Tag Archives: childhood

The Super Elastic Power of Friendship

The first friend I ever made was named Donna. She had blonde curly hair and blue eyes and she and her family lived across the street and up a block. We might have met earlier than we did, except that neither of us was allowed to cross the street by ourselves. As it was, we didn’t become friends until my older sister started babysitting for Donna and her siblings.

From that point on we were like sisters ourselves. Sleepovers, vacations with each other’s families and just lots and lots of fun. By the time we were in 8th grade we had a nice little circle of friends and quite a history. That was the year that Donna’s father accepted a job transfer and moved the whole family south to rural Virginia. Needless to say, we were devastated. Her mom and dad promised they would do whatever they could to make sure our friendship survived.

Honoring our devotion to the Monkees...1975

Honoring our devotion to the Monkees…1975

All through high school we endured the four and a half hour drive back and forth between New Jersey and Virginia. Sometimes we went with family, sometimes with friends and one time, all by ourselves on a rather scary Greyhound bus (a story all in itself, especially the layover in Washington DC!) She spent part of each summer at my house, hanging with our old friends, and I spent part of the summer at her house making new ones.

In between, there were letters – lots and lots of long letters sharing every little thing that was going on in our lives. This was back before email and cell phones so there were many photographs sent back and forth as well. Each letter was signed “TTFN” our code for “Ta-Ta for now,” because that way it wasn’t really goodbye, it was just a break until the next time.

My sisters wedding...1982

My sisters wedding…1982

We made occasional phone calls to each other but long distance was expensive so it wasn’t very often. One call, however, will always stand out in my memory. It came late one night during our senior year of high school. Donna called to tell me that her 18 year old sister had died in a car accident. It was an awful feeling not being able to comfort my friend in person. Suddenly the miles between us seemed so much longer.

Life moved on. When she was 19, Donna married a Marine Sargent named Bob. I was maid of honor. She settled into being a military wife, going with him when she could or living with her parents, working and taking college courses when she couldn’t. At the time of my first wedding, in 1985, they were living in California, making it difficult for her to be my maid of honor, as I had hoped. In fact, we weren’t even certain they would be able to come to the ceremony until the very last minute. They did manage to make it but our visits, and even our letters were becoming less and less frequent.

Nine years later I was planning my second wedding. Donna and Bob were once again living in Virginia and working in Washington D.C.  It had been a few years since we had been able to see each other but I’d promised myself that if I remarried, I wanted her to be my maid of honor. Hubby and I drove down to visit for a weekend so they could meet and so that we could work out some of the details. Then, in May, Donna, Bob and her mom came up to New Jersey for the wedding. We were both thirty-one and had known each other for over 25 years but it felt like life was making it harder and harder for us to stay connected.

Flash forward twenty years. My life revolved around raising my kids, working in a school, and spending time with my family. I was a small town girl living the simple life. Donna, on the other hand, had finished her masters degree in computer management and had been working for a company that sent her all over the world updating their systems. Her life had become about work, taking care of her fur babies and globe trotting with Bob. They had chosen not to have children and instead spent much of their free time traveling and exploring.

Our lives had moved in such different directions and our emails, which had dwindled to a few a year, started sounding impersonal and distant, like those newsletters people send in their holiday cards. We hadn’t talked on the phone or seen each other face to face since my wedding. She had never met my teenage children. We had, for the most part, dropped out of each other’s lives.

Then, last November, my mom passed away. I knew Donna would want to know so I sent her an email, not even sure I still had the correct phone number. To my surprise, she called that night and we had an awkward conversation, both of us a little embarrassed about how much time had passed. Her schedule made it impossible for her to make it to the funeral but before we hung up we made a promise that we would do our best to arrange a visit.

It took seven months for that visit to finally take place. She and Bob arranged to drive up to New Jersey for a long weekend. They had more time available since they had recently opted for early retirement. I was glad they had chosen to book a hotel room instead of staying in our home because, even though I was incredibly excited to see her, I was also feeling very anxious about spending time with this person who felt like a stranger to me. What would we talk about? How could we possibly relate to each other?  Once upon a time we could finish each other’s sentences, we knew each other’s deepest, darkest secrets, we told each other everything. Now I was afraid our visit would be filled with awkward silences.

