100 Words About Jell-O

Words that make no sense to a child.

“If you don’t take those ear-muffs off, you’ll be freezing when you go out.”

My Nana had this yellow enamel pan with a black line around the top edge. She made the Jell-O in it. She made that jello just for me. Oh, she made a couple of other things in that pan, like baked beans, but the jello was mine, and it was always there. I understood that my parents and my mom’s parents would always be there for me, just the way the jello was always there.
It may not sound like such a big deal, but these are the things that separate us from the animals.
100 words about Jello. There.


The story about the animal-print shower curtain guy – Spring Break -1979

It begins in Daytona Beach, Fl, where my grandparents were wintering in neighboring Port Orange and breakfast hung from a tree outside the window. It was the end of the 70’s and, although we didn’t know it, the end of lots of other things, too.

My little Nana made pancakes for everyone. It seemed like dozens and to this day I don’t know how she shelled them out so quickly. She never seemed in a rush and kept the kitchen clean and shiny as she went. Then we said our goodbyes and left for the beach. We had 4 free days ahead of us, and someone said “Let’s go to Philadelphia!”

I remember my mixed feelings at this idea. I was sure we would be arrested or worse. I was fairly confident we would end up missing classes upon our expectantly tardy return. Actually, the more thought I gave the idea, the more I could not come up with one good reason to embark on this journey, so of course, in the car we I got.

Our driver, who I will just refer to as Audrey, loved to drive, loved to be in charge and seemed to know where we were headed. She did not want to share the navigating responsibility, which was OK with the rest of us. We pooled some funds for gas and made very few stops. We were four in all, piled in the sort of white wood-paneled wagon a parent would own. We had one shy, quiet unlikely (but pleasant) passenger and the three of us who never shut up. I was hoping to see the Liberty Bell.

Even the simple details were exciting, after being in school for so many months it was fun being on the open road. We were an eclectic mix of humans, and each passing mile made me happier to be long for the ride. As the city bridges started to pop up over the horizon, famine and fatigue began grab a hold of us, the three of us dozing in and out and the quiet girl sleeping soundly.

When we parked and got situated, we stopped and got a pizza, you know, like ya do. We walked up a few flights of stairs, happily stretching out our kinky muscles.

Finally we reached the threshold of the door of Audrey’s friend and knocked.

We knocked again. I’m not sure I’d seen an apartment before but the place was something to see….animal print on every surface, before I even knew what animal print was.

Cheetah adorned the furry shower curtain. We took turns in the bathroom while our welcoming host explained, over and over to each one exiting the loo, that Audrey no longer lived there and would we care to order another pizza so that there would be plenty for everyone?   (It was around this time we all started saying “loo” at every opportunity, cause we were going to London the next year). He as very apologetic regarding her absence, as if it was his fault.  I felt curiously safe which was a good thing, because the next morning we all woke up there.

Nobody wanted to do anything touristy but they did indulge me by allowing a side trip to the Liberty Bell.  I am especially glad for this memory and for getting to see the bell a last time before it was shuttled to an interior location and ensconced in layers of security post 9/11.  We had an exceptional, well-trained docent and one or two liberal arts majors re-affirmed their love for history.

This bi-coastal Florida- to-Philly adventure provided a badly needed diversion and a shot of adrenaline to get me through the rest of the semester. I got home and changed my major, and started writing his love letter to you. Happy Valentine’s Day.

A cold 60’s Christmas with a few aches and pains

Words that make no sense to a child.

“If you don’t take those ear-muffs off, you’ll be freezing when you go out.”

Some years, Christmas took forever to arrive. Like the year everyone’s pipes were frozen in the Adirondack tundra, and, their needing a plumber, specifically my dad the plumber, took precedence over gift opening, which didn’t take place until 2pm. I’m not bitter. Just sayin’.

My grandfather hid out in our garage, doing things that required great patience and solitude. He really enjoyed sorting and labeling things and cleaning up after my dad. In the summer he would melt lead and pour it into molds, to make lures for fishing.  He would take them to Florida over the winter and sell them for a buck a piece. He would tweak them every year, depending on who was catching what. He couldn’t make them fast enough to keep up with the demand. He taught me about market research.

Napping with Dad and Shim, after the hoopla subsided.

Napping with Dad and Shim, after the hoopla subsided.

