Sunday, February 28, 2016

"Then Came Tom," in HOME IS WHERE...

         In March 1964, a local girl, Margie, asked me to go on a blind date with her boyfriend’s brother, Tom, who would drive. The brothers were from Brooklyn and came up every week-end, from March to September. Every week Margie would have to find Tom a date. I said that I didn't know but I'd let her know tomorrow, and the next day I said, ”Alright, but just this once.”

         So on April 11, 1964, Tom and I had the blind date. I was only 15, but when I came home after midnight on the 12th, I was 16. This same Tom has been my husband now since August 15, 1964, after four months of dating. It has been 50 years of marriage as of this year,  a wonderful marriage to my best friend, companion, and care-giver.

         When I was dating Tom for the four months before we got married, he would come up from Brooklyn on Saturday morning, and he and his family would stay at their country home. He would come to pick me up, and we would spend the day together and go to the movies at night. Sunday was church and afterwards a ride and then they would go back to Brooklyn. During the week, Margie and I would go to the post office to get our letters and then over to Watt’s drugstore for a Maybrook special, a sundae for $.25, and then we would go back home.

                 It was a very long week before I saw Tom again. One Saturday when he came to get me, Mommy had the day off. She came over to the car, opened the back door, and put Nancy in, saying, "Oh, I'm sure it's all right if she goes."

                 What was Tom supposed to say?

                 We talk often of the Saturday night he came to pick me up for our first blind date. There we were: me, Mom, Grandma, Daddy, and Nancy. I wonder what he was thinking.

         I know it was a big shock to many when we said we wanted to get married, but we were dead sure this was what we wanted.

         Finally, my mother and father said okay, and we were married on August 15, 1964. Afterward, we moved to Brooklyn to live in an apartment next door to his mom and dad. We had a five-room apartment for $35 a month, but I was scared to death of the neighborhood, and we moved back to Maybrook in February. Someday I would like to see again that street and apartment where we started our married life.

              Before I met Tom, his mom, his brother and he used to shop at Chaffee's. Doreen worked there, but not I, and his mom was trying to fix Tom and Doreen up for a date. It didn't happen, but she got another Blake girl for the family anyway.

              My dad liked Tom a lot. I believe he thought he had finally gotten his boy, a son. Tom would help him do things around the house and take him places. Dad used to collect scrap metal and take it to Newburgh for his “mad money.”

              Tom, Mom, and Dad loved Grandma Blake. Tom’s dad used to listen to stories she would tell. He really enjoyed them. He called her "Ma Blake."

              In February 2011, after being sick with I-didn't-know-what, and having gone to three different doctors, I had a lung biopsy and was told that I had a terminal lung disease, pulmonary fibrosis, a death sentence within three to five years. Dad said (I call my husband "Dad"), “Oh, hell no, you are not going anywhere.”

              I had been going to this doctor for two and three-quarter years but switched to one closer; on my first visit, she told me I didn't have pulmonary fibrosis, and that it doesn't have to be a death sentence, anyway.

              My husband has been my support and cheerleader. Thank you, God, for this blind date!


              We are serializing Kathleen Blake Shields's upbeat book, Home is Where the Story Begins: Memoir of a Happy Childhood, available in paperback from its publisher, Outskirts Press, and from online booksellers such as and I am proud to have coached Kathy and edited for her.

              My writing-coaching-editing site is

Saturday, February 20, 2016

"Romances" in Memoir HOME IS WHERE...

                 There was an automotive body shop next door, and every day, Mr. Forman would come there in his Jeep truck with his son Howard, who was my age, 11 or 12. Howard drove the Jeep by himself down to the red house, around it, and back to the garage, and back and forth all morning. We would sit on the hill and watch, and I was hoping he would notice me. He was so cute! He did invite me to go ice skating, and I was thrilled. I was certain we would marry, but, no, that never happened.

