Home on Leave

I have been browsing through some photo albums belonging to Grandma dating back beginning in 1946 and ending in 1952, which was the year after her marriage to Grandpa. Many I have shared with you already. Today I have a few more focused primarily on Uncle Rich.

Uncle Rich was just fourteen when the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor occurred. With his older brother Larry already in the Army and the war not ending in the foreseeable future, he decided to take control of his destiny. So three months before his eighteenth birthday, he enlisted in the Navy. Because he was underage, my grandmother had to sign papers to allow him to enter the service. He knew if he waited to be drafted, he would end up in the Army, which was not what he wanted. My grandmother was not a happy camper having to sign these papers permitting him to enlist at such a young age, but they knew it was inevitable, and he wanted to go on his terms.

He was stationed in the Caribbean. One day, my grandmother received a letter from him, explaining that he had been swimming off the side of his ship. He assured her that she should not worry about shark attacks, because one of his shipmates was standing guard with a machine gun ready to protect him. My grandmother was not amused, but this was typical of Uncle Rich’s sense of humor.

While the war ended in the fall of 1945, he was not discharged until a later date. Below are two photos taken during his leave home from Puerto dated January 22, 1946, which was Grandma’s seventeenth birthday. What a nice way to spend her birthday!

Uncle Rich and Papa

Uncle Rich and my grandpa- “Papa”

Uncle Rich- 1-22-1946

Uncle Rich- 1-22-1946

Another Farewell

Yesterday was a sad day for our family as news spread of the passing of Uncle Bob, so once again, our family will gather to say goodbye to another one of us. He leaves behind three children, nine grandchildren, two great grandchildren, and a very devoted wife—Aunt Peggy, the other half of that dynamic duo. In just five months, they would have been married for sixty years. That number alone speaks volumes, so this will be most difficult for her. Everyone else will leave his funeral to return to their husbands, wives, and children. She now has to face an empty home and figure out what happens next.

bob and peg carey

For Grandma, she is now the last one standing in her family. Since the death of her brother, Larry, eighteen years ago, she has had to sit through the final farewell ceremonies of her mother, father, three brothers, her sister, one niece, one nephew and two great-grand nephews. Now it will be her brother, 4 ½ years her junior.

That is the price of her longevity—watching one by one as her family and friends go before her. The flip side is the joy of watching all of her children become parents and her granddaughter becoming a mother. Like Uncle Bob, she has proudly witnessed her grandchildren become college graduates. This is a particular point of joy since both of them grew up in an era when it was common to have parents who did not even graduate high school.

So now we will all gather and remember Uncle Bob and share our memories of him. Many of us recall going to the Firemen’s Fair when Uncle Bob manned the nickel tent. That’s where you threw nickels onto Boontonware plates, the prize being a dish or a plate that you could take home to place in your kitchen cabinet. We would hand Uncle Bob a quarter, and he would hand us back a dollar’s worth of nickels.

As I mentioned before, Uncle Bob’s house was where I first saw the Wizard of Oz in color. Those were the days when a color TV in your house was a luxury more than the norm.

He and his twin, Uncle Don, were always full of the devil. They did everything together, including having heart attacks within days of each other. Talk about competing for attention in the family! I remember both of them as always having a story to tell, and a smile on their faces. I remember Uncle Bob, with a sly grin on his face, questioning my cousin Nancy for details of her honeymoon. He loved being a tease.

Bob and Don-Construction

And I remember his hugs. He sure knew how to give great big loving bear hugs! That is my last memory of him. Dad and I stopped by his house, we chatted for a while about this and that, and then when it was time to leave, I got the hug. I will miss that smile and always remember the hugs.

Robert (Bob) Carey

Those Damn Old Winters

Fear and discomfort. That is why I instituted my policy to avoid traveling north during the winter. Love, appreciation and guilt are the reasons I have broken that policy at least three times. Every time I have traveled to New Jersey between December and March, there is at least one nasty snowstorm. Last year, during a one week period, there were three winter weather events.