Again, that same year, before Nana and Pop-Pop left for Florida, we all sat around stringing pop-corn and cranberries in front of the fireplace. That was the year Shim came, the Britney Spaniel that would become my grandfather’s trusty companion and chief mitten-stealer. She would walk around in circles for what seemed like an hour and then plop down for her naps. My grandfather trained her to do amazing things, as only a soul with his extraordinary patience could do.

Christmas eve, over the choral musings of the beloved Mitch Miller, I thought I heard a thud from the back of the trailer. I got back there just in time to find my grandmother on the bed, wearing an expression I could not interpret.

“Don’t tell any body but I think I broke my ribs.”

I maturely ran to the front room screaming: “Nana broke her ribs! Nana fell and thinks she broke her ribs!”

The next few moments are a blurry memory of a flurry of activity. It was her wrist, not her ribs. (I didn’t know what ribs were, anyhow).  My mother, who was warned in High School First Aid class not to ever go near anyone in crisis, ever, did a sensible thing: She pulled a Dixie cup out of a wall dispenser and poured Nana a 4 ounce shot of Four Roses.

My next memory comes from a Polaroid picture of Shim, laying on Nana’s lap, wearing red ear–muffs. Nana is in a cast singing Bing Crosby . My father comes in from working people’s frozen pipes.  He surveyed the situation and asked casually “you guys have a busy morning?”

I would like to tell you how gracefully I handled this situation, but I was whining that I wanted my presents. Just then neighbors stopped in, displaying their presents and further delaying my agony.

That was the same year we left in such haste we forgot to take the tree down, and when we returned in March, every needle was still attached, until someone slammed the door.  Then, just like the tree in “Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown!,” every needle fell to the floor.

About the matriarchs of the family, and their colorful use of grown up words!

Now that I am a Nana, (to a beautiful boy who will be 1 soon!) I totally get how the vowels work in our family names for our moms. When I was a baby, we had Nanee, My mother’s grandmother. I don’t remember her but her larger than life place in the family folklore had her (all 4 foot something of her) climbing into my playpen to entertain me. Since I was born able to “talk”, I’m sure I was good company for her, yammering away and at times, leaving my mother crying for some peace.

We had some 16mm and super-8 footage, just a snippet, and all I remember of her is watching family movies and being told who she was. There was the brief (all black and white) scene of her dancing with a beer in her hand. The last time I saw the movies they were melting under the heat of the projector’s  ember of a light-bulb;  we stopped watching to preserve what little glimpse of the moment remained. We saved them so they could rot in the hot attic, exposed to the extreme humidity of summers at the Jersey shore.

Her daughter was my beloved grandmother. The one with the bottle of Occur! on her dresser, the one that took me shopping at Two Guys every Saturday, the one I lived with on weekends and in summers for much of my childhood and adolescence. MY NANA.

By the time my mother’s grand-children started to arrive, this woman, my mom’s mom, would be called “Nanny’s Apartment.” We always thought my nephew was saying he was going to Nanny’s Apartment. Turns out, he thought that was her name, and it stuck. My mother became “Nanny’s House.” We used these elongated names all through the elder women’s lives.

My favorite people calll        me Nana

My favorite people calll
me Nana

My first personalized gift when my daughter announced her pregnancy last year was a mug that declared me Nana. Predominantly pink (and we got a grandSON),  it reads “My favorite people call me Nana”.) It seemed right to me, my Nana was my favorite people.

My mother called her mother “Momma.”  Momma/Nana/Nannies’ Apartment claimed to be 4’10 but this is doubtful. I outgrew her in grammar school. She  had such colorful use of language, one had to think twice before bringing  the Reverend over for a spot of tea.

“Oh look at these damned ants everywhere. Can’t even keep a fucking sugar bowl around with these goddamned ants everywhere.”

She would say this if she saw exactly 1.5 ants. I wrote about her  OCD here.

Besides her decorative cuss word usage, she also gave me one little sound bite to chew on for the rest of my life.  A “flashbulb memory”, I distinctly remember my mom giving me the dreaded pixie haircut (I wanted to grow it out). I was under a cape, soaking wet and she had sharp scissors in her hand: there was no escape.

I have no idea what prompted her, I was busy mourning my lost locks hitting the floor.  In the middle of  conversation ears perked up when I heard her say:

“Her mother was  nothing but a goddamned whore.”

My mother (Bernice) took a long drag on her menthol cigarette and said “Momma, please.” She said this with about as much angst as I had ever  heard from her, in a tone generally reserved for my father.

