First Holy Communion


First Holy Communion & Communion Mass
First Holy Communion & Communion Mass (Photo credit: SFA Union City)


For most Christians who practice Catholicism having a child receive their first Holy Communion is a very big deal. Particularly if that child is a little girl.  From a religious point of view it is just as important for boys, but for little girls it’s about the dress.




Traditionally, it is one of the three times in her life that a girl will be dressed in an expensive white gown. Sometimes this gown will be passed down from one generation to the other.  More often than not, a new outfit will be purchased  for that baby girl to wear at her christening.   A few years later the gown will be for communion/confirmation,  and as a woman, the center piece of the day is her wedding gown.




Three of the most memorable days of my life were,  first being accompanied by my mother to try on wedding gowns, and choosing the perfect one.   Then, many years later, and each in turn, accompanying my two daughters as they searched for and found their perfect wedding gown.




I don’t really remember my christening outfit, but I have seen pictures of it.  Since I am of Greek and Italian ancestry I got to wear it twice.  With all pomp and circumstance, I was baptized once in the Greek Orthodox Church, and again in the Roman Catholic Church.  I guess they wanted to make sure it took.  To make certain, I had two complete sets of Godparents.  My christening outfit was a long white satin and embroidered gown.  As I said, I’ve seen the picture of me in it and I don’t look too happy.




The second of my white dresses was topped by a heart-shaped head-piece and veil.   My mother, I,  and Jeannie, who was to sponsor me for confirmation and become yet another of my Godparents, walked up to third avenue and 120th Street to a children’s store.  Together, we three, shopped for this grand attire.  I had to try on several dresses and head pieces.  It was the same ritual as when purchasing a wedding gown except I had much less to say about the style.  All I knew was, this was an exciting time.




Boys and Girls who are to make their First Holy Communion and Confirmation (In those days you did both in the same day) were to study their Catechism book  (10 commandments, prayers, words of Jesus Christ, rules of the Church), and the Missile (Explanation and prayers of the Mass in Latin and English).  You then had to pass a test before you were permitted to join the other boys and girls making Communion and Confirmation.




My dress was lovely, with puff sleeves, tiny seed pearls, and two rows of tulle ruffles at the  hem line that ended just mid knee.




A big party was planned at my house (the 6th floor apartment) to celebrate this special day.  My mother and grandmother cooked all the food.  Nick, the ice man, carried up two huge blocks of ice for the bathtub to keep the soda, beer, and wine chilled.  All the relatives and friends of my parents were invited.  My father even hired a photographer to take slides of the special event.  You needed a unique projector to see them.  It was hand-held, you slid in the negative and looked through two circles.  I still have this viewfinder and slides.




The First Holy Communion procession took place early in the morning.  The excited boys and girls lined up outside the church.  Girls all wearing long or short communion dresses, boys in navy blue suits with white arm bands that would be changed to red for confirmation.  We carried bouquets of flowers like miniature brides.  Everyone was between seven and eight years old.  Parents sat in the back pews and ooooo’d and aaaaaah’d when we paraded in.




After the Sacrament was administered we were taken downstairs to the church hall where the nuns scurried around in their black habits attaching red arm bows to the boys, and pinning long red ribbons to the front of the girls dresses.  We were united with our individual sponsors’ (mine was Jeannie who was the daughter of our neighbor Jenny.  They lived across the hall) and sent back up to the church to be confirmed and slapped by the visiting Bishop.  (why he slapped you is another whole story and goes into Catholic doctrine.)




Jeannie whisked me away as soon as the ceremony was complete, and we were released.  Being asked to be someone’s sponsor for confirmation was a great honor.  My Godmother, who was about twenty-five years old at the time, dressed accordingly.  She looked beautiful.




As a treat and to get me out of the house while it was being set up for the celebration, my new Godmother took me to the movies to see Hans Christian Anderson, with Danny Kaye.  The colors were vivid.  She also presented me with a beautiful gold Bulova watch.  I still have it.  It doesn’t run and the black silk corded rope band frayed a long time ago, but I doubt I will ever give it up.




On the way back from the movie, I fell and tore up my knee on the concrete sidewalk.  I also ripped the bottom ruffle of my beautiful dress.  Poor Jeannie was so upset.  I don’t remember caring in the least.  The day from beginning to end was one of the most special days of my childhood.




