Archive | February, 2015

Bungalow Life was Ruptured When the Water Heater Blew Up!

26 Feb

Bungalow colony life in the Catskills was peaceful. Each day we knew some of the basics of what would happen.

The mothers played cards and mah jonng on a set schedule. The grandmas played canasta. All the women knitted and crocheted during the day. We went swimming. We played. We picked blueberries. We rode our bicycles. We just had fun. On the weekends, the dads came up. It was simple and quiet, except for the sounds of childhood and the sometimes yells of the moms.

The moms had several important needs. One was hot water.

We needed to shower and the moms needed to do laundry. Without hot water, life at the bungalows would come to a standstill. Children got extremely dirty with all the outdoor activities in the summertime. We could wash off in the lake, but not our clothing. So the moms were always busy with laundry.

People did their laundry on certain days because there were only two washing machines in our colony. I think they might have had a schedule, but I cannot be sure. I do know that the laundry room often had loads of laundry waiting to be done. People would put their baskets in the laundry room, with their detergent on top of the clothes, and as one person finished her load, she would load up the next person’s laundry in the machine and start it.

The wet laundry had to be hung on lines. We did not have dryers at our colony. I am not even sure if clothes dryers were available when I was little. So the clotheslines were always in use. Clothespins were important. I still have some I saved from the Catskills!

This meant that rainy summers were a disaster for the moms. Children would sometimes have to wear the same dirty clothes for another day, if they could not be washed and dried. During rainy summers, we often had laundry hanging all over the bungalow during the week. And it really did not dry that well because it was all so damp. Sometimes my Mom would put the oven on to try to dry out the laundry.

We would visit our friends during rainy summers, and walk through layers of drying laundry! Clean clothes, clean linens, clean towels were important!

So imagine the aggravation it caused when the water heater went out. It did not happen very often. But once in a while the pilot light would go out and the heater would stop making hot water. Usually one of the men would go and light the heater. It usually was no problem. The heater lit easily.

Except for one time. The time my best friend, Vicki’s, Dad went to light the water heater. I cannot remember if someone tried to light it before him. I do not remember if he was the only dad up there, so he got to do it. I do know that usually my dad did all the chores since my grandparent’s own the colony. I do not know why it was Normie who had the job on this particular day. But he did.

Normie and his wife, Wini, in matching sweaters in the center. My grandfather stands behind my grandma.  Wini's parents are the women sitting on the left and the man standing on the right.  At the bungalows in the Catskills in the 1950s.

Normie and his wife, Wini, in matching sweaters in the center. My grandfather stands behind my grandma. Wini’s parents are the women sitting on the left and the man standing on the right. At the bungalows in the Catskills in the 1950s.

His in-laws and my grandparents were best friends. My Mom and his wife were best friends. (A friendship that continued till my Mom passed away.   And still continues with us.) And his daughter, Vicki, and I do not know life without each other. So it made some sense that Normie would take on this responsibility if my Dad or uncle was not there.

But we are not sure why it was Normie who went to light the water heater pilot.

I was just a little girl. But I remember what happened next.

Normie went to light the water heater, it was behind a bungalow.

A moment later there was a big “BOOM” explosion and a blast of fire shooting into the sky.

It was so scary!!! Everyone was momentarily stunned. Then there was chaotic movement.

I vaguely remember Normie walking out from behind the bungalow, dazed. Perhaps burning. Or maybe not! Maybe it was just people rushing towards him to get him away from the fire. There was a lot of screaming; a lot of running around. It is so confused in our memories. But there was good new, he was alive.

Then the Moms gathered the children and made us go inside. I am sure Vicki went with me. All I remember is that we were quickly moved out of the way.

Next thing came the fire engine and ambulance and the volunteer firemen and ambulance/EMT crew. It was amazing how quickly they got to the colony. The fire was soon extinguished. Normie was taken away. The children, me included, were terrified.

My friend Vicki remembers, “I remember going to see him in the hospital. He smelled like A & D ointment or some kind of burn cream he had on.

“I was so devastated that happened to him. I thought he would never come home!”

