Monday, December 28, 2015

"Other Friends," from HOME IS WHERE...

         In the summer, Nancy and I would go to the Y. M. C. A. playground each day; there were crafts, pet shows, and swimming trips. We loved it, and we were there each day all summer, as were other kids.

         We also played with the kids across the street; there was Roseanne, daughter of Mary and Sam DelSanto; Linda and brother Paul; Mary and Sam's eldest daughter. We were together a lot: sledding, ice skating, playing dolls’ games, and just going hiking in the woods.  We had much land to play on, both at home and across the street; behind Linda's  home there was a big field with a pond known as “Blake's Pond” and woods; we played there many times.

         We would call each other at Christmas, asking, "What did you get?" and then we would go to see each other's stuff.

         One summer, Roseanne got a horse, and right afterwards so did Linda; Linda’s horse was Bucky and Roseanne's was Champ. Everyone rode the horses but me. I was scared to death; one day unknown to me, Roseanne, Linda, Nancy, and Doreen hatched a plan to get me on that horse; so, over they came with Champ and Bucky.

         They said, "Get on Bucky, and he'll follow Champ. We’ll go slow."

         I did, and once, twice around the house, the horses went until the third time; then someone hit Bucky with a stick, and off we went through a clothes line, until I fell off with a rope burn around my neck, torn lip and gums, and Nancy screaming, "She's dead! She's dead!"

         No one has ever confessed to the crime.

         That was the end of the pranks; however, we did talk Roseanne into jumping off the garage roof using an umbrella as a parachute. All she got was a sprained wrist. We are all still friends to this day.

         Mary, Roseanne's mom, was Italian, as was her father. Mary always had a huge pot of home-made sauce on the stove. Mary also made home-made pizza, and this was our first taste of pizza until a couple from New Jersey bought the bar next door to us. Before they purchased the Rainbow Bar, a friend of Mom and Dad, Curly, owned it, and Dad had beaten the path through the side yard to the Rainbow. He would go over once or twice a week for a beer. Sometimes, Nancy and I would go over to the bar when Dad was there and get an orange soda, a special treat.

         This friend of our parents, Curly, also decided to open a barbershop next to the Rainbow Bar. He had never owned one before. For whatever reason, Mom decided Nancy and I were going to be the first customers. He gave us short haircuts and bangs that were way too short. He wasn't in the barber business long.

         There was another family, the Babbitts, with whom we also became friends. They lived across the street from us for two years.

         I had a girlfriend in sixth grade, Paula Miller, who lived down the street with her brother and mom. We were always together and stayed over at each other's house often. They moved away about one year later, and we never heard from her again.

         One of my constant girlfriends was Gail Evans, from third grade up to the present. She had a brother, Jeff, and they lived in the village of Campbell Hall. Her dad also worked on the railroad, as did both her grandfathers. I would go to Gail's house to stay over, and she would stay at ours. I was scared to death of her father. He was over 6 feet tall and hardly ever talked.

         Gail would love to come to our house because we could do anything and we had snacks. Not at her house: there were only three meals and no snacks. Her dad built this big pool, dug in the ground, in his backyard, done by hand. It was 3 feet to 12 feet deep and filled by a stream. It was huge, and we would go swimming there often. Gail is married to a doctor and lives in Virginia now.

         When I started Valley Central High School, I had two friends, and we were always together: Donna Irving and Terry Nusspickle, both from Walden. As it turned out, my first serious boyfriend was Donna's cousin, Kenny.

         My favorite time is when I go back home from South Carolina and we get together for dining out. We have many laughs and share great memories. Roseanne still lives in her childhood home with her husband. Her sister, Margie, lives up the hill with her husband, Calvin; everyone else has since moved away.

         Whenever I visit up North, we go through Maybrook, but it's not the same. Once in a while you'll see a familiar face or two walking in town or at the local grocery stores. Sometimes you'll hear, “Oh! You are one of the Blake girls." This is how we were known, "the three Blake girls."


We are serializing Kathleen Blake Shields's book, HOME IS WHERE THE STORY BEGINS: Memoir of a Happy Childhood, published this fall by Outskirts Press and available from OP as well as from other on-line booksellers like and I am proud to have coached Kathy and edited her book. 

You are invited to see my site

Sunday, December 20, 2015

More Friends, from HOME IS WHERE..

              Pam was in my grade at school and a real tomboy. She hated school, and the first day of kindergarten, she climbed out of the bathroom window and went home. By the time she was 10, she had broken her collarbone a few times, had broken her arm and had gotten many bumps from falling out of trees.

