Back In Time

mom and dad
Thanks For The Memory, Jimmy.

Readers of my blog have often read about our July Festival fund raiser in support of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church and School. I have been a regular at the “Feast” ever since they began holding it on Herman Avenue – before it moved to the schoolyard that is.

That tradition was passed on to my children and it continues till this day. It’s the best place to meet new friends, renew old friendships and relive the memories of a lifetime.

As my husband Jimmy would often say, “You can take the girl out of the Neighborhood. But you can’t take the Neighborhood out of the girl.” And he was right.

Not too many years ago I literally took a stroll down memory lane with my good friend Michael. Actually it was West 69th street but you get the idea.

Michael and I had been friends ever since childhood. In a neighborhood that was predominantly boys it was a challenge to find a best friend. Lucky for me, Michael became mine.

We would sit on his steps for hours talking, laughing and telling stories. He had my back and I had his. He was like a brother but in low key kind of way – never telling me what to do, where to go, or how to behave.

Eventually we grew up and went our separate ways. We got married, raised our children, and retired to the suburbs but we always returned every summer to The Feast.

One summer not too long ago, I was standing on the street corner waiting for the procession to start when a familiar figure caught my eye. It was Michael. He waved and crossed the street smiling as he came toward me. He gave me a big hug. And he said, “Louisa, let’s go back in time.”

I knew exactly what he had in mind as we began to walk down our old street. We stopped in front of nearly every house. Every house had a story. And we’d always start by saying…”Do you remember?”

And we sure did remember. We started with Squeaky’s house recalling that he was always into something. Michael and I smiled as we walked past Isabella’s Bakery remembering all of the bread runs between Sunday Mass and dinner.

As we walked passed Goose’s old house it occurred to us that nearly everyone in the neighborhood had a nickname. My brothers Carmen and Tony were called Rhino and Lardy. My husband was just called “Irish” by the old timers who gave him permission to marry me.

We passed Michael’s old house and my house too. And next to my house, lived my cousin Wicky. I could just see his car parked right in front of his door. What a crew we had.

Little did I know that this walk down memory lane was to be our last. Not too long after that I had heard Michael wasn’t well and his memory was failing. A year later, we crossed paths again at a restaurant. He was with his wife. And Jimmy was still in my life. When Michael saw me, there was an instant of recognition in his eyes and he gave me a hug. That moment of recognition touched me to my core and is today a precious memory. It was a small fleeing miracle for us all. We had a nice lunch together.

Let’s face it, we’re all getting older and forgetting things. And every year I have fewer and fewer friends who share the same memories. This is why I decided to give mine away. I’d like to see them live on somehow. I also wanted to pay tribute to my late husband Jimmy who will live on forever in my heart. As one other Cleveland boy once so eloquently put it, “Thanks For The memory.

I’d like to thank all of you for joining me on my journey back in time. I hope you enjoyed reading about it as much as I did writing about it.

This is my last blog post; I never imagined when I started this journey that I would have an email address let alone a blog. It just goes to show you that it’s never too late to learn something new. And in keeping with that philosophy, one of my other pushy daughters has signed me up for courses at the local community college. Who knows, maybe for my next act I’ll learn to code.

God bless you all – Louisa.

Advertisements

The White Box


Photo credit: qragon via Foter.com / CC BY

Growing up I had two grandmothers, my grandmother Margharite who lived with us and  my grandmother Anna, (Mamae) who lived with my aunt Mary.

After my aunt Mary got married and moved out, my grandmother Mamae was left all alone.  Mamae was busy enough during the day, but my mother was concerned about the nights.  She was getting older and my mom thought it would be a good idea if I would go over there and spend nights with her.

As a “mobile” fifteen year old who was out and about with her girlfriends most evenings my poor grandmother would wait up for me to come home before retiring for the night.

She didn’t do it out of concern for my welfare, nor was she afraid to go to sleep on her own.  The neighborhood couldn’t be safer what with everyone sitting out on their porches, strangers never drove by and the unofficial neighborhood guardians, the Dago Bombers, were there to keep watch.

