Detective Clouseau Returns

Back in May, I told you the story of my search for the rightful owners of some pictures from two of Grandma’s old photo albums. For seven months, I went full-speed ahead looking to match a photo with an interested relative. In a few cases, I was able to find a still-living person from one of those seventy-year-old photographs. It was great fun—like a living scavenger hunt.

Then I got busy with other projects and forgot about my mission. Earlier this week, I pulled out my folder of photos, dusted off my detective license, and decided to take up the cause again. I got two more hits.

The first was the daughter of a man who grandma had gone to a prom with at Princeton University when Grandma was sixteen. She looked beautiful in her gown, and he was handsome in his uniform.

             Isn’t She Lovely!

Like many of Grandma’s former beau’s, her date had an admirable career. This particular gentleman “possessed a profound insight into right and wrong” and was “an icon in the healthcare community.” Apparently, his granddaughter loves old family photos and supposedly would never forgive her mother if she did not accept my offer to send her the pictures. I was able to relocate eight photos!

The second hit was a woman in six photographs who lives just two hours from me. I located her grandson on Facebook, who sent a digital photo to her, and she told him that she wanted to speak with me. We had a lovely conversation Monday night. I was truly inspired by this woman, who at the age of eighty-nine answered my call on her smart phone, and then informed me that she recently bought herself a new car. She still drives. She sounded so alert and full of life and was quite eager for me to send her the photos—several alone, and one with Grandma.

It was a great chat, and I was so happy to speak with yet another elderly person, like Dad’s 94-year-old golfing buddy, who gives me optimism that not everyone ends up living out there final years in declining health.

Happy New Year.

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Back in Time with a Slice of Pie

While Dad and I were awaiting our order at the Kroger’s deli counter the other day, he began chatting with one of their cooks. After what seemed like the end of the conversation, the chef left, but then returned a few minutes later and handed Dad a plate of freshly-baked pizza. What a nice surprise!

The best part of this unexpected treat came when I bit into it and was once again transported back in time—this time to the kitchen of my childhood. That supermarket pizza, while not the tastiest pizza I have ever eaten, was nevertheless the best memory-jogger of the month.

I know I have mentioned how Grandma discovered how to fulfill the meatless Friday Catholic Church obligation by substituting her creamed tuna on toast delight with homemade pizza. However, I don’t believe I shared her recipe with you.

As a very busy mother of five, she resorted to short-cuts often.  Grandma purchased frozen bread dough at our local supermarket, which she used both for pizza crust and “homemade” hamburger buns. She thawed the dough, carefully spread it out on a Crisco-covered cookie sheet, opened up a can of tomato sauce, and topped the whole mess with mozzarella cheese. There were no meat or vegetable toppings. It was simply a plain cheese pie and we loved it.

While the Kroger pizza sauce was definitely tastier than the canned sauce from Grandma’s pantry, that crust definitely tasted the same as her frozen dough crust. With a smile on my face, I told the Kroger cook about my mother’s pie, and Dad asked him if he had made it on site. “No, it comes here frozen!” Aha!!

I headed to the frozen-food department in search of the frozen dough. Alas, it was not to be found, but now I have a new mission in life, which is to find that frozen dough so I can recreate Grandma’s famous pizza. I think, however, that I will add our old familiar twist, which is our traditional pie topped with (can you guess?)…. meatballs, peppers, and onions. Yum, yum!

                http://bit.ly/2BuKqai

Nosy Neighbors

Jamie has moved into a new place, and today she mentioned that she had just met one of her neighbors. That comment got me thinking about some of our former neighbors.

We met our first neighbors while choosing our floor covering and bathroom tiles. They were arguing, which did not give us a warm and fuzzy first impression. We later learned that the man of the house was an attorney, who just loved suing everyone, including our builder. Dad and I decided to maintain a polite, but distant relationship with them.

After we moved into our house, Mrs. Next-Door-Neighbor and I were having a casual phone conversation, which touched on a moving van located on the street. After I rhetorically asked if they had children, she responded by saying, “Wait, I will get my binoculars.” That was the moment that I knew I had to watch what I did.

When I became pregnant with Kelly, I recalled a story Grandma relayed to me about the nosey neighbor on her street. She was expecting me and was determined to keep the news a secret from Mrs. Nosey Pants, so whenever she left her house, no matter how warm it may have been (Remember that I was born in June), Grandma threw on a long winter coat. She was successful in maintaining the deception, and her neighbor was shocked when Grandma was sited taking me for a walk in my baby carriage.

I was inspired, so I decided to repeat history. Luckily, Kelly was born in December, which made the charade simple.

Those were not our only colorful neighbors. In fact, our next house introduced me to a man who made binocular lady look tame in comparison. Stay tuned for more.

Grandma’s Thoughtful Craft

When Kelly was around one, Grandma noticed how much she loved looking at babies. You all did.  On one of our visits to Grandma and Grandpa’s house, Grandma gave Kelly a gift which she had made for her, knowing of that interest in little people.

