Friday, May 27, 2011



When I was growing up I loved to put together models.  There were model airplanes, navy ships, cars, sailing ships, tanks, and various other modeling kits that would appeal to young boys.

I worked hard on those models, taking my time, getting better at it as I got more of them and I liked to display them in my room.

The models would be on the dresser and on some shelves on the walls.  I must have had about 20.
A strange thing would happen every once in a while.  One of the models would either disappear or get broken.  I was mad.

My mother, in reply to my pointed inquiry, would say, “Oh, a big truck went by and shook the model off the shelf.”

I was unconvinced and blamed my sister and her friend Patty. 

They were, it seemed to me, prime suspects.
They often played upstairs, I had seen them in my room, and they liked to investigate my stuff.

My sister and I did not get along very well.  We usually ignored each other but occasionally resorted to physical solutions to our problems.

I once tied her up in her bed, she hit me with a lamp, I threw her down a few steps (in my defense, she was in my room), I told her she was adopted, you get the picture. Of course I was given my usual punishment for all this.

Anyway, she was the prime suspect.  I was convinced she and her friend would go in my room and touch or play with the models and break them.  Then my mother would throw them away to hide the evidence and blame the truck or hope I didn’t notice.

My sister of course denied ever doing this. 

Her explanation is my mother did it while cleaning and let me think my sister had done it.  The truck explanation was never plausible.  

This could be true, but my sister’s track record with my things was not good. She broke my records, knocked over and scratched my bike and in general was a pest.  I’m sure she felt the same way about me.

I still think she did it.

My sister would like me to relate the following.

We lived in a four story house counting the basement and finished attic.  The washing machine (no one had dryers) was in the basement.  The stairs to the basement were narrow and steep.  Once every year, while carrying the laundry, my mother would fall down the stairs.  She would bounce down the stairs on her backside.

The first time this happened, we all ran over to make sure she was all right.  We helped her up, made sure nothing was broken, got her up the stairs, made some tea and sympathized with her.

The second year we also ran over to make sure everything was ok, etc.  The third year one of us called out “Is everything ok?”  The fourth year one of us peered over the steps. From the fifth year on, we considered it a common occurrence and ignored it.

My mother would come storming up the stairs, mad that we were ignoring her fall.  

We just thought practice had made her perfect at it.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Growing up Sports

Growing up Sports

When I was growing up in Queens, we had no video games and no one I knew except for one kid watched TV during the day.  We had sports.

From early in the morning until it was dark, we would be playing ball.  There was baseball, stickball (the kind in the street and the kind using a wall as a backstop and strike zone), handball, stoop ball (you threw the ball against the stoop usually aiming for the right angle, and the other guy tried to catch it when it rebounded), punch ball, basketball, football, dodge ball, kickball and just about any kind of game having to do with a ball we could think of.  

After breakfast, my mother would throw me out of the house and tell me to come home for dinner.  She implied I should eat lunch elsewhere. At around 6 o’clock she would go outside and call me to dinner.  You could hear her all up and down the block, and people would set their watches by the sound of her yell, much like a Moslem call to prayer. 

This was a hold over from the Bronx, where all the mothers would hang out the window of the apartment and call their kids to come inside.

 In the Bronx in the years after WWII, there were a lot of “Sheldons”.  I once asked her why she named me Sheldon.  She told me there was a hero in a romantic book (or movie, she didn’t remember) named Sheldon, and she just loved the name, thought it was unusual and wanted a ‘different” name for me.  What she hadn’t considered was all the other mothers also read (or watched) that same thing and felt the same way.  Hence, all the “Sheldons”. 

Now since this was the Bronx after WWII, the Yiddish version of the name was what was heard all up and down the street.  “Schlermie, come home”, “Schlermie, tatala, come to dinner”, or my case: “Schlermie, stop that…” and on and on.  When the call went out, we all had to look to see which mother it was who was doing the calling.