But Normie did come home. He had no eyebrows or eyelashes, but the fire did not reach his face. He had no chest hair; the fire singed that off. The main damage was to his legs. They were burned.

I remember before the explosion, he had large varicose veins on his legs, but after the fire, you would not really see them.

He often wore a bathing suit in the summer time. And we all got used to seeing his burned, scarred legs.

It was a summer event I cannot forget. To this day I hate when someone has to light a pilot light.   I know that it can explode because of my memories of the day the water heater blew up.

 

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The Melody of “Autumn Leaves “ Haunts Me

23 Feb

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Bob Dylan recorded Johnny Mercer’s Autumn Leaves for his new album, “Shadows in the Night”! This song has been haunting me since 1981! But now Bob Dylan is singing it, too!

My history with this song is driven by emotion. So to hear Bob Dylan’s rendition of it on the radio while I was driving somewhat stunned me. Luckily I was close to home and was able to pull into my garage. Yes, the song has that big of an impact on me! I even sent a text message to my sister and husband about it. They know my issues with the song.

My Grandma Thelma passed away from a massive stroke in 1981. I flew in from Kansas just in time to see her once more. She could not talk to me when I came to the hospital. But when I bent over her, she grabbed me with her good arm and pulled me closer. She then licked her hand and rubbed her kisses on my face. She could no longer really move her lips, even though she wanted to kiss me.

I felt her love. I knew that she was near death. I was glad I was able to see her once more.

She died that night. I think she was waiting for me to come. I was the one to tell my grandfather.

After her funeral in New Jersey, my parents, my grandfather and I drove back to the Catskills together where Grandpa and Mom would be sitting shiva at my grandparent’s home. It was August, and everyone was up in the mountains for the summer. It made sense to be where all their friends could visit with Grandpa.

The song haunts me.

All during the way, the long drive back to Kauneonga Lake, it seemed for the entire two hours, my Grandpa Nat sang Autumn Leaves. He told us that Grandma and he had made a vow to sing that song when the other passed away. It was their favorite song. In reality, I am sure he did not sing the entire trip, but it felt as if he did.

We did not notice the beautiful scenery along the way. We did not notice the landmarks that usually mark our journey. We listened to my grandfather sing. He had a beautiful voice. He sang and sobbed. My mother and I sobbed with him. I honestly do not know how my Dad drove. The words and melody were etched into my heart. For weeks it echoed in my mind.

The song continued to haunt me.

Years later a movie came out called, “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.” It’s sound track featured songs by Johnny Mercer, including Autumn Leaves.

I have never seen this movie. I did not want to hear that song.

But one day, while my husband and I were in the movie theater waiting to see another show, I began to feel sick to my stomach.

“I don’t know what is wrong,” I told my husband. “But I really don’t feel well. I feel like something horrible is going to happen. I think we have to leave.”

“It is the song,” he said. He knew about my issue with Autumn Leaves. “They are playing the melody of Autumn Leaves. Why don’t you leave the theater for a few minutes.”

I left, and came back when the song was over. My feeling of dread disappeared and I relaxed once I knew why I felt sick. I was really amazed by how my mind, my unconscious mind, could relate so strongly to a song, while my conscious mind was unaware that it was impacting my emotions.

However, in a way, the sound track to “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” helped me. For a few months the song was playing all the time on the radio. I started to be able to hear the melody without crying. Eventually I could also listen to the words without crying. I still felt an ache in my heart when I heard it, but I realized that this song was a commentary on my grandparents love for each other.

My Mother’s birthday is this week. Perhaps it is fitting that I have heard Autumn Leaves a few days before my Mom’s birthday. Perhaps it is fitting that Bob Dylan is singing this song. I have loved Bob Dylan’s music for my entire life. I still remember the first time I heard him sing Pete Seeger’s, “Where have all the Flowers Gone.”

I know that the melody and lyrics of Autumn Leaves will always haunt me. Even though I can now listen to the song without that awful feeling of dread, or thinking something horrible will happen, I still feel that ache. I remember that trip back to the Catskills. I envision memories of my grandparents and parents whenever I hear it. And whenever autumn leaves begin to fall, I feel my loved ones’ spirits close to me.

