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My Grandma’s Favorite Photo

7 Jul

Grandma's Favorite photo

This is my Grandma’s favorite photo of herself.  She loved it so much that she took another photo taken the same day and cut her head out to put on an membership card. It caused a major fuss that summer in the Catskills! A fuss that lasted several days!

We (my Mom, sister and I) asked why she had cut up that photo of her at 17 or 18, when she was already in her 60s when she used it.  Her answer:  It was her favorite photo and she wanted to use it!

Grandma Thelma

Here it is!  You can even see the staple holes in the photo where she stapled it on to the membership card!  I am not sure what the card was for.  It was not an official government ID.  It must have been for some local group.  I honestly do not remember. (My sister reminded me that the card was for a local senior center.)

I do remember that my Mom was so angry when she saw that Grandma had used this photo and destroyed the original!   I believe it was also my Mom’s favorite photo of her mother as a young woman.  My Mom and Grandma actually got into a major discussion, read that as argument, over this.  But it was too late, the photo was already destroyed. Grandma had thrown away the pieces.

My Mom never knew, because I guess Grandma never told her, that there were several other photos from the same day upstairs in an album the attic.  Unfortunately they both had died before we found the album that had these photos taken of my Grandma and her first cousin, Katie.

If you look at it carefully, you can see in the image we have, Grandma is not wearing the pearls. I assume that the pearls belong to my Aunt Gussie, Katie’s mom.  In the photo that Grandma truly loved, she is wearing the pearls.  A telling gesture. As an adult, pearls played an important role in my Grandma’s life.  Eventually she had many strands of real pearls!

Grandma favorite photo

I think my Mom would have been much happier if she knew that other photos existed.

I understand why Grandma used this photo.  I do not think she ever felt pretty.  She told me many times that growing up they called her Luchen, or noodle or string bean, because her arms and legs were too long for her body. She hated being called that nick name.

My Grandfather, on an audio tape we have from November 1981, a few months after Grandma died, even said that Grandma was not pretty, but she had something special about her.  And so he fell in love with her.

Grandma was bright, intelligent, spoke, read and wrote in several languages.  I thought she was lovely.

Now as a woman in my 60s, I think I understand why she used this photo.  When I look in the mirror, I do not always see someone my age.  I expect to see a much younger person. Sometimes I am surprised.  Recently I said something about it to my husband.  And his response made me think of this photo, as he said,  “You will never look 25 again.”  Sigh.  That was the age I was when we married.

This photo of Grandma was taken a year or two before she married my Grandfather. Perhaps she felt as I, and was remembering the young Thelma. That is how she saw herself, and so that is the photo she used.

(I am thinking about Grandma now, as her birthday was in July.  We will soon mark what would be her 112 birthday.  Although she is gone, her memory continues as a blessing.)

Welch’s Jar Glasses were a Catskills Classic

22 May

Our Catskills home was the depository for mismatched dishes.  Any set that had lost pieces to breakage over the years soon made its way to the summer kitchen.  Same with glasses and mugs.  If a set was no longer complete, then there was a home for it in the Catskills. I think we were all used to using whatever came out of the cabinet. No worries about everyone having matching plates!

Among the glasses that made their way upstate were all those Welch jelly jar glasses. They were our favorite juice glasses; the perfect size for orange juice or a quick drink of water. I especially loved the Looney Tunes and Flintstones ones when I was a child.  I know there were bigger glasses as well, from sour cream jars.

I was born in the height of jelly jar glasses.  Welch’s started making them in 1953, just a few years before I was born.  I remember going to the store and looking for Welch’s jars we did not already have at home. We wanted as many different ones as possible.

I know they stopped making them for a while because the new way of manufacturing glass made the glass thinner, and the glasses would break when the lids came off.  Thus, for years Welch stopped making these glasses.

I do not know what happened to the ones that were in the Catskills.  I believe they all broke.  Or perhaps my Mom in one of her cleaning sprees decided to give them away. They are no longer in the cabinets in our Catskills home.

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I found out that in 1989, Welch started making these glasses again.  Actually, I did not find out until about the year 2000.  My son is not a lover of Welch jelly, he is a JIF fan. But one day in the grocery store he saw a Pokemon jar of Welch jelly and had to have it.  So I purchased for him.  We still have that glass.  He did not eat the jelly, so I did not buy the other Pokemon glasses that were made.