No, my grandmother would wait up for me out of ritual and superstition.  Every night she reenacted the same routine.

“Louisa” she would call to me when she heard me come home. All of this was done in her local dialect.

“Vieni qua/Come here.”

And then she’d ask me to take the white box out from under her bed.  After I gave her the long white box, she laid it lovingly on the bed and then lifted the lid.  She opened the white tissue paper and carefully removed the contents.

“M’uarda, (but look)  E cosi bell’ (it’s so beautiful).”

She would say as she held up her new girdle with attached garters and admired it.  Next she laid out her new, white, and never worn Playtex bra; the cotton was so stiff it practically stood at attention.   Then she pulled out a pair of silk stockings, followed by her most beautiful dress, a hat and a string of pearls. The entire process took twenty minutes!

She looked at me expectantly as I dutifully admired her treasure.  And then she looked me in the eyes and say, “Remember, you take this box to the funeral home when I die. Do you promise?”

The first time she said it I was appalled by the thought. In my young mind, there was something rather ghoulish about it.   Round about the fourth or fifth night I had gotten used to the idea.

After a week I asked her why she took out her clothes every night. I would be shocked if she worried about somebody stealing them.  But that wasn’t the case.

She told me, “I take them out to show God because I want him to recognize me when he calls me home.”

I couldn’t argue with that logic but I was getting tired of spending all that time every night making sure God recognized my grandmother.

Once, twice, ten times…I wondered if my Aunt Mary participated in the box ritual every night.

After about ten days, I convinced her to leave the box under the bed.

So I asked her, “It’s God, right?  I’m sure he has a good memory.”

She had to agree with that logic.

I shuddered at the thought of all of my unconfessed sins and God’s memory.

She was a little leery at first but I also told her it was for the good of the fabric. After all, she didn’t want to arrive in front of St. Peter all wrinkled, right? So she seemed satisfied with that and I made a mental note to go to confession.

It wasn’t long before her health started to fail and her daughters thought it best to move her in with my Aunt Rosie.  A couple of years later my grandmother had died and I went to the funeral home expecting to see her laid out in all her finery.  The day she had been preparing for had finally arrived.

You can imagine my shock and dismay when she was dressed in an outfit I didn’t recognize and I’m sure she didn’t pick.

When I asked my Aunt Rosie what happened to the white box, she looked at me with a strange look on her face.

“What white box?” she asked.

“The box that was under her bed,” I said.

“I never saw any box,” my Aunt Rosie said truly puzzled.

My Aunt Mary, my mother and I all looked at each other.  We knew the importance of that box.

I could read the concern on their faces and see their thoughts battling with their logic.  It was after all a silly, superstitious question in this modern age in the new world.

“How was God going to recognize their mother?”

I looked at my grandmother lying peacefully in her box and I said to my mother and my aunts.

“M’uarda (but look) Come e bell’ lei (how beautiful she is). Who could forget that face?”

They had to agree!

To this day I have an aversion to white boxes.  And I now put everything in gift bags!

 

Lack of Education

The Wild Colonial Boys revised

The Wild Colonial Boys: (left to right) Johnny, Jimmy, Simon and Frank.

There are some movie phrases that over the years have become iconic.

“Here’s looking at you, kid.” – Casablanca

“What we have here is a failure to communicate.” – Cool Hand Luke

“I’ll be back.” The Terminator

“Lack of Education” was a phrase coined by my husband Jimmy. It seemed to be a catch all for bad behavior or lack of manners – or both.

He first used it in high school as a dig against his two older brothers who had quite a reputation at West High School.

His oldest brother Frank knew everybody. He was a joker and wherever Frank went laughter often followed but mostly at the expense of overly strict teachers. He was the glue in afternoon detention sessions holding together a diverse group of students. It was the 50s version of The Breakfast Club. 