The evening they arrived was very emotional, filled with hugs, introductions and basic catch up. There were a few uncomfortable moments but not too bad. We made plans for the next day including a visit to my moms grave so Donna could pay her respects and then a road trip to Chaddsford Pa to visit some historic sites.  It was a two hour drive. The men took the front seat while Donna and I sat in the back.

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Something amazing happened during those two hours. It was almost like  we were transported back in time to our teenage years. We settled into the familiar rhythm of our friendship, engaging in jokes only we understood and finishing each other’s sentences, completing ignoring the guys in the front seat! The day flew by and before I knew it they were heading back home again, but not before plans were made for the next trip a month later.

The second visit was even more fun. We discovered a mutual love of fantasy fiction and antique shopping. She and Bob are building a retirement home in the country so interior design and decorating has become a common topic as well. But the connection is much more than that. I think, even though our lives and interests changed, deep down we didn’t. Our, now weekly, emails are more like chats that are following an already started conversations. I was hoping that we had made it back to a good place, but I knew for sure when Donna signed one of her notes “TTFN!”

It made me giggle, warmed my heart and made me realize that best friends are always close, no matter how far away they are. So if there is a friend in your life that you’ve lost touch with, take my advice, pick up the phone. After all…

Good friends are like stars. You can’t always see them, but you know they’re always there.

Chaddsford, Pa...2015

Chaddsford, Pa…2015

 

Christmas Postathon Day 9

A Christmas Tradition you Enjoyed as a Child

My father’s parents were married on December 24, 1921 so every Christmas Eve when I was little, we piled in the car and headed to their row home on Wildey Street in north Philadelphia to share in an Anniversary/Christmas celebration. We knew that my father’s 3 brothers, 2 sisters and all their children would be there as well. Apparently, my grandmother viewed this as a command performance, no excuses!

Minnie holding my sister 1955

Minnie holding my sister 1955

Me, Christmas Eve 1966

Me, Christmas Eve 1966

We didn’t find time to visit my dad’s family very often so this was a trip I always looked forward to especially because it was in the city. I was a child of suburbia, living in a ranch house with a lawn on a tree lined street so I found the the rows of tall narrow houses, packed up against each other quite fascinating!  My Catholic Aunts referred this style house as “Father, Son and Holy Ghost” which meant three square rooms (living, dining, kitchen) lined up from front to back. There was a small back porch and two stories above for the bedrooms.

I loved the sound my heels made on the stone front stoop and the echos that bounced off the walls of the narrow alley way running between the houses. There was a tiny winding stairway leading to the upper floors and the biggest bathroom I had ever seen complete with a white claw foot tub. My sister told me that the reason it was so big was because it had started as a bedroom back before there was indoor plumbing! My grandfather and uncles had converted it themselves.

There was always lots of good food and drinks at the Christmas Eve parties. My dad, his brothers and his father all worked for Schmidts Brewery so of course the beer flowed freely and my grandmom Minnie was from Germany so her stews and desserts were always rich and hearty and more than enough to feed a small army! Excitement and noise filled the small rooms. The grownups would be shouting over each other, laughing and talking while the children raced around getting reacquainted, and of course there were gifts-lots and lots of gifts! It seemed like everytime I turned around there would be another Aunt or Uncle handing me a package to open!

My grandfather and some of the cousins.

My grandfather and some of the cousins.


Eventually, the food was eaten, the last gift was opened and goodbyes were said. We piled in the car and headed back to Jersey. My brother and sisters would chatter excitedly about Santa’s arrival the next morning but I was usually sound asleep before we even reached the bridge.

Sadly, both of my dad’s parents passed away by the time I was ten and the house on Wildey Street was sold. Christmas Eve became something different. We tried to get together with my father’s family during the holiday season but without Minnie’s driving force the visits became fewer and fewer. I’m glad she held strong while she could though because the memories of those Christmas Eve celebrations are something I cherish.