However, buying that glass reminded me of the glasses we used when I was small.  About ten years ago, I was in an antique mall with a friend.  I was looking for Depression Glass in my pattern when I came upon five Welch’s juice glasses: two Flintstone, two Looney Tunes and one generic one.

I had to have them.  Memories from the Catskills and my childhood are so strong, that sometimes I need a physical touch.  Having the Welch glasses gave me that touch.  The five glasses were purchased; they are not that expensive, just a few dollars each.

I use them for juice and for a quick drink of water.  For a moment I am back in the Catskills during the summer; and all is good in the world.

Lake Swimming is the Best!

1 Feb

I did not swim in a swimming pool till I was in college.  We always had the lake: Kauneonga Lake.  I learned to swim and spent many summer hours perfecting this skill in our lake.  As I spent many hours relaxing on our dock with my family and friends.

Kauneonga Lake

My family and friends in Kauneonga Lake.

I never swam laps, I just swam as fast as I could to get away from my brother and my boy cousins who tried to push me into the mushy gush…the yucky seaweeds that lined the bottom of the lake in the areas where we did not swim as much.

Sometimes we swam back and forth between our dock and the dock that the people in Cooper Drive used.  But that meant keeping our legs up.  The gush was thick between the two docks.  And it wasn’t just the gush, there were also fish and turtles that would snap and nibble at your toes if you got too close.

I could stay afloat for hours.  We did not have life jackets.  When we were little we had brightly colored tubes. But eventually I out grew those and just swam.  If we stayed within the area designated by the adults, then the water was not over our heads.  It was when we tried to swim too far that danger lurked.  But we knew how to tread water and make it back to the sandy area with no effort.

Lake water swimming was the best.  The water was cool and fresh.  There were very few boats on the water when I was a child, except for canoes and rowboats.  It was not until I was in my teens that speed boats in large numbers showed up on the lake.

The only negative about lake swimming?  We always knew when someone went to the bathroom in the lake!  If you hit a warm spot, you knew that was disgusting.  Warm spots were sure signs of accidental lake peeing.

There was a pool at the bungalow colony up the road from us, where my grandparents’ friends owned, Kauneonga Park.  But I never swam there.  I know my brother swam there when he worked at the colony’s camp during the summer. But I never went into the pool.  It seemed odd to get into a cement box filled with water and chlorine.  I did go and look at it.  But I never got in.

When I got to college, I had to go into a pool for the first time.  We had to pass a swimming test and show that we could swim four laps and jump into the pool.  I was not happy. But to get my college degree from Drew University, in New Jersey, that was a requirement.

Ugh.  I did not own water goggles.  In the lake, I just opened my eyes to look around.  In a pool, this is much more difficult.  Your eyes burn from the chlorine. Ouch.  So, during my test, I had to close my eyes.  Swimming laps with your eyes closed is very difficult.  I could not stay in my lane.  In any case, I never swam in a lane in my life.  Lake swimming is much more haphazard. Not being able to see made it worse.

I did go four laps, but they were not pretty.  The coach called me out several times for crossing into someone’s lane.  She told me to go buy a pair of goggles for my next pool experience.  But I never had one.  I passed the lap test.

I passed the jumping in test: arms across your chest, feet first into the pool.  “Why?” I asked.  In case you are ever in a cruise ship and need to abandon ship was the answer.  I never thought I would need that talent, but I will admit I have been on many a cruise and I have thought about learning to jump!

To this day, I do not love pool swimming.  I do not like the chlorine or the feel of concrete.  However, I have learned to enjoy the beauty of water aerobics in a pool and the ease of floating on noodles.

To be honest, I much rather go to the lake in the Catskills, and slowly walk in.  First testing the water with my toes to feel the temperature and finally sinking to my neck.  I do not do it very often, but when I do I feel great.  Lake swimming will always be the best!

 

Jigsaw Puzzles and True Love

13 Jan

A jigsaw puzzle in progress can almost always be found in my family room.  My husband loves to work on them, especially after a long day of work. It is his way of unwinding and relaxing. Many evenings we sit in the family room, him finding the right piece for the right spot, while I am busy crocheting my next creation. It is peaceful and fun as we chat, or even sit comfortably in silence.

We have found that jigsaw puzzles are wonderful for opening a conversation. People who come to our house for the first time, will often sit at the table and start working on the puzzle. Then they start to talk.  It takes the stress out trying to make conversation for some. To be truthful I think jigsaw puzzles should be part of every host/hostess’ repertoire entertainment.

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Our son in law had two of his brothers working on a puzzle.

