Our California Family part 3…

…Mindi felt abandoned as you might imagine! Mindi didn’t know why she was left behind until years later. We, on our end, asked our mom and she always said she was saving up money to bring her back. We argued the fact many times but only ever got the same vague answer…

Mindi lived with my father, Norman and his wife Della and their 2 children, Cheryl and Carol. They all lived with our Grandma Vi in California for awhile and then moved to Cochise Arizona, not too far from Sierra Vista and Tuscon.  They lived on a ranch that Della’s mom owned.  Norman and Della eventually had 3 more children.  Vincent, Loretta and Elaine…

Mindy hated living on the ranch.  She was disgusted by the fact that the tub would have a back up of sewage in it so often, that she didn’t feel comfortable taking a bath.  Also, the fact that there were so many grasshoppers around,  you would literally wake up with them in your bed! 

She stayed with our father for a couple of years until he decided that she was too boy crazy and he couldn’t put up with her any more.  She was shipped back to New Jersey at the age of 15 to be reunited with us in Rumson where we lived with our mom and Dad O’Neill.  This was a small 2 story home that we lived in before Dad O’Neill and mom decided to move back to my mom’s home town in Atlantic Highlands N.J.

Rumson home (below)

 

Now, Dad O’Neill was the father of Cindy (Cyd), our baby sister whom our mom was pregnant with when she came to get us from California. Dad O’Neill was a great dad. He was a little rough around the edges, but he was a kind, considerate, open hearted person who only had our best interests at heart and he really loved our mom.  He would come with us to the beach and on picnics when we planned family outings. (Some dad’s don’t do this you know, sometimes opting out to stay home and mow the lawn, go to work, or clean their underwear drawer!) He knew about Mindi and wanted all the kids to be reunited but wasn’t aware of all of us kid’s until well after he married my mom and she was pregnant with his child. He was fine with having her come to live with us, he just felt pressured by the fact that there would be another mouth to feed and another body to clothe.  I remember mom and dad O’Neill arguing about her coming to stay with us, but we were all very excited to reunite with her.  We prepared a bed for her in one of the already crowded bedrooms we shared and went to meet her at the airport.

attic room 24 39 Attic Rooms Cleverly Making Use of All Available Space

  …and she was just as happy to see us!

While we lived in Rumson, New Jersey, we lived next door to my best friend in the whole wide world, Cathy Logue.  Her family lived in a really neat old house. 

They had a balcony inside their home overlooking the living room. We used to jump off the balcony to the living room couch below.  Mabel, the house maid, used to freak out! “You girls stop that! Do you hear!? You are going to break your necks!!!” We listened for all of 5 minutes until she turned her back to do something or other around the house, then we were at it again!

There were 3 girls in Cathy’s family. Janey, Suzie and Cathy.  They lived with their mom, Virginia. I don’t remember any dad in the picture.  They were very friendly and we loved to have them for overnights.  Bambi and I were friends with Cathy, Shelly and Mindi were friends with Suzie and Janey was older and married at that time.

Cathy and I were inseparable.   We were a grade apart. She was in 3rd and I was in 4th. We did everything together. We played on the playground at the school that was a few blocks down the road from our house. I had a friend I could tell anything to, and she to me…
We shared everything. 

 We made a fort from one of the trees that hung it’s branches low over a small stream that ran between the Grammar school and the Middle school.  We were tomboys together and we loved it. The freedom we felt at that time in our life was awesome and we defended it fiercely!  We named our fort “Zega” and we carved the name into the bark of the beloved tree.  We brought our favorite stuffed animal with us to use for a pillow while we read fairy tales to each other.

We dangled our legs into the water and created an imaginary world that only we lived in together.  The days were lovely…

and the nights we got to spend together at sleep overs were full of laughs and love and shared secrets.

A couple of years later we moved to my mom’s home town in Atlantic Highlands N.J.  There we found a beautiful, 3 story, Victorian home that Dad O’Neill purchased through a loan from the bank. This  large family home is remembered fondly and continues to fill my dreams…

Cathy and I stayed friends throughout it all, though. We visited each other when she moved to Brielle N.J.  and eventually they moved to Atlantic Highlands! Cathy and I would visit each other often, we both had children at this time (Laura was my little 2 year old and Lana was Cathy’s 3 year old) and our little girls got to play together, too!

My Beloved Friend

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Treat me kindly, my beloved friend, for no heart in all the world is more grateful for kindness than the loving heart of me.

Do not break my spirit with a stick, for though I should lick your hand between blows, your patience and understanding will more quickly teach me the things you would have me learn.

Speak to me often, for your voice is the world’s sweetest music, as you must know by the fierce wagging of my tail when your footstep falls upon my waiting ear.

Please take me inside when it is cold and wet, for I cannot tell you when I suffer thirst.

Feed me clean food that I may stay well, to romp and play and do your bidding, to walk by your side, and stand ready, willing and able to protect you with my life, should your life be in danger.

And, my friend, when I am very old, and I no longer enjoy good health, hearing and sight, do not make heroic efforts to keep me going.  I am not having any fun.  Please see that my trusting life is taken gently.  I shall leave this Earth knowing with the last breath I draw that my fate was always safest in your hands…….Anonymous


Our California Family, part 2…

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...we were told that we were going to see our mom again!  But 3 years had passed since we had seen her, and Bambi was now 6, I was 8, Shelly was 11 and Mindi was 14.  At that time we were enrolled in Sunland Elementary/Jr. High School in Sunland Ca.