 

 

 

 

http://www.lyricsmode.com/lyrics/j/johnny_mercer/autumn_leaves.html

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gnp58oepHUQ&list=PL1012F30BBCC1BEE9&index=4

 

http://www.bobdylan.com/us/songs/autumn-leaves

 

Aging, Wisely and Joyfully

21 Feb

I spoke to my daughter a few days before her 29th birthday (yesterday). She lives in Israel and I live in the Kansas, so we spoke through a video chat. (Always makes me think of 2001: A Space Odyssey, when the astronaut calls his family from space.) My daughter was bemoaning her advancing age.

“I am going to be old!” She cried. “I am almost 30!”

“That is not old!” I insisted. “Look at me, I am 60. I am not complaining about being old.”

“Well once you are old, you are old!” She said. “I am not old yet, just getting there.”

We both laughed. But the truth is, I do not feel old. I feel pretty wonderful.

I recently participated in a two-day workshop on “Wise Aging” presented by instructors from the Institute for Jewish Spirituality. Although it was presented in Kansas City, there were participants from through the Midwest. We all learned how to be facilitators in this new program to help people transition in to the next stage of life.

I was surprised when I was called by our rabbi’s wife and asked to participate on behalf of our congregation. But she told me that she thought of me immediately when she realized she could not attend, as I was aging so wonderfully. That was two weeks before my 60th birthday, and I will admit to a bit of concern. But okay, I would do it.

The two-day workshop was intense and exhausting. Fourteen hours of learning and interacting with the other trainees as we attempted to learn about the Wise Aging program, bring this program to life and learn to teach it to others.

I loved the idea of helping people see themselves as elders as opposed to elderly. As we age, we have so much to give to others. We can mentor and teach from our experiences.

There was one part of the program I found distressing. There was much discussion about teaching people how to let go of bitterness and learn to forgive those in their past who might have hurt them. It seems many people, as they age, hold on to old hurts and real or imagined insults.

I say, “let it go.” As does this program. Let go of these feelings because bitterness only makes you feel worse. I am a firm believer of the rule of Rosh HaShannah and Yom Kippur to say I am sorry to any one I might have hurt and to forgive anyone who has hurt me. It is so much easier than carrying all that baggage around. And it makes life so much more joyful.

This workshop opened my eyes to how others see themselves as they age.   Whereas my husband and I are really enjoying our lives as empty nesters, others seem to have a difficult time.

So I say. Go to a lecture. We try to go to a program at least once a week.   There are many free lectures and programs available. Go to a concert. Take a weekend trip if you can. Get a kitten. Having a pet does wonders for people as they age. Travel with friends.

Yes the body starts to give out a little. But exercise is wonderful for keeping your body healthy. You do not have to run marathons like my meshugganah husband. But you can walk. I walk two to three miles almost every day.

Soup

Do something different. Yesterday, in honor of my daughter’s birthday, a friend of mine and I went to the new IKEA store in Kansas. I had not been there yet. We walked all around the showroom and the marketplace and the warehouse. I got lots of walking in and bought a few accessories. Then we went out for a bowl of chicken noodle soup and shared a black and white cookie at a deli. Happiness can be a bowl of soup and a cookie!

Find things that make you happy. And be happy. You have so many experiences to share and so much good to do. Volunteer for an organization you love. Meet new people. Keep being curious. My curiosity has led me to investigate further into my family history and I have found cousins I did not know I had. I love a mystery and solving it. Now I am focus on the mysteries of my family.

There is so much to do and so much more time to do it, now that I no longer have children at home.

So I plan to continue to age wisely and joyfully. I hope my example will help my daughter accept her almost 30 years and age joyfully as well.

The Littlest Gambler: Learning about Horse Races in the Catskills

18 Feb

It started with a phone call. We were in the Catskills in our bungalow behind my grandparents’ home on West Shore Road. We no longer stayed in their bungalow colony, which was located down the road across from Kauneonga Lake. But my paternal grandparents and my aunt and uncle and cousins still stayed at the colony.

