MY GRANDMOTHER’S EARLY YEARS – By Ellin Curley

My Grandmother, Sarah, grew up in Minsk, Russia. Her father was one of the very few Jews there who were allowed to do business with the Russian Gentiles. Therefore he was relatively well off. Grandma remembers her mother taking baths in milk. Her mother was an aloof, Grande Dame and was treated like a queen by her family.

In order to stay in the good graces of the Christian Russians he dealt with, her father adopted their pro-Czarist beliefs. My grandmother, from early on, was an active socialist and anti-Czarist. She often clashed with her father over politics. The tension with her dad came to a head when Grandma took her mother and sister to a socialist rally with her. The rally was a set-up and was raided by the Czar’s troops. The troops crashed through the crowd killing and beating as many people as they could. Grandma was saved by a dead body falling on her and hiding her from the troops.

Grandma and her family in Russia. She is the little girl in the front between her parents

Grandma and her family made it home safely. But her father was livid that Grandma had exposed his beloved wife and favorite daughter (grandma’s sister) to such danger. It was decided that Grandma should move to America, and take her younger brother, Abe, with her.

Grandma and Abe had first class tickets on the ship to America. But Abe lost the tickets and last minute steerage tickets had to be procured. Grandma was not happy with her hapless brother. When they arrived in New York City, they were taken in by relatives who lived in the tenements of the Lower East Side, the Jewish section of the city. They were penniless.

To earn money, Grandma worked in a sweatshop, similar to and down the street from the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. That factory caught fire in 1911 and trapped and killed 146 garment workers, mostly young, immigrant women. It was the worst industrial disaster in city history. So many lives were lost because doors had been locked and exits blocked to keep workers from taking unauthorized breaks or stealing. The tragedy spurred the passage of safety laws for factories. It also spurred the birth of the labor movement and the creation of the International Ladies Garment Workers’ Union.

Sarah and her brother Abe

Grandma knew some of the girls who were killed in the fire. She became active in the pro-union movement. In later years, she would take my mother, even as a child, to union rallies and to speeches by socialist and union leaders.

Grandma met a first cousin of hers, named Abe, who had also recently immigrated from Russia. They were actually half first cousins because Grandma and Abe’s mothers shared a father but had different mothers. They married after a short courtship.

After my mom was born, Grandma took in sewing to make extra money until Grandpa could earn enough money to support the family. When my mom was still a young child, my grandfather, a hypochondriac, spent all the family money on fake cures and treatments. He also went to stay in special treatment “spas”, for long periods. During this time, Grandma took in boarders as well as sewing to make ends meet.

At one point she fell in love with a wonderful, socialist teacher who was boarding with her. But she refused to leave grandpa to go with this man. Her marriage to grandpa was adversarial and volatile. They had no interests in common and one was a socialist and the other was a Republican. Not a good relationship. But divorce was not acceptable in those days so grandma stayed.

When all their money ran out, Grandma and Mom had to move in with relatives. They had to go from one relative to another, sharing beds with different family members until Grandpa came back and started to make money again.

Grandma and Grandpa with my mom when she was about two

From that point on, Grandma was financially comfortable but never happy in her marriage. She was a devoted mother and grandmother. Her parents immigrated to America and settled in Stamford, CT. Her father became a respected rabbi and teacher there. Grandma was a devoted daughter as well till her parents’ deaths.

Grandma was also active in pro-Israel organizations and was a founder of the Women’s League For Israel. She was also on the board of many other Jewish charitable organizations.

Grandma was a huge influence in my life. She encouraged me to fight for justice, freedom and equality whenever and however I could. She never lost her passion for liberal causes and passed that on to me. Thank you, Grandma!

MAO, A CAT – Marilyn Armstrong

Jeff and I got Mao as an 8-week-old kitten in the fall of 1965. We had just gotten married the month before, and of course, we had to have a cat right away. Why a Siamese? I don’t know. Karma maybe?

From the very first day, Mao was Master of All He Surveyed. Although I have had many cats through the years, Mao was the first and by far the most utterly unique.

Mao – our cat – Photo (from print) by Ben Taylor — and THANK YOU!

He was very smart for a cat. For instance, when we were out-of-town, we would have someone “house-sit” for us. No matter who that person was, and no matter how much Mao ordinarily liked them, while we were away, Mao would attack him or her (or them) virtually continuously during our absence. He would hide behind the bushes and attack legs as they tried to open the front door. He would wait around the corner and then pounce. He would launch himself from atop the bookcase, landing on a victim’s head, sometimes causing serious damage.

The moment we returned, Mao ceased his attacks and commenced purring. He figured, I believe, that he needed to drive out the interlopers so that we could return. Since we always DID return, his belief was consistently reinforced!

Mao protected us from bed goblins. If you were on Mao’s “family member” list, he would stop by your bedroom every night. You had to lift the covers so he could walk to the foot of the bed and back up. No goblins tonight? Good, I will go now, and he did.

Mao was the only cat I’ve ever known that perpetrated acts of vengeance hours or days after your perceived offense. If, for example, you shooed him off the table during dinner time, he would wait until you were sitting on the potty with your pants around your ankles and could not chase him. Then he would casually bite your shins. Tail held high, he would stroll away.

Mao patrolled the perimeter of the grounds like any good watch cat should. Every day of his life, he performed it, almost as if it were a ceremony. During his closing weeks with us, he began to patrol in the company of a younger feline, Mr. Manx. As if passing the torch to the next generation, he taught Mr. Manx to walk the perimeter, and inspect the beds, which Mr. Manx then did for the rest of his life.

