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”

Memories in the Church on the Hill

It is impossible to sit in my childhood church and not be transported back in time. Unfortunately, most of the time now it is for a funeral.


As I sat in the pew not far from Grandma, I looked around and saw a dwindling pool of relatives. There were no uncles, because we were saying goodbye to the last one, but four of the six aunts still remain with us. My youngest cousin who was in attendance is now fifty-one, and now some of the children  of a few cousins are married and are parents. And look how old the three of you are— Oy! Time is moving too quickly!

You are not supposed to laugh in church, particularly at a somber occasion, but invariably something sets off a fit of laughter which I then must suppress. I remember the time I got the giggles after the priest said something which reminded me of the scene in Notting Hill—the one where when the guy was eating mayonnaise and thought it was bad yogurt. Once he learned it was mayonnaise, he continued to eat it. It doesn’t sound that funny, but you know it is, and when you are not supposed to laugh, things are just funnier.

Grandma told me a story about a lady who wearing an exceptionally ugly hat in church one Sunday, and when Aunt Marian pointed it out to her, the two of them started to laugh. It got worse when they made eye contact, so the laughter just continued.

When the priest started burning the incense at church during the funeral, Aunt Ar tapped me on the shoulder and asked if it smelled like carrots to me. (Church Back in the Day) It didn’t, but this barely funny comment made me laugh, and this occasion was clearly a time for tears, not laughter. But somehow, I don’t think Uncle Bob would have minded.

So I sat in my old church and thought of three-year old me smelling the carrots. During the “sign of peace,” I gave my cousin Jimmy the two-fingered peace sign that I remember giving his brother Billy so many years ago—my very last memory of Billy.

My eyes wandered to the statue of Mary draped in purple cloth for Lent, and I thought of my cousin Nancy’s wedding, when she laid a bouquet of flowers at that same statue while someone sang Ave Marie.

I glanced at the stained-glass windows and recalled the first time I saw them, which was after the church underwent a huge renovation. For two years, mass was said in the school auditorium (By the way, I don’t think that was hallowed ground, just saying!), and when the work was completed, I remember going to an open house to view the new church. One of the windows was inscribed in memory of Grandma’s best friend and maid of honor, Louise Martone.

I looked at the chandeliers and remember how my new engagement ring sparkled and cast a myriad of colors  on the walls from the combination of those lights and the stained glass windows. Wow! That was almost forty years ago.

I recalled my communion wearing my white bride-like dress; my confirmation, where I wore a white robe with a red collar and  a matching red hat which resembled a Jewish skullcap; and my wedding, when Dad broke a lightbulb wrapped in cloth and Aunt Linda explained the significance of this act in a Jewish wedding.

Cousin Alan and Me

Cousin Alan and Me

As the organist played, I thought of our Christmas Eve masses there with Grandma, when the man who resembled Lurch led us in song. I would glance around during communion to see which aunts, uncles, and cousins were sitting there among us.

There are just so many memories in that church. No other church, with the exception of our church in Montville, evokes those feelings. It’s filled with so many ghosts of my past.

Éirinn go Brách

On March 17, everyone loves celebrating the Irish. They put on their green outfit , go to parades, and drink green beer. However, when I was younger, I recall some kids wearing red or orange because they were Italian. To me, intentionally ignoring a green shirt for the red was not being very friendly!

Grandma, as we all know, loves her Irish heritage. She had her wall of Irish plaques, and she would greet us that morning by saying, “Éirinn go Brách.” I am not certain if she knew what it meant (Ireland forever) or if she just knew it was an Irish expression.

We never had the American traditional Irish meal of corned beef and cabbage because, well, Grandma did not like it. I believe the first time I had it was with Dad, who, like any good New York Jew, loves corned beef, particularly from a deli.

One of my high school classes went on a field trip to New York on St. Patrick’s Day to see the play Fiddler on the Roof.  I remember that our teacher let us wander around the city on our own, so I stopped by to see the parade with some friends. I don’t think today’s teachers would ever be permitted to let their students wander around New York on a school field trip unsupervised (or am I wrong?).

That was the closest I ever came to celebrating St. Patrick’s Day on a grand scale until my trip to London in 2014 when I was hanging out with actual Irish citizens. We ate at Flannery’s Pub, where I had my first Irish coffee and the Irish St. Patrick’s Day meal of bacon and cabbage.

But this year will be a more somber day as we celebrate the life of Uncle Bob. We will have his funeral mass at the same church that some of our Irish-born ancestors worshipped—the church where they, and so many of us, celebrated baptisms, first communions, weddings, and other funerals. We will sit in this church and remember his smile and great big bear hugs. We will also smile and shed a few tears as we recall  all those other memories.