              Pam and we were always in trouble of some sort. Her mom was a little mean, so when she came home from work, we would hightail it for home before she found out what we had been up to. One day we put socks on and sprinkled powder all over the wood floors to polish them. Betty, the mom, came home early before we could clean it up. She wasn't too happy with us.

              One summer we had a big family reunion at Pam's. Everyone chipped in to cover the cost. It was great. We saw a lot of relatives and had a great time, much fun, clams to eat and more, games to play, and just talking. I was 12 years old, and that was the last of the big get-togethers of that size. I long for the old days when we were all home, and I miss the smells and excitement of the holidays. We’d play Gene Autry’s “Rudolph,” Burl Ives’s “The Chipmunks,” “Frosty, the Snowman,” and each day we got closer to Christmas. We had our friends over. We all talked about what gifts we hoped would be under the Christmas tree.

         I had a school friend, Diana, and I was at her house one day when someone came by on a horse. She asked for a ride, and got on and fell right off. She got a concussion and was in bed the whole summer. I would go up and keep her company a few days a week.

         One summer Diana had a slumber party in the house for about eight girls. There was a separate apartment, with bedroom, living room, kitchen, and bathroom. Her mom cooked homemade pizza. It was great fun. She also had a dog that had two different color eyes, and she had a big yard with grape vines. Diana loved to come to our house, too. She thought that Daddy was so funny. He liked all the kids that came over, and he was nice to every one.

         I've often spoken of friendships through years, 
especially in the old times. After Tom and I married, I started 
to work, first, like all of us, at Chaffee's, where there were 
already three of us–mother, my husband (part-time), and 

         Linda even met her husband there, one of the greatest and funniest guys you would ever meet, someone who would give you his last dollar or the shirt off his back, another person who left us too soon; his name was Jack, and he called everyone "Cool Breeze."

         Jack is dearly missed. When they found out that he had cancer and had not much time left, Linda’s dad, Calvin, and her mom, Margie, stayed with them. Calvin cared for Jack night and day. They were not just friends, but father-in-law and son-in-law sharing a relationship of great warmth and depth.

         After working at Chaffee's, I then went to work for 
Lloyd’s, in Middletown; the store was reopening after a fire. I 
got a job there in Men’s Wear and met a lifetime friend, 
Joy. We're still sisters / friends.

         We laugh over some of our antics: one was that Joy 
had come home with me, when Tom worked second shift, so we decided to paint the downstairs hall floor and the stairs and the upstairs hall floor, and then we went to 
watch television and wait for the floor to dry; only one problem: we forgot to bring the dogs with us, so a few minutes later we heard the two little guys running in the hall and up the stairs---leaving behind many little paw prints. Needless to say, Tom had to do it all over again, so every time he heard that Joy was coming home with me he would say, “Don't do anything. No painting!" We never did it again. We learned our lesson, but we still have a good laugh over it.

         Tom called us “Lucy and Ethel," after the funny wives on the I Love Lucy  TV show. Joy and I are still good friends, talking on the phone a few times a week and remembering our times at Lloyd’s and much more.

         Another life-long friend is the mother of my first boyfriend, Leon. He was my boyfriend from kindergarten until around fifth grade when they moved. After this we kind of lost touch. Later on, Leon's mother moved, remarried, and started a new family. In 1975 she came back to Maybrook. With her came three daughters. I had not seen her in around 14 years. She was planning on staying in Maybrook, but things didn't turn out that way, so she went back to Texas. Next, she moved to Maine, we reconnected, and we have kept in touch. Before she and I each moved another time, I made three trips to Maine.

         She says that moving to St. Louis with her eldest daughter and her husband was the biggest mistake she ever made. She has her U.F.O. writings to keep her busy, but she is isolated there, dependent on them to take her everywhere, something she didn't need in Maine, where she could walk to the post office, the library, and the store. She is forever telling me if I find myself in this position never to do what she did.

         I tell her not to worry: up North one time, my 
grandsons asked me if anything happened to Grandpa 
would I move in downstairs in my own place. I answered 
that I would only do it if I had an escape tunnel. I told 
them, “I love you all, but no way can two women share the 
same space.” We both have our little silly things we do. 


We are serializing Kathleen Blake Shields's new book, HOME IS WHERE THE STORY BEGINS: Memoir of a Happy Childhood, published by Outskirts Press this fall and available from OP as well as and and other on-line booksellers. I am proud to have coached Kathy and edited her book.

My web site is Take a look if you'd like help getting your book finished and published.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Aunts, Uncles, Cousins, from HOME IS WHERE...

