Fall bursts with bright colors, Oktoberfests and beer, memories from my childhood and the man with the handlebar mustache.
Memories are a curious thing. They come in the form of a person’s personal perspective. Each situation, event or conversation, means something different to all those involved, and also to those not involved. We give different meanings, according to our belief systems, and how we are affected by the event. In Other words, we don’t see things as they are necessarily; we see things as we are. (http://www.getselfhelp.co.uk/perspectives.htm)
The following is my perception and memories of a man who I am truly grateful to have had in my life.
The sun had set and I remember watching the glow of the red sky slowly fade to black. It had been a long day, a great day of blueberry picking but it was late now and clearly we were lost. It felt like hours since we’d left my parents. Maybe it was. Somehow, we missed where they turned. The back roads of the Catskill Mountains are endless, nameless and windy. There were no maps or street lights to guide you on these less traveled roads. I can’t recall everyone who was in that pale blue Volkswagen bus with me that evening, I think my brother was, maybe my sister too but I remember the mood perfectly: content and tired, despite being lost. I think I was seven or eight-years old. Another thing I remember for sure; I wasn’t scared. I felt safe. It was another adventure. Finally, we came upon a tavern and stopped for directions. We followed him inside the small watering hole and waited patiently, spinning ourselves on bar stools as he drank from a frosty mug, no doubt making new friends while he inquired about our whereabouts and how to get back to the Parkway.
This remains one of my earliest memories of the man with the handlebar mustache.
He wasn’t a “blood” relative but we were close like family and called him Uncle anyway. Uncle Jacob (pronounced Yahck-up) lived with his family, his wife and three sons in an affluent part of Westchester, NY, a short walk from Rye Beach and Playland Amusement Park where their famous boardwalk was featured at the end of the movie “Big”, when the “Zoltar the Magnificent” fortune teller machine returned the adult Tom Hanks to his original childhood age/state of being. As a kid I roamed that boardwalk with my siblings a million times over. My family spent lots of weekend time at the house in Rye. Uncle Jacob and my Dad were very good friends. Shortly after my Dad immigrated to this country from Germany, Uncle Jacob gave him a job as a painter’s apprentice and a place to live. That was over 50-years ago. Back then, an immigrant coming to the United Sates had to have a job and a place to live so as not to be a burden on society.
Uncle Jacob’s wife, Tante Theresa, was an amazing cook and made the best Sunday dinners and chocolate chip cookies you ever had. For real. The three boys were older than me and my siblings. I can’t say I had a relationship with any one of them in particular but I do believe that a life-long bond that exists among family members was created between us during those years and beyond. They knew my Dad before he got married, before we were born. They were patient with us when we came over. I remember watching them and my Dad play with this huge train or racing car track that Uncle Jacob built for them. It was on a wooden board as big as a bed, in fact it retracted onto the wall just like a Murphy Bed. It was a fun, comfortable place to be in, like home and even though the neighborhood was a quiet and reserved one, Uncle Jacob’s house was anything but quiet and reserved.
Looking back I realize Uncle Jacob was the most progressive man I’ve ever known.
To. This. Day.
Everything I experienced at that house was unique and unusual although it all seemed quite normal at the time. As a child, I loved Uncle Jacob but it’s only now as an adult that I truly appreciate the happy, wonderful, exciting things he introduced and exposed me to.
I think of him with the same kind of respect I have for Jean Piaget, John Dewey and Ralph Waldo Emerson and realize how amazingly lucky I was to have had this man’s influences infiltrate my childhood. My schooling occurred behind the stone cold walls of a small, strict catholic school but much of my learning occurred under the indirect tutelage of the man with the handlebar mustache. He was a natural teacher demonstrating a hands-on approach to living and learning. He was a modern day Dr. Doolittle only instead of having an English accent; his was German occasionally slurred by a happy consumption of wine or beer. Like the Pied Piper too, children and adults were drawn to him and his charismatic ways.
Let me explain.
In addition to being a house painter by trade, he was a musician and a singer. Actually, he was a party on two feet, a walking Oktoberfest, all-year-round. He played the accordion. Always and everywhere.
He was a butcher. One time he and my dad bought a pig and among other things, made sausage in his basement, letting me hold the clear, thin casing while he cranked out the ground up sausage meat into it. Another time they bought a calf. We ate veal every day in every way for about a year. I don’t eat veal as an adult.
And yet another time when my younger brother wandered into the basement and as he puts it,
One minute there was a chicken running around and the next minute Uncle Jacob laid it on the butcher block and chopped it’s head off.
He was a farmer, growing tomatoes and other vegetables, and berries along the perimeter of the square shaped fence that surrounded the patch of grass that was his back yard.