When our daughter got married, her future husband and two of his brothers stayed at our house for several days before the wedding (They are Canadian.). The jigsaw puzzle was a great success.  In fact, his brother, the best man, said during his toast that he was worried at first about staying in our house. “But once I got there, I saw a jug of real maple syrup in the refrigerator and a jigsaw puzzle on the table.  And I knew it would be just fine.”  And it was.

Almost everyone enjoys them. And even those who do not, will sit around and talk while others complete the puzzle. When we have a house filled with guests, we make sure one is always out. Whenever there is down time, someone can be found working on the puzzle.

My sister and her family are great puzzle workers.  We got our jigsaw puzzle love from my Dad.  We often had a jigsaw puzzle going on the table in the Catskills.  Great rainy day activity!  I also remember the one we could never finish!! It was so difficult!  But I digress.

Recently a friend came over with her 7-year-old granddaughter. She was amazed when she saw my husband working on his 1000-piece puzzle.  “I have never seen a puzzle with so many pieces before,” She stated. “How do you know where to begin.” My husband had a great time talking to her about puzzles! He welcomed her to come back any time to work on one. I do know that she was gifted a 300-piece puzzle for Christmas, which was put together by her family.

As my sign of love, I usually buy my husband jigsaw puzzles for his birthday, Fathers’ Day and as Hanukkah gifts.  I search them out. The best stores I have found for puzzles are Tuesday Morning and JoAnn’s Fabric. But I have found some on line and in specialty stores. I am always searching and keeping a stash hidden and ready for a celebration.

This year I went out of control in my puzzle buying.  My husband had surgery in July, and I thought jigsaw puzzles would be great entertainment during his time away from work. I knew he would be bored so I purchased 15 puzzles!  It did not work out as I thought, as he had a brace on his neck and could not look down.  The jigsaw puzzles stayed in their boxes for months. Finally, we could take them out and work on putting them together. The good thing about puzzles is that they do not go bad!

I do not always buy them.  I have found that jigsaw puzzle enthusiasts will trade puzzles when they are done.  Which we have done. I have met friends in parking lots and at home to exchange a bundle or trash bag filled with boxes of puzzles.  My husband always puts the puzzle pieces into a ziplock bag after completing one and then into the box. And we have found other true puzzle enthusiasts do the same.

I have a friend with a second- hand store.  She is great about giving us puzzles she thinks he will like so that he can put them together and see if any pieces are missing!  Then we return them with the answer to that important questions, “Are all the pieces there?”. I will admit that there was one puzzle my husband loved so much that was missing a piece. He spent days working to make a new piece for it.  I won’t go into detail, but I will say he did a wonderful job.

Friends and family members often purchase puzzles for him. They are the perfect gift. No matter how many we have, we always have room for more. I see the gift of a new puzzle as a sign of love.

We have another couple with whom we get together every so often. They also love to compete jigsaw puzzles. Twice now we have tried to finish a 500-piece puzzle in one evening.  Each of us takes a different part to work on.  It makes for an enjoyable evening for all of us.

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I think I will sit right here!

One major issue in working with the puzzles our tortoiseshell cat.  She seems to think the puzzles are there for her to enjoy.  We often see her trying to get into the box and run off with one of the pieces.   Her favorite place to sit is in the middle of a not yet completed puzzle… as we are working on it.  She believes we should be paying full attention to her and not the puzzle.  It is a dilemma because if we chase her off, she disrupts the puzzle.

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Current puzzle with the plastic cover!

We have been covering up the puzzles with old poster board when we weren’t working on them to protect them from our cat.  But now, we no longer have to do that!  Our son’s girlfriend gave us the best ever gift!  She purchased a sheet of clear plastic and four clear placemats for us to put over the puzzles when they are not being used.  It is great!   We can still see the puzzle, but our cat cannot mess it up when she sits on it.

Since I usually purchase the puzzles, I chose topics that I enjoy as well: Disney, cats, travels.  For my husband, I find space related puzzles, or Star Trek and Star Wars themes.  The one we are working on right now combines our loves; it is a jigsaw puzzle about knitting and crocheting. I realized my husband was at a disadvantage with this one, when I said, “That purple piece goes with the doily on top.”  And he said, “What doily?  Now I know he knows what a doily is, but these were very small and not what he was used to seeing.

We actually know someone who owns a jigsaw puzzle company.  I have been trying to arrange a visit to it for my husband for over a year now.  First, we were gone.  Then my husband needed surgery.  Then they were gone. I know it has to happen.  My husband is intrigued by the thought of seeing how the puzzles are made in person.  We did see an episode of “How It Is Made” that showed the process. But in person would be so much better.

