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.

Love,

Mom

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

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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

Twins

Twins were not unusual in our family. Both of my grandmothers had twins. Grandpa’s oldest sisters were twins as were Grandma’s youngest brothers. Grandma’s great Uncle Jim had twin boys, and her great Aunt Johanna had three set of twins. (Oy and Ouch!) As a Gemini, I was convinced history would repeat itself with me, but fortunately that did not happen. At one time, prior to having any children, I thought it would be fun. After the birth of one, I saw the light.

When my Grandma’s mother was expecting her boys—Uncle Bob and Uncle Don—their birth was a secret. Back in those days, I guess you just didn’t talk about those kind of things with your children. In fact, my grandmother did not prepare Grandma for growing up, so when she got her period, she was convinced she was dying.

Aunt Marian did not learn she had two more brothers until a neighbor informed her. Apparently it was very touch and go after they were born, and my grandmother almost died. She went into kidney failure and was given the last rites by a priest named Father William Palazzo. At the time, Aunt Marian did not know that she would one day marry the nephew of that priest.

Having twins during the Depression years was very difficult for my grandparents. They were very poor but too proud to accept money from anyone. Her friend Mae, who married a very successful businessman, gave my grandmother the gift of home delivery of milk, which was a present she could not refuse.

My twin uncles led parallel lives. They both were married in 1956, just seven weeks apart. They each had two boys and one girl born during the same years—1957, 1960, and 1963. Both Uncle Bob and Uncle Don even worked for the same company.

They did everything together, including having heart attacks at the same time. Uncle Don went first, going to St. Clare’s in Denville before being transferred to a hospital in Newark.  Uncle Bob awoke with chest pains after visiting his brother in Denville, and when he was admitted, some of the nurses believed Uncle Don had returned. Talk about being close!

My research has found no other twins in the family for sixty years, when the great-great granddaughter of Grandma’s Uncle Jim Carey gave birth to twin girls in 2006. Fraternal twins, which is what Grandpa’s sisters and Grandma’s brothers were, is a genetic trait, which is more likely to occur in women in their early thirties. So although it has not happened very often, I am just warning you all of this.

Uncle Don and Uncle Bob

Uncle Don and Uncle Bob

Fun Times Back Then

Growing up in a small town in the thirties and forties was a much simpler life than any of you or I ever experienced. Another postcard to Grandma asked what she did for fun as a child—her memories of games, entertainment, and thoughts about radio shows they listened to as a family. During the early years, there was no television—only shows on the radio.

Sorry to be late answering your cards and questions. The “what did you do for fun” question was: outside games such as hide and seek, tag, kick-the-can, and swimming in the park. Also, sleigh riding when there was a good snow. We went from the top of Liberty Street, crossed Boonton Avenue (there was someone watching for the occasional cars), and then went all the way to the post office. (Back then, girls, the post office was on William Street.)

Every once in a while we would go to the movies if we could rustle up 15 cents. A couple of Grandma’s brothers (her uncles) were generous. My father’s brothers would give us some change. We’d do good at Christmas when they would come for a visit.

I think when I was about ten or so, we got a ten-inch television. A store in town would let you “have it,” and if you liked it, you could pay it off—like $10 a month forever! Our living room would be like The State Theatre.

Milton Berle was a biggie and Ed Sullivan, too. (Girls, they were both variety shows beginning in 1948.) Saturday mornings were good for kids’ cartoons. I especially liked one called “Let’s Pretend.” They would act out fairy tales. My father would “listen” to a ball game weekends and fall asleep and we’d keep lowering the volume until we could shut it off. I don’t know if he caught on. (Sounds like Dad, right?)

This is all for now. My brain is fried.

               Love you.

               Mom

Grandma-Grade 6- 1939 Family Gets a Tv

Grandma-Grade 6- 1939
                 When Family Got a TV

It was such a different world. They made their own fun–playing with their friends and family and happy with the simplicity of it all. I’m not sure if they even owned a board game, but I will ask. Back then kids played outside until dark, went to school, and came home. Crime like we see too many times today just didn’t happen. Mothers sent their kids to school, to the movies, and church and never once did they worry that their children would not come home. There is something very envious about those days.

Grandma and Grandpa- Young Love

The postcards to Grandma were a great success; sadly I did not start sooner. Like Grandpa, her memories of both the past and present are erratic. I never know from one conversation to the next if they will be crisp or foggy. So today, I am concentrating on postcard #3 written on January 10, 2010—Grandma and Grandpa before their marriage.

