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

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Eulogize While Alive

I know I talk too much about my thoughts about funerals, particularly mine. Today, I am floating an idea of eulogizing while alive. The idea developed when Margaret got very sick, so I decided to write her a letter highlighting our twenty-year friendship. I would have preferred to write that letter the old-fashioned way—handwritten, not typed, and snail-mailed to New Jersey. However, when I decided to do this she was already in hospice, so I worried it would not arrive in time. I emailed it to our friend Patty, had her print it out, and hand deliver it. Thankfully, the letter arrived with just over a week to spare.

Rereading it today, I see that while it covered all the major events of our friendship—beginning with our meeting at the preschool down the street through my sadness at what was happening to her—I tried to keep it light-hearted. I wanted to put a smile on her face, if only for a moment.

That letter got me started on many other letters—the thought being that you just don’t always know when the end will come to a friend or a loved-one, so I wanted to pass on my feelings while I could. Why should the best compliments and stories be given at a funeral when the recipient is never around to hear those lovely thoughts and funny anecdotes?

The following year, I began my “living eulogy letters,” and I believe I wrote around thirty. Since then, I wrote a few each year, mostly coinciding with someone’s birthday. I have not written one in a while, but was reminded that it was time to get back to work by Mark. He called me the other day to thank me for inspiring him to write a letter like the one I wrote to Margaret. This was to the priest from New Orleans who married him and Kelly, and sadly, “Father Fitz” passed away a few days ago.

Maybe I can inspire all of you to write a few living eulogy letters. Call them memory letters if you prefer. I guarantee the recipient will cherish your words.  (But they probably won’t tell you.) As I have mentioned on more than one occasion, I would happily love a memory letter over a gift for my birthday or Christmas any time. I have received two so far. You know who you are! So get to work.

Just One Sentence

As you have noticed, over the years I have saved a lot of my memories. That is why I loved the idea of creating those memory boxes for the three of you. I have the photos, letters you wrote to each other and Dad and me when you were younger, my high school/college scrapbook, and the photo album Grandma made for me. Additionally, I saved the letters she wrote to me several years ago in response to the memory-jogging postcards I sent to her. What I don’t have, however, are any letters from Grandpa.

I learned from my trip to the National Archives that he was quite the letter writer in his youth—writing letters to his commanding officer, ambassadors at the State Department, and even, it seems, the Secretary of State. Did President Roosevelt hear of the plight of Grandpa’s family? I tried looking for evidence of that at the Library of Congress but came back empty-handed.  Could those letters, if they exist, be stored at FDR’s presidential library in Hyde Park, New York?

I guess he exhausted that part of his life when he became a father. Did he and Grandma write letters to each other when he was stationed at Fort Hood, Texas before they got married? I wonder. I will have to ask her about that when I talk to her.

I have only one very small note that Grandpa wrote to me—just one single run-on sentence that he wrote on my graduation card from high school. I wish I had more, but at least I have something.

Note From Dad

 

First Christmas in First Home

In October of 1980 we moved across and up the Hudson River to our home in New York. That was now our third Christmas as a married couple, and possibly our last year with a live Christmas tree. There was a small garden center not far from our house in Yorktown Heights, which is where I dragged Dad off to get our tree. I believe that by now he was into the holiday spirit and better skilled at maneuvering the tree into the stand. This was probably because he knew by then to not only look at the shape of the tree but also to consider the size of the trunk as well.

The afternoon when we went to purchase the tree was cold—typical of Decembers in New York at that time. As we were strolling through the rows of trees and listening to Christmas carols blaring from a speaker, I remember thinking how perfect it all felt. But it was not perfect until, like in the movies, it began to snow. Christmas trees, music and snow. It was great.

Since we had been in our house just over two months, we had not met many of our neighbors, so when the couple in the house next to ours invited us over for drinks, we enthusiastically accepted. We were going to Grandma and Grandpa’s house the next day and had not begun the Christmas Eve hors d’oeuvres tradition yet. We were flexible. We planned to have a nice roast pork dinner after our cocktails at the neighbors’ house, which we thought would be fine in the oven for the short time we would be visiting them.

