Another Summer Comes to an End

Happy New Year. It’s the most wonderful time of the year again for many parents after what always seemed like an endless summer of having their children around 24/7. As a kid, it was never long enough.

In anticipation of the big first day, we would be taken shopping for our new outfits, which was an expense that Grandma could not avoid, particularly for Uncle Mart and me. As the oldest girl and oldest boy in our family, there were not hand-me-downs to wear. So off we would go a store on Main Street called “The Laurie Shop” or a warehouse-type store in Rockaway known as “Robert Hall.”

Robert Hall was a small national chain, with catchy commercials that I still could hum along when I found them on YouTube.  All you old timers should check this out if you want to skip down memory land: Dad tells me he got his first suit at Robert Hall.

When the values go up, up, up

And the prices go down, down, down

Robert Hall this season

Will show you the reason:

Low overhead, high quality

Back in my day, we did not have backpacks like all of you had. In fact, I don’t recall having any sort of contraption in which to carry my books. I only remember balancing my books in my arms, all of which were covered with the same brown paper bags from the supermarket like yours so many years later. Some things did not change between my generation and yours.

So although we did not like seeing our carefree summer days coming to an end because it meant our evenings would soon be filled with homework, there was a silver lining preceding the start of the school year. Our small little town transitioned us into the new school season with the big Labor Day Firemen’s Parade and Fair.

It was sheer genius, because now we always looked forward to this time of year. I was always excited about the rides, games, fireworks, and meeting up with some of the friends I had not seen since June. When we were young, we would be taken by our parents, but eventually, we were allowed to go by ourselves—a sign of no longer being a little kid.

Now as Labor Day approaches again, I think back on those end-of-summer evenings of pitching nickels, trying to win a goldfish that Grandma would not want, and waiting for the fireworks to begin. Maybe Jamie will go to the fair and meet up with some of the cousins who have not left town.


For a Million Bucks, It’s Yours!

I spent many Saturday afternoons at the State Theatre in Boonton. For just 50 cents, we could see the latest movie in that grand old building with our friends. I have many fond memories of that very unique theatre, where you entered underneath the big screen and walked up to your seat. There are just a few theaters in the country with this configuration.

As I recall, during those Saturday matinees, it would be rare to see an adult present in the audience. When the theater was filled to its maximum, the balcony would be opened to accommodate the overflow crowds. For me, that was a rare treat to be allowed upstairs. (Or maybe we snuck up there.)

Every Disney movie that played during the sixties I saw at the State Theatre, as well as the nearly four-hour saga, Gone with the Wind. I cried when Rex and Scarlett’s daughter, Bonnie, died after falling off of her horse; sobbed hysterically when Tony died in the arms of Maria in West Side Story, and held my breath while the Von Trapp family hide in the abbey from the Nazis in The Sound of Music.

I recall seeing The Godfather with Grandma, who regretted going with me because of the sex scene during the wedding. At the time, I believe I was seventeen, so I am surprised she went with me. She should have known, since it was rated “R.” What was she thinking?

The last flick I saw there was one of Dad’s all-time favorites: Smokey and the Bandit. We had been dating for five or six months at that time, and it was the perfect movie since it had cars to make Dad happy and Sally Field and Burt Reynolds for me.

The theatre was on its decline by then. I know this because I remember it had rained that day and the ceiling leaked. The precipitation added to the charm.

I hear it’s on sale now, so if you are looking for something to do with that million dollars hanging out in your bank account, there you go!

The Rest Was Just Awful Poetry

Reading what my thirteen-year old friends wrote in my book so many years ago, are you all laughing and thinking how much more sophisticated you were at that age? Earlier this week I discussed the “Roses are Red” autographs and today I will talk about the others.

Apparently my friend, Jo, who I remember as being the best artist in our class with the shortest walk to School Street School (She lived across the street so she could sleep late), had thoughts too scandalous to write about. What a polite young lady she was. I wonder if she would like to weigh in on her past words today. Jo??


I was extremely gawky and skinny at that age. Grandma was constantly telling me to stand up straight and to take smaller steps. I towered over my siblings, so I suppose that my friend Kathy was just being honest when she wrote her “funny” poem to me.