1. How, where, and when did you and Dad meet?

Your father came into Norda Chemical looking for a job. I was the one who gave out      applications. He filled it out and I checked it and saw he had checked the wrong box for married, single status. Didn’t get that cleared up ‘til the summer company picnic when he asked me to dance and I asked him where his “wife” was. The following work day, he came into the office and asked for his application back and corrected his error.

 2. Where did you go on your dates?

We would go dancing at a place on Route 23. (He was a very good dancer), an occasional movie, or just sitting on the porch (Whoopee!).

 3. How long did you date until you got engaged?

We got engaged within a year at which time he was called back into service during the Korean War. He was stationed in Texas. Got married during one of his leaves and I went back with him.

 4.  Did Dad formally propose, and if so, tell me the details? Did he ask your father?

He did “ask my father for my hand in marriage” and I’m sure my father said, “Take the whole girl, not just her hand.” We drove back to Texas—a long boring ride. I was shocked I couldn’t get N.Y. stations—only cowboy music.

                                                                     This is all for this letter. To be continued.

                                                                       Love, Mom

Grandpa had already served in the army for a period of four years during World War II.  During the time of the Korean War, the Army began recalling members of the Inactive and Volunteer Reserves because they did not want to deplete all the Active Army personnel in case they were needed elsewhere in the world. This caused a lot of bitterness because many, like Grandpa, felt that they already served their country, but were recalled anyway.

Fortunately, they were back in New Jersey within five months. Grandpa told me once that there was a mistake in the paperwork—his name was misspelled—so he got out on a technicality. Was this really true? I’m not sure, but the funny thing is, his name was misspelled during his service during WW II (Wardmasky), but correctly during the Korean War (Wardamasky).  Did that added “a” really make a difference? Did he avoid being shipped overseas because of that small mistake? It’s an interesting thought to ponder.

Newlyweds in Killeen Texas- 1951

Newlyweds in Killeen Texas- 1951

In the Army again 1951

Grandpa in the Army again 1951

I Appreciate You

Okay, I admit it. I am a grandma, and I am loving the role. I was warned this would happen, but I didn’t completely believe it. This is not saying I was not excited for Kelly and Mark to become parents. Not at all! I still remember the longing I had to be a mom and the thrill each time I looked into each tiny set of eyes for the first time.

It’s just that the memories of my two grandmas were of old gray-haired women with sagging skin. I loved both of them, but neither was ever young to me. But I have the birthdays so I know their ages.  My Carey grandma was only sixty when I was born and my Russian grandma—Baba—was sixty-eight. Did they both seem so old because when you are very little, anyone older than twenty-five is ancient? Will all my grandchildren remember Dad and I as dinosaurs, or will they have any recollections of us as young and energetic (sort of) and fun to be with?

What makes it so enjoyable is the renewal of the profound love that I had (still have) when you were all so young, innocent, and totally dependent on us for everything. It was the excitement and joy that you all had for the smallest discovery because everything was new, that I am now seeing again. “Look, Grandma, a butterfly”, or “Look, Grandma, the clouds are moving!” You did that to me many years ago.

What I love, love, love is when our little guy sees me and says, “I’m so happy to see you, Grandma,” and then tightly wraps those tiny arms around my neck.

Today, when I put some lettuce in his hand, and he fearlessly held it up so a giraffe could grab it from his little hand with its slimy, two foot long tongue (I couldn’t even do it), he giggled with delight and said, “Again.” There was  a sparkle of wonder in his eyes that you all had when you were his age.

I thought back to last week when Dad and I took him to the park, and as we were returning home he said to us, “I had a nice day. It was fun.” He appreciated our little outing and somehow knew to tell us. It made us feel so good, particularly knowing that a two-year-old child does not lie yet.

This makes me wonder if my grandmother knew how much I appreciated her. Did I ever tell her? When she asked me to stay with her because she was lonely, and I got my own room at her house (a big deal since I was sharing my own bedroom at our house next door with my two sisters), did I ever tell her how much I loved staying there. Every morning before I left for school, she cooked me breakfast—scrambled eggs, toast, and tea. The eggs were runny, but I loved them and no one ever made me eggs like that. Did she know how I felt?

I know all of you gave Grandma those tight hugs and drippy kisses while you were little, and I am certain she knew how much you all loved her.  But there is not an expiration of date on the feeling of happiness when someone tells us we are appreciated. Sometimes, we don’t say those words of thanks to those we love. We may say we love them, but expressing the gratitude is important, too.

So go to the store and pick up a card, and then sit down and write her a note inside with a memory and words of thanks for being the amazing grandma that she is to you.  And then she will have that card to read and make her feel happy again and again.

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!