The phone call was either from my father’s sister, my Aunt Leona, or my Grandma Esther. But honestly, I think it was my Aunt, from the way my Dad was talking. His conversation went something like this.

“When did they show up? Did you know they were coming? Okay. Okay, as soon as I can.”

He hung up the phone and turned to my Mom. “My Aunt Hady and Uncle Lenny are at the bungalow colony. We have to go down.”

My Mom was quiet. “They are here? Now?”

Well obviously yes. They were here. But who exactly were they? And why was it a big surprise? I had never heard of an Aunt Hady and Uncle Lenny. But I would soon find out all about them.

Aunt Hady was my paternal grandfather’s sister.   It seems she is the reason that my parents met. Aunt Hady and Uncle Lenny lived across the street from my maternal grandparents in West New York, New Jersey. She often shopped in my grandparents’ bakery and she knew my Mom. She told my Dad that she had the perfect wife for him. And in this case, she was right. Aunt Hady and Uncle Lenny were responsible for my parent’s meeting.

But Aunt Hady and Uncle Lenny were sort of the family black sheep. It seems Uncle Lenny was a gambler. Not a good thing in my paternal grandmother’s eyes. She really did not want them around her grandchildren. I found that out.

You see, I loved Uncle Lenny from moment I met him. Just a few minutes later we went to the bungalow colony, and my siblings and I met our great aunt and uncle for the first time. For me it was joy!

I remember Uncle Lenny’s laughter. I remember sitting on his lap and over the next few weeks learning everything you need to know to bet on the horses at the Monticello Racetrack.

He had these special booklets printed on newsprint that listed all the horses running in each race. In the book were numbers and information about each horse and how much you would get back if you bet on whether they win, place or show (first, second and third place.)

I would sit with him and go through the book each day. He always had pencil in his hand to make marks in the booklets. We would choose the best horses for the night. There were a lot of issues to consider. Had the horse won before? How old was the horse? Had he won against the other horses in this race? Who was the driver (This was a harness racing track.)? All these statistics! I loved it.

We would sit outside at a wooden table on nice days. When it was raining we would sit at the kitchen table and go through the book for each race. Sometimes we forgot about the odds and chose a horse based on its name. Special names were important as well when selecting a winning horse! Each day he let me chose one horse for him to bet on.   If I won, he would give me a dollar.

I think it was the dollar that finally got to Grandma!

I thought it was absolutely wonderful.

My grandmother thought it was absolutely horrible.

Little did I know what was going on! I was only 9 or 10 years old. And I was have a great time. But behind the scenes a war was brewing.

One day I was happily going through the races’ guide with Uncle Lenny. The next day he would barely speak to me.   Soon they disappeared. They stopped coming to the colony.   Their visits diminished. No one would speak about them. I had no idea what happened. Only that they were gone for the summer

I did not know what was happening till years later. Uncle Lenny had passed away and Aunt Hady was living in Monticello. Dad was going to visit her. When I found out, I asked about that summer.

It seems my Grandma Esther was furious that Uncle Lenny was teaching me about gambling, about racing and the horses. It seems the horses and gambling destroyed Uncle Lenny, and there was no way Grandma was going to let him influence me. Enough was enough. Uncle Lenny and Aunt Hady were bad influences. And they would have to go. And go they did. Grandma Esther put her foot down.   And when Grandma got angry, you did what she said!

I never looked at a race schedule again. I did go to the races in Monticello one time with a friend after I turned 21. He spent a few minutes attempting to explain how the races worked to me. But I knew it all. Even 11 years later I still remembered everything that Uncle Lenny had taught me. To be honest, I can still see those listings.

My summer as a gambler ended sadly for me. I missed Uncle Lenny and my gambling lessons. As an adult, when I heard what had happened, I felt terrible. Aunt Hady and Uncle Lenny never had children. I believe Uncle Lenny really liked teaching me about the races and enjoyed our time together. I only ever felt love and joy from him.

I regret that my Grandma was so protective. Even though she demanded that my lessons end, I enjoyed being the littlest gambler for a summer. But I have never had the urge to gamble in my life, so perhaps my Grandma was right!