Even now when I come across a little girl in her Communion dress I smile knowing it is something she will never forget.




Mushroom Garden

In Italy, about the turn of the century, the one before last, there was much marble used in even the poorest of dwellings.  The country had an abundance of it.  Italian marble was sought after in many countries.  But for the natives, of certain parts of Italy, it was easy to come by.  Floors, walls, perhaps even ceilings were made of the stuff. 

It endured for many years in the homes of Italians.  Even when it was no longer highly polished, or could be admired for its beauty; it was still sturdy, and did its job as good interior surface.  You couldn’t kill the stuff.  Well perhaps that is a bit of an exaggeration.  I am certain that bombs dropped during the second world war shortened the lifespan of this durable building material.  Over all as a floor, under normal circumstances, it is virtually indestructible.  The Italian homemaker thought little of pouring buckets of  hot soapy water onto the floors in order to shrub them,  and maintain cleanliness.

This practice didn’t travel well to the apartment buildings built to house the tenants of 425 East 116th Street.

Lena, who lived in the back apartment on the fourth floor,  came knocking on Grandma’s door one afternoon.  She was obviously in a panic as she whined that it was getting unbearable to live here any longer.  Lena  was afraid to go to the bathroom in her own apartment.  Soon the bathtub from upstairs, Antoinette Pizzi’s apartment, would be crashing down into her own.

Now, usually, Lena was a gentle, quiet, woman.  When she made her home-made macaroni out of flour and ricotta, they looked like little hats*,  she always brought over a big bowl for us to enjoy.  They really were delicious, but each of these little hats was a belly bomb.  After a half a bowl even the most spry person had to be helped out of the chair.  We never mentioned this after effect to the kind woman.

On the day that Lena banged on the front door in such a state, Grandma was really surprised, as this was not her norm.  After calming her, my four-foot nine, tower of strength, went with Lena back into her own apartment to assess the situation.  Sure enough it was bad. 

Not only was the ceiling darkened with black mold, but there were mushrooms of all shapes, sizes and colors growing upside down and sideways.  It was amazing, and a first even for the old building.  The only way this could have happened was for the ceiling  to be constantly fed water.  But that wasn’t really logical.  If a pipe had burst, surely by now the ceiling would be running water down.  There had to be an investigation.

Never one to allow moss, or in this case mushrooms, to grow under her little feet, Grandma immediately went one flight up to Mrs. Pizzi’s apartment to knock on her front door.  Always keeping to herself, and never very friendly, I am certain she was surprised when she opened her door a crack, peered out,  and saw my Grandmother there asking to be let in to check out the Pizzi bathroom.

All the bathrooms in the entire building were made exactly the same.  They had a pitted, white, five foot tub on four claw feet, a small round sink with a hot water knob and a cold water knob with individual spouts, and a porcelain goddess (toilet) that boasted an over head water tank with a pull chain to release the water flush.  The floors were all one inch square, white tile, with disappearing grout.

After much coaxing by Grandma, who wasn’t going to take no for an answer, she was permitted into the apartment to have a look.  No water appeared to be running, but an old metal bucket standing in the corner gave her a suspicion.  “How do you wash the floor?” she asked the very annoyed Antoinette Pizzi.

Of course, we all know her reply.  My Grandmother instructed the now befuddled Mrs. Pizzi, who was only recently from Europe, that these were tile floors, not marble, and someone lived downstairs.  She had to clean the tile without throwing down buckets of water.  Perhaps a modern wet mop would do. (string mop as opposed to a rag mop)

That done, Lena was assured by Grandma, that she could have the janitor come scrape the ceiling, plaster and repaint.  The mystery of the mushroom garden was solved.

Naturally, when Grandma went back into her own apartment, she warned the entire family not to accept any food from Lena that was made with mushroom.

*The reason these macaronies looked like little hats was after you rolled out the dough on the table you would pinch off  little pieces of dough with your thumb and tip of your index finger, shaping little bowler hats as you dropped them into the boiling water.  It had to be done very quickly and was extremely labor intense.  Therefore, it was generous for anyone to give you a bowl.

Sweet Dreams Teddy

Today, after eighteen and a half wonderful years with my sweet Pomeranian, Teddy, Jim and I made a decision to let him go to sleep.

