Tongue for Lunch- Oy Vey!

Growing up in Boonton, my knowledge of Judaism was extremely limited. My friend Karen’s father was Jewish, so I it was at her house that I had my first taste of matzo. I knew nothing except that Jews celebrated Hanukkah. The Jewish population was too small for our schools to close for any of the Jewish holidays, both then and now.

Then I met Dad. He was Jewish—sort of. His father was against all forms of religion, pointing out how many lives have been lost in wars fought in the name of religion. So his family celebrated none of the Jewish religious holidays. However, Dad was raised with some of the cultural aspects of Eastern European Jews.

The first time I visited his family in Yonkers, I began to learn about the food. His mother served lunch and among the meats at the table was tongue. Tongue! I never knew of a tongue as something other than an instrument to help us swallow, not as an actual food to be chewed. Oh my! Thank goodness there were other choices. I just couldn’t do it.

When I was asked what I would like to drink, I did not realize that requesting a glass of milk as an accompaniment to my turkey sandwich was verboten. I think everyone else around the table exchanged a look before offering me some soda. Did I drink what Dad may have had the day—Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray soda? That first visit was a long time ago, so I am not certain. But a celery-flavored fizzy beverage and tongue on the same day? That was almost too much newness for this unsophisticated girl.  I did try the soda several times, but it never appealed to me.

As our relationship continued, I was introduced to many other Jewish delicacies, and they were always at a deli. Except for tongue, I enjoyed most of the new food. We used to take you to that nice Jewish deli in Lake Hiawatha—the one with the wiggly table and the same old lady waitress. They had great pickles and corned beef sandwiches. Dad’s all-time favorite is the #3 combo—corned beef, turkey, coleslaw and Russian dressing, which he replicates as often as possible when visiting a deli.  Sadly that deli is gone, and he has never found another to replace that one.

He has introduced you to matzo ball soup, latkes, and potato knishes, and some of you even enjoy your bagels with lox, but not me. I don’t do raw meat or fish except for the time I ordered “salmon fume” in Paris, stupidly not realizing it was smoked salmon.

But the best, and favorite of all “Jewish foods” is Chinese food, which I never had until I met Dad. We used to go to the Chinese restaurant in Lake Hiawatha–the one where there was a recent murder.  Like all good Jews, Dad introduce us to Chinese take-out on the weekends, and now we are continuing the tradition with a Chinese smorgasbord on Christmas Day after the movies.

As for the religion, that I learned from attending Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, where I marveled at the beauty of the language, chanting, and intriguing written words. How much those kids had to learn while balancing their studies at school. It was so impressive.

I learned about sitting Shiva from the movies and after Dad’s father died. We learned about Hanukkah after his mother died and Jamie decide she wanted us to light a menorah and play dreidel in honor of her Jewish heritage.

Finally there are the great words. Oh, so many wonderful words and expressions, but too, too many for now. Another day!

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I Love You All…But

I was lying on a table in the doctor’s office this morning, waiting for the doctor to inject his magic pain-relieving potion into my hip. Why is this happening? I thought. As far as I know, Grandpa never had issues with that part of his body. It was his back that bothered him—the reminder of the injury he sustained during his war-time train accident in Georgia. Grandma’s problems have been about falling and breaking various bones, but I never heard her speaking of arthritis in her hip.

I mentioned to the doctor that I will be driving to New Jersey on Friday—a trip of at least twelve hours. I needed reassurance that my orthopedic doctor was not wrong in his assurances that I would be better for the wear after the shot.

“Do you have family there?” he asked as he was preparing his weapon. I chuckled to myself and knew that the question would be different if I were lying on a table in New Jersey days before driving down here to South Carolina. Wouldn’t that Jersey doctor say instead, “How nice? Where are you going—Hilton Head, Myrtle Beach, or Charleston?” He wouldn’t assume I was going to visit family.

Look, I love my family and friends up there. We moved back to New Jersey from New York because I missed my home state. But things have changed. I have changed. Why would anyone go to New Jersey intentionally at the end of October unless they had family or a wedding to attend?

It’s cold and it could snow. My friends and family have been informed by me many times that my policy is to avoid the Garden State at almost all costs during the winter. Knowing that a snowstorm tore through the state on Halloween just four years ago, causing widespread power outages, shutting down businesses, schools, and even canceling Halloween made me realize that winter begins much earlier than December 21 in New Jersey.

