Tag Archives: New Jersey

The Lighthouses That Made Me Feel Safe

22 Nov

When I was a little girl, my family drove every weekend from North Bergen, New Jersey, into New York City to have dinner with my paternal grandparents and my father’s family. We had to drive over the George Washington Bridge and into the Bronx.

My favorite part of this drive was usually on the way home. Then sometimes my Dad would drive in a round about way so we came to a point where we could see the little red lighthouse under the bridge. We did not always see it, but when we did it made me happy!

We had often read the book by Hildegarde Swift, “The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge.” It was one of my favorites. I loved the story about the lighthouse being happy till the bridge was built, and then had to realize it was still important. I loved that little lighthouse that lives in Washington Park. So those little excursions to see it filled me with joy.

Rainbow and bridge

Near the bottom of the rainbow stands the little red lighthouse. View from my parents apartment.

Even now, whenever I am back east, I try to get a glimpse of the lighthouse. But it is much harder to see from the roads with all the barriers up, unlike the 60s when it was more open.

When my siblings and I were married, my parents moved into an apartment in Cliffside Park. Their view overlooked the Hudson River. From my parent’s apartment we could look north and see the George Washington Bridge and the New York City skyline. Whenever I was there I would try, perhaps through the trees, with binoculars, to see the little red lighthouse.

I really not see it. But I would imagine it sitting across the river just under the bridge, at the end of a rainbow.   In my mind it was always saving people, even though it had not be used in decades. The lighthouse was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.

I know it is more than just the book and the adorableness of this little red beacon that made me love lighthouses. Our family had its own attachment to the security a lighthouse provides. My maternal grandparents had a lighthouse nightlight that kept us safe at night in the Catskills.

Lighthouse in the Catskills

The lighthouse nightlight in the Catskills house.

Night in Kauneonga Lake is extremely dark. There are no street lights. And when the night comes and the lights go out…it can be scary for children. Well for adults too, if you do not like the dark. And I do not like the dark!

It was this little lighthouse nightlight that made me feel safe.   It was not the usual nightlight. This heavy brass sculpture has a tiny light bulb in the top that can be switched on and off. Throughout my life, well since about 1964, it sat on a table at the bottom of the stairs. And every night that I spent at my grandparents’ and then my parent’s Catskill home, this lighthouse’s small beacon illuminated the scary dark nights. It was a beacon that kept use all safe. I loved that little lighthouse, as did my siblings and all the grandchildren.

The watchtower nightlight

My watchtower nightlight.

So when my children were little, I also bought a ceramic lighthouse/tower/nightlight that I kept it at the bottom of my stairs, in deference and in honor of the lighthouse I so remembered and loved. My nightlight was not really a lighthouse. It is more of watch tower with a dragon guarding it. But it was the idea of it that made me want to own it and use it in my house. It reminded of my grandparent’s nightlight.

Lighthouse

The Catskills lighthouse in my house.

I now have both nightlights.   After my parents passed away, and we divided some of the belongings, I took the lighthouse back to Kansas with me. I have it sitting on a small half table, just as it sat on a small half table in the Catskills. I have it near the bottom of the stairs. But it is not plugged in anymore. The cord is frayed and I am concerned about the chances of sparks. But I see daily, and I remember the glow of its light.

Across from it is the newer nightlight watch tower. The watch tower is plugged in, but with no children at home, I no longer turn it on. Both lights are out now. But in this troubled time, I still l feel a sense of security when I see a lighthouse and my lighthouse night lights.  I imagine sometimes that they nod to each other and whisper, “we kept them safe.”

 

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_Red_Lighthouse

A Photo Triggers Driving Memories

7 Oct
AP parking lot photo from Cindy Bottcher

A&P Parking lot, photo from Cindy Bottcher on the Town of North Bergen Facebook group.

The photograph on the North Bergen Facebook group page brought a flood of memories. It showed the parking lot of the A & P grocery store, a store that has been closed for many years. The photo showed the somewhat empty parking lot and to the left, alone by itself, a single light pole. I know that light pole well!!

It was in 1972. I had recently received my driver’s license. Mom and I went to the grocery store together. At that time the parking lot at the A & P was packed. I easily parked the car in the only empty spot by the light pole. Later when we left the store, Mom once again let me be the driver. As I put the car in gear I made a slight error. I went into drive instead of reverse, and I hit the light pole. It made a dent in the front bumper. My first fender-bender.

I was so upset. I knew my Dad was not going to be very happy about this! I had already had a mishap with the garage door during the summer. My father had told me NOT to attempt to park in the garage when I went driving with my brother in the Catskills. When we return home, I decided to try. My brother did not stop me, so I always sort of blame him. In any case, I misjudged as I entered the garage and off came the car’s side view mirror.

Dad was not happy with me.

So now it was a few months later, and I hit the light pole. My Mom and I looked at the damage. It was not too bad. My Mom was calm. “Better the light pole than another car,” she told me. Then she offered to tell my Dad that she had hit the pole. We agreed that he would be much calmer that way.

So home we went, and my Mom took the responsibility for the accident. The parking lot was busy. She got distracted. She hit the pole. My guilty face probably gave me away. “Who really hit the pole?” My Dad demanded. My Mom kept up the pretense.

