Grandma and Grandpa: The Early Days

I write these stories so you all have the opportunity to get to know your family before you were born and to reminisce about your past. It is my hope that you learn something new, maybe laugh a little, or even shed a tear or two.

Today I began to flip through one of Grandma’s photo albums containing pictures taken in 1950 before she and Grandpa were married and continuing through their first year of marriage. It’s difficult to imagine her at a time when she was younger than any of you, particularly as I see her now at the age of eighty-seven, having trouble accepting that she is an old woman living in a nursing home. Trust me, in our minds, we are always young at heart.

They were engaged in August of 1950, about six weeks after the beginning of the Korean War. That summer, the two of them made several trips to the Jersey Shore, some with Grandma’s sister and twin brothers, and other times with friends. Just look at them. Grandma was 21 and Grandpa was 31.

engaged-august-1950

Here they look so happy, yet in a short time, Grandpa would be headed to Fort Hood, Texas, where he was recalled to serve in the Army during the Korean War. I wonder if they knew then that their time together would be ending so soon.

grandma-fall-1950 grandpa-fall-1950

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By November, the two of them were separated by the war, but luckily, Grandpa never left the states. I found several photos taken their first winter apart, labeled “Glamor Shots for Martin.” I believe that fur coat is around somewhere. I tried it on a few years ago before Grandma moved from her house. She truly does look so glamorous!

glamor-shot

 

glamor-shot-2

 

They didn’t know when they would be married. It all depended on when Grandpa would be given a leave. In the meantime, her girlfriends, Weezie and Geri, gave her a shower in February 1951. The table decoration was labeled “A soldier and bride.”

 

soldier-and-the-bride shower-with-bffs

 

 

They stopped in many states along the way, beginning first at a Civil War museum in Virginia, then on to the rolling hills of Tennessee, across the Mississippi River to West Memphis Arkansas (just like we all did back in 1995), and finally arriving in Texas where they lived for just five hellish months–according to Grandma. She really hated the Lone Star State. (As you may notice, Grandma completely ignored Delaware and Maryland.)

She and Grandpa played army, as shown in the next two photos.
korean-soldier grandma-and-tank-copy

 

 

 

 

 

 

They had time for fun when Grandpa was not doing army work. Just look at that rather risque outfit on your grandmother.  Wow!

wow-pic

The return trip took them through Missouri, Ohio, Illinois, West Virginia, Virginia, and our nation’s capital. The trip was slow, because that car they drove did not travel the same speeds we are accustomed to today, and the road system with all those multi-lane interstates did not exist at that time.

Soon they were back in Boonton–the home of Grandma’s people.

back-from-texas

 

 

 

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Eulogize While Alive

I know I talk too much about my thoughts about funerals, particularly mine. Today, I am floating an idea of eulogizing while alive. The idea developed when Margaret got very sick, so I decided to write her a letter highlighting our twenty-year friendship. I would have preferred to write that letter the old-fashioned way—handwritten, not typed, and snail-mailed to New Jersey. However, when I decided to do this she was already in hospice, so I worried it would not arrive in time. I emailed it to our friend Patty, had her print it out, and hand deliver it. Thankfully, the letter arrived with just over a week to spare.

Rereading it today, I see that while it covered all the major events of our friendship—beginning with our meeting at the preschool down the street through my sadness at what was happening to her—I tried to keep it light-hearted. I wanted to put a smile on her face, if only for a moment.

That letter got me started on many other letters—the thought being that you just don’t always know when the end will come to a friend or a loved-one, so I wanted to pass on my feelings while I could. Why should the best compliments and stories be given at a funeral when the recipient is never around to hear those lovely thoughts and funny anecdotes?