Before we left, we went to visit and say goodbye to 2 of our favorite Aunts, Esther and Thelma who lived together in an amazing home with lots of lawn to play in and a court yard to play hide and seek between pillars and everything….

I am sure it wasn’t as grand as this photo taken from Google image, but to my young mind, I saw their home as exquisite as this is.  For many years I would draw the terracotta arches and the court yard.

I remember, they had candy in a glass dish that they set on a low table in the living room.   No one wanted to take any though because of the glass cover on the dish.  We didn’t want to break anything.  Those lids are heavy! and they are tough to balance in one little hand while picking out candy with the other…

But they were always kind and happy to see us children and we loved to visit their home.  I would miss them…

We got ready  to go with a few things packed in a bag.  We drove with our grandmother and dad to a motel where our mom was staying,… 4 young girls going to see their mother after so many years!  We were all a little excited, reticent and perhaps a bit scared.  I remember thinking, “What does she look like?  Will I remember her?  Will she remember me?  Will she like me?  Will I like her?  How long will she be with us?  What should I say to her?…” my mind raced on and on through these thoughts about meeting my mother.

We pulled into the motel.  The first thing we noticed was the pool!  You would think in California the sight of a swimming pool would be commonplace, but we were impressed by the fact that lot’s of kid’s were there with their families.  Laughing, splashing and calling out to each other in excited tones!  It was a hot day and we all longed to get in the water too!

But, we were directed by our father and grandmother to walk up the stairs on the outside of the building to my mom’s room to see her.  I was very shy.  We went into the motel room and it was such a contrast from being in the bright sun, that it took a minute or so to adjust to the darkness of the room.  I remember staring blindly at the place where her voice came from.  I heard her need for us before I saw it in her face.  She was not as I remembered.   She was a total stranger.  She was a beautiful woman with thick, wavy, natural red hair and she was pregnant! 

She was anxious to meet us all again and didn’t have enough arms to take us in all at once.  I felt awkward and hung back.  I didn’t have much to say when she questioned me about how I had been.   What could I say to sum up the last few years?  She was my mom, and I didn’t know her and she wanted to get to know us all again.  After reintroductions all around, we decided to go swimming.  Mom had on a blue bathing suit and she sat on the pool side with her feet in the water, while everyone else jumped right in!  Mom watched with a sad sort of smile on her face.  After a while, we were told to get into dry clothes because mom was taking us with her!  We were unsure and happy at the same time.  We said reluctant goodbyes to our grandmother and our father.  I don’t remember any tears…

What I do remember though, is that my sister Mindi wasn’t allowed to come! 

3 of us left for the airport with our mom and my beautiful sister Mindi got back in the car to go home with our dad and grandmother…

You should have seen her face …(to be continued)

Sad Young Woman

Our California Family…

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We knew we were flying against the wind.  The year was 1961, John F. Kennedy was our President.  The Space Race was on…The Russians put Sputnik into space, Fidel Castro maintained his iron grip on Cuba, the Berlin Wall went up……..

…and 4 little girls watched their mom standing on the runway at Newark Airport, as her babies flew away to California without her.   

This is the earliest recollection of my life.   When my mom took us to the airport, I was 5 years old and my sister Bambi was 3.  My older sisters, Shelly and Mindy were 8 and 11.  We all got on the plane with our mom and fastened our seat belts.  We were going to see our dad in California!   My mom got up to go to the bathroom on the plane (or so she said) “I’ll be right back.” she said shakily.  The plane started to move down the runway while she was still gone, we looked out the window of the plane and saw her outside!  We were all confused and scared and crying (mom was crying too!)  when the stewardess came up to us and explained that we were going to be meeting our father in California when we landed and that our mom wasn’t going with us!  I just remember being shocked, scared, worried for my mom and feeling very little.

Our little brother John was born just a year ago.  He went to live with a friend of our mom’s (We called her Aunt Celia) while we went to California. Why we left him, instead of taking him with us, is a whole story in itself.  She lived somewhere along the Jersey shore and had a real nice place with a sign outside the wooden gate that read; The Pink Whale.   Sand everywhere.  The driveway was sandy, the road was sandy and the beach was just outside her door!  We have great memories of playing on the beach.  We loved it there.  If I had to leave my baby brother with anyone, it would be with Aunt Celia.

When we got to California, we went to live with a friend of the family.  Bill and Juanita took us in.  They lived in Sunland-Tajunga in Los Angeles.  She had children and a house big enough to take us all in.

In 1910, a Los Angeles Times correspondent wrote about Sunland:

The place is aptly named. . . . one gets no inkling of the beauties till he is right in the town. Great live oaks, scattered with Nature’s reckless disregard for expense, give the place a stately quiet. . . . In the center of town the oaks are so thick that the sun is baffled, and this section has been made a public park, which is the Fourth of July and general hot-weather rendezvous of the country round, from Glendale to San Fernando.[13]

When our dad married his new wife, Della.  She had 2 children of her own.  Cheryl and Carol were about the same age as Bambi and I were.  We had very little to take with us when we moved into Della’s house, except a few packed clothes and a single stuffed animal.  No toys.   Cheryl showed us their toy box, and quickly added that we were not to touch or play with any of their things.  Looking back, I wonder how someone could get that smug at such an early age.  We didn’t like it, but Bam and I would have to adjust.  At some point they popped me in the tub for a bath with Cheryl.  I was happily playing in the water until I saw poop floating around in the bathtub!  I called for Della, “She pooped in the water!” I complained, clearly horrified as I tried to get out of the tub.

