Grandma’s Sweet Treats

I have talked about the power of music saying that it “lifts us up when we are sad, calms our nerves, makes us laugh, and brings us to tears. Music is a time machine, transporting us back to another time by just the sounds of a few notes in a song.” (See The Power of Music)

Food is like that too. Canned tuna reminds me of meatless Fridays growing up, escargot reminds me of our cruises when you were little, and Salisbury steak reminds me of my dining hall in college, when I swore I would never partake of that sorry excuse for steak ever again.

I remember going to my grandmother’s house, where she would have a bowl of cellophane-wrapped butterscotch candies. That was her special treat.

As you all should remember, when you went to my mother’s house, Grandma would always have her little goodies—some form of chocolate—tucked away in the drawer underneath her oven. So with that in mind, I was telling Dad that I need to figure out what my Grandma special sweet delight will be, and where should they be kept?

When Bryce visits, he knows to go to my pantry where he usually goes “shopping.” Somedays he will appear with a box of crackers, pretzels, or maybe some mandarin oranges. But that is not what I have in mind. Like Grandma, my treat for the grandchildren should be some form of chocolate, such as M&M’s or York Peppermint Patties (those will, of course, be found in the freezer!).

What are your thoughts? This is important, because my choice of a guilty pleasure will forever define me to future generations.


Seventy-five years ago, our nation celebrated its last peacetime Thanksgiving before becoming involved in the war. Sixteen days later, Japan surprised almost everyone but my father with the attack on Pearl Harbor. (Pearl Harbor- Did Dad Know)

On that Thanksgiving Day in 1941, my mother was just twelve-years old, so her celebration was nothing like that of my father. She sat down with her family to eat a dinner prepared by her mother, while my father, then a twenty-two-year old soldier, was dining in a mess hall at Fort Dix. Dad’s family was on the other side of the world, and he had not been in contact with them for months. He did not even know if his family was dead or alive.

My Russian grandparents and three of their children were at a train station somewhere in the Soviet Union, which had been their home for over one week. What were they eating that Thanksgiving? Definitely not a turkey dinner with all the trimmings. If they were lucky that day, they feasted on some black bread, perhaps some flavorless soup, and a cup of water.

Since August, they had been walking on muddy roads and living in abandoned farmhouses while enduring months of unrelenting rainstorms followed by snow and temperatures plummeting to below zero. Their goal was to reach a train station where they hoped to board a train to take them further away from the constant bombings overhead and Hitler’s ground troops advancing closer to them each day.

So on this Thanksgiving Day in 2016, just for a moment, I will not be sad about not celebrating with my entire family. I will be happy that my mother is still around to enjoy her turkey dinner, albeit two hundred miles from me. My oldest daughter and her family will be eating a traditional New Orleans dinner, complete with some kind of seafood dressing—not stuffing. My middle daughter will be with some of her in-laws not far from my mother, and my husband and I will be celebrating the holiday this year with our youngest daughter at a barbecue restaurant just one mile from The White House. (Now that will be interesting!) They will all be happy, healthy, and safe, so that is where my focus will be.

And just for that one day, I will not think of what will come of our country on January 20.thanksgiving-2012

Time to Whine

It’s that time of the year: time for me to begin whining and complaining already. How did this happen so soon? I realize I should have known when I saw the Christmas decorations begin to appear shortly after Labor Day and then a few weeks ago when “The Love” station on Sirius radio switched to Christmas music.

As you all know, Christmas is not my favorite time of the year because of the shopping. I hate to shop! Oh how I really wish Santa was real! Don’t get me wrong. I don’t dislike all that is Christmas. I enjoy the music (just not in September), getting presents, the lights (just not dragging them up and decorating the bushes and trees outside), and the Christmas movies.

But it’s not the same anymore. I remember when the three of you were little, and you all loved going through the JC Penney Christmas catalog each year, each of you carefully circling the toys you wanted Santa to bring to you. That helped me tremendously in knowing what you wanted.