The following year, I began my “living eulogy letters,” and I believe I wrote around thirty. Since then, I wrote a few each year, mostly coinciding with someone’s birthday. I have not written one in a while, but was reminded that it was time to get back to work by Mark. He called me the other day to thank me for inspiring him to write a letter like the one I wrote to Margaret. This was to the priest from New Orleans who married him and Kelly, and sadly, “Father Fitz” passed away a few days ago.

Maybe I can inspire all of you to write a few living eulogy letters. Call them memory letters if you prefer. I guarantee the recipient will cherish your words.  (But they probably won’t tell you.) As I have mentioned on more than one occasion, I would happily love a memory letter over a gift for my birthday or Christmas any time. I have received two so far. You know who you are! So get to work.

Why Do We Need to Study That?

It’s that most wonderful time of the year for many parents (and some children) because school has begun. For me, September always felt more like the New Year than January 1. We had a new teacher, new textbooks, and our new back-to-school outfits. Anticipation and excitement was in the air. This got me thinking about what I learned that has actually been useful to me during my life besides the obvious reading, writing, and very basic arithmetic skills.

  • In junior high, we all learned to type. Those were the days before computers, so we learned on typewriters. I don’t believe any of you typed any papers on anything but a computer, so you cannot understand the challenges of a typewriter. When you made a mistake, there was not the luxury of hitting a backspace key to make your error magically disappear. No siree! There were two methods of correcting a mistake: you either painted over the error with a nail polish-like substance called white out, which needed to be dried before you could repair the oopsy daisy, or you used correction tape, which you placed over the boo-boo and retyped the correct letter in its place. It never looked as nice and sometimes you just ended up retyping the entire page.
  • My five years of French came in quite handy when we needed to provide the cab driver at Charles DeGalle Airport with the name of our hotel as well as order a meal at one restaurant which did not have an English-speaking server. Of course, Dad will mention that I got smoked salmon instead of cooked salmon, which he loves to bring up in conversation whenever possible. (Okay, I admit that “salmon fume” is sort of obvious and I should have known better.)
  • Geometry has helped me determine how much paint to purchase or how many square yards of carpet to order, and basic algebra comes in handy whenever we make couscous. (Take a look at the box. If you want to make 2 servings, an understanding of Algebra 1 is needed.) I have never ever used a spec of the three years of calculus I took in high school and college!
  • Home Economics in seventh and eighth grade provided me with the skills to hem a pair of pants and sew a button as well as taught me the difference between a dry measuring cup and a liquid one. (I admit that in a pinch, I will use whichever is handy.)
  • Driver’s Ed class, with my cousin Louis’ husband Frank barking out directions beside me, taught me how to maneuver my way up Main Street Boonton without scratching a parked car, how to parallel park, and how to do a proper k-turn, which we did at the bottom of my cousin Nancy’s very steep driveway.
  • Ninth grade world history class came in very handy last week when Aunt Ar told me she had just climbed Mt. Vesuvius overlooking the ancient city of Pompeii. Because of that class, I was familiar with the story of the eruption of the volcano that buried the city in mounds of ashes and did not have to ask her what the heck she was talking about.
  • Because of ninth grade biology class, I know that anyone who does not believe in evolution is off their rocker, and earth science provided me with basic knowledge of weather and earthquakes. I learned about isobars from helping one of you with your homework, which helped me understand the weather reports in Chapel Hill, where their meteorologists were into peppering their reports with discussions of isobars. Back then, unfortunately, we did not learn of the dangers of pollution and fossil fuels, which is probably why certain people in charge of our lives are failing us because they have not kept up with the science.

And as Bugs Bunny would say, “That’s all folks!” What did you learn in school that has helped you maneuver your way through your lives?

bugs-bunny

 

 

Don’t be too Quick to Judge

You know about Grandma and you certainly know about Grandpa because I was able to write a whole book about him, which I hope you have all read or will read soon so we can have our own little book-club discussion about what you learned. I have been providing you with stories of my childhood, but I have said little about Dad or his family. I hope to change that a bit.

