Growing up in New Jersey, October 30 was more than just the day before Halloween. It was called Mischief Night, and apparently it still is, but according to my research, I learned that it is primarily a New Jersey tradition. Inhabitants of Kansas, Utah, and North Dakota would fail the Jeopardy question: What holiday involves toilet paper, eggs, and shaving cream?
I recall going out with my friend, Karen, and wandering the streets near my house armed with toilet paper to decorate the trees and bushes. Looking back on this now, I cannot imagine why my parents would have allowed me to do this—both because of the minor vandalism involved, and more importantly, the fact that they would permit us to do this at all. I did not allow any of you to do this, did I? What were they thinking?
I could go on, and I was planning to discuss the history of this night, but then we turned on the television and saw an extremely unsettling commercial. It involved a man and woman discussing bowel movements! Not the code-name “number 2”, but bowel movements! Take a moment to think about that. This was more than just a casual conversation between friends. It came with the visuals of them sitting on the toilet.
What has this world come to, I ask? Is nothing in this world sacred anymore?
I am constantly amazed at how our minds work, particularly regarding memory triggers. “Little Drummer Boy” is played at Christmas, and I am in my junior high chorus with my first set of braces on my teeth. My emotions and mouth are reeling from both anger and pain because I was promised I would not get those braces until after the holidays. (Incidentally, Grandma despises that song!)
The sweet aroma of freshly-baked bread transports me back to my childhood home in Boonton, when Grandma used to make hamburger rolls. Yes, it is true, your grandmother—who also worked outside of the home—baked rolls for our weekly meal of hamburgers. Although she cheated heavily in baking those rolls because she used pre-made frozen dough, those rolls still had that made-from-scratch taste.
On my recent trip to New Jersey, I decided to drive by a few of my former homes, which always blasts me back to the past. The house on White Oak Lane had lost that beautiful pink dogwood tree that Dad so loved, and the basketball hoop which we all enjoyed had been replaced by a new portable one.
My eyes were drawn to a particular tree at the curb—the one on our property which our neighbor, the admiral, had carefully lined with stones. Remember how I encouraged you to disassemble his rock garden and create your own because I was so annoyed at the admiral’s unneighborly behavior to all of us? The stones are still there, but rearranged by the new inhabitants of our former home.
The pen holding the farm animals at the cider mill is now overgrown with weeds, and more businesses and McMansions have sprung up around town. I felt sad seeing that the site is now so neglected.
The deck that Dad and a few family helpers had so lovingly built on the back of Grandma and Grandpa’s house is now gone. From my vantage point on the street, it appears that it is being replaced by a patio. Oh well, it will require less maintenance I guess.
My final stop was to the homestead where I lived for the first six months of my life. The house was one of only three homes located on a tiny street where the railroad track ran just feet from the front stoop. It was so close to the tracks that Grandma often said that when the train blew its whistle, they would raise their feet and laugh, pretending to allow for the train to pass by them.
Upon returning to the main road, I was suddenly zapped by a vivid flash of memory, which was of Grandpa and me filling up jugs of water from a spring located on the side of the road. Did this really happen, or was this just a figment of my imagination? I turned to a local Facebook group and posed a question about the alleged spring.
I am happy to report that my memory is working quite well. My query set off a string of replies from locals who recall accompanying their parents, grandparents, and even great grandparents to fill up empty milk jugs from what one person referred to as “liquid gold.” Sadly, a combination of safety concerns because of the number of cars that stopped to bring home the gold and the eventual contamination of the water shut this site down sometime around 1969.
Happy New Year. It’s the most wonderful time of the year again for many parents after what always seemed like an endless summer of having their children around 24/7. As a kid, it was never long enough.
In anticipation of the big first day, we would be taken shopping for our new outfits, which was an expense that Grandma could not avoid, particularly for Uncle Mart and me. As the oldest girl and oldest boy in our family, there were not hand-me-downs to wear. So off we would go a store on Main Street called “The Laurie Shop” or a warehouse-type store in Rockaway known as “Robert Hall.”
Robert Hall was a small national chain, with catchy commercials that I still could hum along when I found them on YouTube. All you old timers should check this out if you want to skip down memory land: http://bit.ly/2xEIcj7 Dad tells me he got his first suit at Robert Hall.
When the values go up, up, up
And the prices go down, down, down
Robert Hall this season
Will show you the reason:
Low overhead, high quality
Back in my day, we did not have backpacks like all of you had. In fact, I don’t recall having any sort of contraption in which to carry my books. I only remember balancing my books in my arms, all of which were covered with the same brown paper bags from the supermarket like yours so many years later. Some things did not change between my generation and yours.
So although we did not like seeing our carefree summer days coming to an end because it meant our evenings would soon be filled with homework, there was a silver lining preceding the start of the school year. Our small little town transitioned us into the new school season with the big Labor Day Firemen’s Parade and Fair.
It was sheer genius, because now we always looked forward to this time of year. I was always excited about the rides, games, fireworks, and meeting up with some of the friends I had not seen since June. When we were young, we would be taken by our parents, but eventually, we were allowed to go by ourselves—a sign of no longer being a little kid.
Now as Labor Day approaches again, I think back on those end-of-summer evenings of pitching nickels, trying to win a goldfish that Grandma would not want, and waiting for the fireworks to begin. Maybe Jamie will go to the fair and meet up with some of the cousins who have not left town.
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.
Did I ever take the three of you ice skating when you were young? I know we went roller skating many times, both in Rockaway and Florham Park. Those rinks were popular destinations for birthday parties, Girl Scout trips, and outings with friends and our family. I recall holding your tiny hands as you would wobble along as you were learning and then insist on doing it yourselves as you became more confident.
But did we go ice skating during the winter? I recall only one time. It was after we moved to North Carolina, and we decided to play tourist in New York City in 2005. That was during Kelly’s 21st birthday celebration. We saw Wicked, she had her first legal cocktail, and we went to Bryant Park where we all laced up our skates and ever so gingerly approached the rink. The setting was perfect. The five of us were all together, as was Marcus, and the backdrop was the skyscrapers of the Big Apple rising majestically into the evening sky as Christmas carols played on loudspeakers while we glided around the ice. It was magical—like a scene from a movie.
As a child, we went ice skating often. Some years, Grandpa would flood the area in the backyard where our pool sat during the summer. While that rink was small and often quite bumpy, we didn’t care. It was our own private space.
Our town would often create a rink in the area below Main Street above the falls. I remember going down there with my friends and skating until I was so cold that I could barely move my fingers.
Other years, when we would have a sustained period of cold, we would skate on the river near the pond bridge. One time, I was skating with my friends, and Grandma decided to join us. You all know that she was quite the dancer, but did you know that she was quite the whiz on the ice?
We were practicing our unsteady moves while Grandma was showing off her twirls. I never knew my mom had this hidden talent. I knew she could make the best cupcakes in the world as well as serve up a mean creamed tuna on toast on meatless Fridays, but I was not aware that she was a talented ice skater as well.
All of a sudden, poor Grandma was down on the ice, hitting the cold, hard surface with both elbows. Trying to act very cool and not wanting us know how much pain this caused her, she slowly got up and took a few more spins.
I am fairly confident that this fall resulted in a trip to the doctor where she got a shot in at least one elbow to help ease her pain. Oh, Mom! You could have told me when it happened. I would have given you a big hug!