Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Great Depression, the New Deal and Today

I was thinking about the comment from Vicki on my blog about history affecting ordinary lives. How her mother-in-law won't eat spaghetti because that was what they got during the depression. Speaking of the depression, my Dad joined one of the New Deal programs - the CCC's (Civilian Conservation Corps)- when he was a young man. He was sent out west to Wyoming and Idaho, where he fought forest fires and planted trees - and developed a deep love of nature which he passed along to us. As I noted in my September 11th blogs, unexpected blessings can come from difficult times of pain and suffering, such as the crisis of the Great Depression. How wonderful that America had such a great leader in F.D. Roosevelt to push through programs that gave people meaningful work, helped build America's infrastructure and energy capacity (Tennessee Valley Authority), and had such an effect on ordinary lives. Maybe our current economic crisis is another opportunity for great leadership and creative programs to come to the rescue of the real victims: ordinary everyday people and their families.

Friday, September 19, 2008

History and Ordinary Lives

When I was in school, I didn’t like “history” class much. It was all about dates and wars and stuffy old men. Much later, long after I had graduated from college, I developed an interest in Medieval History. The books I read, books like A History of Their Own by Bonnie Anderson and Judith Zinsser, were mostly about ordinary life in those times, especially women’s lives. Of course, the wars, plagues and other disasters of the time affected ordinary lives in terrible ways.

A few weeks ago there was a news story about the Rosenberg trial of the 1950’s, how some evidence given by witnesses against Ethel Rosenberg may have been tainted. My daughter asked me to write about my memories of that time. And I was struck about how much that trial affected my life.

In those days, when I was about 10 or 11 years old, my family’s television set was still pretty new. I remember watching the McCarthy hearings and the comedians’ imitations of them. I sort of got the idea that “Communists” were bad but even that concept was mixed up in my 10 year old brain. I remember my Mom saying once that she was going to write to her congressman and I wondered why she would write to someone who was an enemy of America. Obviously, I got the two terms confused.

The cold war of the 50’s meant that we had air raid drills in school, where we would crouch under our desks or stand in the hall, saying the rosary. Once there was a sonic boom (probably a jet breaking the sound barrier) and my Mom came running into the room yelling “Those lousy Russians!”

But I certainly knew what the Rosenberg trial was about. It was a top news story in the early days of TV and the media milked it for all it was worth. What it meant to me was that a mother and father were going to be executed and that children would lose their parents. I was terrified, especially as the day approached for their death by the electric chair at Sing-Sing. I believe that this event contributed to my phobia about electricity. Shortly after the Rosenbergs were executed, I got a slight shock from an intercom in my house and spent a sleepless night thinking I would be electrocuted at any moment. It was downhill from there.

Now, of course I would have been plagued by phobias anyway. But it is interesting how newsworthy events change our lives, even in small ways. And who can deny how everyone’s life has been changed by the events of September 11th. Or Hurricane Katrina. Or Vietnam – but that’s another blog entirely.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Grandma's Story - Chapter 1 Part 2

Let me tell you what my house looked like on the inside. When I was five, I lived on the first floor of 1675 Linden Street with my Mom, Dad, sister Kathy and baby brother Jimmy. Later on I had two more brothers, Johnny and Jeff. Our apartment was called a railroad flat because all the rooms were connected in a straight line that looked like a train. There was a little kitchen off of the dining room, which was also our living room. My Dad turned the real living room into a bedroom because there were so many of us. I shared the big bedroom with my sister and brother for awhile. My Dad took all the doors off the rooms to get air and there was no privacy. I had to walk through all the bedrooms to get to mine. When we went to bed at 9 o’clock, I would talk and laugh with my sister and brother. That made my father very angry and we’d get a smack!

Our house had one great thing. My grandma Nanny, grandpa Pop-Pop, and great aunt Kiki, lived on the second floor. So if it got too noisy or crowded, I could sneak down the long entry way or “private hall” into the big hall and up the stairs to my grandparents house. It was so peaceful there. Nanny would be reading the Journal American, a newspaper, at the big dining room table and peeling an orange. Pop-Pop would be sleeping in his easy chair. He could fall asleep as easily as ‘Buelo. He loved to tell us corny jokes but he would laugh so hard, he would be crying and we couldn’t hear the end of the joke. Sometimes Pop-Pop would sit in the living room. My cousins, sister, brother and I would sit around him and beg him to tell us stories about Jack the Giant Killer. They were scary and we loved them!

I even remember my great grandmother, Granny. She was your great, great, great grandmother. She would show me black and blue marks on her wrinkly hands. She said the marks were from being old. I’m not so sure. She lived in Nanny’s house and died when I was five years old. I had to be very quiet, my Mom said, because Nanny and Kiki were very sad.

