I have the best mom, and as the oldest (and favorite) child, I had her all to myself for four years. I have memories of going on outings alone before any of my siblings came along and forced me to lose my title of “only child.”
Grandma used to take me to the Sweet Shop at Del’s Village for ice cream sodas. I especially liked coke floats. I can remember sipping on my drink while sitting on the revolving stools. I felt so grown up.
Like all of you, I loved going shopping with her. There was a store in Rockaway—Robert Hall–where I would hide under the racks while Grandma picked out my outfit. Back then, she probably laughed, because in those days, a child disappearing at a store for a few minutes was not cause for a lockdown.
Almost every day, I would come home for lunch, except when the weather was bad. Some of my favorite sandwiches were ham and cheese, and on Fridays, tuna fish with diced apples—a very weird combination, but tasty nevertheless. I loved it when the lunchbox got warm, and the cheese would be all melted and gooey. In those days, Grandma could put mayonnaise on our sandwiches without worrying about any dangers of it being unrefrigerated because food poisoning was not invented yet.
When the days grew hot near the end of the school year, she would have my lunch ready on the ladder of the pool so that I could cool off before going back to my sweltering hot classroom. I felt so lucky to have a mom who would do that!
After school we would often come home to some nice treat she would bake for us, such as cupcakes or her world famous brownies. I would sometimes do that for all of you, and I remember at least one of you asking, “Don’t you have anything healthy to eat?” I responded by saying, “What’s wrong with you kids. Can’t you enjoy junk?”
I have fond memories of our dinners. How she fed seven or eight of us on their income I do not know, but they were great meals—no kidding— even though it will sound like I am joking. We would have hamburger night, and I was known to be able to eat as many as four burgers on her homemade rolls (dipped in applesauce, of course). My appetite was unstoppable in those days.
Grandma would encourage me to snack before dinner in the hopes that it would spoil my appetite. Meatless Fridays were always special. With her “fondness” for fish, it is a surprise that she didn’t convert years ago. Mrs. Paul’s fish sticks were a common Friday meal, but the best was creamed tuna on toast, with baby peas mixed in for added nutrition. I would have that with applesauce, of course. I truly enjoyed that meal.
We were always a meat and potato family. No Chinese, Thai, or Mexican ever. I remember Grandpa carving up a single nice chuck steak into seven or eight pieces, and it wasn’t until Dad made a steak dinner years later for me that I surprisingly learned that some people got their own steak at a meal. (“I get my own steak?! I have never heard of such a thing.”) I didn’t know any differently, so I never felt deprived.
As you know, our vacations were simple—a week at the Jersey Shore and the remainder in the backyard making whirlpools in our above-ground pool. Air travel was never a consideration.
Grandma always worked, and in those days, that was much less common than it is today. But dinner was always ready to be heated up, most of the laundry was done, and somehow, the house was in order. I don’t know how she did it, and I never, ever remember her being a big complainer. (Except that she loves to say, “I hate kids.”) As a child of the Depression, she helped support her family, so when she had her own, it was just a natural progression.
I never felt as if she were not there for us. She had her 24-hour job as a mom, her evening job working as the switchboard operator, and still, she found the time to bake cupcakes if someone at school asked her to do so, and proofread my reports.
When Kelly and Jamie were born, Grandma was determined that they know their grandmother despite the “great distance” between us (about sixty miles), so she would come often to visit us. After Kelly’s birth, she stayed for a week or two, since Dad was traveling.
After a while, we were able to move back to New Jersey, and we chose Montville, just under six miles from Grandma and Grandpa’s house. It was so nice to be near them. You all loved having your grandparents nearby and enjoyed being able to visit them in the “city”.
It was great being able to invite them to Grandparents Day as well as those very long, boring dance recitals. (It’s true. It was painfully long, and we all had to endure watching everyone else’s kids waiting for the five minutes before Jamie and Kelly tapped onto the stage.)
When we decided to become vagabonds and start our tour of the Southeast, I know Grandma in particular was really unhappy, because now we were really going to be far away.
For a while, she didn’t know how to contact us, because she didn’t even know what state we were in, let alone the town since we moved so much. I miss having her so close, but I do not miss the cold. I have learned to like grits, like Dad, and crawfish, and actually enjoy being called “ma’am” once I realized that even all of you girls are addressed in this manner.
Thank goodness that long-distance telephone calls are a dinosaur of the past, so we can all chat often.
So have a Happy Mother’s Day, Mom, and thanks for all the memories.