In October 1978, Mao, who had been diagnosed with cancer some months before, disappeared. We never found his body, though we were sure he had gone off to die. For the last couple of weeks before his departure, we had noticed that he felt different. Where his muscles had been hard, they were now soft. He slept most of the day and moved slowly.

It is many years and lifetimes later. Jeff has passed. I live far from that place where Jeff and I and Mao and all the other fur-people lived. But I remember him. We all remember Mao, the most special cat.

Mao, I am sure you were there for Jeff when he came to the Bridge. I’m sure you will be there for me, too. You and all my other furry friends who I loved will be there together.

But you were and will always be, utterly unique and entirely unforgettable.

Marilyn Armstrong’s “Childhood Memories” Featured in Ojo del Lago This Month.

Published! I haven’t been published in a real magazine in years. Golly! THANK YOU JUDY YOU LOVELY LADY! If you need bigger type, you can read the original at: https://teepee12.com/2019/05/20/be-home-before-the-lights-come-on-marilyn-armstrong/

lifelessons - a blog by Judy Dykstra-Brown

Click to enlarge, then click to turn pages. Marilyn’s article is featured in the table of contents and is found on page 42.

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WHEN DO I LOOK LIKE ME? – Marilyn Armstrong

Considering one thing and another, I have always been sure I could not possibly be related to the people who raised me. I suspect everyone, especially as a child, is sure they are a misplaced orphan. Sadly, there was always one problem from which I could never escape.

I look just like them. Both of them. They didn’t look alike, so how could this be?

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Apparently, you change as you age. So you can look exactly like dad when you’re three, but exactly like mom when you’re sixty. Periodically, depending on how the genetic package rolls, you can resemble one or the other — or both  — at any given point in time.

I used to look like my father, but I got older. Now, look like my mother.

I wonder if I’ll ever look like me? Whatever that means.

I know nothing about what brought me into the world any more than I know what will take me out. Probably, that’s just as well. I think I lack curiosity about my fate which others apparently have a strong need to know. I never felt any serious desire to research my ancestry or get my DNA checked. When I did it, it was a fun birthday present for Garry and I.

What was, is. What will be, will occur. I’m not in charge and never was. I am okay enjoying as much of the now as I can while I’m still part of it.

Yet, every now and then, I wonder if it’s possible I was actually put here by a transiting starcraft. An intergalactic seed dropped from the sky that somehow, wound up in this world. In this peculiar place. A bit of pollen falling from a drifting craft on its way to somewhere in an infinite beyond.

It could be true.

SO WHAT IS LYING, REALLY? – Marilyn Armstrong

Fandango’s Provocative Question #12

This week’s provocative question deals with exaggerations, embellishments, and lies.


“How do you feel about people who always seem to exaggerate when relating a story? Do you equate embellishment with lying? As a blogger, when, if ever, is stretching the truth, other than when writing fiction, permissible?”

I think this is a question that has no bearing on writers because you are trying to draw a sharp line between “hard data” and “fiction.”

There is no such line. A myth is a story stretched out and exaggerated. Unless you are writing instruction — like a manual or the results of a scientific study — there’s no line nor ought there be one. Many “fictional books” are essentially true, but to make the story more readable, timelines are compressed and multiple characters are combined into one character.

Fact or fiction? Or maybe fictionalized fact or fact-based fiction?

That’s not lying.

That’s writing. That’s telling a story. That’s creativity. That’s what we are all about. It’s what we do. That’s why there’s no clear line between a “docu-drama” and “realistic fiction.” Why story-telling is an art and not a science.

I’ve written manuals and scientific studies. I did it for money. Those documents are fact-based and of necessity must be, but everything else is a story.

Blogging is what I do for fun. You are welcome to call it whatever you want, as long as I get to write in whatever form I choose. Once you start to define creativity, you effectively make it NOT fun anymore.

By the way … If you have a friend who exaggerates stories in which you were involved? You are welcome to interrupt him or her and add your piece of the adventure. Nobody ever said you have to sit passively by and just listen.

We have a president who lies. He says things are true that are not true and these things are supposedly based on facts. THAT is lying.  But then again, I’m not the one standing in front of the American people promising to make it great again because I don’t know when it stopped being great.

ANGEL’S SONG by Kim Harrison – A CHRISTMAS STORY

Get Your Tissues Handy!
I’ve got a gift from me to you today, written long before I found publication and was raw with the need to reach and connect and short on literary grace. You may have seen this last year, but it still makes me cry, and like the best gifts, please feel free to share it.
However you celebrate the season, we hope you find joy, warmth, and a feeling of completeness.
Holiday wreath
-Kim, Tim, and the boys
Angel’s Song
angel clipart
by
Kim Harrison

Silent night, holy night.
All is calm, all is bright. . . .

Humming, Kaylin held her coat closed against the cold, more from habit than anything else as she dodged through the unseeing, evening shoppers. She was anxious to get home. Her work had seemed to stretch forever today, but finally, The Boss had let her go. She couldn’t wait to see her daughter-it had been too long since the entire family had been together.

Slipping at the bus stop, she grasped the door to the bus, just making it on behind two tired women as the doors closed. The sound of their money jingling into the box chimed like bells, and the bus jerked into motion. Kaylin stood where she was, gripping the ceiling support as the gears shifted. Her gaze rove over the heads, looking for acknowledgment she existed. There, at the back where the heat didn’t reach, was a smiling face and a beckoning hand.

Though she didn’t recognize him, Kaylin went to sit with the old man. She smiled shyly, the anticipation of her coming evening prompting her to be more bold than usual. “I’m going home for Christmas,” she said by way of greeting as she jammed her gloves into a pocket.

“First time?” the old man murmured, his brown eyes going sad in memory.