My mother’s attempt to be different was somewhat thwarted.  Her wish was eventually granted however, since the name “Sheldon” quickly fell out of favor and was generally not used again.  All the Sheldons I have met were born in the Bronx during that time frame; except for some young black males who I met recently who are also called Sheldon (one spells it Cheldon).  Why their mothers picked “Sheldon” is a mystery to me.

Back to sports.

We played all these games, mostly as pickup games with our friends or people in the school yard.  There was only Little League for baseball and that was it.  Our mothers and fathers did not drive us to games or practices nor was there any schedule, coaches or awards dinners with trophies.  We just played.

In elementary school, the school set up a tournament where the different classes on each grade played each other in punch ball.  My class was the punch ball champions of the 5th and 6th grades in our school.  We were undefeated in two years.  This gave us bragging rights but no official recognition or trophies.  Bragging rights was fine with us.

We loved to play ball.

Football was not a big deal to us until Junior High.  We played in the street and could catch and throw, but didn’t generally play tackle since it meant falling on the concrete.

My friend Sangy had dreams of being a high school quarterback, and his father, to encourage him, organized a group of us into a team.  He coached us in how to tackle, block, etc.  We had no equipment so we had to get our parents to buy us helmets, shoulder pads, shirts and of course “cups” and jockstraps.  We thought it was hilarious.

Since we didn’t buy the equipment as a team, we were a motley group of all different colors and types of equipment.  Never the less, we practiced and one day we were told we were going to play another team.

One of the local Catholic Schools had a Junior High age team and we were going to play them.

They arrived and we were impressed with their uniforms, coaches, etc.  Their colors were red and white and they brought line markers and other equipment with them.  They also had a cheering section of parents. Our parents had no idea we were in a game that was planned.  Our only cheering section consisted of two girls who knew us.

Miraculously, our ragtag team won, much to the chagrin of the other team. 

We were undefeated. 

Shortly thereafter, my mother told me I couldn’t play because my grades had fallen a little.  I did my best to obey her orders.

I went to practice just to watch.  In fact, I was wearing white dungarees and had no equipment, expecting not to play.

Practice started, and the team broke up into offense and defense.  The Offense was shorthanded.  What could I do?  I couldn’t leave them shorthanded.  In the interest of sportsmanship and friendship, I was forced to help out.  Surely anyone would understand that.

I joined the backfield.

After several plays, I borrowed a helmet, since we were playing tackle.

I must say, I did rather well, scoring several times.

When practice ended, I headed home.  I noticed that my white pants were now caked with mud (it had rained that morning) along with my shirt, jacket and sneakers.

I snuck into the house, went upstairs and put the dirty clothes in the hamper, took a shower, dressed and hoped for the best.

Much to my amazement, my mother figured it out.  How I don’t know. The usual punishment ensued.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Mrs. McNally's Tree

Mrs. McNally’s Tree

When I was growing up in Queens, NY, we had a next door neighbor named Mrs. McNally.

She was a former 20’s show girl and lived with her son and daughter-in-law.  She was probably in her mid 70’s then and seemed very ancient to me.  She also had no patience for children.

There was a crab apple tree that grew in a corner of her property behind her garage.  It was accessible for me and my friends to climb up the tree and sit on the roof of the garage. It was kind of like having a tree house.  From that vantage point, we could survey our surroundings and occasionally toss down a crab apple or two at passing cars.  We tried to keep out of Mrs. McNally’s sight, but invariably she would spot us and complain to my mother.

My mother had a ready solution to the complaints, a smack and orders to stay out of the tree.  Of course I ignored her.

In the winter we could launch snow balls from the roof and once connected with the windshield of a passing car.  Unfortunately it was the car belonging to two of my friends and their father was not amused.  They got beaten with a strap, I got slapped as usual by my mother and Mrs. McNally was momentarily satisfied.

When it snowed, I was under orders to shovel our walk and Mrs. McNally’s walk as well.  Since she was on a corner, I had to shovel 2 sides instead of one.  This was my mother’s way of making amends to Mrs. McNally.