All the girls thought our math teacher, Mr. Hennessey, was so cute. He was single, as was a female math teacher, so my friends Karen, Mary, and I used to stalk them as they went over to the high school together for lunch, wrongly believing a romance was in the making. How shocked we were when Miss N. became engaged to a teacher at the high school.

Mr. Hennessey

You all know Karen—my very first friend who is still my friend to this day. This was a friendship which began in kindergarten. Her poem was cute and showed she was happy for the opportunity to be immortalized in my book, but she never indicated how long we had known each other at that moment.

Karen Basch

How about this poem from a girl named Liza? We were not close friends, but nevertheless, her seventh-grade humor graced the pages of my book. She should have gone into show-biz!

Liza Small

Sweet Maryanne D! She was the cousin of my fourth-grade crush, Joe, but that never helped to advance any chances of a romance with him.

Maryanne Di

Nancy “Von Friedman” was not her real name. She always had a sense of humor as you can see from her post. Nancy was the friend who attended the USC Journalism School and has gone on to write two fascinating books on the topic of the paranormal. I enjoyed both books. She writes under the penname “Louisa Oakley Green.” Check her out if that subject interests you.

Nancy Friedman

Adria was a very pretty, quiet girl who I knew from my days at School Street School. The simplicity of her autograph reflects her sweet personality.


The other Mary Ann was the best friend of Liza. As I recall, they were both cheerleaders during those years. I tried out (Why? I never even mastered the basic cartwheel.) There was a tear in the corner of the page she wrote on, which was allegedly caused by her teeth. (I cropped out the tear.)

Mary Ann Sabatino

Susan was another friend from elementary school. I remember spending many happy days playing at her house with Karen. I think she had some kind of tree house. Your thoughts, Karen?

Susan Gray

My mathematic-teacher-stalking friend Mary wrote twice in the book. It is ironic that both of her posts contain numbers. Aunt Ar is still friends with Mary’s sister Linda. I will see if she followed a career with any mathematics connections.

Mary Giorgianni-2


Mary Giorgianni








Carol was the BFF of Debi. “Sock-it-to-me” is an expression connected to the actress Judy Carne on the show “Laugh In.” Ms. Carne was routinely dropped through a trap door or hit with a bucket of water after uttering those words. Now I wonder and ask, “Carol, why were you the sock-it-to-me kid?”

Frances was the daughter of a nurse, who served as our Girl Scout leader at one time. You will see a similarity between Fran’s poem and that of Aunt Ar—both references the color of the page on which they wrote.

Fran Hopkins

There was only one legitimate celebrity who signed my book. As the celebrity lover of the family, I assign Jamie the chance to check him out. He was the entertainment for one of Grandpa’s company picnics I believe. He was a saxophonist and band leader who played with the famous Glenn Miller Band, who entertained during the late 30’s/early 40’s. Tex Beneke’s most famous song that you would be familiar with was “Midnight Serenade,” which was the song which played as Tom Hanks danced with the older woman, Elizabeth Perkins in the movie “Big.”

Tex Beneke

Dance to “Midnight Serenade” from “Big”

So that’s my autograph book. Thoughts anyone? I wonder when kids stopped doing this.

A Peek Back in Time- Part 1

While cleaning my desk I found Grandma’s autograph book, dating back to 1940, when she was eleven years old. Each entry was filled with the sweetness, innocence, and old-fashioned corniness of the day. Life was peaceful in Boonton, New Jersey at that time, which was such a stark contrast to events in other parts of the world—the world where Grandpa and his family were living.

As I turned each page and read the carefully-worded thoughts of Grandma’s friends and relatives, I could not help but smile. After recording each page, I carefully wrapped it up and sent it to her, hoping that it would cause her to smile also rather than shed a tear for those no longer here.

Each page was dated, so I could see that they were not written in order. On the bottom of most pages was a second date, which was the birthday of the person signing her little red book.

For the next few days I am going to share these pages with you, and when I am able, I will tell you who these people were. You only think of Grandma as how you have known her over the years, but this is a window into her past seventy-six years ago. I will begin with her family.

Read what Grandma wrote on the inside cover and you will get a feel of ten-year-old Grandma. I believe “Sing-Sing College” actually refers to the prison known as “Sing-Sing,” which is in Ossining, New York—close to the town where Jamie and Kelly were born.

Cover entry by Mom

My grandmother was quite creative as you will see from her roundabout autograph which says: “You have many a friend and many a lover but the best one of all is your mother.”