She nodded. “Since my accident. I can hardly wait to see everyone together.” Kaylin put her hands in her lap, glad she couldn’t feel the cold anymore.

The man met her eyes. “See that boy up there?” he said, pointing with his chin. “I’m spending Christmas with him. He’s a college student on his way home. He needs all the help he can get, and my family doesn’t miss me anymore.”

Kaylin bit her lip and fussed with the hem of her coat’s sleeve, uncomfortable with the idea she would eventually be forgotten. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. Make the most of the time they remember you. As it’s said, it came to pass.”

She didn’t know what to say. “This is my stop,” she said, glancing out the window to the colored lights.

“Best hurry. The door won’t wait for you.”

Giving him a hesitant smile, she hastened to the front, edging to the sidewalk past the three girls giggling about the presents they had gotten for their boyfriends.

Kaylin’s mood went soft as she took in the familiar street gray with twilight. The curb was jammed with cars. A noisy, joyful reunion on her front steps had the dogs barking. Excitement tingling to her toes, Kaylin waited on the walk, following the last of the children inside.

Her shoulders eased as she stood in the entryway, basking in the cheerful clutter and the too-noisy greetings. She waved as she spotted her grandmother in a corner, deep in the thick of it. The old woman’s eyes sparkled as they met hers. Her fingertips again had a rosy glow, and the blue tint Kaylin remembered was gone.

“Jasmine is in the kitchen!” her grandmother called over the noise. “Go on. We’ll talk later.”

Relieved her grandmother understood, Kaylin followed the smell of heated punch into the kitchen. She stopped in the open doorway as her heart clenched.

Jasmine stood on a chair before the counter, stirring a cup of green frosting. “I can’t do it, Daddy,” she complained, her high voice clear over the excited babble of relatives. “It’s too hard.”

Kaylin’s hands reached out, but she stood unmoving, forcing back the unexpected tears as her husband set aside his dishcloth and went to their daughter.

“Mommy always helped me, Daddy,” the child said around a sniff as his hand covered hers atop the spoon and they stirred together. “I want Mommy. I miss her.”

“Hush,” he said, the pain in his voice causing Kaylin’s throat to tighten.
“I miss her too, sweetheart, but look. She’s everywhere, especially tonight.”

Eyes bright, the man pointed to the dusty Christmas candles Kaylin had refused to burn, sitting on the kitchen windowsill. “There are her candles, right where she always put them. And the mistletoe above the doorway? She made that just last year. And the bow? Remember her spending an hour on that to get it to look just like the one in the store window? And you can smell her touch in the gingerbread men and taste it in the fruit punch. She’s everywhere.”

“No, Daddy,” the small girl protested. “It’s not the same. I can’t see her at all.”

“But I can,” he said, giving her a hug. “I can see her in you when you cut out your star cookies, I watched her hand move yours when you hung the ornaments on the tree, and I can see her eyes when I look at you. So, Jasmine, she is here.”

“I can’t see her,” Jasmine said, sniffing as she licked the frosting from a finger.

Kaylin ached. The Boss had warned her it would be hard, and she thought she could handle it. But this? This tore at her. Kaylin came close to stand behind her daughter and nudged a cookie, as if she could make the star any less lopsided. Perhaps . . . .

Perhaps she could pretend.

And so she was a silent participant, each moment harder than the previous, a bittersweet mix of memories. She hovered in the kitchen while dinner was prepared, blowing on the gravy to keep it from boiling over until someone remembered it. She watched the rolls brown through the oven window with Jasmine, admonishing the child they weren’t done yet when Jasmine pronounced them finished. She stood in the archway to the living room and worried about the carpet as paper plates over-flowing with food were balanced on knees. She sat at the kitchen table while the dishes were washed, catching up on the women’s gossip with her fingers curved around a forgotten cup until it was whisked away.

And then it was done. Kaylin knew the signs: the last swallows of coffee, the slowing conversation, the children collapsing in their mother’s arms. Kaylin sighed. She didn’t want it to be over.

Jasmine was slumped in her frills and white stockings in her father’s arms, too sleepy to be anything but content. Kaylin sat on the arm of the couch beside them, running her fingers unfelt over her daughter’s hair. There was one final tradition as yet undone, her most cherished part of the evening, and Kaylin’s heart fell when the first of the coats appeared. They had forgotten.

“Wait, Daddy.” Jasmine stirred as her father rose to say his goodbyes.
“We didn’t sing yet. Mommy always sings. Please?”

Kaylin waited, hoping.

“Of course, Jasmine,” her father said, giving her a hug. “You’re such a clever girl for remembering.”

Coats were dropped to the couch in the sliding sound of nylon. Her grandmother beckoned, and Kaylin joyfully edged closer to the piano. Jasmine wiggled down to sit on the long bench before the battered keys, her father standing behind her with his hands on her shoulders. Kaylin could see a glimmer of tears in her mother’s eyes as she took Kaylin’s usual spot before the piano and began to play.

“Silent night, holy night.
All is calm, all is bright.

Tears pricked at Kaylin’s eyes. Her favorite. Voice quavering, she joined her voice to her family’s.

“Round yon virgin, mother and child.
Holy infant, so tender and mild.”

“Daddy,” Jasmine whispered, her face upturned as she pulled on his sleeve. “I can hear Mommy singing.”

Kaylin’s throat nearly closed, and tears slipped down her cheeks. Angels could sing. And on Christmas Eve, they could be heard by those who listened.

Her husband knelt and gave Jasmine a tight, fierce hug. “So can I, sweetheart,” he whispered, rocking her. “So can I.”

“Sleep in heavenly peace.
Sleep in heavenly peace.”

