Friday, March 18, 2016


Happy Birthday       XXXX   OOOO

These phrases came to me scrawled across numerous cards that I receive as a child from my Great Aunt Josephine and Uncle Gerald. Even today when I see XXXs and OOOs, I am reminded of those two distant relatives who lived in Boston. I loved my aunt and uncle for sending those occasional cards in the mail, yet I didn't meet them until one summer during college.

I took a summer job as an art instructor and cabin counselor at a camp for privileged kids in the Berkshire Hills of Massachusetts. My salary for the 8-week camp just covered my expenses getting back and forth from California.

I was ready for an adventure, and made all my own arrangements to travel across the country, once there found a small plane to take me to the Berkshire Hills, made train reservations to different towns, and hailed cabs in big cities. Yet I learned I had no idea what I was getting into as a camp counselor. I had never been to camp as a camper so my impressions of camp came from books and TV programs. I discovered the six squirrelly 8-year-old girls in my cabin would rather play and shout than take a nap in a space just big enough for our cots, sleeping bags, and gear. During each day's prescribed "Quiet Hour," my girls made the old canvas cabin shake. I learned a lot that summer about what I needed to do to make my own way in this world besides just organizing travel reservations.

At the end of camp, with great relief, I hopped on a train for Boston to see my aunt and uncle. I arrived at their apartment building and discovered Uncle Gerald waiting for me. He was in his 80s, but he hefted my duffel bag filled with a summer's worth of gear on to his back and preceded to climb briskly up the stairs with me trying to catch up to him. My Aunt Josephine was waiting for me at their door. She had a big smile on her face, happy to see me. I knew her instantly because she looked like her brother, my grandfather, who was short with dark, grey-streaked hair. He was handsome; she, not so much, but she had his same mischievous character.

I was in for one more adventure as I discovered my uncle was an alcoholic. Most of the time he remained in their apartment, drank beer, and watched the Red Sox play ball. When he wasn't watching the game, my aunt and I hunted him down and chased him out of one bar after another. When we weren't bar hopping, we took the subway to Filene's or to see the sites of Boston.

Uncle Gerald drove us to Nantucket. He sped through Boston, driving down one-way streets in the wrong direction, weaving back and forth along the expressway, and miraculously, arriving at the Cape in one piece. After we returned, my aunt and I went to Mass. The first time I ventured to a Catholic Latin service. The first time I felt like getting down on my knees to pray for my survival in a summer that was filled with adventures.

Here's some XXXs and OOOs for those of you born in March.  Happy Birthday too!

What are some of your favorite childhood memories?
I hope you had many adventures too!


  1. Sunday Dinners at Ma and Pa's Farm in Oklahoma

    My maternal great grandparents, Ma and Pa, lived on Route 4 about about a twenty minute drive from the town of Shawnee where my grandparents lived and where we stayed when we visited them from California. My sister and I would crouch down in the car so that we could surprise Ma when we rolled onto the dirt road up to their house (as if she didn't know we were coming). She always obliged with a surprised whoop! After the family hugging and kissing the men gathered on the covered back porch to smoke, talk politics and drink a beer.
    The women were seated on stuffed chairs in the living room shelling beans and talking. My sister, Jonnie Kay and I visited both groups but stayed with the women who allowed us to shell beans as well. We loved shelling beans.
    The air was warm with laughter and love. Ma took the beans into the kitchen and in short time called everyone be seated at the big round oak table that had been set with her Sunday dishes, silver, and iced tea goblets and home sewn napkins.
    Everyone gave thanks to God and then Ma brought out the fried chicken, mashed potatoes, beans and salad. My grandmother poured the iced tea from a pitcher and everyone dug in to an incredible feast of fine cooking. Seconds were offered as well as warnings to save room for dessert. Then came the fresh homemade pies and coffee. That Molly sure knew how to cook.
    I wish I could go back in time and enjoy those days again.

    1. Jan, thanks for sending this story about your family. I could just feel the warmth the memory brings.
      I remember shelling peas, not beans, for my mom . I still love peas.

    2. We shelled peas too. Ma had a marvelous fenced vegetable garden...everything was truly farm fresh. My first Proustian epiphany in memory was of picking a yellow crookneck squash and then watching her sauté it in her own amazing butter. She added a dash of salt and placed it cut up on a plate for me. Heaven on a fork!

    3. No wonder you are such a good cook. All those yummy food memories!

  2. I'm just now getting caught up. Although I never met her, I remember getting a birthday greeting from Aunt J with a crisp one dollar bill in my card. I received them until she passed (it seemed like many but in reality it probably was only a couple). Reading your story made me think of her sweetness.

  3. Yes, she was a treasure, and a small gesture that has carried through generations!


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