I can’t write too much about this, except to say that he was a beautiful dog.  He gave us much joy and many laughs.  Everyone who came into our home, loved Teddy.

He wasn’t yippy.  He didn’t bite.  His disposition was unbelievable.  For 16 of his 18 years he looked like a show dog with the loving personality of a playful mutt.

My Teddy took a good run at life.

We are sad.  He will be missed.

Sweet Dreams Teddy

425 East 116th Street – (The Sunny Side)

425 East 116th was truly a world unto itself. During my years as a child, and on through middle teens, I knew everyone in every apartment. Some were most friendly; others kept to themselves. None the less, even without a building crier, all were privy to the sometimes intimate details of people’s lives. Often, more than any casual acquaintance had a right to know. Sexual details were kept from the really young children, only uttered in whispers. Not an easy task in the old pre-war building with barely plastered over dumb-waiter.

Like any society, the occupants of this world in microcosm, boasted its Royalty, its predominant middle class, and the sad poor. The stories that came out of 425 were sometimes ones of success, or too often heartbreakingly tragic. News moved from floor to floor with the accuracy and speed of an open intercom linking each apartment to a central information depot. The Feds and the CIA had nothing on this efficient grapevine. In fact, from the oldest resident to the youngest child, we always were alerted when authorities were lurking about the building or on the roof. I imagine they were looking for information on gangsters, number runners and drug dealers.

One common disguise of undercover law enforcement was to dress as television antenna installers. At that time, to get any kind of decent reception on your television, you needed an antenna on the roof. This would be connected by wires which hung down the building, entered the house through a window, and hooked up to the back of your set. You would contact a company that sold tvs and antennas, and they would send someone to install it for you. For a fee, as was expected. An early version of “The Cable Guy“. Since this was not someone who came often one would think that anyone could impersonate being the antenna repair man. Not so. The bulls (plainclothes policeman) always had new tools, unscuffed work shoes, pressed flannel shirts, and clean, unmarked hands. When one of these apparitions was spotted, the word soared soundless through the building.

My grandmother was friendly enough with three different occupants of the building to be invited, or to invite into the home for a cup of coffee. Only when the man of the house was at work. This was a big deal. People did not invite one another to their inner sanctum. It’s not the European way. Privacy at all costs.

One of these trusted individuals was Josie who lived with her family on the fifth floor. Josie was beautiful with smooth very pale skin and a soft disposition. If I was at home when grandma went for one of these rare visits she would take me with her. I know it is hard to believe but I was a good child.

Josie and her husband had four children, all older than I by a lot. Her only girl was Mary. She was well into her teens when I was six or seven. Mary had big blue eyes, unusual in the neighborhood, and the sweetest smile. I didn’t know it at the time but Mary was slow. She didn’t hang around with other girls her age or have the “normal” interests, but she did love comic books as did I. I would bring mine with me and we would trade and talk about what Little Lulu and Tubby were up to this month. Little Lulu was my favorite, Mary liked the horror comics (an oxymoron). I eventually got into them. They would scare the hell out of me.

Next door to Josie lived her mother, Nanine. I don’t think that was her real name but rather an affectionate nickname for Harlem’s version of the Queen Mother. Nanine was very fat and could barely get around. I guess she was really sick. Her most distinguishing feature was that she was as bald as a bean. This fascinated me. I always had to go visit Nanine when we went upstairs to Josie’s. Having a little girl around was a novelty, and the old woman loved when I came. She didn’t speak a word of English. Her dialect was different from grandma‘s and I really didn’t understand her, but Josie would translate for me.

Nanine looked like a giant genie to me. On this perfectly round, bald head she wore a black beret with diamond studs glittering in her prominent ear lobes. She would draw me close and hug me, which I endured as best I could. I didn’t want to hurt her feelings. One day I asked her why she was bald. Where had all her hair gone? Nanine smiled very wisely, and nodded before she told me something she knew that no one else knew. I’ll share what she told me with all who read this account.

“You must always eat the skin of the apples. If you don’t you will lose all your hair.”

Rest in Peace Nanine.

There are so many stories to be told about those who lived at 425. I love reliving them. Perhaps it serves to immortalize those who peopled my childhood.

