Monthly Archives: April 2015

Sandwiches and Donuts

I love my hairdresser and he loves donuts, so a trip to the shop near his place of business is a must before I get my monthly “maintenance.” A few weeks ago I was racing against the clock to make it to my appointment on time, but I was still determined to fit in a donut run. I rushed into the shop and was disappointed to see a group of three ladies already at the counter.

I took a deep breath and was mentally telling myself not to get overly stressed about the situation when I heard one of the ladies say in a loud voice, “Well which donut do you WANT?” I assumed she was talking to a toddler until I saw that there was no toddler present — just a middle-aged woman, an elderly woman, and a teenage girl. It took me a moment to realize this was a three-generation deal, and the middle-aged woman was addressing not her daughter but her elderly mother.

​At first the tone of her voice had concerned me, but now she was very patiently reciting the names of every donut available to her elderly mother — who was obviously a bit hard of hearing. I could tell that this was about the tenth time she was doing this. Fortunately for all of us, grandma finally made her decision and mom wisely directed her daughter to take grandma to her seat. It was time to pay up, and mom could only do so many things at once. I admired the way the teenager carefully seated her grandmother at the table and fetched the fixings for her coffee.

​The middle-aged woman was keeping a close watch on the goings-on, and I caught  her eye. “Sandwich Generation, right?” I asked “Yes,” she answered without hesitation. “I’ve been there,” I informed her, and she laughed. I could tell by the way the grandmother was dressed and the interactions between the three women that she was doing the right thing by her mother.

Watching this scene unfold made me miss the hectic days of bringing both of my parents and my kids to the donut shop near their apartment on Ocean Avenue in Long Branch. But it also gave me a warm feeling to see the love and respect between three generations in action, and I decided to say so.

“You’re doing a wonderful job, and so is your daughter,” I told woman. “Thank you!” she said, and I knew she meant  it.

​As I passed their table on my way out of the store, the middle-aged woman flashed a wide smile. “You have a good day now,” she said. “You too!” I replied, and I could tell

Where would any of us be without the love that exists between the generations? This is my son Greg on his first birthday with John's Aunts Julia (seated) and Elisabeth, my parents, and John's parents.
Where would any of us be without the love that exists between the generations? This is my son Greg on his first birthday with John’s Aunts Julia (seated) and Elisabeth, my parents, and John’s parents.

that she was pleased to have encountered a kindred spirit.

I know that  feeling all too well.

 

 

Show Me the Funny!

The adventure begins -- Mom and Dad on their wedding day in 1949.
The adventure begins — Mom and Dad on their wedding day in 1949.
My dad spent over four years serving in the front lines during World War II under the command of General Patton. He returned home to no girlfriend (moved on) and of course no job.
My dad spent over four years serving in the front lines during World War II under the command of General Patton. He returned home to no girlfriend (moved on) and of course no job.
Did you ever wonder how Hostess Cupcakes were made? Here's your answer. My dad once rescued two of his fellow bakers from becoming trapped in one of these "walk-in" ovens.
Did you ever wonder how Hostess Cupcakes were made? Here’s your answer. My dad once rescued two of his fellow bakers from becoming trapped in one of these “walk-in” ovens.
My grandmother Jeannette, a Dutch immigrant, was apparently a very funny lady. She kept her sense of humor while raising a family of four and working every weeknight to clean offices in the Empire State Building.
My grandmother Jeannette, a Dutch immigrant, was apparently a very funny lady. She kept her sense of humor while raising a family of four and working every weeknight to clean offices in the Empire State Building.

I don’t remember the exact moment when I learned that my parents and I shared a similar sense of humor. We weren’t a bunch of reckless clowns, mind you. But we did manage to see the funny side of many situations.

Continue reading Show Me the Funny!

Anna and William — A Love Story

My grandma Anna and grandfather William on their wedding day.
My grandma Anna and grandfather William on their wedding day.
Uncle Lou.
Uncle Lou.
Aunt Rosanna in 1999. She became our revered family matriarch after my grandma Anna passed away in 1976.
Aunt Rosanna in 1999. She became our revered family matriarch after my grandma Anna passed away in 1976.
From left, my mom Josephine and her siblings Mike, Gabe, and Millie.
From left, my mom Josephine and her siblings Mike, Gabe, and Millie.
My dad on left with his brothers-in-law Mike and Gabe.
My dad on left with his brothers-in-law Mike and Gabe.

 

It is the early 1900s, and we are in the kitchen of an apartment located near busy Bergenline Avenue in Union City, New Jersey. The set-up, as in many apartments of that day, is railroad rooms – one room leads into the next, including the bedrooms.

​A small-statured Italian lady age around 50 years of age, wearing a housedress and an array of religious medals and sensible thick-soled black shoes, is sitting at the kitchen table with an attractive young couple in their twenties. The Italian lady is named Josephine. She is my maternal grandmother. The young couple’s names are Rosanna and Lou. Lou is Josephine’s son. He and my grandma Anna, his younger sister, are Josephine’s only children. This is the first night that Rosanna is meeting my grandmother Josephine.

Continue reading Anna and William — A Love Story

“Life Is Funny”

Some of my friends and family members are having a difficult week, so I thought that I would throw this out there for a chuckle at my expense.

About two years ago, I walked past a playground teeming with parents and young children. Everyone seemed to be having a fabulous time, and I felt a completely overwhelming desire to return to those halcyon days of my kids’ childhoods — but without the stress I seemed to always be feeling at the time.

“Oh God,” I prayed, “I know that this request is pretty much impossible, but I really wish that I could be caring for a little one again.”