Now you are spread near and far, so I don’t hear anyone dropping hints nor do I see anyone carefully circling their secret wishes in a catalog. I try to come up with clever gifts, but it is just so difficult.

I don’t make the spread of cookies any more—mostly because there are not a lot of little mouths in my household or at the Christmas Day dinner at our house to scoff up the chocolate chip, spritz, peanut butter kisses, chocolate candy canes, and oatmeal cookies that I always began baking weeks before Christmas and stored in the freezer. Also, now Dad and I need to worry about the extra pounds which seem to now settle around our waists more and more each year.

We have our own favorite movies—Love Actually and The Holiday—are two of my nontraditional now classics which we enjoy.

Dad still makes our Christmas Eve hors d’oeuvres, and we now have the next generation of children to watch as they visit Santa at the zoo (our new Southern tradition) and see their excitement on Christmas morning.

I will try really, really hard to remember these fun parts of Christmas when the shopping Grinch begins to creep my way.

What’s in a Name?

I enjoy giving names to things, and this became particularly apparent today as we continued our search for a replacement of my car—the one which was part of the big betrayal by Volkswagen. It finally dawned on us that many of the gadgets in the new cars have already been given names by us. So as we search for the perfect car, we have a checklist of required options.

When we sit in the back seat, I look to see if there are cup holders, aka “The Bryce,” which we named because three-year-old Bryce’s favorite must-have is a backseat cup holder.

Next Dad asks if the car comes with pre-collision breaking—“The Bill.” This feature will slow the car down if a driver in front of you unexpectedly applies the brakes. This was named after he rode in a car driven by one of his Bill friends (there are several Bills in his life), who was driving a car at a high rate of speed in the rain while Dad sat nervously in the back. As another car passed them at an even higher rate of speed, that car sent copious amounts of water onto the windshield, temporarily blinding Bill to a third car positioned in front of them, which had slowed down quite unexpectedly. Fortunately, Dad lived to tell the tale, because the car was equipped with the very cool brakes, which slowed the car down, thereby avoiding Dad’s untimely demise.

Today we went for a test drive. As the car swerved a bit to the right, we heard a sound. Dad asked what that was and I answered “The Wendy.” Having ridden with my friend Wendy many times, I was acquainted with “lane departure and sway warning,” which sounds a pleasant chime when your car drifts outside your lane.

On the highway, Dad was accelerating over a ridge in the road caused by recent partial paving. I referred to it as “The Geoff,” in honor of the accident Geoff had while accelerating onto Route 80 while riding his motorcycle. The sign which warned of “rough pavement ahead” came too late, and as we know, Geoff ended up at the hospital where he thankfully made a full recovery.

The rear doors on SUVs now open and closes automatically—“The Dad” or “The Grandpa—in memory of the time I knocked Grandpa to the ground when I hit him on the head closing the back door. I will think of him every single time I press the button to automatically close the door.

I will say that not all my names are car-related. I will close my ramblings with a description of “The Jim,” which is our name for the closed-captions on the television. This name was born when our friend Jim was visiting us, and we were watching a show where we had turned on the closed captions because the characters were speaking in garbled whispers. Jim asked us to turn off the closed captions, which is when “The Jim” became our official name for those little helpers at the bottom of the screen.

Do any of you have any cute little names for non-animate objects?



Party Lines—Not Just Politics!

Grandma’s family has a long history with telephones. When her mother graduated from eighth grade—around 1910—she worked for the telephone company and remained there until her marriage ten years later. Women commonly quit their jobs upon their marriages.

My great grandfather, TJ Downey, was a successful businessman in town and therefore had the money for luxuries such as an iron and a telephone.(Can you believe those were luxuries!) As one of the first families in Boonton to have a phone—with a number of just “4”—friends would regularly call from New York and ask Grandma’s mother to pass on a message to their family informing them that they had been detained at work. If she was busy, she would send one of the children on a mission to pass on the information.


