As a twenty-first century grandma, I am finding it interesting to see the toys which my grandchildren are enjoying that I played with during my youth over fifty years ago. I have mentioned the Legos, Colorforms, and board games such as Candy Land and Monopoly. The latest gift which brought me traveling down good old Memory Lane again was a set of walkie-talkies. In the age of a cell phone in the pockets of approximately 95% of all adult Americans and a surprising number of children as young as eight, I was surprised to see the excitement with which this gift was received.
I recall getting a set of walkie-talkies with my best friend, Karen. She lived two blocks away from me. Living in a household with six other people, no one had the luxury of being able to occupy the telephone for more than a few minutes, so we put our thinking caps on and came up with the idea of buying the walkie-talkies.
Unfortunately, they were only slightly better than two tin cans connected by a string, which actually work but not with the distance separating the two of us. We discovered that the only way to use these contraptions was for Karen, who was at the top of the hill, to position herself in her basement and me to be in my upstairs bedroom.
As I recall, there was a lot of static and yelling involved in order to communicate, so I do not believe we could not have many top-secret discussions. But as nine or ten-year-old kids, we thought it was cool and had a lot of fun talking to each other. I am curious how the new-and-improved communication devices of this century compares.
I was recently warned by a fellow grandma to be sure to enjoy my time together with the grandkids because, according to her, sometime around the age of eleven, they will no longer believe that their universe revolves around me. While that made me sad, I understood and also know that they will eventually return to me.
With that in mind, I was happy to hear a story from Kelly about their recent day at the beach. On the return trip home, Bryce started discussing the fact that he had punkies in his toes. When questioned by his dad, Bryce explained that the sand in between his toes were punkies. Hooray! He had listened to me and understand the fact that dirt in between one’s toes are known as punkies. Everyone knows that, right?
I know you are all familiar with Grandma’s classic song, “She’s Got Punkies in Her Toes.” I recently taught it to the two kids, and they had me sing it over and over until they memorized it.
Just in case any of you have forgotten the lyrics, I would like to help burn that song into your brains.
She’s got punkies in her toes in her toes
Cha Cha Cha.
She’s got punkies in her toes in her toes
Cha Cha Cha.
She’s got punkies in her toes
And her mommy only knows
She’s got punkies in her toes in her toes
Cha Cha Cha.
Now, the big question of the day is whether Grandma invented that song and kept it as our family secret or whether or siblings also taught that song to their children.
I will pose that question to my cousins and report back to you. In the meantime, you will have to tell me if that song is now stuck in your heads.
“To commemorate the anniversary of the first moon walk on July 20, 1969, and to accord recognition to the many achievements of the national space program, the Congress, by Senate Joint Resolution 101, has requested that the President issue a proclamation designating July 20, 1971, as National Moon Walk Day.
Now, Therefore, I, Richard Nixon, President of the United States of America, do hereby designate July 20, 1971, as National Moon Walk Day. I urge all Americans, and interested groups and organizations, to observe this day with appropriate ceremonies, activities, and programs designed to show their pride in this great national achievement.”
Does anyone really know who is really responsible for the celebration of Moon Day? I am sure extensive research may result in a name or two, but our family knows the truth, and I am providing the evidence of proof that it was Aunt Ar.
Six months before the historic moonwalk, her fourth grade class was given a lesson on how to write a business letter. When instructed to write a letter to anyone of their choosing, she decided to write a letter to President Nixon, suggesting that a holiday should be created honoring the day man first sets foot on the moon.
We all know that she did get a response from the White House.
The President has asked me to reply to your letter, concerning your suggestion (moon day). Although certain holidays are of course observed practically everywhere in our country, there are in fact no holidays legally designated as national.
Each state has jurisdiction over the holidays it will observe. Federal jurisdiction is limited to the District of Columbia and federal installations throughout the nation.
It closed, “With the President’s best wishes.”
I believe that the letter contained a card with President Nixon’s signature. Grandpa wanted to determine if it was authentic or just a stamp. He said if it was real, it would smear if it got wet. Well, Grandpa did the test, and I think it passed the authentication test.
Did Aunt Ar save the letter and the signature? I am guessing not, but let’s wait and see what she says. Perhaps like some of Grandpa’s letters, hers will someday be stored at the National Archives.