         Daddy’s sister, whom we called “Aunt Toddy,” and her husband, Uncle Bill, were our favorites. They would come to the house a few times during the week, and on weekends they would take us for a ride up to the mountains for a swim and picnic, also sometimes take us out for a pizza or a milkshake. This was great because until 1961 we had no car, but I'll get into that more later.

         Aunt Toddy and Uncle Bill would come often for dinner on Sundays, as well as for Thanksgiving or Easter. We loved them both. When I married my husband, and we moved next door to them, my son and daughter got to know and love them as I did. We still talk fondly of them with their son, Norman. We have many great memories.

         Aunt Toddy would tell us stories about going to dances and about the girl who wanted to borrow her gloves. This was a girl from, as they say, the other side of the tracks, and Grandma said to Aunt Toddy, “If she wears your gloves, people will talk about you, too.”

         Sometimes, we would go to Aunt Toddy for lunch. It was always baloney sandwiches and chocolate milk. Aunt Toddy would be there if we didn't feel well. In that case, she would make us soup, tea, or anything we wanted. She was comforting, just like Grandma. She made you feel good.

         Uncle Bill worked on the wrecker and at times would be gone for days. Many townsmen were on the crew, and they would talk about the overtime they would get.

         Daddy had a brother, Uncle Wes, who had two older daughters, and once or twice a year, he would bring us boxes of hand-me-downs. We were excited to go through these boxes, grabbing what we wanted. Uncle Wes worked on the railroad, down the hill from our house, with Dad, as did his brothers: Dori, Ed, and Uncle Bill. Many of the townsmen did also. The town fire horn went off Monday through Friday at 4 p.m., letting everyone know they were coming home as well as any time there was a big wreck.

         Grandma Blake told us that when we were babies, the family rooster would sit next to the stroller, and no one could even get next to that stroller. Uncle Wes would come up at lunchtime to see Grandma and to try to take a peek in the carriage. No way! He was chased off by the rooster.

         On a trip to Newburgh shopping one day, with Aunt Ruth and our cousin Susan, we all drank from a public water fountain. Susan ended up with polio and was sick for a long while.

         We had another cousin, Skipper, a lovely boy. Grandma Blake loved him a lot. One Saturday, as she always did, she went up to Aunt Toddy’s for the day. I went in the afternoon, and around 5 p.m., Skipper came to show Grandma his new car, a red and white Plymouth. He had just gotten his license and was so proud. He gave us a ride home. Early the next morning, someone came to tell Grandma and us Skipper had been killed the night before in a bad wreck. Skipper and another boy had been drag racing, and Skipper hit a tree. He and his passenger were killed.

         Grandma screamed, "Oh, Lord! Not Skipper." We had never seen her cry before. I believe that shattered her to the core. Skipper had been so excited and full of life and so happy with his new car and his license. The only thing we were thankful for was that Skipper and Norman, Aunt Toddy’s son and Skipper’s cousin and best friend, were not together in the car, as they almost always were. I don't think Grandma would have gotten over losing both Skipper and Norman.

         The day of the funeral, we had no school because everyone went. It was so sad, with many tears.

         Skipper was one of our many cousins. There was also Norman, older than us and so handsome that he really didn't pay much attention to us. Aunt Madie, one of Dad’s sisters, had three boys: Dale, Craig, and Terry; they lived in Grahamville and didn't come down much, except for Christmas and Grandma's birthday. Uncle Wes had two girls, Pat and Cheree, and they were the ones we got hand-me-downs from. Mommy only had one nephew, from her sister, Aunt Jo, and Uncle Connie. This was Conrad, Grandma Inky's golden boy; he and Doreen got along great, and she would spend the summer out at their summer home in South Beach, Long Island, with Grandma Inky. Uncle Connie and Aunt Jo would stay in the city where they worked, and come to Long Island on weekends.

         Conrad was a lady-killer, and he knew it. Doreen loved those summers. When Conrad joined the Navy, Doreen went with Aunt Jo and Uncle Connie to Chicago to his graduation.

         I guess it was because Dad married late in his 30s and had his first child when he was almost 40, that all of our cousins were much older than we, and some even had their own children. One example of this is our cousins Pam and Corrine and their brother, Skipper. Their mother was our cousin, but it was that threesome who were our age. 


         We are serializing the memoir by Kathleen Blake Shields, Home is Where the Story Begins: Memoir of a Happy Childhood. It was published this fall by Outskirts Press and is available from OP and on-line booksellers like and It centers on three Blake sisters, growing up in tiny Maybrook, NY, in the 1950s and 1960s. 
       I'm proud to have coached Kathy and edited her book.  See also my

Thank You, Angela Mullings, Nurse, RIP

                                       14 December 2015
Our Dear Angela,

This is a thank-you letter from the Cooper family.

