Thursday, August 28, 2014

Part Two, Jarvis Avenue

I remember evenings, walking up Middletown Road from Hollywood Avenue with my older brother, Paul. I see us having supper with my grandparents, but am not sure if we did that every night or just when our mother was going to be delayed in getting home from work. My grandmother used to cook meat, chops of one sort or another, and we would eat ours, hand-held in a paper towel. Paul and I would walk back home, to Jarvis Avenue in the dusk on those occasions. I am sure of it. There was a small stretch of the short walk that scared me so that I can still create a picture of it in my mind.It was that vacant lot, part of Mrs. O'Hanlon's property, and there was a big grey rock near the street edge. The approaching evening allowed for a shadow to be cast, a striped pattern that my young mind convinced me could only belong to a tiger. Right there, in the lot, on Middletown Road, just before the corner of Jarvis Avenue.

I remember summer afternoons on Jarvis Avenue. They called it "Play-street" and it was blocked on both ends, allowing the resident kids to play safely without cars entering or exiting. Could not do that now. Can you imagine the protests from the adults? But, it worked and it worked well and it was a fun and happy time and I remember roller skating with Karen, sitting on the curb, twisting the key that secured our skates onto our shoes. And the boys, outnumbering the girls, staging wrestling matches whenever they saw someone approaching. My cousins, Bobby and Lenny, baby Hellions.Should a grown up to be WWF talents. Could a made millions!!

I remember P.S.71. The school yard. I learned to spit through my teeth there. The "older" boys taught me. They must have been age ten or twelve. Impressive. And the daily entrances. Everyone would congregate in that school yard and march in to the beat provided by tiny drum and bugle core members. There were school "monitors', distinguished from the crowds by their white canvas sashes, the ones that looked like today's car seat belts, as they crossed their chests.My mother went to that same school. The doors were always open and we went in to play, knock-hockey, after school. I can still see the peanut butter and jelly left-overs, cut into squares. I envision whole wheat bread. That's probably why there were so many left at the end of the day.They were free for the taking.I'd have eaten anything in those days.I was lonely and the only kid on the block who had a mother who worked all day.Howdy Doody was my best friend and my mother was always on a diet so we had Thomas's Protein Bread.Mustard sandwiches and Howdy Doody.

There it was, still standing. In a row. Attached to Evelyn Ferri's duplex. The one owned by my Aunt and Uncle. Brick. Marble stairs which led up to their apartment which was considerably larger than ours, the downstairs apartment. The side door, the one that led into our kitchen directly, used to open out to a large vacant lot. We all played there and the fathers built a rudimentary swimming pool for us. Hours and hours of play. There's a huge duplex house there now, blocking any vestiges of sun and fun from the kitchen. It must be very dark now, night and day.I would have been scared and my mother, totally depressed, had that happened when we lived there.It was from that apartment that we exited for the last time when we moved to the brand new house that my parents had saved for. We left the Bronx for the suburbs when I was six or seven. Someday, I'll get that fact straight. But for now, I am not exactly certain.Who remains alive to remember?

Cam parked right across the street from my house. Out came the cameras. We snooped and talked about every detail.We looked a tad bit suspicious, like we were casing the joint.Or maybe we were real estate agents or even undercover detectives.Little did we know that on the same spot where Cam had parked, a woman, the current resident of my house, had been mugged during broad daylight and was still in the hospital.Broad daylight on Jarvis Avenue! All my little hopes of maybe returning there one day to live were dashed. And how did we discover this cruel fact? We did not have to look too far, just a few houses down, on the porch of another duplex. I saw her and quickly decided that it was best to identify myself as we made our way over. An elderly woman who at first, I did not recognize or remember. Within minutes, I would be crying. She's 93. Her name is Vera.
She remembered me.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Trilogy, Part One, Hollywood Avenue

I share so much with my best friend, Cam but one of the nicest parts of our friendship has its roots in common ground.  It takes a kid from the Bronx to understand another kid from the Bronx and it has been the glue that has stuck us together so nicely since age fifteen.  Sure, we both went to the same high school, lived in the same city after we married, got as close with each other's family as we possibly could without the benefit of blood-relation but, it is our place of birth that forms our solid foundation as friends.  So, when we wondered how best to spend some time together in New York last weekend, I suggested that we walk down Memory Lane together and hit the road for "Da Bronx".  It had been a long time since I last did  that and for some reason, I really felt the need.

