming week at Mt. Hebron Cemetery in Queens, New York where her parents and siblings are.

Images of my mother


My mother not only lived a long time, she lived a very full life. Here’s a collection of images I posted on her 100th birthday.

My great grandmother Leah's tombstone


Here’s one of the earliest images I have of her at her Grandmother Leah’s funeral at Mt. Zion Cemetery, New York, 1918. She’s the youngest child on the right. Her maiden name is Dick and that’s her father, Samuel Dick behind her brother. His father, David Dick, is the old guy with the beard.

My mother and her siblings


Here’s a professional portrait of my mother (third from left) and her siblings. We’re guessing she’s about 17 here which would make the year 1932.

My mother interviews Dorothy Lamour


My mother (center) interviewing the actress Dorothy Lamore at “21” in New York. My mother wrote for a movie magazine.

My parents and me


My father, mother and me in about 1953 (I’m 2, my parents 38).

My mother and me at Crater Lake, Oregon in 1972


My mother and me at Crater Lake in 1972. I was 20 years old here, my mother was 57. My hair came off for good the next year and I grew a beard which I have to this day.

My mother's a Mac Geek


This is my then 90 year old mother who was a Mac user for years. She loved all the t-shirts and swag I used to bring home from Macworld and from my years consulting for Apple. This picture is in the documentary, MacHeads.

My mother inside a Richard Serra


I’ve been traveling out to Los Angeles at increasingly regular intervals to check up on my mother and on these trips we’d almost always go to a garden, a museum, out to dinner with relatives and friends, and cram as much in as we could. Here she is in 2009 inside a Richard Serra sculpture at the Los Angeles County Museum of art.

Marta and Frances


This was taken two years ago at Descanso Gardens in Flintridge, California, one of the many gardens we took my mother to. Her helper, Marta, was with her for eight years.

I can say for sure that my mother would never have lived to 101 had Marta not been in her life. We were lucky to have the resources to have this kind of help which enabled my mother to continue to live in her own house until the end. This was her wish: no assisted living, no old age home, and she had an explicit DNR (do not resuscitate) statement and told me, no hospitals. She watched what my father went through dying over two months in a hospital and she did not want that for herself.

An aside and an example of my mother’s humor. She’d say this on each of my visits as she became less independent until the last few years.

Frances: “Why don’t you give me the pillow job.”

Richard: “Mom, if I do that I’ll go to prison for murder.”

Frances: “What do I care, I’ll be dead.”

This was her morbid yet funny way to talk about her own death and as she got older and dementia set in, this kind of humor became my test of her cognitive capacity which was pretty amazing until recently.

I give my mother tremendous credit for making good choices along the way. I might have thought she’d be happier in an assisted living place but in fact, she enjoyed her independence and her routines and kept both up as long as she could. I’m quite sure those routines helped her live as long as she did. Marta and I used to joke that a half of a tunafish sandwich and a blended mocha must be the secret sauce that kept her going. I’m guessing it was the routine of getting out of the house and down to her little sandwich place for lunch out almost every day that kept her going. She enjoyed it and it gave her a reason to live.

She will be missed by many people although she’s outlived so many of her friends and relatives that the number is smaller than it might have been.

RIP Frances, I’m glad you were and will always remain my mother.

RIP Robin Williams

Robin Williams was a genius who took huge risks in his work which made it fantastic. Depression or, maybe in his case depression on the down side of mania is something that seems to go with his kind of genius.

He got an Oscar for his role in Good Will Hunting but frankly, I think his best role was in Good Morning Vietnam.

And, let’s not forget The Fisher King and The Birdcage, two roles that used different parts of his rare talent for improvisation.

Dead Poet’s Society and Awakenings also come to mind as roles that showed off his unique genius for getting inside both the dialogue and the body language of very different characters.

For me, a fascinating question about creative geniuses like Robin Williams is, in oder for them to take the kinds of risks they do in their work, do they also need to take similar risks in their lives? In other words, can one be an improvisational genius on stage and live a relatively quiet life off stage?

Who knows?