                 Next on my romance list came Wayne Schoonmaker, another love interest. He went to the same church as my best friend, so after I went to my church, I would go across to the Baptist Church and again tried to get Wayne to notice me. The best I did was to go with him to a basketball game, and that was it. Before these two boys was a boy, Leon Gillespie, who was in the kindergarten class with me. We were boyfriend and girlfriend until he moved, in fourth grade. I went to their house for a couple of days over Christmas in 1960, and we drifted apart soon after. I am still good friends with his mother, Lillian, and I talk on the phone twice a week with her.

                 Wayne became a minister, and Howard stayed in the area where he grew up. I don't know if they ever knew how much in love with I was with the three of them. Each one was the love of my life at that time, and of course each was destined to be my future husband.

         Growing up we had no set rules. We knew what we could do and not do. Nancy and I never had to be told to go to bed. We were like Dad, early to bed and early to rise. After we were 12 years old, we could stay up till 9 o'clock if we wanted. We could date at age 13, and after we turned 15, we could stay out until 1 a.m.

         The man who owned Chaffee's market opened a drive-in movie theater in the early 1960s. Once a week, he had a special: for one dollar, a whole car load. Doreen and her friends would pile as many kids as possible in the car---and even in the trunk. Nancy and I once went to the drive-in with Uncle Connie to see Psycho. This was one night Grandma sat on the end of our beds all night, because we were scared to death.

                 I would write on my books "Mrs. Howard Forman or "Mrs. Leon Gillespie" or "Mrs. Wayne Schoonmaker." Marriage never came close to happening until 1962, when I met Kenny. The following year, junior year for him and Doreen, he wrote in her yearbook, "Doreen, my future sister-in-law." I was over-the-moon when I read this. I was certain this was a sure thing, and after my graduation I would then become Mrs. Kendall Willis Garrett. Very classy name, right?

         We met this way: I had to go to the office to file a report. This was the eighth grade, and at this same time on my way to my bus a boy put a note in my hand, asking me to go to the movies. Of course, I said yes. He was in the 10th grade with Doreen, and his name was Kendall Willis Garrett (Kenny).

         When I went to high school, I found two new friends, Donna and Terry. Two years later, I was dating Kenny and found out that Donna and he were cousins.

         My bus got to the school before Kenny's bus. I would wait for his bus, and if he wasn't on it, it was a sad day, because his phone number was a long-distance one, so I couldn't call him. I'd wait for him the next day. He would get off the bus, grab my books, and walk me to my first class and be at every other one.

         Those two summer vacations, 1962 and 1963, were long. I'd see Kenny every Friday night for the movies, and if there were a party or dance, and sometimes he would hitch-hike over on Sundays. Nancy would sneak a peek and then tell Mommy, "They're kissing!"

         Kenny and I would take a walk so we could hide from Nancy. When we did that, she never found us.

         Doreen and I both went to the 1963 Junior Prom. My boyfriend, Kenny, was in Doreen’s class of 1964, too, Doreen and I went dress and shoe shopping together and had our hair done at Fred and George's, off Broadway in Newburgh. Firm.  We could've come out in a tornado and not a hair would have moved out of place. This was the “in place” to be seen, and the one place you wanted to say did your hair.

         Thus progressed a 20-month romance: movies, dances, parties, Christmas, Valentine’s day, birthdays, until December 1963, just before Christmas, when we went to a dance. This was our big date. He could drive. Our last dance that night was to Steve Lawrence’s “Go Away, Little Girl.“

         Little did this “little girl” know what was in store for her. Before I got home, we parked, and he told me he was breaking up with me, but he also told me not to date anyone else because he might be back. No, he didn't come back. The next day, I cried. Nancy knew I was upset, too,  and she told Grandma how sad I was.

         After the Christmas holiday, we went back to school, and as I sat in class, in came Kenny, walking one of my girlfriends to class. This broke my heart, my first real heart-break. It took me several months to get over this.


