“I Hate Kids”- But We Know That’s Alt-Facts

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.

Shh! Today is Grandma’s Birthday

Today is Grandma’s birthday. She was the fourth child born to my grandparents, entering the world in an apartment on Main Street where Boonton Avenue meets Main. We all know she was named Helen because Jean was not a saint’s name (supposedly a Catholic requirement at the time), so she had to either be named Eugenia or something else. Grandma claimed the choice of the name Helen was a random decision, which has continued to haunt her during her entire life. Add the sadness at losing her easy-to pronounce five-letter Irish name when she got married, along with her denial of aging even at a young age, and you will understand why she embraced being referred to as “Aunt Jean” by more than just her nieces and nephews.

But back to my story….When she was born, my grandfather was working at a grocery store in town. Times were tough for her parents even before the stock market crash nine months later. But like my childhood memories, my grandparents did a wonderful job surviving those lean years and hiding their financial problems from their children.

She was five when her twin brothers were born, which was apparently a surprise to my grandparents. Ultrasound technology did not exist back then, so they were prepared for only one baby. But my grandmother was thirty-nine, and there was a history of twins in the family, so the odds of a multiple birth was increased. As I mentioned in Twins my grandmother almost died.

By that time, my grandfather had taken on a second job, working for a store that installed linoleum floors. When the twins were just eight months old, my grandfather lost his jobs, so he supported the family by doing odd jobs around town—laying linoleum occasionally and making signs for various companies around town who were familiar with his beautiful handwriting.

Postcard written from Fort Dix- 1918
Postcard written from Fort Dix- 1918

My grandmother was an expert seamstress, so she altered the children’s hand-me-downs so they always looked nice. She became adept at doing her own hair, so it always looked like she had been to the hairdresser. No one knew they were so poor.

Grandma was from a musical family. Her mother took piano lessons, and when Grandma was about seven or eight, she also took piano lessons at a cost of fifty cents for each lesson. I don’t know how my grandparents even afforded to pay that much, but somehow they managed. She was taking tap lessons from her cousin Gertrude as well, and after a year, my grandmother gave her an ultimatum: dance or piano. Tap won hands down!  Although Gertrude was her primary teacher, she preferred Gertrude’s father, Uncle Jim, because he was a no-nonsense teacher and they learned even more.

She and Aunt Marian loved putting on shows together. They danced at different events, and the two of them were always last and brought down the house.  She said to me, “We would look at each other and grin as people clapped at the parts that looked complicated. We just loved that!”

Grandma told me about dancing for the war veterans at a local hospital. She didn’t enjoy performing for them, because when the music began, the vets would looked up like they were hearing rockets.  It made her sad, and she would always go home and cry.

When she got to high school, there would be music and dancing in the gym during lunch hour.  Grandma usually skipped lunch so she would be able to spend the entire lunch break doing what she loved best. I think her love for dancing ignited the flame for Grandpa, who also was a great dancer.

You know about Grandma’s early jobs, beginning at the age of fourteen when she worked for the “obnoxious lawyer” who didn’t like her make-up, and how she later contributed her paycheck to her family after her father lost his job (Working 9 to 5 and More). So it was just a matter-of-course that she would be a working woman despite being a mother of five.

She always said she would not work for a second car or other “luxuries” like that, but only to help with the necessary family expenses. Working at a medical group was brilliant, because she often got our medical bills reduced or free as a perk of her employment. I know she enjoyed her employers and coworkers, but it could not have been easy for her to go to work every day at 4:00 until closing at around 9:00, or sometimes later. She did it for us. The house was always clean, the laundry done, and dinner was prepared. We all pitched in, but the weight was on her shoulders, and I don’t recall her complaining.

There are a lot of lessons I learned from Grandma—words of wisdom you might say—some of which I have passed on to the three of you. You all know the most important one which was taught to us at the dinner table:  “It’s okay to spill the milk, but never, ever spill the wine.”  I am sure Jesus probably spoke those words to the apostles at the Last Supper.

Grandma was self-sacrificing as a mother, but has always been stubborn as a woman. With the exception of canned tuna, she never lifted the embargo of fish imports into our home. Likewise is her permanent refusal of all yogurt products despite accidentally liking the frozen variety one time until she realize what she was eating. She won’t deny I am right.

Her sense of humor has grown more outrageous during the past few years, which is probably what makes her so well-liked by the nurses and aides. She is lovable to her friends, nieces and nephews, children and grandchildren. Even when she is not feeling well, she tries to hide it, not realizing that her adult children are still tattle tales and will spill the beans. It’s too hard to cover it all up. We share because we care.