The Connections Keep Widening, My Family Contacts Keep Growing

16 Feb

Overwhelming, amazing, stunning, these words cannot really describe my incredible journey in researching my family history. And I have only finished two of my great-grandparents. I wonder what will happen when I research the other six?

Since researching one of my paternal great grandmothers, actually the one I knew as a small child, I have been really shocked.   I have lived in a city in the Midwest far from my family on the East Coast for over 30 years. And in the past month my research has shown me that a branch of my great grandmother’s family settled here. We just lost touch with them.

But what is absolutely amazing to me, is that I know many of these descendants. I have volunteered with them, emailed with them, see them around town. I am Facebook friends with three of these distant cousins. They are all people that I like. One of them played an important role in the life of my son, as she was an assistant superintendent of the school district where he went to school, during a difficult time in his life.

And now I find out that they are my third cousins. I know that is not a close relationship. But they are my cousins. And in Israel, where my daughter now lives, it is her second and third cousins who have reached out to her and consider her family.

But these cousins in Israel are all family members that we remained in contact with over the years. We always knew who they were and were they lived. The cousins in Israel come from both sides of my family and my husband’s family. We knew we were family, cousins.

With the new contacts it is different. These new family members were unknown, but at the same time known. These are people I had contact with in many forums, people who have had some impact in my life, and I never knew that they were also my cousins. How strange is that? To me it seems extremely strange.

But it makes so much sense. The Internet has changed the world.   Before in the 1800s and early 1900s when people moved to the USA from Europe, they had no way to keep in contact, except through mail. And mail was not always easy. They were busy learning a new culture and a new language. It was difficult to keep in touch with relatives in New York or even in Europe. So the family ties were forgotten and lost.

With the Internet and the many ways to trace family history, these lost members are found. Through websites and Facebook groups, we can make contact. It was through the ‘Tracing the Tribe Group” that I made the first contact. But it was through Geni, that I keep seeing more and more connections! It is these Internet tools and their large outreach that enhances my ability to make these connection.

Those who know me, know that I love a good mystery. And searching for my family connections is the most personal mystery. Although I am glad I have found this family branch, it is more of the success of a hunt, of finding the answers to a mystery, the mystery of my family that excites me. How lucky am I that I can actually find new branches?

When I look at them now, I can see a resemblance in character. Every one of the four women I know are strong willed, determined and intelligent. They fit into my family, as my grandmother was a strong willed, determine and intelligent woman who worked until she was 77.

In fact, we take pride in my family that we are all strong women. And these four fit right in. Wow. If I could choose family members, I would choose women like them.

I plan to meet up with some of them next week for lunch. I learned they were my cousins several weeks ago. The other cousins, I just found out about this weekend when Geni sent me a match!

It is nice to know that I have connections here. I will look at them differently now knowing what I know about our large family. The connections keep widening and my family contacts keep growing!

Remembering a Time Before Vaccines! And Knowing that Vaccinations Save Lives.

12 Feb

Chicken pox, measles, German measles, mumps….I’ve had them all. And I did not like them. I did not like the constant itching of those horrible rashes. I did not like the swelling of my face. When my brother got mumps my parents were frantic…this is a disease that causes young men to become sterile.   Luckily not my brother, but others were impacted by this now obsolete childhood disease, or somewhat obsolete.

I remember the summer we all had chicken pox. It was miserable. We were in the Catskills and could not leave our bungalow. I was the last one to get them. Everyone else was outside playing. And I watched from the porch. My mom was so exhausted by that time that she was sitting outside as well. I know she was happy that there was finally only one sick child, and not three. I remember swinging on the screen door of the porch pushing the envelop of being outside because I wanted so much to be with everyone else.

We got the measles in Jersey during the school year. One week after the other we broke out in these horrible rashes. German measles was the same. I hated them.

Luckily for my children’s generation, there were vaccinations for most diseases, but not for chicken pox. My daughter’s case was horrifying. Her chicken pox were internal. Hardly any showing on the outside, but her mouth and throat was covered. She would cough up and vomit scabs. I freaked out. Luckily my husband is a pediatrician and could deal much better with this. By the time my son had chicken pox, I was much better prepared.

