Working 9-5 and More

About four years ago, I asked Grandma to tell me some of her memories growing up in Boonton, but she struggled recalling any stories. So I got some post cards and began to send them to her with some very specific questions. Here follows my questions and her responses from one card.

1. How old were you when you had your first job?

I was 14 or 15 when I got my first job—on Main Street working for a lawyer. I did filing and didn’t like the job or the lawyer. He passed a comment one day that he didn’t like my make-up. In my youthful spunk I told him I didn’t wear it for him. He said, “I like you kid. You have spunk.” (Sounds like Ed Asner, huh?*)

 2. Did you contribute any money to your family?

I don’t know if I contributed at home. I did later in my “career.” **

3. What kinds of jobs did your father have?

My father worked at Norda as a chemical something or other. He had been a rug or linoleum installer previously.

4. Describe typical meals your mother made.

Don’t remember much of what my mother cooked. There was always dessert after school. Don’t know how she did it on limited funds. Never remember being hungry. I guess there was a lot of macaroni and cheese. No take out ever.

 Then she added another random happy family activity:

We used to have back scratching sessions. We’d line up on the couch for that.

*Ed Asner was an actor on the Mary Tyler Moore Show. I know you girls did not watch this show, but it is an American classic. Check it out sometime!

**Grandma told me this story at a later date. I will only tell you now that when her father lost his job also working at Norda, Grandma contributed her entire week’s pay of $72 to her family and said she was happy to be supporting them. (They were horrible employers. If you read my first book, you already know, but if not, stay tuned for another episode.)

Grandma- Looking snazzy!

Grandma- Looking snazzy!


Bumping Into History

Throughout his life, Grandpa was always bumping into history, which is why learning about him has helped me learn world history.

I learned about the Great Depression from reading about what it was like living in New Jersey at that time. We all heard his assassination story, so I researched both the man who was assassinated in Leningrad in 1934 and his killer.

His first steps on United States soil after having been away for ten years was on June 22, 1941, which was the day German forces invaded the Soviet Union.  He was finally on his way home. The rest of his family was still located in the USSR, so I learned  that battle was called Operation Barbarossa.

Grandpa’s story never wavered about speaking to a US Intelligence officer that June day, who approached him when he left the ship in Honolulu. That’s the story about Grandpa knowing about the attack on Pearl Harbor. Was it actually possible that he knew?

In 1956, he was visited by the FBI after he refused to speak at the local Lions Club meeting about his experiences living in the Soviet Union.  That was the time when Americans lived in fear of Communists—precipitated by Joseph McCarthy’s own reign of terror and the explosion of the first atomic bomb by the Soviets.  Grandma said his name was Callahan. Here history was literally knocking at his door.

I have tried, and thus far been unsuccessful, in obtaining his FBI file. I once sat next to an FBI agent on an airplane who encouraged me to be persistent, stating that “if the FBI came to your house, and your father had family living in the Soviet Union at that time, then an FBI file does exist.” I tried again this past week through a different agency—the National Archive at George Washington University.

It is not surprising that my parents’ basement was filled with newspapers about historical events such as the assassination of both Kennedy’s, the first walk on the moon, and the resignation of Nixon. Now they are in my attic in a special box, meant for the teacher in the family or anyone who wants to see them.  It was also not surprising that Grandpa died on the anniversary of a date of historical significance—a date when the world changed and a large part of this country also died.

He died on September 11, 2008.  Grandpa was the first person who called and told me to turn on the television that bright sunny day fourteen years ago when I was pulling up weeds around our pool.  I didn’t believe what he was telling me, but I nevertheless followed his instructions and was horrified when I turned on the television to see smoke pouring from those beautiful buildings we had visited and had seen viewed from the hills of Boonton. (Incidentally, my first visit to the Twin Towers was with Grandpa, when his cousin Misha visited from Russia.)

So every year on this date, I reflect back on Grandpa’s difficult life, recall how often he bumped into history, and then sadly remember all those others who lost their lives on that day.

Grandpa: Something’s Burning

Today’s post is inspired by three guest contributors—Aunt Ar, Aunt El, and Dad. We all have memories related to Grandpa and his passion for Allied Chemical and setting things on fire. He was constantly discussing Allied happenings while bragging about being unaffected by all the chemicals he was exposed to over the years. I guess he thought he was like Superman, but in the end, he wasn’t.

One day, he brought us all out in the backyard for a lesson involving matches, fire extinguishers, and a garbage can lids. As I explained in Motor Vehicle Musings, the purpose of the lid was not just to demonstrate how to pass the automobile emissions test or to contain unpleasant odors. To Grandpa, this cover also served as excellent receptacle for an impressively grand fire whereby he could instruct us on the proper method to use a fire extinguisher.

While this happened long ago, knowing Grandpa, I am fairly certain that gasoline was used to start that fire. Once the flames had erupted, he pulled the pin, squeezed a trigger, and began to empty the canister of its powdery white contents. This lesson was definitely more entertaining than learning how to iron a shirt or change a diaper—lessons I learned from Grandma.

Grandpa also had a unique approach to lighting the charcoal grill when lighter fluid was unavailable. Dad remembers that Grandpa explained to him that he could use gasoline as a substitute accelerant. Grandpa stood back about three feet from the grill, tossed in match or two, and KA-BOOM, the flames shot high into the sky.

Aunt Ellen recalled a classic Grandpa moment which occurred on her birthday. After cooking the burgers, “I believe he turned up the flame with the lid down to burn off the stuck food maybe, and when he opened it up, there was a flash in his face and his eyebrows were burnt. He looked stunned and Mart said, “Hey Dad, do you want me to throw you in the pool?” That was so Grandpa and so Uncle Mart. I can just picture the moment.

For Aunt Arlene, her Grandpa “fire memory” involved music. “One time this song played on the radio. When we sang ‘Something’s Burning’, Dad said ‘what, what?’ From then on, whenever the song played, we sang, ‘something’s burning what, what’.

I suppose Grandpa heard them singing the song and thought they were warning him of a fire somewhere, so now they associate that song with him.

Oh, Dad! I miss you!