SOME RANDOM THOUGHTS
So, what was it like for my children as they grew up? Looking back now, with the comfortable cushion of time, I am inclined to say that these were good kids and they lived normal lives.
Elizabeth had a special doll that was very dear to her heart. She was called Dorothy and I think that she may have gotten the doll when she was still in Italy. She was never without her. After a few years, poor Dorothy began to look rather bedraggled. Her clothes had disappeared and her hair was attached to her skull by a single strand so that she looked like the victim of an Indian war party's poorly executed scalping raid. But, Liz clung to that doll like she was a flesh and blood friend. One day, while we were visiting my mother, Grandma took notice of that poor, raggedy doll-child and said, "Here, Liz, let me fix that." And she took Dorothy and tore the remnants of her hair from her head. Elizabeth took one look at her bald Dorothy and started to cry. Nothing that my mother did would console this distraught child. Mom bought new and fancier dolls for Liz but nothing ever took the place of old Dorothy. Liz was a sweet, good tempered daughter who worked hard in school to maintain good marks. She helped us raise her siblings and was a good surrogate mother. She went to a good secretarial school in Boston after high school. And after that, she moved to Virginia where she worked as a secretary in a hospital. She also worked in a dinner theater at night to supplement her salary. It was tough for Liz to make a decent living down there, and as much as she enjoyed life in Virginia and being independent, she moved back home after a couple of years. She found work on Long Island, went to college, rented an apartment in Deer Park, got her teacher's degree, moved to an apartment in Queens, taught school there, met Roger Vann and got married in Scotland. They lived in a walkup railroad flat in Queens and it was always an adventure trying to find a parking place near their home, when we would visit them. But there were great restaurants in their neighborhood and they enjoyed taking me to a wonderful German place that I liked. Liz and Roger loved Spain and always took their vacations there. When Roger retired from the Environmental Protection Agency, they moved to the south coast of Spain, near Malaga where they lived for several years before moving back to Los Angeles. (Boy, these are really some random thoughts.)
Matt was a lively youngster who grew up to be a lively young man. Esther and I thought he would never talk, and when he did begin, we were sorry. Well, not really. But, this kid was some talker. In spite of his constant clowning, underneath there was a very sensitive young man. One morning, after his sister, Jackie was killed, his mother found him in his pajamas in our backyard with his favorite teddy bear and a small shovel. When she asked about this, Matt, who was about 5 years old, said that he wanted to bury his teddy bear so that Jackie would have it, up in Heaven. When he started school, we were always told by his teacher that he was a wonderful kid but always talking and very disruptive in class. Oy veh. He was a poor student and was always threatened with being left back. Throughout the school year we would be told at parent-teacher conferences that Matt wasn't doing his homework and was doing poorly in class. They would threaten him with summer school, which became a yearly routine for him. I knew what the trouble was. Matt was born in early November and was the youngest student in his class. He tried to compensate by being the class clown. We tried everything to get him to study and do his homework, but to no avail. And yet, every year, at the end of the school term, we would go in for the last parent-teacher conference, expecting to hear that Matt was being left back, only to be told that he had shown enough improvement in the last couple of months and in spite of his not really being up to snuff, he was being promoted to the next grade with the hopes that he would continue to improve. Alas, the same cycle would occur the next year. And then, one day, it came to me. This was no stupid kid. Au contraire. He was smarter than all of us. He found out that he didn't have to study and do homework for all nine months of the academic year. All he needed to do was put in some effort for the last two months and he would be promoted. The rest of the year he just cruised. I explained this to his teachers and begged them to leave him back one year. Then he would be the oldest kid in his class. But, they refused. They didn't want to bruise his id. The heck with his id. I wanted him to succeed. I explained this to Matt, one day. He didn't say anything. He just smiled. I told him that one day his little scheme would backfire. He just shook his head. A couple of years later, in his last months in Junior High School, he was riding his bike and got clipped by a car. His leg was broken and he ended up in Huntington Hospital and then a long recovery at home. In spite of home tutors, he was told that he would have to go to summer school in order to graduate to high school with his class. Unh, unh. Too bad Charlie. Esther was taking the kids to visit her family in Israel for the summer and their tickets had been booked. His teachers said that he had to miss that to go to summer school. But, I was working and there was no one to look after him. Plus, I told them that his trip to Israel would be an invaluable education. Matt cried, but he went to Israel and repeated 9th grade. After school started, he came to me one night, looked me right in the eye and said, "Dad, I'm going to graduate from high school with my regular class." I asked him how he intended to do that. He told me that he would double up on certain classes to make up for the lost year. I told him that I knew that he could do it because he was smart enough. I just didn't know if he would have the stamina. I wished him luck. Esther and I were very proud of him when he marched up to the stage and got his high school diploma with all of his friends. He then went on to two years at Suffolk Community College and then got his Bachelor's degree at the prestigious Harper College at State University of Binghamton where he was on the Dean's List. Proud? You betcha! Matt wanted to be a cinematographer which is what he studied at Binghamton, So, after graduation, he moved to California, where he knew that Hollywood was anxiously awaiting his arrival. Unfortunately that wasn't the case.