My husband is extremely kind in his jigsaw puzzle work.  He knows that I am competitive and like to be the ‘winner.’   He always saves the last piece of every puzzle for me, and says, “Okay, here is the last piece, so you can complete the puzzle.”  In this way, I can say I finished every puzzle.  That my friends IS true love.

Identities and Connections: Solving Some Photo Mysteries

7 Jan

For my Mother’s yahrzeit, I decided to tackle the photo albums again.  But this time, I went to a album of photos I put together of loose photos that I found after she passed away. They were not in an album, just in a large manila envelope. This time I had some success!

There were two groups of photos labeled Summer 1944 and Summer 1946.  I knew the photos had to be taken in Kauneonga Lake, Sullivan County, New York, as that is where my grandparents had a small bungalow colony when I was a growing up.  But these photos are from before the area was built up.

So I have to back track a bit.  You know when you are a child, you really do not think about your grandparents and parents as people who have friends.  They are your parents and grandparents, and they take care of you.  I never analyze who was their friends or why.  Or even how long they had been friends.  It just was.  And that leads to my discovery.

Among the photos from 1944 was one small one labeled Mr. Fink, in my mother’s handwriting.  This was a good clue.  Up in the Catskills was another bungalow colony, much bigger, called Fink’s Kauneonga Park Bungalows, owned by Mr. and Mrs. Fink.  I knew they were good friends of my grandparents. But I guess I never realized they knew each other in 1944, when my grandmother was just 38 years old and grandfather was 44.  This means they were long-term good friends.  It sort of shocked me.

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My Mom on the left, Carolyn next to her.

However, there were many other photos in the piles.  My Mom was in many of them, as was my grandparents and several other young adults, including a girl named Carolyn and boy named, Bob. Carolyn and my Mom were together in many photos. Who was she? I did not know that name. But obviously they were good friends. They were even holding hands in one photo.

Luckily, I am Facebook friends with one granddaughter of the Finks, and I have contact with another granddaughter.  I took some photos of the photos and sent them through messenger to the granddaughters.

PAY DIRT:  Carolyn and Bob were brother and sister and the younger children of Mr. and Mrs. Fink.  Carolyn and my Mom were the same age: obviously friends.  To be able to identify two unknowns made me so happy!!!

But there was more.  Because once I knew who they were and how long they knew each other, other connections made sense.  Mr. and Mrs. Fink!  My grandmother would walk to visit her at least once a week.  My sister or I often went along.  When I was older and needed a job, Mrs. Fink got me a job as a mothers’ helper at her bungalow colony.  My brother worked at their day camp.  And my sister, also worked there answering the telephone! Then she became a mothers’ helper.
The concession stand, that was close to our house, was a place where I often went to get a few items for my Mom.  Whenever we went in, my Mom would have a long conversation with the woman working there.  I found out that was Mrs. Fink’s other daughter, the mother of my Facebook friends.  Wow.  That made sense.  I remember one time Mom was sick and she sent me over there to get something without money.  I was so embarrassed. But they were fine. They said Mom could take care of it later.

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My sister and I think Blacky was Mrs. Fink’s dog.  My grandparents never had one.

But the biggest mystery solved was Carolyn.  Why did I not know of this girl, who was my Mom’s friend.   I asked, Did she marry?  What was her name?  Maybe I knew her by her married name.  And I found out she had medical issues and lived away from home in Arizona!  BINGO.  Whenever my Mom walked over to see Mrs. Fink, there was always a conversation about someone who lived far away. That must have been her!

For me the photos from my mother and father are mysteries that need to be solved.   Whenever a mystery is solved I am elated.  I am thankful I have a connection with Mr. and Mrs. Fink’s granddaughters and for their help solving the puzzle.

My Favorite Catskills Photo of Me

16 Oct

Summer 1957

There are many reasons why I have always Loved this photo. First it was taken in the Catskills when I was 2 1/2. I am blissfully happy sitting in the grass. I love seeing the old wooden outdoor furniture.  I know that bench is Blue. I spent many hours on it over the years. 

I love seeing the women on the bench. The one to the far left is my maternal grandmother. She and my grandfather owned the bungalow colony. And with many family members there, I was surrounded by love. To be honest I am not sure who the other woman is, but I think it is my aunt.  I love that bench as my paternal grandmother taught me to knit and crochet as we sat on it when I was about seven or eight. 

