Kids Say the Darndest Things

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Photo by SamwiseGamgee69 on / CC BY-NC-SA

Years ago there used to be a talk show program on TV hosted by Art Linkletter called Kids Say the Darndest Things.

And that’s true. You have only to talk or listen to a child to gain a fresh perspective on things.

I remember years ago, in 1976, the year of the American Bicentennial, overhearing a conversation between my youngest son Danny and his best friend Tommy. They might have been about seven or eight years old at the time.

Danny and Tommy attended different schools. Danny went to the local Catholic school and Tommy to the local public school. In fact, that’s how my children identified themselves back then. You were either Catholic or “Public” which was a catchall term for anyone who was not Catholic. Catholicism colored their everyday lives.

Take for example the different perspectives shared by the two boys on a fine summer’s day.

Danny pointed to the sky as a large white bird lands on the garage roof, “Look Tommy, it’s the Holy Spirit!”

“No it’s not,” Tommy said. “It’s the Spirit of ’76!”

Either way, I said, “God Bless America!”

And God Bless, Mom!



Off To The Zoo

My husband Jimmy was known to tell a tall tale or two. He didn’t quite lie so much as stretch the truth. I was reminded of that recently when I happened to be going through a box of old photographs.

One Sunday he volunteered to take the three youngest children, then six, five and three years old to the zoo. I thought that was wonderful as it gave me an afternoon off and it was a learning experience for the children.

I was a bit concerned about how he would manage the three of them on his own but he reassured me everything would be fine. And so off they went to the zoo – or so he told me.

Naturally the children were too young to make the distinction between to the zoo and the racetrack, which was the real destination. To kids at that age, an animal was an animal was an animal.

Jimmy was pretty pleased with himself when he returned. The kids said they had a good time and that they liked the animals. And mom was none the wiser. That is until a large brown envelope arrived in the mail a week later. It was a photo from the racetrack. It was a souvenir of the horse, jockey, owner and his friends in the winner’s circle.

Of course Jimmy had a wide circle of friends, one of whom was the horse’s owner, so it was no surprise that he and the kids were invited to be part of the group shot. What was a surprise to him was that the picture was mailed to our house addressed to our family.

And so when he came home from work, I asked him about his recent trip to the zoo as I placed the photo in front of him.

Whereby he calmly explained the racetrack was just like the zoo – after all both places had animals!

The Zoo1

Far right: Jimmy holding Donna with Beth and Danny in front.  Ponchos were very fashionable at that time.

You’ll Never Walk Alone

April has always been the hardest month for me. It’s the end of winter and the beginning of spring. I find it ironic that in the month of rebirth, over the years I lost three of the people who were dearest to me: my mom for whom this blog is named, and my brothers Carmen and Tony. I considered myself  and orphan and the young me, the Louisa of the old neighborhood, was alone.

My husband Jimmy always knew this was a bad month for me and held his breath and my hand until the “sad season” passed. He was so conscious of my struggle that even when he was sick and dying at the end of April 2015 he hung on until May 1st before he decided to go home to God. And even though I was surrounded by loving family and friends I never felt more alone.

Since then my family has always made sure that April was a busy month. We started this blog in April 2016 and we acquired my beloved Luigi in April 2017.

Luigi sleeping

I also recently took a bus trip with my in-laws to a Casino in Toledo. I know that my mom, brothers and Jimmy would have approved.

On the bus ride, a family member by marriage, called Uncle Eamon, pulled me aside. “I have something for you,” he said.

“Is it money?” I joked.

It turned out to be even better. He took my hand placed a beautiful rosary in it. He told me that my mother had given him that rosary 40 years ago when she returned from a visit to Rome. I had no idea.

I was pleased and surprised. And now he wanted me to have it. I of course insisted that he keep it because mom had given it to him. But he persisted. And so I put it in my purse. I thought perhaps it would bring me luck. Little did I know that later that night it would bring me something much better than luck.

After having paid for another chandelier at the casino we made the long bus trip home. Once home, I had a light bite, put the rosary next to my mom’s picture on the dresser and then fell exhausted into bed. I was just on the edge of sleep when I felt someone looking at me. I thought perhaps it was my granddaughter who lives with me and had come in to check on me.

I opened one eye and waved her away. I was fine. But the figure didn’t budge. And so I opened both eyes and saw the flickering figure of my mother standing at the foot of my bed. And then I knew.

At that moment even though all of those people that I loved were no longer here somehow I wasn’t alone. My mother came back to remind me that we are body and soul. And although the body may be gone the soul is eternal.
She showed up at the moment I needed her most. And her message to me is to always remember you’ll never walk alone.