“That’s O.K. Bonnie, she needs to go, and the water helps her to relax, so you just stay in there until she’s all done, alright?  You keep her company.”  I objected as loudly as I dared, and my dad came in and confirmed the plan.  I was doomed for the next couple of years to sit in the tub with Cheryl while she “relaxed”!   I can’t tell you how much I dreaded my bath time to get “clean”.   So, I set myself as far apart from Cheryl as I could.  I wouldn’t even talk to her, and pretended I was a mermaid in the water, all by myself.

  

Bambi and I would visit an Asian couple who lived on the grounds, or so it seemed.  I may be mistaken, but it seemed like they were living in a cottage on the outskirts of our yard.  They were always really nice to us.  They smiled and greeted us by name and invited us into their little hut.  I thought they were caretakers or something.  But, we visited almost daily, mostly because we felt so accepted by them and we knew they would give us plenty of  buttered toast with sprinkled sugar on top! 

As little children we loved the attention and the sweet treats.  No wonder I was so enamored with the Golden Books and fairy tales in my early teens.  I must have felt that I had already lived the Hansel and Gretel story, with Bambi and I as the main characters, complete with the wicked step mother and step sisters! 

We got a chance to visit our aunts and uncles at our grandmother’s house.  We gathered together once a week for large family dinners that my grandmother prepared.  We had classic Italian foods like spaghetti and meatballs, pasta fagioli and grilled cheese sandwich’s between slices of buttery crusty Italian bread. 

Bambi and I would sit on the living room end tables with our butts on the long end, facing the small table on top.  Our legs fit perfectly between the two tiered wood sections and our food was served on the top layer! Waa Laa!  The perfect seat for a kid!   We loved it, and to this day, I keep an eye out for these same style end tables from the 50’s to use for my own grand children to eat on.

One of my happiest memories of that time in my life was taking rides with my dad and the other kids in the back of his 1953 Chevy Pick up truck.  We would huddle together in the back and dad would take us for rides into town and around the back roads and we would sometimes pack a lunch and stop for a picnic under a shady tree somewhere.

For 3 years we lived with our “California Family”, as they all proudly referred to themselves.  I don’t remember getting any letters or phone calls from our mom during that time, until one day…..

To be continued….

Animal Crackers In My Soup….

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We adopted a cat that year, and named him Chester.  We also had a Dachshund named Duchess and a gaggle of ducks.   There were 6 children in my family and I was in the middle.  We lived with our mom and “Dad O’Neill” in a huge Victorian home in Atlantic Highlands N.J.   I was in 6th grade, I was a cheer leader for Pop Warner football and a Cadette in Girl Scouts.  I would graduate from grammar school that year. (1967)   My sister, Bambi, and I walked to school together every morning, about a mile into town.  We were the last ones to leave the house.  Everyone else had gone to work, and to catch the bus for high school.  My mom took the littlest ones to daycare by 6am, then she went off to work too.

I remember loving Jersey in the spring time.  I loved to see the flowering Magnolia  and Dogwood trees in bloom on our route to school.  We would pick wild flowers by the side of the road, Cornflowers, Daisies, Lilacs, Buttercups, Queen Ann’s Lace…(Yes, I Know it’s a weed, but I liked it in my bouquet!)   The houses were well kept, some with fences and some with hedgerows.  We each had our favorite houses to check out on the way. We would gather up our little hand picked bouquets of wildflowers, and put a little rubber band around them to give to the teacher we liked the most that day.

Bam and I were the closest of 6 children in our family.  There were 5 girls and one boy.  My little sister, Cyd, was the youngest.  She was 5 years old at the time.  She and the rest of the family called me “Bear” as a nick name and I remember Cyd always asking me, “Brush your hair Bear, brush your hair?”  I had long dark hair down to my waist and it was so thick I would have my sisters help me brush and braid it to keep it off my face.  Cyd loved to help and I would sit on the floor and read her stories from the Golden Books and let her brush away.

I loved all things in nature and especially animals.  I was always “saving” animals from the road, the yard, the parking lot at the grocery store in town.  I especially loved to collect turtles in the summer.  We kept them in our sandbox in the back yard for a little while and fed them worms. 

I would go on long bike rides with a group of friends (about 7 of us) to the Old Mill and the Green Light Cemetery in Leonardo.  The Green Light Cemetery was really Bay View Cemetery, but was named Green Light by the kids in town because of the unexplained green light that emanated from the cemetery at night.  It is said that no one who explored it’s origin, ever lived to tell the tale!

It was closed off from the road by an ancient gate that towered above our heads.  The iron gate had points on the top to discourage entering after hours.  (After hours for a graveyard?)

There was a caretaker that  lived in a small shack on the premise.  He didn’t want to be bothered after dark.  That was fine with me, I didn’t want to go there after dark!

