Stayin Alive

It’s nice to have a nurse or two in the family, so during our recent mini family reunion, we learned how to save someone from choking and how to revive them when they have stopped breathing or their heart has stopped beating.

Aunt Linda, who is Red Cross certified, began the lesson with a video, and then moved onto the meat of the lesson.

She explained that we no longer need to pinch and breathe into someone’s mouth, telling us that simply doing chest compressions is sufficient to get air moving and hopefully revive an arrested heart. I never liked the idea of breathing into a stranger’s mouth so this was nice to learn. Coincidentally, since it is our 40th-anniversary-celebration week, one of the big hits of 1978 is the song which is associated with CPR—Stayin Alive. We learned that after calling 911, we compress the victim’s chest in time to the beat of Stayin Alive. (For a child, compress before calling)

We then moved on to learning about the use of abdominal thrusts, which we all know as “the Heimlich maneuver.” I could not recall precisely from Nurse Linda why the Red Cross method is not referred to as the Heimlich method, so I researched it.

She taught us to hit on the choking victim’s back 5 times and then perform the abdominal thrusts. This method apparently shocked Dr. Henry Heimlich, who was horrified by the slaps, claiming that no evidence existed to support the back-slapping, so he wanted his name removed from the method taught by the Red Cross.

It turns out that no studies have ever been done comparing the effectiveness of both methods side-by-side, so Dr. Heimlich died 2 years ago still at war with the ARC. I will use what I was taught by Nurse Linda! I hope to never need to use this lesson.


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?

Always Be Prepared for a Revolution

I was discussing the need to be flexible in planning a vacation with Kelly the other day. With so much of the world constantly in upheaval whether it be because of unexpected weather events such as earthquakes, hurricanes, mudslides, or snow in areas unaccustomed to extreme winter conditions, or a terrorist attack or civil unrest, one must always have a back-up plan.

While this is not new and I admit we never had a Plan B, it is nevertheless an excellent idea. Years ago, Dad’s parents planned a magnificent trip to Cyprus, which is a beautiful island in the Mediterranean Sea—south of Turkey and west of Syria.

Knowing the geographical location of this island and being the nervous-nelly that I am, I would never consider such a trip, but your grandparents were adventurous back in 1974. So they made their travel arrangements, and while in the air, a revolution broke out on the island. The pilot decided to divert the plane to Cairo, Egypt.

The inflexible, grumpy passengers aboard that airliner chose to remain in the hotel that they were placed in and had an awful vacation, but others, like Dad’s parents, decided to make lemonade from those Egyptian lemons and visited the Great Sphinx of Giza, the pyramids, and a few random temples.

The moral of the story is to always be prepared to bend when the unexpected happens. Like the tiny town of Gander, Newfoundland, which opened their restaurants, hospitals, homes, and hearts to passengers diverted there on September 11, go with the flow and be receptive to detours.


Treasure Those Moments


I hope that all of these stories are helping you learn about my past, as well as that of my grandparents and extended family, and to also remind you of your own childhood. This is the driving force behind Mommysmeanderings—enabling you to view how the world changed through the generations, beginning with The Lost Generation (my grandparents) through your generation, The Millenials.

Now that I have received digital access to my family’s home movies, I have hours of menu-jogging material to enable me to write more stories. I’d like to tell you more about Grandma’s mother—the woman who had the sleepovers with many of her thirty grandchildren.

My grandmother was sixty-years old when I was born, and now we have a movie taken on that particular birthday. When you view it, keep in mind that she was two years younger than I am now. Sixty was a lot older back in the fifties—at least that is what I keep telling myself on each birthday.

These older movies are wonderful treasures because they enable us to see so many of our now older or deceased relatives when they were either your ages or mine, laughing and joking and acting silly. They all had years ahead of them before time took its toll on them by adding those lines of wisdom and robbing them of their independence. It’s so sad, but at the same time, it makes me smile to watch their antics.

It was not unusual for a sixty year old to wear dentures at that time, and we can see from the video that someone (Uncle Rich I believe) removed her choppers after she licked the icing from his fingers. He was such a scoundrel, and she let him do it.

We see my grandmother waving a handful of paper money around, which I suspect could be those dollar bills which we traditionally tucked inside our birthday cards. It was my grandmother’s mother who always shook a card, saying that it must never be empty. We have all kept that tradition alive.