I’m going to miss Robin Williams’ rare genius.

Jobs steps down, Cook takes over

Steve Jobs Resigns: Apple CEO Stepping Down

Tim Cook will take over the CEO position. This is a great move for both men. No doubt much more on this will be written in the next 24 hours.

PRESS RELEASE: Letter from Steve Jobs

August 24, 2011–To the Apple Board of Directors and the Apple Community:

I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple’s CEO, I would be the first to let you know. Unfortunately, that day has come.

I hereby resign as CEO of Apple. I would like to serve, if the Board sees fit, as Chairman of the Board, director and Apple employee.

As far as my successor goes, I strongly recommend that we execute our succession plan and name Tim Cook as CEO of Apple.

I believe Apple’s brightest and most innovative days are ahead of it. And I look forward to watching and contributing to its success in a new role.

I have made some of the best friends of my life at Apple, and I thank you all for the many years of being able to work alongside you.

I’m thinking of Japan

I have lots of things I’d like to post on this site but I find pretty much everything including links to images of the devastation in Japan somehow distasteful at this time. What’s going on in Japan is overwhelming to me as I sit here in a warm house in rural Connecticut.

In the face of all of this, people in Japan are standing patiently in line for food and water and medical attention even as their houses, villages, and families are gone and there is great uncertainty about their future.

Japan may seem like a relatively formal society compared with the United States but that formality coupled with considering the group before the individual is going to help them survive this terrible tragedy and come out whole on the other side.

I’m thinking of Japan, a place I’ve been and hope to return to.

Wendell Minor and Gordon Titcomb

Wendell Minor and Gordon Titcomb

Washington, Connecticut. Wendell Minor (illustrator and author) and Gordon Titcomb (writer and musician) have put together a book based on the lyrics to one of Gordon’s songs: The Last Train.

Our local book store, The Hickory Stick Bookshop had a signing and I had them sign three copies: one for me, one for my friend Gary who like me collects signed first editions and a holiday gift for my friend Edward’s son Henri.

It’s not every day that you can hang out with book authors but I happen to know these guys because our paths cross often in our small part of the world.

Wendell is a world renowned children’s book author and illustrator and has dozens of best selling books out in the world. Gordon is a world class musician who has played both on tour for years with Arlo Guthrie and in studios for numerous musicians. They’re both great guys, totally accessible and the book is wonderful and would make a nice holiday gift for many a train lover.

Gordon played and sang between signings but there were so many he couldn’t keep up.

I should have taken this with my S90 but I had the iPhone out so I used it. Not great but good enough.

Fireworks on Lake Waramaug

Fireworks on Lake Waramaug

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Warren, Connecticut. I’ve been meaning to hike up to Waramaug Rock to watch the fireworks display on this lake for a few years now. I even went on a scouting trip last year to think about how to do the shooting.

I shot this fireworks display in 2005 from our town beach but there are so many people there I thought it would be more fun to get further away to a place where few people would go.

The problem with Waramaug Rock is that it’s a two mile walk in the woods to get up there. Not a big deal in daylight and I do the walk often but getting down at night seemed like it might be a bit more of a challenge.

As it was, the entire adventure went off without a hitch. Two friends came along and I packed camera gear, a small tripod, a foam pad to sit on, extra clothing, water, flashlight, batteries, first aid and of course, the iPhone. Enough to be safe.

The tradition is that at 9 pm each town and property owner lights road flares around the perimeter of the lake and the fireworks start at 9:30 pm. You can see the red flares in some of the images. A very generous individual who lives on the point right in the middle of the lake has not only allowed the fireworks to be staged from his property but he hires and pays for the pyrotechnicians.

We left the cars at 7:30 pm and were on top by 8:20 pm. Given that I’d never been up on Waramaug Rock (the Pinnacle) before on the 4th I wasn’t sure if others watched from there and I was hoping we’d have it to ourselves. As it was, about 15 young people (college age I’d say) were up there having a party but they were fine, not too loud and they had no fireworks. But, they forced me to find a new place to shoot and I’m glad that happened because I walked south along the ridge and found a better place to shoot, a bit sheltered from wind and with less hill in front to block the view of the lake.

