“My Father’s Cellar,” by John Seabrook. The New Yorker, 1/23/2017. (NYer article titles often differ slightly in the digital and print editions.)
My wife grew up in rural Seabrook, NJ, that had a sizable Japanese-American community. It is in the heart of southern New Jersey, just outside of Bridgeton, and was the last place it would be expected. Charles F. Seabrook, founder of Seabrook Farms in 1913, had a plant there where they froze and packaged the vegetables grown in the area, such as peas, asparagus, spinach, string beans, and lima beans. (Charles F. Seabrook’s son was John M. Seabrook, who became president of the company, and his son was John Seabrook, the New Yorker author. John M. Seabrook was known as “Jack.” The middle initial often differentiates father and son. Author John Seabrook was born in “the late fifties.”) The Seabrook Farms brand was similar to the better-known Birdseye brand. He had long recruited workers from various immigrating ethnic groups, and there was a German community, an Estonian community, and the last, a Japanese-American community—all in rural South Jersey, with roads having names like “Buckshutem,” and “Shiloh Pike.”
John Seabrook describes the 50,000 acre Seabrook Farms as a feudal empire resembling, to some, the grand estates of Great Britain—all right there in rural South Jersey, rarely noticed by summer travelers heading to the shore resorts.
I am only familiar with the Japanese-American community. When I first began dating my Japanese-American wife about 1960, it was thriving. Her parents continued to live there even after our children were born, and we often visited there. The community had many activities based on Japanese culture. (My in-laws were devout Christians and would not attend Buddhist activities.) But as the children grew up and became educated, the factory work in the freezing plant was not appealing and they scattered to better jobs across the country. Many returned to the West Coast where they still had roots. Now, the houses originally built by Seabrook Farms for those immigrant groups are Section 8 housing for the poor.
The Seabrook Farms brand was well-known locally, but they could not compete with national brands, and eventually ended operations.
The old spirit of Seabrook remained, and in 2004, those in the West Coast organized a Seabrook reunion in Las Vegas. It was a good choice. The organizers lived close by, and others living throughout the country would be happy to visit a resort. Many flights went there, hotels were plentiful, and there was much to do apart from the reunion activities.
We went, and I had my first digital camera, a 5 mp Gateway. Five megapixels seemed astounding. Even my desktop computer was limited in storing such huge digital files. I took a lot of photos, out the airplane window, the sights around Las Vegas, and of childhood friends of my wife (who I also knew). I wish I had taken more, but digital cameras were new developments, and I was used to film quantities where 36 photos from a big roll were a lot.
I have just finished re-editing the photos, and I am surprised how well they still look, but mainly because the people look good. We were mostly in our 60s and 70s and active enough to travel. We looked like an ad for a retirement community. Medical problems were still minor.
Those were the salad years, and we took them for granted, assuming they would go on forever. We were senior citizens, and there were no age categories past that.