Another Farewell

Yesterday was a sad day for our family as news spread of the passing of Uncle Bob, so once again, our family will gather to say goodbye to another one of us. He leaves behind three children, nine grandchildren, two great grandchildren, and a very devoted wife—Aunt Peggy, the other half of that dynamic duo. In just five months, they would have been married for sixty years. That number alone speaks volumes, so this will be most difficult for her. Everyone else will leave his funeral to return to their husbands, wives, and children. She now has to face an empty home and figure out what happens next.

bob and peg carey

For Grandma, she is now the last one standing in her family. Since the death of her brother, Larry, eighteen years ago, she has had to sit through the final farewell ceremonies of her mother, father, three brothers, her sister, one niece, one nephew and two great-grand nephews. Now it will be her brother, 4 ½ years her junior.

That is the price of her longevity—watching one by one as her family and friends go before her. The flip side is the joy of watching all of her children become parents and her granddaughter becoming a mother. Like Uncle Bob, she has proudly witnessed her grandchildren become college graduates. This is a particular point of joy since both of them grew up in an era when it was common to have parents who did not even graduate high school.

So now we will all gather and remember Uncle Bob and share our memories of him. Many of us recall going to the Firemen’s Fair when Uncle Bob manned the nickel tent. That’s where you threw nickels onto Boontonware plates, the prize being a dish or a plate that you could take home to place in your kitchen cabinet. We would hand Uncle Bob a quarter, and he would hand us back a dollar’s worth of nickels.

As I mentioned before, Uncle Bob’s house was where I first saw the Wizard of Oz in color. Those were the days when a color TV in your house was a luxury more than the norm.

He and his twin, Uncle Don, were always full of the devil. They did everything together, including having heart attacks within days of each other. Talk about competing for attention in the family! I remember both of them as always having a story to tell, and a smile on their faces. I remember Uncle Bob, with a sly grin on his face, questioning my cousin Nancy for details of her honeymoon. He loved being a tease.

Bob and Don-Construction

And I remember his hugs. He sure knew how to give great big loving bear hugs! That is my last memory of him. Dad and I stopped by his house, we chatted for a while about this and that, and then when it was time to leave, I got the hug. I will miss that smile and always remember the hugs.

Robert (Bob) Carey

The Family Saint

Today I am writing about the saint of the family—Aunt Arlene. She is definitely the wackiest saint out there, but in our family, no one would disagree with me on that. (Tricia is the other saint for the record.)

We get along well, considering she still has not forgiven me for tattling on her when she lit our room on fire. No matter what she says, I stand firm on being in the right for telling Grandma because it was my room too. (If she had her own room, perhaps I would have kept my mouth shut.) But that is not what made her the family saint.

First, I am forever grateful to both of my sisters for helping me when I had to go to the hospital, leaving Dad with a four-month old baby who would not take a bottle. Aunt Ar and Aunt El will never let me forget how they saved Casey’s life by swooping in and playing wet nurse. I remember that Aunt Ar said it embarrassed her to nurse my baby, so she claimed she fed Casey in the closet. Aunt El had a rough night, so when she came downstairs with two babies in her arms, she didn’t take any crap from Dad who was complaining it was too early to be woken up. I really will never forget this and don’t need to be reminded.

Then Aunt Ar decided to become a nurse. I know how difficult it must have been to go back to school as an adult with all the responsibilities of a family.  I was always very impressed with her for doing so (and she was even the valedictorian but couldn’t give the speech), and now she just completed her bachelor’s degree. We are all so glad to have had her there to handle all the medical questions and care for Grandma and Grandpa through the years. She is always there now for Grandma, and I know how much of her own time she has given. Saint Ar.

She inherited Grandma’s very strange sense of humor and gets away with some of the most outrageous and sometimes offensive jokes, but Grandma always laughs—as does Aunt Ar, who laughs at her own jokes. (I would be told to never return if some of those words ever crossed my lips.) She can say just about anything and knows it.

I can’t end this story without mentioning her Billy Joel obsession, which started with that concert at Rutgers on December 14, 1974 (I googled this to get the exact date.)  She knows I was responsible for taking her to that first concert.

Now forty-two years later, she is still seeking out his concerts.  I cannot believe she almost went to Vegas to see him and then was able to trade the tickets with a flight attendant!  While we were living in Chapel Hill, she flew to Raleigh just to see him. What a fan! She swore she would never drive to our house again after her one very long trip with Matt when she learned that full service gas stations rarely exist outside of New Jersey.

Will one of you be our family saint? Who will it be and can you be as good as Aunt Ar?