I got all set up and was able to set the tripod up low so I could sit behind the camera with the remote shutter release and comfortably control things. I did some test shots before setting the camera to bulb, the AF to manual and focus to just shy of infinity (attempting hyperfocus), the aperture to f/11, the ISO to 100 (bumped up to 400 later).

I was afraid I might have trouble figuring out how to meter this situation because unlike typical city fireworks, the area around the lake is very dark and the fireworks bright. I used two meter settings, no doubt the wrong ones.

In some of the images you can see boats in the lake with their red and green lights.

The images are fine, nothing super duper but good enough to document what it looked like from up there. The important thing is that we had a blast and I hope to make this an annual tradition. Walking out was easy with flashlights; no one got lost, fell down, or got scared. We did talk loudly all the way down hoping to keep bears at bay.

Ashes and Snow opening

David Darling

Last Thursday we went down to New York for the opening of the Gregory Colbert photography installation, Ashes and Snow. We went primarily to support my wife’s ex-husband and my friend, David Darling who composed much of the ambient music used in the installation. Even at a mobbed and noisy opening in a cavernous and cold space, the music shone through. Coupled with a movie that was showing at the far end of the space, David’s music was a perfect compliment for the large scale photographs.

Ashes and Snow Photograph

Unfortunately, as soon as I entered the space I was told to put my camera away so I took few pictures and you’re better off going to see this amazing show than looking at even high quality pictures online: the space, photographs, lighting, and sound are breathtaking. The 10 foot by 4 foot (almost cinemascope scale) photos are printed on handmade Japanese paper, are sepia tone, and are coated with wax. The effect is much like a sepia version of Irving Penn platinum prints: a soft, rich, deep, and contemplative look that is in total contrast to the sharp, photos I’ve been trying to make for years.

This is not documentary photography so if you think you’re going to a National Geographic-like show, you will be disappointed; this is a successful exercise in photographing animals and people in water, in temples, and in other settings and presenting it in a such a way to build a mood, a sense of harmony, a feeling. And it works incredibly well.

Ashes and Snow Structure

The Nomadic Museum structure that houses this show was designed by architect Shigeru Ban and will travel with this show to various countries on its world tour. The building is built with large shipping containers, stacked and a “tent” with structural elements made of paper tubes. The lighting is spectacular and the ambient sound is everywhere. Unfortunately, the evening the show opened the outside temperature was 6 (fahrenheit) and because the space is only marginally heated, we froze and had to move through it fast. But, as March marches on, the space will warm up and the show will be more accessible weather-wise. The entire show breaks down into pieces that are loaded into the shipping containers which are then put on a ship and taken to the next venue.

This show is without a doubt one of the important photo exhibitions of our lifetimes and it is being underwritten by numerous big names including George Soros. I saw the show The Family of Man as a child in New York and this show is on a par with it although very different in execution. I’m going to return to New York later in the month to see it again, hopefully with fewer people in the building so I can enjoy the photography. I did splurge and buy the show catalog which is a beautifully made book of the entire show, printed on beautiful paper with similar color and depth of the actual photos.

Small Town Fireworks on Lake

waramaug_fireworks_2004The town we live in, Warren, Connecticut, has 1300 people in it. It’s just north of a wonderful lake called Lake Waramaug. The towns of Kent, New Preston, and Washington also share this lake and each Forth of July all the towns chip in for a fireworks show.

The tradition is that people on each town beach build a bonfire or set off flares so that we can see where we are across the large lake at night but these days it has evolved into anyone who wants on the shore building a fire or lighting flares. The perimeter of the lake has wonderful dots of light that show where people are hanging out, waiting for the display.

This year the fireworks seemed better than ever. I’m not sure if they really were, my memory is failing. I do know that our country is quite messed up at the moment and a long way from the spirit that the fireworks represent but it was nice to take a moment and just enjoy them, even in our current, Disney-esque decontextualized way.