        We are serializing the book recently published by Kathleen Blake Shields through Outskirts Press, Home Is Where the Story Begins: Memoir of a Happy Childhood. It is available in paperback from OP and from online booksellers like and I am proud to have been Kathy's coach and editor for the book. My coaching-writing-editing site is

Saturday, February 13, 2016

"Holidays," in Memoir HOME IS WHERE...

         Christmas was also a pretty exciting time at school as well as at home. In elementary school we helped decorate the classroom. We made paper chains and ornaments for the tree, painted holiday figures on the windows, too. We also made presents for our moms and dads and had to buy a present for the teacher. This was usually a pin, a scarf, or handkerchiefs.

         The next class holiday was Valentine's Day. We decorated, too, and gave all our classmates cards, and then we waited to see who we got cards from, looking to see if that Special Someone had given us one with candies with sayings on them.

         Easter we made baskets to take home for the Easter Bunny to fill.

         Thanksgiving we made turkeys.

         I think I liked Valentine's Day the best.

         In June, on the last day of school, we gave the teacher a goodbye gift. This was a little sad because this was always your favorite teacher of all.

                For Halloween we would plan our costumes weeks in advance and plan where we would trick-or-treat.  We knew where the best candy came from and where the apples and pennies were given, and we would add up how many houses we had been to and how much time we had left that night and where we would go.

                We would travel as a group every year. One Halloween when my children were small, nine and seven, I had one of my migraine headaches, so my cousin Pam, who had children also, offered to take my two with her. I was ever so grateful for this, and we still are close, even after all these years.

               Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's Day, even Valentine’s Day, when we passed cards to all our classmates, are vivid memories. We enjoyed Easter for the Easter baskets and later on for the Easter clothes and the church services, with the church decorated with beautiful flowers. My mother's favorite flower was the hyacinth. I still think of her when I smell one.

               A snow day wasn't a real holiday, but we thought it was. No school.  One winter we had a huge storm and school was closed for three days. We were out at the first sunlight, sleigh riding, building snow forts, making snow angels, and of course having snowball fights.

               We would sleigh ride on our hill in the yard or we’d go across the street, where there were two really big hills, and a bunch of kids would be there. It was a day-long event, and we would be soaked when we came home. Grandma would make us change our clothes, and she would put them on the radiator to dry.

               The next day the kids would head to the pond to skate, but not me. I was scared to death the ice would crack. One time I went with Dad up to the woods, to cut down some trees for firewood. He pulled me on the sled and said he’d go around the pond instead of across, but---no---he didn’t. He went right across the pond, and he was running, and I was screaming. We made it. Dad said he was sorry, that he just wanted to show me that it was alright.

               New Year's Eves, Aunt Toddy and Uncle Bill came by, and sometimes Aunt Jo and Uncle Connie, and of course Grandma Inky would come, and she would reign over the special New Year's dinner that every year was the same. We looked forward to the dinner, and probably to the company as well.

               One visit, on Easter, we had a blizzard. They had brought our cousin Conrad with them, and that didn't happen too often. They got stuck at our house for three days. He wasn't too happy about this. On another trip poor Uncle Connie got an ear infection and he couldn't drive for a week. They were stuck: Aunt Jo had never learned to drive.

                When they came up in the summer, we always had a picnic: hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken. There's a movie that Uncle Connie took, as he always had the movie camera with him: in the movie, Mommy is putting steaks on the grill. Whenever we viewed the film, we always laughed, claiming the steaks were only for the film and then put back in the freezer.

                Speaking of meat and the freezer, Mommy would over-buy meat for the freezer since she worked in the meat department, but she never rotated the other meats from the back to the front, so Vivian's big dogs would get all the freezer-burned meat, and Daddy would get so mad, telling Mom she was not saving any money if she was throwing the meat away.


                 We are serializing here the upbeat memoir by Kathleen Blake Shields, Home is Where the Story Begins: Memoir of a Happy Childhood, published last fall by Outskirts Press and available from OP and on-line booksellers like and in ebook and paperback format.        
                I am proud to have coached and edited for Kathy. My site is