Mom and Dad’s Primary Adventures

When you were in college, I advised you to take advantage of living in early primary states by going out and seeing some of the candidates and you all did. This is something none of us could do when we lived in New Jersey when the primaries were so late it hardly mattered.

Kelly, you did it as a photographer for the Daily Gamecock, taking photographs of Hillary Clinton, President Obama, and John McCain. I know Casey saw Hillary Clinton and then Senator Obama. Jamie saw Bill Clinton at a rally at Elon to add to her album of celebrities.

Now that Dad and I are living in this early primary state, I knew I had to take my own advice, so a few weeks ago, when the Republicans were roaming around the state, Dad and I  visited Duke’s Barbecue in Orangeburg, where we heard John Kasich speak. The venue was casual. We were seated at a long picnic table with a politically eclectic group of people all doing their primary research like us.

We met a Democratic transplant from Michigan who had a secret crush on Joe Biden. At the end of the table was a woman giving the stink eye to the CNN cameraman (“The only thing worse than CNN is MSNBC”, she told Dad), and across from us was a conservative couple who mentioned their visit to the tea party convention last year. I told Dad that if someone had told me twelve years ago that I would be attending a political event in a barbecue joint in South Carolina, I would have asked what drugs he was taking.

Governor John Kasich
Governor John Kasich

To keep the equation balanced, we attended two Democratic events this past weekend thanks to Casey, who gave me the heads-up on both of them.

On Friday we traveled to Aiken High to see Bill Clinton speak. While this was not as intimate a setting as the Kasich event, it was still a small venue compared to some of the Trump and Sanders rallies. We were impressed with Bill’s positive attitude, and we came away knowing exactly how Hillary planned to deal with each issue. We met a retiree from New Jersey as well as a young man who had attended many more events than us as he tried to decide not only what person to give his vote to, but which party to support. I was impressed with his thoughtful research.

President Bill Clinton
President Bill Clinton

Late Saturday afternoon, we received an invitation to Hillary’s Primary party, so we decided to be spontaneous and go. We decided to begin the evening early with a typical Southern dinner, which was barbecue at Palmetto Pig. (It’s always about the barbecue down here!) After getting a second email informing us that the doors would open earlier, we moseyed on over, and were happily surprised to be at the front of that line.

Unlike the event for President Clinton, which had no overt security, we had to pass through metal detectors overseen by scary looking secret service agents. We felt like we were in the safest venue in Columbia.

We chose a front-row seat on the bleachers to the left of the stage, and before Hillary appeared, we were interviewed by two different news outlets.  The atmosphere was electric, and the crowd diverse and enthusiastic. Like the previous day’s speech, Hillary was positive and enthusiastic.  For Dad and me, we had found our candidate, which was a relief after being so disenchanted with the others in the current playing field.

Secretary Hillary Clinton
Secretary Hillary Clinton

It is sad to me that I have not told this to many of my friends and family. My photos are not on Facebook because I have been trying to avoid being very political, and I am also uncomfortable sharing this fun evening with so many people whose views differ from mine.  Yet that party ranks up along with lunch at the pub with the Irish Prime Minister and New Year’s Eve in Times Square. I keep telling myself I should not feel this way because our country is supposed to be about freedom, diverse opinions, and embracing our differences. I think I need to come out of the political closet.

One Hundred Year Celebration

You all know how much I loved growing up in Boonton. Maybe that’s why I enjoyed Gilmore Girls so much. There was something in the fictional town of Stars Hollow that reminded me of my town. Boonton is a quaint town. It even has its own version of the bar from the show Cheers, “where everybody knows your name.” I think Casey is the only one in our family who has never been to Johnny’s.

Our roots go back to the beginning of Boonton. We have Grandma’s Carey family in Boonton in 1870, and my three-times great grandparents, John and Johanna Nolan living there a few years earlier. Some of our ancestors were there around the time Boonton became officially incorporated as a town in 1867.

This brings me to 1967, when Boonton celebrated their centennial. There were two groups in town supporting the celebration: the Brothers of the Brush and the Sisters of the Swish. I remember that many men throughout town grew beards and I believe there were contests for the best beard. Can’t you just imagine Kirk and Taylor and Sookie and Miss Patty all donning their Civil War era garb for a similar celebration in Stars Hollow?