Little did we know that our new friends were very heavy-handed when pouring the drinks. We were both drinking screw drivers, and apparently when they would freshen up our glasses, they only added the vodka, not the juice.

That was the most drunk I ever got, complete with the bed spins. Our arrival home was greeted by the aroma of pork cooking in the oven, which is not a welcoming smell when you are three sheets to the wind. I am not certain if we even ate much that night since we both felt so awful.

We learned later that those neighbors were nicknamed “the stabbers” by the other neighbors after an incident when they got into an argument, she stabbed him, and the police somehow arrested her! But that is secondary to my story.

The next morning was a very cold, snowy, and windy Christmas Day. Naturally, it was a very scary drive over the Tappan Zee Bridge when you are hungover, and Dad had to hold onto the wheel quite tightly in order to maintain his lane on the snow-covered roadway.

Of course you know we made it safely to Boonton and enjoyed the holiday there and dessert with the cousins. Aunt Ar and Uncle Paul had gotten married that year, so we spent the night at their apartment. That cold night was when Dad ran out of gas (my opinion) or was it that the gas tank froze (Dad’s opinion). I have done some research and read that it is possible for gas to freeze if the temperature is low enough (it was -8 degrees) and the tank is at ¼ tank or less. So if Dad is correct, then can we now pinpoint 1980 as the year he instituted the policy of never letting the tank in the car get too low?

 

 

Christmas Just Keeps Changing

I admit my memory is just not as sharp as it used to be. I like to think it’s because there is too much information clogging my brain and sometimes the auto clean-up throws away unused thoughts to make room for new information. I don’t get to choose which ones end up in the trash.

Since Christmas is such a big part of our lives, I just cannot remember every single one. So I am going to do the best at recalling what happened after the second change in our celebration of this favorite holiday of so many. (See Evolution of a Holiday) Anyone from the family who reads this is welcome to chime in with their own thoughts.

After the family got too large and it became too difficult bundling up all the small children and babies to visit each other, the adults decided it was time to dial it down. Somewhere during the early sixties, Uncle Rich’s family moved to Illinois for a few years, so they were easily “dumped” from the holiday visitation schedule. That left four families, and I am wondering if Grandma’s brothers just did their own thing and maybe celebrated with their wives’ families. So the main celebration  for us became just two families—us and Aunt Marian’s family.

I have vague memories visiting Aunt Marian and Uncle Tony’s house in Boonton Township, who, like us, fell victim to the tacky aluminum Christmas tree. These trees were modern, very trendy, and easily stored. There was no worry about the need to constantly keep them watered, and they had the very cool ability to change colors thanks to a revolving color wheel placed near the foot of the tree. Charlie Brown did not approve! If you are interested, they can still be purchased on Amazon or Ebay.

After Aunt Marian moved two blocks down the street from us with my grandmother in 1967, I remember visiting that house at Christmas. The silver tree was gone in both homes, eventually replaced by the more realistic-looking artificial green tree.

Sometime in the seventies, we began going to my cousin Nancy’s house for dessert after we opened our presents and had our early dinner of some kind of pasta—lasagna or baked ziti. We never did a turkey or ham, probably because all five of us would eat Italian food and Grandma could make it ahead of time.

There was always a ton of Christmas cookies, which is a tradition that I continued for years. Now I usually resort to something like Pillsbury slice and bake chocolate chip cookies, which frankly taste as good as my own, but I admit that does not come close to the variety and volume of my past. (I have been considering baking M&M cookies with Bryce this year.)

We probably moved the party to Nancy’s house as her family began to grow and it was a lot easier for her than packing up all of her children. Still, with thirteen children between the two families, and now marriages and another generation of children being born, it was inevitable that another change would evolve once again.

When this photo was taken in 1979, there were at least twenty-five people in just two families. Dad even made it to some of these celebrations. (The cousin explosion continues!)

