American Dream- Part I

If I asked  you at different stages of your lives to verbalize your “American Dream”, how many times would your answers differ? Your looking glasses would be constantly evolving and be influenced by the classes you took, people you met, books you read, the media, and the world around you.

When I was in seventh grade, my crystal ball predicted that I would become a teacher. Apparently I believed I had too much homework, because my “past me” saw my “future me” as follows: “She won’t give them homework because she feels they should have some free time.”

That never happened, because when teaching jobs became scarce, it was Grandpa who suggested I enroll in a few computer courses and that sent me down a different road. Except for the few years teaching at St. Pius School, my seventh-grade dream of becoming a teacher was never fulfilled.

It seems I enjoyed being part of a large family back then, because when I looked to my future, I saw “my twelfth baby getting married.” You know what, girls? Three was quite nice, thank you very much!

What did come true was “mobs of friends, relatives, and more relatives.” I foresaw a secure job, a happy marriage and children as “a good life, with plenty of laughs and good memories.”

The “real job”, which I defined earlier as one in which taxes and social security are deducted, was short-lived. It ended when Kelly was born and reappeared briefly during those few years teaching at St. Pius. When I predicted my future, I never expected to have such a short career. But is life ever predictable?

Dad was on the road for so many years. We decided to have him travel rather than to move with him, so I stayed home and volunteered for everything: hot dog lunch, pizza lunch, field day organizer, Girl Scout leader, class mom, library aid, yearbook editor, senior citizen’s lunch, PTA Vice President, Newsletter copier, Sunday School teacher, Montville town fish fry dinner organizer, newcomer committee, forensic judge, and forensic tournament food chairman. (I never contributed taxes to those jobs so by my own definition, I never worked during those years.)  Did you liked my involvement in those activities or did you cringe with all my constant appearances at your schools? For me, it was a way for me to spy on you and your teachers from the inside.

When Casey got hit with years of mysterious migraines which began in Montville and finally ended when she went to college, all thoughts of rejoining the workforce disappeared. I think that’s why I enjoy my obsessive hobby of researching our deceased ancestors and writing my two books. It’s the job I never got to do but now one I can do on my own terms and with a honey of a boss!

Maybe no one cares (yet) that we had a cousin who invented a torpedo and another who once jumped on one. I hope that someday you will want to know the story of my great- great grandfather who served in the Civil War, the cousin whose paintings hang in museums in Europe or the cousin who was a chauffeur for the head of Warner Brothers Studios. Someday you will also learn of the family who died in the concentration camps in Germany. But for now, you have your own dreams to chase; your own wishes to fulfill. I understand that.

My dream for you is like that of all parents. I hope, in the end, you have “a good life, with plenty of laughs and good memories.” I hope when you look back, you think Dad and I helped make that dream come true.

Lost and Found

All of us are so reliant on technology for directions when traveling anywhere, and there are now multiple avenues for helping us to find our way. New cars have built-in GPS devices, we can purchase a mobile GPS at any number of stores to install in our automobile, choose one of many mapping APPS on our cell phones, or  print out our directions on our home computer—a back-up in the event our travels lead us through a location with no cell service. It is so easy now.

Back in the dark ages of my youth, Grandpa would pick up a map at the local gas station (they were given out free at most) and plan a route. We’d all pile into the family truckster and off we’d go. Unfortunately, it was not uncommon for him to take a wrong turn. So like Dorothy looking for the Emerald City, he would eventually have no choice but to stop for directions—usually at a gas station along the way. I recall a trip to Bear Mountain Park in New York where Grandpa got lost so many times that we began keeping score. He was not amused!

Returning from a college visit in Connecticut, the fact that Grandpa was directionally challenged brought us to what appeared to be a parade route, with hundreds of people lining the White Plains street where his wrong turn had dumped us. We were stuck, so we pulled onto a side street and returned to the action. What could it be? If we had watched the news that morning, we would have known that President Nixon’s motorcade would be traversing the streets of lower Westchester County that afternoon as he tried to rustle up some last-minute votes before the November election. A point for Grandpa!

A few years later, I visited my friend Karen at her school in Syracuse, New York, armed with nothing but her directions and a few maps. There were no cell phones to help if I got lost or to phone home if I broke down or ran out of gas. After I pulled out of our driveway, I was on my own. I suppose Grandma worried a bit, but it’s just what you did. I don’t think she or I lost any sleep over that trip.

When I was a commuter at Montclair State College, I had some sort of car issue which left me stranded alongside the road somewhere between school and home. I was dating Dad at the time, so I pulled over, and after assessing the situation and determining that my car was truly dead, I knocked on a door and asked to make a phone call. I hadn’t invented the cell phone yet, and I was not up to the long trek home. Fortunately, the homeowners were not axe murderers, and a short time later, my white knight rode in on his horse to rescue me.