We did stop at the cemetery on the way to the mill though, as a resting spot and to have something to drink.  We would bring paper and a crayon to do etchings from the oldest stones in the farthest corners of the property.  Beautiful angel and Saint reliefs protruding out of stone and rock.

The entire trip took more than an hour to bike ride there. 

The Old Mill was a relic. 

Kid’s went there to swim, smoke and make out, and in my case to watch the turtles sun on the large tree that fell across the pond.  I was a very late bloomer!  There were Boxer turtles there (!) that loved to sun on the trunk of the tree lying across the water.  When they got too hot or we disturbed them by climbing out on the limb to put our feet in the water, they would slip back into the water and scoot away!

Bam and I were getting ready for school one morning and since it was a hot day, we both had shorts and tee shirts on.  I was ready first and decided to wait outside in the back yard for Bambi to come out.  I just remembered my lunch was still in the house, so I went up to the back screen door and passed Bambi as she was going out.

“I just have to get my lunch, I will be right…..Meeeeeoooooowwww!!!”  Chester had tried to get in the house and as the screen door shut, it closed on his tail!!!  He was screaming and writhing.  I quickly opened the door to free his tail.  He took only a second to give me that crazed look you get from a cat just before they Attack!

He had a grip on my leg with both claws and teeth before I knew it and I cried out!  Bambi was afraid to come in, but I shrieked so loudly and for so long, she thought better of it.  I shook my leg hard and tried to push Chester off, but  he hung on and finally tore the flesh before letting go.  He decided to latch himself onto my arm instead!  Bambi and I were flailing around trying to get him off, the whole time I’m screaming and crying…….Finally, Chester decides he has done enough damage and releases my arm.  I am a bleeding,  emotional mess.  Bambi tries to calm me down as she looks for something to clean me up with.  All we could find were regular band aids and they weren’t nearly big enough to cover the wounds.  She tried to get me to wash them, but I was too scared it would hurt even more.  We decided to let the school nurse do it.  We walked to school.  By the time we got to the playground at the school yard, all the kids were inside.  We were late. 

Bambi helped me into the school and we looked for an adult.  We saw our music teacher Mrs. Blumberg.  When we had her in class, she would use a pitch pipe before singing, “Good morning children!”and we would have to sing back in the same key;

“Good morning Mrs. Blumbeeeeerrrrrg!”

She was a big woman, and very sweet.

The boys on the playground sang a different tune when they weren’t in class.

“Bl u-blu-blu-blumberg…Bl u-blu-blu-blumberg….She’s got the biggest bu-bu-bu-boom’s you’ve ever seen!” Everyone laughed…….including me, sorry to say;0(

She took one look at my leg and arm with blood dripping down into my socks and shoes and rushed to my side.

“What in the world!?  What happened to you?  Here, come and sit down and let me get a cloth to clean you up.”  She led me down stairs to the overflow.  This is where the kid’s ate who brought their lunch, it was downstairs in the basement of the school.  I have never heard of an overflow before or since.

We explained about Chester and the screen door and Bambi left to go to her class room.  She cleaned my leg and arm up a little and took me up to the nurse’s office to get checked out.  I finished out the day, but I was embarrassed by all the attention I received.   The school asked my mom about Chester having his rabies shots.  My mom said he did….thank God!

The next day, Bambi and I gave our bouquet’s to Mrs. Blumberg!

Do you remember “Clan of The Cave Bear?”  The main character is a little girl who ends up with a Mountain Lion as her totem after it scratches her.  An animal totem is an animal, insect or amphibian that you may resonate with, be attracted to, or shows up in your life at certain times to help you when you need it, very similar to Guardian Angels or the Blessed Mother, in my case.   Anyway, now I am feeling like I have the cat as a totem at this age to help me to cope with my life.  Of course, I didn’t realize at that time that I would only have another 6 years with my mom before I would be on my own.  So, the cat was there to teach and instill in me a sense of independence when I needed it.  Turtle and Dog are another totem that I have…

CAT

Littlest lion, panther in miniature,
Help me in a my magical endeavors,
Teach me to see my path through the dark places.

(my mom’s death and the betrayal of my boyfriend)
Help me to sift the necessary from the unnecessary

(my sisters taking what was mine when my mom died)
And to relax and enjoy life.
Strengthen my magic and carry it to its destination.

TURTLE

If a Turtle totem shows up in your life,
slow down the pace of your life.
Bigger, stronger, faster are not always the best ways to reach your goals.

Turtle is the keeper of doors
and one of the ways into the Faerie Realm.

(Yes! I Always wanted to meet the Faeries!)

DOG

Faithfulness and Protection

The Dog is a symbol of the small becoming the great.
People with this totem have great spirit
and a great ability to love.
It takes a lot to break a dog spirit.

People with a Dog totem are usually helping others or serving humanity in some way. (I am the mother of 6 and a yoga teacher)

Finally, don’t you love the sound of “peepers” on a warm summer night?


F.R.O.G.

Frog Energy, simply put, means: Fully Rely on God! As a totem, it’s a really good place to start!

The Nicest Person I Never Met…

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It’s 1967 and it was the year I put my Guardian Angels to the test for protection.