was a fun loving child with a great love and affinity for sports
and she is still. She and her friends were always playing softball
or some other activity. And, there were numerous visits to the Emergency
Room at Huntington Hospital for one thing or another. There was the
time, after a big snow, when we all went to the hill behind the Bellrose
Road School with the kids' sleds. Naomi scooted down the slope, missed
a turn and ran into a chain link fence. The doctor at the ER said
she had a "green twig fracture" of her arm. I love the
time when we were up in Narrowsburg on vacation, years ago. It had
rained, the day before, and the Delaware River was muddy and looked
like two day old coffee. Esther and the kids wanted to go fishing.
I didn't hold out much hope of success since the fish usually don't
feed when the water is murky. But, it would be a good time for us
all to be doing something together so off we went. I knew a little
bend in the river where there were always Bluegills, which are small,
scrappy pan fish that are easy to catch and good to eat. If anything
would bite it would be Bluegills. I anchored the boat and baited
up a fishing rod for everyone. When I got to the youngest kid, Naomi,
the only rod left had a beat up old Zebco casting reel on it. And
the only bit of bait that I had was a long dead, dried out Helgromite,
which was the larva of a dragonfly which was good bait for largemouth
bass, but only when it was fresh and alive. Anyway, I figured that
Naomi wouldn't know the difference. She would think that she was
fishing, and who knows, she might attract a catfish which weren't
a species known for fussy eating habits. I had to cast this combo
out because the reel was pretty bad. Then, since I was now out of
bait, dead or alive, I sat down to tie a small lure on the end of
The snag pulled back and started to swim down river. I don't know what Naomi had hooked. I had never had such a powerful fish on any line I ever dunked in this river. I wondered if there were alligators this far north. I started to finesse whatever it was closer to the boat. I let Naomi put her hands on mine to help reel in, since it was her fish (or alligator) and together we reeled it closer. About twenty feet away, I saw something with scales roll to the surface of the muddy water. Fifteen minutes later we had the net over the biggest carp I ever saw. It weighed 12 pounds and was the only fish caught that day. Naomi insisted that it be cleaned, cooked and eaten by the family. It took me over an hour to scale that thing. It had scales like dinner plates that refused to come off. Esther cooked it up, and in spite of her fantastic culinary skills, it tasted like wet cardboard. As she grew into a jiving teenager, she and her sister, Liz, used to amaze me. Esther and I would be heading for bed around 11 PM and we would see the girls getting ready to go out to some disco or another. "Naomi," I would ask. "It's 11 PM. Where the heck are you going?" She would snap her fingers and wiggle her hips. "Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll, Dad." I would answer, "Naomi! You know how I feel about Rock and Roll!" I learned to turn the volume knob of my car radio to the left before I turned on the ignition key, whenever Naomi had used it the night before. Otherwise I would be blasted from the front seat by some acid rock music at top volume. She did spend a year at Buffalo State College and endured a winter of ice, cold and snow. She probably spent as much time sick in the infirmary as she did in class. So the next year she went to NY State U at Farmingdale and graduated with an Associates in Criminal Justice and Abnormal Psych bi-major. She also passed the NYC police test before she was coerced by her mother and boyfriend about getting killed in the line of duty. So she didn't accept the offer into the police academy. And because of her EMT training while on the emergency squad up in Buffalo, she did save the life of a heart attack victim by giving him CPR. But, she and we managed to survive all of these things and she married Donald Lambert in May 1988 and has two children of her own to torment and love her. And, they do.
