backyard-13One of the best things about my house growing up was the backyard. It was huge. It was a yard you could really play in, but also get lost in, and explore. There were nooks and crannies that could turn a boring Sunday into an afternoon of adventure.

The yard was sort of divided into two sections by a massive Weeping Willow tree. This tree was a great source of fun in itself. The vine-like branches would make a curtain of green that you had to venture through to get to the back portion of the yard. The branches were also good for swinging on when you were younger and lighter, providing you grabbed a hefty handful of them all at once. We had a tire swing from one of the branches for a while, but I think my mom made dad take it down once the rope got a little rotted.

The front part of the yard which was directly out our back door was sunny and open. The right side of the yard was bordered by our ramshackle metal garage and a gate that led to the driveway. Along the garage was a garden which I remember being jam-packed with tiger lilies and ferns. It was unkempt and wild, but sort of cool too – like a jungle. On the left side of the yard was a split rail fence that ran the length of our property, and beside that were these giant rose bushes that would get covered in fat, lazy blooms of white, pink and yellow. There were also pussy willows, forsythia and azaleas.

As a small child, this front part of the yard was great for playing in because mom could see me easily from the kitchen window. Plus the hose was right beside the house and you could beg to have the sprinkler set up here. As a teen, this was THE spot for catching sun. Wendy, Judy and I would lay a sheet down, lay in the sun, drink Diet Pepsi, and watch “All My Children” on a small tv that we would plug into the outlet on the back porch. This was great until a perverted neighbor moved in next door and used to leer at us over the fence. But that unpleasantness aside, I do remember getting just as tan during spring vacation as any of the rich kids who got to go to Florida or California.

When you got past the weeping willow tree, our yard took on a more lush, somewhat darker personality. There were at least 6 maple trees which kept 85% of the back-backyard in shade. To the left was a little grove of dogwood trees and very large, thick patch of pachysandra that was notorious for devouring Wiffle balls. Only a thorough search and rescue mission with a bat or hockey stick could retrieve them.

The right side of our yard was bordered by a broken down wire fence. Just behind the garage was where dad would stack the wood for the fireplace. I hated that wood pile because there were always tons of spiders in there. Plus, I thought it was a brainless place to stack wood as it was pretty far from the back door. We used the fireplace a lot in the winter and let me tell you, making that trek on a cold, dark, snowy night to get more firewood was like trying to summit Everest.

Beyond the wood pile was the 15% of the rear yard that got sun. This is where the blackberry bush and the vegetable garden were. We had a HUGE blackberry bush that would yield hundreds and hundreds of berries. It was a marvelous thing to take a break from baseball or hide & seek to grab yourself a handful of fresh berries. I wouldn’t wash them either; those suckers went straight from the branch to my mouth.

Just beyond that was a small plot of land where my mom attempted to grow vegetables. I remember multitudes of tomato plants, and it was fun as a kid to wander back there and see how they were coming along. Sometimes mom would send me out there with a bowl to pick the ones that were ready, and I thought that was fun because I could imagine myself as a farmer’s daughter rather than just a dopey girl in northern New Jersey. I think she tried to grow corn once, and cucumbers too. However, I only remember picking tomatoes, so I ‘m not sure if anything ever came of the other plants.

One of the best things to do in the backyard was play ball: Baseball, wiffleball, kickball. There was this giant root from the Weeping Willow tree that peeked up out of the ground creating a perfect home plate. As luck or fate would have it, there were trees perfectly situated for 1st, 2nd and 3rd bases. Unfortunately, there were lots of other trees in the yard which made playing baseball cumbersome. Unless you hit a ground ball or a line drive the ball would disappear into the branches and foliage of a tree and bounce around like a plinko chip. You never knew where the ball was going to land. It made the games interesting, that’s for sure.

The very back of our yard was quite overgrown with bushes and bramble. I remember there was always a pile of lawnmower clippings and sticks in one corner, which I think was my dad’s attempt at a compost pile. That corner was musty and moldy and it really sucked if you had to root around that pile for a stray ball.

There were a few bushes that grew together in a such a way that they made cool clubhouses too. Most of these were found out of sheer desperation during grueling games of hide & seek, but they would come in handy on a boring afternoon. It was fun to climb into these little clearings in the shrubbery and pretend you were somewhere else in the world. Or pretend to you were an orphan mountain girl and you had made this thicket your home. Yeah, my yard was an adventure land for a girl with a good imagination. There was always something blooming or growing and you could spend an hour or more walking around peeking into all the little ecosystems and territories.

It was also party central in the warmer months. My parents would throw at least one really good backyard party each year where every table and chair we owned would get hauled out of the garage and the basement and set up all over the yard. Those parties were great…endless food, stories and jokes from relatives, and maybe even some music if my grandfather had is accordion. Once it got dark we’d run out with an old Skippy jar and catch lighting bugs.

It’s sort of a bummer my kids don’t have the same experiences. We never really utilized the yard at our house properly, and it just sort of sits there. Oh, I have dreams of making it into a place where little things grow with paths and benches, but that all takes money, and I have more important things to spend it on. Even hubby, who had a backyard the size of a postage stamp, has great memories of him and his brothers making the most out of the little patch of land out his back door.

Yeah, it would be nice to go back there again. To smell a fat, drooping rose, find a wiffle ball or two, and eat a big handful of blackberries.


Ark Gals 2When I was in my mid to late twenties, I spent a year and change living in Blytheville, Arkansas.

Yes, you read that right. Arkansas.

Now, my regular readers might be slightly curious as to why a Jersey girl would up and leave her home state, family, friends, and an endless supply of White Castle hamburgers to live where biscuits n’ gravy…hell, anything n’ gravy is le plat du jour.