***************************************************
For You Last Minute Gift Givers,
Kim has your “Perfection” gift card for under the tree and an exclusive one-of-a-kind Rachel Morgan doll designed and created by Kim herself.
Click on either of the links for additional information for each item:
You will need to scroll down the page to view each of these items on Kim’s blog.
   Rachel Doll                                                                            Gift Card
Holiday Hollows
Take time this holiday to read a good book.
Even Santa enjoys a Kim Harrison novel.
Happy Holidays!
Freebies for The Drafter and The Turn are still available in limited quantities. Send a SASE to address below. If you need assistance, Tim can be reached via the email address below.
Tim’s Email Address- coldtoastwritingsllc@comcast.net
Kim Harrison   www.kimharrison.com   P.O. Box 498, Dexter, MI   USA   48130

SHARING MY WORLD – Marilyn Armstrong

ChristmasSYWBanner

What are the most important lessons you’ve learned in life?

Sometimes, I’m wrong. But sometimes, even when I’m right, I should just shut up about it.

How did you meet your husband/wife or significant other? How did you know he/she was “the one”?

I met Garry at the college radio station at Hofstra College (we didn’t become a University until a few years later) in 1963. He was the Program Director and Jeffrey, who I married the following year, was the Station Manager. The two of them were best friends.

Now I’m married to Garry.

I always liked him and I found him VERY attractive. We used to meet for lunch when I worked in Manhattan. He worked at ABC, which was not far. We were friends for a long time … then we were more. Then I divorced Jeffrey and I moved to Israel. Garry wrote me every day for nine years.

We got married when I came back. I still wonder why it took so long, but he says he was married to his career and didn’t have time for a life. I’m not buying it.

If you could take a year-long paid sabbatical, what would you do?

Go someplace warm and friendly. Not hot. With some gentle water nearby. Bermuda, maybe. Or Corsica.

What is your favorite thing to buy at a movie theater concession stand? (credit to The Haunted Wordsmith for this one)

Raisenets. I never buy them anywhere EXCEPT at the movies. They are a guilty treat.

What are some Holiday Traditions you and/or your family observe in December?

We have a little tree we put up. On Christmas day, we are usually alone together and we watch old holiday movies. We used to have dinner with family, but I think this year, it will be just Owen. Our world seems to be shrinking.

Sharing My World

NOW THE DAYS ARE SHORT – Rich Paschall

BUT NOW THE DAYS ARE SHORT, RICH PASCHALL

Photo: Garry Armstrong

When I was seventeen, it was a very good year…

When I turned seventeen, I had finished my Junior year in high school and was looking forward to the Senior year at a new school.  It was a bit scary, I admit.  No one wants to leave his mates behind and start again, but that was my fate, not my choice.

At least the new school was in the neighborhood, and I already knew a few students who were going there.  Although we did not admit at the time, the final year of high school put many new thoughts into our heads.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

You may think sex or sexual orientation, but those thoughts had already arrived years earlier.  All the passing of a few years meant was that these thoughts and curiosities intensified.  As you might imagine, a few of the boys and girls were a little more advanced than the others.  I think that stands out to you a little more at seventeen.

The new school brought new friends, new interests and new teachers.  There were subjects and activities the other school lacked.  The final high school year also proved to be, as I suspect it did for many of my friends, one of the best years of my life.  Some of those friends and those memories stayed with me over the decades.  I had no idea then that it would be the “best of times.”

When I was twenty-one, it was a very good year…

Four years later, brought a similar situation.  It was time to move on to Senior year of university and hopefully finish my degree on time (I didn’t).  It did not hold the lasting thrills of 17, but it did seem in a certain way to represent the transition to adulthood.  In reality, I was no more adult than at 20 or twenty-two.  It was just a symbolic thing.

The “coming of age” also allows you to drink legally, but that did not mean too much. I was days, weeks or months older than the friends I hung around with so it is not like we all headed off to some bar.  Still, the year seemed to hold a certain energy that young adulthood will give you if you let it.

When I was thirty-five, it was a very good year…

I had finally earned my Masters Degree.

It was not about career advancement.  It was about reaching a goal I had set years earlier.  I sometimes studied for the Comprehensive exams with a woman in her 70’s.  She was pretty much doing the same thing, reaching for a past dream.

I could tell her of the courses I had and of books I read, and she pushed me to study things I was certain would never be on the Masters’ exam again.  She was right about the exam questions and perhaps the reason we both marched up to receive our diplomas on the same day.

It felt like I had hit my stride at 35, although I can not really point to other reasons why.  If you have good friends, good times, and a reason for doing things, all seems right with the world.

Well, almost all seemed right.  I did not find the one right person to share my very good years.  Honestly, I can not say I looked all that hard.  I guess I was having too good of a time.

But now the days are short, I’m in the autumn of the year…

One thing that you become acutely aware of as you get older is that the days are short.  They don’t seem to last as long as the days of youth, you don’t seem to get as much done and you certainly don’t feel thirty-five.  You realize, no matter how desperately you try to suppress the thought, that the days are indeed numbered.

Even if you are optimistically believing that there are, let’s say, thirty-five years left, you know none will be like the year you were thirty-five.

With any luck at all, some will still be very good years.

If your life is like a fine wine, there will be many years which are a fine vintage.  Wine aficionados will refer to this as a “very good year.”  I hope to still have them.  None are 17 or 21 or 35, nor will they be again.  With any luck at all, however, I will be able to drink in the rest and enjoy them as if I were sitting in a vineyard in France with one of my best friends while we recall our great adventures together.

And I think of my life as vintage wine
From fine old kegs,
From the brim to the dregs,
It poured sweet and clear.
It was a very good year.