Grandma Carey

Aunt Tess, who married my uncle Larry six years after she signed Grandma’ s book, was the first one granted that honor. I sent a photo of this page to my cousin Maureen so she could show her ninety-five year old mother what she wrote way back then, and Maureen said that Aunt Tess still writes little rhymes when she sends cards—something she apparently learned from Maureen’s grandmother.

Aunt Tess

Her cousin Gertrude (the lady with the Christmas houses), provided one of the more serious autographs. But Gertrude was a sophisticated woman of nineteen, so she could not write something as whimsical as Grandma’s schoolmates did.

Gertrude Ofsonka

Aunt Marian had written a brief note, but Grandma wanted more. She asked for what she got from her older sister!

Aunt Marian

Her Aunt Josie was my grandmother’s younger sister—ten years her junior. According to Aunt Marian, this aunt had contracted meningitis at the age of two, which led to some mental disabilities and speech problems. With that in mind, the comment that this thirty-six year old aunt was interesting compared with what her cousin Gertrude wrote.

Aunt Josie

When I read what her uncle Leonard wrote, I asked Grandma if he had been divorced. Apparently, he had broken up with his wife, Peggy DeLeeuw, and took up with a woman named Lydie. (The comment he wrote was such an interesting one to make to your young niece.)

Grandma was very fond of this aunt and worked with her as a switchboard operator. After they divorced, Uncle Leonard moved to Florida and Aunt Peggy remained behind.

Uncle Leonard

You have heard about Grandma’s famous Uncle Jack Blue. He served as a pall bearer for President McKinley after serving in the Spanish-American War in the navy. He became a dance instructor, and several of his students went on to become famous in the movies, among them were Ruby Keeler, Bing Crosby, and Katherine Hepburn.  His middle daughter, Juliet, married a well-known Columbian singer who appeared in movies here in the U.S.

Juliet Blue

I will close with Uncle Bob and Uncle Don, who wrote in the book when they were not yet six.  I am impressed that they were writing in script at this young age. It looks like someone helped them finish the poem the first time, and there is a comment about how their handwriting improved. Was it Aunt Marian or my grandmother?

So there you have it—your first peek at my mother as a fifth-grade student at Mt. Carmel School in 1940.

Uncle Bob and Don-1


Uncle Bob and Don-2



They Drained the Lake?

Did I ever tell you about the lake in Boonton? It was located in the hill section of town, and if you are paying attention, you will note I am speaking of it in the past tense.

When I was very young, I would sometimes go swimming there. It was called Sunset Lake, and it had a nice beach and a snack bar. My most vivid memory was going there with a banana-shaped floaty thing that somehow got lost. It was eventually located at a house at the top of Wootton Street, which backed up to the lake. I never knew how it got there nor how I got it back. I guess it will forever be one of those mysteries of life, like why don’t sheep shrink when it rains.

Sometime during the early to mid-sixties, Sunset Lake was drained and replaced with two- family homes, packed tightly into the area where I once swam and others fished. I guess that was called progress.

Why did this happen? I read three theories. One was that the town did not want the liability of a second swimming area (the first was in the river near the area where Santa Land sits today). A second theory was that the town of Boonton refused to pay the owner’s asking price for the lake, and the third thought was that there was more revenue to be gained in taxes by all those new residences.

Whatever the reason, it was very sad. It was a nice recreational spot that is now part of a bygone era. RIP Sunset Lake.

Sunset Lake

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.

The Final Postcard: Their Wedding

I am sad that I stopped sending the postcards to Grandma. This is the letter she sent to me after my final postcard in response to the questions:

1. What was your wedding like?

2. What kind of party did you have after the wedding and who came?

Dear Karen

Your father didn’t tell me about converting to the Catholic religion. It was a surprise to me. He went through the process in Texas before we were married. He had been baptized at St. Cyril’s in Boonton because there was no Russian church in the area. So that made it easy for him. I was surprised because keeping a secret was something he wasn’t good at.

 Our wedding was very small, fortunately, because he didn’t know when he could get home. We had immediate families only. Small ceremony, no mass, at 11 a.m., Mt. Carmel. His brother didn’t like the time so he didn’t come. He gave me a lot of grief over the time.