Last night I proved to myself that I still remembered how to drive on icy roads, but I was so frightened. It is just not the same as it was, because when we lived here, I was always traveling on familiar roads in a car I knew well. This time, I set out in the dark in Aunt Ar’s car. The thermometer  was reading no higher than nineteen degrees, and pellets of frozen rain  were bouncing off her car. By now I knew the route, which was an improvement over the first time I traveled the streets in a rental car. I can do this, I thought to myself.

After cleaning off the snow from the windows and hood, I set out on my journey, cautiously driving down the icy hills while remembering to downshift so I could avoid using the brake. I was gaining more confidence until I saw the flashing blue lights ahead coming from two different directions.

When I came upon the barricades on the road—my road back to Aunt Ar’s—I began to panic. I stopped the car, gathered my wits and headed back to town, seeking a place to park so I could call Aunt Ar for help. She had no answer readily available, so I set out for the police station. What a waste of precious time! The young woman at the desk insisted there was no roadblock along my route. “You must have taken a wrong turn. There are no reported incidents on your road. Use your GPS.” Thank goodness I left the hospital with a fully charged phone! I explained to her that I was lost and unfamiliar with the territory, but she had no sympathy.

I doubted her words but nevertheless thought she knew better, so I followed the voice on my GPS—my new best friend Siri—who directed me right back to the barricaded road. Aha! What a rude nasty bitch, I thought.

So now my life was in Siri’s hands. I followed her calm reassuring voice over the unlit icy country roads. “Turn right, turn left, now drive for seven miles,” she directed me.

I found myself talking out loud to her. “Siri, don’t get me lost. I am afraid. I am trusting you to get me back. Don’t let me down like the bitch at the police station.”

Finally, at the end of those seven miles I was back on the familiar road and continued ever so slowly, ignoring the lights of the cars behind me urging me to drive faster. But I would not, because although the temperature had begun to rise, it was still an uncivilized nineteen degrees. I am in no rush. I am not ending this very long day upside down in a ditch at the side of the road..

Up ahead I saw the lights of McDonald’s and Shop Rite. I was almost there. I turned onto the last stretch of the ice-covered pavement to the finish line, and with a great sigh of relief, reached my destination.

I walked into the house announcing, “I need a glass wine.”

And that, girls, is why I have instituted my winter travel policy. But I could not say no to Aunt Ar last year when she asked me to come in early March, which was when I had two snowstorms and one ice storm. It is the guilt and appreciation for all she does that does not let me refuse, tied in with love for Grandma.

Grandma’s mantra is “I hate kids,” while mine is “I really, really hate winter!”

You’re in Trouble- With a Capital “T”

We are all governed by rules and consequences beginning at a very young age. I recall Grandma’s classic punishment was making us go to bed after supper, which meant no going outside to play and no television–just straight to your room. However, her sentence was not to be administered on the day of the wrongdoing. The way Grandma did it was to tell us, “Tomorrow you are going to bed after supper.” Her thought process was that by making us think about it for more than twenty-four hours, we would feel more miserable than if it was over immediately. It was like pulling the Band-Aid off slowly rather than ripping it off quickly. Not that this ever happened to me. Oh no, never me! I’m pretty sure it happened to Uncle Mart, Aunt Ar, and Uncle Dave many, many times.

What punishments do the three of you remember? As I recall, the sanctions doled out in our house involved being sent to your rooms, being deprived TV or computer time, and the worst–losing your possessions. A classic tale was when Casey was being bad, and I was upstairs with her in her room, which overlooked the backyard. Dad was sitting in his chair in the family room watching television when suddenly, he looked up just in time to see Casey’s Barbie car being hurled out her window to fall with a crash onto the deck. Of course the car was broken so the punishment lasted longer than I intended, but Casey did stop her bad behavior after her tears subsided.