Although many had recorded this song, it won the Grammy Award for Best Vocal Performance, Male, in 1966 for Frank Sinatra.

It Was A Very Good Year, by Ervin Drake, 1961, lyrics © SONGWRITERS GUILD OF AMERICA OBO LINDABET MUSIC INC

REMEMBERING THE FAR AWAY #WRITEPHOTO … Marilyn Armstrong

Thursday photo prompt: Faraway #writephoto

Long ago in a land far away …

I remember.

You could stand in the cove and feel the sands move out from underneath your feet. You could walk a little and feel the brush of underwater grasses against your ankles and see the tiny baby fish, schools of them looking for a tiny something to nibble.

It was warm there. Especially in the morning, when all you could see were the fishermen going out in little boats. Sometimes, they would come back with a lobster, smile at you. Then they would toss you the lobster. Just because they were happy and you were smiling.

The thing about that world was people were nice for no reason at all. They would give you things because you were there, the sun was shining, and the sea was warm. We didn’t need to talk, though we did urgently needed to dance.

Oh, how we danced. Steel drums beating so loudly in a cement basement, steamy in the heat of September on a Caribbean night. I’d like to go back now, even without the dancing. Just for the peace of that place — far away and long ago.

HOW A FORTUNE TELLER RUINED MY GRANDFATHER’S LIFE – BY ELLIN CURLEY

My father was a scientist and a very rational man. He didn’t believe in religion or have any superstitions, except one. He told me to never, ever go to a fortune-teller. He had a logical reason. HIS father had told him an eerie story about HIS experience with a fortune-teller, which had haunted him throughout his life.

My grandfather, on a lark, when he still lived in Russia, went to a gypsy fortune-teller in a nearby gypsy camp. He was given a long, detailed story about his future life. Most of the story seemed outrageous, if not impossible at the time. He forgot about the incident. Until, to his dismay, the predictions started to come true, one at a time. I don’t remember all the details but here are a few.

The gypsy told my grandfather that he would serve in the army. At the time in Russia, only first-born sons were conscripted into the army. My grandfather was the third son, so this would never happen. Except that his oldest brother shot off his toes to avoid military service. Then the second oldest brother died suddenly and young. So it fell to my grandfather to take up arms. Just like the gypsy told him. What are the odds?

My father’s father

Next, the gypsy told my grandfather that he would take a long journey involving a boat. He had no intention of ever leaving Russia. Until he couldn’t make a good living as a tailor when he finished his military service. Then he decided to come to America – a very long journey, part of it by sea.

The personal details the gypsy told him were the creepiest part of the story. The gypsy told him that he would marry a young woman who would bear him seven children, including a set of twins, but only two of the children would survive. Believe it or not, my grandmother had exactly seven pregnancies, including a set of twins. The oldest and the youngest, my Dad, were the only ones to survive infancy.

By now my grandfather was freaking out! The next prediction by the gypsy was that his wife would die young and leave him to take care of two children on his own. She died of tuberculosis when my Dad was three. The gypsy said that my grandfather would struggle for a few years but would eventually marry a strong woman who would be a good mother to his children. This happened exactly as predicted. His children, aged three and eleven, were latch-key kids until he met his second wife who, my father always said, ‘rescued’ them.

The rest of my grandfather’s life also played out pretty much as the gypsy had told him. He started making a good living. (He was the first to bring the pleated skirt to America). He lived comfortably until his death as an old man for the day – he was in his 70’s.

The story doesn’t end there. My father understood his father’s aversion to clairvoyants. But as a young man, he fell madly in love with a woman who was ‘beyond his reach’. He was a poor, Jewish medical student and she was a proper WASP who wanted a comfortable and respectable life. He was not in a position to give this to her.

My Dad as a young man

My Dad was so smitten, that he took a year off from medical school to pursue the woman full-time! During this period, he came across a fortune-teller. He couldn’t resist finding out if he would ‘get the girl’ in the end. The gypsy told him that the woman would never marry him. She said that the woman would string him along but eventually would marry a man from Chicago who was ‘like a locomotive’. Dad remembers this phrase because it was an unusual way to describe someone.

As predicted, again, despite a long courtship, his paramour eventually sent him a letter breaking off the relationship. She said that she had found a well established, well-off man and was moving to Chicago to marry him. She described him as strong and commanding, ‘like a locomotive!’

Unbelievable! My father had no rational explanation for any of this.

Neither do I.

CHANGING THE PAST – BY ELLIN CURLEY

This blog was the first blog I wrote and published on Serendipity in November of 2015. I have written a large number of blogs since then, many of them recounting personal stories from my own life as well as the lives of my family members.

Rereading it in January of 2018, I realize that it is a fitting epilogue to the Family History in Blogs that I have set out to write. It brings my story full circle. It expresses where I am after having spent so much time delving into my own life and the lives of other loved ones.


Folder for my Family History In Blogs

Here is the editorial conclusion to my opus of family lore and expression of family love:

 I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of time travel. I’m particularly fond of the fantasy of going back in time, knowing what you know now, and changing some pivotal moment in your past. I used to wish fervently for this fantasy to become a reality so I could undo some of my Top 10 “mistakes” and bad judgment calls. Many of those involved my first husband – like deciding to marry him and deciding, multiple times, to stay with him rather than leave.

Time machine, from “The Time Machine”

I’m a logical person, so the problem with this fantasy is that I have to be willing to accept all the drastic changes in my time line that would naturally flow from my new and improved choices.

The major change that comes to mind, if I didn’t marry my ex at all, is that I would no longer have my children. I can’t imagine life without them, so, scratch that option. If I had left him after I’d had my kids, my life still would have changed so dramatically the odds of my meeting my current husband are essentially nil.

