Walter Wanderman

My father’s camera

My Father's Camera

My father served in the US Army during World War II and was stationed in Europe. This little Zeiss Ikon was the camera he used to record his everyday life over there and I have a box of prints that give me a glimpse of that life. My father is gone now but this camera and those prints act like a wormhole on that significant time in the history of his world and of our world.

Note: This was originally posted in 2006 on my old site, one of my earlier posts.

My parents and me

My parents and me

I’m guessing this was taken in 1953 (I’m 2, my parents are 38). Walter, Frances, Richard. This was shot by a professional portrait studio in New York and printed on very nice rag paper. The texture on the paper makes a nice, soft print although makes it tougher to scan. I didn’t correct the color on this one; it was no doubt printed as a monochrome but I’m not sure if the sepia tinge is age or was in the original print.

I’ve been scanning old pictures for a photo album I’m making for my mother for her 100th birthday, coming up on May 26th.

My father and me

My father and me

New York City, 1952. Walter Richard Wanderman, Richard Samuel Wanderman. My father is about thirty seven here, I’m six months.

My father died in 2000, just before the tech bubble burst, George W. Bush stole the White House, and 9/11 happened. He was 84. Had he not died in 2000 any one of these events would have likely killed him: he was heavily invested in many stocks that tanked, he was a Gore fan and supporter, and he loved New York, The World Trade Center, and he was a patriotic guy who loved his country. After a very rough summer being with him as he died, Anne and I figured that he’d checked out just in time, 2001 would have torn him up.

My father was an interesting guy: he went through the depression and worked to support his family who lost everything, he fought Nazis in Europe, and he kick-started his life through the GI Bill and hard work. He was late to get married as was my mother and neither of my parents had great models to teach them how to be parents themselves. Still, they went for it.

I’m glad my father lived long enough to both see me get traction with life and meet and know my wonderful wife Anne, who he adored.

So, happy father’s day dad. Mom’s more than solvent, Bush is about to leave office and if we’re lucky we’ll have the first black President in November, and even though things are rough in the US and the world, you saw worse times than this and things worked out okay. I’m guessing we’re going to be okay too.

My father’s lock

My father's lock

My father had an uncle who was a rare document and signature collector who traveled the world doing deals and having adventures.

Each time he would return from a trip he would give my father and his two brothers postage stamps, foreign paper money and coins, and other trinkets boys like. This unusual lock was one of those trinkets.

When I moved to Connecticut from Oregon my father gave me the lock, hoping that I’d someday take it to the Connecticut Lock Museum and find out more about it. The Lock Museum had odd hours and I could never find a time to get there.

My father’s been gone for five years and I’ve still not taken it over there nor have I worked up the nerve to take it to The Antiques Road Show (which my father enjoyed watching). Now that I’ve finally photographed it, I think I’ll call up the museum and see if it still exists.

Just did, closed for the winter. Sorry dad.


I’m in LA at the moment, visiting my 89 year old mother and one of my many chores on this trip is to start sorting through and cleaning the storage closet in the carport. This is the house I spent my teenage years in (not a great time in my life). My father died four years ago and I’ve already been through all of his stuff in the house, which was an emotional roller coaster. This storage closet is the last place that was all his and where clear evidence of him remains.

I wasn’t looking forward to this chore because it’s damp, dirty, and the space was neglected during the last few years of my father’s life. He used it, but not with the attention to detail and orderliness he’d shown during most of his life. There were dozens of projects he’d started and forgotten about, which was evidence of his failing health and focus. He got old and just couldn’t keep up with keeping things in their place and the dampness overtook everything: the cardboard boxes, the tools, the stored lumber, everything was moldy, rusty, and soggy.

frisky_collarMy dad, being a depression kid, saved everything and many of the things he’d saved for the thirty five years he’d lived here were all crammed into this small closet-like space. As I sorted through stuff, much of it hanging from nails in exposed studs, I found some rusty dog leashes and a very decomposed dog collar. My first reaction was that he’d found this stuff on the side of the road and saved it (like so many other things) but when I read the name tag on the collar it was “Frisky.” I didn’t think I was going to find evidence like this but now her memory was right in my face, along with his.

Frisky was my first and only dog and she’s been gone for over 30 years so the memory of her was only part of what welled up when I saw her collar and tags. Commonly the kid gets the dog and the parents end up dealing with it and that was certainly the case here, except, it wasn’t both of my parents, it was my father. I took care of the dog while I was in high school but eventually I went away to college and during that time my father and the dog went on, aged together. The dog got old and eventually had to be put to sleep and it was my father who did it, sparing me the agony. So, the fact that he had saved her collar and hung it in this space… that was what welled up in me: my father hung that collar there over 30 years ago, probably right after he returned from the vet, crying, and there it has hung, a reminder to him of the dog he loved and an earlier time. It’s telescopic: my memory of him includes his memory of the dog and his love for the dog. It doubled my emotional reaction. I kept cleaning to keep the emotions at bay.

These artifacts and the stories that come with them are part of a personal scrapbook. The storage closet is part of my dad’s scrapbook and my experience touching, sorting, cleaning, and yes, throwing stuff out is part of mine. I’m not sure if going through this stuff gives life any more meaning but I do think it’s important and I’m glad I did it.

I had only started cleaning the space when this happened and I didn’t get as far into it as I wanted. The rest of it will have to wait until the next visit and I’m now a bit hesitant to dig deeper, not quite knowing what I’ll find.

Irving’s pool table

4 Ball

Irving Shapiro died a few days ago. His wife Hope, who is also now gone, introduced my parents. Some of my earliest memories are in their house, which I was in the other day paying my respects to their daughter Julie, my oldest family friend.

One of my most vivid memories of the house is an amalgam of many memories, the center of which is an old pool table in the basement which may have come with the house which Hope and Irving bought around the time I was born (1951).

The routine was, we’d have dinner with them and then after dinner, while the women did something else (I never saw that they did) Julie and I would follow the guys down to the basement and sit on the sidelines watching them play. This gender thing was the equivalent of men riding in the front seat, women in the back, or so it felt.

Pool score abacus

My father was a decent pool player although he never played except on this table during my entire lifetime. He undoubtedly did his share of hustling as a young man but he was not a showy player, preferring to tap lightly and walk away from the table as the ball he’d just called rolled slowly but surely into its chosen pocket. Irving played less carefully although he held his own against my dad. He enjoyed hearing the crack of hitting a ball hard, whether or not it went where it was supposed to.

These two styles: control and finesse and wild-man ball cracking pretty much describes these two guys and it’s both a metaphor and part of my sensory memory of what happened in this room.

There were a few years where the dampness of the basement started to take its toll on the pool table and my father, who was extremely “handy” helped Irving take the felt off, replace the slate underneath, and get the table working again so they could play.

By 1963 we had moved to California and they only played a few more times after that on a few of our trips east.

Pool table leg

Because this house is really the only wormhole left to my early days, this was a significant visit and I spent the whole day visiting with Julie and others who, like me, had grown up with Hope and Irving, and this house, as an anchor point in their lives. I wanted to get a last soak of the feelings.

The basement’s dampness eventually overtook the table and time eventually overtook both my father and Irving and once the house is gone all that will be left will be a story. When I got upstairs and talked with other people paying their respects, I found that each of them had a story, many stories. That was comforting.