His first few jobs kid-type jobs were working as a camp counselor and then in the library at college. You may know that his grandfather—his father’s father—worked for many years at a bank in New York City called Merchant’s Bank, which now has become Valley National Bank.

Dad worked briefly as a courier, delivering money and checks from the bank to a money-exchange company in the World Trade Center and several other banks in the financial district on Wall Street. All this valuable paper and foreign currency would be shoved into a manila envelope secured by a string and handed to Dad.

Typically, and particularly in those days, an employee of a bank would be dressed in a suit and tie. That was not the case with Dad, who was specifically instructed to dress casually—which meant jeans and a tee shirt. If you ever saw photos of your father in those days, you will remember that his hair was not neatly trimmed. In fact, he wore it quite long, and I believe he also was not clean-shaven.

He would pick up his envelope at the bank and then head to the New York City subway to deliver his very valuable “stuff.” The value of that envelope could be as much as $45,000, which adjusted for inflation today was about $250,000!

The thought was that no one would suspect anyone dressed in such scruffy attire to have anything worth robbing. It was a surprisingly brilliant dress code for the job and just proves that you truly can’t judge a book by its cover. That poorly dressed person could be a courier, a celebrity in disguise trying to get in character for a movie role, or a spy. You just never know.

Bampa- I am so Jealous!

I recently heard that another cousin in our family is expecting her first grandchild next year, and the discussion turned to her grandma name. She said she was considering the name “Mimi,” and that conversation was the inspiration to what I am writing about today.

When I first learned I was going to be a grandma, I met the news with both joy and then—I admit now—a little fear of my own mortality and then “no denying it you are old.”

What should I be called? I associated the name “Grandma” with being elderly, so I looked at other options. I had no idea how many other choices exist: Nana, Mimi, Maman (that was Aunt Marian’s name), Memaw, Gigi (taken by the other grandma), Grammy, G’Ma, Grams, Nanny, and Noni. I could go on depending on whether I wanted traditional, trendy, playful, or international.

Then I spoke to Aunt El, who pointed out that every child needs a “Grandma” and “Grandpa,” and since the other grandma was going to be Gigi, I chose Grandma and Daddy went along with Grandpa.

The thing is, I knew that I might not get my wish. Sometimes, the babies drive the decision on the name. So once our little one began to speak, I became “Gamma” and Dad became “Bampa.”

At first I corrected him, and then I thought, “Well, that’s kind of cute,” so I went with that. Dad loved “Bampa” so he did not want that to change. Little by little, the “r” was added, and I was back to being called “Grandma.” Dad, however, is sticking with “Bampa.” While the only way he will be able to have a personalized mug with that name on it is if it is custom-made, I will always be able to find “Grandma” accessories.

I admit that I am a little jealous of his unique grandpa name. Maybe if I knew he was going to be called  Bampa, I would have adopted the name of my Russian grandmother and we could have been Baba and Bampa. But it’s too late for that now so we are forever Grandma and Bampa for the first grandchild and all others after that. I don’t care as long as the hugs keep coming.

Humble and Fun- Wow #6

We meet many people during our lifetime—some for just a brief moment while others remain in our lives. I would like to discuss another person who has touched my life and is among the Top 10 Most Fascinating and/or Admirable People I Have Met.

She is not famous and I know that she will be surprised upon reading this. You all know her, but only since we moved down here. I always knew “of her” but I don’t recall ever meeting her until we were both Southern Belles and officially met at her husband’s funeral. We bonded at a genealogy conference near her home, which was so fitting since we are leaves on the same family tree.

What has impressed me the most is her attitude. Life has thrown a lot of big bad stones along her path, but she has somehow managed to remain an upbeat person. She has faced unimaginable loss in her lifetime, but can still smile. If I look at all the people I have known and was given the task of labeling each as an optimist or pessimist, there is no question that she is the former.