In short, I was bored. I was dating a guy from my hometown who was in the air force, and he got stationed at Eaker Air Force base. After he had lived there for a month or so, he asked me to move down. I was basically unemployed, just working some part time freelance gig, and I thought it might be fun to see a different part of the country.

The guy – let’s call him Chester – isn’t worth wasting too much space on. He took his job way too seriously for my taste. If our lawn was a half inch too tall he’d cancel plans we had to mow it…after all, you never know if some captain is going to drive by our house with a ruler in his glove box and a chip on his shoulder! He might wind up on report!

Besides he cared more about his dopey motorcycle than me.

Blytheville was certainly a bit of a culture shock for me. I wasn’t just visiting this town…I was living here. At first it sucked. My boyfriend was away a lot on temporary duty assignments, and my job(s) weren’t that great.

First I worked out of a temp agency as a collections agent in a factory that made automobile parts. Sigh…doesn’t even sound sucky? I spent all day on mailing out invoices and then on the phone trying to collect on them. At lunch I sat in this giant room with all the factory employees who worked on the line. They would stare at me…I felt out of place in my office attire when they were all dressed in t-shirts and baseball caps.

After that job ended I waitressed at a Mexican restaurant that was attached to the Holiday Inn. Yee haw! That job sucked worse. I remember having to work Super Bowl Sunday, and a table of 10 who I’d slaved pretty hard for left me nothing but an empty basket of tortilla chips for a tip.

The worst was my attempt at selling. I got a trial gig with an outfit that sold matted and framed prints of Fox Hunts and wild grouse being flushed out of the brush by cocker spaniels or whatever the hell dog flushes out fowl. It didn’t work out well at all. I may have to save that story for its very own blog post….

But then I got a job on base thanks to one of Chester’s co-workers. I worked for the Morale, Wellness & Recreation Department, designing flyers, newsletters and calendars, and taking photos of base events. It worked out great – way better than assembly lines and enchiladas. I was working in my field again, and the hours suited my style…7 am to 3 pm – in and out early.

Chester was back on base permanently, and we began to develop a group of friends. We all hung out regularly at the Officer’s Club, and eventually began to hang out at each other’s homes. I can remember spending one night playing poker at a fellow Lieutenant’s house, drunk and laughing, until almost dawn.

I can recall a barbecue we hosted where I almost set fire to our house. The ground meat I bought for the burgers was not nearly lean enough, and left unattended on the grill for a few minutes while I was running my mouth about one thing or another, they burst into flames and singed the side of the house.

My point is that every weekend, and sometimes once or twice during the week, we had somewhere to go – a party or a dinner, movies or dancing – with this group of friends.

The photo at the beginning of the post? It’s of me and my girls in Memphis…the corner of Beale and who knows…I was drunk and having a blast. It was a bachelorette weekend for the girl in front wearing pink with the long brown hair. We danced and drank and partied that whole weekend.  We talked about our husbands/boyfriends on the ride back to Blytheville – intimate girlfriend stuff.

When things between Chester and I began to go sour I decided to move back home. The base was on the nation’s closure list, so my job was going to end eventually anyway. My girls and I kept in touch for a while. I can remember getting a letter or two – this was in the days before email. One was getting divorced, the other was getting married. Life moved on. Then we just lost touch. I used to send Christmas cards, but when I stopped getting them back, they eventually got scratched out of my address book, and out of my life.

But do you want to hear the freakiest thing? I can’t remember their names. I spent all this time with these women, and I can only remember ONE of the girl’s names – the one with the curly brown hair. Angela Hicks…I’m not sure why her name stuck in my head.

Mabye it’s because of that scene in the movie “Big” when Elizabeth Perkins complains of her secretary writing her soon-to-be-married name over and over again – “Mrs Judy Hicks, Mrs Donald Hicks, Mrs Judy Mitchelson-Hicks.” Perhaps her name just reminded me of that scene and I always remembered it.

In any case, I find this worrisome and sad. Here I have photos of these women in my photo album after all these years…I still keep our photos, but I can’t for the life of me remember their names. I look back on the time I spent with them as good times…really good times. Times when it was fun to have a gang to hang out with, a group that you called your own – where you were an insider. And yet, the most important link to them…their name…is gone.

I really seriously need to look into that Luminosity site. Should I be worried? Is this normal?


Who are you? Who? Who? Who? Who?

Who are you?
Who? Who?
Who? Who?

BrainlessYesterday on Facebook an old high school classmate posted a program from our 8th grade play. I usually eat up this kind of memorabilia with a large spoon, because I didn’t save enough stuff from my youth. Poems or drawings that were in our quarterly school publications are gone, until someone opens up a trunk in their mom’s attic, finds some relic from our school daze and decides to take the time to scan it and share it on Facebook.

So I looked at this program with the hungry eyes of one who wants to remember – to be transported back in time if even for a few seconds. The look of it made me laugh; this was decades before even the most rudimentary version of desktop publishing was available. The program was typed on some electric typewriter in the school office and then mimeographed.

As I read the cast and crew on the program, I saw my name. I was a gypsy singer. Hmmmmm. A gypsy singer? Me?

I have no memory whatsoever of being in this play. None at all. NONE.

I was in a ton of plays in my youth and I remember all of them. I remember playing Cinderalla in the 6th grade play. I’ve blogged about that one before.

I remember being in our town’s production of “The Music Man,” which was held outdoors during the summer of, I’m going to guess, 7th grade. I remember this because in between scenes I would run out into the park to meet up with friends and spy on this guy Erik that I had a crush on. I can still sing all the “townfolk” songs from that play.

I remember playing Eeyore in a silly little production my improv class put on for the elementary school kids. I wound up in the hospital after the show with 4 stitches in my knee from crawling over a nail that had popped up on the stage.