Once, the mother of one of my friends had us gather up the crab apples and she made a jam out of it.  Throwing the apples was more satisfying than eating them, even in jam form.  We continued climbing and tossing until we were around 11, when the tree and apples lost their appeal.

I was not the only one who annoyed Mrs. McNally.  My sister did her part as well.

Mrs. McNally’s side door opened on our driveway between the houses.  Our side door opened on our other neighbor’s driveway.  Why this was so, no-one knew, but all the houses were like that on the block.  Either the architect was crazy or the builder flipped the plans by mistake and once started, couldn’t stop.

Regardless, our driveway ran past her side door.  In the middle of the driveway was grass and mostly dirt.  My sister and her friend would often make mud pies right in front of Mrs. McNally’s door.  Even though I never saw Mrs. McNally ever use her side door, she took offense at the mud and complained to my mother.

My mother’s answer was to pull my sister’s hair to get her attention (that’s why she styled my sister’s hair in pigtails so she could get a grip), followed by orders not to make mud pies.  My sister, like me, was incapable of following that order concerning Mrs. McNally.  My sister claims the reason she has thin hair can be traced back to the complaints by Mrs. McNally and the hair pulling that followed.

The only time we got in trouble with Mrs. McNally that was completely innocent on our part concerned our swimming pool.

My parents had gotten a portable swimming pool.  It stood about 2 feet high and about 8 feet across.  We would set it up and fill it with water.  We could let it stand for a few days before having to empty it, clean it and refill it.

On this occasion, we had set it up in front of the garage.  We used it for a few days and now it was time to empty it.

My mother assigned the task to me and my sister.  She told us to siphon off the water with a hose onto our backyard lawn.  Since there was no chlorine, it would be fine.  She left to go shopping.

I thought about how long that would take and came up with a better solution.  By unhinging part of the inner lining from the support wall, I could let the water out in a rush.  This would save time and my sister and I could clean it and refill it before my mother returned.  A perfect plan.

We set the plan in motion.  There were some unforeseen consequences.

The water gushed out of the pool and down the driveway in a wave of water.  It left behind about an inch of water and of course mud.

My sister and I proceeded to clean the pool.  While we were doing that we heard a door slam.  We didn’t think anything of it at the time.

My mother returned and was stunned by what we had done. We thought she was amazed at our ingenuity.  We soon found out differently.

The phone call came.

Mrs. McNally complained that she almost drowned when she tried to get out of her door and what was my mother going to do about it.

We tried to explain that it was impossible for Mrs. McNally to drown in the amount of water in the driveway.  Our logic fell on deaf ears.

The usual punishment was doled out and we were forbidden to use our “improved” method for emptying the pool.  We were also assigned to clean up the mud in the driveway.

What ever happened to the American Spirit of innovation?  If Thomas Edison’s mother had treated her little innovator that way, we would never have gotten the electric light.  My mother didn’t seem to care.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

My Aching Back

My Aching Back
I awoke one day with a sore back.  I went to work and it got progressively worse.  I was experiencing severe spasms so bad I couldn’t stand and it felt like I would lose control of my legs.

By 4 o’clock, I was getting desperate and decided to go to the “Quacks”. 

I got in my car and proceeded to drive about 5 miles to the Chiropractor’s office.  During the drive I was in a lot of pain and continued to get the spasms.

The Chiropractor was someone I knew and had gone to briefly some years before. 

I didn’t have much faith in his services but didn’t know what else to do. 

My lack of faith stemmed from my sister-in-law’s experience with him.  She went to this particular guy and he had prescribed a series of treatments for her shoulder.  Around the 3rd or 4th time he gave her the treatment and said “now that’s better, isn’t it?” something he said after each treatment. Turns out he had looked at the x-ray backwards and adjusted the wrong shoulder.  She didn’t return.

I arrived in the parking lot and struggled out of the car.  I made it into the building and into his office by bracing myself against the walls.  I made it to the front desk and held on so I wouldn’t fall down.

The receptionist sweetly asked what I wanted.

I explained my problem and to their credit, a nurse immediately came out and helped me into a treatment room.