He raised rabbits. I remembering playing house with them in their living room, dressing them up and rocking them in my arms like I would a baby doll.
He was a Bee Keeper and for some time, kept his bees in boxes on the roof of his quiet little house in the affluent city of Rye. One summer, when I was 10 or 11, he gave me and my friend a job building bee hive frames. He showed us how to hammer and wire them. He treated us like we were capable. At the end of the day he paid us with jars of honey. Soon after, a neighbor complained and called the police. Uncle Jacob called the newspaper and had me come back and go up on the roof where the bees were to show them how safe it was. Eventually, they made him move the bees.
We had freedom to explore in and out and around his house. There was a small concrete swimming pool that was enclosed by a gate on the property that we swam in often, amongst the huge green lily pads and giant orange gold fish that he kept in it.
He made my brother his first fishing pole out of a stick and some twine and helped him catch his first fish with it.
He was a swimmer and swam in the Long Island Sound, probably every night. He would walk to a small alcove with his flippers in hand and his best friend, Horste, by his side. Horste was his dog, I think he was a coonhound. Sometimes we would go and watch him and Horste swim together.
Uncle Jacob and my Dad would lay in the living room on a Sunday afternoon reading the German newspaper or watching soccer, my Dad on the couch and Uncle Jacob on the floor. Uncle Jacob would call us over one by one and tell us to walk on his back to massage his weary muscles.
As I grew older and became more preoccupied with my own life and living, going to college and working, my personal contact lessened and at some point Uncle Jacob left his house in Rye to go live where his heart was, in the back woods of the Catskill Mountains. I never got to see his place there but my mom used to refer to it as Jacob’s Chutzpah! I imagined it to be a place where animals and people could dwell in an uncomplicated way. Tante Theresa remained for the most part in the house in Rye and I was told that when Uncle Jacob would come down from the mountains to visit his grandchildren he’d bring a baby chick or a bunny rabbit in his coat pocket on the train for them to see and hold and play with.
Needless to say, not everyone he came in contact with appreciated his carefree nature and unfortunately, or fortunately, a neighbor who didn’t enjoy his unconventional ways of living (or German music maybe?) had him arrested on a DUI one night after playing at a local party. He was put in a small-town, back woods jail for a few months, to teach him a lesson. Needless to say, sitting idle in a cell didn’t sit well with Uncle Jacob. He asked for a can of paint and a paint brush. By the time his sentence was served, his cell and the whole jailhouse for that matter was left with a fresh coat of paint on its walls, compliments of the man with the handlebar mustache.
Is there someone in your life that had a huge, positive impact on you as a child?
I’d love to hear about them.
People wear masks all the time, covering up all kinds of situations and emotions.
Halloween is one of my favorite celebrations. In disguise, you get to openly be whatever you want to be and get a bag full of free candy to boot! My memories of Halloween as a child are filled with endless hours of trick-or-treating (mostly treating) first through the 5-stories of our apartment building and then, all over town until our legs could take us no further. After that, my Dad would put us in the back of his shiny, red, Volkswagen bus and drive us to friends’ houses until our bags were stuffed and our eyes were bleary.
I don’t cut my Dad a lot of slack when it comes to my childhood. I can’t sugar-coat fear or disappointment. No one ever wanted to be on the receiving end of his wrath. You never knew what kind of mood he would come home in, if, or when he came home. Every day was unpredictable. He enjoyed holidays and parties though and could really get into the “spirit” of things– when he wanted to. Despite his ominous nature, he was big on costuming and we could pretty much count on his help for a clever idea and creative way of making it happen. He had an impressive repertoire of costumes himself. I remember him spending weeks working on them before the annual masquerade ball he and my mom attended every February at the German Club they belonged to. (I’ve mentioned in previous posts that my Dad is from Germany.) Every winter, the German Club celebrated Fasching which is a German holiday that resembles our Mardi Gras and is similar to Halloween in that parades are held and “clubs” host costume balls.
My Dad’s costumes always won awards, if not First Place.
These are a few of my favorites.
My Dad, the mummy.
This “old man” was only in his late 20s.
A group shot of my “old man” and his date who, of course, is my mom.
The Godfather (4th man in)– is my father.
One year my Dad went as the Statue of Liberty. Another year he was a Prize Fighter who lost to a midget. He even dressed in Blackface as a Minstrel which now-a-days of course, would be considered offensive.
The Minstrel and my mom.
Another questionable but winning costume; large, blond lady wearing a dress made from potato sacks.
My Dad loved masquerades and wore many masks.
