Tag Archives: high school memories

A Summer Recharging In New Jersey

6 Aug
Double rainbow over the George Washington Bridge, view from my parent's apartment.

Double rainbow over the George Washington Bridge, view from my parent’s apartment.

Another visit to New Jersey begins. A cat is rubbing her head up against my computer and me. She really wants to sit on my lap. My sister’s cat, Tilda, wants some attention. And that is part of what makes my visits to New Jersey now somewhat strange. I am at my sister’s home, not at my parent’s home.

When my parents passed away within nine months of each other, I thought I might not travel to New Jersey each summer as I had for the previous 30 years I was married and lived in Kansas. But that turned out not to happen.   In fact, I continue to visit my family in New Jersey for a week each summer, staying with my sister. Visiting with my brother. Seeing my cousins. Going into the City for a show or to go to a museum. Then spending a wonderful weekend in the Catskills at our family home.

It is almost the same. I have a room to stay in. I have a great place to stay. But it is not the same. My parents are not here. My home away from home is a different place. It is still New Jersey, but I no longer have the magnificent view of Manhattan right out the window. I am not staying in an apartment, but instead a house. And I have cats here that want love and attention, just as my cats do.

I love my time here. For some reason I need a week on the East Coast each year. It is like an energy pack! I return to Kansas with my Jersey accent much stronger and a sense of well being. There is nothing like Jersey for the Jersey girl in me.

When I stroll the malls or take the ferry to New York City, I am in my element. I have visions of my childhood underneath the current events.   In Kansas I do not have that double vision. When I am in Kansas, I see the changes in the last 35 years, but they are adult years. When I am in New Jersey, I see the sights of my childhood changed and reinvented in my adult eyes.

Last summer my brother drove me to the two homes I lived in when we lived in North Bergen. It was remarkable to see how much they had stayed the same, and what had changed.   I plan to ask my sister to drive past my grandparent’s bakery in West New York this time. I wonder what it is now. After they sold the building, it became a restaurant. But I have not driven past it in a long time.

Of course part of the excitement of coming back East, is to travel to our home in Kauneonga Lake, NY. We visit with our cousins. Sit by the lake, go out on the boat, and just enjoy the time together. Pizza on the beach is a tradition! When we sit there, I also see my parents and aunt and uncle. They loved to sit under the tree and watch the grandchildren grow into adults, seeing the changes that came each summer.

Another generation comes to the Lake. My two of my cousin’s are grandparents now. The fourth generation to come to Kauneonga Lake and enjoy the beauty and peace, as well as the fun! We were so blessed to have this oasis from the City.

A trip to New Jersey and New York in the summer is a welcome relief to me. It brings me back to my self. I will eat at a diner; I will see a show on Broadway; I will take the ferry to the City; I will travel up 17 to the Catskills and get off at exit 104 in Monticello. My journey on 17 B and then 55 will lead me to Kauneonga Lake.

I might live in Kansas for over 30 years. But when I close my eyes I am sitting in New Jersey. The house might be different. There might be a cat on my lap.   My parents might not be physically here. But my soul resonates with the love and joy of my childhood and I become rejuvenated.

I love my summer week back East.

Learning Infinity and Beyond Makes Me Insane

2 Aug
A note from Mr. "Mean" Thoens to me in my senior yearbook.   We never did agree on infinite numbers.

A note from Mr. “Mean” Thoens to me in my senior yearbook. We never did agree on infinite numbers.

My disdain for infinity and infinite numbers started when I was a senior in high school. My North Bergen High School calculus teacher, Mr. Ray Thoens, (who I called “Mean” Thoens) was teaching us about infinity and the infinite number of points in a line. Okay, I could get that. But then he told us that two lines of unequal lengths would have the same number of infinite points. What!!

I argued with him.

How can a line this long ___________, have the same number of points as a line this long _________________? The lines have a definite beginning and an end. How can they have the same infinite number of points! For my logical mind, one must have more points than the other.

Mr. Thoens and I argued about this all year. Whenever I was upset about something I would just say, “Yes just like those lines and infinite number of points. It just doesn’t make sense.” And I would sometimes add while shaking my head, “that is just wrong.” Other students in my class perhaps agreed with Mr. Thoens, but that did not change my mind.

Senior year, basically the calculus class.  I had a lot of hair, but not as much as the boy next to me.

Senior year, basically the calculus class. I had a lot of hair, but not as much as the boy next to me.

Over the years, the long years, since I graduated high school, I still felt that the information about infinity and lines and infinite numbers of points was a crazy thing and just could not be right. But I kept my point of view to myself all these years. I never took another math class (except statistics), so I did not have to worry about these numbers. And even though my husband studied math and physics for the first two years of his college career, infinite numbers just did not come up.

Until now, when my nephew, my sister’s son, came to stay with us for a few days.

My nephew just earned his master’s degree in mathematics from the University of Kansas. He taught calculus to college freshman for the past few years, and he is staying with me before he leaves for Florida to study for his PhD in math at a university there.

And we got into a math debate.

I am not a hundred percent sure how it started, but we got on to the topic of calculus. I could not help myself, I had to tell him about my disdain for infinite numbers and points in lines.