I was touched, because I don’t remember her making anything before this little craft. As the working mother of five children, she didn’t have a lot of spare time at her disposal.

Kelly was thrilled by that gift, which was a photo album filled with pictures of various sizes and shapes of babies, which Grandma made by cutting out pictures from magazines. It was her favorite “toy” for a while. While not a difficult project, it took a lot of time, and it was extremely thoughtful.

Jamie and Casey (and probably most babies) shared that love of looking at babies, so when Kelly outgrew her album, it became theirs to enjoy.

I wish I had saved it, but I am confident that it eventually fell apart from overuse. Now when Lily comes over, she grabs the two albums because she just loves looking at herself and her brother. Kids are really the same—no matter the time.

She Should Have Used the Tape

I’d like to discuss a topic of interest to many people—something you either have or don’t. Something you care deeply about, or something you try to ignore, because it’s just not important to you. Maybe you even try to get rid of it, but if you have it, it’s a never-ending daily battle because it just keeps returning.

I’m talking about hair. For me, it has changed over time, and I don’t just mean the color. When I was young, it was fine and straight. Now it has lost its youthful sheen and has become wavy and frizzy.

There is so much to discuss about hair, but today, I would like to focus on bangs.

As you know, Grandma took my hair into her own hands by giving me a home permanent when I was only three or four. In addition to giving me curls from a box, she bought a pair of hair scissors and cut bangs.

During the 50s and early 60s, very, very short bangs were in fashion, which was great for do-it-your selfers like Grandma, who needed to worry about mistakes. Her method was to start with them a little longer than the final desired length, and then continued to cut them until they were fairly even. She’d cut, look, cut, look, cut, look—until we were either unable to sit still any longer or she would just give up.

Here is an example of what I looked like after she trimmed and evened my bangs so many times that there was nothing left to cut, and still, they were crooked.

Eventually by the mid-60s, either I voiced my opinion or she got tired, because the days of the bangs were gone for me.

If only she had seen this ad for Scotch tape, maybe she would have done a better job and I would still have had bangs in fifth grade.

 

“I Hate Kids”- But We Know That’s Alt-Facts

I have the best mom, and as the oldest (and favorite) child, I had her all to myself for four years. I have memories of going on outings alone before any of my siblings came along and forced me to lose my title of “only child.”

Grandma used to take me to the Sweet Shop at Del’s Village for ice cream sodas. I especially liked coke floats. I can remember sipping on my drink while sitting on the revolving stools. I felt so grown up.

Like all of you, I loved going shopping with her. There was a store in Rockaway—Robert Hall–where I would hide under the racks while Grandma picked out my outfit. Back then, she probably laughed, because in those days, a child disappearing at a store for a few minutes was not cause for a lockdown.

Almost every day, I would come home for lunch, except when the weather was bad. Some of my favorite sandwiches were ham and cheese, and on Fridays, tuna fish with diced apples—a very weird combination, but tasty nevertheless. I loved it when the lunchbox got warm, and the cheese would be all melted and gooey. In those days, Grandma could put mayonnaise on our sandwiches without worrying about any dangers of it being unrefrigerated because food poisoning was not invented yet.

When the days grew hot near the end of the school year, she would have my lunch ready on the ladder of the pool so that I could cool off before going back to my sweltering hot classroom. I felt so lucky to have a mom who would do that!

After school we would often come home to some nice treat she would bake for us, such as cupcakes or her world famous brownies. I would sometimes do that for all of you, and I remember at least one of you asking, “Don’t you have anything healthy to eat?” I responded by saying, “What’s wrong with you kids. Can’t you enjoy junk?”

I have fond memories of our dinners. How she fed seven or eight of us on their income I do not know, but they were great meals—no kidding— even though it will sound like I am joking. We would have hamburger night, and I was known to be able to eat as many as four burgers on her homemade rolls (dipped in applesauce, of course). My appetite was unstoppable in those days.

Grandma would encourage me to snack before dinner in the hopes that it would spoil my appetite. Meatless Fridays were always special. With her “fondness” for fish, it is a surprise that she didn’t convert years ago. Mrs. Paul’s fish sticks were a common Friday meal, but the best was creamed tuna on toast, with baby peas mixed in for added nutrition. I would have that with applesauce, of course. I truly enjoyed that meal.

We were always a meat and potato family. No Chinese, Thai, or Mexican ever.  I remember Grandpa carving up a single nice chuck steak into seven or eight pieces, and it wasn’t until Dad made a steak dinner years later for me that I surprisingly learned that some people got their own steak at a meal. (“I get my own steak?! I have never heard of such a thing.”) I didn’t know any differently, so I never felt deprived.

As you know, our vacations were simple—a week at the Jersey Shore and the remainder in the backyard making whirlpools in our above-ground pool. Air travel was never a consideration.