First stop was Hollywood Avenue. My mother and her only sister, my Aunt Millie, grew up in a two family house almost on its corner.  Her aunt, uncle and three cousins lived upstairs. Births, deaths, marriages, wars, good news, bad news; the cycle of life was repeated there,  over three generations.  The history that this house held! My grandparents' history. My mother's history. My parents' history.  My history.  Standing before the house, now very changed from its original appearance, it all wrapped itself into a place in my heart.  I stood there, breathing it all in as if my life were passing before me in one quick moment.  No, I did not cry.  That would come later, on another street.

I just wanted to take it all in; to remember moments of my own childhood and to envision other childhoods. I transported myself back in time, not only my time, but the time of my parents, my grandparents.  I did not have to look into windows.  My windows were open and always have been.  In my mind, I saw my mother coming home from school, her first date with my father, her exit from the front door on the arm of my grandfather, dressed head to toe in the beautiful wedding gown that my father insisted on paying for as a token of his life's promise to always provide for her.  I see babies coming home from the hospital and relatives coming to visit.  I smell countless dinners and see children, excited about holidays.  I can hear my grandfather, delivering his inevitable after-dinner speeches, making his political views known to everyone gathered around my grandmother's large mahogany dining room table.  I see myself as a flower girl for the wedding of my mother's cousin, the one who lived upstairs in that home,shared by two brothers.  I hear my Aunt Theresa, coming down the stairs in the morning to have coffee and then, I hear the same little tapping on the pipe in the kitchen, beckoning my grandmother to come upstairs every afternoon for a different kind of coffee.  I see myself at her side, sitting at the table, drawing doodles on Aunt Teresa's paper napkins while they talked again only hours after the morning meeting.  I feel the love.

 I breathe some more and look down the driveway and I see my brother and I waiting for our Uncle Peter to come home from his day at work, as we giggle and hop on the sideboard of his car and ride down the driveway.  He used to call it the "Kindergarten Bus".  I remember a rainy day, looking out the window onto the driveway and believing that the raindrops, hitting the pavement, were toy soldiers marching.  I look across the street and see the home of my mother's uncle, the youngest of her father's brothers, still standing in between two apartment houses, holding its own against modernity, the last of its kind on that part of Middletown Road.  It used to be brown, now it's white.  The little store that once upon a time was a shop owned by my grandmother, is now all boarded up. The "candy store" on the corner of Middletown and Hobart Avenues is no longer.  Neither is the little deli a few doors down.  I cannot fathom a child so young as I was, frequenting both of these, totally on her own.  I was seven when we moved away from the Bronx. "Things"certainly were very different then.

And, in the location that once was the fruit and vegetable store, a short walk from the doorsteps of their house, the one my grandmother visited daily, now stands the McNulty Funeral Home.  And I remember one by one, the wakes and funerals, each one taking with it an occupant of the house on Hollywood Avenue.

Stay tuned for Part Two, Jarvis Avenue

Friday, August 22, 2014

Two Roads Diverged

This is a revision of something I wrote a while ago.  I'm using it today in response to a writing prompt for my current writing group session.  The prompt:  The Road Not Taken/The Road Taken. First, last and middle rule:  edit, edit, edit and then edit some more.

NUN ON THE RUN/  Revised on 8/22/14


It was my third day in Assisi.   After some grocery shopping and a relaxing lunch, I took the first of what would become my daily ritual strolls through parts of the town.  My camera became an appendage, a growth that nestled nicely in the palm of my right hand, every ready for its sole purpose in life, documenting everything I saw and wondered about.  I spent hours taking in sights and sounds during those weeks and my camera, my best friend, helped me focus in on the smallest of details while my brain took the bigger pictures. 

On this particular afternoon, I walked all the way down the street of my little "home" and spent time exploring the neighborhood   I was satisfied that I was getting my bearings and I started back. I reveled in the late afternoon's sunshine noticing that  the wind started to pick up, ever so slightly. With the approach of the evening I spotted the lovely young nun as she made her exit from the "Casa Reposo" home for the aged. I imagined she was a nurse. Walking up the street, she clutched the edges of her sweater to brace against the chill and her short veil started to respond to the wind ever so slightly. I wondered how aware she was of my presence as I followed her.  My camera was ready; waiting for the perfect time and place for what I imagined would become a lovely photo of Nun With Veil in Wind.  It never happened. The alacrity in her step prevented it. This was a woman with intention.  She was on a mission and I realized that it was not my mission any longer.  The time was hers and hers alone.

As she rounded the bend in the quiet street, she came to an open space which provided a view of the valley below.  She stopped for a few moments and gazed at the vista ahead, studying the setting sun.  Was she in quiet contemplation?  Was she praying?  Or, was it much closer to the home of every one who has ever been a caretaker; an exhausted woman taking a break from the demanding work of elder care?  Were her patients all infirm?  Had she had it up to the tip of her veil with the task?  Perhaps she simply had a moment inside that made her wonder why she was there in the first place.  So young.  Surrounded by so old, except for these moments, alone, with the wind catching her, sweeping her away to some place other than this one. Could thoughts to the roads not taken have entered her mind?