I love that my aunt’s feet are resting on that single chair, as I know she is really relaxing. They mothers only put their feet up when they were settled in for a rest.  There is another chair to my side. It indicates to me that there is a square table to my side as well … the table where my grandmothers, great aunt and their friend spent endless hours playing canasta. 

Further on I see some of the white painted bungalows. This was the original colony. Eventually my grandparents purchased more land and moved some of the buildings. Only two of the original bungalows still exist. The land has been sold off and newer homes were erected. Two of my cousins purchased some of the land, so I am fortunate that I can still walk this property. 

I love how I look in this photo. I remember my Dad telling me that this was his favorite picture of me as a child because in this photo he could finally see how I would look as an adult. But I also love it for the curl in the middle of my forehead. I had and still have thick, curly hair. I cannot tell how often one of my parents would recite this poem to me: “There was a little girl who had a little curl right in the middle of her forehead. When she was good she was very, very good But when she was bad she was horrid.” 

I know that hat and outfit. It was red and white. Because of my black hair my mom often dressed me in red. I rarely wear red now. Blue is my favorite color. But when I envision myself as a child I am often in red or pink. But that hat I specifically remember. I must have worn it for several years before my younger sister was born and she have the chance to wear it. 

I wish I knew what was in the box I am holding. I am sure it is crackers or cereal. But I wish the front of the box was facing out. It would add to the memory. I guess it does not matter.  Whenever I see this photo, I am filled with joy. I am in my happy place. Our home in Kauneonga Lake, in the Catskills where summers were always delightful.  

Are There The Ghosts At Holiday Celebrations?

21 Sep

Another holiday.  A festive meal. Visits with family and close friends. Celebrating. But as I entered the room for dinner, for a moment I saw my Dad the last time he celebrated a holiday at my friend’s home. And next to him was their mother.  Both passed away years ago. But I saw them smiling and talking. 

This is not the first time I saw a vision of a loved one who has passed at a holiday table or at a special event. I am sure some think it is just my imagination or a vivid memory.  Perhaps it is both. 

But I am not so sure. 

How can a vivid memory describe the moment at my daughter’s wedding when, for a brief moment, I saw my parents standing to the side smiling. Was it something I wanted to see so badly, that my brain produced the image for me? Perhaps. 

But what about those times when I can still hear my mother’s voice as I am preparing a holiday meal. I do not use recipes, I just listen to that inner voice telling me what to do next. But that voice is always my Mom or one of my Grandma’s.  So are they there?

Or when I went to purchase holiday challah. At first I thought I would just get one round raisen challah.  We really do not need two challah. But then there was My grandfather’s image pointing to the plain challah as well. Yes I purchased both. Grandpa was a baker, so I had to follow his advice. 

At our Catskills home I have the most vivid images.  One day this summer, as my sister stood at the kitchen sink, I saw two images next to her.  Both my Mom and Grandma stood there and each was superimposed on the kitchen that existed in their time.  It was just an instant, but for a moment I was in a time warp. My sister, my Mom and my Grandma all standing at the sink speaking to me. (They were probably all giving me instructions!)

We have spent over fifty years in the house in Kauneonga Lake, and the memories are so strong there.  We spent many Rosh Hashannah holidays eating a festive meal and preparing for the new year. But there are also so many summer memories infused in the being of the house.  It is not difficult to imagine a loved one walking in the rooms along side me. 

There are ghosts of people I knew in my synagogue as well. Since I go regularly, I am used to people sitting in certain seats. They are not assigned. But people seem to find a place that is comfortable and so sit there every week. I have my seat and from my vantage point I can close my eyes and envision the room filled with those who passed. 

Recently a 92-year-old Holocaust survivor passed.  When I turn quickly I still see him smiling as he sits in his seat, his walker close by. Other survivors who passed fill the seats as well. When I see their children and grandchildren still coming to synagogue, I feel their spirit of joy in the congregation. 

But the most poignant for me happened about two months ago. I noticed a young man come in to shul with his wife and newborn son. They walked directly to the seat where his grandfather always sat. He sat in his grandfather’s seat holding his son, whose name was a memory for his grandfather. I really thought I could see Sol smiling at his grandson and great grandson filling his seat. It is one of my new favorite memories.  

I believe when someone dies they do not totally disappear.  A bit of them, an essence, stays behind. A smell, a sound, a place can bring their memory and their spirit/presence  back to us. I hope I always see and sense the ghosts of the ones I love at my holiday and other celebrations.