Treasure Those Moments


I hope that all of these stories are helping you learn about my past, as well as that of my grandparents and extended family, and to also remind you of your own childhood. This is the driving force behind Mommysmeanderings—enabling you to view how the world changed through the generations, beginning with The Lost Generation (my grandparents) through your generation, The Millenials.

Now that I have received digital access to my family’s home movies, I have hours of menu-jogging material to enable me to write more stories. I’d like to tell you more about Grandma’s mother—the woman who had the sleepovers with many of her thirty grandchildren.

My grandmother was sixty-years old when I was born, and now we have a movie taken on that particular birthday. When you view it, keep in mind that she was two years younger than I am now. Sixty was a lot older back in the fifties—at least that is what I keep telling myself on each birthday.

These older movies are wonderful treasures because they enable us to see so many of our now older or deceased relatives when they were either your ages or mine, laughing and joking and acting silly. They all had years ahead of them before time took its toll on them by adding those lines of wisdom and robbing them of their independence. It’s so sad, but at the same time, it makes me smile to watch their antics.

It was not unusual for a sixty year old to wear dentures at that time, and we can see from the video that someone (Uncle Rich I believe) removed her choppers after she licked the icing from his fingers. He was such a scoundrel, and she let him do it.

We see my grandmother waving a handful of paper money around, which I suspect could be those dollar bills which we traditionally tucked inside our birthday cards. It was my grandmother’s mother who always shook a card, saying that it must never be empty. We have all kept that tradition alive.

Her hair was still peppered with color, not the silver-white, tinted just the palest shade of blue by a rinse which was popular in her day that I remember. She always wore a housedress, and she was clearly enjoying herself as she danced with my uncles and laughed with my pregnant mother and aunt.

And now everyone in those movies is gone but my mother. Time moves so fast. Cherish those moments.

Grandma’s 60th Birthday- Part 1

Grandma’s 60th Birthday- Part 2

You Want to Eat What?

Now that I have small children in my life again, they are helping me dredge up old memories of your younger days.

Dad and I recently hosted a sleepover here with Bryce, and at dinner that night, we discussed breakfast options for the next day. When Dad offered to make French toast, Bryce seemed excited.

So the next morning when he awoke, he first announced that he would like to watch a show. That is very much like me since I don’t like to have any food immediately upon arising. Bryce still seemed happy with the idea of French toast, with a side of blueberries, so while he snuggled in our bed and watched Paw Patrol, Dad busied himself fixing breakfast. I was excited myself since I have not eaten French toast in years.

When we called him to the table, Bryce first ate all his blueberries and then just sat there. Apparently he had had a change of heart. As parents, we would have said, “Tough, tough creampuff. Eat your French toast,” but we are grandparents, so that is not what we said. Instead, we asked what he now wanted,and he stated that he wanted a turkey and cheese sandwich—deconstructed of course! Secretly, neither of us was  upset because, frankly,  the French toast looked great.

Dad looked at him strangely, but I was immediately reminded of Casey’s breakfasts back in the day. While Kelly and Jamie would typically have cereal or waffles, Casey loved to buck tradition just like her nephew. A typical Casey breakfast would be a tuna melt or perhaps a bowl of Progresso New England clam chowder.

Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with what she chose, but I just did not have the stomach for the odors of tuna or clam chowder at 7 o’clock in the morning. So in comparison, Bryce’s request was quite tame.

Daddy got right to work creating a beautiful “big plate.” In addition to the turkey and cheese, with a hamburger bun, Dad added some mac and cheese from dinner the previous evening. He tried to sneak in a pizza bagel, but Bryce was not interested. Obvi (as Casey would say), he takes after Aunt Casey with his breakfasts preferences, while Lily follows her aunt with her left-handedness.


This and That About Dad’s Family

It was recently pointed out to me that I have talked very little about Dad’s family, which is primarily because his history is more vague than mine regarding both sides of his family tree. So I will do my best to fill in a few blanks, beginning with what I was able to find with my ancestry-stalking skills. There are so many mysteries to your father’s family.

Dad’s grandparents were Misha  and Esther (born Jeska). According to their naturalization papers, Misha was born in Russia, while Esther was born in Poland, in cities which were approximately 3500 miles apart. How did they ever meet?