When we hired you in February 2010, I knew we made the right decision. The Dominican Sisters had closed not long before, leaving you without that job. Your resume was impressive, its testimonials glowing. When I checked your most recent references, one said “Great!” and the other “Wonderful!” We soon realized how right they were. You proved to be exceptionally competent, diligent, and compassionate. By mid-year, you had gone from doing a shift every other weekend to being half-time.

During your years with us, each of the Coopers said, “I love Angela.” My mother, my sister, my wife, and I…it was unanimous. My mother would comment on how caring and gentle and cheerful you were. My sister appreciated the many kindnesses you showed her. My dearest Tina, your “Sweetie Pie,” expressed her love and appreciation over and over again, and so have I, for your professional skills and personal behavior.

We had that original opening in 2010 because several of our nurses would not get the H1N1 flu vaccination, which we required. Typical of your willingness to put your patients first, you saw the importance of getting that shot and the subsequent flu shots, even though they entailed some risk and discomfort at times.

In my mind’s eye, I picture you as you were one afternoon, holding my dear, quadriplegic Tina’s deformed hand, as the two of you watched television together. You were only one of two of our nearly fifty nurses during these past eleven years I saw do that. Touchingly sweet.

I am sorry this has been such a difficult year for you. We have missed you greatly, but that pales in comparison with the battle you have been waging against cancer. As I said to you a week or so ago, this has been a bit like a long-distance run, a marathon of sorts. You were a long-distance runner in school, and this year you have been going all-out to beat this illness. That finish line is close, too close, but it is hidden in a mist, a fog, and you are still bravely running this race until you reach that line. You have our cheers, and our love, as you continue on, as long as you can, dear Angela.

When our own races are done, we hope to join you in Heaven.

With our love,

Doug and Tina Cooper


26 December 2015

Angela was receiving hospice care at her home. A wonderful woman, she got excellent care from her husband, Peter. She died this morning at 2 a.m., after her difficult struggle with cancer. Her family deserves our prayers. 

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Writing to Sell Something

In trying to write persuasive pieces, including certain blog entries, you can benefit from the expertise of professional writers of traditional sales letters, pros like Michael Masterson, whose recent The Architecture of Persuasion: How to Write Well-Constructed Sales Letters forms the basis of my article this month. The linkage between conventional sales letters and effective blogs became quite evident to me, although Masterson does not claim it himself.

And that’s not all! Even if you never write a sales letter or a blog piece, you will come away from my article more aware of the techniques being used to influence you.

Masterson distinguishes five elements in conventional sales letters:
   1.   The Envelope Teaser
   2.   The Headline
   3.   The Lead Copy
   4.   The Sales Argument
   5.   The Closing Copy

The Envelope Teaser
Most advertising mail envelopes have more than just their return addresses on their envelopes. Guideposts magazine recently sent me an appeal to donate a gift subscription to a member of the armed forces or a veteran. The outside of the envelope had this teaser, “Last Chance to Show Your Support.” Until I opened the envelope, I did not know whether I was contributing to the magazine by re-subscribing or by giving a donation or, as is the case, by buying a subscription for someone else. Curiosity, and being in the process of writing this, got me to open the envelope, the primary goal of the envelope teaser. The secondary goal is to put me in a frame of mind conducive to what will be requested. It worked pretty well on me. When teasers are compared in “split tests,” the good ones must do better than a blank envelope, both in probability of being opened and eventual fraction of successful sales obtained.

         In calling a reader’s attention to a blog or other web site, the link, the URL, can be chosen to perform much the same as the envelope teaser. Often, one can superimpose a set of words other than the actual URL onto the link, such as “click here” or “register for this training now,” achieving the same effect as would the envelope teaser if this had been a direct-mail sales letter. My writer-coaching site,, has as its URL a simple sales message, “write your book with me.” What it lacks in pizzazz, it makes up for in clarity…I hope.

The Headline

         You open the envelope, or you click on the link, and at the top of the page you see a headline. The best of these restate the teaser with a bit of extra selling. The Guideposts letter had two headlines, “Guideposts. Military Subscription Program” at the top of the page, with a detachable order form, and “Last Chance to Help! U.S. Armed Forces Gift” below that headline. This makes clear who the “support” will aid. On the page that remains after detaching the form, there was an additional headline, ‘A WORD ABOUT OUR TROOPS.” Below the heading is a letter asking for gift a subscription(s) donation.