 

Just Playing Around

imageI read in the newspaper this week that the Slinky is turning 70! Cool, huh? This iconic toy was invented in nearby Philadelphia by a gentleman by the name of Richard James, an engineer at the Cramp Shipbuilding Company. Apparently, Mr James invented the Slinky quite by accident. He was attempting to devise a spring that would hold sensitive shipboard equipment stable during rough seas when he knocked one of the reject springs off a shelf. It flounced about the floor for a bit and Jim had enough imagination to see an opportunity.

We spent many days playing with Slinkys when I was little and my own children had them too. When I think of them I am hit with dozens of memories of us building ramps and steps out of books just to see what tricks we could get the Slinky to do!

Isn’t it funny that when you think about the toys you played with as a child, it’s not just the item you remember but the wonderful way it made you feel. Life was so exciting when the whole world of your imagination was open to you! My friend Donna and I would spend hours playing Barbies or paper dolls inventing entire lives for them complete with jobs, pets and boyfriends! She had a Barbie Camper so they often went on road trips, usually to see The Monkees in concert. We had a thing for Mickey Dolenz and Peter Tork back then. The best Christmas ever was the year I received both Quick Curl Barbie and Mod Hair Ken!! He had stick on facial hair! Hard to beat that.


Dolls were always my favorite things to play with and it wasn’t just Barbie. The 1970s produced a plethora of weird and wonderful dolls.

One that I really loved was Dawn. She and her friends were like mini Barbies with various shoes and outfits. I even had a fashion show stage for her. You basically stuck her little foot in a little vice and then cranked a handle moving a track around the stage. It sent her for a spin than brought her back. Very low tech.

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Dawn by Topper Toys (1970).

Then there was Mrs Beasley from Family Affair. Anybody remember her? She talked!

Mrs Beasley by Mattel

Mrs Beasley by Mattel

I also had  Growing Hair Kerry, the doll whose hair expanded out the top of her head then retracted when you pushed her belly button. Nothing weird about that. She had a bunch of outfits too (I’m beginning to think my older sisters were right-I was spoiled!)

Kerry by Ideal (1970)

Kerry by Ideal (1970)

Of course if you wanted a truly weird and disturbing doll it would have been Little Miss No Name, the poor orphan doll with the glued on tear drop. Her box reads, “please take me home and wipe my tear away.” Yikes! Who thought up this one? Not only is this sad little girl  wearing a burlap bag, her eyes make her look like a zombie! Can’t imagine why I wanted her so bad.  I do, however, remember that her tear drop fell off and got lost within the first week. Guess she got her wish. 😌

Little Miss No Name by Hasbro (1965)

Little Miss No Name by Hasbro (1965)

I played with other toys too; wooden blocks, puzzles, the Easy Bake Oven, but the dolls were always my favorite. Whenever I come across one of them now, at a yard sale or antique store (those Mrs Beasleys are very collectible by the way) I get all misty eyed. I miss playing dolls with Miss Dee. I guess I’ll just have to wait for the babies in the family to grow up a bit more.  In the meantime, I can get them all Slinkys!

Tell me about your favorite toy.

FYI..This post has been added to the Leisure Link curtsey of Perspectives On. Hop over and check out the other blogs!

Saving Grace

I’ve never been a very graceful person. As a little girl I had clunky red shoes that were meant to fix my pigeon toes. They weren’t very effective though because as soon as I was out of my mom’s sight, off they came! My knees were knobby and my balance only so-so. I always had bruises from walking into things and once I sprained my ankle just trying to kick a ball! I got used to it. Ironically, the name “Nancy” actually means “grace”! There were, however, two places growing up where I finally felt graceful. The secret, I discovered, was keeping  my feet off the ground…

The first place was in our pool or anywhere I could swim under water. I’d  zoom through the water doing front flips and back flips. I could twirl and do hand stands. Dad called me his little fish. I felt willowy and elegant and spent a lot of time pretending I was a mermaid princess. Of course, you know, that princesses are never, ever clumsy!

