Sunday, March 27, 2016


         When our mother got her license and car, we would go for a ride on the back roads, and she would show us where her relatives lived. She would say, "Just once more, before I die, I would love to go up that hill again."

         By 1964, Mom had gotten a brand-new Ford Galaxy, white and red inside, her third car. Her first was in 1959, a white Ford Fairlane, and her second, in 1962, was a new Studebaker, but we only had this one about a year because it was a real lemon. My father always wanted everything to be made in the USA. If he got anything made in Japan, he wouldn't keep it, so he was a die-hard Ford man. I think this was because of serving in the Army during the Second World War.

         Speaking of cars, Daddy liked to tell the story about how he and a group of friends were driving in Newburgh. They must have been drinking, because they were pulled over and asked who was driving the car. My father answered, "No one, officer, we were all in the back seat." He got a bigger laugh each time retold the story.

         Mom had a brother who lived with his family on Berea Road in Walden, on the Siegman Farm. We would drive there occasionally. There was an Uncle Gene, Grandpa Blake's brother; he lived at our house awhile, and after he passed away, Grandma swore she would see him coming from his bedroom in a long nightshirt. That bedroom became the bathroom later on.

         In town every summer, there was the Italian feast, a fair for three days put on by the Catholic Church. There were games, rides, and lots of food. It was a highlight of every summer.

         Also, every year for a while, the circus train on its way to New York would stop in Maybrook, down from the drugstore. We would get a half-day off from school for this; there were clowns, elephants, and many workers that would be walking in town: including the tall man, the bearded lady, and more, a real treat for all of us.

         We were raised Catholic, baptized as a trio when we were two, four, and six. We have the same godfather and godmother, Uncle Dori and Aunt Ruth. We all got a necklace and a stuffed clown, about two feet high, with a plastic face. This clown frightened me and changed my opinion of clowns forever after.

         When we had no car, it meant walking to church every Sunday morning in all kinds of weather, with a dime in hand for the collection basket, and after church we went on to Sunday School.

                    We went to church every Sunday, but we had others who came much less often.  We called some of them "C and E Catholics," as they were Christmas and Easter churchgoers.

         These were two special times, Midnight Mass Christmas Eve and Easter. Every Easter much thought went into our outfits. As we got into our teens, we got to pick them out: suits or new coats, hats, shoes, bags, what collar, long coat, short coat.

         Easter morning, off we went proudly and eager to see what everyone wore. The line to the altar to take Communion was like a fashion runway. You went a little more slowly, walked a little taller, and in your head you thought: I know I look the best. Thinking about it now, we don't know how our parents got us all that we had. They both worked, but I know it must have cost plenty.


        We are serializing Kathleen Blake Shields's delightful memoir about growing up in tiny Maybrook, NY, in the 1950s and 1960s, published last fall by Outskirts Press and available from OP as well as from online booksellers like and

        I am proud to have been Kathy's coach and editor for her book. Please visit my site, Free ebook offer there, too.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

"My Cooking," from HOME IS WHERE...

         MY COOKING
                  Daddy would have popcorn in a bag on Friday nights. We couldn't have it when we sisters were young, because Grandma said we couldn't digest it. On Saturday mornings, we would take what was left in the bag and go outside by the outhouse and make a small fire and cook the popcorn until it got burned. It was so good. We couldn't have soda either until we got older. Grandma also said oranges give you nightmares. I don't know if this is true, but every time I eat one, I think about this.

         As I mentioned before, our menus hardly ever changed nor did the food that came in the house, but some time around 1962 a home-made pizza kit in a box came on the market. I guess Mommy bought it for us. Now the problem was: who was going to make it? We would argue or pull straws---the shortest was the loser, and for some reason, I always lost.

         Doreen made a chocolate cake one time that you could ball up and bounce a piece of it off the floor; it was pretty funny.  Nancy and I would make ourselves things to eat when we were alone: TV dinners, grilled cheese, spaghetti. We were pretty good cooks, and as we got older, we took over the cooking from Grandma and Dad, just during the week.

         I think my domestic experiences were why I was okay when I married at 16: I pretty much knew how to do everything–cooking, the wash, cleaning, and bed-making.

                   I remember that when I got married one of the first things I cooked for us was spaghetti as I usually made it. I put it on the table, and my new husband said, "What's this, soup?" I was hurt.

                 The next thing was chicken, stuffed and roasted. He said, "I hate chicken." I knew I had to learn cooking all over again. It took me a while to learn his likes and dislikes. I think after 50 years I have made it.

                  When I get up North to my daughter’s, home my grandsons have things they want me to make for them: spaghetti and meatballs, sloppy Joe's, macaroni salad, baked beans, potato salad, ravioli, and steak ‘ums. Of course, I enjoy every part of this. I get to make things my husband doesn't eat and things from yesteryear.

                   When I want special memories, all it takes is the smell of a Christmas tree outside the local store or seeing some dyed Easter eggs or the aroma of an old family recipe cooked up. One such recipe is soup, Mom’s soup: soup meat bones, vegetables cooked all day, served with rice noodles or Klukski, a kind of Polish dumpling. I still fix this for myself today, as do Doreen and Nancy.


