- a MOSAIC of Minds Journey
by Anthony Antek
The Mid-20th.Century Journey
of a Bipolar Youth
Offering Humor & Hope
While Searching for Self, Love
& an Authentic Meaning to Life
July 4 Remembrance:
Mosaic #9- Story & Art Work of 52 Book Mosaics -
Mosaic #9 : The
Ford Finds Shelter, I Find War
"Ruptured Duck (a WWII Medal) Putting Out Stars & Stripes":
I believe the last
war [WWI] was too much an educator
for there ever to be another on a large scale.
... Henry Ford, The
American Scrap Book (1927)
Dad’s red ragtop
1940 V-8 Ford convertible eases slowly from its curbside location.
The shift stick
slides out of park into neutral so magically it brings a shiver of joy to my
body as I steer it gently down the street. My intention is to glide it to
Grandma’s house at 117 Holland
Avenue. Dad would coast the Ford from our home at
24 Holland to
his Mom’s place. It’s his downhill idea of saving gas. Ben
Franklin’s maxim, a penny saved is a penny
earned, is our family’s golden rule.
The Ford goes
almost a full block when it self-maneuvers into a yard where tall grass slows
it, before it hits a tree square on, making the front bumper crash look like a
resting upside down capital T. It is my first time driving a car and last
coasting attempt down Holland
Avenue—I am five years old. Bewildered by the
aborted ride, I am spared a spanking because escaping undamaged is the Ford,
tree and me. The commotion ends happily with a few family laughs at the Sunday
The 1940 Ford
remains the family car for seventeen years. It goes to the Lake
Erie shores throughout those Woodlawn summers, where it rests
sometimes, stuck deep in the sandy beach. It travels the frozen lake in winter
for ice fishing where, thankfully, it never
falls through, unlike the long and heavy metal
ice auger that slips through my frosty hands. I lose hold of the rod while
making a fishing hole, which abruptly ends our ice fishing before it begins.
Dad steams at me as I helplessly watch it disappear into the icy water.
We did not have a
garage since Mom’s parents never owned a car, never took the wheel. The home of
my Dad’s mother has a two-stall garage where he works on the Ford and makes a
few extra bucks doing fix-ups for others. Doing car repair appears to be the
main reason for Dad’s garage trips. But in time, I see a deeper motive. The garage
is Dad’s safety valve, a refuge away from Mom’s nagging and their arguing.
Dad likes to
tinker – and because I am the eldest son, he tries to teach me about fixing
cars. But this car talk starts long before I’m of driving age, long before any
mutual interest in cars and girls meshes together. I lack mechanical curiosity
but am forced to watch and learn. Newton’s
third law of motion shifts into gear. Forced to learn car repair at this young
age, Dad’s actions result in reactions of equal force but in opposite
directions. My aversion to doing any kind of car repair will linger for many
One day Dad
tells me to put the lug nuts back on a wheel after he repairs a tire. I put the
nuts on backward. “Christ, can’t you even do that right!” he hollers. When
measuring a part, Dad shows me how to fold a collapsible wooden ruler. I try.
It cracks in half as I fold it. Moments like that happen with regularity in the
garage. I love Dad, love the Ford, but the three of us in the garage is a
combustible mixture waiting for a wayward spark.
Dad holds onto the
1940 Ford for so long that it becomes the car I learn how to drive on. Finally, in 1957, he buys a new car. Like
comedian/actor Billy Crystal, whose dad also gets a new car that year (Crystal
mentions this in 700 Sundays,
his one-man Broadway play), I‘m hoping for something exciting, like the Ford
that drives on land and water that Dad talks about buying. But Dad, like Billy
Crystal’s father, is now married with several children. They have grown conservative.
Crystal, who dreams of an exciting car, finds a two-tone gray Plymouth in front
of his house, while my Dad buys a “gun-metal gray” Ford Fairlane. Gray must
have been the hot car color for families that year. The old 1940 Ford, still in
good running condition, is put to pasture to a couple of farm kids in
Springville for $25.
Living in the two
story home of my father’s clan is his Mom and most of his six brothers and
sisters. There’s a feeling of family wholeness in Grandma’s home even without
her husband. He died in a steel plant accident long before I was born. Grandma raised the family herself with only
a meager death pension. She never complained about the lot she drew in life.
Baptized “Mary,” grandchildren called her Babcia, Polish for
By kindergarten, I
frequently walk down the street to see Babcia. She makes terrific
desserts—baked apple pie with fresh apples and a dash of cinnamon; lemon
meringue pie with a slightly browned but soft white topping; chocolate chip cookies
with Carpathian walnuts; vanilla cake filled with pieces of black walnuts
layered by a creamy brown topping; puncki, deep-fried, Polish-style
donuts; and kruschiki, a crinkly,
deep-fried dough covered with powdered sugar. She’s always kind to me. When I
arrive, Grandma greets me with a glass of milk along with a piece of whatever
she baked that day.