         Masterson recommends that the headline resemble the teaser, but not necessarily repeating it. The landing page for my own web site just repeated “Write Your Book with Me” and adds “Professional Writing Coach.” Uninspired, this needed work! How about “become an authority” or “get something off your chest without losing your shirt”?

The Lead Copy

         The lead is the copy that comes right after the headline, though not all of the copy. It is distinguished from the sales argument and the closing copy, discussed later.

         Masterson analyzes the elements of the sales letter using Purpose, Problem, and Possibility. The purpose of the teaser and the headline is to get the reader to open the envelope and read what is inside with an attitude that is favorable to what is to come, “confirm her hope that this letter is about something important and exciting---bring her to the point where she is thinking, ‘This is really good! I’m really glad I’m reading this,’” a tall order for what is often derided as “junk mail,” but experts like Masterson get rich writing missives that do exactly this.

         The lead copy makes the emotional case for the sale. It appeals to the desires of the reader. This is the 20% of the letter [or commercial blog post] that achieves 80% of the effectiveness of the communication. It will make some claims. It may promise something, but what follows must keep that promise. Masterson says the lead is the continuation of seduction, often carried out subtly, almost by indirection. Recall that Shakespeare argued that one sometimes should “by indirections find directions out,” come at a truth obliquely. You’ll display your product’s charms without asking for the sale. Afterward, you’ll make your head-on approach in the sales argument.

         At, I initially had only a relatively weak statement of the value of writing a book. Having read and digested Masterson’s advice, I beefed this up substantially, without quite claiming I could make my clients rich and famous.

The Sales Argument

         Here’s where you engage your reader’s rationality. Benefits are shown. Claims supported. Questions asked and answered. Objections overcome. Proof offered. You can take your time here and be complete. Keep it interesting, make the purchase seem like the smart thing to do. Facts, figures, testimonials, analogies, arguments, all have value here. The trick, Masterson tells us, is to make the argument convincing while “keeping alive the strong feeling created in the lead.” He advises us to “repeat the big promise a dozen different ways…an artfully sequenced arrangement of promises, claims, and proof. Interlaced between these elements are stories, secrets, testimonials and statements….”

         Don’t brag. Don’t be too pushy. Think win/win and fostering a long-term relationship. You are working toward KLT, Know-Like-Trust. Each of you may want to do more business with the other in the future.

         A good product (or service) makes the sales pitch much easier, especially a product that has a USP, a Unique Selling Proposition.

         Essentially, your sales pitch is making one or more promises, and your sales argument is getting your reader to believe you will do what you say.

         Masterson gives this guidance for how much proof you need: a claim or two for every promise and a proof or two for every claim. While you are at it, mix these within the text rather than just plowing doggedly ahead.

The Closing Copy

         You are almost done, but you have to come right out and ask for the sale.

         Before you do so, however, you may want to add one more benefit, “…and that’s not all!” Surprise and delight the customer with this, if you can.

         When you ask for the sale, you will have to give the particulars, especially the price and any other significant terms of sale. Make it as easy as you can to purchase, and put the price into a “frame” that shows it to be small compared with the benefits or with the alternatives. Keep your tone consistent with the earlier portions of your letter [or sales blog].

         Finally, place a premium on the customer’s responding NOW, giving a reason not to delay.

Masterson uses seduction as an extended metaphor in this book. I’ll quote English poet Andrew Marvell, who urged in “To His Coy Mistress” [1680]:

Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness, Lady, were no crime.
We would sit down and think which way
To walk and pass our long love’s day….

For, Lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.

But at my back I always hear
Time’s winged chariot hurrying near….

The grave’s a fine and private place,
But none, I think, do there embrace….

         In other words, your closing should get your customer to Do It Now.


Dr. Cooper (, a retired scientist, is now an author, editor, and writing coach. His first book, Ting and I: A Memoir of Love, Courage and Devotion, was published by Outskirts Press in 2011. Also available from OP and online booksellers, like, are two memoirs he co-authored: The Shield of Gold and Kidnapped Twice; three memoirs he edited: High Shoes and Bloomers, But…at What Cost, and Home is Where the Story Begins; and most recently a book he co-authored, Solved! Curing Your Medical Insurance Problems. On Twitter, he is @douglaswcooper. His writing, editing, coaching site is

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Relatives, in HOME IS WHERE...


         Grandma Inky lived with her daughter, Aunt Jo, and her husband, Uncle Connie.  Aunt Jo worked for a cosmetics company, and she brought us many samples, which we loved.  Uncle Connie worked for Edo, a factory where they made airplane parts.