In any case, Nixon did declare it an official day of celebration in 1971, but according to the article in the Boonton Times Bulletin newspaper, it was unofficially first celebrated on that July day in 1969. Thank you Ar!
Bryce likes the outdoors and is particularly fond of going on hikes. Hearing him talk excitedly about his adventurous treks with the family reminded me of hikes with Grandpa when I was young—either at Grace Lord Park in Boonton or at the bigger park—The Tourne.
I must have taken you all to The Tourne, but my only memories of this park are of going there as a child. There were several trails meandering through the woods, and at least one of them lead to the top of the Tourne, which provided great views of the New York City skyline.
Grandpa sometimes enjoyed going off-trail, creating his own path through the woods. He instructed me to break a tree branch every few feet to mark our trail on the way up the mountain, so that we could return by the same route using the broken branches as our guide. This did not explain what to do if we got lost going up, but he probably knew the way and, as a kid, it was a fun lesson.
He would point to the rock-covered mountain and explain that this was the remnants of the ice age, so I got a science lesson along with our outdoor adventure. When we reached the top, we’d sit on one of the sheets of rock and enjoy the view.
I must have been quite young because in my memory, he and I went alone. I suppose my other siblings were stuck home with Grandma, so this was a treat to be able to go out in the wilderness of Boonton with just Grandpa. As one of five children, there were not many opportunities for alone-time with either of my parents, so this was a special memory.
Here’s a photo I found of a more grown-up me at the top of the Tourne. I had gone there with some high-school friends. I was too old to go with my dad by then.
As we wait for Bryce’s little sister to be born, I cannot help wondering what his reaction to having his kingdom invaded will be. He has been involved with decorating her room and knows the crib is for “my sister,” but I do not believe he has any idea what that really means. Will he cry like Kelly did when Jamie made her grand entrance into our household or will he spit in her eye as Aunt Ar did after the birth of Aunt El? Whatever the immediate reaction, I am confident that he will grow to love have a sibling as you all did.
None of you or any of your cousins grew up like I did, sharing a bedroom with at least one other person. You each had your personal spaces to withdraw to when you had friends over to play or you just wanted to be alone. That never happened to me. That is probably why I played at Karen’s house more than mine.
I shared my room with my two sisters, and your uncles had the smaller bedroom on the left at the top of the stairs. Looking back, I wonder what it was like as a seventeen year old to share a room with a thirteen year old and an eleven year old. But when you know no other way, you don’t complain. It is normal.
As the oldest, Grandma allowed me to choose the décor. One year, I decided we needed some color in the room, so I picked out the wallpaper. It was a pink gingham-checked pattern that could not have been a favorite of Aunt Ar, particularly if that was the year of her black phase. Another year we had dark brown cork squares put on one of the walls which served as a huge bulletin board—definitely more practical and less offensive than the pink.
We had bed talk at night, frequently supplementing our nighttime chats with a flashlight so we could play “the spotlight’s on you” as we liked to call it.
When I went away to college my sisters were probably thrilled to have the extra space, but I came home so often they probably hardly noticed. I was gone from the house for good before Aunt El was out of high school and then their exits from the house happened two and four years after mine.
Gone from the house does not mean gone from the heart, which I hope is what is happening with the three of you. Over the years, I vacationed with my sisters several times. Aunt Ar and Uncle Paul traveled with us to Florida. We went to Bush Gardens and to visit Dad’s grandmother in Miami. That is the time she invited the four of us to dinner—the famous single Cornish hen dinner for five (“Lick the bones,” she told us as if that would help to fill our stomachs.)
We rented the shore house with Aunt El on LBI, and they accompanied us to Kiawah Island and the cruise. Your two aunts helped nurse Casey when I had to have surgery when she was only four months old, something Aunt Ar may like to forget but not Aunt El.
I truly hope that the three of you will somehow not drift apart. It will not be easy since you live in three different states, but you can call, text, or email, so you should be able to stay in touch. Try to plan visits when possible.
You will not always be in the same place in your lives, as is the case at the moment since Kelly is the only one who is a mother. But don’t let that stop you. The bonds of sisterhood are strong and should never be broken, although at times, they may be tested and temporarily weaken. But in the end, you should always have each other.
