It Was a True Miracle

Being a parent is an enormous responsibility. From the moment that tiny little treasure is born, he or she is dependent on you for their entire existence, and it is your job to care for them and prepare for them to one day leave the nest. Among the vital skills that Dad and I taught you was how to walk, talk, use a toilet, drink from a glass, eat with a fork and use a knife.

I wrote on this subject two years ago (Just Make Your Bed) when I spoke of several skills I omitted teaching each of you,  such as how to sew on a button, how to hang a picture, and how to balance a check book. (Do any of you actually do that final item?)

When learning how to drive, did I ever impress on each of you the importance of never leaving anything on the roof of your car? I was reminded of this recently after I received a call from a neighbor who informed me that someone had found my library book on the street about ¾ mile from our house.

Like the pizza I had also left on the roof of my car many years ago, I had repeated history—this time with a book. It is amazing that the book almost made the seven mile trip home before ultimately landing on the ground. That is a true miracle.

Sadly, this little error may cost me the price of the book, because when I finally retrieved the book from the neighbor who had found it, it was slightly damp, and the pages were quite wrinkled. I tried placing the book under a heavy object as well as resorting to my hardly-used iron, but alas, the book does not look so Ay-Yay-Yay. I swear I will never do that again! It’s just not a good idea.


Three Days, Time is Up

We are all sickened and frightened by all the shootings, most recently the school shooting in Florida. With that in mind, I decided to get involved by joining Mom’s Demand Action. I want to do something so that I can look my grandchildren in the eyes one day and tell them I did more than just talk.

Visit my other blog, Do Svidanya Dad to find out what I learned yesterday when I attended a meeting of a state senate subcommittee grappling with what to do in my state.

Click the link: Three Days. Time is Up. 

The Worries of a Child

Do you recall what worried you when you were five?  I recently engaged in a conversation with newly-turned-five Bryce while we were in the car, and he shared his fears with me. They were both cute and sad. I hated that his thoughts are not just about his day at school, his recent trip to the golf course with his dad, or perhaps a new show he discovered on television.

“Grandma, I’m worried that a big building or a tree might fall on my house,” he told me as we were on our way out to lunch. Where and why did this feeling originate? Was it a conversation with a friend or an episode from one of his favorite shows—PJ Mask? I tried to assure him that those particular fears were unfounded.

I know that he was afraid when we watched the Polar Express two years ago, so I know he is not ready for the Wizard of Oz. Thank goodness he is not aware of what is happening on the news these days, or he may be fearful of going to school. Isn’t that an awful thought?

At what age are children aware of the dangers of going to school? I would like the kindergarten teacher in our family to weigh in on this topic. When you have lock-down drills, what do your students know and have they ever expressed any fear?

I long for the days when the only fear related to school was the scary punishment of a teacher.

I Gotta be a Macho Man

Another day, another song, another memory. Today a song came on the radio and I immediately thought of your grandfather—the grandfather you never knew—and I chuckled.

Your grandfather was a smart man, and like your father, he was a technical guy. After graduating from the Bronx School of Science where he was a star student in the first Electronics Industry Association-sponsored advanced television course, he went to work as a television repairman. At that time, the number of televisions in American homes was measured in the thousands rather than the millions, so he was ahead of his time.

He had a television repair shop in a very rough area of the Bronx where it was common for merchants to have guns for protection. Apparently, your grandfather was so anti-gun that Dad thinks he would be a proponent for the repeal of the infamous Second Amendment if he were alive today. Clearly, he would be appalled at what is happening these days in our country.

He received a degree from NYU in Industrial Education, so he move from being a business owner to an educator, teaching courses such as electrical shop and drafting. Eventually your grandfather headed a program of occupational education courses for the developmentally handicapped where he prepared these students to enter the workforce. He secured hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding to support these programs. Both young people and adults benefited from his work in training them in the areas of health education, auto mechanics, and office occupations.

So dedicated was your grandfather that he continued to work until the week before his death. Wow! I knew little of this man. Instead, I knew a man who loved to eat, loved to tell loud jokes, and loved to eat sushi, which was one of his last meals. Dad left his hospital bed to bring him some of his favorite rolls.

Why did I think of your grandfather yesterday? During a news cycle when we heard of yet another mass school shooting and I was feeling rather bummed out, a song made me think of him. For a moment, I forgot about the disturbing news and I smiled.

Your grandfather loved the Village People, especially “YMCA” and “Macho Man.” It has been thirty-seven years ago this month that he was singing about the fun he had staying at the YMCA.

I Could Have Poisoned My Family

Today is the era of meth labs like the one built by Walter White in “Breaking Bad” and terrorists creating bombs to hide in their shoes and underwear. In such a world, I cannot imagine that the chemistry sets that Dad and I played with as children would be permitted to be sold to the future scientists of today.