John, the middle brother, was always there to back Frank up and so naturally they were well known to teachers and students. Teachers dreaded them, fellow students wanted to be like them and trouble was their best friend.

One teacher was once heard to ask John if there were any other brothers due to attend high school. Johnny was pleased to announce that West High could look forward to a third brother, Jimmy, next year. The teacher heaved a heavy sigh and was heard to say, “Oh no, not another one.”

My husband has always been a bit of an instigator and so you can imagine the havoc he caused in high school – especially having his brothers there.

Jimmy with his angelic face and the charm of a natural born salesman, usually managed to dodge the wrath of his teachers leaving Frank and John to bear the brunt of the blame.

And then with all innocence and conviction, he’d deliver the bad news to his father Simon, a tough old Irishman if ever there was one that Frank and John were in trouble again.

Simon, would peer over the obituary section of the old Cleveland News and scowl at his son.  Jimmy who was only too pleased to venture his explanation as to the bad behavior of his two brothers, “Lack of education, Pa. Lack of education.”

Concerned for their younger brother’s welfare, Jimmy was quickly racking up as many detentions as Frank. Or perhaps because he was cramping their style, the older brothers decided it would be best if Jimmy attended catholic school. And so the brothers pooled their resources and packed him off to St. Edwards with the warning he’d better graduate or else.

Jimmy did graduate from St. Edwards, Class of 55 as he was fond of saying, but not before serving his fair share of detentions by digging the school’s foundation.

Frank , John and Jimmy joined the service and when they came out they went on to be a policeman , a lumberyard foreman and a salesman. They were as popular out of high school as they were when they were in it. People knew and loved them all. And Frank and John never stopped looking after their little brother.

I suspect that when Jimmy went before St. Peter at the pearly gates. His two brothers were there to meet him. And as St. Peter looked down the long list of Jimmy’s life, noting all of those detentions, I could just hear Franky and Johnny whispering into the gatekeeper’s ear. “Lack of education, Peter. Lack of education.”

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to the Macs, the Aunts, The Cousins and all of our friends from the other neighborhood known as Little Achill.  Up Mayo!

 

The Dago Bombers

Dago Bombers

Believe or not there was a time when you could leave your doors open and your bicycle outside without fear of anything being stolen.

There were several reasons for this. First, the neighborhood Black Widows always kept a sharp eye out for people’s comings and goings. Second, everyone knew everyone else and trusted them. Third, well we were a poor neighborhood of immigrants so there wasn’t anything to steal. People were into sharing.

As such, we took pleasure in the simple things in life. The Calabrese Hall on 69th Street hosted many a wedding or a dance. The Gordon Arcade, a favorite neighborhood hangout, had a roller rink and a cinema.

Our preferred place to eat was Arnold’s Diner on the corner of 65th and Detroit. Sound familiar? That’s right, just like the one in Happy Days. Only we had it first.

Members of the Vets’ Club (Veterans of Foreign Wars) were busy planning fund raisers for the new school as well as donating the hard labor to build it.

In the 1950s a local group of guys created the Dago Bombers. They become known as a neighborhood gang. Back in the day, every neighborhood had its own gang.

But they weren’t like gang members like in Westside Story or even worse, like today’s gangs. They were more like the “Our Gang”. They were a band of brothers dedicated to keeping watch over the neighborhood and each other.

One of the local guys, an artist by trade, crafted a Dago Bombers badge that members wore with pride.

The Bombers were the epitome of cool with their leather jackets, cuffed blue jeans, t-shirts with packs of Lucky Strikes rolled up in their sleeves, Brylcream slick hair swept into DA’s or pompadours and sunglasses. If you didn’t know them, you’d cross the street just to avoid them.

I may joke about the Our Gang reference but make no mistake they could be tough guys when they had to be. And that’s what really made the neighborhood safe.

