Archive for June, 2017

My Teacher, My Conscience, My Dad…

Saturday, June 17th, 2017

If you are blessed to still have your dad, tell him how much you love and appreciate him …and tell him often, not just on Father’s Day! Ask those of us who have lost our fathers in death, and we will overwhelmingly agree! Our dads may not have been perfect (no one is!), but, to many of us, they came awfully close! And we miss them every day!

When I was already an adult and an English teacher by profession , I tearfully gave my father an essay that I had written about him, entitled “My Teacher, My Conscience, My dad.” At first, neither of us knew what to say, but then he read my essay, and he understood. He had tears in his eyes.

A good, loving father is a teacher as well, whether he knows it or not. We try to emulate our dads in so many ways. I respected my father’s strong work ethic, and all my life I have been a hard worker, too! My dad was a good provider, and he inspired me to be responsible and do my share of taking care of the bills and helping my family as best I can in every phase of my life. My father taught me to help others, to be respectful and kind. He also showed me how important it is to lighten up and have a good sense of humor. Dad always showed me the importance of having faith in God and loving Him and family.

Dad was a humanitarian in so many ways! He didn’t have millions of dollars to donate to charities, but he gave what he could; on an individual basis, he helped others. Dad showed me how important it is to care about people, to treat them with dignity and do what I can to make their lives happier, if only by a sincere smile and a cheerful hello. He showed me that it was important to put others ahead of myself and to be there to inspire others rather than concentrating on my own problems.

My dad was a wonderful father in every sense of the word. He was always there for me, no matter what! When I needed it, he gave me gentle love and kindness, but at other times, he knew that I needed tough love, and he administered that, too. When I had some problems in college, he took a seven-hour ride to be there for me! He always made me feel special, capable and very much loved!

I don’t have the actual essay I gave my dad msny years ago, but I have included the essence of it in this blog! Don’t wait to say heart-felt things about your dad until he is no longer with you! Tell him now and show him the affection he deserves! Visit him, not only on Father’s Day, but whenever you can! If you don’t have time, then make time! And if your dad has already passed, pray to God that you will one day see him in the Resurrection and tell him these wonderful things yourself!

A Very Close Call!

Friday, June 16th, 2017

I have commented many times that my summers as a young girl were almost blissful…to me, at least. And maybe to my older sister as well! But probably not so much for my parents, however!

It’s funny when I look back on those days. Summer rooming houses at the beach back in the 1950’s may seem a little primitive by today’s standards. For example, most small families lived in one large room, which we basically slept in. The whole point was to go to the beach as much as possible, being that we were less than a block away. Not to stay too long in the room.

There was a small kitchen unit in each room, including a stove, but not an oven, as I remember. I guess we had a lot of fried food those summers and anything else we could heat or prepare on the stove.

My sister and I could sleep late, but Mom got up early to make breakfast for Dad, and Dad had to go to Brooklyn to work each week day.

Mom had to stay in the room much more than the rest of us. She did our laundry, organized our things and cleaned the room.
And it wasn’t that cool in the room!

In addition, there were three floors in the rooming house and only two bathrooms per floor. Imagine not having a private bathroom and sometimes having to wait on line to use the bathroom or take a shower!

My dad could put up with anything because he loved the beach and the ocean. I was just like him and, in addition, I was excited to be free for the summer. My sister had a few good friends and enjoyed her time off, too. So my mom probably had the most challenging time. Yet, she managed to enjoy shopping on the boulevard and going to the beach when she could. My sister and I went to the beach almost every day, either with Mom or our aunt and our cousins.

I guess, once you know the background of our summers at the beach, it is easier to understand why, one day when my dad had the day off, he decided to go swimming with my sister and me, despite the fact that the weather was cloudy and damp.

I loved to watch my dad run into the water. He was a good swimmer and seemed fearless! I guess I inherited his love of the ocean and even its rough waves. I loved to dive under the waves, bypassing those that looked formidable. Often, I could determine which was too rough and which seemed just tight. But, unfortunately, not always. On that particular day I couldn’t seem to perceive the difference!

I dove under one wave finally and tried to avoid its force before it came towards me, but I just didn’t time it right! As a result of my poor judgment, the wave pummeled me, and I wound up struggling in deep water.

In addition, there was something pulling me down, and I was caught in the riptide. I quickly panicked, and the more I tried to swim towards shore, the more I was pulled into the deeper, darker water!

Since I didn’t know then about the wisdom of swimming parallel to the shore, I kept trying to swim towards the shore. If they say that, doing the same thing again and again, but expecting a different result, is a good definition of insanity, then I was acting like one who is insane.