After a few moments to herself, Sister turned around and walked back to the door from which she had exited.  Back to work.  Back to the life she had chosen, the path she had selected. The one from which she had thought about running away just moments before the sunset.  

Monday, August 18, 2014

Guest Post

I've been lazy lately.  Well, not really.  Just using my morning time differently.  Using afternoons and evenings differently as well.  Trying to use every moment of the summer so that I don't have too many regrets come winter. I have so many stories in my head, so many essays that I can't seem to sit down and write.  It is so true that as soon as you tell someone your idea, you have published it and I am so fortunate in having a very good "listener" right here, at my breakfast table.

But there is a story, one that August always brings to my mind.  And it gets better every year.  It was my introduction to blogging.  Before I heard the story for the first, heart-stopping time, I only knew a nice little personal blog that my daughter wrote about my first-born granddaughter.  But, one day, in August, six years ago, I read my first post from Stephanie Nielsen and I have been totally hooked ever since.

Stephanie Nielsen.  A truly beautiful young mother. Wife of the handsome Christian. Gorgeous face.  Totally in love with her husband, four children, her huge family and her Mormon faith.  Her life was a story book until one day in August.  I can't even begin to tell her story.  The plane.  The fire.  The months in an induced coma, the pain, the perils, the surgeries, the incredible struggles and the never-ending faith.  I can't begin because it is not my story.  It's Stephanie's and it is incredible.

So, today, a guest post.  A beautiful woman who gets prettier every day. Honestly, she's beautiful.  Gorgeous.  Amazing.

No way I could tell this story.  No way.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Over the Rainbow Again for the First Time


Unless you are over eighty, you probably have not had the opportunity to do what we did last night.  I seriously doubt that you are less than ninety if you have. Seriously.

The house was packed.  Sold out.  Smiling, excited people, everywhere.  Ladies, gentlemen and children of all ages assembled for the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the beloved film,  "The Wizard of Oz".
Oh, "Big deal" you might say.  "What was up with that?" you might ask.  "Whopee!" you might sarcastically mutter.......because you, like millions of others, have spent many an evening in front of your tellie watching Judy Garland trip down that yellow brick road. Yawn.  Go ahead. I might have too.  BUT.........

On August 11th, 1939, in that very same seat I sat in, someone thought differently, viewing The Wizard of Oz, for the very, very, very first time ANYWHERE!!!  No, I am not exaggerating.  It was right here, on little ole Cape Cod, at the Dennis Cinema on Hope Lane in the town of Dennis, that the film previewed and days later, it opened at Radio City Music Hall.  It was not uncommon for a major film to have a "test run" in a smaller community in those days.  One can just imagine the anticipation and the fear pre-release.  There were so many reasons to question how well-received this film would be. Color was new (hey, if you saw it on T.V. as a child, you did not see it in color Kiddo), special effects were daring, and, there was a very scary witch with a huge supply of equally scary Winkie Guards.  It is a long-held belief that the decision to screen the film at the Dennis Cinema was influenced by the Wicked Witch herself, Margaret Hamilton.  Right next-door is the home of the oldest summer stock theater in the country, its stage having been graced on more than one occasion by Ms. Hamilton.  Perfect!

So, last night, in glorious 35 mm, the one, the only, The Wizard of Oz, screened EXactly as it was on that summer evening in 1939, charmed and thrilled a very appreciative audience and I personally can't think of anything I've seen on this, or any other screen, that made me quite as happy.  I had all that I could do to keep from saying to my husband......":Jo-Jo, I've a feeling we're not in Dennis anymore!"

Sunday, August 10, 2014


A very dear friend is in pain.  I know her pain.  I've been there and oftentimes, I am still there.  It's the kind of pain that literally cuts right straight through your body, from one anatomical sphere, clear through to the opposing one and it hurts, oh so badly.  It makes everything sour in your world.  You can't focus on much else, other than that nagging pain and you think two things:  you are the only one who has ever had this experience and the empty feeling will never go away.  It might be very true that life will never be the same - for you or for the person who has just walked away into a new one, leaving you behind.  Did you ever have a best friend move away?  Far away? For what you are sure is no good reason.  Forever, never to return to that space you once occupied in unison.  It is profoundly sad, saying that good bye to a friend.  It's not  very different from saying good bye to a husband, a boyfriend, a child leaving your home for the first time.  It aches, right through to that other-side.