         We are serializing Kathleen Blake Shields's recently published book, Home Is Where the Story Begins: Memoir of a Happy Childhood, available through on-line booksellers such as and and from its publisher, Outskirts Press.

         I am proud to have coached Kathy and edited her charming memoir.

         My writing - coaching - editing site is Please visit.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

"Dinners," from HOME IS WHERE...

         We had pizza every Wednesday night and popcorn on Fridays, with something special on Saturday; soda was a once-a-week treat. Thursday was shopping night, and we couldn’t wait to dive in. Not like today, where you go to the store every other day, Mom and Dad went once a week, with milk and bread bought during the week if needed.
After shopping, Dad would put the grocery bags on the table and say, “Go ahead. Eat it up, but there’s no more till next week,“ and then he’d laugh.

         Mommy was the holiday and Sunday cook.

         Thanksgiving was a huge feast, always with company, and Mom and Dad would start cooking and preparing after breakfast. We always had the same menu, items from her childhood: mushrooms, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, peas, rolls, special stuffing, cranberry sauce, and gravy. Once in a while Aunt Toddy would make Grandma oyster dressing and a mincemeat pie.

         Christmas was always ham, potatoes, brown cabbage, and some peas and carrots.

         Mommy was Polish, so New Year's was a Polish meal: spare pig's feet and sauerkraut, with a big fresh ham with crackly skin that we would fight over.

         Easter was also ham, brown cabbage, sour beans, mashed potatoes. Also, we would color at least four dozen eggs. Daddy loved eating his hard-boiled eggs with horse radish.

         We had the same menu every week, specific dishes on specific days. Until I left home, each week was the same. Now that I'm a mom with a family, I see this wasn't such a bad idea. Easy shopping, and we always knew what was on the table. We had our regular seats at the table from tots to teens. Everything was always the same: our favorite plates and silverware were always used at every meal. I guess we were compulsive, OCD, but we didn't know it.

         Sunday dinners were a big deal because Mommy worked six days a week. She would fix roasted chicken or roast beef, stew roasted pork or once in a while make a big pot of home-made soup. This we all loved. I now make this myself, and the taste takes me back home.

         Daddy was in charge of the Monday-through-Saturday meals: they were always the same from when I could remember until I got married: Monday we had left-overs; Tuesday, spaghetti; Wednesday, pork chops; Thursday, steak or hamburger; Friday, fish; and Saturday, hot dogs and beans. Sunday lunch was kielbasa.

         Grandma did the cooking during the week until her eyesight got bad and then Dad took over. Daddy would tease Mommy about having hot soup on the hottest summer day or about her gravy and those potatoes on the grill, which she would burn.

         When our Grandma Inky would visit, she would do some cooking, too. She made hamburgers in a bacon gravy. I make these still. Grandma Inky came to the United States with her sister and their husbands in the early 1900s. They moved to College Point, New York.

         It seems that nowadays Sunday dinners and even some holiday dinners have gone by the wayside. We always ate at 5 p.m. every day and on the holidays, like clockwork, always the same time.


    Home Is Where the Story Begins: Memoir of a Happy Childhood was published last fall by Outskirts Press and is available from OP and and and other online booksellers. I am proud to have coached Kathleen Blake Shields and edited her upbeat book of growing up in a small town in New York in the 1950s and '60s.

    Visit my writing-coaching-editing site,

Sunday, March 6, 2016

"Our Wedding," from HOME IS WHERE....

        About our wedding, briefly:  We had a small church wedding and a reception in the yard, planned and put together in just two weeks. It was very nice, with lots of friends and relatives and the local rock band, “The Sound Senders,” which had all the girls hanging around them. One of Tom's relatives spiked the punch, and---after many visits to the punch bowl---Doreen fell right over. Dad, who had started drinking beer from the keg even before the church service, made it to around 4 p.m. and was put to bed and slept, waking around 7 p.m., only to find everyone was gone and the party was over. He was none too happy. He never let anyone forget it.

         When I started to date Tom, my curfew time was raised to from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. We always made the deadline. When we came home, we would sit in the car and say goodbye. A couple of times we caught Doreen watching us. One night after the movies, we sat under the hickory nut tree, and there was Doreen…looking out her bedroom window.

         I'm an early riser and an early-to-bed person, the same way I have always been. As young children we had our signals which meant it was bedtime. The one I remember most was Sunday nights: the last show of the night was The Roy Rogers Show. The theme song was, "Happy Trails to You," and when that started to play at the end of the show, Daddy would get up and say, "Happy trails to you," and off we went.

         When we had company for a visit or for an over-night stay, we hated to go to bed. We always thought we were missing something or maybe there were some snacks we weren't included in on, and we would sneak a peek on the way to the bathroom.

         When Tom and I decided to get married, we ordered our invitations. They came and were made out and were on the hall table to be mailed. Doreen and I got into a fight. I don't remember why, but she picked the invitations up and threw them all over the hall, and then we got into a knock-down, drag-out fight. It was the last big fight we ever had.


        We are serializing Kathleen Blake Shields's recently published book, Home is Where the Story Begins: Memoir of a Happy Childhood, published by Outskirts Press and available from OP and on-line booksellers like and

        I am proud to have coached Kathy and edited this charming book. My web site is