A few days later my Dad announced at dinner, that it did not bother him that I hit the pole (ha), but it did bother him that I let my Mom take the blame (This part is true). My Mom still stuck up for me. It was her idea. I just agreed. However, now as an adult I do agree that we should have been truthful…somewhat. My Dad was much calmer a few days later when he actually learned the truth, than he would have been when it happened.

However, I never liked to drive in New Jersey after that. Luckily we had wonderful mass transit. I took buses, trains, subways and taxies wherever I wanted to go.

The following year, when I was a senior in high school, my parents went to India for three weeks. I was in charge of my sister. And I had to drive. We needed groceries. We were invited to friends’ homes for dinner. We had to go to school in the cold winter. I was getting much better and began to lose my fear of driving.

My parents left us with many phone numbers of people who could help in an emergency. Friends and relatives were on call. One of my Mom’s friends called every morning as a back up alarm clock to make sure we got off to school on time. So many people called to invite us for dinner, we never used the meals my Mom had cooked and froze for us.

But for me the most important person was my Dad’s business colleague and friend, Normie P.   One night I took my sister to the movies. We came home, and I forgot to turn the lights off.   The next day the car was dead in the street. We had drained the battery. At the time I did not know that. Normie and his son came and fixed it for us. I will never forget them in their work suits, jump-starting the car. We had to drive to school immediately, but take the long way to recharge the battery.

When I moved to the Midwest for graduate school, I was extremely concerned about driving here. But it was a breeze. The traffic was nothing compared to the traffic in the New York City area and in New Jersey. I drove downtown with ease. I found the perfect place for me to drive. I met my husband, and he let me use his old Buick to do my school assignments. Driving is easy in his opinion.

However, he learned his lessons about New Jersey.  I remember the first time my husband drove in North Bergen and West New York. He continually got stuck behind double-parked cars. I kept telling him to move over.

“What do you mean they are double parked?!” He demanded. “That is illegal.”

“Not here,” I told him.

He thought people in New Jersey were crazy.

We also made him drive into New York City one time. It might have been a bit cruel. But he needed to see what we were talking about.   Growing up in St. Louis, he had never experienced REAL traffic.

For years, when I went home to Jersey, my Dad would drive. As he aged, I had to take over some driving for him. And after my parents passed away, the driving ended as well. My sister or brother do most of the driving for me. I am once again in the passenger seat. I usually do not mind.

To this day, I do not like to drive on the highways of New Jersey. I am fine in the lovely highways of Kansas and Missouri.   I am fine in the local driving of my daily life.

But occasionally I get the urge to drive when I am back East visiting. I decided that Catskill driving is the best for me.   And now I have no problems at all pulling into a garage. It is something I do multiple times a day.

It is amazing what one photo can do for memories. I will always remember that A& P parking lot and light pole.

What I Learned in My High School Typing Class Has Helped Throughout My Life

24 Sep

When I attended North Bergen High School in the 1970s, I took both a typing class and a short hand class. I did not want to. Typing and short hand classes were for the students who were not going on to college. And I knew that I would go to college. But my Mom made me take them.

“You never know when you might take a job that requires typing,” she said, and added: “These are good skills to learn.” I argued back, but obviously I lost.

My MOM insisted. So I took those two classes when I was a freshman in high school. I think one of the teachers was Miss Wirt. It was not the most exciting class for me, but by the end of the semester, I could touch type to the required words per minute without too many errors.  Being in class with good typists was a bit intimidating (As my friend Shashi reminded me). I will remind everyone that typing on a typewriter was much different than typing on a computer keyboard.  First there was the click clack of the keyboard.  You could tell how fast someone was typing by how quickly the clicks and clacks came together.

I did use these typing skills when I was on the staff of Paw Prints, the school’s newspaper. We had to type all of the stories into columns for them to be put into the layout and then copied and printed. I learned out to measure the space and fit the letters/words into the space correctly. A skill that came in handy much later in my life.

I have to say that my Mom was right. I will tell you that the skills I learned in the typing class have stayed with me forever. It is almost as if my Mom had telepathy and knew that eventually typing would be a much appreciated and required skill for college students.

Thanks to my typing classes, I excelled in my college and graduate school classes in the sense that my typed papers had very few typos and/or needed corrections. While I had friends who often had to hire someone to type their papers, I was set with my little typewriter.

In fact, only once in all of my undergraduate college career did someone type a paper for me. But there was a reason. My very last college paper at Drew University was due when I had an accident involving one of my eyes. After a long visit in an emergency room, I realized I could not type this paper since I had a large patch over my eye. Luckily for me, I had a great friend, Shari, who lived in the same dorm and was my savior. She typed the entire paper that evening in time for my morning class.

Later when I went on to graduate school, for journalism at the University of Missouri-Columbia, my parents bought me the most wonderful gift, a self-correcting typewriter. This was the best typewriter available with a second ribbon of white out, so you could just back up, lower the white-out ribbon, and then cover the error and then retype. Amazing what was wonderful in the days before word processors and computers.

My typing class made it possible for me to complete my master’s degree exam in plenty of time. We had to answer four questions and had one hour to write the answer essays. They had to be typed. So as we thought out our answer, we had to actually type instead of write. I came to the exam with my typewriter and ribbons and succeeded.

