Grandma, as you all know, had only one sister—Aunt Marian, who was four years her senior. While our family interacted with Aunt Marian’s more than Grandma’s other siblings, it was certainly not because those two sisters were similar in their likes, dislikes or opinions. While I believe that in some cases, we can’t change who we are because of our genes, I think our environment and friends may influence us more. So in the nature (genes) versus nurture (environment) debate, my vote is with nurture.

Both sisters loved to dance, and they came from a long line of dancers. Grandma’s Uncle Jim and his daughter, Gertrude, both taught them how to wow the audience at the veteran’s home or at church shows. Their great uncle, Jack Blue, was a famous dance instructor in his day and was even in the Guinness Book of Records as a renowned instructor who never took a lesson himself. Grandma was given the choice of dance or piano lessons and I am assuming Aunt Marian was given the same opportunity. Nature or nurture?

They each had large families by today’s standards, although I am positive that Aunt Marian secretly felt superior to Grandma because she had three more children and six more grandchildren. They both did outstanding jobs as moms.

That’s where the similarity ends. Let’s first discuss their taste in books. This is how Grandma once described their contrasting preferences in books: “She like to read books where the main character walks up the street to have a cup of tea with the ladies, while I enjoy a good mystery where someone gets chopped up and their body is discovered by the side of the road.”

Music was another area of divergent tastes. Aunt Marian loved music of the forties—the kind you would hear in a dentist’s office, a funeral home, or, duh, an elevator. Grandma considered herself far hipper than her sister and preferred someone like Billy Joel or Rod Stuart. Thank goodness they did not go on any long road trips together!

Mom told me she hated to go shopping with Aunt Marian, because her sister delighted in striking up conversations with the cashier or the customer in line behind her, while Grandma preferred to say what she needed to and conclude her business. I admit that I had been like Grandma most of my life, but moving to the South, Aunt Marian’s chattiness has become second nature to me now. I was even scolded by a cashier at Shop Rite in New Jersey for making eye contact and talking to the man in front of me. I have met some very interesting people this way, particularly on airplanes, so I like the new me. I think neither of my sisters is like Grandma in that respect.

Grandma has never been able to accept aging, which is one of the reasons why leaving her house has been, and still is, particularly upsetting and distasteful. I think the denial of aging began when she turned thirty (her father even laughed at how upset she was on that birthday). She has been stuck in that age ever since, and I don’t believe she understands that she is eighty-six now.  It is a difficult number for her to admit owning. She always preferred to be called Jean or Aunt Jean by just about everyone, because being called “Mrs.” was all about growing old, and not ever about the fact that she got a very long name when she married Grandpa (She will deny that.) I don’t think Aunt Marian minded the more formal address of “Mrs.”

Despite their differences, the bond was strong and the relationship worked. Aunt Marian has been gone for four years now. Four years! Grandma has told me, many times, that she has often wanted to pick up the phone and share a thought or some news with her. I know she is not alone with those feelings. We all miss her—miss our two families getting together for holidays and wedddings. It’s just not the same.

Aunt Marian, my Grandma, Grandma
Aunt Marian, my Grandma, Grandma
Aunt Marian and Grandma
Aunt Marian and Grandma

Toys- Then and Now

As a former child, mother of three, and now a grandma of one and counting, I feel qualified to discuss toys. Now that I am in the business of entertaining a two year old, I have been reflecting about the past and attempting to locate some of the winners from yesteryear.

While getting down and playing with all of you was fun, I will argue that there are times when independent play is necessary and educational. It fosters independence for the child and sanity for the mother. The most important requirement is that the toy must not cause a big mess, so that eliminates glitter, finger paint, or toys with too many teeny tiny pieces which can be lost, swallowed, or flushed down the toilet.

I admit that as a child, I loved to finger paint. I enjoyed the joy of digging my fingers into the squishy paint and then swirling it around on a clean, white piece of paper—a marriage of textures and a blend of colors. I am fairly confident that this form of artwork never crossed the threshold of 516 Cornelia Street. Grandma was too smart for the inevitable disaster that this would bring into a house of five children. I was not as wise.