The room was cold and it made the spasms worse.  However the Chiropractor came in and started various treatments to see if he could alleviate the spasms.

After about 40 minutes, it was no better.

He informed me that he recommended I go to the hospital.  I of course thought he was crazy.

“Are you crazy? Stand me up,” I said, “and I’ll go home”.

“You drove yourself here?” he said somewhat aghast. “You need to go to the hospital”

“Stand me up,” I insisted.

They tried to stand me up.  I couldn’t make it and had to be lowered to the table.

“I’ve already called for an ambulance, and contacted an Orthopedist I know who will meet you there.  Do you want us to call your wife?” he said.

“Yeah, let me talk to her,” I answered.  They connected me.

“Barbara, I’m going to be a little late,” I told her.  “Nothing to worry about, I’ll see you home”.

The nurse, listening to this, took the phone away from me and spoke with Barbara. 

After giving me back the phone, Barbara informed me what an idiot I was and she would meet me at the hospital.

The ambulance arrived and carted me away.

I arrived at the emergency room and Barbara arrived shortly afterward.

Fortunately, it wasn’t busy and they took me in to be examined.  They did x-rays and then the doctor came in to see me.

“Well, we’re going to admit you and put you in traction,” the doctor said.

“Are you crazy?” I retorted.  A theme was emerging.  “I want to go home, I’ll be fine tomorrow.”

We argued back and forth; finally he said, “If you can get up off this gurney and stand by yourself, you can go home.”

“OK,” I said, “just give me a minute here.”  I valiantly attempted to rise.

They checked me in.

They put me in traction and gave me a shot which helped alleviate the spasms.  Barbara had gone home by then and called me.  She claims I was slurring my words, but I don’t remember any of that.

I woke up the next day and I was better.  The nurse came in and wanted to know if I wanted a sponge bath.  I told her I would shower myself, but if they wanted they could have that pretty nurse’s aide help me.  They declined my generous offer.  I showered alone

The spasms were gone and I was ready to leave.  The doctor had other plans.

He scheduled an MRI for that afternoon and was keeping me overnight again. I wanted to leave but if I left against doctor’s orders, my insurance wouldn’t pay. I stayed.

The next day he informed me I had a herniated disc and I should follow up with him.  He then discharged me.  He had given me instructions to keep my feet elevated in bed and not do too much walking.

I came home and told Barbara as per the doctor’s orders; I had to sleep on her side of the bed for a while.  The spasms had returned and I couldn’t walk very well to the bathroom.  Fortunately her side of the bed was closer.

That night, we were watching TV.  I had my feet elevated on a couple of pillow.  This blocked Barbara’s view.  After some complaining, I agreed to switch sides.  This meant a long walk to the bathroom, holding onto the walls.

My daughter was aghast at her mother’s actions.  I, the long suffering husband, just shook my head.

After a few days I was fine.  I didn’t have another episode for about a year. The next episode coincided with my birthday.  I stayed home, struggled to the bathroom when I had to go and just rested.

It was during this time that Barbara chose to give me my birthday present.

Picture me in pain, not able to walk because of the spasms. Barbara had gotten me a membership to a gym.  I lay there stunned.

It was a great present with bad timing.

Friday, May 6, 2011

My Mother's 90th Birthday

My Mother’s 90th Birthday

My mother’s 90th birthday was approaching and we were all discussing what to do about it.

On her 80th birthday, she had taken all of us to Las Vegas.  We suggested a repeat, or a cruise, but her heart was set on having a party for just family and close friends.

“How many people are we talking about?” I asked.

“Maybe 15 or 20,” she replied.  “I don’t want your sister and you to pay a lot.”

“Where would you like to have it, in your clubhouse?”

“No, if I have it in the clubhouse uninvited people could come and eat,” she replied. “Its in the Association’s rules, even if you have a private party anyone who is a member can come in, you can’t keep them out”.

The clubhouse was out, so we started looking around for a place that would accommodate about 20 people.