         Uncle Connie always had a movie camera and took many films. I was able to get only three from their son. They are great to watch; I wish there were more.

         Other exciting days at home were when Aunt Jo (Mom’s sister), Uncle Connie, and Grandma Inky came from College Point for the week-end. We would get up at dawn and start to do various chores. They would arrive about 3 p.m. on Saturday and stay until Sunday afternoon. In summer, there would be a picnic, and in other seasons there would be big Sunday dinners.

         The house they lived in at College Point, NY, was a two-family home; Aunt Jo and Uncle Connie and their son, Conrad, lived downstairs. Grandma Inky and Grandpa lived upstairs.

         Uncle Connie built a summer home out on Sound Beach, Long Island. We went there a few times. We would go swimming in the Sound and sometimes use his boat. Once, we went clamming. I remember that the bathroom was outside, and we would often stub our toes. Silly, the things we remember. I remember not only stubbing my toes, but also the long stairs down to the beach and the blueberry bushes by the house in Sound Beach.


         Mom’s brother, our Uncle Eddie, and Aunt Lorraine lived in Brownsville, TX. He worked at a shrimp factory. She was a former model, a Lauren Bacall look-alike, and became a housewife. She was great at sewing, and she made clothes for us and also clothes for our dolls. They regretted that they were never able to have children.

         Uncle Eddie only came to visit us once, in the late 1960s, but in 1955, when I was seven and Doreen was nine, we went, alone, on our own, to Texas from June to August. It was our first time on a plane, and it took eight hours. While there, we went to Mexico, the beach, and to an amusement park. We loved it but were glad to get home. I'm sure sister Nancy was very lonely without us and happy to see us return. Doreen went back there the next year, but I backed out. Doreen made that second trip in 1956, but they could not get me to go on the plane. I'm certain that was okay with Doreen. Now Doreen was the Queen.

         After we had left Texas for home, I never saw Uncle Eddie until 1982, when he came to New York for a visit. Aunt Lorraine didn't come with him, so I never saw her again. After returning home from his visit in 1982, he soon passed away from kidney disease.

              Aunt Lorraine would make us doll clothes and send them to us for Christmas. We loved getting the clothes for our new dolls. Aunt Lorraine was a great seamstress and made us a few outfits to wear when we were in Texas.

              Every Christmas, Uncle Eddie would send Mommy an alligator pocketbook with the gator’s small head in the front; it was creepy.

              Recall that Grandma Inky went to Texas when we were there. Well, this nephew was her baby boy, and she wanted to do everything for him, and she didn't get along with Aunt Lorraine. One Sunday before church, Aunt Lorraine started a Sunday dinner pot roast. We left for church, Doreen, Aunt Lorraine, and I, and when we came home, the pot roast was gone and something else was on the stove.

              Aunt Lorraine asked, “Where’s my pot roast?”

              Grandma Inky replied, “Oh, Eddie didn’t want that. He wanted me to cook something special.”

              Oh, boy, a big fight took place that day, but that was what Grandma Inky loved to do, cause trouble of any kind. I have told you of the dislike she had towards me. Later on as we got older, we learned that Mom was treated the same way by her while growing up. Mom told us she wasn't planned for, wasn’t wanted, and she was always told this. I believe this is why Mommy wasn't warm and cuddly with us. I don't think she knew how.                            ### 
            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 other on-line booksellers. I am proud to have coached Kathy and edited this uplifting story of her young life in the 1950s and 1960s in tiny Maybook, NY.
             My web site is You are invited.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Sister Nancy, HOME IS WHERE...

         Nancy, my younger sister, was my constant playmate and roommate until 1963, when I got my own room. We were always together; we got our new bikes at the same time, for our birthdays. I was 12 and Nancy was 10; my bike was red; hers, green. We put a lot of miles on those bikes: uptown, down to the candy store, over to our Cousin Pam‘s, up to the post office, on to Chaffee’s, Watt’s Drugstore for ice cream, or to the Y.M.C. A. for ice cream or candy.

         Nancy and I would sometimes go, to the house we called “The Red House,” next to our yard. It was empty for years. We would go exploring and scaring each other for fun. I guess it was a rooming house for the railroad years ago.

         We would go looking for hickory nuts or berries, and across the street we would look for arrowheads. By the stream, there was watercress that we would pick and take home. Some days, we would be gone all day. There were times when we would pack a lunch, go across the street, up the hill, and sit on the moss; after we ate, we would lie in the sun and watch the cars go by.