Dan and Sis Carey with kids

Wardamasky-Brady bunch - Copy

Grandma Back in Her Day

How will you remember Grandma, Grandpa, Dad and me? My grandmother was sixty when I was born. I like to think that is not really old but to a very young child, it is ancient. I have no memories of her ever running around with me like I do now with Bryce, but I was her ninth grandchild, so maybe she was too worn out by the time I joined the family.

It’s difficult to imagine any of our older relatives ever being young, but when you look at what was written about Grandma in her high school yearbook, you will recognize her in those words.

We all know about her Irish pride. Her Irish signs filled the wall of the hallway outside her bedroom door. “May you be in heaven a half hour before the devil knows you’re dead” was one of my favorites.

She was a jokester then, and she still likes to make jokes today, although sometimes tasteless. But I think that is quite common with the elderly. Who knows what words will pour from my mouth in twenty-five years? I know that the nurses and caregivers enjoy hanging out in her room because she makes them smile and enjoys casual banter. This is not new. Everyone always enjoyed being around her as long as I can remember.

What is surprising to even me is reading that “she can talk on any topic at any time.” This I would have expected from Aunt Marian, not Grandma. I know she had plenty of friends and boyfriends, but that was news to me, and I have known her since she was just eight years older than when that statement was made.

But we never really know our parents completely. We see them through the eyes of the children that we will always be to them. I think that is why I have enjoyed learning so much about Grandpa’s life as a young adult. My research has given me a view of the father I did not know, like this yearbook portrays a side of my mother seen through the eyes of her peers.

Grandma- High School Yearbook 1947
                                       Grandma- High School Yearbook 1947

Penny Candy Stop

Dad and I were wandering around Mast General Store earlier this week. I was shuttling between the books and unique kitchen gadgets while Dad was downstairs—or so I thought. Suddenly, I heard his voice beckoning me to the toy corner. But it was not a toy that he wanted me to see. He had discovered the barrels of candy, many of which were from our childhood and yours.

Looking at the sweet treasures, I found myself remembering a certain little corner store down the street from my school called Martanciks. The big draw of that store was the candy, which we could buy for a penny.

I looked through the barrels at Mast General and saw they had the wax bottles of my youth. You’d bite off the top and spit it off, enabling you to drink in one of several multi-flavored “healthy” juices.  They were much too small to quench your thirst, but nevertheless fun to drink.

Another favorite was the pixy stix—straw shaped sticks containing delicious sweet and sour powder. Yum! Score another for Mast General.

Continuing down the aisle I found a barrel filled with Bonomo Turkish Taffy, which was a thin, VERY chewy candy sold in at least four flavors—vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, and banana. I was never a fan of that candy but I remember the commercial had a catchy tune. In today’s world of healthy eating and childhood obesity, I don’t think a candy commercial would work. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jpw64PkCJn8

Bazooka Bubble gum was both delicious to chew and entertaining as well. Not only could you blow great bubbles with the nugget-shaped gum, but it came wrapped in paper containing your fortune and a comic. How cool was that!

One of the most popular items were the waxed lips and mustaches, which were not as fun as the bubble gum, but their demand was high because they could be both chewed and used as a disguise.

Then I spied your favorites, most of which we got at the cider mill down the street from our New Jersey house. I think the three of you enjoyed going into the country store and carefully selecting one of your favorite candies more than drinking the freshly-made cider. I found Swedish fish, gummi bears, airheads, nerds, smarties, and warheads.

Do my discoveries bring back fond memories of our walks to the mill? Do you crave any of those candies, or have your candy preferences become more sophisticated? These days I smile when I remember stopping by Martanciks on my way home from school, but I have no interest in trying any of my old favorites. For me, there is just nothing like a package of plain M&M’s to put a smile on my face.



Movin’ and Groovin’

I cannot dance. Clearly the family dance gene skipped over me. It went to Carly.

Grandma and Grandpa loved to dance, which you should all know was a common bond between them when they first dated and continued as long as I can remember.

Both Grandma and Aunt Marian chose dance lessons over music when they were younger, and they were taught by their cousin Gertrude and her father, their Uncle Jim Downey. Their great uncle, Jack Blue, was the most famous member of their family other than their Irish-inventor cousin Louis Brennan.

Uncle Jack was a dance instructor who taught many famous actors and actresses how to dance back in the twenties through the forties and was the dance master/director for a famous Broadway singer/composer/dancer/playwright named George M. Cohan. (Maybe you know some of his songs: “You’re a Grand Old Flag,” “Yankee Doodle,” “Give My Regards to Broadway,” or maybe you are all too young.) Uncle Jack, according to the family stories, was in Ripley’s Believe It or Not because of his talent as an instructor despite never taking a lesson himself.