I’m not prepared to give him up. He’s the best piece of luck I’ve ever had and the best decision I’ve ever made.

Family portrait from 1993

This means that I have reached a point in my life that I never thought I’d get to. I’m at peace with my whole life, knowing that all the crap I went through led me to where I am now. It also made me into who I am now.

My husband and I often discuss the fact that without the angst in both of our pasts we might not have appreciated each other when we did meet. And we’re pretty sure that we would not have gotten along well if we had, somehow, met when we were both young.

Tom and me last year

The result of all this philosophizing is that I don’t wish my past away anymore. I wish it had been easier and had left fewer scars, but I’m totally content with where I am now. So if I had to pay a high price to get to this place, so be it. It was worth it.

AMEN!

LOVE IN INTENSIVE CARE – Ellin Curley

On February 11, 1972, my 88-year-old grandfather was hit by a truck crossing a street in New York City. His left side was smashed and a broken rib punctured his lung. Within 24 hours he was in a coma. My mother, grandmother and I camped out in the waiting room of the I.C.U at Roosevelt Hospital in Manhattan.

My grandfather

Another family was also spending most of its time in the same waiting room – the Palmers, father mother and younger son, who had Tourette’s Syndrome. Their older son, Jeffrey, 18, had been hit by a car. He was a Julliard student training to become a concert pianist. His pelvis was broken and his leg was fractured in several places. He was also in a coma.

Our two families got very friendly over the next few weeks. My grandfather was declared brain-dead. Jeffrey regained consciousness but was in traction and had a cast up to his thigh. I started visiting him and hanging out in his room.

It’s hard to describe what life is like when you’re living it in a hospital. Your day revolves around doctor’s visits and reports. Every little change in the patient becomes major news. And now we were monitoring two patients, Grandpa and Jeffrey. It is all-encompassing and totally consuming.

Me, my mom and my grandmother

Me, my mother and my grandmother

The good news was that Jeffrey and I hit it off. He was smart and funny and we had a great time talking. He was a bright spot for me at a horribly depressing time. My grandfather was gone but still alive. Our family was in a horrifying limbo. We tried to talk the hospital into letting us disconnect my grandfather from life support.

Jeffrey left the hospital after about four weeks. I stayed in touch with him and his family, who lived on Long Island.

The hospital finally disconnected my grandfather from all life support – and he survived on his own. Everything had healed and he was breathing on his own! The stress caused my mom to go into heart failure. She was hospitalized for a few days in a different hospital.

After six weeks (and withholding of food and water), my grandfather finally died on March 26, 1972. My mother recovered. Shortly after, Jeffrey moved into the city and went back to school, still in a huge cast and on crutches. We began dating.

I was 22 and taking time off before going to law school. When I wasn’t with Jeffrey, I spent most of my time helping my mother sort out my grandfather’s finances. He had left his estate in total chaos. It took at least a year to track down all his assets and get my grandmother settled financially.

Jeffrey and me

Jeffrey and I were together and very much in love for a year and a half. His family loved me and I loved them. I went on a vacation with his whole family to Bermuda. Jeffrey spent time with me and my family at our summer-house in Connecticut. It was a good and happy relationship.

I don’t remember exactly why we broke up. Jeffrey had decided to quit Julliard and was starting college at N.Y.U as a pre-med student. I was leaving soon to go to law school in Washington D.C. The age difference was an issue. But I think the breakup had more to do with Jeffrey’s new found infatuation with Scientology.

We met under strange and dark circumstances. But I have only fond memories of Jeffrey. He got me through a very tough time in my life and he was my first real love. Everyone should have such a wonderful experience with their first love. I was very lucky! And how we met makes such a great story!

THE BIRTHDAY GIRL – GARRY ARMSTRONG

I write a lot of pieces about celebrities I’ve met in my professional life. They are fun to remember and share. Sometimes it feels like name dropping or playing a broken record if the story is written too frequently. Friends and acquaintances assure me there’s an audience for these stories and I should continue to share the memories.

Today’s piece is about the most important person in my life.  We’ve been friends for more than half a century.  We’ve been married for 28 years.  We share some of the most bizarre stories you’re likely to hear.

By the Mumford – Photo: Garry Armstrong

You know her well.  My Wife, Marilyn.  She is, among other things, the SERENDIPITY lady. Today is Marilyn’s birthday. I hope many of Marilyn’s SERENDIPITY friends, mates and fellow bloggers are celebrating her day.  She has opened windows on the world for countless people around the world with her pieces.

Marilyn writes voraciously, about all things great and small. Marilyn is passionate about our world and those who live on our planet. I sometimes fear that Marilyn’s passion for making things right will make her head explode.  She’s always been that way since we first met as college kids and were bent on changing the world.  That world, the 60’s and all its turbulence, needed change. Decades later, I’m not sure if we’ve left any imprints on our journey through life. The one constant in our lives is Marilyn’s determination to “out” the idiots, pretenders and felons of all persuasion who strive to pollute our quality of life.

It’s a tall order. Perhaps a mission impossible. But Marilyn is driven to make our collective lives better.  Her sword is the pen, her computer keyboard. I watch her work relentlessly, every day, morning through night, her face focused on subject matter of yet another blog.  Marilyn never seems to tire even when her body is sending obvious signals to slow down.  I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut. Marilyn doesn’t suffer fools. Yes, she’s been my rock for all these years.  Go figure.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Marilyn always makes sure that the birthdays of family and friends are remembered, celebrated in some way. Not the easy “Hallmark” way that takes little effort or imagination.  Marilyn is always thoughtful.  It’s a quality that I’ve found very unique in my professional and personal life.

