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, 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.

And So They Were Married

Today is the story of Grandma and Grandpa, because on this day in 1951, they were married in that church on the hill in Boonton. The fact that they got together is amazing to me since they lived their early years separated by thousands of miles. The fact of the matter is, they never should have met, but for some reason, Grandpa was issued that passport in Moscow and he returned home, where their lives intersected five years later.

With all that was happening in the world at that time, it is incredible that he made it safely back. But what if his ship had docked in Honolulu six months later—in December rather than June?  He would have been there when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, and none of us would be here. You must know by now that I love thinking “what if.”

Fast forward to 1950 when they met at Norda Chemical. The following year, Grandpa asked my grandfather for her hand in marriage, and he said, “Take the whole girl, not just her hand.” Months later, Grandpa returned to active service and he was sent to Fort Hood, Texas.

Meanwhile, Grandma waited for him at home, and her friends threw her a shower.

When he was granted leave, he returned to Boonton where they were married in a small ceremony at Mt. Carmel Church in Boonton—that same church where we would all attend Christmas Eve mass with Grandma every year. Grandma’s best friend, Weezie Martone was her matron-of-honor, and Grandpa’s friend from Norda, Bob McCormick, was his best man.

Their honeymoon was the return trip to Killeen, Texas, home of Fort Hood. It was the biggest trip Grandma had ever taken outside Boonton other than the brief trip to Michigan with her mother for the funeral of an uncle in Michigan in 1950.

Civil War Museum in Virginia

Grandpa Stretching his legs in TN.


Their first home was a small cottage on the base, and the two of them settled down to married life, which was quite different than Grandma’s three older siblings, who were all married and living in Boonton. She was very homesick, so she looked forward to those phone calls to her mother.

 Grandma was exposed to sites there which made her realize she was no longer in Kansas.

Still, it was better than being separated. They could see each other every day.

While each day was vacation for Grandma, Grandpa was always busy at work.

Fortunately, Grandpa was never sent overseas, and just five months later, he was released from service and they returned home. Thank goodness, because Grandma really, really hated Texas!

Back in Time with Grandma

On one of my trips up North, I returned with a box of photo albums belonging to Grandma. One of the albums was titled, “Friends and correspondents of WW II,” and almost every picture is labeled with the name, and occasionally, the date of her friend. After my success in locating Grandma’s long-lost cousin (Ordering the Platinum Card), I decided to attempt to see how many photos I could return to their owner or the owner’s family.

So far, I have returned those old photos of Grandma’s pen pals to seven people: one is still living, one I sent to the wife of her buddy, and the remaining pictures were sent to the children. All were happy to unexpectedly receive a picture from so long ago, and I enjoyed being able to reunite these pieces of the past to their rightful owners.

After reaching out to the daughter of one serviceman in the album, she informed me that she had a few of the letters Grandma had written to her dad and asked if I would like her to send them to me. Naturally, I was thrilled to be able to have a window into what my mother was like at the age of fifteen. I thought I would share pieces of her letters with you.

She was a sophomore in high school at the time, and it was clear from the tone of the letters that she did not like school. Grandma was studying for her exams and looking ahead to her senior year, when she said that either she would enlist or have to go job hunting.

“I’m taking secretarial training, so I guess I will be spending my time with ‘Dear Sir and Yours Truly’ for the rest of my natural life. (I should have said freakish life.) But you’re hardly interested in my future so let’s drop it.”

That sounds like Grandma. Later she said that her comment about enlisting was a misstatement, because everyone had discouraged her from enlisting. I am assuming that it was never a serious consideration.

She then mentioned going to a rabbit show, where there were over four hundred rabbits.

“About all I thought about was what a very beautiful coat I could have if I decided to skin a few of the four hundred. (Personally, I wouldn’t have the heart to skin pedigreed rabbits such as those.) They were really beautiful.”

“Yesterday I went to Cedar Grove to a Rabbit Show, consisting of over 400 rabbits. It was very beautiful, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many rabbits in all my life. About all I thought about was what a very beautiful coat I could have if I decided to skin a few of the four hundred. (Personally, I wouldn’t have the heart to skin pedigreed rabbits such as those.) They were really gorgeous. I could rant and rant for hours.”

Note to me or any of you: This is an interesting topic to discuss with Grandma the next time you get her on the telephone. I wonder if she will recall going to a rabbit show in 1944. I will cut her a break it she does not remember. Seventy-three years ago is a long time ago.

The letter concluded with her mentioning that her oldest brother, Larry, was currently in southern England, “and kept rather busy with amphibious training.” I will have to ask my cousins if they were aware of what their dad did while in the service.

I am curious what her friend, who was off fighting a war, would have written to his fifteen-year old friend back in Boonton, New Jersey.

More on Grandma at age fifteen another time.

Grandma’s Sweet Treats

I have talked about the power of music saying that it “lifts us up when we are sad, calms our nerves, makes us laugh, and brings us to tears. Music is a time machine, transporting us back to another time by just the sounds of a few notes in a song.” (See The Power of Music)

Food is like that too. Canned tuna reminds me of meatless Fridays growing up, escargot reminds me of our cruises when you were little, and Salisbury steak reminds me of my dining hall in college, when I swore I would never partake of that sorry excuse for steak ever again.

I remember going to my grandmother’s house, where she would have a bowl of cellophane-wrapped butterscotch candies. That was her special treat.

As you all should remember, when you went to my mother’s house, Grandma would always have her little goodies—some form of chocolate—tucked away in the drawer underneath her oven. So with that in mind, I was telling Dad that I need to figure out what my Grandma special sweet delight will be, and where should they be kept?

When Bryce visits, he knows to go to my pantry where he usually goes “shopping.” Somedays he will appear with a box of crackers, pretzels, or maybe some mandarin oranges. But that is not what I have in mind. Like Grandma, my treat for the grandchildren should be some form of chocolate, such as M&M’s or York Peppermint Patties (those will, of course, be found in the freezer!).

What are your thoughts? This is important, because my choice of a guilty pleasure will forever define me to future generations.