My sister Bambi and I were latch key kids without keys.  We never locked our 3 story,  Victorian home in Atlantic Highlands, N.J.  Every school day, my mom would gather up the 2 youngest of my siblings and take them to daycare on her way to work as a nurse at  Monmouth County Hospital.  My older sisters, Shelly and Mindi, left to catch the high school bus a few blocks away by 7:15am.  So, that left Bambi and me the last ones at home to get ready and out the door in time to walk to school.  (Rain, snow, sleet or hail, we walked about at least a mile!)  I was in 6th grade and Bambi was in 4th.

Even though I really did love the home I grew up in, it still gave me the creeps.  It wasn’t run down or anything, and we left for school in broad daylight but still, as little girls what we felt, when we were home alone, was something like this:

One day I came home from school (Bambi was at her friend, Beth’s house) and I heard someone upstairs.  I was in the kitchen at the back of the house and I called up the back stairway to the 2nd floor.  “HI-ii!  Who’s home?!”  No fear, just curious…Lot’s of times Shelly and Mindi got home from high school before I did.

Silence for a moment, then I heard foot steps running down the hallway towards the front stairway.  I had a second to think “that’s strange” before the alarm sounded in my head.  Something wasn’t right.  I quickly walked through the Sun Room into the Dining room where I could see the front stairway that dropped down in front of the front door.  At the same time I heard someone barreling down the stairs at a clip!  I saw someone dash out the front door, leap off the porch steps like a gymnast in the circus and ran off down the street! 

He was a blur… Just from his speed, you could tell he was a young man and I had no idea who he was.  I told my sisters about him when they got home and they didn’t seem to know either.  Life was strange like that during that time, I remember getting phone calls where no one would answer, or hang up when you said “hello?”. 

My grammar school had a scare when someone, (a man dressed in woman’s clothing) was caught hanging out in the girls bathroom!  That was way before we had school security in place.  And to top it off, that was the year that a young girl about my age was abducted from just outside the corner store near the Catholic church.  She walked to the store from her home a few doors down to buy candy and when she left, someone said they saw her get into a car and they drove away!  Her poor mother was plagued for years with anonymous phone calls telling her where to look for her missing daughter.  Now you tell me, which one of those calls would you ignore?   She was never found, not a trace.

 Now, I was walking home from girl scouts one late afternoon in October, it was getting dark around 5pm.   I had to climb Mount Avenue to get to my street, Prospect Circle at the top.  Mount Avenue is one of those hills that you can’t stand upright on, or you will fall backward! You stand at an angle like the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

…and that’s how you walked up it, too!  If your arms were swinging at your side, you would pretty much hit the sidewalk with your hands in front!  And for that same reason cars going up the hill needed to get some speed to make it all the way up to the top.  So, I am walking home around dinner time and I hear a car approach me going up the hill, but slowly.  Very slowly…

Again, I got the feeling that something was wrong here.  We were raised Catholic and I would pray to the Blessed Mother Mary to help me out when I was afraid, or had something on my mind.  I think She felt my fear because I heard a voice in my head that said, with some urgency, “Go straight to the next house and walk in!”  By this time the car was going as slow as I was walking, which was a bit faster now.  I didn’t even look around, I just moved as quickly as I could to the next house and walked up to the porch and up the stairs to the front door.  I remember thinking how uncomfortable I was just going into someone’s house I didn’t know.  And what if the door was locked?  My heart was in my throat, but I thought the alternative would be worse.  So, I put my hand on the door knob and….

…….  and the car took off! 

I waited on the porch for a few minutes to get my composure back…  I heard people inside talking, possibly around the dinner table.  I decided to walk the remaining 3 blocks home by taking cover in the neighbors yards.  I figured everyone was eating dinner at this time and if someone did see me hiding out, sneaking around the bushes, I’d say I was looking for my dog.  It wasn’t a fool proof plan, but I went with it.  I was a tom boy, so I was always in pants and getting dirty didn’t bother me.  I went from yard to yard in the way I described looking out for any slow moving vehicles.  I made it up Mount Avenue and to Prospect Circle by cutting through the oldest Victorian home in the whole town.  This home was land marked to be the Atlantic Highlands Historical Society and Museum.  But not for another 30 years, right now it was a just a little run down version of this… 

It was occupied by a man named Wimpy, just like the Popeye character.  No kidding!  When he first introduced himself, I didn’t even bat an eyelash.  He could be “Wimpy” if he wanted to. They called me Bonnie Bear at home, so I figured, let it be.

I cut through Wimpy’s yard on my way to my house and wasn’t worried a bit about him finding me.  He would have understood my dilemma.  But, I didn’t see him.  I did have to pass by my new neighbors house on the other side of the street from ours, though.  They just moved in a week ago.  I had just crossed over to my yard when I heard a child’s voice speaking to me.

I turned around, “Hello?”

He was standing on the other side of the road and he was about 3 years old and cute as a button.  He said, “Hello, My name is Kenny Laytum and I live aqwat duh tweet!”

“What?” I just had to hear that again from this little man!

He repeated “Hello, my name is Kenny Laytum and I live aqwat duh tweet!”

I really didn’t get it at first, now it was my turn to repeat. “Your name is Kenny Laytum and you live aqwat duh tweet?”

He nodded (Oh, I got it, he lives across the street!) and I said, “Nice to meet you Kenny, does your mom know you’re outside by yourself?  Is she home?”  (Now who’s the guardian angel!?)