This typewriter was also an important part of my Master’s Thesis, as I could easily correct mistakes.     Writing a thesis before computers was a nightmare. You had to estimate how much space to leave for footnotes. Getting everything perfect took experience and spatial coordination. As I said earlier, many people had to hire someone to type their thesis. But not me, as I knew how to type and I knew how to make words fit. Thank you Miss Wirt! Thank you Mrs. Whitehouse and my Paw Prints work!

The short hand class taught me the basics of taking quick notes using some symbols. Knowing a few of these symbols came in handy when I did an interview. I could write quickly by not writing all the words and using short hand instead.   Thanks to my Mom insisting that I take this class, my interviews as a grad student in journalism were always accurate. Yes I had a tape recorder as well. But some people did not like to be recorded. So accurate note taking was important.

I will admit that I have forgotten most of these symbols. And when I look at short hand symbols today they look like hieroglyphics. But when I was in graduate school I was so happy that I had an advantage.

Although I do not use the short hand, my touch typing skills are something I use every day for work and for pleasure. I am using those skills as I type and write this blog!

With the advent of computers, everyone needs to know how to use a keyboard.   Today touch typing, or as it is now known – keyboarding — is a skill that children are taught in elementary school. If you cannot type, you cannot use a computer successfully. Although probably in a few years, people will just talk to their computers and to have their thoughts put down, just as we talk to our smart phones to type a short message to someone.

It is amazing what a good teacher can help a student learn. I went into my typing class with a chip on my shoulder, not wanting to take it. I came out with a skill that has been with me for over 40 years. What I learned in typing class has helped me throughout my life.

Stormy Weather Was My Sister’s Worst Nightmare

3 Jun

Ever since I moved to Kansas over 30 years ago I have been amazed by the storms! Where I grew up in the New Jersey/New York area, you never really saw a storm coming. Yes, the sky turned grey; yes it got windy; yes there was lightening and thunder. But you never actually saw an entire anvil thunderstorm cloud or could see the twirling clouds that at times become tornados.

Over the years I grew used to the sound of the sirens being tested the first Wednesday of every month at 11 am, unless there was bad weather. I learned that a bow hook on a radar echo was a very bad sight to see. The sight of pea size, dime size, nickel size, quarter size and baseball size hail taught us to stay indoors! Oh how I hate to be driving my car when hail starts falling!

I taught my children that when the sirens go off, they go to our basement shelter. No discussion, no arguments, just get the cats and go. And they never argued. Tornados are not something to argue about.

For three years my nephew, my sister’s son, lived in Kansas while he studied at the University of Kansas for his master’s degree. I was not sure how my sister would deal with the stormy weather. You see, my sister is petrified of storms.

It dates back to a storm in the Catskills when she was very young. She insists that I was not there when it happened. But since I remember it just as well, I think she is wrong. And I am 3 ½ years older. So I believe I was there,at least for one storm. The one I remember was frightening enough.

It was in our grandparents’ home in Kauneonga Lake, the big house, which was an all season house, not just a bungalow.   There was a storm going on outside. It might have been the hurricane that came up the coast in the early 1960s. In any case we were watching television and a bolt of lightening hit the house and shot from the television into the refrigerator. It went right past me in the family room. This is what I remember.

My sister has a slightly different memory. But since I am the one blogging, I will go with my memory.

However, being a good sister, I will give her side. She says she was in the kitchen and saw lightening hit the stove as it went past her. “It was right after the kitchen was remodeled, and the lightening broke the clock on the oven.  As you may recall it never worked again.”

“The thing that cemented my terror,” my sister said, “was the power went out (no surprise there) and Grandma took a candle and went all through the house looking for fires from the lightening.” She was “petrified being alone in the dark with just a candle and still seeing the afterimage of the lightening and smelling the burnt insulation from the stove.”

It was absolutely terrifying. To this day, I cannot watch television when there is lightening and thunder. I go around the house turning off computers and televisions. I have a wonderful weather radio I listen to during storms. And with modern technology, I now have a weather ap on my phone to let me know tornado and thunder storm warnings and watches, as well as the radar.

For my sister, who was about four, the memory was paralyzing.   She became absolutely terrified of storms. When thunder and lightening occurred she would cry and need to be held. And since I shared a room, I often shared my bed with her during a nighttime storm.

As we aged, I have to admit, I was not always pleasant about her fears. I remember one storm in particular. She was in middle school, and I was in high school. I woke up during one of the worst thunderstorms I ever heard in the Catskills.. But I kept quiet and did not move. I knew if I said anything, my sister would crawl into bed with me, and I was not in the mood. After a few minutes of listening to the storm, the door opened. My mother was standing there.

“Are you okay?” She asked my sister, who then began to cry. I spoke up. “I knew she would do that,” I whispered.

I got in so much trouble!!! My Mom started yelling at me. “You were awake and you did not help your sister!!!”

Next thing I knew my sister was in my twin bed with me, where she spent the rest of the night. I was doomed from that point on to always share my bed during a storm. I guess it was great practice for years later when I had children.

So flash forward 35 years, and my nephew is now in the land of thunderstorms and tornadoes. My sister was not totally happy about the choice of Kansas as a place to live; although she tried to stay calm about it. She said, “Once my children were born, I made a concerted effort not to show my fear to either of them, and they didn’t know until they were teenagers that I was afraid of storms.”

The only thing that helped my sister at all is that he lived in a basement apartment, so he basically lived in a storm shelter.

