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Summers In Jersey
Spending Time With Nonna's New Jersey Relatives
When I was about 9 or 10 years old my parents started sending me to New Jersey for a couple of weeks in the summer, where I would accompany my grandmother on her visits to her brother and sister-in-law. My aunt Mary and uncle Nick would drive us down from Ontario, stay for a couple of days and then head back home, returning a few weeks later to pick us up.
The first time I made this trip with my grandmother I recall it being with a feeling of ambivalence. I had been to Jersey before as a much younger child, but always with my mother, and being a bit shy and at the time not very outgoing, I was not sure I was going to like this. Looking back, that is only one part of the memory with the rest being things I can call upon and remember with much gladness at having had the opportunity to spend this time - just me with my grandmother - and the ultimate fun I had with my mother's cousins.
My great aunt and uncle lived in a two story sided house with a big porch that spanned across the front of the house and wrapped a bit around one side. In those days the setting was quite a bit more rural and behind them they not only had a tool shed type building, but also a hen house. So there were usually chickens running about the backyard which was quite a different thing for me, being a city kid and all. I had a tendency to try to avoid the backyard all together, but it became the job of Gerri, the youngest of my mom's cousins, and I to gather the eggs in the morning. Nonplussed she would just warn me to always have a broom on hand to shoo them off if they came too near. Now of course I realize she was playing up what was at the time my silly fear of having chickens pecking at my feet.
Crazy Man Crazy
Mom's cousins of course were quite a bit older than me, but there was enough variance in ages, with Gerri actually being closer to me in age. The oldest, Bebe - just a little younger than my mother was married and living not far away with her family. Dolly was also off and living elsewhere as was their brother Eddie. But Marie, the next in line still lived at home. Because she was the older of the two girls remaining in the house she didn't have to share her room with the newcomer. I was not so sure I was ready to share with her anyway as I had heard her say she slept with her bra on so her boobs wouldn't droop - and quite frankly at the age of 9 this was more information than I needed or wanted to know about.
So this then would mean that I would share a room with Gerri. In fact I can remember times when the house was full with other visitors, when Gerri and I would be relegated to the attic to sleep in little beds just big enough for us that had been placed in the front dormer. These were some of the more "fun times" we had as we could talk away to our hearts content with no one yelling at us to be quiet and get to sleep. The only negative thing on my mind was the distinct possibility that we could be joined by a mouse or two. But that usually went out of my head as we talked the night away and eventually nodded off to sleep.
Dolly and Marie always seemed to be on hand during these visits and spent quite a bit of time entertaining Gerri and I. I can remember being in awe of the two of them because this was in the fifties smack in the middle of the rock and roll era, and they were good examples of the girls I saw screaming and carrying on over the latest heartthrob on TV. At my tender age I had become enamoured with this music, that my dad did not like very much, but that I constantly went around the house singing and bopping around to.
I have a particular memory of the four of us, Marie and Dolly - with Gerri and I in between, all holding hands going down the road near their house singing at the top of our lungs "Crazy Man Crazy" -snapping our fingers, jiving and laughing our silly heads off. One of Gerri's and my favourite things to do was to sneak their record "My Prayer", put it on the player, shut the doors to the living room and as only young girls at that age can do, act out some kind of crazy scenario, supposedly in a church, of a broken hearted lover. We would take turns being the woman kneeling at the alter with a veil on her head, while the other one standing behind would sing along with the record, moaning out the lyrics of the song that we knew by heart. Once in a while we'd catch a glimpse of Marie walking by in the hallway shaking her head at the silliness of it all.