He nodded, and at that point I saw her at the door about to collect him.   I introduced myself quickly and made my departure.  I was famished, and dinner wasn’t going to wait with all the hungry mouths my mom had to feed!  Because there were so many of us, we had a picnic table as our kitchen table.  If I didn’t get in there soon, I would be doomed with no dinner.

At dinner I related my adventure with “the car” to my family.  Mom said “Well Bear, You did the right thing.  You should have gone in all the way to that house or perhaps you could have knocked when the car left and you could have asked to call home?  But you are safe at home now, and that is all that matters.”

Everyone agreed.  My mom and me made a decision right then and there that I would get a ride home from girl scouts from now on.  And I did. 

As for the Blessed Mother, I know that She was watching over me and that the voice in my head was from Her.

Flash to present time……

My son Simon is 18 years old, and today he said to me, “Mom, you know that Professor at the college, Jim? You have him in your yoga class sometimes?”

“Yeah, sure.”  I said, “What about him?”

“Well, he went out of his way to help me with something school related and I thought that was really nice of him.  I think I may have barely met him once.  I have to say, I think he is the nicest person I have never met!”

Looking back on this story in my life, I would have to say the same thing about the Blessed Mother!

P.S. …and even after all that, we still didn’t lock our door… and to this day, I don’t either.

The Fiore Family Holiday Dinners

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 Our family never locked the door to our home.  My mom and dad both grew up in the town of Atlantic Highlands N.J.  My grandfather still lived in the house he raised his family in, just a few blocks down the street from us.  It was a 2 story Victorian. 

We spent every Thanksgiving and Christmas with him. (my grandmother was in California with my dad, one of those deals!)  I just loved to go to my grandfathers house.  I guess at 11 years old, there wasn’t really much for me to do there, but there were always amazing smells coming from the kitchen!  And, the dining room table had a white sheet on it with miles of home made noodles of all shapes and sizes drying on it. 

We had a special cut of meat (beef) that my grandfather would roll up with lots of cheese and herbs inside it and tie it all up with string.  Then he would pop this meat roll into his home made tomato sauce and let it simmer until it was so tender it pretty much melted in your mouth!! Braciole, that’s it!  There was wine (for the adults) and homemade bread and many different kinds of cheeses and crackers, and fruit and……..

OMG, I am really missing that time in my life and at the same time I am very grateful for it.

Braciole was browned and then simmered in the giant pot of sauce!

And don’t forget the homemade ravioli with spinach and cheese.

My contribution to dinner was prepared at home the day before…a homemade apple pie.

As a child, I loved to bake.  One of the ways I make a living today is through baking.  I have a cottage industry bakery in my home. 

Christmas was the same, my grandfather and his girl friend must have prepared food for a week before we came to share the holiday with them. 

I would always look forward to getting a new activity book to play with including crayons and lots of paper to write and create with, while the adults were chatting, cooking and preparing dinner, I would make the name cards for the table.  My favorite books were the Little Golden Books to read, so I would also try to copy the pictures on the inside cover.  I was pretty good actually, if I do say so myself!

and the Little Red Riding Hood Golden book, went with me everywhere I went.

I loved my sticker books, and mazes, too.  No T.V., just good food, family and lots of love.  Come to think of it, I do remember putting up a stink when it was time to go to my grandfather’s house, but I always enjoyed myself and left satisfied in more ways than one…

We all did!

Me, Myself and I

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 I am sitting in the police station in  Atlantic Highlands, I am 17 years old.  The police seem polite enough, but questions I have already answered several times already are being fired at me again and again.  I am cooperating, really, but this situation was sticky from the beginning:

I was a high school senior when I told my mom I was moving out.  I moved in with my boyfriend, Artie, into an apartment house on the water in Leonardo N.J.  We had been dating for about a year.  My family adored him.  But, I did move in with him (against my mom’s wishes) and we both had jobs and I was still in my last year of high school.  In April of that same year, my mom died unexpectedly!  There were still 3 siblings living at home.  My sister Bambi who was 14, John, who was 10 and my little sister, Cyd who was just 7 years old.  When she died, the family split up.  I was already “out of the house” along with my 2 older sisters, Shelly and Mindy.  So, Bambi went to visit our father in California, Cyd went to live with her dad in Red Bank N.J. and John got sent to a foster home in the pine barrens of N.J. with a friend of my mom’s.  They say kid’s are adaptable, John would have to be, he was living with a stranger, sleeping in her basement with half a dozen show cats and he was allergic to them.  I begged my grand mother to let Artie and me take him in but she wouldn’t budge on her decision to leave him where he was.  I wasn’t able to take guardianship of my brother until I turned 18.  So, I visited him as often as I could until then.

I loved my home I grew up in, in Atlantic Highlands.  It is a beautiful 3 story Victorian built in 1865.  The house and property were my haven and stability through out my growing years.  Even though I moved into an apartment, I still came home to visit and see the family.  When my mom died, I went to the house and watched my older sisters “claim” the things they wanted from my mom’s estate.  One took my mom’s 4 poster bed (that was promised to me) I reminded my sister of that fact, but to no avail.

and the other sister claimed furniture and rugs.  I ended up with an old picture I had always loved and no one else seemed to notice.  It was an oil painting of a seascape hanging in the entrance way near the winding stair case.  I also found an old brass lamp hiding in the basement that I had always had my eye on.  Possibly it was still in the basement because my mom thought it might get ruined if brought out and displayed where all the kids were.