The other place was the one spot I thought I would never feel graceful. Gym class! Most of my grade school career had been spent trying to get out of gym class. I tended to catch balls with my face and when I ran, I tripped on nothing. Then in eighth grade we were introduced to gymnastics. Of course the floor routines (running and flipping) weren’t my thing and the balance beam was out for reasons that should be obvious but the uneven parallel bars….hmmm? They looked interesting! Hanging by my knees from the monkey bars was totally my thing and bar routines were kind of the same. IMG_1661

The teacher taught us some basic moves and we practiced for weeks. Eventually the whole class was ready to put on a gymnastics show for our parents. Guess who was picked to do a routine on the unevens? I  flipped from the bottom bar and swung around the top one. I put one leg over and did another flip. I flew back and forth between bars, up and over and back down. My mother said later that she was scared to death I was going to fall on my head but I was in heaven! I felt so graceful and athletic, something I never felt when I had both feet on the ground!

My gymnastic career ended with the semester. It’s just as well. I probably would have ended up hurting myself. The closest I get to feeling graceful these days is when I’m doing yoga. Years of practice has improved my balance and posture, (heck, I get crazy excited when I’m able to hold a pose on one foot!) but I’m still pretty clumsy. I don’t mind though because I figure I make up for it with small motor abilities. Drawing, painting, handwriting, Pick-Up-Sticks, Jenga, you name it. Plus I can untangle any knot you throw at me. It’s a fair trade. 😊

Beach Babies.

Summer Bucket List item #1

Last week we were finally able to squeeze in another day at the beach! Hurray! My sister and her husband had rented a condo at the shore for the week and invited us to come hang out so Hubby, Miss D and I packed up the car and headed south. Sadly our young Mr D had to work so he missed the sun and the sand this time.

My niece and her 8 month old little boy were staying at the condo with my sister so they came to the beach with us. As we sat there watching the baby enjoy the sand and the water for the first time, I started thinking about what a different experience the beach is for children than it is for adults. For grown-up me it’s all about soaking up the sun and relaxing with a good book and a cold drink. I find the smells and the sounds calming and rejuvenating but as a kid it was a totally different story!

When I was young, we vacationed at the shore for three days every summer. That was the amount of time my dad could stand staying in a motel! I guess he was a homebody like me. Anyway, on the ride down I couldn’t wait for that first breath of sea air. I would stick my head out the window breathing in the ocean scent, my body humming with excitement! I couldn’t wait to get to the beach.

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I love to swim and did go in the water but the ocean is a little unpredictable and I often found myself getting knocked over by a wave and ending up with stinging eyes and a mouthful of sand, so most of my day was spent creating in the sand. I realized, quite young, that you could build almost anything out of sand if you had the patience. The more sand toys the better. Anything became a mold for sand and I remember my mom saving empty containers for weeks before the trip so I would have lots of shapes and sizes to choose from. No store bought castle shaped buckets for me!

I usually built a castle as expected but I didn’t stop there! My most favorite thing to build were giant faces in the sand. I used to think that it would be fun for the pilots in the little planes that flew past the beach towing the advertisement banners to have these funny faces looking up at them. You know, give them a laugh!

I also built huge fortresses with underwater tunnels and pools made of clam shells as well as giant fish and turtles. My sand art was nothing like those amazing sand sculptures you see on the beach sometimes but they sure kept me busy for hours and hours. My parents would have to drag me off the beach at the end of the day.

When my kids were little and we went to the beach we built things in the sand too but I think as a mom I was more preoccupied with keeping them safe and happy. I didn’t get overly creative. Besides, Hubby and Mr D were usually more interested in beach sports than beach art so it was just me and Miss D left digging in the sand. I do remember a summer when Miss D was about five a group of young girls ask if they could make her a mermaid tail out of sand. She was thrilled when they finished burying her from the waist down!! Those were my kind of girls!IMG_1527

Maybe now that I am older and more relaxed on the beach I can revisit my passion for sand art. My niece’s son will be ready in a few years to help me scoop, pack and build.

How about you? Were you a beach baby?

Q is for the Quick Brown Fox…

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The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.

How many people recognize that sentence? Probably quite a few hands went up.

According to Wikipedia….

The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” is an English-language pangram—a phrase that contains all of the letters of the alphabet. It is commonly used for touch-typing practice. It is also used to test typewriters and computer keyboards, show fonts, and other applications involving all of the letters in the English alphabet. Owing to its brevity and coherence, it has become widely known.

Okay, now, how many of you practiced that sentence on a manual typewriter? Hmmm. Lots of hands went down!