I read in several publications that negative events are remembered in greater detail than positive ones, which is probably why I remember third grade more than fourth grade. I cannot recall anything happy about that year. I did not like my teacher. She was old and mean and was a firm believer in group punishment. Casey, you would have been in deep trouble if you had her because she didn’t like lefties. I believe she tried to “cure” Aunt El.
According to Aunt El, she very clearly remembers our teacher moving her pencil from her left hand to her right hand because she said it was sinister. Aunt Ellen switch it back when “the bitch” (your aunt’s words) wasn’t looking.
That year, we went on a field trip to the Newark Junior Museum. I’m not certain if that is the correct name or if it still exists today. We were ushered into a room for a “let’s learn about fun things here” lecture. The not-so-nice man giving the talk brought out a “surprise”, which was a big, black ugly snake. I moved to row five.
The boa constrictor was followed by a lizard. I was not happy, and that is where my fear of all snakes originated. This is not good since we now live where poisonous snakes are all around us. Fortunately, I have only seen garter snakes and three-foot long “harmless” rat snakes. (Harmless. right! In certain settings, any snake could cause my death by heart attack.)
I don’t know what someone did to cause our teacher to punish the entire class. It was probably because she caught a lefty switching their pencil to the right hand. Anyway, the punishment was that we had to “write” our Roman numerals from 1-100. The thing is, her instructions were not to actually write them using a pencil. That would be way too easy! Instead, we had to paste them onto a very large sheet of paper using toothpicks. I admit that I still remember most of my Roman numerals, but that was a mean punishment!
During third grade, President Kennedy was assassinated. I remember coming home from school and seeing Aunt Marian and my cousin Nancy sitting in our living room crying. That was the only time I remember watching television during dinner. We had a television which Grandpa put on a cart and wheeled into the hall near Grandma and Grandpa’s bedroom so we could watch the continuing news coverage of the assasination while we ate each meal.
I watched the events unfold in living black and white: President Kennedy shot as he rode in the motorcade, Jackie Kennedy standing next to Lyndon Johnson in her blood-stained outfit as he was sworn in as president, and then his assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald shot on television as everyone across America watched in horror. Grandpa yelled and pointed to our television set as if he were the only one able to see the hand emerge from the crowd to shoot the man in cold blood. I will never forget any of this, even though I was only eight years old.
I wish I could forget that year, but as a bad memory, I will always remember third grade. It was the year of snakes and toothpicks.
When I was in fifth grade, I had a diary. I wrote in it religiously every night for about five weeks, and then sadly, I stopped. Those thirty-three entries paint a picture of my world at that time.
At the age of eleven, I was allowed to walk downtown with my friends for french fries and a coke. We’d go to the “Sweet Shop”, which was on Main Street across from the library.
On a half day in January, I walked with my friends to John Hill School to watch some basketball games. I mapped it and was surprised that the walk was only one mile each way. You know the route: Down Cornelia Street to Main Street, left at the Town Hall onto Lathrop Avenue, and then less than half a mile further to the school. Would I let you all do this today? Maybe, but the answer is not a definite yes. Back then, Grandma would not give it a second thought.
That year I was allowed to go ice skating on the Main Street rink with my friends. At age eleven this was apparently not a big deal. However, I did find it incredible that Grandma allowed me to take seven year old Aunt Ar with me. Apparently, while I skated with my friends, she was supervised by nine year old Gail. Would Grandma have approved of that? Did she know I had passed on my responsibility to my younger cousin?
Okay, maybe that was not a big deal, but wait until you hear what I also learned from my diary. On Grandma’s birthday, I walked downtown to buy her a birthday present with Aunt Ar and Aunt El, who was only four. It was a Saturday afternoon, Grandma was at work, and I imagine that Grandpa was stuck home babysitting my not quite one and three year old brothers. Did she find out later and get angry with Grandpa, or was this just another common occurrance?
My guess is that we went to Newberry’s, which was similar to today’s dollar stores. Back then, they were also known as “five and dime stores.” (Side note family trivia: Thirty-seven years earlier, where Newberry’s sat in 1966 was the exact site where Grandma was born in 1929.)