I remember auditioning for a high school play when I was only in middle school.  They needed kids for a few of the segments, and they had us sing a short portion of “Follow the Yellow Brick Road” as part of our audition. After I finished, the director said “Well!” in a pleased manner. I was given a solo in the opening song, but wasn’t in any of the rest of the play. This really bothered me, so my mom, who was also in the play, spoke to director and she let me be one of kids in the “Oliver” segment.

I can remember participating in our high school productions of “The Pajama Game” and “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.” Those were almost no fun because the director of those plays always used the same actors for the lead year in and year out. I always got “chorus” which was a bummer, and made me stop trying out for them all together. However, once I was given a part in a one act scene from this play “Vanities”  about three high school cheerleaders – I was given one of the LHS uniforms to wear. Oh boy, I bet that made some of the mean girls snicker…

I remember my senior year play, “Stage Door” where I played Jean Maitland, the second female lead. I also remember how they left my name out of the play’s synopsis in our yearbook.

My point is I can remember all of these productions – maybe not every detail of them, but enough so that some memory of them has a permanent place in my brain.

So why in the world can I not remember one millisecond of having portrayed a gypsy singer in “Young Dracula or the Singing Bat?” Where on earth did those memories go?

I was talking to my friend John about this, and of course he remembered the play, and remembered me in it. This was beginning to feel like a Twilight Zone episode. It was actually really scary. It’s one thing to not think about something for a really long time, but to lose all recollection of it at all?

And then John said something sort of funny…he said, “Well, your busy, and have a lot to do. There’s a lot going on in your life.”

Is that how the brain works? I mean, at sometime in the past did a warning message flash inside my body “hard drive is almost full?” Maybe when my 2nd daughter was born, or when I started my new job did my brain needed to make room for new stuff and simply deleted old files? If so, what other great memories am I at risk of losing?

See folks THIS is why I blog. I need to have these memories locked in cyberspace. Cause like a nude selfie that was posted on instagram or tweeted, even if it’s deleted, what ever you’ve posted is always floating out there somewhere, waiting to be Googled and rediscovered.

Unlike my brain. I need to log onto




When I was a senior in high school, I went to the trial of my third grade teacher. He had been accused of child molestation by the parents of one of his recent students. Most of the town, who couldn’t believe that this wonderful teacher was capable of such horrific acts, rallied behind him. There were benefit dinners and money was raised to help aid in his defense. And it was while watching one of these trials that a memory resurfaced that really bothered me.

For the sake of anonymity, I am going to call my teacher Mr. Q.

Everybody wanted Mr. Q for a teacher. He was young and innovative in his teaching methods, and he had a knack for making kids want to go to school. I finally learned how to tell time in his class. Yes, I know that a 3rd grader not being able to properly tell time is semi-lame, but in my defense we had a lot of digital clocks in the house, or the type with the little number plate that would flip down when the time changed. I think our only traditional face/hands clock was in the kitchen. But, I am rambling off-topic.

Being in Mr. Q’s classroom was just plain fun. And you learned – a lot. Mr. Q could wake up inner scholar in any child. But more importantly, he could see when we were getting bored and tired of a particular subject, and rather than trudge on about the solar system or fractions, he’d walk over to the light switch and in mid sentence, turn off the lights in the room and yell “TAG!” Then we spent the next 15 minutes screaming and running around the classroom. After that, we were ready, if not willing, to get back to work.

Fridays in Mr. Q’s class were super special. At the end of the day he’d bring out a big box of candy and other treats – small bags of chips or packs of Drake’s cakes – and he’d let us each select one. What made it more fun, was each week he’d come up with a new way to call us up; sometimes alphabetically by first name, other times alphabetically by last name, sometimes by when our birthdays were – this way everyone got an equal chance to be called early. Because the good treats went early; when he called us by first name, I (Tracy) usually had a choice between Tootsie Rolls and Bit O’ Honey (which were gross).

Mr. Q was not just a Monday – Friday teacher though. Every now and then, we’d go on Saturday excursions. He divided the class up  into 4 groups; two boy groups and two girl groups – perhaps 5 or 6 kids in each group. Then, on a certain month, he’d spend each Saturday taking one of the groups on a trip – usually to New York City – and always with our parent’s permission (and blessing).

We would all pile into his car where he would let us listen to the music we liked. I can remember during one of the trips Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly with His Song” was the number one single and the NY radio stations played it every 30 minutes. When it came on over and over again we would groan and scream and yell “noooo!!!!” Mr. Q made everything so much fun.

We went to China Town for authentic Chinese Food. He took us to the Statue of Liberty, and I might add that my 3rd grade trip with him was the only time I ever visited Lady Liberty. One Saturday we went to a Yankees game, and on another to the top of the Empire State Building. After our trip, we’d go back to his house and eat pizza (amazingly good pizza – oh, how I miss good NYC pizza) and play games. Then he’d drop us off at home one at a time.

This is where my story may take a rather sour turn. It’s the type of stuff you don’t think of as a child, but when you are sitting in a courtroom listening to testimony, memories seem less innocent and just a little more sinister. Let me give you a few “For instances…”

One – When we played the lights out games of tag during the school day, Mr. Q would often “capture” a child, hold him on his lap and tickle him. This could totally be seen as incriminating in light of what he was accused of years later, especially with the lights out.

Two – After class trips, we would run around in the basement of his house. I remember it being clear of almost all furniture, save for a few mattresses that we could jump and do flips on. Again, a little creepy in hindsight. That’s if I’m even remembering it correctly.

But my third “for instance” is a little more personal. One time when we were done with a Saturday excursion, I was the last to get dropped off. It was odd because all these kids who lived in the middle of town were dropped off first. Then he dropped off Vicky, who lived clear on the other side of town from me – I had to drive about 2 miles with Mr. Q alone. I don’t remember anything that was said, I just remember him parking his car across the street from my house, and that I wanted very badly to get out of the car and go inside.