As an adult, I realize he was a resourceful, creative man and I often wonder how different his life might have been if he had been raised and educated in this country. Like many people, he had to contend with his demons while they competed with his redeeming qualities. He loved to cook and I have happy memories of him lifting me up and setting me on top of the refrigerator so I could watch him roll out the dough on the kitchen counter to make donuts or melt sugar and butter in a pan on the stove-top to make candy. He’d dribble the hot mixture into ice-cold water to form droplets of yummy home-made caramel. He took our family camping and taught us how to play Yahtzee and Monopoly and passed along his love for puzzling. I love my Dad.
He did the best he could.
Children are resilient. Thankfully, despite the imperfections of our childhoods or the tumultuous relations we have with our parents, most of us also have unconditional love for them or at least forgiveness. I don’t deny the turmoil of my youth but I do try to have compassion for the fact that no matter how tough I believe some parts of my childhood were, my Dad’s was unimaginable; growing up in Germany during WWII. As a parent myself now, I realize we all just do the best we can and I hope that when my kids reflect on some of the mistakes I’m making, they will have compassion too.
In just about every family that has more than one child, I’ll venture to say, you’ll find some type of sibling rivalry. It’s a natural, normal part of growing up. Sometimes it even extends into adulthood, but that’s another post for another day. Maybe.
This post is about the sibling love between my kids. I’ve written about the dynamic between my son and daughter before. They’ve been playing and bickering together, loving and fighting each other since the day I brought my baby girl home.
Sometimes, I think my son was so sweet to his sister the day she was born because he thought she was going to stay there — in the hospital that is, in Poughkeepsie. He cradled her and sang “Rock-A-Bye-Baby” to her the first time he met her. Precious. Truly. Actually, even the first few days after she was brought home were filled with curiosity and a few tender moments. It wasn’t until a few weeks later, when he realized, this baby-doll was here to stay, that the two-year-old-tantrums began. Hey, it’s good to be the king! He had a good gig being numero uno for a while there before she came along. Can you blame him?
Twelve years later, it’s still sometimes difficult for him to accept that she’s not going away and the fact that she’s two inches taller than he is right now doesn’t help much either. Poor guy. He truly finds himself irritated by almost everything she does.
Just last week he came to me with this:
She’s doing it again!
Good grief. What now? What is she doing? What is the problem?
She’s reading again!
That’s when the dumbfounded, quizzical look appeared on my face to which he retorted:
That’s all she ever does now and she’s wasting her life away reading!
And so she was,
and continues to do so — read — that is.
Yes, she is “wasting her life away with it”.
Nine books in five weeks.
I’m just a mom striving to live life on life’ terms while taking
my kids the world on with a smile
Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig!
An Irish Blessing
May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
Take your sword and your shield
There’s a battle on the field
You’re a knight and you’re right
So with dragons now you’ll fight…
Fairytales live in me
Fables coming from my memory
Fantasy is not a crime
Find your castle in the sky
~ Dj Satomi
Nothing contents a mother’s heart like the distant sound of chatter or laughter coming from the place where her children are playing. And nothing jump-starts a mother’s heart like the sudden shriek of discord coming from the place where her children are playing.
Sibling relationships are complicated. Mysterious. Maybe that’s because most siblings are polar opposites.
So, while it’s true that the work of children is play, it may also be said that the work of siblings is rivalry.
In a loving way of course.
Because aside from our parents, they are our first introduction to love.
They’re also our first introduction to conflict.
They are our first playmates.
And our first best friend.
Yep. Since the age of dawn or shortly there-after, let’s say since the days of Cain and Abel anyway, sibling rivalry has been a mainstay in family dynamics. It certainly was in mine and it is for my kids. I’m always suspect when people tell me they never rivaled in some way with their siblings growing up. Really? I can’t imagine what that’s like.
It’s not a bad thing; sibling rivalry. It’s a natural thing. Siblings are practice people. They help us understand who we are and let us know how we’re perceived by others. They help us find our limits and our boundaries. And when they’re not rivaling with us, they teach us about friendship.
Siblings get the first glimpse of our future through the dreams we share with them. They are lifetime confidants, the only ones who really understand the inner workings of their unique family dynamic. It’s the bond that keeps them together and tears them apart. The relationship between siblings is fickle. It can be fractured by the slightest of provocations just as easily as it can be mended by a few soft-spoken, intentional words.
If you let them, they will build it.
They might even build it together. ~ Kavst
Little do they know, while it definitely gets easier as they grow up, it also gets harder.
Siblings. They are the keeper of each others’ secrets. The holder of one another’s dreams and may they always, always help each other build their castles in the sky.