 

I continued to check in on the house which by now was almost empty of everything that wasn’t nailed down.  It felt odd in the absence of the familiar furnishings, rugs and paintings.

One day I went in to check the house, and I noticed that one of the fireplace mantle pieces was pried away from the wall and leaning against the open pit of the fireplace!  I quickly searched the house for any other damage (there were 3 fireplaces on the first floor, 2 on the second floor, 1 on the 3rd floor and 1 in the basement) and saw no other damage.  All the mantles were made of Bird’s Eye Maple (except for the basement which was brick).  I always admired the beautiful woodwork!

There was a crow bar lying near the mantle.  I was dumbstruck!  I was confused, angry, scared and finally determined to protect my home.  I went to the police in town.  I told them all about my mom’s death a couple of weeks prior and that I was keeping an eye on the property from time to time until my mom’s estate was settled.  I made them come up to the house to see what I had seen.  They did, and afterward told me to leave it up to them, that they had heard of a group of “bandits” for lack of a better word that were stealing from the abandoned and seasonal homes in the area.  They assured me they would be able to catch this group of individuals using my home as bait!  I wasn’t too comfortable with this statement or their plan and I told them so.  It fell on deaf ears….

I went home to my apartment that afternoon and told my boyfriend what had happened.  He consoled me and after dinner asked if I wanted to go out and party with some friends.  I said, “No, I plan to go to my house tonight and watch to see if anyone comes to claim those mantle pieces!”  He tried to convince me that I didn’t need to do that since the cops were already involved and they were surely taking care of everything.  I didn’t buy it.  This was way too important to me to leave it to the police.

He agreed to come along.  I wanted to sit in the house and wait up, but he suggested that we sit in the car, and if anyone came we could go to the police a little quicker since we were already in the car. (no cell phones at that time) That made a little sense I suppose, so I agreed.  He had brought along a few beers and a joint to smoke.  I said no thanks to both, but he pressed the issue so I drank a beer and took a few hits off the reefer.  I watched the house for as long as I could, but before I knew it, I was asleep…..

I woke up in the car with Artie by my side at about 6am.  “Oh Shit!” I said “Artie, wake up! We fell asleep!  We have to check on the house!”  I ran up to the house and into the back door.  The mantles from the downstairs fireplaces were all gone! and so were 3 of the most beautiful stained glass windows from the living room and entrance way!

I stood there looking at the gaping holes of the window less panes and the stark emptiness of the 3 fireplaces without their mantles.  I felt deflated, so completely let down and sick inside to think that someone would do this to a house.  My home had been raped.

I cried and Artie held me.  After the emotion had passed, I surged past him and went to the car to go to the police station.

“What the hell happened?!” I admonished.  “My home has been broken into, defiled, and you did nothing!  I told you all about it!  You said you were going to take care of it!  Where were you last night?!  How could this happen?”

They asked me some questions about the incident again and again and this is when they put Artie and me into separate rooms and pulled out an ultra violet light and passed it over our clothes and body.  I had lots of blue residue on my fingers, my clothes and shoes!  “What is this?” I asked.

“We dusted the house with a special powder after you reported the damage to us yesterday.  It shows up with an ultra violet light if someone touches it.  You have it all over you.  Your boyfriend does not.”  He stated calmly.  It took me a moment to register the idea.

“How could I have it on ME? Why would I rip off my own house?  Do you think I had anything to do with this?”  I stammered as I struggled to control my emotions.

“We don’t think you did this, but you must have been in the house after we dusted it and before the antiques were taken.  Were you?”

“No, absolutely not!”  I said.  “I believed you were going to do something, but I didn’t want to leave it completely up to you, so I stayed up all night to watch the house from the street in my car.  But, I fell asleep around 2am and when I woke up at 6am, it was too late, everything was gone.  I just don’t get it….”

“We will look into this further young lady, now why don’t you tell us again what happened.”

“Uuuuuggggghhhhh!”  I was so frustrated!  They finally let us go after an hour of interrogation and after going up to the house to see for themselves the damage that was done.

Artie and I returned home, I was a mess emotionally and mentally.  I couldn’t wrap my head around what had happened.  Why hadn’t Artie gotten any of the powder on him?  We were both in the house at the same time when I showed him the mantles.  I cried for the loss of my homes beauty and my inability to protect it.

The estate got settled, it sold for back taxes!  The culprits of the stolen antiques were not apprehended. The old homes were still being broken into and robbed.  Artie and I got married and lived in the little apartment by the water.  But, something was not right between us after that night.  I couldn’t completely let go of the fact that something was fishy here.  That I didn’t have all the facts.  Either the police were involved in the robberies or Artie was.  It turned out to be the latter.  I didn’t find this out until many years after our divorce.   We were only married for a year.

Artie comes from a large family himself.  There were 8 children in all.  He lived on the other side of town across the rail road tracks, and it seemed his brothers were literally from the “other side of the tracks”.  His 3 older brothers were the ones who were stealing from the old houses in town to get money to purchase drugs, among other things.  The pot I smoked that night was laced with something to knock me out.  It was Artie’s job to keep an eye on me while his brother’s stole from my family’s home.  At some level I knew deep inside that this must have been how it happened all along.  It just confirmed my suspicions.  He had lived with us when his family kicked him out at 19 years old.  He was loved and treated with respect by my family and he was a really good person.  He just had misplaced loyalty.  That is how I had to look at this whole incident to be able to put it behind me.