I watch Grandma
make other things—homemade kluski noodles that she dries by spreading on
wax paper placed on her bed, as well as all kinds of canned fruits and
vegetables. The strangest thing I watch her make is soap. She makes it in the
basement using two large washtubs. The soap recipe includes a thing called lye,
which has an awful smell. The concoction hardens into a large, thick white
sheet that she cuts into chunks. Like the Ivory Soap ad, it is “99& ¾ percent pure” and “it
floats.” The only difference is the bad smell.
seven children. The eldest female, Alice,
dies in the mid 1940s when I’m about five. That leaves Dad (Anthony), three
brothers (Leo, John and Edward), and two sisters (Emily and Stella). I don’t
think Grandma is lonely because there are lots of relatives to keep her
company. When her children are newly married some live with her in the roomy
house until they can make it on their own. Grandma, Mom, Dad and a few siblings
share the lower half of the house till a month before I’m born.
Mom is agitated
and unhappy living there when she is pregnant with me. Maybe that’s why I turn
out to be so nervous. With so many of
Dad’s relatives around her, she must have felt like an outsider, alone in a
crowd. As I grow up, I gravitate to Dad’s side of the family.
The upper floor
houses Alice, her alcohol-drinking husband, and their three beautiful girls. As
the girls grow up and marry, two take turns living there. Alice’s only son, Johnny, is barely sixteen
when his father enlists him, without his consent, in the U.S. army. My
parents mail Johnny a box of chocolate candy a month before Normandy. He sends them a thank you V-letter
on glossy service stationary. It is probably the last letter Johnny ever
writes. He is killed in that invasion.
As a child, on
solitary days in our flat, I would turn the key and open the breakfront desk
cabinet that holds the letter and read it to myself over and over and think of
him being dead. Maybe that’s what really killed Alice. She dies less than a year later.
house has a full basement and a huge attic. The attic serves strictly as
storage space; however, people like us do not have many material goods to
store. Half of the basement is used for washing clothes, canning, and soap
making. Dad uses the other half as a machine workshop. I practice making
baseball bats on the large lathe that shapes metal or wood objects. None of the
wooden bats turn out good enough to use.
The basement is
also the place for saving old newspapers. When two piles of paper reach over my
head, I bundle them for the junkyard to make a few dimes. I’m maybe six years
old and can barely read, but if something looks interesting, I scan through it.
That’s where I discover the pictures of naked human bodies.
drawings or pictures from a dirty adult magazine, but real black and white
photographs. They are contained in a multi-page pamphlet with detailed pictures
of what I later learn is the Holocaust, conceived and carried out by Hitler and
other Nazis. One photo shows a bulldozer shoveling a huge pile of naked
people—men, women and even small children—all terribly skinny with jaws open
and eyes bulging out. All those intertwined arms, legs and heads are being
bulldozed into a large, open pit. Another photo shows a huge furnace-like oven
and a long metal shelf that holds objects coming out of it. On this slab are
several burnt human skeletons, incinerated nearly to ashes.
I am looking at
human bodies depicted as garbage. I cannot believe it. But there it is, before
my own eyes. I wonder how something so cruel and so wrong is done to people by
other people. The feelings that run through my troubled small body stay there.
I stare at every one of those photos many times then tuck the pamphlet in the
middle of a newspaper pile I am bundling. I never speak about this to
I’m sure nobody in
Grandma’s house would have wanted a child to see those pictures.
- a Mosaic of Minds Journey
“A roller-coaster ride, rekindling images of 'Catcher in the Rye' and
'One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest'.”
– Edward A. Jardim,
Writer-Editor, New York Daily News
"This is marvelous stuff.
The entries into madness are beautiful.”
– Dr. Bill Harrell, Professor Emeritus
S.U.N.Y. Institute of Technology
"'Bipolar Buffalo is beautifully written, and nearly impossible to put down."
– Mike Canfield, The Sun
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52 Mosaics - true stories
52 Notable Epigrams - preface stories
29 Original Art Works & Photos
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MEANING of BOOK TITLE:
"This is a superbly written and very interesting and emotional book. But why did you decide on the "Bipolar Buffalo" title when it offers so much more than the bipolar encounters?" (from a reader's email to the author).
Yes, there is much more - encounters & stories about notable people, including comedians like Steve Allen, Bill Cosby and Dick Shawn. Other people like inventors, architects, immigrants, a saint, and Black and Native Americans. Places and Cities, including Denver, Las Vegas and New Orleans. And national events like Hurricane Betsy, racial segregation, Vietnam and the cultural changes in the1940s thru the1960s.
The author's journey, reflecting the underdog, is a search for inner self & an authentic meaning to life. But it is a love story that drives the book - it's central theme. It's "need" is the search for love and to be loved in return. The book's Set-up, Confrontations & Conflicts, and Resolution are directed towards that theme.
The meaning of " BIPOLAR BUFFALO" is a metaphor that refers to how we see things. Its meaning is ontological, metaphysical - searching for what is real, the essence of things.
The book title’s origin goes back to a talk with Native Americans during a game of pool in Oregon in the 1960s - How early white people saw the American Bison compared to how seen by those Native Americans. There is nothing innate, nothing intrinsically "good" or "bad" about the animal but how humans make judgments upon that being.... or person or event - done with the limited personal/cultural baggage humans carry.
The book is also about judgments and more specifically, pre-judgments (prejudice). Being bipolar, or Black, or Red, or Jewish, or Polish, coming from the working class, from Buffalo – how we see and are seen.
Following this conversation I write .... " I didn't reflect on this polarity right then, but it did begin right there, the first inkling I had of the buffalo as a bipolar animal
— bipolar from a human perspective.."
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