My sister and I researched a few places that had a private room.  Meanwhile my mother was compiling her guest list.  Over a period of a couple of weeks we went from 20 to 25 to 30 to 35 and finally 40.

“How did you go from 20 to 40?” I asked her.

“Well, I couldn’t leave out…….,”a litany of names followed.  “Then I had to invite all the board members.  You know how important I am and how they would be offended if I didn’t invite all of them.  Then there is the sister of this one and I can’t have this one without that one.” The list seemed to grow before my eyes.

“Is this too much?” she asked?  “Will it be too expensive for you and your sister?”

“No, it’s alright.  Invite who you want, you don’t get to be 90 every day” I answered.

“That’s another thing.  I don’t want to let them know how old I am.  I tell them I’m in my 70”s every year,” she said.

“Do you really think they think you’re in your 70’s?” I asked. 

“Why, do you think I couldn’t pass for 70?” she asked archly.

“Its ok with me,” I said.

“What about music?” she asked.  “I’ve been to parties where you just sit around eating and it’s boring.  I want music and dancing.  Don’t worry I’ll pay for the music.  My friend’s son plays the accordion.”

“Music is fine, but your friend’s son with the accordion I don’t know.  We’ll look for a DJ,” I replied.

My sister and I had set up a preliminary budget based on what we had found out from the places we had spoken to.  We also discussed the DJ and got a few names which my sister researched.

My mother suggested a restaurant in Boynton called Benvenuto’s, about 15 minutes away from the condo which the Association had used for luncheons in the past.  My sister, brother-in-law, mother, Barbara and I made an appointment to see the place.  My sister had gotten information from them and they were within our price range.  We went there on a Sunday Afternoon.

We were met by a nice lady who was the catering manager.  My mother as past president of her Association seemed to think she deserved a discount and said so.  The manager was very pleasant and took us around to see the different private rooms.  We sat down in one of the rooms and looked at the menus which were available for the luncheon party we were planning.

After much discussion, we settled on a menu.  There would be an appetizer, choice of 3 main courses, dessert, coffee and cake. The question of drinks came up.  We decided to offer a Mimosa and soda and a Sparkling Wine toast.  Anyone wishing wine or a cocktail could order one from a cash bar.  These were people in their 70’s and 80’s, how much would they be drinking at lunch we reasoned?  Turns out we were wrong, more of that later.

The party was set for July 25, a few weeks after her birthday, from 1-4 in the afternoon on a Saturday.

Our next step was to send out invitations, finalize the DJ and get my mother an outfit.  We made plans to do that.

A few nights later, I got a phone call from my mother.

“Are we going to see any other places?” she asked.

“No, we picked Benvenuto’s,” I answered.

“Why are we going there?  I’ve been there before.”

“Ma, you wanted Benvenuto’s.  You picked it,” I said.

“I did?  Why didn’t we visit other places?”

“You didn’t want to”.

“Another thing, why did you put Hungarian Goulash on the menu?” she demanded.  “I don’t want Goulash”.

“We’re not having Goulash.  Where did you get that from?” I asked.

“I was there, don’t lie to me, you put Hungarian Goulash on the menu and I want it off!”

It occurred to me she was mixing up Beef Stroganoff with the Goulash.  I tried to tell her but she was insistent.  I finally agreed to “take off the Goulash”.

I told my sister about this and she said she got the same routine that Saturday in person.

We had about 4 months to go so we felt no pressure to put out the invitations.  My mother had other ideas.  She wanted the invitations mailed May 1st.   We felt this was too early, but we wound up doing it to appease her.

Barbara wrote a great poem inviting people, Patricia my daughter-in-law printed up the invitational poem and my daughter Ronni addressed the invitations.  We mailed them out with a number to call to RSVP.  People raved about the invitational poem and my mother took to promising Barbara would do the same for them if they had a party.

My mother would call every once in a while and add another person to the list.  We would send out the invitation.  After a while, my sister would have to tell them their “original invitation” must have been lost in the mail.  This continued right up to 2 weeks before the party.

