THE STORY OF THE GRAD SCHOOL PAPER – BY ELLIN CURLEY

My mother’s first husband died when she was 29 years old. She had just gone back to college to get her degree. Years earlier, she had to leave college in her second year, due to illness. She ended up getting her Master’s Degree in psychology and becoming a practicing psychologist. She started out as a child psychologist but later switched to adults. She found that treating children was too physically demanding for her after she had me.

Anyway, while she was in graduate school, she was dating my father. He was a prominent and published psychiatrist and anthropologist. In one of her psych classes, she was required to read a book that my father had written. She then had to write a paper on the book.

Mom and Dad in their dating days

Coincidentally, Mom had helped my dad edit this book before it was published. Mom was swamped with other schoolwork, so she asked my father to write the paper for her. He knew that she knew the book backwards and forwards, so he agreed to help her.

I’m sure you can guess what happened. Mom got a B, her worst grade ever. On top of that, the professor wrote comments in the margins. She said that Mom misunderstood what the author meant on one point, and missed the point of what he was trying to say on another.

Of course Mom couldn’t say anything to the professor! She had to swallow her grade and move on. My dad found the whole situation disturbing, but funny.

Mom never had Dad write anything for her again.

MY INVISIBLE AUNT – BY ELLIN CURLEY

When I was young, I thought that both my parents were only children. When I was eight or nine, I learned that my father actually had a sister and that she was alive and well. She was eight years older than my father so she was in her mid 70’s at the time. Her name was Bertha, she lived in either Wisconsin or Michigan and she had one son and several grandchildren. I knew none of them. I’ve never even seen a photo of any of them.

I confronted my father, asking him why I didn’t know my aunt and my cousins. He told me she had seen me once, when I was two years old. But that was it. He just couldn’t face her.

Why? Apparently my father was consumed with guilt about his sister. She had not had a great life and he felt he was somehow to blame. Their mother died of Tuberculosis when Dad was three and Bertha was eleven. For several years, Bertha had to take care of Dad until their father came home from work. I don’t know if that meant she had to stop going to school.

The youngest photo I have of my dad. I think he was about 21.

When their father remarried, their step-mother doted on my father but was cold to his sister. Bertha didn’t get to go to college but my father did. He got an education, a career and a successful life. Bertha got trapped in a loveless marriage with someone who could barely make a living.

I don’t see how most of this was Dad’s fault. But his success in life made him feel nothing but guilt towards his sister. My father never abandoned Bertha. They talked on the phone once a year. He always sent her money so she never wanted for anything. He also paid to send her son through college. He just wouldn’t see her.

No matter how much I begged and my mother cajoled, I never got to even meet my aunt when I was old enough to remember her. I think my mother once met with her son when he came to New York City. I know she had his contact information in her address book.

My dad as an older man. His sister would have been in her eighties at this point.

I never understood my father’s aversion to seeing his sister. If I felt guilty about a sibling, I’d go out of my way to be super nice to her and her family. I’d include them as cherished people in my family’s life. I certainly wouldn’t punish them by banning them from it. Instead, my father isolated Bertha from her only family. I think he made her life worse, but I think he was too self-absorbed to see that — or to care.

I felt cheated. I understood I could never have been close with my aunt and her family because of geography. I also understood sibling relationships are often tense, even hostile. My grandmother and her brother would spend years at a time not talking to each other. But some contact with Bertha and her family, some small connection would have meant a lot to me.

Unfortunately, my father’s ‘issues’ deprived me of what little close family I had.

THE DECLINE OF LEFTOVERS – BY ELLIN CURLEY

Leftovers aren’t sexy. Throwing them out is not considered morally or ecologically wrong by most Americans. This has created a garbage crisis in this country. Americans throw away 27 MILLION tons of food each year. The average person wastes 3.5 POUNDS of food each week. This habit clogs landfills, generates greenhouse gases and costs the economy approximately 144 billion dollars a year.

 Leftovers are now the largest source of edible food waste in American homes. There are two major reasons why people throw out food. One is that people stash leftovers in Tupperware containers that get pushed to the back of the fridge. Then they’re forgotten about until they’ve gone bad. Not much we can do about the forgetting factor. But the other reason is that people just don’t like eating leftovers.