Now I have a very sweet and loving grandson, but I wouldn’t trust him in a New York minute with finger paint. I will graciously defer to his mother or other grandma to introduce Bryce to this form of creativity. I have learned from my motherhood history not to make the mistake of allowing that or glitter into my house. (Sand Art was another “no no” that I naively permitted in our home.)

I was thrilled when I went to the local, amazing children’s museum in town, Edventure, and discovered a Mr. Potato Head exhibit. Talk about a walk down memory lane! Bryce loved sticking a nose in an arm hole or eye where the mouth should be. The only problem–a happy problem–was that the Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head table was so popular that it was difficult to find a seat.

Let me return to my observations of toys. You all loved your dolls, Legos, puzzles, and play doh. Bryce loves his trains, and I noticed that Jamie had a Mickey Mouse train set. I looked in your baby books and learned that Colorforms were popular playthings at that time as they were for me, so today, when I went on my quest for coloring books, I decide to inquire about them. First, I need to discuss the coloring book problem in our country.

Much to my surprise, they were not easy to locate unless you are an adult. I noticed that on my first toy outing, but I did not realize the magnitude of this problem until I turned on the morning news and learned that adult coloring is the new rage—a means of relaxation and a fun form of nostalgia. Okay, I get it, but this should not replace child-themed coloring books for toddlers. Absolutely not! Are the coloring book manufacturers absolutely crazy! This is a sin! They clearly do not have a mother on their board of directors. (I could go on but I won’t.)

When I asked the very young salesgirls at the toystore if they had Colorforms, I was met with blank stares. I preceeded to describe them and insisted that they still exist. Naturally, doubting the obviously very old customers that Dad and I appeared to be, they had to go on the internet to verify this. I was right. Duh!

Colorforms are very thin, vinyl shapes, which can be positioned, and repositioned, over and over and over on a shiny laminated board. They are sort of like stickers, and they foster great imaginative play. They were created in 1951, which makes them dinosaurs in today’s market. Casey had Beauty and the Beast Colorforms, and Jamie had Sesame Street Colorforms. Kelly, I am not sure if you had them, but as the oldest sister, you do not get a break on not remembering them. You were eight when Casey got them so you most certainly played with them. These will be part of your son’s life—when I can find them.

In the meantime, I am now going to see if I can find a set of metal Slinkys and some Silly Putty. What is this world coming to??


With grandchild number two on the way, I decided to investigate how Kelly, as the mother of both of these children, prepared and reacted to becoming a big sister. It will be interesting to make comparisons between Kelly as a big sister and her son as a big brother.

We began the move into your new bed three months before the big event, but Kelly, you stubbornly refused to leave your crib until your new room was completely ready, which meant your “little girl sheets” (Sesame Street themed), “little girl lamps” (Care Bear lamp and Big Bird lamp), and shelves to display all your stuffed friends. It will be interesting to note if a little boy will be as concerned about décor as you were. I will be watching!

Was it the age, or was it the observations of the impending changes which resulted in the disappearance of Kelly? Suddenly, you were someone else. One day you were Maria from the Sound of Music, complete with a big “Maria hat”, and another time you were Cinderella. I was the fairy godmother and Dad, of course, was the Prince. (He was not surprised.) If anyone dared to call you “Kelly”, there would be hell to pay and you would not even respond.

I am sorry to say, Kelly, that you were not very welcoming to your new sister. On her first night home, you cried for two hours because you did not like to see me feeding her or Dad holding her. So we got you a baby doll of your own who you named Chris, and you would sit beside me and nurse Chris while I nursed Jamie.

It was a two-week reign of terror, and the only successful punishment was for us to throw away your favorite snacks—Fruit Wrinkles. Until then, you realize it was literally fruitless (ha, ha) to continue that behavior. Jamie was not leaving, so you accepted the inevitable fact that you now had to share the throne with another princess. You then became a big helper and told us, “I love her. She’s my friend.”