Grandma always worked, and in those days, that was much less common than it is today. But dinner was always ready to be heated up, most of the laundry was done, and somehow, the house was in order. I don’t know how she did it, and I never, ever remember her being a big complainer. (Except that she loves to say, “I hate kids.”) As a child of the Depression, she helped support her family, so when she had her own, it was just a natural progression.

I never felt as if she were not there for us. She had her 24-hour job as a mom, her evening job working as the switchboard operator, and still, she found the time to bake cupcakes if someone at school asked her to do so, and proofread my reports.

When Kelly and Jamie were born, Grandma was determined that they know their grandmother despite the “great distance” between us (about sixty miles), so she would come often to visit us. After Kelly’s birth, she stayed for a week or two, since Dad was traveling.

After a while, we were able to move back to New Jersey, and we chose Montville, just under six miles from Grandma and Grandpa’s house. It was so nice to be near them. You all loved having your grandparents nearby and enjoyed being able to visit them in the “city”.

It was great being able to invite them to Grandparents Day as well as those very long, boring dance recitals. (It’s true. It was painfully long, and we all had to endure watching everyone else’s kids waiting for the five minutes before Jamie and Kelly tapped onto the stage.)

When we decided to become vagabonds and start our tour of the Southeast, I know Grandma in particular was really unhappy, because now we were really going to be far away.

For a while, she didn’t know how to contact us, because she didn’t even know what state we were in, let alone the town since we moved so much. I miss having her so close, but I do not miss the cold. I have learned to like grits, like Dad, and crawfish, and actually enjoy being called “ma’am” once I realized that even all of you girls are addressed in this manner.

Thank goodness that long-distance telephone calls are a dinosaur of the past, so we can all chat often.

So have a Happy Mother’s Day, Mom, and thanks for all the memories.

Returning Those Pictures Home

Last year when I drove to New Jersey, I took the opportunity to check out the storage unit, which was filled with  boxes placed there after the sale of Grandma’s house. Some contained familiar dishes, glasses, holiday decorations, and lots of old photos. You all know which boxes I grabbed.

I spent a lot of time after that trip making amateur-ish attempts to market my book, so I had hardly looked at the contents.  In March, I had my hip surgery, so suddenly, I had lots of time on my hands to really examine those old albums. Many are falling apart, so I am hoping to remove many of those photos and place them in a new one in time for my July visit.

There is one album in particular that I have been having a lot of fun viewing, because it contains labeled photos of her World War II pen pals. How sweet! Since most are just random people rather than family, I decided it would be fun to return them to the men in the photos or their relatives. They would be more meaningful to them than to me or Grandma.

Using the tools I use to build my family tree, I set to work. If the person was deceased (which I could find using the Social Security Death Records on Anestry.com, I usually was able to find an obituary, which almost always listed the surviving family. Most were on Facebook, and when I reached out to them and explained that I possessed wartime photos of their father/grandfather/brother, all wanted the originals. No one asked how I found them, which I thought was especially interesting, particularly when the names did not even match.

The Boonton Facebook page—You Just Might be a Boonton-ite If…—was very helpful in locating family members. Six matches were the direct result of that page.

One match was a daughter of Grandma’s pen pal, who told me that my cousin Billy was her seventh-grade boyfriend.

Another picture was sent to the daughter of Grandma’s eighth-grade boyfriend. She was thirteen and he was fifteen. His daughter had never seen any pictures of her dad and that age. He grew up to be a brilliant man who has been honored on the Boonton High Hall of Fame. Grandma recalled that Uncle Rich didn’t like him because he was so smart.

A second album contained mostly family members . I found a living first cousin of Grandma, whose parents died when he was very young. I was contacted by his daughter on Facebook after posting a note to his wife. When I initially sent the digital pictures, she showed them to him and she told me that “He is sitting there crying with emotion.”

Apparently he had a massive stroke, so I was told that “He just gets very emotional now and he is touched someone remembers him.” Grandma enjoyed hearing about her long-lost cousin, and she shared a few memories of visiting him after his parents divorced.

The album from Grandma and Grandpa’s courtship through their return from their honeymoon contained the photo of a couple and their one-year old daughter, who had recently died. Her obituary lead me to her sister, who informed me that her dad was still alive and living not far from Grandma.

He and his wife met Grandma and Grandpa in Texas when they both were called back to service during the Korean War. Joe is 93 now, and in great shape. I told him where Grandma was living, and one day, he and his daughter paid Grandma a surprise visit. Although Aunt Ar worried that Grandma would not recognize him, that was not the case. Grandma told me that Joe hadn’t changed much—“he has the same nose.” Joe told his daughter the exact same thing about Grandma. We both thought that was very cute.

So about once a week, I return to those old albums looking for more matches. I found two more this week! It is a win-win project because I am cleaning up my house and, at the same time, making someone happy in the process.