We had a parade that summer where bearded men dressed in period uniforms, and women dressed in long dresses and bonnets and marched in a parade down Main Street. In researching this event, I read that there was a truck decorated to look like a paddy wagon, which was a police vehicle used to round up criminals. The criminals in the centennial celebration were men who did not have beards.

There was also a time capsule buried in a small park located between Boonton High School and John Hill School. Although I am not sure what was placed inside, I feel confident that it contains at least one piece of Boontonware. The plan was for it to be opened in May 2067. I won’t be there, but perhaps some of you can be there for its unveiling.

Next year will be the sesquicentennial celebration. Jamie, you will have to keep me informed. Since I won’t be around for the bi-centennial celebration, maybe I will swing through town for that event. I am looking forward to hearing about the plans.

Sisters of the Swish Centennial Photo

The Summer of Almost Awesome

Jamie, I am looking at your sixth grade “summer fun” assignment. While it may not have been as good as Casey’s—The Summer of Awesome—it was still filled with fun and quite prophetic. In July we went to Kiawah Island for a week with Dad’s friend John and his family. That was our little beach retreat that we discovered after we abandoned the Jersey shore the summer that medical wastes began to wash up on the beaches.

Dad enjoyed going there for the golf, and I played some tennis with at least one of you. We enjoyed riding our bikes throughout the island, including on the beaches. When you were younger, you went to Camp Kiawah.

I turned the page of your summer travel brochure to see the three of you posing at Rainbow Row in Charleston. Who would ever have guessed that fifteen years later, Kelly would give birth to a baby boy in that very city? At the time, we were all Jersey girls, and the idea that some of us would ever become Southern Belles one day would have been inconceivable.

Continuing through your pamphlet, I learned that the four of us girls, along with Grandma, took a trip to Peddler’s Village in Pennsylvania. We all loved meandering through the shops, ending our day at the bakery to bring home some goodies and their wonderful English muffin bread.

You went to the Lake Hiawatha Swim Club another day, a club you joined seventeen years later with your husband. For two weeks that summer, you took tennis lessons (at the Knoll?).

For your eleventh birthday we took you to Medieval Times. You loved eating, watching the fake jousting events while we ate our dinner, and probably picked up an autograph or two from a few knights in shining armor.

You enjoyed hitting the hot tub with the family, your cousins, and a few friends, which is something we can rarely do during the summers down here now.  We wrapped up the summer with a trip to Dorney Park, also in Pennsylvania.

So that summer we did not go on any trips involving air travel, which was probably a good thing for you since you have never been comfortable on planes. Still, it looks to me that we managed to give you a very fun summer. Do you remember the summer of 1998?

Rainbow Row 1998

Hot Tub- 1998

Field Day Fun and Letdowns

“We swear, that we will take part in the 1966 School Street School Field Day, with loyal competition, respecting the regulations that govern it and desirous of participating in it, for the honor of our team, our school, and the glory of sports.”

That is the oath, as best I can remember, which we all recited at the beginning of our annual field day competition. It was modeled after the Olympic oath. Unlike your Field Day at Valley View when you could participate as early as kindergarten, we had to wait until fourth grade. The rest of the school could only watch, so it was a day we looked forward to when we were in the earlier grades.

I am familiar with your field day, because not only did I watch each of you compete in the various events, one year, I was responsible for organizing it. That involved enlisting other parents to act as judges, purchasing the food and beverages, setting up early that morning, and cleaning up at the end of the day.

Most of your games were team events such as the egg toss, tug-of-war, and the “keeping the beach ball off the ground competition.” Each class would battle for the gold against the other classes I think, while my field day consisted of primarily individual events with the exception of the relay races.  I think the change was probably instituted after some stupid psychologist or pediatrician began preaching about self-esteem and positive parenting at the expense of real-world lessons on winning and losing. You must have heard about the little league games, when each inning is played until everyone hits the ball rather than after three outs. (Let’s not hurt Johnny’s feelings!) I believe that when Bryce goes to play soccer this philosophy makes sense, but in a few years, all children must learn to accept defeat as well as winning.