Just a little memory – a “hey, wait a minute” moment – as I sat watching the trial. It could mean nothing. Maybe I felt sick from too much pizza and monkeying around and just wanted mommy. It could mean everything. Maybe he said something to me that made me feel uncomfortable. Who knows – I was nine. My world consisted of my crush on Billy Fink, The Partridge Family and learning to tell time.

Mr. Q was found guilty and it made me super sad.  Who knows if he really did touch that child. Odd thing, I don’t think anyone else came forward. After he was accused, don’t you think every parent who had a child taught by Mr. Q would’ve questioned them? After almost 15 years of teaching you’d think other kids might have ‘fessed up to being touched. Maybe not. I don’t know.

He was a good teacher that had made learning fun for half the kids in my hometown. I can’t think back to a better year I had in school, even when I got stuck with a Bit O’ Honey.


I finally got a new computer. 

My poor, tired, but much beloved G5 tower has been unplugged and replaced by a speedy, nifty Mac Mini. And zip-a-dee-do-dah, is this thing fast!

I had to make the leap when my old computer got corrupted my a Minecraft download. Yeah, that’s right. My daughter, with my permission, tried to download a free version of Minecraft, which of course didn’t work because my computer was so old that virtually no games would work on it. 

The next morning I went to go online, and found that my homepage was different on both Safari and Firefox. I suspected the download from the night before immediately and Googled it. Sure enough turns out it was the culprit. But at the time I figured little harm was done as I was able to restore my old internet settings in a few seconds.

After work that day I went to work on a freelance project that was due the next day. I started up InDesign, and it crashed. Okay – not the first time, won’t be the last. 45 minutes later after rounds of restarts, fsck reboots, and plist replacements I still could not get one single application in Creative Suite to work. No Photoshop. No Illustrator. And no InDesign. I even tried re-intalling the software from scratch.

Nothing. I was screwed.

I even spent the night running anti-virus software hoping the one little bug that was keeping my design programs from running could be found and stomped like a cockroach. But even that didn’t work.

Time for a new computer!

The Mac fellow at the store, after hearing my tale of woe, suggested re-installing the operating system, but that would mean phone calls to my daughter’s mac friend to borrow the disks, blah blah blah. Let’s face it. My computer was old. It was time to retire it after close to a decade of service.

So, I forged ahead and plopped down over 8 bills for my small, compact and super fast little Mac Mini. Right now I am running a 30 day trial of the most recent versions of InDesign, Photoshop and Illustrator. I’ll buy the software soon – that’ll be another near fatal blow to my wallet. 

But I feel like I’ve gone through a time machine. No more InDesign 2? It’s a little sad – we were quite intimate. I knew ID2 oh so very well. And now it’s time to figure out what all these new fangled gadgets in my dock do. 


golaplannewyearHere I sit on the very first day of 2014, and I can’t help but think of how different life was a mere 365 days ago.

I had been fired from a job that I’d performed faithfully for 12 years, and New Year’s day of 2013 was my first official day of unemployment. It was scary, but it also felt good. I no longer had to deal with bitching clients and last minute ad changes – I was looking forward to a month or two of doing a whole lot of nothing.

That month or two turned into almost 11 months. 11 months that were both wonderful and worrisome.

Wonderful because I got to be a traditional mom for the first time ever. I drove my kids to and from school. I could attend every meeting, recital, award ceremony and play without having to jump through hoops at the office. The summer was spent at the lake or the pool, and seeing a plethora of crappy movies at the $1.50 theater. There was no vacation though – instead we had a graduation party, and sent our oldest off to college.

But it was also worrisome. Unemployment helped, as did my one freelance client, but it was tough year financially. Many times I’d wake up to see that my bank account was a bit healthier thanks to overnight direct deposits, but it was usually all gone by 10 am. Hubby made sure all the bills were paid, that’s for sure. While it was a relief that we had enough to keep us out of debt, it was stressful trying to feed my family on what little was left over.

And here I sit on the very first day of 2014 – happy in my new job, mortgage and bills paid, with money to spare. It’s a really good feeling.

Yes, this year will certainly be better. Right?

Eddie-Murphy-at-the-79th--007When I worked at Tiger Beat magazine back in the 80s, one of the perks was occasional tickets to movies or movie premiers. If the editors couldn’t go, or had little interest in the movie, they would pass them on to us, the staff. One such instance was when we went to see the premier of “The Abyss.” It was to be a rather large premier at Radio City Music hall, and I was super excited to go.

I dolled myself up in a tight dress and black pumps (I had a figure back then), and my coworkers and I headed into New York City. After a quick dinner, we arrived at Radio City and I was amazed at the magnitude of the event. I’d been to opening night at “Rambo III.” That was nothing more than a crowded theater where my friend yelled “God Bless America” after Sylvester Stallone saved half the human race. It was the one big laugh the movie got.

But this? This was the real deal. A red carpet was stretched from the street to the front doors, velvet ropes draped on both sides. I knew for a fact that Ed Harris, the star of the movie, was going to attend. Crowds were beginning to line up on either side of the ropes in the hopes of spotting a celebrity or two – photographers were beginning to gather as well. My friends were eager to get inside, but I suggested we hang back and watch for a while. Nothing major was happening yet, and if I was going to walk the red carpet, I wanted to do it in style.

We hung out on the street for a little bit, but the start of the movie was just a short while away and they became anxious, so I grabbed my coworker Tom’s arm, and we headed for the red carpet.

Have you ever walked down a red carpet? Granted this wasn’t the Oscars, but it was a pretty cool experience. The paparazzi had no clue who we were, but at an event where major stars are going to show up they’ll snap a photo or two just in case. With my stomach sucked in and my head held high, I glided down that carpet, smizing to the cameras, and drinking in the experience for all it was worth. Cameras flashed, and as I looked at all the people on the other side of the velvet rope I wondered if this was what it was like to be a star.