All You Need is Music

People who have musical ability are surely blessed.  They should be recognized for their talent.  I can’t play an instrument and anyone who has ever heard me sing will attest to the fact that I need a wheelbarrow to carry a note.  But I can play a radio and truly love music.  I love it in all its forms.  If I know the words better yet, I’ll sing along.  Even if I only think I know the words I will fill in what I think fits.  Most often it won’t make any sense, but who cares, I’m happy.  If the melody has no words, but instead it was the theme to something like a Summer Place,  or Santo and Johnny‘s, Sleep Walk, I could almost swoon with the strains.

I have been singing and dancing from the time I was a child.  My father always brought music into the house.  Whether it was a phonograph or a huge radio.  Whether we had 78 LP’s or 33 and a  3rd.  There was always music in our house when my father was around.  He would purchase records all the time.  Rosemary Clooney, Nat King Cole, Perry Como and very early Rock N Roll, Bill Haley and the Comets.  My mother’s taste ran more to Bolero, Hernando’s Hideaway, Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White.

They would play these records repeatedly.  We ran that old phonograph arm for so long that after a time we would tape quarters, nickels and pennies to the head of the arm to hold it down on the record or it would skip and jump off.  Doing that eventually cut deeper grooves into the record.  That’s what caused them to get scratchy.  We played them anyway.  You could sing along and fill in the word when the record lost a word or two.

When I was little, Rosemary Clooney sang some of my favorite songs.  I would sing them over and over for the family.  I accompanied myself with dance.   Remember, they enjoyed the performances because I was their curly-headed kid.   A  few years ago my friend, Linda, gave me a CD of Bette Midler doing Rosemary’s songs.  “Hey There, This Old House, and Mambo Italiano”, among them.  I listen to it often and smile broadly as I sing along.  And when I am alone in the house I might even dance.

As I got older, I always associated a song with a boyfriend.  Slow dancing was part of my growing up.  There were two clubs, one on 116th and one 115th, that were populated by separate boy gangs.  Each had their own Jukebox.  I was welcomed into both clubs, almost anytime, to dance.  With a body that matured fairly early, with youthful curves that didn’t quit, I guess I was nice to hold while we danced to songs like, The closer you are, Just two kinds of people in the world, Diamonds and Pearls, I could go on forever.

To this day, every song of that era reminds me of a special boy, or an exciting time.  Strolling in Jefferson Park and having a date break into a rendition of “Blue Moon”.  All the boys thought they were Frankie Avalon or Fabian.  For realism they sported a modified pompadour over their foreheads.  This didn’t aid their singing, but fortunately most could sing better than me, or the romance would have surely been destroyed before it began.  Most romances only lasted a month or two.

The music matured as we did and I fell in love with Soul Music.  Mommio, Daddio, this is Jocko and I’m going to take you to the moon!  Submarine Races, Plum Beach, Orchard Beach Parking Lot, the music was always there.  It was such an important part of who we were. The teens of the fifties and sixties identified with it, right up and through the English Invasion.

Today I still play my music, but now its on a Disk, Computer, Ipod or Ipad.  I still sing along and dance in the kitchen.  Once in a while if something like “A Sunday Kind of Love“, happens to serenade from the Ipod, and my guy is in the kitchen with me, we will stop everything, even a fight, to have a dance.

Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t sing and you can’t dance.  All you need is music.


Those Artificial Flowers

Blazing crimson, romantic heliotrope,  passionate lavender, no matter what seductive label you bless them with, no matter how realistic they appear, silk flowers are only lifeless replicas of the real thing that might grow in your garden, or in a nursery.  Paper, plastic, silk imitations,  have no scent, they require no water, and while they don’ t wilt, you need to dust them on occasion. These imitations must be changed with the seasons, other wise they stand out in a way that only Poinsettia would in July.

 I’m an old-fashioned girl with definite likes and dislikes.  I want a stick house (one that was built with real wood) to a prefab.  Overstuffed couches and oak end tables rather than ultra modern glass and chrome.  Wooden park benches as opposed to molded plastic. I even wax nostalgic regarding rattan seats on the old BMT subway line that ended at Stillwell Avenue in Brooklyn.  How uncomfortable and sterile looking those awful plastic replacements are.