But back to me…I remember competing in the high jump and standing long jump as well as the bongo board. That bongo board event, devised for people like me who had little athletic ability, involved standing on a narrow wooden board balanced on top of a wooden cylinder. The winner was the kid who could stand the longest without falling. Each year, the winner of every event was recorded to see if they had broken an old school record. Clearly, I broke no records, but I seem to think Uncle Mart may have at one time.

The reward for being in sixth grade was twofold. Each year, one lucky boy and girl from the senior class of our school won an award for sportsmanship. Aunt El won it her year. Karen won it my year. I may have been a runner up—maybe.

Not only did I not win an award for having good sportsmanship, I did not get to participate in the Maypole dance. That was my biggest disappointment. I knew I was not athletic, but I really wanted to do the Maypole dance. The dance involved skipping around a large pole while holding onto long ribbons which were attached on top. Half the group went clockwise, and the other half counterclockwise so that at the end, the ribbons were all nicely woven around the pole like this Maypole dance I found on youtube. It sounds stupid and looks stupid, but at the time, I was sad when I was not chosen to perform this coveted dance.

Yet despite my disappointments that year, I survived. After all, I did get chosen to be on the AVA squad and kindergarten class helper. (See Six Grade Big Shots) Athletics have just never been my thing.


Not a Care in the World

I found another photo while I was visiting Grandma which sent me strolling down memory lane again. As you will see, it’s blurry, but it is clear enough to see that it is someone (me) jumping on a trampoline. I pointed out to Jamie where it was located way back then. Now the area is filled with condos, IHOP, and the Shop Rite and Home Depot shopping center.

So much has changed since I was little. During the summer time, that area of Route 46 between Beverwyck Road and Bloomfield Avenue was filled with fun activities. There were trampolines, mini golf and pitch and putt,  a place called O’Dowd’s which served ice cream, a permanent kiddie carnival, and a flea market called “The Auction.”

It was a hopping place, and although I don’t think Grandma and Grandpa had the money to take all of us often, I do recall walking around The Auction, jumping on the trampolines, and later playing golf with Dad. (I think my friend Mitzie got clobbered with a golf ball there.)

When I was a kid, there were none of the safety rules like today. No one thought of the dangers with the trampolines, and no one had to sign any kind of waver before sending their kids off to bounce their cares away like you do today.

Seatbelts did not become mandatory in New Jersey until 1984. I recall sitting in the family car, which we affectionately called Eva because the plate was EVA-179, and my only protection was Grandma’s hand when she thrust it across my chest when Grandpa made a sudden stop.

I truly don’t know how we survived. I recall that the third section—the “way back”—is where some of my siblings sat. I think it was just an open space with no seats. It was fun, but clearly very dangerous.

What happened to us as babies? I think there was a car bed where we slept, but it was not secured. I believe that Grandma just held us in her arms when she came home from the hospital or took us on short trips. She probably just didn’t go far with us, or just threw us in the back, never thinking of what could happen.

We road our bikes without helmets, walked to school at an age that today would be considered child endangerment, probably stayed home unsupervised also at a very young age, lived in homes without smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, flew without a care in the world, and survived without cell phones to check in with our parents when we were away from home.

Now we have so many rules and safety features, and laws and gadgets to make our lives safer, yet we worry so much more than we ever did back in the day.


Step Right Up

Growing up, Labor Day signified several things: the end of summer, the town firemen’s parade and fair, and a telethon hosted by a comedian named Jerry Lewis, which raised money for muscular dystrophy. For a twenty-one hour period, you could turn on the television to watch a plethora of comedians, singers, and dancers entertaining the audience while the show’s viewers called in their donations. Celebrities from Frank Sinatra to Carrie Underwood appeared on the show, which ended its run in 2010.

I am sure that by now you are wondering what has caused me to write about this particular event. What could possibly be the relevance to my life? It probably sounds like I have really meandered way off the path of our family story. Am I losing it or grabbing at straws because I am running out of material?

Not so fast. I am not desperate for material yet. I am going to tell you a story I am positive is new to all of you. In addition to raising money via this annual telethon, Jerry Lewis also called on kids throughout America to raise money for this disease via backyard carnivals. We had one at our house.