So we will pack our warm clothing, and hope for the best. There is no doubt that we will have a wonderful visit, but I will be happy to return to my lilies and azaleas still growing in my yard. And to my peeps up North, let me remind them that there is always room at the Hole-Inn-One. The rates are very reasonable!

Autumn Yard

                     Autumn Yard

Laugh Track of Life

What if life were like a television show, replete with canned laughter and music? While watching one of our favorite sitcoms from the 80’s—Family Ties,which was Michael J. Fox’s big break—we noticed the abundance of loud, annoying laughter. It was the laugh track.

That got Dad and I discussing what life would be like if we could add bursts of giggles, chuckles, and full-out belly-shaking, eyes-tearing laughter to our own lives. What if we had an instrument the size of a key chain that we could engage on demand?

When you were little and amused by the smallest joke, the ability to ignite a burst of laughter would have caused you to laugh even more. You learned to play hide and seek, and our “inability” to locate you tucked behind a curtain with your tiny feet peeking out from the bottom would always invoke a tiny chuckle, which would be even better if only we could add the family laugh track. Dad says he would love to be able to signal the time to laugh with the special device when I just don’t get his jokes.

The laugh track is an obvious segue to background music. Girls mean drama. Casey even had a sign in her room signifying that—“Drama Queen.” Everyone with a daughter knows it’s true. When you were little and you all would come home and explain what mean or unfair thing had been done by a teacher or classmate, it would have been nice to be able to turn on a piano or set the violins playing.

Kelly created this scenario when she made our “Moving to North Carolina” movie. Our farewell party with our longtime friends from New York was accompanied by Billy Joel singing “New York State of Mind.”

We had a real estate agent that did not understand the meaning of the word “No.” While the moving company was at our house and every room was in shambles, she just showed up with two clients. I told her no, and went back to cleaning. When I took a break from my work, I discovered her opening closets and decending into the bowels of the basement. Kelly’s video showed me locking the door as “Evil Woman” played in the background.

As I climbed the rickety stairs to our attic, cleaned the bathrooms and chipped off layers of thick ice from the garage freezer, “Hi Ho, Hi Ho, It’s Off to Work We Go” played on our sound track. The video continually flashed to scenes of Jamie and Casey lounging on the sofa. Really girls?

While Dad and I stayed late into the evening as the van was being filled with our furniture, our clothes, our memories, and our lives, the three of you were at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. You walked throughout the neighborhood accompanied by a live band (no need for the fake laugh track that day). Practice night for Boonton’s drum and bugle corps was that evening, so you all marched down the street to “The Bells of St. Mary’s.”

Aunt Ellen somehow talked her way into Aunt Marian’s former home, so you were able to show us where we had those Thanksgiving Dinners for twenty-five aunts, uncles, and cousin; the family room where the kids watched “March of the Wooden Soldiers;” and the living room where the aunts sang together after dinner. It was a treat reliving those days. No soundtrack needed there. The conversation was better without it.

As we approached the “Welcome to North Carolina” sign, “Carolina Girls” was playing as you all sat in the back of the car. Your lives as Jersey girls had come to an end. The move was real. We were on the road to becoming Southern Belles.

Dad pulled into the little village in our new neighborhood, and suddenly Belle, from Beauty and the Beast, was belting out “Little Town, It’s a Quiet Village.” I remember being excited at exploring our new home and town—Chapel Hill—but at the same time scared and incredibly guilty for making this move at this time in your lives.

The moving van pulled up in front of the house. The driver was a nice guy named Jack, so “Captain Jack” played in the background. This time, I put you all to work unpacking.

It has been over eleven years since leaving New Jersey. Three of us have stayed, but two of you have begun your lives in different states—Jamie in New Jersey and Casey in Maryland. I miss those days of being able to see all of you and our friends and family often.  So that song, is “The Way We Were.”

We don’t get to have the laugh track or the music in the background. But when you are with Dad or me, there is always the threat that something will happen which will make us break out in song because there really is a song for just about any occasion.

Who Didn’t Like Him?

Everyone needs an Uncle Tony. I do not believe it was possible to find a person who had an unkind word to say about him. There was so much love packed into his small frame. I can’t imagine him without a smile on his face, which says a lot for a man with eight children. I was lucky to not only have had him as my uncle but my godfather as well.