Amazing Grace


Photo credit: Lost Albatross via Foter.com / CC BY-ND

When coincidence and serendipity meet good things happen. According to the dictionary, coincidence is a remarkable occurrence of events without an apparent causal connection. Serendipity one ups coincidence because it adds happiness to the equation.

I remember one such meeting when I was in my teens. I was a regular at the Rollercade Skating Rink on Dennison Avenue. It had live Wurlitzer organ music that you could skate to or if you were really good – dance to.

Every Saturday afternoon most of the kids from the neighborhood went to skate. Sometimes we were lucky enough to win some free tickets for admission. None of us owned skates so we had to rent them.

I often wondered how many people had these skates on before me. But I didn’t care. They had four wheels and a stopper and I loved them.

Skating is truly an art form; it’s like ice dancing on wheels. In this particular rink, you could skate along the outside of the center oval. If you were really good you could skate / dance inside the oval. Skaters inside the oval could waltz, foxtrot and flea hop.

Since I thought I was pretty good, I would skate inside the oval showing off a little here and there. Until one day a young woman showed up to dance with her partner. Anyone watching her skate knew that she was an angel on wheels.

From her beautifully pleated skating skirt and her blinding white skates to her elegant moves, she was everything I wanted to be in a skater. I was too intimidated to talk to her let alone skate in the oval with her. So I sat and watched her for hours.

Who was she I wondered?

Well it didn’t take long before I found out.

One day I went to visit my Aunt Mary, and as was my habit,  I burst into the kitchen with my usual enthusiasm only to find the skating angel sitting at the kitchen table writing a letter to her boyfriend.

I was dumbfounded and that confused my aunt because I am never at a loss for words. My aunt Mary introduced me to her friend Grace.

I never thought I’d meet her let alone find her in my aunt’s kitchen. I told her how much I loved to watch her skate. She was very modest and kind as I complimented her skating, her clothes, and her skates.

A few days later my aunt gave me some skating skirts that Grace sent over. They were beautiful. I just knew that if I wore these skirts to skate in, I would be able to skate almost as well as she did.

I met her again several months later as she was a bride’s maid in my aunt’s wedding. She seemed to float down the aisle of the church. For a second I wondered if she was wearing a pair skates under that floor length gown. No, I thought, it was probably just my imagination.

A few years later, I grew up and got married and moved back to the neighborhood. I often wondered whatever happened to Grace. Well I didn’t have to wonder for very long because it turned out that she was my neighbor. We became best friends and so did our husbands. We raised our children together and we taught them how to skate.

Talking Turkey


Photo credit: kristin_a (Meringue Bake Shop) via Foter.com / CC BY-SA

We were talking about pets the other day. I have a rescue dog called Ernie. He’s deaf, blind and he doesn’t bark. Being deaf myself, we make quite a pair. My children tease me relentlessly as Ernie also has a fifth leg – if you know what I mean. And I’ll leave it at that since this is a family blog.

ernie
Ernie

In our house, when my children were young, we had our fair share of cats, dogs, kittens, turtles, gold fish, and mice. When asked about my pets, I often think of our pet turkey, Tommy.

Tommy didn’t start out as a pet. When Tony, Carmen and I were young, we asked for a live turkey one Thanksgiving. Little did we know in the week that he lived in our cellar he would become our friend.

He was a clever bird. He could always sense when we were about to sneak down the stairs. He’d hide underneath the stairs to lie in wait – ready to chase us.

We’d creep down oh so quietly, first Tony and then Carmen. I would bring up the rear.
We’d get to the bottom of the stairs and there was no sign of Tommy. And then we would call him.

“Gobble, gobble, gobble!”

He’d poke his head out and chase us to the stairs, where we would fall over each other trying to escape his sharp beak. Tony and Carmen would run right over me in their effort to get away. Thanks guys.

Naturally we were quite concerned that Tommy was going to be our guest of honor at dinner. And so we made my mother promise that we wouldn’t eat him.

She agreed and said he would be sent to a farm where he could live outside and enjoy fresh air.