Photo Credits #1-8: ©2013 KarenSzczukaTeich & Takingtheworldonwithasmile.com
Every parent strives to do better than the previous generation, providing for their children that which they lacked or missed out on in their own childhood.
Nowadays, the reviews are mixed.
Kids these days have it too easy! They’re spoiled with less required physical activity and way too much couch-potato-encouraging technology that keeps them inside exercising their thumbs rather than outside, exercising their whole bodies and minds.
~ Any Random Adult
It’s an on-going challenge for parents trying to strike the balance for their children; keeping abreast of what’s current, necessary and useful and making sure they don’t lose sight of what’s important for them to know how to do.
Despite the difficulties, I LOVE being a mom. Always have. For many years I enjoyed being a stay-at-home-mom, eagerly performing what others might consider mundane tasks for my kids, like painstakingly working out ketchup stains from their favorite dress or shirt, making sure the same favorite dress or shirt (or batman costume) was constantly clean so it could be worn several days in a row or making extra portions of a home-made dinner so I could freeze them for my son who refused to eat a cold lunch at school up until the 5th grade. I didn’t mind the endless task of picking up their toys and returning them to places they could easily be found the next day during their pre-arranged play-dates and I’d spend many hours searching and experimenting with new recipes I thought they might like to try. Even though my daughter is in 6th grade now, I still enjoy making her lunch for school every day.
These and so much more were—are, to me still, labors of love.
As my kids enter their tween and teenage years however, the tasks are changing and I’m starting to focus more seriously on the notion that it’s my duty to prepare them the best I can, for (real) LIFE.
Parenting is unique to each unique child.
Babies don’t leave the womb with a ‘here’s how I specifically operate and what I’ll need to know, mom’ guide and even though the long-held myths about moms having eyes in the back-of-their-heads and a-future-seeing-crystal-ball hidden in their bedroom closets are absolutely TRUE, our eyes and crystal balls are often clouded and not exactly all-seeing. I’m not always quite sure, how to make sure, my kids have the life-skills and tools they’ll need to become high-functioning, productive, kind and considerate citizens of our future communities.
In short, much of what we put forth is a bit of a crap shoot, flung from instinct.
For example, myself and four other mothers of my 14-year old son’s basketball-playing school mates recently hired a culinary chef who has a school in New York City to give our teenage boys some professional training in the kitchen. Sure, they know how to boil water for Ramen Noodles but what do they know about using a knife or picking fresh produce, making their own salad dressing, gravy or apple-crisp? Not much and my crystal ball predicts the women they’ll eventually end up with 10-years or so from now will not be as interested in devoting the same amount of kitchen and laundry time me or my mom did while raising a family.
It’s a new era and they’ll be out forging new paths and making lives of their own.
Our boys need to know how to cook and keep house.
Now that he’s been schooled, will he happily whip up a roasted chicken dinner complete with a fresh vegetable side and dessert when his future significant other informs him she’ll be coming home late from the office? I have no idea. BUT I continue to have faith and blindly put forth my efforts and babble, babble, babble on, hoping that somewhere in their premature brains my kids are processing what I say or make them do and will be able to pull out what they need, when they need it, like a magician pulls a rabbit from his hat.
Still, I can’t help but wonder how my kids will act or react when they get caught in a jam or circumstance that really requires them to step-up and take responsibility.
Thankfully, every once in a while however, the gods are good and toss out a bone, giving us insight as to whether or not we’re on the right track and we get a glimpse of what kind of an adult our child is going to be.
A few weeks before Christmas, I very suddenly and unexpectedly came down with pneumonia. I’ve never had pneumonia before. In fact, I rarely get sick. For the most part, I’m a Type A personality, leaving little time and patience for illness that would keep me from doing, let alone out of work. It’s not in my make up but this was out of my control. I had no choice but to succumb and was completely laid out for nearly two full weeks. With the help of a few family members and friends however, I was checked-in on, and my kids managed to get fed and brought to where they needed to be, including school each morning while I lay incapacitated in my third floor bedroom.
For days, I was completely unawares of the goings-on below and could barely hear my daughter moving about in the evenings.
I finally passed through the fever-delirium period and made it to the tolerating side of a hacking cough that cut like a knife in my chest. As much as I love my secluded bedroom, I desperately needed to make my way downstairs, if for nothing else but to reassure myself that I could still walk. It was sometime mid-morning on a weekday, when I took the last step down and rounded myself toward the kitchen for the first time in several days.
I saw a small piece of white paper taped face-down to the counter.
Reaching out, I flipped it over and this is what it said….