It is interesting to note that they arrived in New York in 1923 on the Berengaria, which (if you read my book), is the same ship that my father sailed on eight years later when his family emigrated to the Soviet Union.  (Cooincidence or foreshowing?) Misha and Esther’s last known residence was Berlin.

They headed to the Boston area, settling in the town where Misha’s mother had come just three months earlier, joining several of her siblings and possibly her mother (Dad’s great-great grandmother). Dad had no idea that he had so much family living in the Boston area. He only knew of his great aunt Sonia, whose daughter Miriam had come to our wedding. He has been surprised to learn that his great-great grandparents and a plethora of aunts, uncles, and cousins lived up there. As someone with a rather big family, most of whom I know, I think this is very fishy!

We always said that the hidden family was because we believed his father was part of the Witness Protection Program. My theory is that Dad’s family was separated from the Boston family because of the mysterious death of his great aunt Carol, whose body was never found after a fire in the house. The only problem with this suspicion is that the dates of her death don’t match with anyone’s move from Boston. Maybe her husband, Uncle Dan, talked in his sleep and said something to someone and word filtered down to Carol who had to be eliminated. (More on that another time.)

Back to Grandpa Misha….

In the old country, Dad’s grandfather had been a musician and his grandmother was an actress. Misha played a Russian string instrument known as a balalaika. Did they ever continue their life of show business here? No one is alive to tell the story. (Hmm… Lots of bodies in this family!)

For some reason, his grandparents, his great grandmother, and two of his grandfather’s brothers moved to New York sometime between the end of 1925 and August of 1927, when Dad’s father was born. Thank goodness for all of you, because I am confident that Dad and I would never have met had he grown up in Massachusetts. I guess it was just destiny.

Eventually, Grandpa Misha abandoned his musical career and moved into something more stable, beginning as an accountant and eventually working as a banker at Merchant’s Bank—the bank which morphed into Valley National Bank of which you are all stockholders.

Well, that’s it for now. There are many sad stories in the family, many of which are related to the Holocaust and Grandma Rita’s family. Stay tuned for more another day.

Can Grandma Jean Come?

Each day, I wonder what I will write to you next. Today, I decided to write a few birthday memories. I was going to discuss a few of your more awesome parties, but then I had a conversation with Bryce over lunch today. I first asked him what kind of cake he wanted for his birthday and he told me he wanted a cake with cars. That is easy. Then we moved onto the party. “Who is coming,” I asked him next, and he proceeded to mention the names of some friends, then “Mommy, Daddy, Gigi, Pops, Bampa, Grandma.” Then he stopped and said, “Grandma Jean. Can Grandma Jean come?”

I tried to explain that she lives far away and he said again, “Can Grandma Jean come?” When I said she wasn’t feeling well, he was satisfied with that explanation. Yet that simple request evoked so many emotions in me. I felt sad knowing Grandma would never be able to come to his house for any birthday, but at the same time, I was happy and so touched that he wanted her at his party. He has spent so little time with her, yet he had felt a connection. When I brought him home, I told Kelly to ask him who he wanted to come to his party, and he said it again–“Grandma Jean.”

He first met her when we flew up when he was just four months old and then again twice the following year for Jamie’s shower and wedding. Most recently we drove up last fall, and he spent time with her at the nursing home and Uncle Mart’s house. Each time, the interactions between the two of them has been limited. Grandma is quiet now while Bryce revels in lots of activity. I figured he would remember playing with Jamie’s cat, or running in the yard with Uncle Paul or going down the slide with Jamie at the park, but it was Grandma he mentioned ahead of any of them.

I worry about my relationships with any children that Jamie and Casey may one day have, so this made me feel better. Out of sight does not necessarily mean out of mind. I want him to remember my mom—his great grandmother. Maybe he will. This is another reason I am writing these stories.

Grandma Jean and Bryce- October 2015
    Grandma Jean and Bryce- October 2015

Afghans and Sock Monkeys

As I sat on my sofa catching up on “the show,” my head brushed against the blanket draped behind me. Despite being dressed in jeans and sneakers, I thought, “You are Grandma.” While my memories of Grandma’s mother never included pants of any sort, I do associate her with her daily stories. I particularly remember her being an avid fan of “As the World Turns.”

The blanket was one of the many afghans my grandma made. Mine is red, black, gray, and white. I can picture her sitting in her chair, as she adeptly maneuvered the crochet hook to turn a skein of yarn into a beautiful cozy afghan. I wonder how many she made, and how many of her children and grandchildren own one of her creations.