One of you was involved in an accident several years ago, and I knew I could not be there for you, but she could. I reached out, and she did not hesitate to help you, even though I worried it would bring back memories of one of those stones thrown at her. But she is one of those special people that you just know you can count on in times of need.

As someone who had served in the navy and worked as a police officer with the navy, I knew she had the experience to handle the situation better than even I could have. She calmed you and when we all assembled at a Cracker Barrel after all the dust was settled, we were finally able to relax.

She is a wonderful mother, grandmother, aunt, cousin, and friend. Aunt El sent me a quote, which inspired me to write this story about the other Ellen in our family.

cactus negative quote

What Toys Withstood the Test of Time

I thought it would be fun, after discussing the toys the three of you played with as kids, to tell you about mine, particularly noting those which crossed generations. Because of my “advanced age,” I am looking at those playthings of both the fifties and sixties.

We didn’t have as many board games at our house as you did, but what I recall are Monopoly, Candyland, Checkers, Twister, and I think, Careers. I played them all, but it is possible that some were played at a friend’s house. Chinese Checkers was a game I recall playing during the summer at the recreation program at John Hill School.

Mr. Potato Head definitely changed over the years. I thought my recollection could not possibly be correct, but a quick search by Mr. Google showed that my brain is still working correctly. Check out the photo I found courtesy of myfitnesspal.com. We use real potatoes as the body, sticking in the eyes, ears, nose, etc. into the real vegetable bought at our nearby A&P Supermarket. It could not have been easy, and I cannot imagine a three-year old being able to play without the assistance of an adult.

Mr. Potato Head

The dolls I recall playing with and owning were Shirley Temple and Chatty Cathy. Shirley Temple was a child actress who we watched on television, and I have a vague memory of having her doll. Chatty Cathy was a very primitive talking doll. You would pull a string located on her back, and she would respond with random sentences such as, “Let’s play house”, “Please change my dress”, “I love you”, or “Tell me a story.” It didn’t make for great conversations because you never knew what she would say, but she was new and innovative.

We had Colorforms, and you all had them, but as you know, I have been having great difficulty finding them now. I was positive that Mast General Store, which is filled with retro toys, would have them, but all of the salespeople looked at me with a blank stare when I described them. Never one to give up, I checked again today and was rewarded with my persistence by discovering that, not only do they still exist, but the newest favorite characters of children today—Paw Patrol—are available as Colorforms!!

Did you play with Pick-Up Sticks? Somehow I believe you did. They resemble very long toothpicks, but much longer in size. The idea is to spill them out of their cylindrical-shaped container, and then pick them up one at a time without disturbed the others.

pick-up-sticks

I had, you had, and now Bryce has, Play-Doh. I don’t recall the variety of colors back in my day (mostly just the basic primary colors) or having the kits with all the accessories to make a pizza, but I know we all spent many happy hours rolling and cutting and shaping it.

Silly Putty was another favorite, and besides bouncing and squeezing it, the best activity was to press it against the Sunday comics, which always did, and still do, come in color, and then stretching the putty to make the faces in the comics look distorted.

The Slinky I had then worked much better than the one I recently purchased, which refuses to walk down the stairs.

We had a hula hoop, too, but ours was black. They did not come in the pretty colors like in your day, and certainly not did they sparkle!

What I remember doing the most during the summer was playing hopscotch in the driveway or jumping rope with my friends. When I got together with my many cousins or the neighborhood kids, we played tag, kick-the-can, hide-n-seek, kickball, and spud until it was dark.

When I had a only a few playmates, we laid in the grass and looked at the ever-changing clouds in the sky, tried to catch birds with salt, climbed trees, played school,  caught lightening bugs on a warm summer evening, and went downtown for a coke and fries.

The toys which you and I played with which withstood the test of time were the simple toys. Few made annoying noises like so, so many do today, and hardly any required batteries to operate. I can’t wait to return to Mast General to see what “new toys” I can buy for the kids!