I am honestly glad that my sister has never been here for a severe thunderstorm when the rotation starts and we have had to seek shelter. The swirl of the winds, the roar of the thunder, the sudden flashes of lightening make storms furious and intense in Kansas.  Living in Kansas through spring and autumn storms has taught me to be wary and keep aware of changing weather.  I am not sure that my sister would do well living through her worst nightmare.

Shopping at the New Jersey Clothing Factories Led to a Life of Power Shopping

26 May

My sister and I can be power shoppers. We can go to a sales rack in most stores and find something wonderful. Others are sometimes amazed by our accurate determination of what would look good even when it is on the hanger. It is a talent we inherited from our Mom, the queen of power shoppers.

When we grew up in New Jersey, there were no true outlet stores or factory outlet stores to be exact. But there were major clothing factories nearby. And as a perk to New Jersey teachers, several times each year, the teachers were presented special cards that allowed them to shop in the factory stores. These stores were usually reserved for employees and were filled with items that were not quite perfect.

For my sister and I, it was like magic shopping at the factories with our Mom. Our two favorites were Trousers Up and Evan Picone.

These expeditions were a women event only. Dad and my brother would stay home. My sister, Mom and I would venture out on our journey to the New Jersey highway system. This was a major event. My Mom hated to drive on the highway. Due to a childhood accident, she was blind in one eye. So to take us out to the factories was a big deal. And we knew it. We were instructed to help find the right streets.

We would spend hours out there going from one factory to another and stocking up on clothes. I loved when we returned home and told our Dad how much money we saved him. His response was always the same, “I don’t care how much you three saved. I want to know how much you spent!” We never told him that number, we gave that responsibility to Mom.

My all time favorite memory was shopping for my trousseau. My Mom was a traditionalist. I was getting married and I needed to have new clothes for my honeymoon and my life. I especially needed a special outfit to wear to travel the morning after I married.

My sister, mom and I were on a mission that day. And it was a day I will never forget. I can still see some of the clothing that was purchased even today, over 35 years later. I remember the dusty blue short overalls from Trousers Up. And I remember the electric blue and white striped top with blue skirt my Mom purchased for me to wear on the plane. It was a knit Evan Picone outfit.

To be honest I kept it for years, until my daughter forced me to clean the closets one day. She informed me that I would never fit into that outfit again, and someone else could wear it. She had no emotional attachment to it, but I did. However, she was right. So about 5 years ago, I finally parted with my honeymoon ensemble.

By the time my sister married, five years later, the factory shopping expeditions were no longer available. Factory outlets were opened to shopping for everyone. And my sister had a favorite outlet, Harve Bernard. I owned two suits by this wonderful company, but my sister could live in this outlet. (My daughter made me get rid of these suits as well. They also hung in my closet for many years.)

Do you like these jackets?

Do you like these jackets?

I can still hear my Mom telling us to try something on. “Try it on,” she would say, as we shook our head looking at an item on the hanger. “You don’t know what it will look like until you put it on. You never know. It might look wonderful!”

And often it did. We learned to always try it on. A sentiment we taught to our daughters.

Why is it that some of the most important experiences between a mother and daughter and even granddaughter occur while shopping? I think because so many lessons are shared during these moments:

Always treat people with respect in the dressing room and at in the store.

Hang up your clothes after you try them on. (Cleaning as you go along makes the chore easier.)

Encourage the people you are with, but be honest on how they look.

Don’t buy something you will never wear, (do not waste money).

Never buy shoes that hurt, if your feet hurt your whole body hurts.

I loved shopping with my Mom. And in later years, I loved shopping with my daughter. And the best times were shopping with my Mom, my sister, and our two girls as well as our niece. We had many shopping bonding times. During our times shopping, we passed along our important lessons.

It's a mother's job to hold the purchases.

It’s a mother’s job to hold the purchases.

But the love of shopping is not just important on my side of the family. My sister in law and I, along with our daughters, also had wonderful times on girl weekends.   My daughter and I would drive to St. Louis to be with my sister in law and niece. We would have a great time shopping, going out to eat and visiting. Even though my daughter could not be there, I went to St. Louis to go bridal gown shopping with them. My niece now has her own daughter. I look forward to shopping with her one day as well!

For a while my cousin’s daughter was in college at Washington University in St. Louis. Of course we would pick her up for a dining and shopping treat.

And it is a treat. Sometimes we do not even buy anything. We just browse. We try on. We examine the newest styles. We guess the prices on expensive looking items. My young cousin likes shoes and boots. So we would always tried to browse through a shoe store. With all of these women I have shared laughter and joy as we shopped.

As well as excitement when we find a special treasure: a dress or shoes we were not expecting to find, but there they were calling one of our names; a bargain that cannot be passed by. These bring out the ‘power’ shopper in us.

Take me to a sales rack in any store and I will have a wonderful time. I do not care if I do not find anything for me. My sister just told me about a power shopping she had with her sister in law, who needed a certain color brown slacks. My sister led her to the sales rack in Bloomingdales. And there among the many items were the perfect pants, on sale and special sale and then 40 percent off!

What more could a shopper desire?

My daughter is now engaged. As we plan the wedding, we have discussed the wedding gown shopping experience. She wants her aunts and cousins to come with us if they can. Who better to tell her the truth and share the joy? The most glorious of shopping experiences!