Today was Mommy’s birthday. She still went to work. I took Arlene and Ellen downtown to buy her a gift. We chose a pretty pin and earring set. Later I went ice skating. Tonight Mommy and Daddy went out, so Janice came to babysit. When I left for Gram’s, it was snowing hard.
The following day, I was put to work performing manual labor.
When I awoke it was still snowing hard and there was a lot of snow on the ground. After breakfast, I went out and shoveled. The snow is wet and heavy. I shoveled snow many more times.
Grandma worked as a switchboard operator at Community Medical Group in town. I mentioned earlier that my first job was working there. As long as I can remember Grandma had that job. She worked in the evening from 4:00 until closing and also on Saturdays. She would have dinner started, but I had to help get it on the table and babysit until Grandpa came home.
After school, Karen and I went saucer riding in back. We really flew. I finished making supper.
We were given more responsibility at a much younger age than today, and as you can see, we also had more freedom to wander around town without adult supervision. Sadly, those days are gone forever.
I grew up in a small town where everyone was either related to you or knew your mother or your grandmother. It was like the television show Cheers, but on a much grander scale. This gave all the parents a sense of security.
We could walk everywhere or easily ride our bikes from one end of town to the other with relative safety because sidewalks were on nearly every street. I don’t remember hearing about crime and I knew no one who owned a gun. It was a happy, carefree place to grow-up. Boonton, USA.
During the summer, you didn’t whine about having nothing to do. We played with our friends all day until we were called home for supper. We didn’t eat dinner growing up; it was always supper. There was hopscotch, jump rope, hide-and-seek, SPUD, bikes, the park, and our pool. There were no computers, video games, or infinite television on demand. We had to create our own fun.
Our town had a summer school program. It was located in “The Flats” at John Hill School, which was my school for seventh and eighth grade. I remember playing Chinese checkers, making plastic lanyard key chains, and creating a craft in wood shop, which was for boys and girls alike.
The most popular project was the duck. Everyone had one. We’d spend days sanding the little devil until she was silky smooth around the edges and then we would decorate it, bring it home, and hammer it into the yard. It looked like this:
We looked forward to Fridays when we would participate in themed competitions such as “hat day.” Everyone would wear a hat and be judged for the silliest hat, or prettiest hat, or smallest hat.
When we wanted to go on an adventure, we would hop on our bikes and head to the Dairy Queen in Denville. I would order either a vanilla cone with sprinkles or a pineapple blizzard, which was a very thick pineapple-flavored milk shake. There was something very special about a Dairy Queen treat, which tasted even more delicious after working so hard to get there.
The distance to the Dairy Queen was very long. I know that sometimes childhood memories distort reality, but when I mapped the route today, I was shocked to learn that my imagination was accurate. It was a round trip of over ten miles. There is no way I would have allowed any of you to take such a long ride at what I know was a fairly young age. But the times were different, the roads were less traveled, and nothing ever happened to anyone in my town back then.
Those summers were so long, or that’s how it seemed to all of us. As the days grew shorter and the nights cooler, we sadly realized the end of our carefree days were coming to a close. Grandma took us shopping for our school clothes, and we anxiously awaited the Labor Day Parade, Firemen’s Fair, and fireworks. We’d check out the rides, have some cotton candy, and meet the friends we hadn’t seen since June.
Those days are long gone for me, but as Labor Day approaches each year, I know the tradition of the annual Labor Day celebration continues in my hometown. Maybe someday I will go again.
Grandmotherhood has lived up to all the wonder and hype, much to my surprise. It was not that I did not share the enthusiasm and excitement about our family expanding. I remembered our own feelings of joy before each of you was born. At the same time, the word “grandma” evoked thoughts of blue-tinted gray hair and housedresses. It meant “you are old and everyone knows it.”
Now that I have joined that club, I realize it’s not so bad. When my phone rings because my little man wants to come over for a hug, and then he runs to me at top speed and squeezes the stuffing out of me and says, “Grandma, I am so happy to see you”, I am in love. I teach him songs from my past that I worry may get him beat up on the playground someday. We race around the house playing hide and seek, and I take him outside in the stifling hot Carolina sun to watch a butterfly dart around the palm tree on my front lawn. He stands at the edge of the yard with Dad and loves to watch the golfers on the course.