Really I'm half Italian

Child’s Play

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Some people are lucky enough to retain a childlike sense of play all their entire lives. And the person who embodied that most in our family was my husband Jimmy.
He was just a big kid at heart who enjoyed the company of his children, the neighborhood kids, and his nieces and nephews.

Whether he was teaching them how to ride a bike down our gravel driveway, playing catch in the backyard, or acting as official kickball pitcher, he always tried to instill teamwork, good sportsmanship and a sense of fun in these activities.

Sometimes he was silly and many times he wouldn’t quite play fair. But as he used to tell me, life isn’t always fair. Take for example the summer of the banana splits. Back in the day we used to treat all of the kids to a soft custard cone from the ice cream shop at the top of the street. At ten cents a cone we could afford to treat our children and the neighborhood kids.

One summer my husband took it into his head to offer everyone a banana split if each one could catch the softball he’d throw to them. That was a big IF. It took all summer before all of the kids figured out his wily ways. Every night after supper they all lined up in the backyard. Each one punched his or her baseball glove rhythmically in anticipation eyeing the official pitcher (Jimmy) warily. What was he going to do now they wondered?

He was a tricky one that Jimmy. If they scanned the trees for a pop up fly, he threw it at their knees. If they prepared for a fast ball, he threw a sinker or curve ball. It took all summer but they finally did it. They finally figured it out. One hot summer night every single one of them finally caught whatever Jimmy could throw at them – even five year old Guido.

That was it. Jimmy was on the hook for eight banana splits. And at 0.75 cents a piece that was quite a chunk of change for us to absorb. I was scrambling for loose change to try and cover Jimmy’s extravagant prize.

Jimmy of course was unfazed by the whole thing. He calmly marched the entire troop into the kitchen. Hot and sweaty, their dirt streaked faces bore witness to their herculean efforts as they waited for my husband. Waited for him to grab his wallet and pay up.

Jimmy did pay up but not in the way they expected. That was one thing you could always count on with him. Expect the unexpected. (More about that later).

He reached up to the top of the refrigerator and pulled down a bunch of bananas. What he did next stunned his young charges. He promptly took a banana and cut it in half for each of them – splitting one each between the players.

Cries of “Not fair! Not fair!” rang out through the kitchen.

“How so,” Jimmy wanted to know? “Isn’t this a banana split?”

Jimmy turned the experience into a teachable moment quoting the immortal Yogi Berra.

“Kids,” he said. “Remember that ‘baseball in ninety percent physical. The other half is mental.’”

They were tricked by a sly fox and they knew it. “Do over!” they yelled.

And “do over” they did but not before clearly outlining the terms and conditions of the prize.

“This time it had to be a real banana split, with three scoops of ice cream, toppings, nuts and whipped cream. And it had to be served in the plastic banana boat. And it had to be purchased at the custard store at the top of the street.”

“Done,” said Jimmy.

Lucky for me, it took another two weeks before they were all able to catch the softball. And during time I was able to find enough loose change cover Jimmy’s extravagant prize. One thing for sure, child’s play in our family was certainly enough to keep this adult busy!

No Guts, No Glory

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My late husband used to wear his heart on his sleeve but kept his colors, green, white and orange, close to his heart. Sure he was an Irishman through and through and although he did celebrate St. Patrick’s Day as a young man, as he grew older and wiser he took a more sober approach.

Nothing pleased him more than a good party among friends and family. And the best loved, best attended party on the West Side was at the McNamara’s. Year in and year out, in a little house that seemed to have elastic walls, the Macs played host to hundreds of people of all ages including some of Cleveland’s finest first responders.

In 2015 Jimmy couldn’t attend the party personally but he called in to the house and they played the bag pipes for him over the phone. It really lifted his spirits.

At every party children would scamper between the adults, the old Irish immigrants would sing rebel songs, those who knew how to step dance would do a jig or a reel. And even those who didn’t  made an attempt. Steaming trays of corned beef and cabbage rolled out of the kitchen in abundance. Strangers were made welcome as is the Irish custom and old friends caught up.

Needless to say the beer flowed like a fountain. And the drink of choice was always Pabst Blue Ribbon. Sorry Great Lakes. For the designated drivers there was Barry’s or Lyon’s tea and scones. The term falling down drunk would never apply here because there were so many people standing shoulder to shoulder there was no opportunity to sit down let alone fall down.

Everyone drank his fill and then some. And soon the night wore into day and breakfast was served. The house was put in order and reset for a second round of festivities the next day. Yes, that’s right a second party – they called the Guts Party. As the Macs like to say, if you have the guts to show up again and pick up where you left off – then you’re welcome!