Shopping at the factory outlets on the New Jersey highways brought my sister, Mom and I laughter and fun. But it also led us to a life of power shopping and a lifetime of memories with our daughters, sisters, sisters-in-law and nieces, along with many moments of joy.

Happily Playing Stickball In the Middle of the Street

21 May

Today’s Moms tell their children constantly, “Don’t play in the street.” But where I grew up in North Bergen, New Jersey, in the 1950s, 60s and early 70s, we almost always played in the streets. It is not that our Moms said, “Go play in the street.” It was more, “Get outside and play!” And the street was the place to go.

It was a common event to see a group of children racing the bases in a heated game of stickball, running in the street. We often had ten or more involved in the game.

On our block, 78th Street between Boulevard East and Park Avenue, we had an upward battle to our game as we lived on a hill. So playing stickball was even more difficult. Hitting the ball and running uphill was a challenge. But we had fun.

I cannot tell you how many windows were broken over the years, but I remember at least two. When a window was smashed, we all went running. Eventually the truth came out.

But I can tell you that our mothers never told us to get out of the street. It was the cars that had to be careful, not the children. People expected the streets to be teeming with activity.

Stickball was played with a broomstick and a pink rubber ball (Spaulding High Flyer, my brother says), or whatever ball happened to be available. We had designated bases that changed each day we played depending on who parked where. A certain car, a telephone pole, a manhole cover, all of these could be named designated bases.

But besides stickball, the street was also the site of football, hide and seek, hopscotch, and any other game that needs a space to run.

I have to say that my favorite ‘street’ story of all concerns my brother. I know he was in high school, because he was already tall. He grew to about six feet. And that is what caused his problem. If he had been shorter, he probably would not have been hurt.

We were playing in the street My brother and his friend were playing football.  Tossing a ball back and forth across the street, in the street on the sidewalk.  But not just tossing, throwing it hard.   My brother caught the ball and turn to run, unbeknownst to him, a volkswagen had parked right where he turned to run.  Usually that car went into the garage, but this time it just was on the sidewalk.

My brother says, “So Jack throws me the ball and I spin to run, never expecting a car to be in the driveway and slam right into the car. Volkswagen’s at that time had a rain guard over the door that was steel. I hit my lip right into this and it split. Spilling lots of blood and needing two stitches.”

There was blood; lots of blood. I have since learned, as a parent, that the face bleeds much more that any part of the body. And my brother’s face was filled with blood, as was the street and the Volkswagen.

Luckily that day a parent was home. I do not say this sarcastically. We would come home from school by ourselves. Make a snack by ourselves and go out to play by ourselves. It was the same way for almost all the kids on the block.

Many other accidents occurred over the years.   I remember many of them, like when my brother’s friend got his hand caught in between a bunch of nails on a piece of wood.  Yes he did. It was a weird accident. My parents took him to the hospital, as his parents were not home.  He was holding the wood on his lap all the way and into the emergency room.

There was one grandma who lived on the block, and she was often the one to wipe away the blood and check to make sure the injured child would survive. She was there the day my sister’s front teeth were knocked out and took care of my sister till my Mom got home. We had some adult supervision. But with so many children on the block, any parent who was home took care of any issues that occurred…issues sometimes being arguments or sometimes being injuries! No one ever argued if a parent disciplined someone else’s children or took care of them.

But I digress. One this day, our parents were home. And my brother was taken to the emergency room at North Hudson Hospital. I was not there, but I have heard that the conversation went something like this:

“How did you get hurt?” The doctor asks.

“I ran into a car,” my brother responds.

“You mean a car ran into you. You got hit by a car,” the doctor says.

“NO, I mean I ran into a car playing stickball,” my brother was honest. “The car was parked. The car did not hit me. I hit the car.”

The doctor then had to laugh. I believe he even said something like, I have never had to stitch a kid who hit a car before.

My brother was fine. He had to get stitches in his face. But that was nothing new for him. He had had stitches before from when he played Superman off the front stoop when we lived on Third Avenue in North Bergen, and another time when a wooden train piece hit him in the head.

He came home with a great story to tell. We all heard about the doctor who thought he got hit by a car!

The next day my brother was back at playing stick ball and other games in the street. Games did not end because of one minor injury. We continued to happily play stickball in the middle of the street for years.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stickball

Having My Childhood Neighbor As My Physic Teacher Was a Challenge

5 Apr

In the Kansas City Star today there was an article about a man who has searched for some of his high school teachers to thank them for all they had done for him. This article made me think of one of my teachers. Not to thank him, but to ‘sort of’ apologize for a bit of misbehaving.   There was a reason! Imagine if your neighbor became your teacher!

My home from fourth gra

My home from fourth grade till I married.  Bobbie’s home is just past the parking area.

Growing up on 78th Street near Boulevard East, in North Bergen, we had wonderful neighbors. We knew all the children on the block, and we often played stickball in the street after school and on weekends. Everyone knew everyone else. It was a community.

Our next-door neighbor going up the hill was the DeSocio family. The son, Bobbie, was about six years older than I. So although he was part of the community, he really did not hang out with the kids on the street. But of course we all knew him.   And he was part of the teasing and kidding that went on daily.

When I was about 12, and he was 18, he helped my brother and his friend, Jack, put me upside down into a garbage can. Bobbie was raking leaves. And the three boys thought it would be funny to dump me in. I did not find it so amusing. From that point on, I saw Bobbie as an adversary instead of my friend. He had joined the boys!