We need to bring leftovers back into favor in order to save the planet! Apparently, leftovers were held in much higher esteem before the 1960’s. Being frugal and saving food was actually considered patriotic during WWII. But then it got very cheap to buy lunch instead of brown bagging it. It also got cheaper to order out or buy something new for dinner rather than eating that two-day old pot roast again. So use of leftovers has been on the decline for a long time.

I happen to love leftovers. I love eating cold meat, plain or in a sandwich. In high school, I’d eat leftovers like pasta for breakfast.

When I was a young housewife with two kids, I was very organized about shopping and cooking. I did full menus for the week along with a shopping list of all the necessary ingredients. I always incorporated the leftover meats and vegetables into the weekly meal plan. I scoured magazines and cookbooks for recipes that could use already cooked meats. Curries, stews and casseroles all work very well with leftover chicken, pork or lamb. I also often threw leftover meats into a tomato sauce and served them over pasta.

Tom does not love leftovers. I have to go all out to dress them up if I want him to eat them. I’ve gotten pretty good at fooling him. I don’t always tell him in advance that he’s eating Tuesday’s pork chops or Wednesday’s chicken breast. If he compliments the meal, then I’ll spring it on him.

I also try to freeze leftovers that I think will go bad in the frig. But I have to admit that I often forget about them in the freezer. When I rediscover them, freezer burn has set in. So, while I do try to waste as little food as possible, I don’t always succeed.

This is actually an important issue. People need to change their attitudes towards leftovers and become more aware of the problem of food waste. Unfortunately, today there are a few other issues competing for attention from the media and the population. Maybe when we have a new president and a people oriented government again, we can afford to turn out attention to things like food waste on a national scale. The sooner the better.

TWO MEMORABLE LEGAL CASES – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I had a very short legal career. I practiced for three and a half years in two small, general practice firms in New York City.

The first firm I worked for was most memorable for its dissolution. The firm did some criminal law cases. So it was even more shocking to discover that one of the partners was being indicted. And not just for your run of the mill tax fraud or other dry, boring crime. He was indicted for aiding and abetting a child pornography ring!

The partner considered himself a wheeler-dealer. So he put two acquaintances together who he thought could do business. And they did. The business was child pornography! I was never clear about how much the partner knew about the illegal and grossly immoral activities. It was a devastating way to end a legal partnership. And of course I lost my job.

Me and my then husband when I was practicing law in NYC

I found another job, coincidentally in the same office building. What are the odds with all the offices in New York City? And it was the perfect location for my commute. It was right above Grand Central Terminal. So the subway to the office literally dropped me off next to my building.

My second law firm was also a small, general practice firm. We did a little bit of everything. Some Trusts and Estates, Corporate, Tax , etc. I had two memorable cases there, one in Criminal Law and one in Matrimonial Law.

My job in the criminal case was to deliver bail money from our client to the judge at the courthouse. It was cash in a brown paper bag. I’m not kidding! I had always thought that that was an urban legend. Apparently not. I actually handed a brown bag of cash to a judge and went home. Our client, skipped bail, as we had expected.

My second memorable case was a custody battle between two exes. Every other week I had to write motions accusing the ex husband of breaching the terms of the visitation agreement. For the family poodle. The complaints involved giving the dog too many treats and returning the dog to the ex wife in a hyper state, unable to go to sleep at night. I think I actually won a few of those motions.

It sounds trivial, but the level of emotional distress for my client was off the charts. I had to spend time on the phone with her calming her down and holding her hand. We laughed about the case at the office, but the couple were jerking each other around using the poor dog as a weapon. It was very uncomfortable to be in the middle of this battle.

So now you know the highlights of my legal career. Maybe you can understand why I haven’t missed it for 35 years!

ESOTERIC OBSESSIONS – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I’ve had some random and esoteric obsessions over the years. Only two have stayed with me for decades and are still going strong.