Atlantic City Boardwalk in the old Days
Hang'n With the Big Girls
With Dolly and Marie we got to go to the Atlantic City boardwalk and the Jersey shore. We spent the day there splashing around in the surf, having lunch, and then before leaving walked along the boardwalk where they bought both of us ankle bracelets with our names on them. That really made us feel grown up. Now we were not only hanging out with the girls older than us, but we were sporting trendy jewellry. Gerri and I sometimes did things on our own too. One day we took off for the nearest plaza where we bought our mothers a little planter in the shape of the Madonna. But the best part was that we actually bought ourselves identical penny loafers and proceeded to trounce all over the place in our matching shoes with a brand new shiny penny on top. This proved that not only could we hang out with the older gals, but we could also take care of ourselves when it came to fashion.
My cousin Gerri was born with a heart defect, and I was made to understand from the very beginning that she could not be overly taxed, so I was always on guard especially when she wanted to go running around somewhere, never stopping for a rest or a sit down. She was after all only about 12. Indeed one day she did overdo it and I had to run back to the house to get some help. She ended up having to go to her room and lay down for a while, leaving me feeling extremely guilty at not having paid more attention when we were out. I worried and fretted all through dinner when she did not join us, but lo and behold as darkness was coming upon us she appeared with two jars in hand, one for me and one for her, and we spent the next little while catching fireflies in the yard and watching them glow on and off in our little traps.
A Day in New York - from time to time
My mothers relatives lived very near Newark New Jersey which is not far from New York. One year while I was visiting, mom's oldest cousin Bebe took us in to New York City for the day. In fact I am sure we made this trip more than once during those years that I visited with my grandmother.
I recall going to the Bronx Zoo - where I walked right down the middle isle of where the snakes were kept - all of them seeming to look out at me from behind their glass houses. No way was I getting near those windows. At that stage of my life, and in fact even now I do not like even the common garter snake, but it was even worse then. I would squirm just looking at them.
We took in the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty of course. What I recall about the Statue of Liberty was taking an elevator so far, and then the rest of the way you had to climb a narrow winding stairway up to the platform to look out. I recall being a little worried that if one person fell, all the rest of us would go down like a deck of cards. However we made it to the top with no difficulty and the view was certainly worth the climb. But best of all was the year we all went to Radio City Music Hall. We were entertained by the Rocketts and then afterwards they premiered a movie - the life story of Eddy Duchin. That was in about 1956 I believe and I would only have been about 11, but I can well remember sitting there crying my eyes out at the sad turn this talented man's life had taken.
It Was A Special Time of Life
The last time I made the trip to Jersey with my grandmother I was 15, soon to turn 16. As it was with the first time I went to visit, once again I did not want to go. However, this time it was not because I was shy or afraid of meeting new challenges. This time it was because I had a new boyfriend and thought I was madly in love. I was convinced that if I was gone for two weeks his attention would be diverted elsewhere and that he would lose interest in me. It is amazing how foolish you can be at that age, to think that two weeks away could cause a person to lose interest in you. Never mind the fact that if that happened, then you were probably better off for it. However, my mother insisted that I go and I did, but I regret to say that this time I did not stay. Instead I returned three days later with my aunt and uncle, leaving my grandmother in Jersey to visit on her own.
My cousin Gerri noticed a difference in me right away. I seemed more secure and sure of myself she thought! And I know she was disappointed when I left, because after all we were older now and one could only imagine the fun and trouble we could have gotten into that summer. Thinking back now I realize that my newfound confidence was just a charade, an attempt to show her that I had grown up and was not as vulnerable as I once was. The irony in that is that if that was truly the case I wouldn't have felt the need to run straight back home to make sure my boyfriend was still there and waiting for me.
In the end no real harm was done. We would see each other through the years, not that often because we both were getting on with marriages etc, but I would always have those memories of my summers in Jersey. Many visions march through my head - four gals singing songs, laying in bed late at night talking until one of us fell asleep, Gerri and I catching fireflies, me sitting patiently at the table while she did my hair up in tight little pin curls, the whole family sitting down at the big kitchen table eating pasta, but most of all - just Gerri and I doing what two young girls on the cusp of the tender teen years do - hanging out, sharing our hurts as well as our joys and learning to put up with each for two weeks every summer.