Grandpa showed me a few of his moves, but when it came to “fast dances,” I was clueless until the “big date.” It was during college, and my friend Karen and I met some guys somewhere who took the two of us out on a date. The date was uneventful and clearly not very memorable. All that I remember was that the names of our dates were Ken and Irv, and we went to a bar not far from  campus.

While Karen and I never saw Ken and Irv again, that night in the bar is memorable to me because that was when I realized no talent or instruction was needed to get up and dance to a song with a fast beat. We were sitting in the bar when a song began to play. Ken, or was it Irv, grabbed my hand and led me to the dance floor. I had no choice but to dance because I would have looked ridiculous if I just stood there. So that was the day when I learned my dance moves, and that is why that night in a bar in New Brunswick is forever etched in my memory.

First Date- Hup Two Three Four

I opened my memory bank to search for another first—my first date. As I mentioned to all of you before, I was very shy during most of my early years. As a result, I did not go on a single date during high school. Choosing to attend an all-girl college did nothing to improve that situation, although my classes were sprinkled with a few boys from some of the other campuses.

I went to Douglass College, which was one of several colleges of Rutgers University. We were able to take courses at the other colleges, and students on the other New Brunswick campuses took classes on our campus as well. Still, most of my classes were primarily attended by females.

My roommate for most of the first year was from Hawaii. Her Army father wanted her to attend an East Coast school, which is how she ended up at Douglass.  Stephanie was dating a West Point cadet, so one weekend, she arranged to bring several of her friends on one of her trips to visit her boyfriend. Each one of us was “fixed-up” with a date.

We took a train from New Brunswick to West Point. I don’t recall much of the ride, but I am guessing we had to ride into New York City and transfer to a second train at Penn Station. Looking at the schedule today, it appears that the trip took a total of three hours. By car we could have gotten there in half that time, but none of us had a car back then.

We stayed at the Thayer Hotel, which is located on the West Point Campus. I believe there were four of us who traveled together and shared a room in the hotel.

My memories have faded, but I recall several snippets of that weekend. I particularly remember the name of my date, because it was such a pretty name—Paul Melody.

We ate in a huge dining hall with the uniformed cadets. The whole experience was quite unique, and at the time, kind of bizarre. The plebes, which were what the freshmen were called, had to sit at attention while eating. I found a description online which matches my fuzzy recollections.

The plebes had to get the food from their plates to their mouths in three rigid movements. They didn’t just scoop it off their plates and shovel it into their mouths like we all do. Imagine a robot eating dinner. That is what it looked like to watch those men at the other tables eating. They could not look around the room. They had to stare at their plates and could not speak. When they had visitors like us, the rules were relaxed, but I observed this mechanical behavior at the other tables.

I remember walking around the campus with my date. West Point is located high above the Hudson River, so it is very scenic, particular in the fall, which is when I think we visited. I know he was very well-mannered, but I don’t think we had much to talk about. There was no further contact after that, although I seem to recall that one of the other girls did hit it off with her date and return for another adventure or two with Stephanie.

I have not spoken to her since I left Douglass, but I recently looked her up and see that she is now on Facebook. I think she married her West Point cadet. I think it’s time for me to reach out and see if we can reconnect.

Just Yank Them Out!

When I was a kid, there was a very routine operation done to treat repeated sore throats known as the tonsillectomy. As I recall, this procedure was so common that you could call it a rite of passage back in the day–like learning to ride a bike. I read somewhere that surgeons performed about 1.5 million tonsillectomies annually compared with less than half a million today.

Tonsils are little lumpy masses of tissue at the back of the throat that doctors just loved to remove. I lost mine on February 10, 1965. I don’t know why I remember the date. Maybe it’s because it was my cousin Alan’s ninth birthday and I was traumatized about missing the party. But I doubt it, because I am sure that by that time, as a girl, I was bumped from the list. Still, I am positive about the date.

The surgery was very painful and resulted in a very bad sore throat for about a week or two. Grandma promised me I could have as much ice cream or chocolate pudding as I wanted when I returned home. Well that was certainly a joke, because it hurt so much I had a very difficult time just swallowing my own spit.

What I did get was a lot of attention, a cozy spot lying on the couch in the living room, and a new record player. I remember falling in and out of sleep and hallucinating some kind of animal floating above me. Since you were all with me for Kelly’s 21st birthday celebration when we saw Wicked, I think you will understand why I believe what I saw while recuperating from my tonsillectomy may have been flying monkeys. It’s what happens to me when prescribed drugs.

I am guessing that a large percentage of my peers no longer have their tonsils or at least know a close relative without them. I think I will start asking about this when there is a lull in conversation at the next party I attend. It’s going to be my new ice breaker.