The next fall Bobbie went on to college: Steven’s Institute of Technology, which was in Hoboken. Not far from home. I believe he earned both a BS and an MS in physics.

During these years, we really did not have much contact with him. My Dad and his Dad would talk. And we would hear about what he was doing at dinner. Sometimes he would come by and we would wave. My parents talked to him the most. I think my brother, who was a bit closer to his age, and two-years ahead of me in school also talked to him. My brother actually got his master’s at Steven’s Tech, years later.

But then life changed. I was a senior in North Bergen High School. I was a good student and active in many school activities but focusing on the school newspaper and yearbook. However I did take physics and I loved it.

When we returned from winter break something had changed. They had divided our physics class. Some of the students stayed with the original teacher and some of us were put into a class with a new teacher. Someone just starting out; someone named Mr. DeSocio. Yes BOBBIE! And guess whom he got in his first class? Yes, ME!

I cannot imagine how he felt when he saw me walk into his class. But I know how I felt. Bobbie is my teacher! Impossible. I really did not know what to do or how to act. So I acted with all the maturity of an 18 year old. I totally goofed off. I giggled. I laughed. I really could not take him seriously.

I do not know why he did not request that I be put into the other class. But he did not.

However, I do know what happened in my home. I think my Dad and his Dad had a little talk over the back yard fence. And I got the parental lecture. I was in BIG trouble.

I was to treat Bobbie with respect at school and I was to call him Mr. DeSocio. When he was over at the house, I could call him Bobbie. But at school I could not. I could not tell my friend’s any Bobbie stories. I had to treat him just like any other teacher.

The parent lecture worked. I started behaving. I listened in class. It took about a month for me to calm down. And yes, I believe I had an A in physics.

But years later, I taught high school journalism in a small private school. Although none of my students were my peers, many were the children of my friends. And later, some were friends of my daughter. It was a bit difficult. And I often thought back to North Bergen High School and Bobbie.

I wondered if Bobbie continued teaching. I know he did for a while because my younger sister attended North Bergen High School until 1976, and he was still there. In fact she also had him as her physic teacher. But since she was so much younger, there was not the same issues that I had faced. I also found a yearbook listing on line that showed he was still there in 1978. Did that semester having me in his class toughen him up for anything?

In reality, I was really not that bad. (Although my sister disagrees, she says I was terrible. ) In 1973 there was a decorum that had to be followed. I loved high school and I loved learning. I did learn physics from Bobbie. So in the end, I guess we worked it out to everyone’s advantage…. I hope. But I will say that having my neighbor as my physics teacher was a challenge!

The Sunday Crossword Puzzle Is a Family Tradition For Some

29 Mar

Puzzle

I never do the Sunday Crossword Puzzle when I am home alone. I do get the Sunday New York Times delivered to my house each week, because I cannot see a life without the large Sunday paper on my driveway. I grew up in a home where the Sunday paper was important. We each would take our sections and sit and read quietly, while my Dad did the puzzle.

Daddy loved to do crossword puzzles. When he was retired, he would start each day with a cup of coffee and the newest puzzle in the newspaper. He usually would use a pencil, but at times Dad used a pen. His ability to solve the puzzle was amazing. In fact I knew after his heart surgery when he was back to himself because he was once more able to complete the puzzle in under hour. For a while, after his open-heart surgery, he struggled.

My Dad had one major competitor for the puzzles, my sister. As she grew up, she wanted to do to the puzzles as well. I think they even bought two Sunday newspapers when my sister was living at home while she attended law school. It alleviated fights as they both could complete these impossible weekly puzzles on their own.

They were not good at sharing the puzzle. This made life more bearable for my Mom.   I am not sure if they competed to see who would complete it first, but it would not surprise me if they did.

I just did not want to get involved in the puzzle battles. I would answer a question about a word, if asked. But usually I stayed out of the way. It could be very intense. And although I was an English major and knew many of the references, I was afraid to get involved. What if I made a mistake? So I just bought my own puzzle books and stayed out of the fray.

When my sister married, she married another crossword puzzle addict. They and their children would sit around on Sunday and read the clues out loud so everyone had a chance to answer. They would also take turns being the one to write down the answers. A new family tradition was born. It was a world of word puzzle cooperation!

My husband was not interested in puzzles. So we never developed the tradition of doing the crossword puzzles together. Whenever my parents came to visit me in Kansas, I would read the section of the newspaper with the puzzle in it first so that when my Dad was ready he could do the puzzle. Sometimes one of my children would sit with him when he worked the puzzle, but it was more of watching than participating. Occasionally, my Dad would ask for help with a word.

I would buy my Dad crossword puzzle books so that he would have something to do when we were having down time. I even purchased him a crossword puzzle mug to use when he visited my family. I still have the mug. Whenever I use it I think of my Dad.

In the Catskills a different crossword puzzle tradition developed. My cousin also loves the Sunday puzzle. Every Sunday friends and cousins gather on his lake front property with the latest puzzle. It is passed around to those interested in working on it. Completing the Sunday Times puzzle is a process of teamwork. Clues are read out loud. Comments are made. The group effort often works.