Students still learn touch typing only now it’s called “keyboarding”. I tried to explain to my third graders what a typewriter was one day. I was met with a lot of blank stares. I could have confused them further if I’d told them that my older sister learned shorthand when she was in school (Shorthand?) and then used touch type to translate her shorthand.

I can touch type pretty quickly and it’s definitely a very useful skill. Hubby uses a rapid-fire, two-finger, hunt-and-peck typing style. Not sure what class he took. There is no denying that computers and word processing make writing documents easier and more convenient but sometimes I still get nostalgic for the old days….

Remember those little strips of white paper you could put under the keys to correct mistakes? And who could forget good old Liquid Paper! Then there was the neat way the keys would all jam up if you hit them too fast. I can still hear that little bell that rang when you reached the end of the page. Each and every time you reached the end of the page.. Ahh, memories. Of course after so many years typing on a computer keyboard, I’d probably sprain my fingers if I tried to push down regular typewriter keys again!  I guess there’s a lot to be said for progress after all.

P is for Painting

oil-painting-tools-materials-fine-art

The summer I was thirteen my mother signed me up for oil painting lessons.  I’d always loved drawing and had dozens of sketchbooks full of pictures but this was my first adventure into painting and my first formal training. For our working class family, art lesson were a bit of an extravagance. My parents were usually just making ends meet but since my brother and sisters had left the nest and mom had started working part time we had some extra money. When my mom’s friend  Tillie mentioned a neighbor of her’s who ran painting classes out of her home, my mother thought it would be a good experience for me.

My art teacher’s name was Mrs Bott.  To my 13 year old self she seemed very old but in retrospect she was probably no more than 50.  She and her husband lived in a neighborhood of large stately homes and her husband, knowing how much his wife enjoyed painting had turned their old carriage house into a studio for her.

As  you entered the studio, the smell of turpentine and linseed oil engulfed you. This was probably another reason her husband built the studio in a building away from the main house! There were about 10 or 15 other students but as it turned out I was, by far, the youngest.  The rest of the ladies were older housewives who just enjoyed getting out and doing something creative, kind of like a garden club. I became the resident granddaughter.  They all  enjoyed offering tips and suggestions and I quite enjoyed being fussed over and spoiled!

Every Tuesday, for the duration of the summer, mom would drop me off at Mrs Bott’s and then head over to Tillie’s for some coffee and gossip. While she was gone  I  learned how to mix  paint and about different kinds of canvas.  I learned how to draw in my sketch with charcoal before I started blocking in the colors.  I learned about shading and perspective and how to make water look like it was reflecting the sky. Most of all, I learned about myself, that this was something  I actually did well and that brought me great joy.

Later in high school and college, I had many other art classes and lots of other teachers. There were still many medium and styles to explore and I loved all of it, but even today I still think of Mrs Bott every time I start a new painting. She gave me the foundation and taught me the basics. Most important, she encouraged me.  She showed me what I was capable of and taught me how to develop my talents. When you’re a shy, gawky 13 year old that’s a great gift.

M is for Memories

Someone asked me recently “What is your earliest memory?” It really took some thought. I had to work through what I actually remembered and what were just memories of stories I’d heard or seen on our home movies. Since my dad bought a brand new Super Eight movie camera the year I was born, my childhood is fairly well documented!

After some consideration, I’ve decided that my earliest memory is from when I was in kindergarten around 1968. My class was on the playground for recess. This was back before playgrounds were built as safe as they are today so the ground was blacktop not wood chips and the equipment was the old fashioned metal kind. We had a really tall slide, some swings and two climbers only we called them monkey bars. One was square and the other looked like this, only bigger:    

One of my classmates, a rather fearless little girl, was climbing up inside of this dome and slipped. On the way down, she hit one of the metal bolts and put a big gash in her chin! As you might imagine, we all panicked. Nothing gets a bunch of 5 year olds screaming quite like the sight of blood! I think that’s why I remember it so vividly. It was probably the first really scary moment of my young life. Thankfully, the teachers got help right away and the little girl returned to school the next week sporting at least a dozen stitches. After that, she had an inch long scar running from her bottom lip down her chin. I guess it could have been much worse, though.

So that’s my tale. What is your oldest memory and why do you think you remember it?