As you know, my grandmother lived in the house adjacent to ours, but as time went on, it became more and more difficult for her to afford to live on her own.  Uncle Tony and my grandma decided to look for a house large enough for the ten of them and her, which was very generous since she was the mother-in-law. But he was the kind of man who would never say no to her.

On Sundays, he would go to the local bakery to pick up buns for the family—crumb buns, jelly donuts and cream-filled pastries were among my favorites. As part of their extended family, we always received a delivery.

He was a hard-worker.  Their first house had a basement under only part of the house. I remember seeing Uncle Tony and some of the other men of the family digging it out by hand. That room was converted into a bedroom for the four boys, furnished with two sets of bunk beds.

No one could repair the body damage to a car like him, except maybe Billy, who inherited that skill and attention to detail from his dad. Anyone who had their car repaired by either knew it would be returned better than new. They were both that good.

Uncle Tony loved to bowl, but Aunt Marian did not–neither did Grandpa. So when Uncle Tony asked Grandma to be his partner on a weekly bowling team, she couldn’t refuse. Grandma bowled about as well as I play golf, but she continued playing because she enjoyed the camaraderie of the sport and her partner. She told me about the time he leaned over and whispered in her ear, and when someone jokingly asked if he was whispering sweet nothings to her, Grandma said, “No, he said I’m a lousy player!” He was funny in a subtle way like that.

When I was pondering about what to write about today, a song came on the radio. It was Queen—You’re My Best friend. Everyone knows that Queen was Billy’s band, but I remember going to Uncle Tony’s 80th birthday party and seeing all his kids getting up to dance to that song with him. That says it all. On television everyone loved Raymond, but in my town, everyone loved Uncle Tony.

Uncle Tony Out on the River

Uncle Tony Out on the River

Twins

Twins were not unusual in our family. Both of my grandmothers had twins. Grandpa’s oldest sisters were twins as were Grandma’s youngest brothers. Grandma’s great Uncle Jim had twin boys, and her great Aunt Johanna had three set of twins. (Oy and Ouch!) As a Gemini, I was convinced history would repeat itself with me, but fortunately that did not happen. At one time, prior to having any children, I thought it would be fun. After the birth of one, I saw the light.

When my Grandma’s mother was expecting her boys—Uncle Bob and Uncle Don—their birth was a secret. Back in those days, I guess you just didn’t talk about those kind of things with your children. In fact, my grandmother did not prepare Grandma for growing up, so when she got her period, she was convinced she was dying.

Aunt Marian did not learn she had two more brothers until a neighbor informed her. Apparently it was very touch and go after they were born, and my grandmother almost died. She went into kidney failure and was given the last rites by a priest named Father William Palazzo. At the time, Aunt Marian did not know that she would one day marry the nephew of that priest.

Having twins during the Depression years was very difficult for my grandparents. They were very poor but too proud to accept money from anyone. Her friend Mae, who married a very successful businessman, gave my grandmother the gift of home delivery of milk, which was a present she could not refuse.

My twin uncles led parallel lives. They both were married in 1956, just seven weeks apart. They each had two boys and one girl born during the same years—1957, 1960, and 1963. Both Uncle Bob and Uncle Don even worked for the same company.

They did everything together, including having heart attacks at the same time. Uncle Don went first, going to St. Clare’s in Denville before being transferred to a hospital in Newark.  Uncle Bob awoke with chest pains after visiting his brother in Denville, and when he was admitted, some of the nurses believed Uncle Don had returned. Talk about being close!

My research has found no other twins in the family for sixty years, when the great-great granddaughter of Grandma’s Uncle Jim Carey gave birth to twin girls in 2006. Fraternal twins, which is what Grandpa’s sisters and Grandma’s brothers were, is a genetic trait, which is more likely to occur in women in their early thirties. So although it has not happened very often, I am just warning you all of this.

Uncle Don and Uncle Bob

Uncle Don and Uncle Bob

Sixth Grade Big Shots

Senior year at School Street School began in 1966—sixth grade for me. We were the big shots of the school, as Grandpa might say. There were two playgrounds there. The lower one was for the younger kids so it had the swings, while the upper did not because we were much too sophisticated. That year we did not get to enjoy the privilege of our segregation from the little ones because our playground was going to be the site of the new school and was closed during the construction. So we suffered the indignity of not having our own space but never got to enjoy the school with the cafeteria, new desks, and asbestos-free living. It did not open that year. My brothers and sisters all went to the new school.