I know you all remember the trip to Memphis in 1995. You were young, just 10, 8, and 5. What was I thinking? I was brave and confident and dumb. I printed out many pages of maps—in triplicate—and colored in symbols along the way. Each time one of you asked, “Are we there yet?” I would reply that we were at the star or the triangle or the square on page 3 or 5 or 7. That gave each of you a feel for where we were on our journey and would shut you up for a while. Fortunately, I was armed with a cell phone, so after we passed the U.S. Capitol for at least the third time, we made a call to my friend Mitzie, who was able to set us back on the correct path to Oz.

The objective of my ramblings is to point out how much easier it is for you to get from point A to point B during your travels than it was years ago. The down side, I fear, is that this technology sometimes becomes a crutch. What would you do if you went on a road trip armed with only a map? I won’t remove the cell phone because telephone booths are obsolete. But no smart phones! Could you do it? Would you do it? I think I will suggest to Dad that we try it.

Computers, Microwave Ovens, and Babies

News reports periodically surface regarding a potential link between brain cancer and the use of cell phones. No concrete evidence has surfaced, so we can continue to chat on our phones. A report on the news this week—again stating no link—made me think about fears I had regarding the use of my computer at work, our new microwave oven, and my pregnancy with Kelly.

By the time of that pregnancy, I had already experience three miscarriages, all after years of unsuccessfully trying to become pregnant. I had even gone to a fertility specialist. So this fourth time, I did not want to take any chances. I began analyzing everything I did, attempting to find a cause  of the miscarriages. Naturally, I did a lot of research and came up with, I believed, two possible actions to avoid: my computer at work and our new microwave oven.

The microwave was the easiest object to refrain from using, since I could just relinquish the job to Dad or stand away from it while it was operating. Additionally, we purchased a little gadget, approximately the size of a small cell phone, which could gauge the escaping radiation from the microwave. I was truly worried, and these ovens were relatively new, so there was little information available. But this I could control, and whether it was a real or imagined worry, it made me feel better.

My computer at work was more complicated, since I was employed as a programmer for computer giant IBM. I had a very understanding boss, or perhaps he was just worried about a potential lawsuit. I approached him with my research regarding the use of my computer and miscarriages, expressing my concerns about using it. So from that point on, I would handwrite all my code, and someone else would type it into the computer.

I stayed away from the computer during my entire pregnancy. Was this request ridiculous? Probably, but not definitely at that time. The point is that I saw a potential problem, provided research, and I stated my case very calmly and intelligently. I had nothing to lose, and my request was honored. I figured, “it doesn’t hurt to ask.” And after Kelly was born, I was given the opportunity to return to work. I guess I didn’t scare them off!


First Job

Like many (mostly girls) my age, my first job was as a babysitter, and my salary was usually no more than 50 cents/hour. If I was lucky, there were tasty snacks available and the kids were asleep when I arrived.

I was proud of the independence which having my own money provided me, but that meager hourly wage did not go far. I recall one particularly awful job during which I worked ten hours and was given only $5.00. There was no extra consideration for the fact that the parents were supposed to return early in the evening, and they never checked on me once during the night. I never sat for them again!

Therefore, I was excited when I was given the opportunity for “real employment”, which to me, was a job in which social security and state and federal taxes were deducted. My mother worked for a group of local doctors, so when I was around sixteen, I began working at her office. I was the resident floater, filling in as a receptionist, file clerk, and switchboard operator.

As the receptionist, I learned most of the local zip codes which I still remember today, and I prided myself in knowing the addresses of many of the regular patients. Those were usually the allergy patients, who would come in as often as once a week during the busy hay fever season.

A switchboard was a vestige of the telephone dark ages, which came of age during the early 1900’s. In fact, I was a third generation switchboard operator. In addition to my mother, my grandmother was an early operator, working on the third floor of the Boonton National Bank Building, which was on Main Street across from the theater.

 The way it worked was a call would come into the building, and my job was to plug the cord associated with the incoming number into a hole under the name corresponding to the desired doctor. Go and Google “Lily Tomlin” and Switchboard and you will see what it looked like.

I probably received minimum wage, which was $1.50 when I began working and a whopping $2.20 by my junior year of college. The thing is, I was able to pay my tuition and room and board with my income from that job. My tuition was only $535 at that time.  I recently found my earnings statement from 1974, which was just under $811- take home. As you can see, I was able to cover my tuition, and with a few small scholarships, I was able to pay my room and board. It was such a different time then, and no one graduated with the kind of debt that befalls students today.

It is so much tougher, but luckily, I was able to do it myself, because the money just was not there from my parents. I was fortunate even though I now know that we were quite poor growing up..

We All Lose Things- Part II

I thought I would die a Jersey girl because as you all know, very few of our relatives ever leave the Garden State. But life is full of surprises and we eventually did leave the state.