I have had other relationships since Artie, and the next marriage lasted 21 years!  But, I have to admit that after a betrayal like that one you tend not to trust as easily. Sadly, even now, I find myself relying mostly on Me, Myself and I…..

Couches Have Feelings Too!

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  I only just started writing about my life and the adventures of my youth.  It was quite different growing up in the 60’s and 70’s.  No internet….. anywhere! Never even heard of such a thing.  No VCR’s or DVD’s either.  Only books and T.V.  I loved to read, I escaped into my fairy tales and adventure stories like Robinson Caruso, and Nancy Drew Mysteries every chance I got.  My nose was always buried in a book.  I loved the idea of being ship wrecked on a deserted island and solving mysteries by following clues.  My favorite T.V. shows at one point were “I Dream of Genie” and “Kung Fu”.  Oh yes, and “Petticoat Junction”!  My mom was a single mom raising 6 children.  We lived in the most amazing house I have ever seen.  It was a 21 room, 3 story, Victorian home.

The basement alone had 5 large rooms big enough to stand up right in.  One of the basement rooms had a fireplace in it that looked like it was used for cooking in some ancient days way before my time. This was situated just below the main kitchen above it.  The kitchen in my house had something called a “dumb waiter” located right next to the stove that was set into the large fireplace opening.  The dumb waiter had a door that opened up to an inset box.  Evidently, you would put a cup of tea, or something to eat in the little box, close the door and use the pulley system to deliver the food upstairs, within the walls to the 2nd and 3rd floors.  We loved to use it as kids!  My mom would discourage it because she said she didn’t want us to break it.  What the heck, it had been in service for at least 100 years before we got our hands on it?  The house was built in 1865!  Needless to say, we played “Maid and Royalty” games amongst each other every chance we got! 

There was also a spot under the rug in the living room that if you stepped on it, a bell would ring in the kitchen!  Oh, we were living in “Downton Abbey” now!

One of the openings to the dumb waiter was in a room opposite the kitchenette on the 3rd floor.  We were all scared of the 3rd floor.  It had an eerie feeling to it, like someone was still there in the house from ages before us.  (When my mom looked at the house to purchase it, she wasn’t allowed into the master bedroom on the 2nd floor, since the woman of the house had died and was still laid out in the bed!)  That would explain the “cold spots” in the driveway that my dog Duchess wouldn’t walk through.  I would stand in the driveway and call her to me, and she would bark and bark and never come any closer to me as long as I was standing in that spot. 

Years later I realized why….

The 3rd floor had 4 large rooms and a bathroom.  The bedroom at the top of the stairs is where my grand mother later took up residence.   Finally, we had a recipient to send tea up to!  Her room had a large walk-in closet that was quite dark (no light) and if you ventured into it deep enough, you would bump into an old vintage sewing mannequin.  Imagine how you would feel as a youngster exploring your Granny’s dark closet (with a flash light of course) and coming face to face with this…

It stood as tall as a 5 year old child and gave us all the creeps!  So, we decided to only go into that closet when we were in pairs of 2 or 3 and only then to play “Green Ghost”, the game my sister and I got for Christmas that year.  It is a game you play in the dark since all the game pieces and the board glow in the dark.  You would go around the board with a little glowing ghost and when you came upon a trap door, you would have to put your hand in there and try to figure out what you were touching….It could be something like worms,  gooey stuff, or feathery spiders.   Hey, I did say I liked adventure… Just not alone!

I was dating a boy from the other side of the tracks.  I don’t mean that in a bad way, he literally lived on the other side of the railroad tracks in town.  He would come up to the house (we lived at the top of a steep hill called Mount Avenue) and we would take my siblings out to sleigh ride in the winter.  The town closed Mount Avenue during and the day after heavy snow storms so that the kids could go sleigh riding down it.  We would take my brother John and Bambi and Cyd to go sleigh riding during times like this.  It was great fun and most of the neighborhood was there.  The street lights would light up the street once it got dark around 6pm.  Most families came and brought thermos’ of hot chocolate to share with the local kids.  We had a blast!  In those days we got quite a bit of snow in the winter in New Jersey.

Now, we had an old couch at our house that we finally decided to get rid of.  At that time, you simply left your old discarded furniture and garbage out on the curb for the garbage man to take away on garbage day.  That couch stayed at our curb for weeks because for some reason they wouldn’t take it!  I finally got sick of seeing it there and hearing everyone complain that the garbage men weren’t doing there job. 

So, my boyfriend and I decided to do something about it.  It was one of those snow storm days when they had just closed off Mount Avenue.  We waited for the curfew for people to stop riding the hill (which was 9pm) and we put our plan into action.  We carried the couch to the top of Mount Avenue and pushed it down the hill!  It went down, flying like a snow bird in paradise!  Good thing Mount Avenue is a straight away and our couch had good alignment!  She went straight to the bottom of the hill (where the police station was!) and sat there until morning when the town woke up to greet it! ;0)

I never saw our couch again, but we gave it the best send off we could!