Doug was such a sweet tempered child. And quiet. (When he was young.) One summer Sunday we were preparing to go out to our beach at San Cité on the Ish Fick. Some friends, the Barrys and their children, were coming with us. We loaded up the station wagon with both families and all the food and supplies. Esther called out her ritual announcement, "Whoever is not here, say aye." No one said aye so I started backing out of the driveway. Suddenly, Pat Barry called out, "Wait a minute! Isn't that a face in the front door?" We looked and sure enough, there was four year old Dougie looking forlornly out of the screen door. We had almost left him behind. That seemed to happen to him from time to time. When he was in Cub Scouts he went on a day trip to some scout camp in the Jersey Palisades. We got a call from him, late in the afternoon. "Dad, I'm at the camp store. We stopped to buy some snacks, and the others drove off without me." We had to drive over to New Jersey to pick him up. As a boy, Doug had a talent for taking old machinery apart and putting them back together again and they worked. The garage was littered with parts from various motor bikes, scooters, engines and whatnot. He would scavange parts from the various relics and put them together into something that would run. When he was in high school he decided that borrowing his old man's car wasn't so great. One afternoon, I came home from work to find a junky looking Cadillac convertible sitting in the driveway. If I recall, it was a faded, splotchy blue but it was fast becoming a bright red as Doug and his buddies smeared red house paint over the dents and rust with rollers. Before the paint had even skimmed over, the bunch of them were roaring up the street to show off this classic to everyone. One day, shortly thereafter, we were taking my mother to Red Lobster for dinner. As we prepared to get into my car, Doug said, "Grandma, how would you like to ride in my car with the top down." Without hesitation, 80 year old Grandma jumped into his front seat with a look of pride at her grandchild and off they went, with my mother's grey hair blowing in the breeze. Doug's teenage years were filled with issues and rebellion. He and his sister, Naomi, were like oil and water and whenever those two were anywhere near each other, the house rang with yelling and cursing. I thought that they would kill one another. Doug and I were experiencing some tough times in our father/son relationship and I despaired at ever coming to terms with my youngest child. No matter how I tried to get him on course, I only managed to make matters worse. I was horrified at the prospect of his future because he seemed to have no respect for anything or anyone. One day I told him that I loved him, but nothing I was doing was right, so I was giving up. I would always be there for him, if he needed me and would reach out. Otherwise, he was on his own. I was no longer going to be in his face from morning until night. That marked a dramatic change in our lives and I am thankful and proud of the relationship that we now have. And, I can't believe how close he and Naomi have become.
The same thing held true with computers. Doug began using a Macintosh when he started college. Matt had to have one, too but he bought a PC. That was years ago and the two boys still fight about who has the best computer and operating system. Both of them started on my case, telling me that I had to get a computer. I said that all I wanted was a decent electric typewriter. What the heck did I need with a computer? They told me that I could get on the internet, send e-mail, work on photographs, etc. They convinced Esther to get me a computer for my birthday and they chipped in. Now look at me. Jeez.
those are some of the random thoughts that occurred to me about my
children as they grew up. Writing them down brought back so many,
many wonderful memories. All of my children overcame some pretty
difficult events from their youth and turned into well adjusted,
intelligent, responsible and devoted adults who married wonderful
spouses and have borne me beautiful and loving grandchildren. I am
extremely proud of each of them.
The next chapter of this epic will be about this current period of time as my children have their own children. And it will become evident how much I enjoy being a grandfather. Read on.