History Repeats with our Pandemic

I speak with Grandma every day. We just completed another family Zoom session with her. She is quiet, so we are trying to keep her engaged. Today I reminded her of the time her mother was quarantined around the time of the Flu Epidemic of 1918, which has been in the news so much these days.

Her father had recently died, and my grandfather had been called into service in World War I. My aunt believed all this sadness affected my grandmother’s health so she lost a lot of weight. The doctors at her job examined her and diagnosed her with “suspicious tuberculosis,” so they sent her to the company sanitarium in upstate New York. She spent six months there and then was permitted to return home. It was difficult, though, because like the asymptomatic coronavirus patients, Grandma felt fine.

She did not have the Internet to entertain her with Facebook Quarantine Karaoke or Facetime, Google Hangout (which I still have not figured out), or Zoom to keep her in touch with her mom like we do. All she had were letters home to her family, so I can’t complain.

When she finally was released, she was surprised to learn about the friends who were lost to the flu. Her mother did not have the heart to inform her of these losses via a letter.

I hope it is not six months for us, but if it is, perhaps we really will get a summer reprieve!

Rated “T” for Toddlers

Warning: Rated “T” for toddlers. Adults may be offended.

Our daily trips to the bathroom are personal journeys—discussed with few (thankfully) except our physicians. This does not apply to three-year olds, who are quite happy to discuss their visits to the bathroom in great detail with anyone who will listen to them.

This week Lily was visiting us, and after several vigorous rounds of Candy Land, she headed off to the bathroom which did not contain the step stool. I followed and offered my assistance.

“I can do it myself,” I was told, so I turned to leave.

“Stay, Grandma,” I was instructed. Clearly privacy was not important, nor did she even consider filtering her thoughts on what she was doing. In fact, she preceded to describe her past toilet observations.

“Sometimes it looks like a snake. Other times, it looks like a hotdog,” she said casually. As she was speaking, I was thinking that Grandma will just love hearing this story.

After the deed was done and her hands were washed, we both had to do the happy dance. There was no arguing with her.

Doesn’t everyone  stop to dance after they poop?

Grandma’s Greatest Hits

With so much upsetting news happening these days, I decided to write about a funny memory regarding my mother and grandmother.

Four years ago, I created a family Facebook page. I invited the three of you, my siblings, several of my first cousins, and most of yours. The first posting was about memorable expressions of those two important women in my lives. Perhaps you remember it.

When we were young, I don’t recall my mother cursing—at least not saying too many 4-letter words in front of us. But she had her own creative ways of letting off steam.

  1. I hate kids.

Need I say more? She still uses that expression, and I promise you, someday there will be a moment when those words will either come out of your mouths or at least cross your minds.

  1. Sugar diabetes!

I believe this was Grandma’s nice way of saying “shit.”

  1. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!

Somehow, she did not see that this was technically taking the Lord’s name in vain. I believe she probably said it when “sugar diabetes” was not a strong enough way to broadcast her anger to the five of us.

  1. I have 3 words: shit, shit, shit!

I do not recall this phrase being uttered by dear, sweet Grandma when I was young, but in her golden years, this is definitely a frequent favorite.

  1. Shit and shinola

I mentioned this expression to a New York friend years ago, and she was well acquainted with it. However, it turns out the actual phrase is “He doesn’t know shit from shinola.”


Shinola is a brand of shoe polish, so using this phrase would mean an individual is truly stupid, because he could not tell the difference between the two. In my mind, it was another way of letting us know that Grandma was very angry.

  1. When princess Diana married Charles she ‘put her ass in a butter tub.’

I believe my both my grandmother and mother used it, and with the assistance of the good old Google Machine, I found it means Diana was lucky to have married Charles.

  1. It only takes a phone call.

This was Grandma’s way of telling us that we could get in less trouble when staying out late if we just informed her so she would not worry. We have always done this in our family, even as you have all ventured out into the world as adults. When any of us travel on a plane or a particularly long road trip, you always let me know you have arrived safely, and for the continuance of this tradition, I am grateful.