Go ahead. Laugh. You know you want to.

John toasting Mom on the occasion of her 80th birthday. He says that for her next milestone, he most likely is going to need "a much bigger boat" -- and maybe something stronger than wine?
John toasting Mom on the occasion of her 80th birthday. He says that for her next milestone, he most likely is going to need “a much bigger boat” — and maybe something stronger than wine?

Everything Sounds Better in Italian

My mother and her sister Millie in the yard of their apartment building in Union City.
My mother and her sister Millie in the yard of their apartment building in Union City.

My mother — and everyone else in our household, frankly — gets very excited at the prospect of “bagel day” Saturdays. This morning my husband delivered my mother’s favorite on a plate — a French Toast bagel with cream cheese. “Dankeschon,” she said. “Bitteschon,” he said in reply.

My mother’s smooth and unexpected use of German reminded me of something I have noticed about her recently. She has been “throwing out” a few of her grandparents’ Italian phrases, which I have not heard from her in ages. In fact, up until recently she claimed to have “forgotten” them all.

But then a few months ago, when she was getting ready for bed, she stopped what she was doing and let out a sigh. “A vajcchiaga e na malatia brutta,” she said. The phrase simply rolled off her tongue and sounded just beautiful. Even though I knew the meaning of “brutta” – ugly — the rest of the words sounded so lovely, I was thinking that the full effect must surely be something positive.

Mom laughed when she saw that I was totally surprised and perplexed.  It means “Old age is an ugly disease,” she said. “I remember my grandfather saying it years ago, and I did not really know what he meant — but now I do.”

I was stunned. My mother could not recall many routines associated with daily living. And yet she had remembered  every word and inflection from this phrase, which she had not heard in over 7o years. I stared at my mother but she simply looked past me,  as if reliving a long-ago event.

Most likely, she was picturing a familiar scene  — one she had told me about many times. Her grandfather, an Italian immigrant, had arrived in the U.S. and placed all of his fortune in a U.S. bank — only to lose it in 1929. Bitter and broken, he had taken to forgetting his troubles by drinking “grappa” — the homemade wine he created from grapes grown in the small backyard of their three-story apartment building. He would play cards and drink every Saturday night with his buddies, and — worse from wear — would struggle up the stairs to the “railroad-style” apartment he shared with his wife, his widowed daughter, and her four children.

“He was a good man,” my mother had told me many times, and then her face would darken. “But not when he drank.”

And yet here my mother was, over seventy years later at the age of 88, recalling his words and feeling a complicity that perhaps she had never thought possible.

During a phone conversation a few days later with her sister Millie — two years older and sharp as a tack — my mother inserted the phrase into conversation. “WHAT DID YOU SAY?” Millie asked, stunned. My aunt had remembered the phrase somewhat, and was floored that my mother had recalled it word for word. Millie was so surprised, in fact, that she told their younger brother Gabe– who also could not believe my mother’s total recall of the phrase.

“Amazing,” he told me admiringly after she had repeated it to him in a phone conversation. “Simply amazing.”

For my part, I was pleased and proud. I was pleased that, even though I knew my great-grandfather certainly had his moments, my mother had thought enough of him– and had enough empathy for him —  to recall his apparently often-used phrase. And of course I was proud that my mother was still somehow sharp enough to remember Italian phrases from her childhood.

“A vejcchiaga e na malatia brutta.”

No wonder Italian is known as  a romance language. Even a complaint about aging sounds achingly beautiful.

Especially when it brings my 88-year-old mother — and me —  back to the days of her childhood.

 

 

“Jepidy”

Here is an equation for you to solve —

As “Rain Man” was to “Wopner”, my mom and countless other elderly women are to ________.

If you guessed Jeopardy!(or as my Hudson county-born mother pronounces it, “Jepidy”), you are correct. I wonder how many other sons and daughters and other caregivers dutifully record the show when their elderly charges are somehow “forced” to miss it in lieu of an evening out  or other event.

My husband John, the walking encyclopedia, never fails to impress my mom by getting a lot of the answers. Mom thinks it is especially wonderful when “ooooo, none of THEM got it but John did!”

“You could be on that show, John, and make lots of money!” she tells my husband, and he dutifully blushes and pooh poohs the idea. “How about me, ma?” I say. “Yes, you too,” she says, as her voice trails off.

Sigh.

But seriously, I wonder if Alex Trebek is aware of how many elderly women’s hearts he sets aflutter almost every evening.

As for me, I always set the channel to 7 at 6:30 every night so Mom does not miss even a minute of Jeopardy!, which starts at seven.

And I have to admit, channel 7 anchorman David Muir is very easy on the eyes! I guess, for mom and me, this is our version of the “Daily Double!”

 

 

 

Easter Blessings

My mom’s sister Carmela (Millie) arrived with her two daughters to spend some time with us on Easter Day. My mom and my Aunt are adorable together, and are almost always laughing and smiling in one another’s company. At the end of the evening, my mother was saying goodbye to her sister.

“I love you, Millie!”

“I love you too, Jo! So much. You know, I don’t think that in all these years we have ever had an argument. Have we, Jo?”

“No, never, Millie.”

“Have we ever had a disagreement?”

My mom Josephine (Jo), at left, and her BFF and two-years-older sister (and my Godmother) Carmela (Millie).
My mom Josephine (Jo), at left, and her BFF and two-years-older sister (and my Godmother) Carmela (Millie).

“No, Millie, I don’t think so.”

“Maybe one or two, Jo — I’m trying to remember. Do you remember?”

“Even if I did, Millie, I don’t want to think about it right now.”

Smart woman, my mother — don’t you agree?