Here’s Céad Míle Fáilte to friend and to rover
That’s a greeting that’s Irish as Irish can be
It means you are welcome
A thousand times over
Wherever you come from.
Whosever you be.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to all the Macs, to Eamon Moran, my favorite Irishman after Jimmy and all of the Westside Irish. Up Mayo!

The Sixth Sense

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Depending on your perspective, I have been blessed or cursed with the ability to sense things. Déjà vu, vibes, dreams are all a part of my daily existence. It’s not always easy to feel these things but I’ve gotten used to it.

Actually I believe we all have the ability to sense things. Animals have a great sixth sense, you see them reacting to events like natural disasters hours before we humans are even aware of what’s happening. I see also I see it in children. Imaginary friends? They may be imaginary to you.

Just because you can’t see things with your eyes doesn’t make them any less real. I often think of what Hamlet said to his friend Horatio. “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than is dreamt of in your philosophy.”

And that is how I recently explained a recent experience I had to my granddaughter, Bridget, who is a nurse. And as a nurse, she is highly scientific in her analysis of physical phenomena. However she knows that even in medicine there are lots of things that lack an explanation.

And as a woman of great faith she knows that miracles happen every day. And so my communing with the spirits on a regular basis is more normal than paranormal to her.

Recently we took a drive back to the old neighborhood for a little visit. As we walked around the streets, it was nice to relive some old memories with her. I showed her where I grew up and where her grandfather used to live. Most of the houses in the neighborhood were still there.

What had changed though were all of the shops that lined Detroit Avenue between West 69th and West 65th. The storefronts looked so different to me now; I was only able to identify a handful of places. And that made me a little sad.

And so in an effort to cheer me up, Bridget brought me into an ice cream shop called Sweet Moses. It was a charming place that harkened back to the days of real soda shops where ice cream was prepared and served by soda jerks. Yes that’s a real term!

Sitting there I was overcome with a sense of nostalgia. How many soda counters had I sat at during my youth? But that wasn’t all. Sitting there I felt a warm sensation surround me. I asked Bridget if the heat was perhaps too high. But she felt no such thing.

And then it hit me, as I looked around the shop, I recognized it. It came zooming at me like a blast from the past. This wasn’t really a soda shop; it was my Aunt Justina’s tailor shop and dry cleaner. And that’s when I realized that warm feeling surrounding me felt just like a hug. A hug, that my aunt would have given me whenever I would visit her shop. Holy Moses!

All Hands on Deck!

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Our part-time father had a full time job as a construction supervisor during our teenage years. When we’d see his truck roll down West 69th street, we’d laugh amongst ourselves and say, “Here comes the money truck.”

While we were happy that my mother would have some extra financial support, we were unsure about his daily presence in our lives. He tried to make up for lost time by buying each of the boys a car.

Dad bought Tony a Packard which he promptly took apart and then reassembled. Tony’s interest stopped there as he was too laid back to drive. He’d rather be driven. Tony preferred lounging of the back seat of Carmen’s new convertible. As Carmen loved to drive, it was a perfect match.

As for me, I drove whatever car was in the driveway.

In exchange for the “wheels” and to pay for gas and insurance my father put the boys to work with him on various construction sites.

Whereas Carmen was an up for anything, Tony was the opposite.
Repeating the same thing every day on the job site didn’t do much for the boy who liked to see how things worked. Or perhaps it was just his rebellious nature after all; there was always a bit of friction between Tony and my father. It made no sense to Tony that my father could be so lax about his family and so exacting about a job. You can’t have it both ways he once told me.

Convincing Tony to join Carmen and my dad became my mother’s daily obsession. And no matter how much she begged, pleaded, threatened or cajoled – Tony would just roll over and go back to sleep. She was the ultimate peacekeeper. But the best she could manage was an uneasy détente.

“You’re father’s going to be mad at you, Tony,” she would cry.

On one of the mornings Tony decided to sleep in my father told him, “If you’re not on the job today, you better not be here when I get back.”

In a rare moment of obedience or rebellion, who can say, Tony took my father at his word, and that afternoon went out and enlisted in the Navy. At the time my mother was angry at both her husband and her son. Later she grew to see the wisdom in such a move.

As for Tony, I think he liked the freedom of being away from home. In fact, he started a trend in the neighborhood. It wasn’t long after that that Carmen joined the Air Force, Jimmy joined the Army, and slowly but surely all the boys joined the “service.”

After Tony finished basic training I received a post card from California.

Dear Louisa,

The Navy is not bad. The food is not as good as home. And I’m now a machinist first mate which means I get to take a lot of things apart and reassemble them. The good news for the Navy is that there are no extra pieces left over when I put things back together — which means I must be doing something right. The bad news for me is I have to get up early every morning!


PS Hope you’re enjoying the Packard.