Aunt Marian & Uncle Tony Holding Jamie, Christina, Jennifer

Aunt Marian & Uncle Tony Holding
           Jamie, Christina, Jennifer

 

Evolution of a Holiday

I guess Casey inherited her dislike of change from me, at least when it comes to the holidays. Although I am surprised that I have enjoyed moving around so much—living in 5 states—I don’t like all the changes in my holiday celebrations. Can’t I just choose a point in time and freeze it? So I thought that if I review the evolution of Christmas through my life, maybe I will feel better.

When I was very young, Grandma and Grandpa would take me to see Santa in Morristown. In the center of town was “The Green,” or Morristown’s answer to Central Park. Santa had an annex to the North Pole there, complete with elves and the biggest wooden rocking horses you ever saw. I loved going to visit Santa there.

I do not believe any of my siblings went to that Santa Land. I believe they visited Santa at another satellite house located in Grace Lord Park in Boonton. (Change #1) Every year, his house magically appeared there, and that is where we visited him sometime after Aunt Ar was born.

We had no special Christmas Eve traditional meals or any Christmas traditions for that matter. All that I recall is that we were given a time when we were permitted to come downstairs on Christmas morning to see what Santa brought us. Grandma and Grandpa were not strict, but that was one rule you just didn’t break—except for one particular Christmas. I was the culprit.

I remember tip toeing down those very steep stairs and peaking around the corner into the living room. The unwrapped presents were all under the tree (Santa never bothered to wrap our presents!), and next to the tree were Grandma and Grandpa. How could that be? Their explanation, which to this day I believe, was that they were fast asleep when suddenly, “from out on the lawn there arose such a clatter.” Naturally, “they sprang from their beds to see what was the matter,” and there in our living room were presents galore. Of course, I believed them. My parents would never lie.

One Christmas, Aunt El and Uncle Mart (perhaps Uncle Dave too) got up early, but they knew they could not venture downstairs. So they passed the time playing a board game in the bathtub until the anointed time arrived.

During the week when we were on our Christmas vacation, we would all take turns visiting the houses of our cousins so we could check out the loot that Santa brought to them. Grandma said that usually someone would mess up the plans by getting sick, but I guess we still hit as many houses as possible.

As the years passed, and our extended family grew, we stopped visiting every aunt, uncle and cousin. So that was change #2.  I think the logistics just got too hard. A new tradition was born and we all survived.

Then we started to grow up, get married, and now began to add the in-laws. Stay tuned for more.

Christmas- 19 Kids and 13 Adults

Christmas 1959

Published Somewhere

Four out of five of us have been published in some form. Kelly and Casey were published in their college newspaper, The Daily Gamecock, which was read by thousands. Kelly’s contributions were as their photographer, while Casey wrote an opinion column.  Casey also had a news article published in the local town paper, The Neighbor News, when she was in fourth grade and was a columnist for her high school newspaper, ECHO (East Chapel Hill High Observer). Both Jamie and Casey were contributing writers to a teen column–MCTV (Morris County Teen Voices)– in our New Jersey county newspaper, The Daily Record. So all three of you dabbled in some form of journalism, but none of you chose that as your career.

Dad co-authored a chapter in a technical book: Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients: Development, Manufacturing and Regulation. He has received a few small payments so to me that makes him a professional writer. (However, I don’t envision it will ever be a book club read.) While I have spent six years writing the book about Grandpa, Do Svidanya Dad, it is still just sitting on my computer and kindle while I try to figure out what to do with it. I guess I can mention the family history book I co-authored with Aunt Marian, but the readership was extremely small and consisted of only family members, which is why I don’t count me among those family members who have been published.

Did I ever mention my year as a journalist? It was during the late sixties when I wrote for my junior high newspaper, The Jaguar. The audience was extremely small yet larger than the family history book. Our staff worked very hard to publish our paper each month, and at the time, it was important to me.

So for now I write these stories for the three of you. Maybe someday Bryce and his sister and any other children which may come along someday will read them. I hope that with each one, you either learn something new or are reminded of a memory that has been buried for years.

John Hill Jaguar