         Growing up, we had a toy box in the kitchen. We had Tinker Toys, Pick-up Sticks, little Pocket Books. We also had a  tin doll house, with plastic furniture, Old Maid cards, checkers, roller skates, but mostly we stayed outside, looking for stuff to do, such as tag, kickball, hide-and-seek, dodge ball. There were always things to do inside, also.

         Mommy and Daddy had a cabinet filled with old records. We would look through them and pick out a few to listen to; there were Bing Crosby, the Andrews Sisters, Glenn Miller, Harry James, and Perry Como. Many years later, Mommy started our own record collection off by bringing home Bill Haley and His Comets’  “Rock Around the Clock,” and then came Frankie Avalon, Fabian, Connie Frances, and many, many more. We would turn the record player on in the living room and play them.

      Nancy and I would play upstairs with the wind-up Victrola and we would also roll each other down to the railroad in a wrecked baby stroller. We played out in the chicken coop. There were not many chickens. Grandma would go out to the coop, and we would have chicken for supper. We just didn't see the deed, thank God. Nancy and I would explore out in the shed: old tools, the horse sleigh, a grinder to sharpen tools. A lot of these things Grandma ended up donating to Museum Village.

         Our friends Roseanne and Linda loved to come over. They adored Daddy. A few years later, Linda’s mom, Marge, had a late-in-life baby. I think it was 1963. The baby loved Daddy, too, and when they brought the baby over, he would carry her around. She called Dad “Ernie.” When she married many years later, that was the name of the man she married.

         Nancy and I loved Capt. Kangaroo; every morning at 8 a.m. we would sit in front of the TV. On “crafts day,” we would wait to hear what he was going to make and what we would need in order to make the same thing, for one example: crayons, colored paper, scissors, okay so far, and then he said “a shoe box;" well, that ended that. We only got two pairs of shoes a year when we were young and had no extra shoe boxes. That took care of crafts that day and Capt. Kangaroo; we were off to do something else. 

         Nancy and I would watch television on Saturday, the usual fare: cartoons Fury, Flicka, Sky King, and The Dead-End Kids in the afternoon. We had living room furniture that had wooden arms. We would each take an arm, and use it as a horse for Fury and as an airplane seat for Sky King. We had good imaginations and fun at any time. You could hide in many places in the house: upstairs there was a closet and inside, in the back of the closet, was a door and two steps down were two rooms. We were told years ago they were servant quarters.

            Nancy was great company for me when I was really sick or she was sick. We would play cards or board games. When we weren’t sick, but just bored, we could always find something to do together. When no one was home and Grandma was napping, long before caller I D, we would make prank calls. We would order a taxi for Mrs. Glocker or a pizza delivery for Mrs. Mietta or make that most beloved call to the store, "Do you have Prince Albert in a can? Well you better let him out."

              Another call was, "Is your refrigerator running? You’d better go after it."

              We didn't do this too often, only when we were really bored. Then we got older and switched to calling boys, only local boys. We couldn’t call long distance, too expensive. I've told you much about Nancy, but I thought of a couple of more things, one of which occurred on a Sunday when Aunt Toddy and Uncle Bill came in the afternoon for a visit; Mommy asked if they would like to stay for dinner.

             There was always enough, but this one day she didn't make any dessert, so to us Mommy said, "All I have is ice cream, and not enough for all, so when I ask you if you want some, say, ‘No thanks, I’m full.’"

             Around the table Mom went, and it was going well until she got to Nancy. 

            “Just one scoop, please, just one scoop,” Nancy said, as Mommy gave her The Look.

            Nancy got her ice cream, though.

            One more Nancy story relates to her closeness to Grandma. She was alone with Gram for two years after I started school, so when Gram began to decline, it was very hard on Nancy. At school we went for a full day, naps included. Nancy initially refused to go to school. No one could get her onto the bus, and when they finally did, she cried, so Grandma went to kindergarten for awhile. I don’t remember for how long.

             We went on a picnic when I was about 3½, over to the swimming hole. I don’t know who we went with, but at some time Nancy became missing. Mommy said that everyone ran in different directions looking for her. It took awhile, but she was found at the end of the road, unharmed.

            When Nancy was a baby, Mommy had her in the baby carriage, all wrapped up. It was winter. We took her down to the railroad and left her there---me, Doreen, and Linda from across the street. There's a photo of us after we brought her back, and Nancy’s eyes were beet red from crying. I don't know if we were trying to get rid of her or not.

             I have heard that when I was born, Doreen tried to take the screws out of my crib. Guess she didn't want me around, either.

            I believe everything happens for a reason, and if it were not for my first diagnosis, I wouldn't have started this book. I started it for my two grandsons. Every time I go up North to their house, they love to have me tell them stories of my childhood, and of course they know Aunt Nancy and Aunt Doreen.