  1. When you have your first car accident, tell your father ‘it’s just one of those things!’

I am certain you all are familiar with this saying of my mother, but I will refresh your memories just in case.

During the final time of one of her pregnancies, Grandma backed out of my uncle’s very steep driveway and hit a small tree. Grandpa was not pleased and let her know. Grandma vowed to remember that day. At a later date, when Grandpa had a fender bender while venturing out one night in the snow, Grandma made a snide remark about his accident. Grandpa responded by telling her, “It was just one of those things.”

So when I got my driver’s license, Grandma instructed me to use those words with my father the first time I had an accident.

I don’t think I had the nerve to do so.

  1. From my grandmother: I have a fart caught in side words.

This is self-explanatory and so funny coming from my grandmother when she informed us of her difficulty in “letting it rip.”

  1. In my next life I am coming back as a man.

Grandma clearly saw the inequity between the sexes. We need to fix that.

It’s a Great Day to be Irish

St. Patrick’s Day is tomorrow, and Bryce was very excited to learn that on this holiday, everyone wears green, which is his favorite color. There is not a purple day or a pink day or a blue day, but every year, on March 17, we all are witness to a sea of green.

On this day, we are all Irish. We drink green beer, the Savannah River turns green as well as the fountain at our local university hotspot—Five Points.

While I do not know the specific village where all of our ancestors originated, I am happy to report that I now know that some of them began life in both Castlebar and Tipperary. Just four years ago, when I was hanging out with the mayor of Castlebar and the Irish Prime Minister and having my first Irish Coffee, I learned that the typical St. Paddy’s Day meal is bacon and cabbage, but you all know that by now.

We are having a sleepover tonight with the kiddies. Daddy tried to convince Kelly that we should serve Lucky Charms for breakfast in honor of the day, but she did not seem enthused with the idea, even though we all know of her love of that magically delicious cereal.

So I plan on visiting the library or bookstore to see if I can locate a book appropriate for the day which would interest a two year old as well as a five year old.  I will pull out my “Everyone Loves and Irish Girl” tee shirt and see what stories of the old country we can discuss in between rounds of hide ‘n seek and Candy Land. I will attempt to discuss Grandma Jean’s love of her Irish Roots.

Did Grandma See Her Shadow?

One hundred twenty-three years ago today, America was celebrating its eighth Groundhog Day and waiting to see if Punxsutawney Phil would see his shadow. In the small town of Boonton, New Jersey, my great grandparents were welcoming their first daughter into the world—my grandmother, who would grow up to raise six children of her own.

Grandma was the granddaughter of a Civil War veteran from Ireland and the daughter of a successful businessman—the proprietor of a hotel and tavern in town as well as a bottler. (I have one of his bottles in my kitchen.) Because of her father’s success, my grandmother’s family was able to enjoy several life-improving gadgets such as an electric iron and one of the first telephones in town.

During her eighty-two year life, she lived through five wars and one near miss between the Soviet Union and the United States in Cuba. She experienced great tragedy with the deaths of three siblings and her father, all prior to her twenty-third birthday.

Grandma was seventeen when the Titanic sunk and twenty-five and a young newlywed when women were given the right to vote shortly before the election of President Warren G. Harding. She and my grandfather faced very lean years during the Great Depression, but somehow, they managed to pay the bills and put food on the table despite my grandfather losing his job and working nothing but odd jobs around town for a while.

She saw the inventions of the vacuum cleaner, washing machines, talking movies, frozen food, television, the polio vaccine, and both the availability of the first automobile in 1908 and the moon landing sixty-one years later. She witnessed the legal end of segregation, the opening of Disneyland and the assassinations of JFK, RFK, and Martin Luther King. All these advancements and events must have made her head spin.

In spite of the hardships and sadness during her lifetime, my memories of her are of a woman who was a proud mother of her six children and thirty grandchildren. She smiled a lot and complained little except for her “damn old knee.”

Happy Birthday, Grandma.


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.

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!


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.