When I was shopping at Mast General Store, my eyes were draw to a monkey which was identical to one of Grandma’s creations. It was called a sock monkey. Maybe now that I am a grandma of almost two, I should learn how to make one.

You know about the sleepovers with the cousins, but that all ended when she sold the house and moved in with Aunt Marian and Uncle Tony in 1967. So while I remember those sleepovers and my room at her house, my more vivid memory is seeing her sitting in her chair in her room at the top of the back stairs in the house down the street rather than in the house next to ours.

She always had a smile on her face, but I don’t ever think of her as someone that took me for walks or got down on the floor to play with me, or read me stories or sing me songs. Will my grandchildren remember that I did this with them?

So I wonder what your strongest memories of Grandma and Grandpa are. Do you remember them playing with you or do you mostly recall them, particularly Grandpa, sitting in a chair in their living room. And girls, do you have any memories of Grandma Rita?

Grandma's Afghan
Grandma’s Afghan

This Rather Than That

So much of what happens to us is all about timing and seemingly insignificant decisions. An employee of Morgan Stanley left her office on the 67th floor of the World Trade Center to have a cigarette just moments before the first plane hit the towers. So she lived. A man from New York escaped death in a Paris café because he was unable to get a reservation for dinner there that night.

Kelly may never have met Mark if the University of Miami Admissions had not lost her application, resulting in her decision to become a Gamecock rather than a Hurricane. If I stayed at Douglass College, I would not have been working at Allied Chemical on that January day in 1977 when Dad asked me out on that first date.

My grandmother came to America in 1913. If she had come 3 ½ years later, her inability to read and write may have prevented her from boarding the ship to America. Congress passed an immigration bill in 1917, which required immigrants to pass a literacy test as one requirement to coming here. Anyone over the age of sixteen who could not read 30-40 words in their own language failed the test. Baba would have failed. This test restricted people because of their intellect as a way of preventing undesirables from immigrating to this country.

In 1920, thousands of Russians were arrested—3000-10000 on a single day—because the Attorney General feared they were communist revolutionaries. Some were deported. Many were guilty of nothing other than having Russian accents. Those raids concentrated primarily on individuals who were not yet U.S citizens.

If my grandfather had not met a man at a restaurant in New York City in 1913, who offered him a job in Rockaway, NJ, would he have been living in the city, where more of the arrests occurred? (Is this why I have been unable to find Grandpa’s family in the 1920 census? Were they afraid of being deported? Did they hide when the census taker came to their home?)

Dad’s grandparents never intended to come to America and settle in New York. His father’s parents’ final destination was Boston, and Grandma Rita’s parents’ plan was to continue on to Cleveland. For some reason, their plans changed, so Rita Schindler was able to meet Sam Bobrow in New York — close enough for me to meet Dad  twenty-five years later in New Jersey.

If Jamie had not lost her job here in South Carolina because of state-wide budget cuts, would she ever have met Geoff in New Jersey? So many accidents and acts of timing brought all these people together and caused some people to live rather than die. It really is quite mind boggling when you think about it.

To a Child- It’s an Amazing World!

We just returned from our trip to New Jersey to visit Grandma and Jamie. Everyone, including me, thought we were crazy for driving there with a two year old for only the weekend. But he was a good traveler and led us in songs which helped when the radio reception was poor in the mountains. He taught us that Old MacDonald had a lot more than just cows, horses and ducks on that farm. We learned he had a monkey, elephant, and train (“with a choo-choo here and a choo-choo there”). I think he may have a career as a DJ, and he definitely has a mind of his own. If he says his farm has an elephant, then by golly, there is just no arguing with that boy!

He notices everything. When we passed a farm, he provided us with a narration of what animals he saw. He enabled us to look at life through his tiny viewfinder. Every empty green pasture was a golf course to him. He commented on the trucks and cars we passed, and when he saw a yellow leave fluttering to the ground he said, “Look! It’s a butterfly.” I suppose all children are this observant. After all, the whole world is an empty canvas to them. Grandma’s first comment upon seeing Kelly shortly after her birth was that her eyes were open and staring at everything around her. This made me wonder if I had made a similar comment after Bryce was born, so I looked for the evidence.