Admittedly, I have silk flowers in my home.  Displays of hardy greens sway in hanging baskets.  One in the living room and one out in the screen room.  I am not particularly proud of this lapse of  taste, either its the gypsy in my soul or they both serve a purpose.  I don’t have to water them, pinch them back, or ever feed them.  By not having to water them, since they are over my head, I don’t get water dripping back down my arm off my elbow or into my armpit.  If its ever happened to you, you know it is the most unpleasant, in fact, creepy feeling.  My baskets of green never drop leaves or drip water onto the carpeting.

You can also put one of these vibrant displays in any dark corner.   The leaves won’t wither from lack of sunlight.  You don’t need to have a conversation with fake plants, they will continue to reward you with a rich green or variegated leaves until the sun fades them, without daily encouragement.   Sometimes a burst of color in an unexpected area of your home can change the mood of the room.  All that being said, and despite the fact that I do create and display silk floral arrangements, I really don’t care for them.  Especially during the Spring and Summer when I have the pleasure of real flowers.

The other day, in a rare show of affection, my husband Jim surprised me with two large sprigs of red, plastic and silk azaleas.  They were eye-catching but obviously too fake to stand alone in a vase.  Ok, I hated them!  But when someone gives you something with such good intentions, there is nothing else you can do; say thank you and accept them graciously.  Once that is done you need to figure out where to put them until it was time to change for the season.

(Back track)  For Christmas one of the gifts I received from my daughter, Crissy, was an Amaryllis bulb planted in a pot.  As they do,  the bulb made tall, sturdy fronds, however the flower never appeared.  I was disappointed because I love Amaryllis.  I very much enjoy watching them grow.  They gain about four inches a day.  It really is amazing.  While the fronds were growing I put the bulb in its cardboard pot into a big, decorative, clay flower-pot.  When the fronds wilted, I snipped them and put the pot away.

(Back to the Present)  What to do with the two Azalea silks?  Ever the make lemonade out of lemons girl, I retrieved the pot – stuck the plastic stalks into the dirt with the dead bulb still in it, wrinkled up a brown paper bag to resemble soil, arranged the flowers and sat it on the hearth.  Honestly, it didn’t look half bad.  In fact, once you got over the silks in dirt aspect they were very pretty.

Two weeks later I am staring at my silk azaleas and I notice two light green stalks in the center, towering over the flowers.  This was over the top.  I asked Jim what he had bought now to stick into the silks.  Naturally, he denied going near them.  When I attempted to remove them I was amazed to discover they were alive, alive!!  I realized they were growing fronds.  My silk flowers had grown their own stalks.  Apparently, the Amaryllis bulb suddenly and without light or water began growing again and at its four inch a day rate, through the brown paper bag and around the bright red flower petals.

What else could I do?  I now water my artificial flowers!

The Boys of Summer

After a long winter, just about the time the winter blues have gotten me down and cabin fever has me as restless as a bear waking up from hibernation, ABC news announces that the Yankees have arrived in Tampa for Spring training.   This is almost a religious holiday for me.  The rejoicing, the partying on my part, is unrestrained.  Can crocus and barbecues be far behind?

 I love baseball, more than loving baseball,  I love the Yankees.  I’ve been a die-hard fan since 1972.  Before that I was just an average fan.  When we got our first color TV, and you could see  the emerald grass of the old stadium, I often thought to myself, and aloud, how my father and uncle Christy would have reveled in the beauty of sports in color.  Football and basketball, as well as baseball, but especially baseball. 

Back in the day my father would be sitting in his chair in the corner of the living room watching the little TV screen.  It was Sunday afternoon, summer, and baseball was on the tube (old nickname for television).  It could be the Yankees, Dodgers, Giants.  What did it matter they were all New York teams. (This was in the early fifties.  The Mets were a long way from having their first at bat).  Our front door would swing open and in would saunter uncle Christy down the hall.  He never knocked, after all this was his brother’s house.  You couldn’t see who was coming in from my dad’s vantage point in the living room, but he knew from the sound of the rolling footsteps.  Always he would yell out, “Who forgot to lock the door?”.  My uncle never replied to this.  Instead he would come in, sit down on the couch, and in moments they would be bickering about the merits of this play or that.  My father was in his glory with his older brother at his side.  It was their dance and I caught the rhythm.