Kelly and Baby Jamie

The Letter

It’s tough being the middle child, and I am sure it would be argued by some that position number two is not nearly as unfair as that of the last child. Yet this year, I realized that you were the only one without a slide-show video. If that is the barometer for family equality, then you win at being born in the worst spot. Also, you never had the advantage of being alone as both of your sisters did at some point.

This is a commentary which has nothing to do with what I have chosen to write about today, but I just want you to know I understand.

I considered discussing our Christmas traditions and how you reacted to the holiday. Then I looked through your baby book and almost chose Halloween, but in the end, I have decided to discuss these holidays as a family posting and not dedicated to you. I wanted this to be about something unique to you. I found the letter. Carly might not like “the letter.”

We all know how much Carly loved the first President Bush. Everyone had the photo on their refrigerators of the Duffords with him on the golf course up in Kennebunkport, Maine. (That is another story for another day.) I recall hearing Aunt Ellen tell the story about how 2 ½ year old Carly cried when he lost the election to President Clinton. (I always had trouble believing that one!)

Clearly, you and Carly were at odds politically, because according to “the letter”, which you wrote when you were 5 ½, you were not unhappy when the election results were reported.

You wrote: (this is just an excerpt)

          Me and my family would like you and our family to come to my house. We have deer in               our backyard. I want you to see me and my sisters rooms. I want you to win the election…           I want to see you in the White House someday.

You never met him, but you did shake his hand when he came to Elon University and have his photo to add to your celebrity album.

Bill Clinton- Elon University 2009
Bill Clinton- Elon University 2009

Invisible Friends

Today I pulled out your baby books, so I now have all those written words to supplement my memories. (I will avoid the embarrassing ones.) Since Casey, as the youngest, was always last, I decided to start with her.

It turns out that Casey, like her godmother Aunt Ar, had an invisible friend. I texted her with this information and she claimed to remember. However, Casey, when I asked you for the name, I was ignored at first, but later, you recalled just her first name. It was Ariel Katie.

A little research told me that the movie, The Little Mermaid, was released on your birthday. This is not surprising because you claim to have quite the connection with her. On your second birthday, you got an Ariel doll and an Ariel outfit.

I admit I didn’t remember any of this, yet I do recall that there was another friend that only my sister could see. His name was Kenny, and it seems to me that she even set a place at the table for him. Perhaps she will fill me in with more details.

Apparently, by age three, Casey had quite a vocabulary, and she told us that she was taught most of her big words by Ariel Katie. One day, Jamie told her a very long-winded story about swimming, and Casey turned to her and said, “Jamie, you’re too complicated with all these details.”

Her first dentist appointment was shortly after her third birthday, and she was understandably nervous. When she couldn’t find the right words to explain her feelings, Ariel Katie was there for her. She couldn’t wait to go because the dentist had a prize machine, but she told me, “Mom, I’m apprehensive.”

Thanks to your invisible friend, Casey, you have never been at a loss for the right words to say. And by the way, a really nice random fact about you is that you first smiled at six weeks. The recipient of that grin was Aunt Marian.

Behind the Wheel

When did the excitement of sitting behind the wheel of the family car to run an errand, even one as mundane as picking up a loaf of bread or gallon of milk, fade away? I can still recall the anticipation of the days when Grandma would throw me the car keys and entrust me to venture out alone for the five-minute ride to the supermarket. My life had changed. No longer would I be dependent on someone else to literally bring home the bread. A whole new world had opened up for me.

The route had to be carefully planned and involved weighing the cool-ness factor against fear. Naturally, driving up Main Street increased the odds of being seen. Still, my memories of Driver’s Ed class, involving that hair-raising ride up the narrow, winding, and busiest street in town on my first day behind the wheel tilted the odds in favor of an alternate, more peaceful itinerary.

I recalled my lessons with my teacher and parents before reaching a decision. My young instructor, Frank, who was married to one of my cousins, threw us into the fire on the first day, directing us up Main Street. (Are you surprised that my teacher was related?) As you all know, if a large truck passes in the other direction and cars are not parked close to the curb, maneuvering up that street is not for the faint of heart.

