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

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