I used to take aerobics classes in New York with my daughter, in that magical time in between graduating from college and finding her world on her own, away from her childhood.  I loved it.  When she left for Boston, to her forever world, leaving me behind in mine, my heart broke. Knowing I could not endure one moment without her in that space, I never returned to class.  When my son left for his life, he placed a small note on the kitchen counter.  All it said was "I am proud to be your son".  I'm sure I still have that note somewhere.  If I came across it, I know I would not be able to read it nor would I be able to put it down.  It all reminds me of the pain and geesh, I can't do it, any of it.  

Did you ever lose a pet:?  Have to put a dog down or your cat, the one you always had, always?  If you did, you must recall the first day you walked into your home after "that day".  I cried for a year.  

When my best friend relocated to London, I missed her terribly. Years later, after her return,  I surprised myself at my reaction to her decision to end her marriage of twenty six years.  I mourned the loss of their familiarity; the part that as a couple, they played in our lives as a family.  It took me a long time to feel better, but I did.

My friend will one day feel better too.  Her pain will diminish.  She'll grow in ways that would make her departing beloved pal proud and together, they'll find a new life and they'll come to realize that they both live under pretty-much the same sky and that if they look straight ahead long enough, they both will see a horizon.  Life will never be the same but I promise, it will all be okay. Lessons will be learned and, unfortunately, there will be other things in their lives that might bring anguish but there will also be new joys.

Loss, it really sucks. Badly. It's okay to cry.  

Hang in there Nina.

Lots of love and good luck, Jane-Allie.  I'll miss you too.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Jane at the Supermarket


I can't post her photo here. First of all, I've broken every camera I've handled in the past two years and I do not now, nor will I ever, own a Smartphone. And besides, I don't have her permission. Lastly, if you knew who she was, you might be tempted to steal her, to be your very own "Stop and Shop Lady".  So, Jane will remain almost anonymous. Although, Stop and Shop surely won't mind having their photo here.

She works at the "front end".  She's probably my age, maybe slightly older or younger.. Semi-retired. Seems like she's always there.  She says she's not, it's just that I'm the one who is always there and our hours match.  Sometimes, when I go in to the store, she's not on duty and I panic, almost.  But most of the time, it's as if she's standing at my side the entire time I find myself at the self-check registers.  When I, for some random act of God, do not need her assistance, she still finds me anyway and we exchange those things that women exchange under those circumstances. It is when I do have a hiccup in the process that the janitor key chain that she wears under her black apron gets whipped out and the magic card that makes everything happen, swiped. Problem solved. Sometimes, she'll simply spy me checked out already and with a big smile she'll remark "looks like everything went well today!" Rarely.

We have a bonus Stop and Shop market.  It was designed with "seniors" in mind.  It's not a "Super Stop and Shop" as are the two others within driving distance of our home.  I use this one almost exclusively, feeling like a newbie whenever I happen in to one of the others. I'm not comfortable in large stores and nowadays, I don't do those huge shopping trips that I once had to do when we were all together as a family.  I love the fact that we can decide half-way through the day and make a quick trip to our store down the street.

My "relationship" with Jane started a little over two years ago when I over-taxed the system.  My mother's illness and our need to fulfill each and every of her needs and desires, brought me to the grocery store and pharmacy sometimes two or three times a day.  At that point, the smiles and nods started to turn into actual "hello, how are you today?" and we progressed to "you're in here a lot!", mutual agreements.  It was at the little self-check registers that I had control over my life and time to breathe while doing mindless work, swiping tiny cans of juice, baby wipes and cottage cheese containers.  It was at that time my "Supermarket Lady" first learned of my role and soon after, as I struggled through the first months of sorrow, followed by resentment and confusion, of my new role as the "Daughter Who Takes Care of Everything".  It was "Hi! How are you?" and "For you or Dad today?" as she approached me and listened with the ear of a friend since Kindergarten would, to my frustrations with time management, food selection and methods of payment. It was with kindness and the patience of a saint that she put that little magic card into action and re-did some of my swiping, fixing whatever mess I had gotten into while I was on my learning curve.  Always, an exchange of words to make me feel better in some small way.  One-on-one, me and Jane, day after day.

I just hope Jane never fully retires.  At the very least, I want to be able to see her off on that last day, into the parking lot. I might even follow her home.  I have a feeling she lives alone, not far from the store.  I want to steal her janitor key-ring and take that magic card off so I can have it bronzed.  I want to say "thank you" one more time and hug her.  Sometime in the very distant future, please.  Until then, I will continue to shop with Jane at my side, hearing my confession, soothing me and cheering me on.  She knows already that I value her.  I've told every front manager how I feel and if you really do want to see her photo,  you might ask for the Employee of the Month archives.  I'm sure she's there, smiling.