I made a huge commitment when Bryce was born, which is going to haunt me for the next twenty years. I decided to write a journal, which I began while we were all waiting at the hospital for him to be born. My intent is that I will give it to him (and now all subsequent grandchildren) when they graduate high school. So I peeked back on that first day nearly three years ago to see what Bryce’s first day was like.

We arrived early in the day, but Bryce apparently had plans of his own regarding the date of his birth. Here are a few excerpts from that very long day.

We are sitting in the waiting room with Gigi and Granddaddy and eleven other grandparents also anxiously awaiting the births of their children’s babies. It is a cool, rainy day here in Charleston—not at all like the bright sunny day earlier this week when your mom and I took the last walk on Folly Beach. The sky was bright blue that day and the sun was so brilliant, but there were very few people around.

Many hours and several trips to the cafeteria passed.

…It’s almost 9:30 now. Aunt Casey had to leave. We moved the cars because they are locking all the doors in the hospital except for the Emergency Room.

…The waiting room has cleared out. All the other parents waiting with us became grandparents. They visited the new babies and went out in the rain to get take-out for the new moms and dads. Where are you Bryce?

…T-minus 15 minutes until midnight. I guess your birthday is going to be February 8th. We are not happy and the waiting room is very cold.

None of the four of us grandparents-to-be would leave no matter how long it would take. We were in it for the duration.

It’s tomorrow. Grandpa is on his third nap, Granddad is yawning, and Gigi is playing on her IPAD. (You probably don’t know what that is.) I wonder what your world is like.

…The hospital is quiet. The cleaning staff is mopping the floors, and we are still waiting. Your poor mom must be exhausted.

Kelly, you did not realize that this was just the beginning of how much energy your son would sap from you as he grows and becomes more active and full of endless energy.

Finally! We got called to the nursery to watch you get weighed and measured. … What a cutie—and so alert. You looked around the room taking in your new world. Welcome!

So there you go, Kelly. Your son was just like you—full of wonder of his new world. I think all new babies are like our little man. Everything is amazing to him and he loves sharing his excitement. Why do we have to lose that wonder?

Mommy and Daddy Take a Break

When you were little, we had our regular babysitters who watched you when Dad and I went out on a big date. When we lived in New York, your sitter was our neighbor Ann Marie, who Kelly referred to as “Ann Me,” and her younger sister, “what’s her name.” Grandma came up frequently, because it was her goal not to be a stranger despite the distance. I loved that she did it, but have to laugh knowing that she had to travel a mere 65 miles, while Mark’s parents travel 700 miles to visit their grandson quite often. But it was still a big deal and I loved her for doing it.

After we moved to the center of the universe, I did rely on them more often, but we also had a supply of regular sitters. I made sure we had great snacks and paid them well so they rarely said no. Going out was an extravagance for us then, but it was nice to have someone fun and reliable to watch you.

It was extremely rare that we ever went on vacation without all of you. In fact, I recall only one time, which was in March 1989 when we went to the Bahamas. Grandma and Grandpa moved in for a few days and let us have that time alone. I recently found the two pages of instructions I left them to survive those few days. You’re going to love it. You would think they were the parents of only one rather than a brood of five.

I learned that Jamie loved a breakfast of oatmeal with raisins, Kix, Lucky Charms (so unhealthy, I know) or waffles. Kelly was not so picky. She’d eat “whatever.”

Those were the “soup and a cheese sandwich” days. The soup was Progresso vegetable soup. I shared my vey secret sandwich recipe with Grandma: toast the bread, and melt the cheese in the microwave. Never did I cook this on the stovetop in a frying pan. No siree! Nothing but the best for my girls.

Jamie still napped, settling down at 1:00. She was very needy, requiring her music box, a sip of water, and cuddling. (all this for a nap!)

At bedtime Kelly slept with three nightlights, but Jamie was braver, needing nothing but the nightlight on her Big Bird lamp if she awoke during the night for some cuddling and a sip of water.

Looking back, I bet Grandma and Grandpa ignore my rules. They probably served an Entenmann’s coffee cake for breakfast, egg salad for lunch, and some of Grandma’s famous brownies as an afternoon snack. No peanut butter apples served by that grandma. She loved making sweet treats for her babies, and I bet you will always remember Grandma’s icing-topped brownies, specially made with the help of her friends, Betty or Dunkin.

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.