Our celebration of Marilyn’s birthday pales in comparison with how mine is recognized.  Hopefully, we’ll go out for dinner and Marilyn won’t have to cook yet another dinner.  Her birthday card hasn’t arrived.  Thanks very much, U.S. Postal Service.  No, I haven’t forgotten! I know Marilyn is disappointed.  We DID have a visit from her son Owen and his friend, Dave, who have been the bright lights on Marilyn’s day. They brought a basket of Shrimp, realizing we don’t eat cake or sweets in our golden years.  I think their visit lifted Marilyn’s spirits. I’m grateful.

I’m beyond grateful to have Marilyn in my life. I leave a lot to be desired as the spouse who is admired by the public which only knows his media image. Marilyn has worked hard to make our marriage succeed when I’ve been engulfed in my own selfish pursuits.

I think we were lucky to find each other again after having gone down different roads for many years.

I can easily say the 28 years of marriage have been the best years of my life.

Happy Birthday, Mi Amor.

SLAUGHTER AT FURRY TOY PASS – MARILYN & GARRY ARMSTRONG

A cautionary tale for lovers of stuffed, furry toys
– and dawgz!


 Story by Garry Armstrong

Photography by Marilyn Armstrong


No one wants to talk about that dreadful, dark day in history. It was a day of senseless violence — as opposed to those many other more sensible violent periods. The massacre was perpetrated on an innocent, unsuspecting civilian population. The blemish on our national reverence for furry creatures with embedded squeakers can never be erased.

Squirrel was the first -- but hardly the last -- casualty.

Squirrel was the first — but hardly the last — casualty.

We treasure stories about children playing with teddy bears. We sing lullabies about cuddly, soft animals who live in the sense memories of our innocent kid years.

We should have seen it coming

We should have seen it coming

But, now there’s a darker, more murky chapter. It’s about our Scotties, Bonnie and Gibbs. A bloody chapter about the ambush at Furry Toys Pass!!

There’s no forgetting the innocence of the furry victims. Mr. Rabbit, the Hedge Hog brothers. Cousin Squirrel, and Yellow Beaky Kid. They lived their lives in quiet solitude, in a hidden valley that promised safety from marauding Scotties.

Bonnie has broken through! Security breached! Alarms sounding!

Bonnie has broken through! Security breached! Alarms sounding!

Security was heightened as new members joined the furry family.  But the Scotties had a mole who leaked information to them about what should have been The Safe House. Danger was near. No one fully appreciated the depth of the Wrath of the Scotties.

With fang and claw, Gibbs is first to attack!

With fang and claw, Gibbs is first to attack!

Deception was a key part to Bonnie and Gibbs game plan. They appeared quiet and serene, maybe nothing but biscuits on their mind. We were lulled into a false sense of security. The Furry Kids were left alone and vulnerable in the pass that led to a box canyon and the badlands.

it's a trap, a trick, a feint!

it’s a trap, a trick, a feint!

In a flash, Bonnie and Gibbs made their move!! We couldn’t believe what happened. Mr. Squirrel!! The Hedge Hogs, The Soggy Doggy and Yellow Beaky Kid — all snatched in cruel jaws before we could move to save them. We couldn’t keep up with Bonnie and Gibbs as they swooped in for their prey.

Back up troops were too far away. Bonnie and Gibbs had taken over Furry Toys Pass!!

We’re now waiting for a dispatch from Reuters to see if  Bonnie and Gibbs will consider a diplomatic trade-off for the lives of their furry hostages. The Scotties are adamant in their demands. They want a huge payoff. BIG biscuits, none of those wimpy, small brittle things that melt in their paws.

Garry tried negotiations, but the Scottish Terrorists remain obdurate!

Garry tried negotiations, but the Scottish Terrorists remain obdurate!

We’re not sure if we can save the furry kids from prison time. Too many treaties have been broken, too many treats consumed. Too many casualties with holes in their furry bodies, squeakers mashed to groans. Too much hours spent stitching and mending. Too many colors of thread needed — and too many needles.

The Old Man was right about those Scotties. They are bad.

Bad to the Bone!!


A final note: With the addition of Duke the Dogge, crazed killer from east of Uxbridge, all that remains are carcasses. Yesterday, new carcasses arrived as well as three new squeaky balls and a dozen low-bounce tennis balls. The bodies of the soon to be demolished are hanging on the door of the microwave. Their days are coming.

YIDDISH: THE LANGUAGE I WISH I’D LEARNED – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I grew up in a bilingual household. Everyone spoke both English and Yiddish. Both my parents and both my grandparents. It was spoken all the time in my home.

My grandfather actually spoke and read four languages, Russian, Yiddish, Hebrew and English. My grandmother spoke Russian and Yiddish in addition to English but not Hebrew.

My dad spoke German, Yiddish, some French and English. He had a knack for languages. At one point in his life he got into studying ancient cultures. He decided to learn the dead language Sanskrit, so he could read some ancient texts in the original. This is one of the things that most impressed me about my dad. His boundless curiosity, his drive and his perseverance. How many people would actually do that? How many people would even want to.

As an aside. In the 1930’s, my father didn’t like the way the wood floors were laid when he was building his house in Connecticut. They were laid with pegs, not nails, an old-fashioned technique. So he learned how to correctly lay the floor boards and redid it himself.

Anyway, my mom just spoke English and Yiddish, but a lot of conversations between the ‘grown ups’ in my family, were conducted in Yiddish. Unfortunately, no one tried to help me learn the language. In fact, they used it primarily to talk ‘over my head’ about things they didn’t want me to know about.