I enjoy joining in because I like the concept of the crossword puzzle. I took my husband to see the movie, “Wordplay,” about the New York Times crossword editor Will Shortz and a crossword competition. I loved the movie. I enjoyed seeing the joy of the competitors as they did well.

So I had to think, “Why did I never get into crossword puzzles when I love word games so much?” I think it was because doing these puzzles was my Dad’s thing to do. And I would not compete. My sister moved back home after college after developing the love of crosswords while at school. So when she lived at home while attending law school, she and my Dad had to work out a compromise; it was purchasing two papers.

Except for a summer or two, I never lived at home again after college. I went to grad school and married. And the crossword puzzle tradition ended in my home, except when my parents visited. I also think that if online crossword puzzles had existed sooner, I might have been more interested.   With online puzzles, each person can work on their own without interfering with others. But even my sister, who does weekday puzzles online, admits that on Sunday she wants to work on a the paper puzzle.

When I get my Sunday Times. I read it over a two-day period. I save the Book Review and the Sunday Magazine for last. Often reading them on Tuesday. But I have never touched the puzzle. When I am with others, I love working on it. So, perhaps it is time for me to take on this tradition and attempt to complete the Sunday New York Times Crossword puzzle. Perhaps I need to develop a new Sunday tradition.

The Final Frantic and Frenetic Search.

20 Mar

“I put it in a safe place.” Seven little words that put dread into our hearts whenever our Mom uttered this sentence. They were always followed by, “but I don’t remember where I put it.” This usually happened right before my parents were going out and she needed a special piece of jewelry to wear.

And it had nothing to do with her age. My Mom started putting her jewelry into a safe place into our apartment in North Bergen when we were young. The problem was that she never remembered the location of the safe place for that item. She could find other items, but never the one she was searching for at that moment.

My Dad, brother, sister and I would jump into action. We would search the house starting with her favorite hiding places. (Places I will not disclose, because maybe someone in my family still uses these places.) It would be a frantic and frenetic search,

Sometimes we found the item, but other times it was lost for almost forever. I say almost, because often, many years later the item would turn up.   My mother had a beautiful silver and semi-precious stone wedding band that disappeared for a decade. It was found in the bottom of her closet, years later by my father, quite accidently. So safe places did work.

I think my Mom got this urge to hide items from her mother. My grandparents grew up in Europe and hid money and jewelry throughout their home in the Catskills.   They had a safe, but they also buried items in the crawl space and within items throughout their home. It was fear that led to this habit. The fear of the need to be able to grab something and run, but still have some money. Luckily they never had to do that in the USA.

They had owned a bakery in West New York, NJ. And my Grandma kept every silver coin that ever came into the store. She once told me that when a silver coin came in, she would put it in her apron pocket and later get a coin from her purse to replace it to make sure the drawer balanced in the evening.

When Grandma passed away, the family was in the Kauneonga Lake for the summer.  I had flown in from Kansas. Under my Grandpa’s instructions, we opened every purse, every shoebox, and checked every coat pocket.  He said, “Don’t throw anything out till you open it. She hid things.”  And he knew his wife. Because Grandma did hide money and jewelry.

We found over 900 silver coins: silver dollars, half dollars, quarters and dimes. Money was hidden everywhere. By the end of the weekend of cleaning, we had bags filled with coins and bills. The coins were divided between her two children and among all the five grandchildren. The money was put into the bank for my Grandpa.

After my Grandpa died, I inherited their bedroom set. My Mom sent it to me with items still inside. She could not bring herself to clean it out. In a small top drawer I found a little purse of my Grandma’s. Inside the purse was $10.00. We missed that! I still have it, put away in a safe place.

My Mom developed this need to hide things, I am sure, from her parents. And so she hid her jewelry throughout their home. It helped the one time we were robbed in North Bergen when I was in high school.   The thieves searched and destroyed my parents’ bedroom. But never found her hidden stash. Her secret and safe place was so good, even the thieves could not find it!

Later, when they moved, her hiding jewelry was so crazy, as they actually had a safe in their apartment. But when she died, the jewelry was missing. It was not in their safe deposit box at the bank. That would have been easy. It was not in the safe in their home, another easy spot. No, Mom had hidden her stash away. And it was our job to do one last search; one last mystery to solve. Thanks Mom!

My sister was frantic. She called me six weeks after Mom died and a few days before I flew out to Jersey to help clean my Mom’s items from the apartment. (In Judaism you do not clean out a person’s items for at least a month. So my sister and I were getting ready to do this.)

“I cannot find Mom’s jewelry,” was her comment. Not said in a calm way at all, kind of an hysterical laughing scream.

“Don’t worry! We will find it,” I replied. I really was not worried. I knew it was in a safe place somewhere in that 1600 square foot apartment.  We would find her hidden stash.

When I got to New Jersey, my sister, nieces, daughter and I started cleaning. We opened every shoebox and every purse. But I knew it was not in those. My Mom was so stressed by what my Grandma had done so many years ago, I did not think she would make us go through the same stress. But we checked everything.

My Mom was more organized. She had a little cloth eyeglass bag that she often put her jewelry in. I started searching all the boxes and bags she had piled around the shelves and floor of the closet. There were many! And then:

EUREKA!

I found the jewelry. My sister was so relieved. She sort of sighed a deep sigh. But I felt sad.