I was so happy that they were not going to get other childhood diseases like whooping cough and diphtheria, both stopped by vaccines. And we cannot forget the important T of the DPT, tetanus. Thank goodness no one ever has to get lock jaw or tetanus anymore. A vaccination will keep you safe.

I remember the small pox vaccine. There was a needle with many little needles that was stuck into me.   I am one of the few who do not carry the scar from this vaccine. But I am so glad I never got small pox.

As for polio, each summer we went to the Catskills for two reasons: first to be with family and friends and second to escape from the city where polio was rampant in the summers.  Those of us who were away for the summer, out of the hot crowded cities were much more likely to avoid this horrible disease.

I still remember standing on a very long line at the public school in North Bergen, New Jersey: so many children and their parents. The line seemed to go on forever. As we reached the front of the line, we were given a sugar cube. Delicious. At the time I did not realize it was soaked in polio vaccine. All I know now is that I walk and I breathe. Thank you for saving so many lives with this amazing discovery.

As we watch the measles reclaim our country, I am stunned. I hear unbelievable comments from politicians who say a parent has a right over his child’s body, I am so amazed. These same politicians tell us that a woman has no right to use birth control or chose to terminate a pregnancy and that the government needs to make laws against it. But at the same time they say that a parent can chose not to vaccinate their child! What type of hypocrisy is this? A major one!

My husband is a pediatric immunologist/allergist. He has devoted his life to helping children. He is amazed that people do not want to vaccinate their children! And do not get mad at the doctor who does not want to treat unvaccinated children and then get mad at a doctor in whose waiting room dozens of children are exposed to measles. It is not the doctor’s fault that people do not have their children vaccinated.

I wonder how far these anti-vaccination people actually go? Do they not have their children vaccinated against polio? Do they understand the ramifications?

And as for our politicians who are supposed to be leading our country and helping its citizens, they need to be voted out of office if you think vaccinations are not necessary. They are a disgrace.

Instead of believing a fraudulent medical study that was disproven years ago, parents have got to realize, Vaccinations Save Lives.

Do not go back to the days of misery that I remember from my childhood.

I Believe in Magic

5 Feb
Magic and Itchy

Magic and Itchy

Just a week ago, I brought a new kitten into my home. It had been very lonely since my Misty cat passed away in early August. My adult male cat, Itchy, was very sad and missing his companion. I was also missing the sweetness of my all white cat. But I was not ready to find another cat to bring home.

Misty had been in our home and part of our family for over 13 years. She was the sweetest cat ever. When we brought her home, she was just six months old, and a tiny ball of all white puff. In fact her shelter name was Puff. We changed it to Mystique, or Misty.

She had a favorite rocking chair to sit in, one that no one else sat in. She had a favorite toy that we called, Baby: a soft, fluffy, catnip filled toy in the shape of the Cat in the Hat. Misty carried it everywhere and would cry when she could not find it.

It disappeared about three years ago. We looked all over for it. Misty was distraught. I searched for another toy just like it, but could never find one. I eventually found a toy she liked in its place, but it was never the same.

On Tuesday, January 27, I saw Magic on the Wayside Waifs website. On Wednesday I went to visit her. On Thursday, January 29, I brought her home. She is six months old and weighs 5 pounds, just like Mixty.

On Monday Magic jumped up on Misty’s chair and fell asleep, just as Misty would sleep. She stayed there for hours.

Tuesday, Magic found the Cat in the Hat toy! She was playing with it in the family room. I think I know where she found it, but I am not sure. All I know is that when Itchy saw that toy and smelled it, his attitude totally changed towards Magic.

No more hissing or running away. Now he reached out and touched her tail.

When he first saw Baby he sat by it and just kept smelling it.   I believe it was a message from Misty to her companion to accept Magic as his new friend. By yesterday evening, their relationship had changed.   Itchy now allowed Magic to snuggle up next to him.

Magic was born about two weeks before Misty passed away, otherwise I would think she was the reincarnation of my beloved cat. So I know that is not the case. However, I am beginning to think there is a connection.

And for right now, one week since our new kitten came home, I Believe in Magic.