Me and my parents when I was about 8 years old

Early on I figured out when they were talking about my bedtime. One of the only phrases I learned in Yiddish is “I don’t want to go to bed”. It’s a pity that I never learned to speak a language that I heard every day growing up.

For years I didn’t even realize that Yiddish was a separate language. I was often confused about which words were English and which were Yiddish. For example, there is a large, spurting fountain or aerator near my house in Connecticut. My grandfather always referred to it as the “Shpritz vasser” or spraying water in Yiddish. I thought that was its English name and was surprised when no one knew what I was talking about when I used the phrase.

The Yiddish newspaper my grandfather always read

My mother always used the Yiddish word for tush or butt, “tuchas.” Again, I thought this was an American word and I used it all the time. My friends thought I was crazy.

I thought they were ignorant.

Yiddish is not a very useful language to know these days, but I think it would have been wonderful to have grown up speaking it, like everyone else in my family. It might even have helped me master other languages at school.

I took French through junior high and high school and I loved it. But I was better at reading than speaking. This is common because of the way languages are taught in America. I spent time in France as an adult and got a little better at speaking and understanding the language. But I could never really carry on an intelligent conversation.

I always regretted not being fluent in at least one other language. I’m surprised that my family didn’t want to pass down the tradition of speaking Yiddish. But they obviously didn’t care. That’s really a shame – for me.

MY MOTHER, THE PARTY PLANNER – BY ELLIN CURLEY

In the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s in New York City, social life revolved around the dinner party. Anywhere from six to twelve people would gather at someone’s home for drinks, appetizers and a sit down dinner. This was in addition to the once or twice a year that you would give a large party, with waiters, bar tenders and a buffet dinner.

Over the years your friends got to know each other. And you got to meet new people when you went to your friends’ dinner parties. Some of these people ended up as regulars at your own parties.

My mother loved giving parties. She did it well and often. Our home was beautiful and beautifully maintained – by the housekeepers. My mother didn’t do cleaning. Or cooking. Her elaborate and delicious meals were made by the cooks she always had during those years. (Not uncommon for professionals in the city in that era).

Mom’s NY dining room set up for a buffet party

However my mom did do all of the menu planning. She spent lots of time reading recipes in magazines and clipping them out. She turned them into a giant cookbook that filled several loose leaf notebooks. I still have them in my basement. I could never part with them.

My dad and I had a great time taste testing new recipes all the time. And I don’t mean meatloaf and brownies. Mom used recipes from American, French, Italian and Asian cuisine. There was also a smattering of Austrian and Eastern European when we had cooks from those areas. The dishes would be considered high-end or gourmet by today’s standards, though some were homier than others (a favorite was home cooked fried chicken, for example).

The desserts were to die for. My father was very thin, so my mother was always trying to fatten him up. She was always trying to entice him with amazing desserts – all kinds of cakes, pies, trifles, custards and puddings, you name it. Dad never gained weight, but we did. I ended up on a diet for most of my late teenage years living at home.

I had a friend who used to joke that at most people’s homes you got Twinkies for dessert, but at Ellin’s house, you got Oeufs A La Neige or Floating Island. That was my favorite dessert as a child.

Oeufs A La Neige, or Floating Island Dessert

My mother planned her parties meticulously. From the guest list and seating arrangements to the menu, from the place settings, the crystal and good china, to the dinner table centerpiece. Fresh flowers always decorated the rest of the house as well.

For summer parties at the CT house, Mom and I filled the house with flowers from our garden, including a big fancy centerpiece for the dining room table. Every week during the summer, company or not, we always did vases and vases of flowers for the house, just for us. These were simpler and less numerous. Those long hours arranging flowers with my mom are some of my favorite memories. My grandmother would often come in to talk with us while we worked. It was a wonderful time.

Summer meant flowers to me. I loved floral arranging so much, I actually got a part-time job in a florist shop for a short while in 2002. I also went on a dried flower binge and filled my entire house with dried flower arrangements of all kinds, in all kinds of exotic containers.

I was involved in every aspect of party planning from the time I was nine or ten years old. I was also allowed to sit with the guests before and after dinner. As a teenager, I usually joined the adults at the table as well. My parents’ friends adored me. I got to know many of them very well and I grew up with them as a part of my life from early childhood, on.

As an only child, I was very comfortable with adults. And I was always respected by them. My opinion was elicited from early on, at least on topics that I could understand and comment on at my current age level. I also knew when to be quiet and just listen.

Mom’s CT dining room

My parents were well-educated, intellectual, New York City professionals. So the conversations were always exciting, animated, interesting and fun. There were always lots of loud disagreements, but never any hostility. I learned to debate someone with differing views in a civil manner.

When I was a young wife and mother in NYC in the mid 1970’s – 1980’s, I followed in my mother’s party planning footsteps. I gave regular dinner parties for four to six guests. However, I had to do all the work MYSELF, including the cooking. I’ll never forget how proud I was to cook my first dinner party for my parents and some of their friends. It wasn’t as fancy or elegant as my mom’s, but I did it all on my own!

My first real dining room in NYC as a young lawyer

What I didn’t realize was that the times were changing and social life was different than in my mother’s heyday. I had party after party and rarely got invited back to anyone’s home for dinner. The trend now was for two couples to get together by going out to dinner at a restaurant. So people would invite us out to dinner with them, but not to their homes.

It was years before I gave up the ghost and stopped slaving over dinner parties, even after I had children. I eventually gave into the ‘let’s go out to dinner’ tradition. I don’t miss the hard work that went into planning formal parties. But there was an excitement and an element of creativity involved in the process that I do miss.

I still have people over for dinner. But it’s usually one or two couples and we usually grill or order pizza. I sometimes miss the good old ‘party’ days – but not enough to go back.