My other Grandma and Grandpa (my Dad’s Mom and Dad) lived down the block on Linden Street. Grandma had beautiful embroidery hanging on the walls with Hungarian writing. She had statues of Jesus and Mary on her dresser, with lighted candles in front of them. I loved to go to her house and stare at the pictures and candles and smell the delicious smells coming from her kitchen.

Grandpa was a carpenter. He built a wooden staircase outside our dining/living room window. When we wanted to play in the backyard, we would climb out the window and go down the steps. My Pop-Pop took care of the garden. His specialty was roses: white, pink, red and yellow rose bushes. My favorites were the yellow roses because they smelled so sweet and they were short, so it was easy to sniff them. Pop-Pop made us a dirt box at the end of his garden with a little seat. I loved to play bakery and make dirt pies and cookies and cakes. But I didn’t taste them!

There were no clothes dryers back then. There was a tall pole at the end of the yard and a clothes line attached. My Mom hung the clothes on the line from the kitchen window. In the winter, the shirts would come in frozen stiff with their arms sticking out, like invisible people.

It was lots of fun being five when I was a kid! (June 15, 2005)

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Grandma's Story - Chapter 1 Part 1

Before you read this, go to "Grandma's Story - Introduction" (September 7, 2008).

Chapter 1 - For Sam, Age 5

Once upon a time, Grandma was five years old, just like you are now. I lived in a house that was very different from yours. It was in a place called Queens in New York City. My neighborhood was Ridgewood. It didn’t have big buildings and “too many people”. The streets were called blocks and had sidewalks and brick houses, three stories high, all stuck together.

I remember my block being a long, sunny street with three skinny trees across from my house. Each house had a gate and a stoop, four fat cement steps that led to the outside door. In the summer, we bounced our Spaulding balls (the best bouncing balls!) against the stoop. The big boys played stick ball in the gutter, where the cars drove by. Only there weren’t too many cars back then so we could even draw in the gutter with chalk and make games. I liked to play Potsy, which is like Hopscotch.

We didn’t have air conditioning either. On summer nights everyone sat in the gate on benches or on the stoop and waited for the Bungalow Bar truck to come with its ice cream pops. It was a white truck that looked like a little house and its bells were music to my ears.

It was fun living on Linden Street, my block. We rode our bicycles and scooters on the sidewalk or roller skated. Those roller skates were metal with metal wheels and you needed a key to tighten them to your shoes. I liked the feel of my tingly feet after I took off my skates. One time I was riding my bicycle and I saw a neighbor kid, Dennis W., coming up the street. It was too late to stop and I hit him and knocked him down. I fell off my bike. Later his big sister came to my house and yelled at my Mom. I was so scared. I learned a good lesson – don’t ride bicycles on the sidewalk.

When I was five, I started Kindergarten in the Catholic school down the street called St. Brigid’s. My Mom had also gone to St. Brigid’s. I was so excited to go to school. It had a sandbox and see-saw and jungle gym right inside the classroom. One day my cousin Joseph and I were playing on the see-saw with another girl. We thought it would be funny if we sat on one end and kept her up in the air. She didn’t like it at all. And we soon got tired of the game, so we got up. To our surprise, the girl came crashing down with a bang! She started crying and told the teacher, Sister Rita. Joseph and I got punished. We had to sit down and skip recess. We were also supposed to tell our mothers what we had done. I felt very sorry but I learned another lesson, a Physics lesson. I knew what happened when you take a weight off of one end of a balance. The other end comes down really fast. Oh yes. I did tell my Mom what had happened but Joseph didn’t tell his mother. I guess I learned another lesson that time.

Grandma's Story - Introduction

A few years ago I began a project for my six grandchildren called “Grandma’s Story”. In honor of Grandparents Day, I’ve decided to share this with you on my blog for several reasons. First, it will be another place to save my story and give my own family a chance to read all about it again. Second, it may give grandparents and older relatives another idea on how to share their own stories. It is also a wonderful opportunity for educating a new generation about ordinary life in extraordinary times: World War II, the Civil Rights Movement, Vietnam, etc. Finally, I hope that by blogging I will be encouraged to continue writing – there’s a lot more to tell.

I began writing my story for children and tried to write in that style. I will post the introduction today and then continue with short segments from Chapter 1. I welcome your comments.

Introduction to Grandma’s Story (June 2005)

This book will be all about life in the times when Grandma was growing up. Since I was born in 1941, that was a long, long time ago! The first chapter will describe my adventures when I was five years old and since Sam just celebrated his 5th birthday, this is Sam’s chapter.

Later there will be special chapters for all my precious grandkids. And the best part is every one gets to share the whole story and read about how it was to be a kid 60 years ago! I look forward to writing chapters for Marina, Chase, Sierra, Jackson and Baby Punkin’ (who turned out to be Aidan!) Maybe you can give me ideas about what you’d like to hear about. Or even interview me. We will see.

When it’s all finished – a long time from now – you will all have a story to show to your children and grandchildren. A special story that you can add to with your own stories. The story of our family!