He said something like, “I will explain it to you. Many people have this problem.”

I said, “You are not going to change my mind. It is not right! I have held this view for 40 years!”

He told me that Mr. Thoens, my high school math teacher was right! Can you imagine that! He told me that my high school teacher was probably trying not to use more advanced math language when he tried to exlain it all those years ago. But he, my nephew had explained this to many students, and he could explain it to me.

The diagrams in my nephew and my debate over infinite points in lines of two different lengths.

The diagrams in my nephew and my debate over infinite points in lines of two different lengths.

He started talking about ‘cardinality’ and how to match numbers. He showed me two sets of numbers, one with three dots and one with five. We could agree that these did not match. Then he added two more dots to make them equal sets. And we could agree that they were now equal.

He made graphs and wrote equation-like things. Who cares? When you look at two lines of unequal length it is intuitive and logical to realize that they do not have the same number of infinite points. ( I spoke to my daughter about this, and she totally agreed! So I must be right.)

I showed him two equal lines, A to B. We agreed that they had the same number of infinite points. Then I added a segment that doubled the size of one line to C. And I said, “This line has more points. It is a longer line.”

And he said, “NO!”

What! How can you say no?

He then told me that “The same way of matching is not going to work.”

Of course it will not. You cannot match the same way because they are different lengths.

And then he went into a silly math concept that showed matching using x/2 (x over 2). In this way the numbers in the longer line matched numbers in the shorter line like this: .3 went with .15 and so on. So! Yes you can make pairs of numbers, but there are always other numbers. He agreed and said something like, “But you never actually get to zero so your cardinality is okay as long as you can keep matching.”

Yes, Mr. Thoens had tried that same trick on me when I was 17. It did not work then and it will not work now.

I appreciate my nephew’s passion for math. I hope he has great success and continues to teach and learn. But I am not changing my mind. Two lines of unequal length and size cannot have the same number of infinite points even if both have an infinite number of points.

And do not tell me that an infinite number of points is an infinite number of points.   I know that. But it is something that does not make sense in my mind, and probably will never make sense.

I think I will just go another 40 years believing that learning about infinity and beyond just makes me insane!

A Wonderful Weekend in Arkansas, Visiting Friends and A Wildlife Refuge

26 Jul
Beaver Lake

A view of the long and winding Beaver Lake.

Who knew that I would meet up with my North Bergen childhood next door neighbor in Bentonville, Arkansas? We lived next to each other on Third Avenue for eight years, but remained friends even when I moved to 78th Street and Blvd.East. Strange that the two of us ended up just three hours away from each other. Even stranger, is that I have another North Bergen High School friend who also lives in Fayetteville, Arkansas, whom I have met up with a few times.

Three North Bergen High School alumni living in Kansas and Arkansas. Seems strange. But in the world we live in I should not be surprised.   We found each other on Facebook. Amazing what social media can do for friendships! I know others who moved to the Midwest, but for me it is always special to see one of these two women who share my childhood memories.

Looking down at the Crystal Bridges Art Museum.  A lovely spot

Looking down at the Crystal Bridges Art Museum. A lovely spot

My husband and I were recently in the Beaver Lake area visiting our Kansas neighbors who have moved to their new home near Eureka Springs. Among our plans were to go to Bentonville and see the beautiful Crystal Bridges Art Museum. Another goal was to introduce my childhood neighbor to my adult neighbors because they now live just 45 minutes from each other. I had a great time making the introductions and combining two segments of my life.

We spent part the day walking the grounds of the museum and seeing the exhibits. I was amazed to find a large collection of paintings of George Washington, as well as six portraits depicting the Levy-Franks family. A Jewish family from New York City in Arkansas, besides me! Well, they have been deceased for a long time. But it surprised me that these six works of art were in Arkansas. However, my favorite paintings were by John Singleton Copley. His ability to capture life is amazing!

We at lunch at the museum and enjoyed all the sites, before deciding to go into Bentonville. We still had one more museum to see. But when my husband and neighbors went into town for an ice cream treat, my childhood friend and I went to see her 88-year-old mother. It is so strange to see someone I have not seen in over 25years; someone who was like a second mother, who had the right to yell at me if I misbehaved, but not to have my Mom with us as well. Seeing her made me happy, but also made me miss my Mom even more.

My friend’s mother knew who I was most of the time. At first she thought I was my mother. And at times she thought I was my sister. But we had a good visit, and she remembered so many things. Her daughter and I were amazed.

Actually she spoke most about my brother. “He was a buster!” She said. She remembered how my brother used to tease us when we played with our dolls.   We would try hiding on the outdoor staircase, but he would climb over the garbage house to get to us. “Mommy, he is bothering us!” She said as she remembered my brother, who is now such a respectable man, but then quite the active child.

We had a special time together, and I am glad we were able to get together.

Besides traveling to Bentonville and seeing my old friend, we also went to the Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge for rescued tigers, lions, cougars, panthers and bears. It seems, and I did not know this, that many states allow people to have wild animals as house pets. (To me this is a really ridiculous idea.)  Not only that, even in states where it is illegal, there are people who take on these animals as pets. They see a tiger cub as a good pet, until it grows into an adult and eats 1000 pounds of food and weighs up to 800 pounds. Then they do not want that pet any more.