When Grandma was young, they had what was known as a “party line,” which had nothing to do with politics. This was a system whereby several families shared the same telephone line. I believe this was while the telephone company was expanding and could not get enough wires for every family to have their own line.

From what I understand, each family had a unique ring, so you could distinguish a call intended for your family from one of the other households sharing the line. As you can imagine, this was a great way to sometimes catch up on the local gossip. If you timed it correctly, you could pick up someone else’s call at the same time as they did and listen in on their conversation.

There were two teachers at my high school who were dating at the time. One was a math teacher and the other taught French. One of them shared a line with Grandma’s family. Apparently, Uncle Bob and Uncle Don just loved eavesdropping on their calls. One time, Mr. Backus asked the future Mrs. Backus if she was ready to be picked up, and she said something to the effect that she was not yet dressed and was still wearing just her slip. I can imagine the giggles that this caused.


Today, that private conversation would quickly be shared on Facebook and Twitter–#BHSnews! Ah, those were the days!


Like nearly sixty million other Americans, I awoke on the morning after the election to learn that the previous night, when the election results came in, was not a nightmare. I truly hoped that I would be able to tell the new little girl in our family that she was born during the year that the first woman was elected President of the United States. We all know the sad reality of the results.

Along with many supporters of Secretary Clinton, I cried tears of shock and utter sadness, which deepened upon reading a letter from your sister—the sister who is the biggest news junkie of the family. She announced that she will not be reading any news and will be ignoring social media for a few weeks. This is particularly upsetting because she has begun each day reading the news since the age of eleven.

That is a decision I have made as well, so I thought it was interesting that we had come to the same conclusion regarding how to cope. (This may be difficult since I do not live alone!) The exception for me is regarding sites dealing with writing and my ancestry research.

So I was surprised to see her post the following later in the day:

“It’s easy to feel helpless, but if you need a positive avenue to channel your post-election feelings, there are lots of organizations that could use your donations or time. Every little bit helps! Some of my favorites: (Southern Poverty Law Center) (Planned Parenthood) (American Civil Liberties Union) (Human Rights Campaign) ”

So she put her money where her mouth is and donated to one of the above organizations and is now looking for a place to volunteer her time. I am proud of how she is handling this.




Nothing Lasts Forever

I envy people who have  a green thumb with houseplants. That’s not me. I try, but I just can’t do it. Usually the plants would survive for a brief time, and then very slowly, they would begin to gasp for air and then wither and die.

Dad and I had a plant that required very little sunlight. It was a housewarming gift I believe. We named it Wendell and he lived for many years. I was hopeful that perhaps I had finally learned to be a good plant parent. Wendell was supposed to have a long life expectancy, but I eventually killed him before we left our New York home for New Jersey, where we lived for sixteen years.

I made many friends in New Jersey, and I truly believed that I would remain a Jersey girl forever. As you all know, nothing last forever. When I announced to my dear friend Margaret that we were going to move, she gave me a beautiful house plant as a going-away gift.

Getting a plant from most people would normally be considered a gesture of kindness, but I believe Margaret knew that I did not have a green thumb and therefore purposefully chose to give me that plant rather than an arrangement of flowers. She gave what appeared to be a gift given out of kindness, but I believe she was secretly chuckling at her present to me.

But I was determined to get the last laugh. I carefully tended that plant, and moved it ever so gently from house to house to house—North Carolina to Georgia to South Carolina. It thrived. But then Margaret got sick, and I became more intent on keeping that plant healthy.

Margaret died four years after giving me that gift. One year, we had an early frost, and when I went out to the porch and saw the wilting brown leaves, I was devastated. That plant was my living link to my friend. I removed the dead leaves, and as the plant continued its downward spiral, I added a buddy, hoping that would help my plant survive.

Sadly, like my friend Margaret, my plant did not make it either, so now I have the lovely blue and white ceramic container to remind me of her. In the summer, I fill it with beautiful annuals and think of her. At Christmas time, I fill it with stones and add candles.

Nothing lasts forever, but memories do.