(And here I have to confess, I may have used a similar explanation when the gold fish died and we had to “free” them in the toilet so they could get to the ocean.)

And so when Thanksgiving Day arrived we were relieved that the bird on the table wasn’t Tommy.

As we sat at the table, my brothers, my parents, and my grandmother and I said a quick prayer of thanks. And just as my father was about to carve the turkey, Tony unbeknownst to us started to shake the table with his knee.

Carmen and I saw the turkey start to move, our eyes grew round, and we knew that Tommy wasn’t on the farm. That he had come back to chase us, and chase us he did. We ran out of the house screaming, “It’s alive, it’s alive.”

And that was the last time we had a pet.

You’ve Got Mail….


Photo credit: maf04 via Foter.com / CC BY-SA

In this fast-paced world of texts, Instagram’s, and emails, getting a hand written note is a rarity these days. With the exception of special events (graduations, weddings, communions etc ) most good wishes and greetings have gone digital.

And that would be very convenient especially for someone like me who’s usually late when it comes to sending out birthday cards to my children and grandchildren – except I haven’t a hot clue how to do any of these digital things. (This blog is the extent of my technological abilities.)

Birthday wishes are always preceded by a phone call and my signature closing – “Happy Birthday, I love you and the card is in the mail.” Generally I’m never late by more than a week. Late birthday greetings have become my signature and an inside joke among my children.

My children and grandchildren however prefer to deliver their cards in person if they can. They like to see my reaction to the cards they’ve selected especially the funny ones. Those make me laugh while the sentimental ones make me cry.

Just the other day, a week before Valentine’s Day, I had a very special and mysterious delivery of a series of cards during a visit with my youngest granddaughter Cameron. She stopped by for her weekly visit.

I swear she’s seven going on 27. I’ve never met anyone like her. The things she says are very wise and mature her age. Her sense of humor is that of an observational comedian commenting on the obvious in a way that always gives me pause and a chuckle. I wish I could give you a good example – and I should start writing these things down because they really are special. And yes I am a proud grandmother.

During our conversation she held up her hand and claimed to hear a knock on the door. She jumped up and went to the door and retrieved a card with my name, “Louise” on it.

She handed it to me. I opened it and it said, “Happy Valentine’s Day from your secret admirer.”

Cameron was excited and teased me about having a secret admirer. And I told her I never had a secret admirer except for my husband, her papa. And there was nothing secretive about him. He always wore his heart on his sleeve.

Two Valentine’s Days have come and gone since my not so secretive admirer passed away – two years since I last received a box of chocolate covered cherries and a Valentine signed – Love JB.

So I was surprised by the card and the effort. But I wrote it off as a gesture from one of my sons.

Cameron was also very close to her grandfather “papa”, who always left a big impression on people that extends beyond his life.

And since he’s no longer here and in an effort to keep him close, she likes to ask questions about him.

“Nonna, what did you used to call papa? She asked as we sat on the couch.

“Well, sometimes I called him Seamus if he was being funny, and sometimes I called him Goofy Jimmy if he was being silly. But my favorite name for him was always J.B.”

Soon there was a second “knock” on the door. Did I mention that my granddaughter’s super power is infra-sound hearing or the ability to hear sounds below the normal hearing range?

She was back in a flash with a second card from my secret admirer in hand. She was quite impressed with the fact that I now had two cards. And she speculated on whether or not it was one or possibly two secret admirers. There was no way she could tell.

Shortly thereafter excused herself so she could cross the complex to go and visit her great aunt, Ann, my sister in law. She hadn’t been gone long before she returned to have some pasta and meatballs. She paused in between bites to announce yet a third knock on the door.

She promptly returned with a third card that read: Dear Louise, Happy Valentine’s Day from your secret admirer. Love JB

I had to wonder. Was Cameron the author or the just the messenger? Did her super power enable her to hear someone whispering to her and telling her what to do?

I’d like to think so. And JB if you’re listening – PS I love you.