Then I sit at my computer and drift down memory lane, deciding what story from my childhood I will tell all of you next. I close my eyes and think back to my grandfather, and no matter how hard I try, that’s as far as I can go. Three years old. Flashes of other people and places appear—Grandma’s friend, Mrs. Esthler up the street and her best friend, Aunt Weezie. I recall their homes. I remember that their houses smelled musty, but I just can’t pinpoint my age when I would go with Grandma to visit them. Was I younger than the three-year old me that Papa pushed on the swings? I just don’t know.
After he died, there is a missing year. My fourth year on earth is an empty void. I don’t even recall the transition from only child to big sister when Aunt Arlene came home. If they had taken her back, would my missing year return? I think I loved her, but did I feel that she was an intruder?
Now I am in kindergarten. My teacher, Mrs. Denison, lived up the street. I would sit on the front lawn and wave shyly as she would pass by my house. I remember my cubby where I put the drawings I colored in class and was allowed to bring home to hang on the refrigerator. I loved drawing houses with a ghost in each window.
I remember the other kindergarten teacher, Miss Fox. She played the piano and we’d sing along with her. My first friend, Karen was also in that class. She made those ghostly houses, too, I think. She’s still my friend after all these years, so maybe she’ll help me dig up those dim flashes of thoughts from my past.
Then I think of my little man and realize that the days of chasing butterflies on the front lawn, and the smile on his face when we sing, “You are my sunshine”, or the way he giggles when he finds me hiding in the closet will only be my memories. We will make new memories together—older memories, but these two-year old memories will fade away like the brilliant colors of the morning sunrise streaming in my window each day as they turn from red to pink and then disappear.
Remember all those drills at school? I can recall them as well. Sometimes the drills were scheduled, and our teachers would have us line up at the door in anticipation of the alarm sounding. We’d march outside in a quiet and orderly fashion, knowing there would be hell to pay if we talked or fooled around.
Other times, we would be sitting at our desks or dressed in our ugly blue gym suits– in the middle of a lesson or concluding our morning exercises–when we would hear the alarm and proceed to the exit, waiting for our teacher to indicate it was time to leave the building.
After the Columbine shootings, lock-down drills were added. Your teacher would secure the door, and you would all head to a corner of the room where you could not be easily spotted by a gun-wielding intruder. I know this is necessary, but as a parent, it always frightened me knowing this was now the new normal.
When we moved to Chapel Hill, a third drill was added to the mix: tornado drills. That really caught me by surprise. I guess I didn’t do my homework before we moved to North Carolina. Until the day you came home and told me you had a tornado drill that day, I thought tornados were something that only routinely happened in the middle—Kansas, Nebraska, and Oklahoma. Oops!
Are you all aware of the air raid drills which were prevalent when I was a child? I know they happened over a period of time beginning in the fifties, but what I am able to recall happened when I was in second grade in 1962.
In the early fall of that school year, Soviet missiles were discovered in Cuba. Our country was poised for the Russians to launch an attack, which heightened the fears which had existed for years because of the close proximity of Cuba to our country. I recall being directed to the hall outside our classroom, where we were instructed to sit on the floor against a wall with our heads down and our hands behind our necks. In some schools, students were instructed to hide under their desks. The thought was that in the event of a nuclear attack, we should be away from the windows, sheltered from flying objects and broken glass. Looking back now, the idea that we would be protected in that way is ridiculous.
What I never knew until now was that a forty-six page pamphlet, “Fallout Protection: What to Know and Do about Nuclear Attacks”, was produced by the Department of Defense, explaining how to survive a nuclear attack. It included instructions on how build a shelter or how to outfit your basement with food and supplies. It was similar to the movie, “Blast from the Past.” I am positive that Grandpa read this pamphlet, because I recall Grandma talking about having a “fallout dinner” one night after President Kennedy negotiated the removal of the missiles from Cuba with the Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev. She got out a can opener and made supper that night. She joked about it years later, but I know, at the time, no one was laughing and was quite fearful that we were all in grave danger.
Now it seems there is no place to hide: schools, churches, movie theaters, and malls have us all thinking twice about our safety when something terrible happens. What would Grandpa say? My opinion is that we cannot crawl into a hole and hide or we really are not living. Take sensible precautions, but in the end, enjoy life.