Once inside, we found our seats, and watched the movie. Have you ever seen “The Abyss?” It was just okay. But the whole premier experience had been well worth sitting through the movie.

After the movie we walked out the front entrance, and I was surprised to see the red carpet and velvet ropes still in place…wasn’t that just for the grand entrance? As I walked down the carpet, happy for a second chance to pretend that I was an up and coming starlet, I noticed a limo parked right at the end. As I reached the street, I heard the crowd begin to “ooh” and “aah.” Then they got a little frantic.

Suddenly I heard “Eddie! Eddie!” and the next thing I knew, the small area at the end of the red carpet was swarming with very large, very aggressive security guards. Everyone was screaming and crowding in, but I was still inside the velvet ropes, which I thought would give me a drop of protection. It was Eddie Murphy’s Limo I was standing next to!

A large, tight knot of people were making their way down the red carpet straight for me. I was standing right beside the waiting limo. I was super excited…here I was inside the velvet ropes with Eddie Murphy just a few yards away! Before I could put my most dazzling smile on my face in preparation of rubbing elbows with him, I was shoved, pushed, and bent over backwards on the hood of the limo.

One guy was yelling “Get the fuck back, get the fuck back!”

I think I said, “I’m getting the fuck back!” but it was while I was doing a back bend, that Nadia Comaneci would’ve been proud of, over a hot hood. That throng of body guards meant business…no gal in a tight blue dress was going to keep them from getting Eddie safely in his limo.

Once he was inside, the guards eased up, and I was able to stand up straight again. The door to the limo had not yet been closed, and I peered over the window, waved and said “Hey Eddie!”

He looked right at me and said, “HI!”

Then the door was closed and the limo sped off. I stood in a daze at the end of the red carpet, still safely between the velvet ropes, adjusting the hem of my dress which had ridden up considerably after my ordeal. Did that really just happen? Was I actually just man-handled???? By Eddie Murphy’s bodyguards????

Ha! Another great story. Cause that’s what life’s all about, right? Being in the right place at the right time, and coming home with a great story.

CarolI’m not sure how this post is going to turn out. Being an amateur writer makes it tough to tackle certain topics. It may be why I shy away from some of the larger, more personal topics of my life because I figure there’s no way I can tell the story and do it justice. But I’m going to take a stab at it for the sake of Aunt Carol, who was one of my favorite people on this earth for most of my young life.

It may be a bore for the average reader. So be it. But she was a huge part of my life, and it’s a story I’ve got to tell.

Aunt Carol was the youngest sister of my mother, and she lived with us when I was very young. She occupied the small bedroom next to ours; the one that would eventually become my sister Wendy’s room, until she moved into her own apartment when I was around 8 or so.

Those early memories are vague ones for me. I remember her expertly setting our hair in pin-curls, a jar of Dippity Doo on the table. I remember her friend Gail, who lived down the street, and would come and visit with her boyfriend Benny. But my real memories of Aunt Carol were after she moved into her own place. I would sleep over her apartment every chance I got, because hanging out with Aunt Carol was just fun.

Maybe it was because she had the heart and soul of a child. She had been in a special school before she came to live with us. That’s all I knew. I’m sure there was some clinical diagnosis to describe her mental or intellectual abilities, but as a youngster, I didn’t know what it was. Parents didn’t share information like that freely, and if they had sat me down to explain it, I forgot or didn’t care. She was just Aunt Carol – simple and sweet – and I loved her.

Screen Shot 2013-12-19 at 4.35.20 PM

The street where Aunt Carol lived

For the next few years, Aunt Carol lived in a series of apartments that were all on the same street about 5 minutes from our house. I know she spent some time in the large apartment building in the background – on the 2nd or 3rd floor. But the times I remember most was when she lived in one of the smaller two story apartments in the foreground.

Her apartment was on the bottom floor, and there was a little back door that lead into the alley behind. She actually had a small patch of dirt surrounded by a wire fence back there – a sort of small garden. Weekends spent here were blissful for me because I got to do stuff that I could never do at home.

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Not the actual Lady – but she pretty much looked like this adorable pooch

For one, Aunt Carol had a dog named Lady. Lady was a of a terrier breed – bigger than a Jack Russel, but not so large that she was difficult for a child to manage. My job when I went visiting at Aunt Carol’s was to walk Lady, and boy did I love that job. I’d walk around and around the block, feeling so cool because I had a dog. We were cat people…

Oh, I loved Lady. She was so sweet and well tempered – always happy to see you, tail wagging, waiting patiently to be scratched and petted. She never bit or growled at me, and she was a wonderful companion for Aunt Carol.

Nights at Aunt Carol’s were spent visiting friends of hers in the neighborhood, or watching television – Saturday nights had a great lineup back then; All in the Family, Mary Tyler Moore, Bob Newhart, Carol Burnett. By 11 pm I was droopy-eyed, and we’d climb into her very high double bed. The next morning we’d walk to the little diner on Broad Avenue and eat fried egg sandwiches.

Carol Wedding

The lovely bride and Pop – nice ‘stache…

Then Aunt Carol got married to Uncle Joe, a Filipino dude who made excellent fried rice. I remember the wedding; it was held at our house, and my sisters and I were flower girls. After the wedding, sleeping over at Aunt Carol’s didn’t change much at first. Joe was a custodian in New York City, and worked nights a lot, so it was just Carol and I at her apartment. Then there was the incident.

One night after I was asleep on the little daybed they had in the room off the kitchen, Joe came home pretty drunk. It was a fight between him and Carl that woke me up. Joe had brought home a large metal desk – a cast off from one of the office buildings he cleaned. Carol exclaimed that it was too big to fit in their small apartment. There was some arguing, and then I heard a drawer open and the noisy rattle of cutlery. It got very quiet for a few seconds, and then Carol said, “Are you going to kill me with that knife, Joe?”