I remember experimenting with my beakers and chemicals in my grandmother’s kitchen, which at least showed some concern for safety because it kept me away from my four younger siblings. My research into those labs from the good old days showed that those kits most likely did contain small quantities of chemicals that could have caused a certain level of harm.

With a little knowledge, I probably could have blown up my grandma’s kitchen or poisoned my brothers and sisters. I think that Grandpa just hoped that gift would have encouraged me to walk in his footsteps. He did not see the potential for evil.

The advent of consumer safety laws and more skeptical and distrustful parents ended the market for those toys. Oh, those were the days, my friends.


Birthday Kid Picks the Meal

There are definitely pros and cons to having children with adventurous eating habits. As a parent to three children who did not fear exotic food such as escargot, I never worried when dining out about whether there would be a children’s menu.  Often the children’s menu was ignored, but the downside to that were higher bills at the end of the meal.

History is repeating itself via the next generation in our family. What does a five-year old boy want for his birthday lunch and dinner? Mac and cheese, hotdogs, or spaghetti are typical requests of little men, but not our boy. He requested sushi for lunch and mussels for dinner.

Remember what Dad taught you all. When you turn five, you become a human being. I guess that means your eating habits may become more sophisticated.

The sushi he chose was much more daring than the California or shrimp tempura roll which is what I usually order. Rather, the choice for birthday #5 was spicy salmon and spicy shrimp. And may I add that the mussels requested were not in some kind of red sauce such as one might see in your local Italian restaurant. Instead, what he wanted was a recipe recently prepared by his dad: Red Curry Mussels.

Impressive, right? I have the recipe and will include it in our family cookbook. I look forward to more birthday requests.

The Strong Rise Up

Our family is all familiar with Grandma’s father, TJ Downey, who was a successful businessman in town, but few know the tale of his parents. This is another story that shows the strength of our family and what people are able to do when they are backed up against a wall.

TJ’s father was James William Downey, who came to American from Ireland in the early 1860’s and initially settled in Indiana. (Why oh why Indiana is still a mystery to me!)

James enlisted in the Union Army in 1861 and fought in the Civil War for three years, mustering out in Chattanooga, Tennessee. What he did for the next six years after his discharge is another puzzle, but what I do know is that Grandpa Jim ended up in Morristown, where he married Mary Nolan of Boonton at the Church of the Assumption. Mary was originally from the small village of Killenaule, in the county of Tipperary, Ireland.

After the birth of their third child, John, the Downey family relocated to Jersey City. Our grandfather worked as a laborer, both as a gardener and grave digger. Unfortunately, he died from tuberculosis at the age of fifty, leaving our grandmother with four children between the ages of five and fifteen. She was in deep trouble now. How would we all react to Mary’s dilemma?

Mary earned her living by “washing and nursing,” collecting a meager salary of just $15/month. It was a difficult life for her, and within three years of our grandfather’s death, Mary became ill herself. She applied for a widow’s pension, but sadly, the application was lost or misplaced. With her two youngest children under the age of sixteen, she was entitled to $12/month—eight dollars for her and two dollars for each of her sons. As my mother would say, “Whoopee!”

Due to her declining health, our great-great grandma had to cut back on her work, so she was then earning only a mere eight dollars each month, and at times, not even that much.  She was dependent on her three boys to supplement her income. Her daughter, Johanna was also ill.

Within six years of her husband’s death, Mary was totally incapacitated from labor of any kind due to being in the advanced stages of TB. She had no means whatsoever due to “her wretched condition of health,” according to her family physician. Because of her illness, it is doubtful that she would have been able to witness the marriage between her son TJ and his bride, Jemima Blue. Happiness kept eluding poor Mary.

More than two years after applying for her widow’s pension, Mary returned to Boonton, probably to be closer to her mother and siblings. She had a lot of guts, because she decided to file an affidavit, throwing the attorney who misplaced her application under the bus by providing his name and location of his practice. Remember, in 1892, women did not speak out against men. She was a brave and desperate woman.

Tragedy struck again in March of that year when her mother was struck and killed by a train.

Two friends from Boonton, John Barrett and John Dunn, corroborated her statements by verifying that Mary had no “other means of support other than her own labor, and a trifle that one of the boys brings in.” Mary then submitted a special action application, stating that she was dying, having been sick for more than a year and in bed for the past eight weeks. She had no source of income except for $3/week which our great grandfather TJ was able to give her.

The application was finally approved on May 6, 1893, 2 ½ years after she first applied. By then, our poor Grandma Mary had died. I wonder if our own grandma, who was born just two years after her grandmother’s death, was ever told the story of James and Mary Downey.

Makes you think twice when you believe your life is bad, doesn’t it?