Over a span of four years, we did a mini tour of the Southeast, beginning in North Carolina, moving on to Georgia, and finally settling in South Carolina where I became a South Carolina Gamecock fan. I now tailgate, try so very hard to win the family football pool, and even read the sports column. Girls, did you ever imagine I would evolve into this?

Our football stadium is quite large, with a seating capacity just north of 80,000. After one typically exciting afternoon at a game, I was walking across the adjacent fairgrounds when I became aware of that familiar, oh so awful sharpness on my left ring finger. I felt a pit in my stomach and knew I had to act quickly. When I told Dad that I had lost another diamond and had to go back and look for it, he looked at me like I was crazy. No, no, no, I was not a lunatic. I was confident. I had a proven track record regarding locating lost diamonds. And Dad did not argue, yell, or refuse to accompany me. That is why our marriage has survived since 1978. It takes patience and the ability to understand the quirkiness of one’s spouse for a marriage to endure. And laughter!

My plan was to go to the Lost and Found. After all, I reasoned, the news is filled with heartwarming stories involving honest people. However, walking into the stadium was like swimming against a strong current. No one was headed inside and no one knew where the Lost and Found was located.

Dad was being incredibly patient as I insisted that we push onward. After walking around aimlessly for quite a while, I knew he was ready to throw in the towel, but not me. I had faith, so I suggested we retrace our steps. The last place I had gone after leaving our seats was the bathroom. Was I crazy, or was I being logical?

What was there to lose, so we headed up the ramp to the restrooms? By this time, it had been at least thirty minutes since leaving the stadium, but I was relentless. This gift of being able to find lost diamonds was, I knew, part of my heritage.  Let me digress.

My great grandmother, Mina, also had the gift. While visiting a department store in New York City, she also lost the diamond from her ring. When she realized it was gone, she hunted and hunted for it with no success.

Mina was a very religious woman, so she left the store and went to a nearby church and prayed that she would locate the stone. She then returned to the store, and sure enough, her prayers had been answered. When she later discovered that the church was Episcopalian rather than Catholic, she commented that the denomination did not matter. God listened no matter what church you prayed in.

Back to my story. I returned to the bathroom and headed first to the sink where I had washed my hands. The room was empty by now, and I knew this was probably my last hope. I knew I had to look, but at the same time, I was afraid. Could I possibly be lucky a third time? Yes, I could, I reasoned, and I was correct. There, on the edge of the bowl of that sink of Williams Brice Stadium was my formerly lost diamond. Holy cow! I did it again. I was now three for three in locating lost diamonds, but this time, it had vanished in the biggest haystack yet! I grabbed the diamond, wrapped it ever so carefully in a tissue, and smugly exited the bathroom.

On the way back to the car, I told Dad we should buy a lottery ticket.

We All Lose Things- Part I

We all lose things, but one of my many talents is finding missing objects. My specialty is lost diamonds, right kids? In particular, I have located two different diamonds on three separate occasions. I have witnesses.

The first and second loss was the diamond from my first engagement ring. I was at home doing my favorite chore—laundry. I have been blessed with big fat knuckles, so the diamond is always twirling around my finger.

On the day of my initial loss, I felt an unusual sharpness on my ring finger. I gasped in horror when I saw that the diamond was missing from the setting. I began retracing my steps, convinced I could never locate such a tiny object (this is no reflection on the size of the diamond Dad chose.) I didn’t call him. I couldn’t call him. How could I possibly tell him?

I retraced my steps—family room, kitchen, laundry room. On hands and knees, and then ever so carefully, moving my fingers around my body, hoping to find the diamond on my clothes. But no luck. So now I was trying to decide how to tell Dad, and as I walked toward the phone, I felt an annoying lump in the high-topped boot on my foot.

“Could it possibly be my diamond,” I thought? Trying not to be too optimistic, I slowly removed my boot. I held my breath with a mixture of anticipation and dread. Oh happy day!  Hallelujah! I found it.

Now that I found it, I was able to tell your dad. We went to a local jewelry store and picked out a new setting for the formerly AWOL gem. Since the setting needed to be ordered, we brought the stone home, and I carefully placed it in an inconspicuous location. We were going away, and I knew that my jewelry box was not the place to put valuable jewels in case of a robbery. Everyone knows that.

As you all know, when we returned, I was unable to find the diamond. This time, it was really gone. I was devastated. Dad was so nice about it, and replaced it with another.

Years went by, and I scarcely thought of my dear old diamond, until one day, when Dad was on the treadmill. I had gotten behind in my laundry, which is so surprising since it is, as I mentioned previously, one of my favorite chores. I went to his dresser, and at the back, behind some whatnots, I pulled out a rolled-up pair of stretched-out old socks. And what do you think was inside? You guessed it—my original diamond, which has now become a beautiful necklace which I wear every day as a reminder of my carelessness and my everlasting love for Dad.