We next started working on my mother’s new outfit.  I looked up some shops that catered to women of her age group and we chose a Saturday to go. 

Barbara and I arrived to pick her up.  She insisted my sister come with us.  I think she was afraid I would force her to take a particular outfit.  We set off.  She informed us she wouldn’t spend more than $99.  There was no way we would be able to get something decent for that price, but we pushed on.

We went to the first store.  I pulled the sales lady aside and told her to tell my mother the cost was $99 no matter the real cost.  I would make up the difference.

The first item she tried on was perfect.  It fit her perfectly, it was a great color pink, it looked great on her and she could use it again.  I was ready to buy it and go home.

The gods must have been laughing at my innocence. 

Just like my daughter’s wedding dress, the rule is “you cannot buy the first thing no matter how perfect it is”.  We proceeded to spend the next four hours going from place to place not finding anything near as good.  At the end of the day, Barbara and I went back to the original store and bought the original choice.  My mother was told it was “$99”.

Gee, that sounds just like my daughter’s wedding dress adventure.

The responses were in, the day was fast approaching, and just about everyone had said yes.  Cousins were coming in from out of town.    We had about 46 people coming.

A few days before the party, my mother called.  We had already gone through the Goulash conversation a couple of times so I thought that was laid to rest.

“Don’t get mad, but I want to invite someone else,” she said.

“Ma, don’t you think it’s a little insulting asking this person 2 days before?   What are you going to say, how come we haven’t heard from you?”

“Why yes, I was going to ask you or your sister to do that”

Why didn’t you invite her before?”

“I don’t like her sister, but I feel bad about not inviting her, what do you say?”

“Ma, I don’t care if you invite her, but I’m not doing it and I don’t think Regina will either.”

“Oh, alright, I’ll have to tell her the truth.  Fat lot of help you two are.”

“Ok, good night, and Ma, don’t worry no Goulash.”

“You think you’re so funny,” she retorted and hung up.

The big day came.  Barbara and I arranged to pick her up by 12:15 figuring to get there by 12:45.  The party was scheduled to start at 1:00.  We picked her up and proceeded to Benvenuto’s.

We quickly got a phone call from my sister.

“Where the hell are you?” she said.

“We’re almost there, why, what’s the problem?”

“They’re all here and have been since 12:00” she said loudly.

“12:00, why are they there so early?”

“They said our mother told them to be there early”, she replied.

“Ma, what time did you tell people,” I asked?

“Oh, 11:30 or 12”, she said.

“Why would you do that,” I asked?

“That’s the way we do it. We all show up early so we can get hors ’doeuvres and mimosas in the lobby.”

I had no answer for that and we arrived at the Benvenuto’s.

There were still some people in the lobby, but most had gone into the room and sat down.  The catering manager told me she expected the condo crowd to show up early.  That’s SOP for their affairs.

The maitre d’ approached me and informed me they had all entered the room, sat at their assigned tables and ordered wine for everyone at the tables. He wanted to know who that should be billed to.  Of course that would be me and my sister.

Who’d have thought they would all drink wine at 12 PM in the afternoon.  They just assumed it was part of the luncheon and so had ordered it.

The party was a huge success.  Everyone had a good time, the DJ played songs everyone could dance to and they did.  The food was good; there was lots of laughing and good cheer.

My mother was very happy.  She looked great and felt great. She danced, kibitzed with everyone, and made the rounds of the tables. Lots of pictures were taken, and she assumed her usual place as the center of attention and for once was completely happy with my sister and me. 

Her friends talked about this party for months afterward.  They even loved the thank you poem Barbara made up and we sent out as thank you cards.  People told us they saved both the invitation and thank you cards.  I’m sure some sons and daughters got some pointed suggestions about future parties for their mothers and fathers.

A month later, my mother who was in perfect health, had a heart attack and died.  We were all very happy she had had her party and it had gone off flawlessly.  Our last gift to her.

 All of us know she would want to be remembered they way she was at the party. She is a legend at the Condo.