I froze. Right then I wished I was anywhere than where I was. I’m not sure Joe was aware that I was “sleeping” just feet away, and I was glad of that. My 10 year old brain ran a few quick escape plans…if I heard screaming, I’d bolt for the front door and run upstairs to Carol’s friend’s apartment.

But there was no scream. Instead, Joe muttered something, threw the knife in the sink, and went back out into the night. Aunt Carol came to check on me, and we sat and talked. She asked me not to tell my parents about this. They would only worry about her, and probably wouldn’t let me stay with her any longer. I figured she was right, and I never told anyone in my family until years and years later. However, I was never comfortable around Uncle Joe again. I didn’t even like him after that, and would only stay with Aunt Carol if I knew he wasn’t going to be around.

But Joe didn’t last long anyway. I don’t think they ever got divorced, but he stopped coming home after a while. I wasn’t sorry to see him go.

And then Aunt Carol moved. At first it was a huge disappointment for me, because she moved much further away. Rather than living a mere 5 minutes away, she was now a 20-30 minute drive from our house. She also began taking care of my grandfather who had suffered a stroke, which left one side of his body paralyzed. That might be why she moved; I think she needed a bigger apartment with a spare room for grandpa to stay in.

I never really knew my mother’s parents. They lived in Lockport, New York, which is way out there – near Niagra Falls. They only came down to visit it once or twice a year. My maternal grandparents held a sort of mystique for me. I’d heard tales of my grandfather’s musical abilities both on guitar and banjo, and my grandmother had played the drums. My grandfather had also worked for a candy company, and when he came to visit, he brought us mass quantities of candy coated peanuts, and Ford gum – that square, colorful gum found in the penny gumball machines.

I got to know him better during that time he lived with Aunt Carol, but I don’t think it was him at his best. He was cranky a lot of the time – frustrated that his body wouldn’t function properly after the stroke. I remember him pounding his bad arm with his good one, cursing bitterly. I always tried to cheer him up when he was in those moods, but sometimes he didn’t want to be cheered up.  That’s when I’d go out and play.

One of the good things about Aunt Carol’s move to the new apartment was the kids. There were a ton of kids to play with – her apartment was part of group of buildings that took up the whole block. I became friends with a particular group of kids who were always excited to see me when I came to visit. We’d run in and out of each others apartments, play tag, hide and seek, and kickball from sun up to sun down. Nights were spent hanging out with Aunt Carol, listening to ABBA albums, and watching bad Saturday night movies on TV. Those were some of the best Aunt Carol years for me.

But, I was growing up. By the time I was in middle school and then high school my weekends at Aunt Carol’s grew less frequent. We had her over our house every holiday, and once I began to drive, I’d head out to see her as often as I could, and spend the afternoon with her. My grandfather had died some years before, and with the exception of her friends in the apartment complex, Aunt Carol was pretty much alone.

By the time I was finishing college, Aunt Carol had moved back to her old neighborhood that was near our home. She had a job working in the store around the corner, had a new little group of friends, and seemed to be happy. I remember one time when my dad came to pick me up from at the University of Delaware, he brought Aunt Carol along for the ride. She seemed so happy to make the trip, even though it was just a boring 2 hour drive down the turnpike, and then back up again. We filled the trip back to Jersey talking and singing along with the radio. It’s one of my last good memories of her.

I don’t remember the exact year – you’d think I would – but I’m going to guess 1987. I had come home from work in a sour mood. It was my birthday, December 1st, and the day had not gone well. I stomped into my house yelling, “Don’t even bother to wish me a happy birthday, because I have had one crappy day.”

My family was sitting in the living room, somber looks on their faces. Something was very wrong. “We’re so sorry to tell you this today Tracy, but Aunt Carol is gone.”

My favorite aunt, dead. On my birthday. She’d died alone of a heart attack in her apartment. When she didn’t show up for work, her boss went to her home and found her. That bothered me the most. I wished there had been someone there with her.

Her funeral was a nightmare for me. I could not make myself go up to her casket. I figured if I never went up and actually looked at her face, I could make believe that it was all a mistake – some hideous misunderstanding. But, my friends dragged me up there – said I had to go for my own sanity, and out of respect for my Aunt. Oh, and I lost it. Big time.

I wasn’t the only one. Dad had managed to track down old Uncle Joe, and when he approached the casket, he began to weep and wail loudly. He stroked Aunt Carol’s face, and tried to lay down beside her – my dad had to pull him away. Guilt can do strange things to a person.

Holidays weren’t the same for quite a while after that. Each Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter, I’d expect to see Aunt Carol at the end of the table, eating a turkey leg or slices of ham, happy to be a part of the family, and catching up on the lives of her nieces and nephew. I still miss her.

She was like no one I’d ever known…sweet, loving and generous, always looking at the bright side. Anything and everything made her happy, and in turn, it made you happy just to be around her. I’m so thankful for the time I spent with her. I hope she knows how much I love her.

Carol & Me

Nude PartyCertain blog posts of mine get more traffic than others. One that gets hits every single day is my post about my years at the nude beach in Sandy Hook. So, I thought I’d touch on the popular topic of nudity again, and tell the story of the nude party.

Back when my husband and I were engaged, I was invited to a “lingerie party” by some guys that I used to play volleyball with. I got the invite because these two guys knew that I had frequented the nude beach at Sandy Hook, and we knew some of the same people. When I asked what a “lingerie party” was, I was told you come dressed in your undies or a fancy nightie.

Yeah, that might happen.