The second day involved driving up Route 10, where Frank ordered me to move into the passing lane next to the concrete highway divider. “No, no, no, don’t slow down. Keep pace with the traffic,” he would bark. He must have been on drugs to choose that job. No sane person would. I wonder if any studies have ever been done on the psychology of driving instructors.

Another day, he decided we should visit my cousin Nancy, who lived down a very steep, cliff-like driveway with little room to turn around, so that provided me with great practice doing my “k-turns.” By the time my lessons were completed, I thought I could do anything, and was released to Grandma and Grandpa for fine tuning my skills.

I would practice parallel parking in the street between two garbage cans and drive down dead-end streets to work on my turning skills. I don’t recall how long before I was permitted to get my license, but I don’t believe the process from start to finish was nearly as long as it is today.

Grandma was the lucky parent who accompanied met to the Wayne DMV where I took my test. Of course I easily passed after all those spine-chilling lessons, which was a piece of cake since the test was taken on a relaxing course, not on the streets as it was in North Carolina for two of you.

I specifically recall the drive home, which was through Lincoln Park. I was happily buzzing toward home while Grandma was riding shotgun. A car was parked on the right, and a moving van-sized truck was heading toward me on the left. Without slowing down, I squeezed through the narrow road, which was not much wider than an alley and said to Grandma, “Do you think I’ll make it?”

I believe, despite my growing confidence behind the wheel, when Grandma first sent me out on my solo errand, I chose the path less traveled. It was less stressful and longer.

Fading Memories

Grandmotherhood has lived up to all the wonder and hype, much to my surprise. It was not that I did not share the enthusiasm and excitement about our family expanding. I remembered our own feelings of joy before each of you was born. At the same time, the word “grandma” evoked thoughts of blue-tinted gray hair and housedresses. It meant “you are old and everyone knows it.”

Now that I have joined that club, I realize it’s not so bad. When my phone rings because my little man wants to come over for a hug, and then he runs to me at top speed and squeezes the stuffing out of me and says, “Grandma, I am so happy to see you”, I am in love. I teach him songs from my past that I worry may get him beat up on the playground someday. We race around the house playing hide and seek, and I take him outside in the stifling hot Carolina sun to watch a butterfly dart around the palm tree on my front lawn. He stands at the edge of the yard with Dad and loves to watch the golfers on the course.

Then I sit at my computer and drift down memory lane, deciding what story from my childhood I will tell all of you next. I close my eyes and think back to my grandfather, and no matter how hard I try, that’s as far as I can go. Three years old. Flashes of other people and places appear—Grandma’s friend, Mrs. Esthler up the street and her best friend, Aunt Weezie. I recall their homes. I remember that their houses smelled musty, but I just can’t pinpoint my age when I would go with Grandma to visit them. Was I younger than the three-year old me that Papa pushed on the swings? I just don’t know.

After he died, there is a missing year. My fourth year on earth is an empty void. I don’t even recall the transition from only child to big sister when Aunt Arlene came home. If they had taken her back, would my missing year return? I think I loved her, but did I feel that she was an intruder?

Arlene and Karen -Christmas

Now I am in kindergarten.  My teacher, Mrs. Denison, lived up the street. I would sit on the front lawn and wave shyly as she would pass by my house. I remember my cubby where I put the drawings I colored in class and was allowed to bring home to hang on the refrigerator. I loved drawing houses with a ghost in each window.

I remember the other kindergarten teacher, Miss Fox. She played the piano and we’d sing along with her. My first friend, Karen was also in that class. She made those ghostly houses, too, I think. She’s still my friend after all these years, so maybe she’ll help me dig up those dim flashes of thoughts from my past.

Then I think of my little man and realize that the days of chasing butterflies on the front lawn, and the smile on his face when we sing, “You are my sunshine”, or the way he giggles when he finds me hiding in the closet will only be my memories. We will make new memories together—older memories, but these two-year old memories will fade away like the brilliant colors of the morning sunrise streaming in my window each day as they turn from red to pink and then disappear.

Watching Golf with Grandpa
Watching Golf with Grandpa