Tuesday, November 10, 2015


         Dad was tall and slim. Mom was short and slimmer. She was tiny, much smaller than Dad, but even so, Mom was boss.

         Concerning Mom, here is another odd story about names: Everyone referred to our mom as Barbara, full name “Barbara Dorothy Blake.” Years later, during a rainy boring day, we discovered she was named at birth “Stephanie Barbara Paszinski.” We never told her this, and she never knew we'd found one of her secrets.

         The other secret was Mom’s birth year. She always said she was born 10 years after our dad. He was born November 19, 1906, and she claimed November 3, 1916. It wasn't until she passed away that we found out she was really born three years earlier than that, November 3, 1913. She was 32 when she was married to Dad and 33 when Doreen was born.

         I never remember Mom’s not working. Before we got our car, she walked to and from work, one mile, six days a week, in all kinds of weather. Before getting our car, from my age of five until I was 13, if we needed clothes or shoes, she would take us to the end of the driveway, and we would hitchhike to the nearest shopping town. We never thought this was odd, just something we did.

         Finally, Mom decided she needed to learn to drive and took lessons. After some trials, she got the sacred license and then our prized first family car. This was a 1959 white Ford four-door, the most beautiful thing we ever saw. Now our lives had no limits: rides to church, uptown, shopping, and to our friends’ homes. We thought we were the Rockefellers. Hot stuff!

         Mommy was born in 1913, as I noted, and she worked at Macy's Department Store in New York City, after she got out of school, graduating young, at age 14, then getting working papers. Even after she married, she still kept her City friends, and every Christmas, she would take the bus to New York and Christmas shop there, always bringing home to us a holiday lollipop and a punching balloon.

              On one of our bus trips to Macy’s in  New York, Mommy got the idea she wanted a commercial electrical meat slicer. Of course, she got a good deal as a former employee, but she didn't think about the hike back to the bus station. We all took turns carrying it. It weighed a ton.

              On that trip I also got my hair cut and had it curled. It was terrible. We also got to eat lunch there. I remember I ordered a mere tuna fish sandwich.

             Mommy asked, "Why would you order a sandwich?"

             That was a long day. The bus station in New York at that time, until the late 1960s and 1970s was beautiful. It had a number of stores and places to eat. We went back there in 1978 with my young children, me, and Mom. It was horrible: too dirty and nothing like it once was. A real shame. That was a trip we took right after Thanksgiving.

         Mommy was fast when she needed to be. One Sunday she was in the kitchen coat closet and Doreen was there asking to do something others were doing, "Oh, please. I'll die if I don't, please."

         Mommy said, "No, and don't ask again."

         Then Doreen stormed out, adding, "you bitch."

         We went WOW, and off Mom went after her.

         One night Doreen went to a club nearby with others to dance. She was supposed to be home at 11 p.m. and wasn't. Mom and Dad went by car to Ma Betcher’s. Mom was wearing her PJs and her hair was in curlers, but she went in and took Doreen right off the dance floor. Doreen brought that up now and again when she could, but I think she came home on time every instance afterwards.

         We got our first car in 1961. Before that, we would hitch-hike to Newburgh to go clothes shopping. Heading home, Mommy would run out in the street, if she saw someone driving who she knew lived in Maybrook, and ask if we could have a ride home.

         We sure were glad when Mom passed her driving test and we got that car. We went all over New Jersey, also Middletown and Newburgh, shopping. Most of the time we still walked to and from church, unless it was raining or really snowy.

               On the hill near our house there was a dug-out hole. The hill was shale, and Daddy would fill pot-holes in the driveway with it. Who couldn’t figure out where all the shale went? Mommy would come in, he said, “super-fast.” Another thing Mommy did was to pull up by our bedroom and try to back up to the porch so she was facing out for the morning; in her attempts, she took the porch steps and railings down twice.
         Mom and Dad would grocery-shop once a week, on Thursday night, and maybe get bread during the week. One more thing that controlled what we did when was what we watched on television: Sunday night was Ed Sullivan; Tuesday, Red Skelton; Wednesday, Wagon Train; Friday, Rawhide and Gunsmoke; Saturday, Lawrence Welk; and also on Sunday were Roy Rogers and Lassie.

         Remembering our first car also reminds me of our first television set. It went into the kitchen. Nancy still has a scar from a fight over what to watch on one of our six channels. Our televisions got bigger and bigger as the years went on, and finally we got our first color TV.

         Mom controlled the television. We sat and watched many of her favorite shows. They included The Arthur Godfrey Show, and on it was one of her favorite singers, Julius La Rosa. Another of her favorite shows was Queen for a Day, hosted by Jack Bailey, and oh, yes, game shows: The Big Payoff; I've Got a Secret, with Gary Moore; Beat the Clock, with Bud Collier; and What's My Line. Mom was a big fan of game shows and we enjoyed watching them with her.

               Mommy had a few friends from working at Macy's who would come up a couple of times a year. There was Fritzie and Margie and Ronnie’s sister Rita. We went to Macy's with Mom a few times before Christmas. We had never seen a store so big. We took the elevator up to the offices, and we saw one of her coworkers, Dorothy Fox.
         I have to tell you two more things involving Mom: She loved to go out to eat, anywhere. I would pick her up to go shopping; this is after Dad died and my kids were in school.

         I'd say, "Want something to eat?"


         So we’d stop at Burger King. No matter how many times I took her, she'd say, “I'll have a hot dog.”

         “No, Mom, no hot dogs.” Not on the BK menu.

         “Okay, how about a rare hamburger and tea?”

         That was my error. I couldn't get her to understand that the hamburgers were all cooked the same.

         The second funny thing at Burger King: one time we were eating, and I made the mistake of saying to her, "Don't look, Mom, but I think John Black just came in."

         She turned around in the booth on her knees and said to me, "Back there. Oh, yeah. I think I see him."

                Mom died in July 1990, playing cards on Saturday night with friends. She got up to use the ladies room, grabbed her head and fell, suffering a massive stroke.

                Mom was a hard worker and always made sure we had everything we wanted and they could afford. I can't think of anything I wanted and didn't get, maybe not exactly when I wanted it, but soon thereafter.           ###
                We are serializing here Kathleen Blake Shields's recently published book [Outskirts Press], Home is Where the Story Begins: Memoir of a Happy Childhood, for which I served as coach and editor. It is available from OP and from online booksellers like amazon.com and bn.com. My writing-coaching-editing site is http://writeyourbookwithme.com.

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