We had dinner in Denville—a place your father and I liked. It was very nice. We went back to the Birch Street house for wedding cake. I remember my mother writing out a check for the dinner. It was under $100. We went away for the night and left for Texas the next day.

 So fifty-seven years later, here I am. This is it for now.



Grandma wore a yellow dress for the occasion. Although all her siblings had more traditional ceremonies, with big wedding parties and traditional wedding gowns, I think that was really what Grandma wanted. She never liked big fusses made over her. That has always been her way.

I am surprised at my Uncle Pete. After all they went through trying to become a family again, and all the effort Grandpa made at getting him back from Russia, I feel it was a slap in the face for him to complain at all about the wedding. He should have kept his mouth shut and came with a smile on his face. I do not understand Grandpa’s family.

Grandma & Grandpa- April 21, 1951

My Grandma & Your Grandparents
My Grandma & Your Grandparents
Grandma and Grandpa's First Home- Killeen , Texas 1951
Grandma & Granpa’s First Home- Killeen, Texas

Tongue for Lunch- Oy Vey!

Growing up in Boonton, my knowledge of Judaism was extremely limited. My friend Karen’s father was Jewish, so I it was at her house that I had my first taste of matzo. I knew nothing except that Jews celebrated Hanukkah. The Jewish population was too small for our schools to close for any of the Jewish holidays, both then and now.

Then I met Dad. He was Jewish—sort of. His father was against all forms of religion, pointing out how many lives have been lost in wars fought in the name of religion. So his family celebrated none of the Jewish religious holidays. However, Dad was raised with some of the cultural aspects of Eastern European Jews.

The first time I visited his family in Yonkers, I began to learn about the food. His mother served lunch and among the meats at the table was tongue. Tongue! I never knew of a tongue as something other than an instrument to help us swallow, not as an actual food to be chewed. Oh my! Thank goodness there were other choices. I just couldn’t do it.

When I was asked what I would like to drink, I did not realize that requesting a glass of milk as an accompaniment to my turkey sandwich was verboten. I think everyone else around the table exchanged a look before offering me some soda. Did I drink what Dad may have had the day—Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray soda? That first visit was a long time ago, so I am not certain. But a celery-flavored fizzy beverage and tongue on the same day? That was almost too much newness for this unsophisticated girl.  I did try the soda several times, but it never appealed to me.

As our relationship continued, I was introduced to many other Jewish delicacies, and they were always at a deli. Except for tongue, I enjoyed most of the new food. We used to take you to that nice Jewish deli in Lake Hiawatha—the one with the wiggly table and the same old lady waitress. They had great pickles and corned beef sandwiches. Dad’s all-time favorite is the #3 combo—corned beef, turkey, coleslaw and Russian dressing, which he replicates as often as possible when visiting a deli.  Sadly that deli is gone, and he has never found another to replace that one.

He has introduced you to matzo ball soup, latkes, and potato knishes, and some of you even enjoy your bagels with lox, but not me. I don’t do raw meat or fish except for the time I ordered “salmon fume” in Paris, stupidly not realizing it was smoked salmon.

But the best, and favorite of all “Jewish foods” is Chinese food, which I never had until I met Dad. We used to go to the Chinese restaurant in Lake Hiawatha–the one where there was a recent murder.  Like all good Jews, Dad introduce us to Chinese take-out on the weekends, and now we are continuing the tradition with a Chinese smorgasbord on Christmas Day after the movies.

As for the religion, that I learned from attending Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, where I marveled at the beauty of the language, chanting, and intriguing written words. How much those kids had to learn while balancing their studies at school. It was so impressive.

I learned about sitting Shiva from the movies and after Dad’s father died. We learned about Hanukkah after his mother died and Jamie decide she wanted us to light a menorah and play dreidel in honor of her Jewish heritage.

Finally there are the great words. Oh, so many wonderful words and expressions, but too, too many for now. Another day!

Who Didn’t Like Him?

Everyone needs an Uncle Tony. I do not believe it was possible to find a person who had an unkind word to say about him. There was so much love packed into his small frame. I can’t imagine him without a smile on his face, which says a lot for a man with eight children. I was lucky to not only have had him as my uncle but my godfather as well.