Our teacher was Mr. Albano, who loved to travel to exotic places—a fact which led to his gruesome murder in Thailand many years later. I remember his pictures of the pyramids of Egypt, the Parthenon in Greece, and the tomb of King Tut. His stories of his travels to the Mid-East were glamorous and exciting and made history come alive for me.

As the oldest in the school, six graders were assigned certain jobs. My friend Karen and I had the task of helping the kindergartners get dressed in their coats, hats and sometimes their boots at the end of the day. Aunt Ellen was in kindergarten then, so I wonder if she recalls me coming to her classroom.

I also had the somewhat geeky job of running the school projector when other classes wanted to see a movie. This was a very ancient way to watch movies, pre-video tapes of course. Our job was to wheel the projector to the class requesting our services and set up the movie reel on the projector, which involved threading a thin film around the various nooks and crannies of the machines. It was an important job—at least I thought so—and got me out of class for a bit.

Sixth grade was also the year my fear of bridges developed. A woman in town—Miss Blanchard —committed suicide by jumping off the Reservoir Bridge. At one time, she had been our school librarian, and Karen and I helped her shelve books. That was when I became quite adept at the Dewey Decimal System.

I was quite traumatized by Miss Blanchard’s death, so from then on, I insisted that Grandma and Grandpa drive an alternate route when going to the Reservoir Tavern or other place to which that was the usual route. I must say that they were quite accommodating, but parents are just very awesome people when it comes to their children. That is indisputable!

That fear remained with me for forty-seven years until a man tried to drive off the Ravenel Bridge in Charleston. He lived, and for me, it was a sort of public service. I figured if he was unable to intentionally drive off the bridge, then the likelihood of me accidentally driving off any bridge was slight. So now my only major fear from my School Street School years is that of snakes, which is really quite common.

In September, I moved on to John Hill School, when my walk to school doubled from a half mile to one full mile. (Somehow it seemed so much longer in my mind.) I left my two sisters behind—Aunt El promoted to first grade and Aunt Ar to third. We would never be in the same school again.

Mom- Grade 6 School Street School 1966

Mom- Grade 6 School Street School 1966

Fun Times Back Then

Growing up in a small town in the thirties and forties was a much simpler life than any of you or I ever experienced. Another postcard to Grandma asked what she did for fun as a child—her memories of games, entertainment, and thoughts about radio shows they listened to as a family. During the early years, there was no television—only shows on the radio.

Sorry to be late answering your cards and questions. The “what did you do for fun” question was: outside games such as hide and seek, tag, kick-the-can, and swimming in the park. Also, sleigh riding when there was a good snow. We went from the top of Liberty Street, crossed Boonton Avenue (there was someone watching for the occasional cars), and then went all the way to the post office. (Back then, girls, the post office was on William Street.)

Every once in a while we would go to the movies if we could rustle up 15 cents. A couple of Grandma’s brothers (her uncles) were generous. My father’s brothers would give us some change. We’d do good at Christmas when they would come for a visit.

I think when I was about ten or so, we got a ten-inch television. A store in town would let you “have it,” and if you liked it, you could pay it off—like $10 a month forever! Our living room would be like The State Theatre.

Milton Berle was a biggie and Ed Sullivan, too. (Girls, they were both variety shows beginning in 1948.) Saturday mornings were good for kids’ cartoons. I especially liked one called “Let’s Pretend.” They would act out fairy tales. My father would “listen” to a ball game weekends and fall asleep and we’d keep lowering the volume until we could shut it off. I don’t know if he caught on. (Sounds like Dad, right?)

This is all for now. My brain is fried.

               Love you.

               Mom

Grandma-Grade 6- 1939 Family Gets a Tv

Grandma-Grade 6- 1939
                 When Family Got a TV

It was such a different world. They made their own fun–playing with their friends and family and happy with the simplicity of it all. I’m not sure if they even owned a board game, but I will ask. Back then kids played outside until dark, went to school, and came home. Crime like we see too many times today just didn’t happen. Mothers sent their kids to school, to the movies, and church and never once did they worry that their children would not come home. There is something very envious about those days.