Yes, the first word in the fourth item on my 11-year old daughter’s List after ‘work on gifts’ (because she hand-makes Christmas gifts for each member of our extended family every year) is sew and even though I don’t, apparently she does.
It’s the second to last item however, that stopped me cold in my slipper-laden tracks.
Take care of mom
Thank you, good gods.
And as if that wasn’t enough to bring an already weepy mom to tears, on my way back up to Never-Never-Land, I glanced down the short flight of stairs to the front door. One of the last statements and only instructions I recall making from my sick-bed to my daughter before literally entering the Twilight Zone in the first 24-hours of being laid out was …
You’ll have to buy lunch at school.
BUT like many other kids these days, she had her own ideas about lunch and apparently, made it herself.
Even reminded herself, not to forget it from the fridge before leaving in the morning.
Kids these days.
They’re pretty awesome!
Photo Credit #1-3 Google Images
Photo Credit #4-6 KarenSzczukaTeich&www.takingtheworldonwithasmile.com
Week #2 of taking a blogging break in August. For a few weeks, I’ll be Relaxing, Recharging and Re-posting some of what my stats say are YOUR favorite reads.
Here’s one from January 2011….
Sticks And Stones May Break My Bones But Names…. Can Break My Heart!
“You know Mom, he’s lucky I didn’t SQUASH him like a bug!”
That’s what my 9-year-old daughter came home saying the other day after spending an afternoon at a birthday party. The “he” who is lucky “she”, didn’t, squash him like a bug, is a 10-year old classmate who was also at the party. “He” is her pal, her chum, her friend. He is her partner at school when pairing needs to be done. He is also the boy who tried to hold her hand when the lights went out in a Star Lab dome, but that’s not why she wants to pummel him.
There are some things you never forget: getting an award, your first sleep-over, punching a fella in the mouth for asking you to marry him (in first grade!), the soft, warm lips of a shy boy’s sweet and gentle kiss during a game of spin-the-bottle and of course, the first time someone embarrasses you in front of a group of friends by calling you a name. For me, it was buoy. And in 4th grade, I didn’t have a clue. So in a naive and unsuspecting way, I asked the boy who had just referred to me as a “buoy”, what that was.
You know, he said, it’s that round thing that bounces up and down, bobbing in the water. A buoy!
That was followed by what seemed to me, to be a roar of group laughter.
Painful. I forced a smile and walked away. I’m sure I could have flattened him but my heart had sunk to my knees and I was too hurt to react. I never forgot that feeling.
Like her mom, my girl is made of hardy stock. She is strong, confident and independent. She’s out-going and adventurous. She loves to laugh. Also like her mom however, she happens to be very sensitive.
He called me fat in front of all my friends at the party, she said. He embarrassed me. We were laughing about who would make the best Pińata and he said, ‘Hannah would, cause she’s fat!’
My heart immediately sank to that familiar place by my knees only this time, it broke.
He’s lucky I didn’t squash him like a bug! And you know I could, were the next words out of her mouth.
She’s right. She could.
Well then, I said, maybe next time, you should.
Okay, maybe that was wrong.
Sticks and stones may break my bones but names…..
Honestly, I would have preferred if he threw the stone. That wound heals faster.
We spent a long time that evening discussing potential reasons why her friend might have said that about her. Insecurity. Bravado. Maybe he was trying to look cool in front of the other boys. Perhaps he didn’t mean it and it was just a poor choice of words. Most likely, he like, likes her. No matter how much we dissected it though, the result was always the same. She could get past the word. She knows she’s bigger and taller than the other kids in her class. She accepts that her body is changing and maturing faster than theirs.
It was the betrayal she had a hard time reconciling with. He’s her friend.
It was after midnight when she came into my bedroom and crawled into bed with me that night. She snuggled up close and whispered,
Mommy, why did he do that? I thought he was my friend?
Cue the breaking heart again. She slept with me for the first time in years. And it was a big wake-up call to me as a parent and an adult, just how omnipotent words can be. Life is hard enough without us hurting each other with the things we say. And I’m reminded of how critical it is for me to set the example, practice kindness, show compassion and be forgiving.
Words may not be able to break a bone but they sure can break a heart.
The flip-side of that however, is to know that words also have the great power to fill a heart! So in the end, my advice to Hannah was to have, an open heart.
We are after all, only human. We all make mistakes and good friendships are worth keeping. So, when the boy came to school the next day and said,
Hey, I was only kidding. I didn’t mean it that way. I can’t believe you thought I was serious!
That was all she needed to hear to buddy-up again and put it behind her.
Besides, she told him that if he EVER does that to her again, she is going to “SQUASH him– like a bug!”
Photo credit: Squashed Bug, Broken Heart