‘I put it in a safe place’ had so much meaning that those words had a safe place in my heart. I can still vividly hear my Mom’s voice saying these seven little words. In a way, finishing the search broke my heart. I knew the last safe place was discovered. The last frantic and frenetic search was completed.

 

A Piece of Crumb Cake or A Crumb Bun Equals Love

15 Mar

Crumb cake and crumb buns, I can still taste them. Eating a crumb cake in my family is like eating love.   As the powdered sugar drips and the crumbs fall, we see and smell happy memories. I can not tell you how many important family discussions were held while we sat around eating crumb cake, but there were many. Crumb cake kept us together and talking.

My Grandpa Nat was a baker. My grandparents owned a kosher bakery in West New York, New Jersey. And among my favorite foods were the crumb buns. I say among my favorites, because I liked other items as well: chocolate chip cookies, black and white cookies and rye bread. But for my Mom, there was really just one love: the crumb buns were always the number one item for her.

She told me that as a little girl she were go down to the bakery in the morning and check out the tray of crumb buns, looking for the best one: the one with the most crumbs; the one with the biggest crumbs. And then my grandmother would cut that crumb bun out for my Mom to eat.

I would like to say that she outgrew this need. But she never did. Even after my grandparents closed their bakery in the late 1960s, my Mom still needed a crumb bun fix. When she could no longer find them in bakeries, she turned to Entenmann’s crumb cake to get her fix! Yes, my Mom was a crumb bun/cake addict.

She would share anything with her children and grandchildren, but when it came to crumb cake, she still had to choose the best piece with the best crumbs for herself. We sometimes ‘fought’ over the best piece, but in the end Mom would get it.

Mom loved to eat crumb cake on a paper towel or napkin. She would put the cake upside down on the paper, and eat the cake first. Saving the crumbs for last, she would eat the biggest crumbs first and slowly work her way to the smallest crumbs. Near the end she would fold the paper towel so that the crumbs would gather together. Then when she had picked up all the pieces she could, she would lick her finger to pick up the last crumbs. I still eat my crumb cake that way.

Her children and grandchildren learned early on that Grandma would steal their crumbs when they weren’t looking. Yes she would. If she saw a crumb on your piece of cake that was extremely large, she would just reach over and take it. In fact, sometimes we would notice that the cake in the box would be missing a few crumbs. Mom had secretly taken those crumbs when no one was around.

But the ‘stealing’ went two ways. Sometimes, after my Mom chose her perfect piece, she would leave the room for a minute. Then my Dad would pounce, and hide her cake. He would act surprised and say something like, “That was yours? Sorry I already ate it.” But she knew it was close by.   And he would give it back to her like a guilty teenager.

Finding the piece of cake with the best crumb ever was an important goal. My sister and I soon realized it was best to be up early in the morning to look for the best piece of crumb cake. But it did not matter, Mom usually beat us to the best piece.  As my sister remembers, and it is true,  sometimes the crumb cake was missing a piece from the middle!  Mom had been there first, claiming the piece with the best crumbs.

Entenmann's Crumb Cake hidden on top of the refrigerator.

Entenmann’s Crumb Cake hidden on top of the refrigerator.

The tradition took on new meaning when the grandchildren arrived. It was wonderful fun eating crumb cake together. The crumb cake, which was kept high on top of the refrigerator, would be taken down. Everyone would gather around to look at it, trying to figure out which piece they would get. The corners, of course, were the best pieces. Mom always got one of those.

In the summer time, the crumb cake tradition was not only for mornings. In the evenings, as we had our tea, someone would always bring the crumb cake down from the refrigerator. The grandchildren would come running to participate in the feast. Sometimes it was just all the girls eating with Grandma. But other times, the boys would join in as well. In my mind’s eye, I see them all giggling around the table having tea and crumb cake.

When I moved to Kansas, I was so excited to see Entenmann’s crumb cakes at the grocery store. I bought one every time my parents came to visit. But more important, I bought one whenever I felt homesick. Having a piece of crumb cake with my children, always made me feel closer to my Mom.

Even when my Mom was at her sickest, she could usually eat a piece of crumb cake. She would get a look of childlike delight when the cake would be put on the table. She still analyzed every piece, looking for the piece she wanted to eat.

For a month, when my Mom was sick, my daughter lived with my parents. My daughter told how each evening, my Mom would ask for her cake. “Find the most crumbs,” my Mom would say. And my daughter would cut my Mom the best piece of crumb cake and bring it to her. It lightened the day.

When my Mom passed away, eating a piece of Entenmann’s crumb cake became even more important. I felt close to her when I ate the crumbs from the paper towel. Sounds silly, I know. But in those first months it did help. However, about six months after she died, the grocery stores in the Kansas City area, where I live, stopped selling the crumb cake. I felt crushed. I was devastated. I no longer could have my crumb cake fix. I no longer could feel that connection with my Mom.

I can still get crumb cake when I go back east to New Jersey and visit my siblings. My sister almost always buys a crumb cake for us to enjoy during my stay.  It helps. That bond with crumb cake is part of our existence.

IMG_1663

I actually had a lamp made after my mom died that has some of her favorite sayings on it. The Sticks campany, which makes painted furniture, will personalize their items. And so I had something made in memory of Mom. On one side, I had them engrave, “Crumb cake ❤ Love.”

 

 

 

http://www.entenmanns.com/op-prod.cfm/prodId/7203001994#.VQWQLmTF_Ao

 

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