The night of the party, hubby and I were just sitting around the house doing nothing. I broached the subject of the party, thinking there was no way in hell he’d want to go, but I have to say, the idea kind of appealed to him. It took a bit of persuading on my part, but at 10 pm on a cold December night, we drove to the address given to me and knocked on the door.

We were ushered in by a middle aged red head who looked like Pinky Tuscadero – she immediately made a pass at me. After a polite, “no thanks” we walked into the kitchen in search of my volleyball friends. The first thing I saw was a pair of naked ass cheeks. The guy turned around and had his package nicely encased in a satin, rainbow, zebra G-string. It was at this point that I wondered if I had made a huge mistake. I wasn’t sure how hubby was going to react to this.

We’d been here less than 30 seconds and I’d already gotten a lesbian come on, and seen a guy in nothing but a G-string. But hubby had a smile on his face. I guess we were strapped into our seats…it was time to enjoy the ride.

The house was filled to the brim with folks in varying levels of dress or undress, if you will. I case you are curious, hubby and I were fully clothed. I think we were the only ones. Some gals were wearing teddies and negligees. Others were topless with just panties on – hubby liked that part. And the men? You name it. Speedos, G-strings, boxers, or total nudity. There was a naked woman with a massage table giving massages in the dining room. And there was one guy whose body was totally shaved.


I couldn’t quite place what was odd about this fellow at first glance. You knew there was something missing, but it was hard to pin-point exactly what it was. Then hubby said, “Did you see the guy with the shaved balls?” So that was it! I’d seen all sorts of men’s bits and pieces at the nude beach, but never a dude sans pubes.

We decided to head to the basement to get a few beers. A semi-clad foursome were playing ping pong. There were tables of food lining the walls. A naked guy with a top hat was pumping the keg. It was a wee bit uncomfortable getting a beer because he was holding the tap right in front of his crotch. It was impossible to not get a very good look at what he had to offer. But I was thirsty, so what the hell.

Hubby was hungry, so I said to him, “Why don’t you eat something?”

He looked at me uncomfortably and said, “I would, but the table’s at dick level. I’d hate to think that while reaching for the chips some dude’s balls landed in the potato salad.”

I about died laughing, but he was right. It did make the idea of sampling any of the food somewhat unappetizing.

We really didn’t know anyone except for my volleyball hosts, so we just mingled and watched the party unfold. Folks who had arrived in some sort of attire were shedding what little they had on as the night progressed. While I’d frequented the nude beach years before, it was odd to see folks naked sitting on the couch, or reaching into the fridge. Somehow nudity seemed so natural at the beach, where you really wear next to nothing anyway. But in the house? was all so…domestic, and so very naked.

At one point we went to the second floor to see what was going on – lots of folks were going up and down the stairs, so we figured we’d nose about – besides, I wanted to find another bathroom. I wish we hadn’t. Seems like the upper floors were reserved for those with a taste for swinging. There were all sorts of sexual shenanigans going on, and we high tailed it back down stairs toot-sweet.

After a few games of ping pong and a few more beers we decided to leave.

We drove to the diner for some wee hour of the morning cheeseburger platters and rehashed all that we’d seen. We were both glad we had gone; it was better than just sitting at home doing nothing. Some times those spur-of-the-moment decisions to do something really pay off. And I was proud of hubby. He’d taken a step into a lifestyle that he might not have been comfortable with, and had not been judgmental or jealous. Instead, he had gone with the flow and enjoyed himself.

And we had one hell of a story to tell as a result.

poloA few weeks back I posted about old boyfriends who have gone to the great beyond. I told the story of Andy, but never got around to the story of Paul. Let me share with you my brief, but awesome time with the Polo dude.

It was my freshman year at U of D. I was into weight lifting, an activity I started doing my senior year of high school in an effort to shed some pounds. My abs were rock hard, and I intended to keep them that way, so I frequented the weight room at the gym. This is where I met Paul.

He was cute, with sandy brown hair. He was not overly tall, and had a thin, yet muscular build – his arms were amazing. We began chatting over the fact that I had the sit-up bench at the highest incline – I think he was impressed. I noticed right away that his voice was sort of high – it almost made him sound girlish in a way. But I was never one to judge someone for something out of their control.

We became friends and met frequently at the gym. When I asked what dorm he lived in he said he lived off campus on his family’s farm about 30 minutes away. I pictured him in rubber boots swinging a bucket to slop the hogs – that must be why he had such good arm muscles. He said he had horses and asked if I’d like to come out and ride sometime. Sure, who wouldn’t? We set the date for the upcoming Saturday.

Paul showed up at my dorm bright and early to make the drive out to the farm. His car was nice. Really nice. I think it was a Mercedes, but I can’t remember. After a short drive and pleasant small talk, I was expecting to pull up to a modest farm house. That’s what I was expecting. Instead we turned down a private road with a carved wooden sign at the head of it – one thing engraved in the sign was the word “estate.”

Estate? Didn’t he say he lived on a farm? I suddenly questioned my earlier vision…I doubt there would be any pigs here.

We pulled up to a sprawling, cheerful, yellow and white house surrounded by acres and acres of green, rolling hills, and miles of fence. A sizable stable stood in the distance. Yep, this was no farm boy.

I was introduced to his mother, a beautiful, elegant woman with blonde hair and an accent. I can’t remember what country she originated from though. I just remember she was super nice, and very welcoming. I was also introduced to Paul’s father. I found him to be intimidating and somewhat cold. I made a mental note to stick with mom.

After a brief tour of the house, which included showing me a television that rose up out of a cabinet at the push of a button, we headed out to the stables. The stable was magnificent and housed quite a few horses. Paul led me into a large, and well stocked tack room where he found me riding boots, and a helmet. I began to get the distinct impression that Paul was loaded. Farm, indeed.