As you know, my grandmother lived in the house adjacent to ours, but as time went on, it became more and more difficult for her to afford to live on her own.  Uncle Tony and my grandma decided to look for a house large enough for the ten of them and her, which was very generous since she was the mother-in-law. But he was the kind of man who would never say no to her.

On Sundays, he would go to the local bakery to pick up buns for the family—crumb buns, jelly donuts and cream-filled pastries were among my favorites. As part of their extended family, we always received a delivery.

He was a hard-worker.  Their first house had a basement under only part of the house. I remember seeing Uncle Tony and some of the other men of the family digging it out by hand. That room was converted into a bedroom for the four boys, furnished with two sets of bunk beds.

No one could repair the body damage to a car like him, except maybe Billy, who inherited that skill and attention to detail from his dad. Anyone who had their car repaired by either knew it would be returned better than new. They were both that good.

Uncle Tony loved to bowl, but Aunt Marian did not–neither did Grandpa. So when Uncle Tony asked Grandma to be his partner on a weekly bowling team, she couldn’t refuse. Grandma bowled about as well as I play golf, but she continued playing because she enjoyed the camaraderie of the sport and her partner. She told me about the time he leaned over and whispered in her ear, and when someone jokingly asked if he was whispering sweet nothings to her, Grandma said, “No, he said I’m a lousy player!” He was funny in a subtle way like that.

When I was pondering about what to write about today, a song came on the radio. It was Queen—You’re My Best friend. Everyone knows that Queen was Billy’s band, but I remember going to Uncle Tony’s 80th birthday party and seeing all his kids getting up to dance to that song with him. That says it all. On television everyone loved Raymond, but in my town, everyone loved Uncle Tony.

Uncle Tony Out on the River
Uncle Tony Out on the River

Sixth Grade Big Shots

Senior year at School Street School began in 1966—sixth grade for me. We were the big shots of the school, as Grandpa might say. There were two playgrounds there. The lower one was for the younger kids so it had the swings, while the upper did not because we were much too sophisticated. That year we did not get to enjoy the privilege of our segregation from the little ones because our playground was going to be the site of the new school and was closed during the construction. So we suffered the indignity of not having our own space but never got to enjoy the school with the cafeteria, new desks, and asbestos-free living. It did not open that year. My brothers and sisters all went to the new school.

Our teacher was Mr. Albano, who loved to travel to exotic places—a fact which led to his gruesome murder in Thailand many years later. I remember his pictures of the pyramids of Egypt, the Parthenon in Greece, and the tomb of King Tut. His stories of his travels to the Mid-East were glamorous and exciting and made history come alive for me.

As the oldest in the school, six graders were assigned certain jobs. My friend Karen and I had the task of helping the kindergartners get dressed in their coats, hats and sometimes their boots at the end of the day. Aunt Ellen was in kindergarten then, so I wonder if she recalls me coming to her classroom.

I also had the somewhat geeky job of running the school projector when other classes wanted to see a movie. This was a very ancient way to watch movies, pre-video tapes of course. Our job was to wheel the projector to the class requesting our services and set up the movie reel on the projector, which involved threading a thin film around the various nooks and crannies of the machines. It was an important job—at least I thought so—and got me out of class for a bit.

Sixth grade was also the year my fear of bridges developed. A woman in town—Miss Blanchard —committed suicide by jumping off the Reservoir Bridge. At one time, she had been our school librarian, and Karen and I helped her shelve books. That was when I became quite adept at the Dewey Decimal System.

I was quite traumatized by Miss Blanchard’s death, so from then on, I insisted that Grandma and Grandpa drive an alternate route when going to the Reservoir Tavern or other place to which that was the usual route. I must say that they were quite accommodating, but parents are just very awesome people when it comes to their children. That is indisputable!

That fear remained with me for forty-seven years until a man tried to drive off the Ravenel Bridge in Charleston. He lived, and for me, it was a sort of public service. I figured if he was unable to intentionally drive off the bridge, then the likelihood of me accidentally driving off any bridge was slight. So now my only major fear from my School Street School years is that of snakes, which is really quite common.

In September, I moved on to John Hill School, when my walk to school doubled from a half mile to one full mile. (Somehow it seemed so much longer in my mind.) I left my two sisters behind—Aunt El promoted to first grade and Aunt Ar to third. We would never be in the same school again.

Mom- Grade 6 School Street School 1966
Mom- Grade 6 School Street School 1966