One is the Titanic and anything Titanic related. I saw the movie “A Night To Remember” when I was in elementary school. I then read the book the movie was based on and I was hooked. I continued to read other books that came out over time about the Titanic and her last hours.

Painting of the Titanic going down

I was fascinated by the series of ill-fated coincidences that sealed the ship’s fate. If any one of six or seven things hadn’t happened exactly as they did, the ship might have been saved or avoided the iceberg altogether. I also loved the stories of the people on the ship – from the super rich and famous down to the crew and the steerage passengers.

I passed my Titanic fever onto my daughter, Sarah. We watched the movie “Titanic” together over and over. We frequently flipped through our large Titanic coffee table book with lots of wonderful photos. Sarah has followed all the dives on the Titanic wreck even more than I have. Many of the unanswered technical questions about the sinking have now been answered and Sarah and I share each new revelation with relish.

Photo of the wreck of the Titanic on the ocean floor

My other long-term obsession is the British royal family. I always loved English history, particularly stories about the Kings and Queens and their families through the centuries. I started following Queen Elizabeth II and her young family when I was a pre teen. Charles is close to my age so I was particularly interested in him and his slightly younger sister, Anne.

When Prince Charles was looking for a wife, my soap opera antennae went into high gear. When he met Lady Diana Spencer, my interest became a real obsession. I read everything I could find about them, but mostly her.

Charles and Diana early in their relationship

The day of Charles and Diana’s 1981 wedding, I woke up at 5 AM so I could watch the entire ceremony live. I had a one year old so I was up anyway. On this day, however, I stayed up. I also called my close friend in London and we watched the wedding together on the phone. I almost ended our friendship when I criticized the new Princess’s wedding dress. I thought it was overdone, too pouffy and unflattering. Most Americans shared my opinion. But most Brits, including my friend, absolutely loved the dress and took offense at any negative comments about it.

The infamous wedding dress

I followed Diana’s marriage closely. I applauded her more modern approach to being a royal, particularly after she became a mom. She wanted to be a hands on parent, which was a huge break with British royal tradition. I cheered her on, along with the rest of the world. I loved the new vibe she brought to the royal family. I also related to her increasingly dysfunctional marriage with a cheating husband. I mourned her tragic, early death.

I continued to read about Diana’s boys after her death, but not as avidly as I had when she was alive. When Kate Middleton came on the scene as Prince William’s love interest, I got my passion back.

William, Kate and their two children

Kate has continued the modernization and humanization of the young royals that Diana started. I am particularly taken with her easy, close and natural relationship with William. I applaud her involved parenting style and appreciate her and William’s accessibility. I follow news of her and enjoy photos of her clothes, as I did with Diana. I admire her style and taste and love most of her wardrobe, possibly even more than Diana’s.

Now I have a new royal couple to read about religiously. Prince Harry has announced his engagement to Meghan Markle, a poised, mature and charming biracial American actress. She seems caring and down to earth. She is already involved in international humanitarian causes on her own. She also has rescue dogs, one of whom has come to live with her and Harry in London.

Harry and Meghan announce their engagement

Meghan will be another breath of fresh air in the still stuffy royal family. She’s had a successful career and lived out on her own in the real world. Americans can relate to her and she can relate to the common man, just like her fellow commoner, Kate Middleton.

I don’t obsess over movie stars or pop stars, like many Americans do. I only know about a few of the ‘celebrities’ who appear in “People Magazine”. But I should have many years ahead of me of happy royal voyeurism following the two English Princes and their growing families.

BICENTENNIAL FIREWORKS – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I was lucky enough to have a truly remarkable and unique experience. It happened on July 4, 1976. It was part of the huge Bicentennial celebration in New York City in honor of the 200th Birthday of the Declaration Of Independence. There were festivities all over the city for a whole week.

There was a parade of old-fashioned Tall Ships from all over that majestically sailed up the Hudson River. I only saw that on TV but it was an incredible sight. (I did get to see a few individual ships in the harbor as we drove into the city, but not the full parade).

One of the Tall Ship-s sailing on the Hudson River with the World Trade Center in the background

The pièce de résistance of the celebration week was the fireworks display that was set to go off from the Statue of Liberty on the night of July 4.