One of the tigers that still has to be moved into his own habitat.

One of the tigers that still has to be moved into his own habitat.

What they do to these ‘pets’ is really sad. Sometimes they declaw them. For a house cat it is bad, but for a big cat it is really bad. Once the claws and first digits are removed, then the large cat cannot walk because their weight is too much, basically crippling the animal.

Sometimes people just abandon the cats in the wild. They cannot survive. So this sanctuary in Arkansas, rescues them. If someone brings them one of these ‘pets,’ the sanctuary does not press charges. They just want to protect and keep the once wild animal for the rest of its life. They are in the process of developing special habitats for each of the animals so they have room to roam.

Bam Bam the Grizzly Bear has his own pond and habitat at the Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge.

Bam Bam the Grizzly Bear has his own pond and habitat at the Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge.

Part of their mission is educating the public about these animals. Visitors can tour the site with a docent/game keeper and learn about these animals in particular and what happened and happens to them. For me it was an eye-opening experience. And I plan to add the Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge to my list of charities to support.

Finally we spent time on Beaver Lake, riding around in our friends’ boat and seeing the sites. It was not the same as riding around Kauneonga Lake in New York, where I spent my childhood summers. This is a much bigger lake created by the Corps of Engineers when they put in a hydro-electric plant and dammed a river, unlike Kauneonga Lake which is a smaller, natural spring-feed lake.

But being in a boat on a lake is always a wonderful time for me.   Having a long weekend; staying near the Lake was wonderful for so many reasons: spending time with friends, going to a museum, visiting an animal haven.







My Days in the English Department Office at NBHS

19 Jan


I basically spent the last two years of my North Bergen High School education hanging out the English Department office or in a journalism office working on the school newspaper or yearbook.  I am not quite sure how that happened.  I know my senior year I did an independent study research and I used the English office as my office.  I sort of took over seventh, eighth and ninth periods. 


Mr. Vecchione, Mrs. Whitehouse, Mr. Polente, and Mr. Boyle were my verbal sparring partners. When I was not actually working on my project, I was sort of, helping out in the office. Sometimes I was arguing with the teachers over some cause I believed in…mainly women’s rights.   I think I was an English Department aide?  Who knows?  I cannot remember.


But even before senior year, I had developed, what was for me,  an important relationship with Mrs. Whitehouse and Mr. Vechionne.

Celia Whitehouse’ impact on my life was the most visable.  She provided the space for me to become involved in journalism and creative writing. Although I was never editor in chief of the yearbook or newspaper, I had editorial positions on the newspaper both junior and senior year, and on the yearbook in my senior year. 

Even when I was in college, I would come back to visit the English Department teachers and hang out in the office.  I knew that they had to be missing me.  And since my sister was in high school for three more years, I had an easy in.  So conversations with Mr. Vecchione and Mrs. Whitehouse continued. 



It was Mrs. Whitehouse, who told me, when I was looking for graduate schools, that Columbia University was not the only place to apply.  In fact, Missouri had a really good school of journalism.  I applied…why not?

Thus it is thanks to Mrs. Whitehouse that I ended up living in Kansas (and meeting my husband). I was accepted to both Columbia University and University of Missouri- Columbia for graduate school.  My Mom said…. in 1977…”How will I sleep at night knowing you are in Harlem every day?”  So I moved to Missouri.  “You won’t know what I am doing, so you won’t worry.”  I told her.  “Thank Mrs. Whitehouse for telling me to apply.”

When in high school I was in honors English and was a member of the Merit Society, which meant I could leave a class if there was no exam.  I took that to mean I would be leaving class whenever there was a substitute, and hangout in the English office.  Giving me even more time to be in my favorite place.  Mr. Vecchione would just sigh when I showed up and invaded his space.

I loved high school.  Junior prom, senior prom, yearbook, newspaper, literary supplement, independent study, school plays, all were fun times.  Even my classes were fun for me.  I loved school; I loved learning.  We had a community of about 20 students who were in almost every class together.  And the memories are still strong.

During my junior year of high school, I became ill toward the end of the school year.  I spent a week in the hospital, not fun at all.   Mrs. Whitehouse not only came to visit me, she wrote me a book: Ellen and the Sorceress. Handwritten….no computers in those days.  I still have the book!

My honors English teacher, however, sent a take-home test to the hospital with my friend, Faye, who was afraid to give to me.  I still remember her telling my mom about it, even though I was quite sick.  My Mom was furious.  She called Mr. Vecchione, asking, “Who sends a test to someone in the hospital?”  Needless to say, I never took that test. 

But then they knew I was a good student.  And I was not maligning.  Believe me, a week in the hospital was not enjoyable. 

My days in the English department were not wasted.  I received my undergraduate degree in English literature.  I worked on the college newspaper and yearbook, continuing on the path I found in high school.  Then on to graduate school, where I earned my master’s degree in journalism.  I even taught high school journalism for four years: in a way my homage to Celia Whitehouse, Anthony Vecchione and my many hours in the English Department office.