 There is something about our national past time that is magical and patriotic all at once.  I never tire of listening to Kate Smith sing God Bless America.  When the cameras pan the audience I watch to see who is appropriately respectful and who is singing along.   The people who sing get gold stars on my virtual report card.   I am happy to say 98 percent of the fans are attentive.  Of course the Star Spangled Banner brings me to my feet even at home.  And when it is heartfelt by the vocalist  it will bring me to tears, particularly when the camera’s eye rests on our beautiful men and women in uniform.  I’ve been known to cheer when they get to, ‘land of the free and the home of the brave’.

 Since Phil Rizzuto, Frank Messer, and Bill White my loyalty doesn’t stop at the team.  It also extends to the TV announcers.  In the past when there was a rain delay the network would stay with the announcers while rain poured down on the field.  My favorite at that time was always the exchanges between Phil and Bill.  It was better than any scripted comedic teams.  Bill would feed Rizzuto a line, and Holy Cow we were off to the races.  It was unrehearsed, it was natural it was New York baseball.

Today my favorite is Michael Kay, smart, witty and knowledgeable.  He can maintain a fun banter with O’Neill, Flaherty, or Ken Singleton (another wonderful announcer).  His show center stage is entertaining and better than most interview shows.

 The ball players and their respective teams have lifted the spirits of family and loved ones while they were restricted to hospital beds.  My sister Christine, and a friend Jessie, were often able to forget their woes as they cheered Mariano at the bottom of the ninth in yet another save situation.  When I would call Christine during her long hospital stays she would want to discuss the recent game rather than her ailments.

The list of idolized ball players is longer than my throwing arm.  Each one right up until Jeter’s 3000 hit, doing it in Yankee style with a Home Run, has given us plenty to cheer about, even while our country’s at war, in the face of a horrific economy, and the specter of defaulting on our national debt.  The Boys of Summer lighten our moods especially when they beat the Red Socks, they make it a better day.

Birthday Party

I am caught betwixt and between as to whether I am a fan of birthday parties and celebrations of that kind,  or not.  It appears that every time a child makes it through, over, or around some landmark in their life,  it must be noted, impressed in history by having a huge party,  and giving  a car load of gifts.  While I love celebratory happenings as much as anyone, perhaps it cheapens the value of true accomplishments in life, versus getting a year older.

These celebrations are not new to the current generation, but the magnitude,  number of people invited and the extravagant cost of parties (the word party does not nearly do justice to these galas) are a product of the last fifteen or so years.  If someone chooses not to have a house party, even the youngest toddler will get a blow out at Chucky Cheese or some such place.  All their friends, their friends’ Mothers, and family are invited.  (Do toddlers even know they have friends?)  Sometimes two parties are held on different days.  One for family and one for ‘friends’.

When I was a little girl birthday parties were always held in the house, if at all.  I was an only child until I was six.  My sister, Christine took a long time coming.   Obviously, a bigger deal was made out of my birthday than a child who was perhaps the  fourth blessing in his/her family.  By the time the fourth child comes around parents become fairly blase’ about their kid making it from four to five years of age, and so forth.  It had already been three times proven to those exhausted parents that if you just wait the little darlin will pass from one year to the next without too much effort on anyone’s part.  Therefore a birthday party might only consist of Mom, Dad, and the honoree’s siblings.  Certainly not a catered affair. 

But such was not the case for me, for a while anyway. At the tender age of four, I was still an only child and loving every minute of it.  My birthdays were celebrated very modestly by todays standards.  Still it was a grand party.   My parents would invite their brothers and sisters, with their respective spouses, and children.  Neighbors across the hall were also included along with their youngest children,  for my birthday celebration.  There were Happy Birthday wishes, cards, and gifts.

 The adults socialized and drank “highballs” (whiskey and soda in a tall glass)  in the living room, while I played dolls, and pots and pans, with my cousins, in my tiny bedroom.  Didn’t matter it was small, so were we.   And then the cake.  The cake was always the biggest deal at birthdays.  It was a round creation made with white cake, strawberry filling,  whipped cream, surrounded by lady fingers standing at attention on the sides,  and my name scrawled across the top.  The cake came from Lily’s Bakery two buildings over.

I was afforded the place of honor, standing up on a kitchen chair so that my mother could get a good picture of me blowing out the candles.  Judging by the smile on my face, I was having a really good time.  Clapping along while my adoring worshippers sang Happy Birthday to me.  This memory is vivid primarily because  I have a  4″ x 4″ picture in the memory trunk.  In retrospect I wonder how much relatives really wanted to be there.  But how could they not want to be there?  I was so cute.