We went out riding, which was one of the most thrilling experiences of my life. Usually when I’d been riding in the past, it was at a commercial stable where you paid by the hour and went out in a group. The guides told you when to walk and when to canter, that is, if they let you run at all.

But with Paul, we were able to do whatever we wanted when we wanted. I remember us giving our horses a slight kick and before I knew it, we were racing across the green hills, the wind whipping my hair back, my eyes shining with excitement.

We rode for about an hour – that was about all my ass could take. In that time I found out that Paul was not a simple farm boy. He was a polo player. His family had their own team, made up of his father and brothers. They spent spring and summer at the Pennsylvania estate, and spent winters in Palm Beach, Florida.

I immediately felt out of my league. Here I was, an average nobody from New Jersey and I was on a date with a polo player? But, Paul was very genuine, and extremely modest. This guy could easily had laid the “I’m rich” soft soap on me, but he didn’t. It was as if he was unaware of the advantages of his wealth – to him, he was just an average guy.

Once back at the stables, I had a hold of the horse’s bridle while Paul did something or another to take off the saddle. It was at this point that the horse lifted up it’s front leg, and put it back down, right on my foot. I felt immense pressure, and then heard a wee little “snap!”

Ruh roh. I yanked my foot out from under his hoof, which clacked back onto the floor. I could feel the swelling begin in my foot. I said meekly, ” Paul? I think the horse might have broken my toe.”

He set me down on a bench and immediately went to take the boot off. No! It was too painful! But, he said he had to before my foot swelled too much in the boot – then it would be near to impossible to get it off. It was awkward, and very Typical of Tracy. Only I could mess up a magical date with a rich, handsome polo player. But, Paul being the down-to-earth guy he was could care less. He fussed over me and my swollen foot the rest of the afternoon.

We continued to see each other over the next few weeks, usually just in the weight room, or he’d come watch me play intramural volleyball. One day he asked me if I would accompany him to a ball.

A fucking BALL.

As if that weren’t surreal enough, the ball was in South Carolina. And how were we to get there? Oh, we were to fly down on Friday night in his father’s private plane. His father would pay for the hotel, and all food for the weekend. So, would I come? I felt like a Slovak Cinderella. I told him yes, but admitted I was a bit worried about fitting in. He urged me not to worry about it…he liked me the way I was, and so would everyone else.

My mom sent me an appropriate dress from my closet at home, and I packed my bags for what would be an exciting weekend. I remember driving to a small airport, and boarding his father’s plane. I think I was chewing gum to ease my nerves. I’d never flown in a small plane at night, and while it was exciting, it was a tad scary too.

We landed without incident in South Carolina and drove to the hotel, which was very fancy. I got my own room, which felt so odd. I mean, it made perfect sense – we weren’t going to all shack up in one room with two double beds or anything. But this was hardly a Motel 6 – these rooms had to cost a couple of hundred bucks a night. It was humbling to think that someone had shelled out all this money just for me.

I don’t remember every detail from that weekend. I do remember going to the ball, and eating lobster bisque for the first time. And I remember Paul’s father telling me that I would be a lot prettier if I learned to put on my eye makeup better. Yep, it was a humbling experience, alright. I remember Paul coming back to my room after the ball, where I drew a sketch of him, and we watched TV until we finally said good night sometime in the wee hours of the morning.

The next day was like a page ripped right out of the script book of Pretty Woman, except it wasn’t written yet, and I wasn’t a prostitute. That day we attended a polo match and a fox hunt. Yes, you read that right – a FOX HUNT. Here I was, a girl who lived just steps from the swamps of Jersey at a fox hunt in South Carolina polo country. Talk about feeling like a fish out of water.

But, I had Paul by my side for the majority of the day. I watched him play his polo match, mashed the divots back into the ground between chukkas, and made uncomfortable small talk with girls who had much better clothes and hair than I did. But watching Paul play polo? It was worth enduring the snubbery. He was so masterful at controlling his horse, and it was no wonder his arms were so fabulous after watching him swing that polo mallet.

After his game, we decided to blow off the Fox Hunt – yeah, like I was going to ride to the hounds. Instead, Paul saddled up two horses and we took our own ride along the back roads. Once or twice we ran into the hunt – saw throngs of red-coated riders gallop by – but for the most part we spent a quiet afternoon talking and enjoying the scenery.

It had been an indescribable weekend. We flew back to Delaware, and I sat in a sort of awe, thinking of all the new things I’d been exposed to. I’d really enjoyed myself, not only because I’d lived the life of a society princess for a few days, but because Paul had been by my side the whole time. I truly valued his company – his friendship.

Shortly after that weekend, Paul informed me that he was returning to Palm Beach on a permanent basis. He wasn’t doing well academically at U of D, and was leaving school. I was bummed, but not devastated. While I really liked Paul a lot, I always felt uncomfortable around his family. I got the feeling that they thought I wasn’t the right girl for him. Except for his mom. She was always very, very nice to me.

As a matter of fact, she came to my dorm room the next semester. Paul and I had written and called over the months since he’d left, so she knew where I’d lived. She handed me a poster for the Palm Beach Polo Club, and there in the center, swinging his polo mallet with all his might, was a photo of Paul. I’d know that muscular arm anywhere. I thanked her warmly, and we chatted for a while. She left promising to give Paul a hug and kiss for me.

That poster hung on my wall both at home and at school for years. It finally got so torn and tattered that I threw it away. Like so many other things, I wish I hadn’t. It would be nice to look at it again. To see that strong arm, and his face with that look of concentration and determination.

I was sad when I read he had died, and only in his 40′s. He was such a nice fellow, so real and down-to-earth. He deserved better – a long life with a pretty wife and kids that he could lift laughingly onto the backs of ponies. It would be cool if I could let him know I think about him from time to time. To let him know he made a very cool memory for an average girl from Jersey.


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