           On one visit, they asked me what Nancy and I did all day when we were kids. I said, "We did this crazy thing. We went outside all day, playing games, and visiting friends and neighbors.”

           Daddy always said that no grass grew under our feet. Nancy and I would sit under the tree and plan our next adventure.

           There was a girl who lived down by the Y.M.C.A., not far from our house. She would come by often and ask if she could play with us. We always said she couldn‘t, but one day when she came over, we said yes; of course, she had no idea what we had planned. You see, she had long curly hair, and to be mean we put bird ox in it. If you don't know what bird ox is, it is little balls of stickers, almost impossible to get out of your hair or off your clothes. I still feel bad about this. It was really mean. We never did anything like that ever again.

         One summer, they were paving a new road through town right past our house. Nancy and I set up a lemonade stand and sold about one dollar’s worth before stopping, then we split the money and went right to Sandy's for some candy and a popsicle. Once in a while, Uncle Bill would take us to Walden for a pizza at the Subway Restaurant or to the Crossroads for a milkshake. We always enjoyed those times.

         Choosing gifts to give was important for us. We thought hard for weeks before Christmas, Mother's Day, Father's Day, or birthdays. Nancy and I would walk up and down the aisles of the local five-and-ten-cent store until we found just the right things. For Daddy, we would get work gloves, hankies, or Old Spice cologne. Grandma would get a pin or hair comb or a figurine. Mommy was the hardest; one time we got her a big bottle of apple perfume; she was very kind to wear it. One anniversary, Nancy and I made dinner for Mom and Dad; we worked on the menu for days: stuffed chicken, mashed potatoes, peas and gravy and home-made muffins. They said it was great.

            Nancy and I shared the same bedroom for years. Before this, the three of us slept in the big bed together. One of the first memories I have is being in that bedroom standing next to a painted green dresser, getting my PJs on after a bath, probably at three years old. I was told that either Nancy or I would often wet the bed.

            Doreen moved upstairs to her own room, and we got twin beds. Then, at the age of 15, in November 1963, I got new furniture, a full-size bed and my own room. Nancy moved upstairs across from Doreen.

     That was our practice. When each sister reached 15, she got to pick out a new bedroom suite of furniture. I remember the day I got my turn. It was easy to remember (and I have the best memory in the family), as it was the day President John F. Kennedy was shot. I was excited for myself but sad for the country’s loss. I did get my very own bedroom for myself, the most treasured private space. But---oh, no---I was lonely and missed the before-drifting-off-to-sleep chatting with Nancy.

             Nancy had a few toys that were stuffed animals. One was a dog. We got into a fight over something---I don't remember what it was. I took the stuffed dog down by the railroad where there was a shed that had a big barrel of melted tar in it. I put the toy dog in the tar, and of course it was all over us, too. We got into big trouble.

             I guess we spent a few years in the same bed because we only had potbelly stoves and fireplaces for heat. Mommy went to work to earn the money to put heating and plumbing into the house. I remember the heat’s being put in. It was a happy day. Daddy kept it at 78°. He wanted us to be warm. The big house needed no air conditioner in the summer, as the big door would be shut and the windows closed and the green shades pulled down; when we came in from outside, it was always cool.

            I do not know if we loved winter or summer more. We took the bus to and from school, before we moved to the big school, and we could walk home often on a nice day or on the last day of school. It took us about one half-hour to walk home, and sometimes Grandma would be napping, so the door was locked. There were two windows by the front door that opened, and you could reach in for the big key and then open the door. When Frisky was still alive, he would be at the end of the driveway waiting for us. He seemed to know what time we were coming home, and he would be so excited to see us, then he’d go wait for Dad at the end of the path to the railroad.

            Nancy and I were the Bobbsey twins, always together in good times and bad. We always had each other's back. At night before we went to sleep, we would make plans for the next day, depending on the time of the year and, of course, whether one of us had school.

      Nancy married a friend of Bucky's, Bobby, and they had one son and one granddaughter. Bob was a great guy; he died too early, in 2005, after an illness of one year.

         Nancy and I are still very close emotionally; she lives in Walden around the corner from our daughter and grandsons; they love her to death. We have many great memories that we cherish.


We are serializing the recently published memoir, Home is Where the Story Begins, by Kathleen Blake Shields, one of the "three Blake girls" who were well known while growing up in tiny Maybrook, NY, in the 1950s and 60s. I am proud to have coached and edited for Kathy's upbeat book, published by Outskirts Press and available from OP as well as from and and other on-line booksellers.