For Jamie, it took more than just the removal of a single toy. I am not sure what she did, but I know you all remember how Dad began removing the toys from her room. One by one he began moving them out of her room into ours, but still the yelling and misbehavior continued. She would not stop, so Dad continued to relocate her toys. It was not until he picked up her desk chair and began walking out of the room with it that she screamed in despair, “Not my chair!” and then said, “I’ll be good, I’ll be good!”

Bryce learned to count to twenty very early on, because his punishment for misbehaving has been to be put in a corner for “time out.” One of his parents would count to ten, and then as he got older, to twenty, before he could leave. Now with baby “Jane Doe” (still no name yet) set to arrive in two months, we are all holding our breath waiting to see how he reacts to sharing the spotlight. Will he spit in her eye as Aunt Ar did to Aunt Ellen, will he hit her like Kelly did to Jamie, or will he tell her, like he says to Dad or me, “I’m so happy to see you, Jane Doe?” Somehow, I doubt it will be the last scenario. I am expecting that Bryce will be learning to count to a much higher number until he realizes the new guest will be there to stay.

Jersey Bound

One hundred and two years ago this week, my Russian grandma was at a train station in Libau, Latvia, a small port city on the Baltic Sea. She was waiting to board a passenger/cargo steamship with her brother-in-law Mark to join my grandfather in New York. They had not seen each other for many years.

Travel during that time was unpleasant. My grandmother, who we all called Baba, and great Uncle Mark, stayed in separate quarters between the lower deck and cargo area. The beds were narrow and dirty, and there was little air, hear, or light in that part of the ship. Seasickness was a common result of the rough seas and awful food.

We have all experienced seasickness on luxury cruises, so can you imagine what this must have been like for them? My grandmother was only twenty-seven when she left, and Grandpa’s uncle was a year older. I have a very hard time wrapping my head around what they did at such young ages. They couldn’t pick up a phone to “check in” with their parents or send them a quick text to let them know they were safe. There was no communication.

At that time of the year, the weather was raw and windy, since they were traveling along a northerly route . They stopped first in Copenhagen, Denmark, then Halifax, Nova Scotia before finally disembarking in New York on November 25, 1913, two weeks after first setting sail.

Their ship docked in New York Harbor where the first and second class passenger disembarked after a very brief medical inspection. Steerage passengers, which was what third-class passengers were called, boarded a ferry to Ellis Island. You all went there in fifth grade, so now you know that your great grandmother came through that building.

On Ellis Island, they waited for many hours for a brief medical exam and then some inspectors asked them a series of questions such as their nationality, previous addresses, the name of the closest relative “in the country whence the alien came”, and whether they had a final destination, sponsor, and enough money for their travel.

They had twenty-five dollars between the two of them, which turns out was not such a small amount back then. It is roughly equivalent to six hundred dollars today. The tickets and money were sent to them by my grandfather, who had been in this country since July, after traveling there from Argentina where he had been working for many years on a farm.

My grandfather met them at Ellis Island after all the inspections were complete. They took another ferry across the harbor to a train into New York City where they stayed a short time.

By the time my grandparents were reunited, my grandfather had a job in Dover, New Jersey working in a company called the “Ulster Iron Works. They lived in nearby Rockaway, renting a place for four years before moving into their own home.

So that is how the Russian side of our family ended up in northern New Jersey.

My Russian Grandpa

My Russian Grandpa

My Grandmother- Baba

My Grandmother- Baba

Road Trip with the Wee Ones

Road trips with children today are as easy as plugging them into a DVD where they can watch their favorite movies for hours. An alternative or additional form of entertainment is the IPAD, which enables the kiddies to play a plethora of games. As you all recall, this is not what we did.

When you were 10, 8 and 5, we embarked on the trip to Memphis where Daddy was working at the time.  With a lot of careful planning, our travels were quite fun and not at all the disaster I envisioned.

I purchased several organizers with multiple pockets which we filled with games, maps, books, and snacks. We had several cassette players so that you could listen to music and books on tape. I recall that Kelly recorded herself reading a few of Casey’s favorite books that were not available at the library or bookstore.