At the time, my husband, Larry, worked at a law firm in New York City. The law firm scheduled a big office party on the night of the 4th of July. They booked the restaurant at the top of World Trade Center One, Windows On The World. The restaurant was on the 107th floor and had an unobstructed view of the Statue of Liberty, which was just a short distance out in the harbor.

When the time came for the fireworks, we all gathered around the floor to ceiling windows facing the Statue of Liberty. I’m short, so I was funneled to the very front of the crowd. There was absolutely nothing between me and the view outside.

Bicentennial Fireworks with World Trade Center

The fireworks display was, appropriately extraordinary. It was so close I felt I could reach out and touch the bursts of light directly in front of me. It had an eerie quality because I was 107 floors up in the air. So the fireworks were not only nearby and coming right at me, they were coming right at me at eye level. They weren’t coming from above, as they usually are. They seemed to be aimed right at me. I even flinched at first, fearing that the window would be hit by stray sparks.

Fireworks in color, with World Trade Center in background

Once I relaxed, I sat back and enjoyed a truly awe-inspiring show. I’ve always loved fireworks. Unfortunately, no display since then could even come close to rivaling that night.

Remembering that night is bittersweet. While it was a euphoric experience for me, it’s sad to realize that no one will ever again get that great view from the long gone tower at the World Trade Center. I’m sure the views at the new buildings on the World Trade Center site are magnificent. But for those of us who lived through 9/11, it will never be the same.

THE HAIRDRESSER MYSTIQUE – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I don’t go to the hairdresser often. Just once every couple of months to get my hair cut and colored and thus keep myself as a perpetual brunette. I look forward to those trips. I love the feeling of having someone else wash my hair and blow dry it.

I do almost everything for myself. I do my own nails (badly), except when there’s a big event and I actually want them to look good. I always do my hair myself except for the coloring and cutting. My mother went to the hairdresser every week and never washed her own hair. That horrifies me. I can’t imagine being that dependent about something so basic.

Hair Salon in the 1960’s

I usually don’t like being pampered. I like giving gifts more than I like receiving them. I’m usually the caregiver rather than the person being taken care of. I even feel uncomfortable when I’m sick and I have to rely on my husband to bring me food, water and meds.

Yet I love having someone else do my hair. Maybe it’s primal. Maybe it reminds me unconsciously of when I was a baby and my mother washed me and fed me. Maybe it’s like playing ‘doctor’ when you’re a kid. It’s fun to have someone focus totally on you.

There’s also the social element to the hairdresser experience. I’ve known my hairdresser for about 25 years. She cut my kids’ hair when they were young and she cuts my husband’s hair now. It’s a family affair. We’ve shared stories about each other’s marriages (we’re both divorced and remarried after long-term first marriages). We’ve watched each other’s kids grow up – vicariously. We’re actually pretty involved in each other’s lives, even though we don’t socialize outside the beauty parlor. I gather that’s very common.

My mother was very close with her straight male hairdresser, Dante. He was Italian, married and had a daughter. I loved him too. He did my hair for my first wedding. He was a charming and wonderful man.

My mother also became close friends with another one of Dante’s customers, a woman named Rosetta. They eventually scheduled their hair appointments together so they could have lunch and chat every week. When they got together with Dante, it was a party! As a teenager, I joined them when I could. It was a blast hanging out with them. Lots of conversation and lots of laughter.

My Mom and Rosetta, both with perfectly coiffed hair

Ironically, I don’t like the way my hair looks when I leave the hairdresser. It’s too pouffy and looks too ‘done’. I like the more natural look I get when I curl my own hair. So I brush it a lot and try to flatten it out so I look more ‘normal’ until I wash it again myself.

I love my trips to the hairdresser anyway. I’m even beginning to be able to just relax and enjoy being pampered. But I still don’t like getting my nails done and I hate getting a pedicure. Which is why I’ve only done it twice in my life!

I don’t know what I’ll do when my hairdresser retires. But in the meantime, I’ll continue to look forward to my days of pampering and bonding with my friend and hairdresser.