My dark auburn hair was a curly riot (not much beside the color has changed there and I no longer consider my curls funny.)  I wore a cotton dress, which ended mid-thigh, although I don’t know what color it was.  It is a black and white photograph.  I also wore brown high top leather shoes.  No delicate Mary Janes for me.  When I was born I had a club foot.  Fortunately the heel was there and the doctor was able to pull it into place and tape it.   Maybe it was more technical than that, but the result, I had to wear sturdy shoes until I was about 10 years old.  The ugly shoes didn’t stop me from dancing around.  I doubt I even noticed them.  It was my birthday.  What a great thing I did!

Ok, now that I have written this, I now know why parents go out of their way to give their children Birthday Parties.  Look at the wonderful memories I have of mine all these years later.  Go on all you parents with young children.  Whoop it up the best you can.  Give your kids their own Birthday Party flashbacks.

I Love My Birthday!!!

Tomatoes are Good for my Memory!

Today is one of those landmark days of summer. We all have them, although not everyone chooses

Tomato (Tamatar)
Image via Wikipedia

to note them. I always do. Like, the first bite of watermelon of the season, the first tender peach, the first BBQ offering up a medium rare hamburger, or the perfect hot dog on a bun.

Today we ate the first ripe tomato from our back yard garden. Juicy, not too many seeds, tasty and with an aroma. There is no resemblance between a store-bought, hot-house tomato, one that has been gassed to turn it red, and a garden grown, vine ripened, tomato.

I have often purchased a box of tomatoes in Costco or the local supermarket. Truly, they were pretty, but I believe they should be renamed as they are nothing like a real tomato. Some are so hard you could play softball with it and do it no damage. When you cut into one, usually more orange-colored than red, there is no scent. And you may as well put a slice of raw zucchini on your sandwich for all the flavor the off-season tomatoes reward you with.

So I sliced into this summer’s first tomato and that is when I realized how good it was for my memory. Immediately, I was transported into my Grandmother’s kitchen, sitting at the table watching her make a fresh tomato and onion salad. Not too many raw onions or your eyes will water and your tongue will burn while you eat it. The salad was oh so good and she never diluted the opposing flavors with lettuce. It was perfect as it was. I could almost smell it now.

When my father was alive , I was sent downstairs to my Grandmother’s apartment to keep her company. Since all her children were adults and gone to live their own lives and her husband long gone, the evenings and nights would have been lonely for her. So every evening I went downstairs in my pajamas, supposedly to sleep. Each morning I ran back upstairs to dress for school. I never minded going, although, once or twice the thought that I had been replaced in my mother and father’s affection by my baby sister crossed my mind. The fleeting thought never stayed with me. I was loved. No doubt about it. Besides I really liked going down to my Grandmother’s. She never made me go to sleep until I was ready, even on school nights. After all I was there to keep her company.

Grandma had a black and white television (never tv) and an a RCA Victrola which played 78s (those big, heavy records probably made out of china.) Only rarely did we listen to the few records she owned (Mario Lanza). Mostly it was television. Charlie Chan movies or Bela Lugosi as Dracula. They were grainy films, they flickered and often the picture rolled either vertically or horizontally. It always happened at the best parts of a movie and you would need to jump up and tune it in with a button called the tuner. But we had the best times. I got her undivided attention. What could be better than that?

For snack she would make what we called a poor man’s salad. (A half loaf of hard Italian bread sprinkled with water so you didn’t break your teeth, salt, pepper, olive oil, oregano and of course a few onions, sliced in thin half moons.) This concoction was put together and left to blend for about a half hour. Then we would sit cuddled together on her overstuffed couch and devour it while being scared to death by Bela, or Lon Chaney, Jr. (Remember Larry Talbot?) The couch had a floral slip cover on it. When the springs finally went and we were throwing it out I was amazed to see the still new upholstery was a burgundy velvet.

For about a year or two this was our ritual. Each night I went to bed with this (nourishing?) snack laying heavy on my very young and strong stomach. Every morning, after running upstairs to get dressed in my Catholic elementary school uniform I would return to her apartment and she would make me a double espresso to warm me up before school. I was very alert in the second grade :).