We made bingo boards so that you could see who could get three-in-a-row of items such as cows, churches, horses, bridges, and signs viewed outside the window of our minivan.

I printed up pages and pages of maps, which I filled with colored shapes placed stategically throughout the maps, so that when one of you said, “Are we there yet?” I could answer that we were at the yellow triangle on page two (of at least fifteen) or the red square on page eight. Those maps worked quite well in enabling you to get a picture of exactly where we were and stopped those pesky questions.

Then there were the competition games like the Alphabet Game, which required each person to go from A to Z by locating each letter of the alphabet on a sign, building or license plate. The only rule was that no two people could use their letter on the same sign as another.

We also played a name game, in which one person would say a name, such as Mickey Mouse, and the next person would take the last letter of the name (“E” in this case)  and have to use that letter as the first letter of a new name. So Mickey MousE could become Eddie MunsteR, who could become Richard NixoN, and so on.

“Who am I” was a guessing game of twenty questions where each person would ask a yes or no question until one of us guessed who their person was. (“Am I a boy?”, “Am I a cartoon character?” “Am I younger than twenty?”)

We would play our games until tired or bored and then move onto individual quiet time for listening to our music or reading/listening to books.  You know my favorite was, and still is, the License Plate Game. You have all stopped playing that game long ago while I continue playing it today—everyday. I have two APPS on my phone so that I can find all 50 states in any order while simultaneously looking for them all in alphabetical order. You know that is definitely a subject for my eulogy someday, so someone should always know what states I am currently seeking. (You can  check my phone for that anytime!)

Our trip was broken up by our visit to Washington, DC, Dollywood, and the Great Smoky Mountain Park. We met Dad along the way after our tour of DC, and I believe the Dollywood and the Smoky Mountains were on the return trip.

I am imagining this adventure gave Grandma and Grandpa some uneasiness like it would if any of you embarked on a similar journey with your children. Thankfully I did have a cell phone, but it wasn’t at all smart. Still, despite its inability to do anything but place a phone call, I was able to call for directions when we got hopelessly lost on Capitol Hill.

You were all very good travelers, but I am definitely patting myself on the back for all the genius planning that made it such a success! Now I am ready to take that road trip to California!

Part of Your World

You all loved watching The Little Mermaid and saw the video over and over and over. One Halloween, Jamie asked to be Ariel, so out came my beloved sewing machine so I could make the costume for her. She even had red hair in a can.

I remember the three of you and Carly dancing and twirling and belting out the tunes in our living room. Clearly you were all fans.

I wanna be where the people are
I wanna see, wanna see them dancing’
Walking around on those – what do you call ’em?
Oh – feet!

Now let me change the subject to a related one—vacations at the Jersey Shore. For several summers, prior to medical wastes washing up on the beaches (relocating our vacations to the South Carolina beaches), we rented that great beach house on Long Beach Island owned by Mona from Verona.

I am not certain of the exact time, but at least one year was 1995, because I distinctly recall the O.J. Simpson trial being broadcast. Most of our days were spent lounging on the beach, burying each other in the sand and swimming in the ocean.

There is no question that you all remember the story I am about to tell you, but this will be news to your children, who I hope will one day be familiar with The Little Mermaid. What I believe happened was that Aunt El and Uncle Jim were on the beach with the kids. A man nearby was busily creating a sand mermaid. When he spoke, his very deep voice sparked a certain familiarity with Aunt El. In Aunt Ellen style, she told Uncle Jim that he must speak with him. Uncle Jim clearly loves her, because he did it. He said something to the effect, “My wife thinks you are a crab.”  The man responded, “I am.”

It turned out the man was Sam Wright, who was the voice of Sebastian the crab in The Little Mermaid movie (Incidentally, girls, Mr. Wright was born in nearby Camden, South Carolina). He very graciously gave each child a personalized  autographed picture of himself. Maybe that was the beginning of Jamie’s hobby of meeting celebrities.

Mermaid 1        Mermaid 2