I never thought this meant a specific woman who was my original (birth) mother was a whore in my mother’s eyes. Instead, I thought it meant that an unplanned pregnancy made someone a whore in my grandmother’s eyes. Years later, I became less sure.

I would tuck this away for quite some years but bring it out now and then, in the quiet of my lovely pink bedroom, Johnny Cash playing in the background on my shiny new Panasonic cassette deck.

I thought long and hard when my daughter asked me what I wanted to be called. I kinda figure the kid will call  me what he calls me…some of my friends  have names that stuck like “Yodel” and “Lil’ bit.” Nobody could have chosen such personal names without getting to know the person they would become.

For now I need a handle so I know how to sign my name on holiday greeting cards.

I will be happy to be Nana for now.  Perhaps one day I might be “Nanny’s House” or “Nanny’s Apartment,” “Nanny’s Condo” or simply “the  home.”

It’s good to be the baby. It’s excellent to be the Nana.



A lot can happen to a kid in second grade!

A lot happened in second grade.  JFK had already been shot, but was still daily news. Even as a child, I knew the world was reeling. My sisters were already gaga over the Beatles; I was playing with my Thumbalina. It was the year after I kissed a boy, and the year before I was introduced to new cultures through Mrs. Wong, my third grade teacher.

In second grade, one of my class mates, the funniest kid in school, drowned in a boating accident. In second grade, Mrs. Cook was still allowed to hug us, and if we needed a hug, she would give it.

Mrs. Cook was the only teacher to have a husband (that we knew of). He dropped her off at school each morning, and if he was slightly late, and we were slightly early, we might catch a glimpse of him, which was like learning that movie stars use the bathroom. Very exciting stuff. Aside from this couple, we assumed all teachers were something akin to spinsters, although we we did not yet know the meaning of the word.

Mrs. Cook was a heavy-set woman, which I characterized as “having authority” unlike my previous two teachers, who appeared anorexic and even a little sickly at times.  You spend your time in a room packed with snot-nosed little children who have yet to master the art of the Kleenex, I guess that’s the risk you take.

Every day started with playtime while the class got settled in. I have it in my mind that everyone enjoyed their own little activity day after day, but perhaps that’s another trick of the memory. I always chose the board with pegs. Later in life I would be given a similar board with pegs for post brain surgery cognitive rehab.  It wasn’t’ funny.

Earlier, in Kindergarten, I gravitated towards towards the kitchenette, and would try to chorale  some innocent bystander, often a boy standing idle in center of a flurry of activity, to play husband and wife with me.

The next year, in first grade, I kissed the boy who was staw-hander-outer for the day.  I remember the nothingness in my brain distinctly. I didn’t think he was particularly cute or not cute,  I didn’t especially like him, or not. He was just sitting making his way up and down the rows of seats and I thought he might like it if gave him a peck on the cheek.  Surprisingly, he did not.

The resulting brew-haha ended with some fairly drastic action, including the teacher taking over the passing out of the straws. Those little jobs offered a tiny taste of freedom, were the introduction to an adult activity currently known as “sucking up,”and I loved them. When none of us could get up and walk around any longer, to my little sensitive heart, it seemed like the last straw.

Back to second grade, it was the best, because you didn’t have to learn times-tables until the next year. Those scary times tables haunted me from a young age, as my sisters tried to help me get a head start.

After pegboard time we would walk down a hall that had bright yellow and black fall-out shelter signs. I knew those signs were for the adults, but they, too were inherently scary.

My father went out a lot dressed nicely. Sometimes he took along his Tall Cedars hat, although mercifully he never left the house wearing it. We laughed and compared it to the hats they wore at the Royal Order of the Buffalo Lodge meetings held on the Flintstones.

On one particular evening he went out and didn’t come back until the next day. I heard him talking to mom about what to tell me. They decided not to approach the subject, and after what seemed like days I realized that my classmate, my funny, light-hearted William, had drowned. Early childhood memories play tricks on you, but I am quite positive nobody actually told me. I understood that he would not be coming back. Around that time, Mrs. Cook gave out a few extra hugs.

I guess what is making me think so much about these early years is that my grandson is pulling himself up now. His first year is going by so fast, and I know it won’t seem like long before he is walking down his own hallways with the equivalent of fall-out shelter signs hanging over his head.

Nana sends little angels to watch over you.