We each have special memories of our Grandmothers or Grandfather


s, if we are lucky. Fortunately for me, tomatoes are good for my memory!

4th of July – at Cathye & Sandy’s

After moving to Long Island the 4th of July calmed down quite a bit. A few firecrackers went off here and there on the 4th and one or two days preceding it. The flashy firework displays were limited to those different townships who sponsored them. They were lit from a barge and shot up over the water at the great South Bay. You would piled the kids into the car and take a short ride into town. Once there the first available parking space was about half a mile from the shore front, where you needed to be to get a good view. Having parked you would join the steady stream of walkers down to the shore front, carrying chairs, drinks and of course snacks. All this for about a twenty-minute display. Pretty, but to say the least, mild compared to what we were use to in Brooklyn.

Sometime around 1980 my cousin Cathye, (I always called her Catherine) who was very family oriented, would organize a get together at her house to celebrate the 4th of July. Every one was invited from the eldest member, my mother, to the youngest baby, my cousin Camille’s daughter, Cassie. Besides family, came old friends from Brooklyn, making quite a crowd. Cathye’s husband Sandy, a gravely voiced, gruff, supposedly anti social giant of a man would go along with the entire three-ring circus.

Cathye and Sandy couldn’t have been more opposite in looks and temperament had they entered a contest intentionally seeking polar opposites. She was fair complected, about five foot three, with blonde hair and blue eyes. Cathye was plagued with a weight issue all her life, making her fairly round. Yes, I will say it, she was quite chubby. She buzzed around her house in and out of the patio doors with platters of food and gallons of drink. The guests contributed appetizers, sides, and desserts, sometimes made to her specifications.

Sandy stood around six feet six inches. He was swarthy, dark hair and eyes. In his younger days he had pumped a lot of iron and still made an imposing figure. The original grouch. But no matter what he said about hating all the family invading his house, crowding the patio, making his pool cloudy, he would permit no one else to barbecue at his shiny red grill. (He put a fresh coat of paint on it every year.) He would grumble and complain from the moment we arrived. No one paid a bit of attention to it. Sandy loved the company, the family, and the slew of kids we brought with us. He happily tolerated the greeting kisses and general loud buzz of the day.

Cathye and Sandy’s relationship was unwittingly patterned after an old sit com – All in the Family – complete with one child, a girl named, Sabrina. The sun rose and set on that girl. In fact, sometimes when you were visiting it was like going to see The Cathye and Sandy Show. Their interaction, at times, was hysterical. Often their foil was Sandy’s lifelong friend, Paul. My kids always called him Uncle Paul. He was a fixture at their house and included and expected at all family functions.

Each year the piece de resistance was what kind of fireworks, Sandy and Paul were cooking up in the garage. As the evening drew upon us the children almost vibrated with expectation that the two men intentionally fueled all day. They would banter back and forth in exaggerated whispers so that the young boys could overhear (Our son Jimmy, Cousin Tommy’s son, Anthony in particular). If the boys tried to look into the garage they were shooed away. Sandy even had a competition going with his backyard neighbor, Elmo, which of them had the best fireworks. I don’t think Elmo ever knew he was in a competition, or that he name was really Elmo.

One year Sandy and Paul were in an over the top fevered pitch about the rocket they were building. They talked about what alloy the cylinder was made from. How they packed it with gun powder to give it lift. What they had used for propelling it upward. Even the other adults were getting concerned. Had they gone too far this year.

When the time came the family all gathered on the deck. Paul and Sandy carried this five foot rocket out from the garage and sat it on the platform. Now Cathye began yelling – are you guys crazy somebody is going to get hurt. They ignored her. What else was new? Sandy again mumbling how he would teach Elmo. This year he was going to win for sure. Paul urged him on. Anthony and Jimmy could barely be restrained. They wanted to light the rocket. I began ushering the younger kids into the house, thinking this was really getting a little scary and I wanted the children out of harm’s way.

Then they did it. The two of them together lit the three-foot fuse leading up to their master piece. Sandy and Paul ran back to the protection of the house. I think everyone’s heart stopped. And then…. And then….. NOTHING. The fuse burned slowly to the cylinder, which was actually nothing more substantial than cardboard. The five foot rocket shook momentarily then tipped over and burned up. A big pile of Ash.

No one laughed harder than Sandy and Paul.