Her hair was still peppered with color, not the silver-white, tinted just the palest shade of blue by a rinse which was popular in her day that I remember. She always wore a housedress, and she was clearly enjoying herself as she danced with my uncles and laughed with my pregnant mother and aunt.

And now everyone in those movies is gone but my mother. Time moves so fast. Cherish those moments.

Grandma’s 60th Birthday- Part 1

Grandma’s 60th Birthday- Part 2

FHB Can Prevent Embarrassment

Aunt Ar sent me a text recently asking if I knew the meaning of FHB. She was visiting with Grandma and they were reminiscing about the good old days. As Bryce would say, “piece of cake.” I immediately responded “Family Hold Back.” Aunt El’s answer was “???” Aunt Ar answered  “And we have a winner.” (Incidentally, Dad also knew the correct answer. I trained him well.)

Not knowing if this little code was invented by my mother or my grandmother, I immediately dashed off a note to my cousins Eileen, Gail, and Cathy. Eileen was the first to respond: “Family Hold Back. When you had guests, so you didn’t run out of food. To my knowledge, it was Aunt Lorraine’s saying.”

While I was speaking with Aunt Ar, my cousin Timmy, Aunt Lorraine’s oldest son coincidentally called Grandma. So I asked him, and he verified that his mom had come up with the secret code. Timmy likes to joke around, so he explained that “She did start FHB, because we were poor folks and had to pretend we didn’t want seconds so the guests could eat.”

So now you know and you should remember this so if you either have unexpected guests drop in at dinner time or you misjudge the amount of food to prepare when you have planned guests, you will have enough food.

FHB. Remember this. It may save you some embarrassment.

Home on Leave

I have been browsing through some photo albums belonging to Grandma dating back beginning in 1946 and ending in 1952, which was the year after her marriage to Grandpa. Many I have shared with you already. Today I have a few more focused primarily on Uncle Rich.

Uncle Rich was just fourteen when the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor occurred. With his older brother Larry already in the Army and the war not ending in the foreseeable future, he decided to take control of his destiny. So three months before his eighteenth birthday, he enlisted in the Navy. Because he was underage, my grandmother had to sign papers to allow him to enter the service. He knew if he waited to be drafted, he would end up in the Army, which was not what he wanted. My grandmother was not a happy camper having to sign these papers permitting him to enlist at such a young age, but they knew it was inevitable, and he wanted to go on his terms.

He was stationed in the Caribbean. One day, my grandmother received a letter from him, explaining that he had been swimming off the side of his ship. He assured her that she should not worry about shark attacks, because one of his shipmates was standing guard with a machine gun ready to protect him. My grandmother was not amused, but this was typical of Uncle Rich’s sense of humor.

While the war ended in the fall of 1945, he was not discharged until a later date. Below are two photos taken during his leave home from Puerto dated January 22, 1946, which was Grandma’s seventeenth birthday. What a nice way to spend her birthday!

Uncle Rich and Papa

Uncle Rich and my grandpa- “Papa”

Uncle Rich- 1-22-1946

Uncle Rich- 1-22-1946

Happy Birthday “Twin”

I woke up this morning and thought that it’s not really just All About Me today. How could I ever think like that? How could I forget?

My father had twin sisters, my mother had twin brothers, and I was born under the sign of Gemini the Twins. My second sibling was not born until I was four years old, yet I always felt I had a twin sister.

Biologically speaking, Gail was not my twin since she was born two years after me and was the daughter of my other mother—Aunt Marian—Mom’s sister and my godmother. For her first three birthdays, we celebrated together.

I looked at my baby book since I admit that those birthdays are lost in my memory bank, so I needed my mother’s words to beam me back to that time.

On my third birthday, Gail and I celebrated together—her first and my third. She was not very happy and had to be taken for a walk. I guess that enabled me to be queen of the party instead of one of the two princesses.

Gail and I celebrated my 4th birthday at my house. All my cousins attended. There were fifteen of us by then. I wanted a swimming party, but it was too chilly, so we had cake and ice cream and played Bingo for nickels.

I celebrated my 5th with Gail at her house. We had all our cousins and Gail’s neighbors—the DeVite’s, Terry Lanza, and the Onorati children. I received swimsuits and money.

Then I went off to kindergarten, and like any sophisticated big sister, I threw Gail aside and celebrated my 6th birthday with my new friends. Sorry, Gail!

I have no pictures of us alone together, just this one from a party—our last? Cheers to you, Gail. Happy Birthday.

Cousin birthday celebration- 1959-ish?

Birthday with my “twin”