While I cannot remember all the details due to my advanced age, I can recall enough so that I can paint you a picture of the event. Hopefully, with some help from my siblings or my friend, Karen, I will be able to fill in the blanks later.

I know I sent away to Jerry for a carnival packet, which included suggestions for games, tickets, and signs to display around the neighborhood. We had a fortune telling booth, which we created by putting up a sheet over the slide of the swing set. One of us was the gypsy, who dressed up in some sort of costume which was comprised of a cloth head covering and an old dress belonging to Grandma. We invented stories to predict the future of our young customers.

In the sandbox we placed dishes, which was similar to the nickel toss at the firemen’s fair. The idea was to stand at the edge of the sandbox and try to gently, but with great accuracy, throw a coin so that it would stay on one of the plates. We also had a milk bottle toss, which involved dropping a clothes pin into a milk bottle.

Of course we had refreshments, which may have been nothing more than some lemonade. So we put up our signs, and the kids from the block beyond Wootton Street came. They spent their pennies and nickels on our games and drinks, and at the end of the carnival, Grandma sent our measly profit back to Jerry Lewis’ Muscular Dystrophy fund. It was not a waste of our time at all because we had fun planning it, a great time that day, and when it was over, we felt we had helped the cause just a bit.

Those Damn Old Winters

Fear and discomfort. That is why I instituted my policy to avoid traveling north during the winter. Love, appreciation and guilt are the reasons I have broken that policy at least three times. Every time I have traveled to New Jersey between December and March, there is at least one nasty snowstorm. Last year, during a one week period, there were three winter weather events.

Last night I proved to myself that I still remembered how to drive on icy roads, but I was so frightened. It is just not the same as it was, because when we lived here, I was always traveling on familiar roads in a car I knew well. This time, I set out in the dark in Aunt Ar’s car. The thermometer  was reading no higher than nineteen degrees, and pellets of frozen rain  were bouncing off her car. By now I knew the route, which was an improvement over the first time I traveled the streets in a rental car. I can do this, I thought to myself.

After cleaning off the snow from the windows and hood, I set out on my journey, cautiously driving down the icy hills while remembering to downshift so I could avoid using the brake. I was gaining more confidence until I saw the flashing blue lights ahead coming from two different directions.

When I came upon the barricades on the road—my road back to Aunt Ar’s—I began to panic. I stopped the car, gathered my wits and headed back to town, seeking a place to park so I could call Aunt Ar for help. She had no answer readily available, so I set out for the police station. What a waste of precious time! The young woman at the desk insisted there was no roadblock along my route. “You must have taken a wrong turn. There are no reported incidents on your road. Use your GPS.” Thank goodness I left the hospital with a fully charged phone! I explained to her that I was lost and unfamiliar with the territory, but she had no sympathy.

I doubted her words but nevertheless thought she knew better, so I followed the voice on my GPS—my new best friend Siri—who directed me right back to the barricaded road. Aha! What a rude nasty bitch, I thought.

So now my life was in Siri’s hands. I followed her calm reassuring voice over the unlit icy country roads. “Turn right, turn left, now drive for seven miles,” she directed me.

I found myself talking out loud to her. “Siri, don’t get me lost. I am afraid. I am trusting you to get me back. Don’t let me down like the bitch at the police station.”

Finally, at the end of those seven miles I was back on the familiar road and continued ever so slowly, ignoring the lights of the cars behind me urging me to drive faster. But I would not, because although the temperature had begun to rise, it was still an uncivilized nineteen degrees. I am in no rush. I am not ending this very long day upside down in a ditch at the side of the road..

Up ahead I saw the lights of McDonald’s and Shop Rite. I was almost there. I turned onto the last stretch of the ice-covered pavement to the finish line, and with a great sigh of relief, reached my destination.

I walked into the house announcing, “I need a glass wine.”

And that, girls, is why I have instituted my winter travel policy. But I could not say no to Aunt Ar last year when she asked me to come in early March, which was when I had two snowstorms and one ice storm. It is the guilt and appreciation for all she does that does not let me refuse, tied in with love for Grandma.

Grandma’s mantra is “I hate kids,” while mine is “I really, really hate winter!”