I must have started to move in another direction finally after praying silently and frantically because I felt myself moving towards shore. Slowly, I made progress until I could eventually pick myself up.

I was exhausted, drained and ready to collapse. My father was frantic since he had lost track of where I was. My sister was upset but eager to find me in good shape. I was just happy to be alive!

Yesterday two New Jersey cousins, aged 15 and 12, respectively , were caught in an ocean riptide, too. The older girl died, and the younger cousin is fighting for her life while on life support. I can identify with their struggle!

There were no lifeguards when the girls went into the water and no lifeguards years ago when I went swimming with my dad and sister. Never should any of us go swimming without lifeguards present! Also, diving under the waves, as I did, is reckless and foolhardy.

If we want to enjoy and survive the summer months, we have to practice safety measures and have proper respect and even a healthy fear of nature’s strength and risks. It is paramount that we understand and act upon these simple truths! To this day, I feel such gratitude to God that I survived that day and I am still here to tell this tale!

The End of an Era…

Tuesday, June 13th, 2017

Many of you might have heard of a time in the 1960s or early ’70s when what were once block after block of summer rooming houses in Rockaway Beach were demolished after plans were approved to improve the area in terms of building condos, malls and new stores, etc.

But what you might not be aware of is the end of an era that was brought about by these major changes. The only things that could never be destroyed are the memories of those people who comprised the life of that era, and I am so proud to be part of that era … gone, but not entirely forgotten!

As a child, I looked forward to the summers at my grandparents’ summer rooming house when I would spend my free time going to the beach just a block away and enjoying the cool, refreshing waters of the Atlantic Ocean. The friendships, adventures, trips to our beloved amusement park, Playland, and general ambience of those years will always be, not only a part of my memory, but an intrinsic part of myself as well.

From the time I was seven until I was eleven years old, every summer my family and I would leave our home in Brooklyn a week before school let out and drive to my grandparents’ summer rooming house in southern Queens, an area known as the Rockaways or, specifically, Arverne. It was a time of great excitement and joy for me. Many of my stories on this website relate to this special time in my life. As a naive child, I thought my summers in Rockaway would last forever!

But nothing good, bad or indifferent in this system lasts forever! When my grandmother announced at the end-of-the-season Labor Day party soon after my eleventh birthday that this would be our last season at Miller’s St. Regis, (the name of the summer rooming house), I can only know what I felt in my heart.

For a while, my heart was broken. I did not want my little world to be disrupted in any way by change! I knew that my life would never be the same, and I was not happy about it! I took it very hard and was, in a way, emotionally numb.

You see, every year, we would have our Labor Day party on the eve of the holiday, and the next morning, to me there would be a seemingly endless line of cars leaving our summer home that in my dramatic childhood heart I would compare to that of a funeral procession. It seemed so sad to me that the summer vacation was almost over, and soon my family and I would be returning to our home just like the others. Since our school began a week after Labor Day, we would stay on in Rockaway, along with my aunt, uncle, cousins and, of course, my grandparents, who owned the house, for several more days. But, like being given a death sentence, the deed was as good as done, even though time would intervene before its execution!

But knowing that this summer would be our last in Rockaway made the end of my eleventh summer the saddest of all. How can I put into words the broken-hearted spirit I experienced at that time? Young people have deeper feelings than that for which they are given credit. At that moment, I felt depressed, alone in my thoughts and anxieties and inconsolable.

Yes, I grew up and I moved on, but the very fact that I have chosen to tell this story testifies to the seriousness with which I internalized this loss. I even wrote a novel about it, which I called “The Wacky World of Winnie and Willie.”

Magical memories of my youth, my family, my friends and all the innocence of those precious years…my microcosm of
life…were all lost in a way that summer of my eleventh year, and it is therefore something that I can never forget or mitigate.

A Summer’s Tale

Monday, June 12th, 2017

Most of my summer stories are immersed in happy memories, much like fresh strawberries generously coated with rich dark chocolate. But this story is different! It starts off cheerfully enough, but, as it happens too often in life, unexpected events occur along the way!

Yes, my story has an innocent enough beginning. My sister was babysitting for the three-year-old son of one of the summer residents in my grandparents’ rooming house. With the parents’ permission she was allowed to take the little boy in his carriage to the park.

“Can we go, too?” My cousin, Dick, and I asked simultaneously in a slightly whining way.

“No!” My sister said, immediately and firmly. But when we kept nagging her by repeating the question over and over again, she eventually gave in to us.

“Okay, okay,” she said, “but you two better stay out of trouble. Babysitting for little Mike is more than enough for me!”

“You’ll forget we’re there,” I said with an innocent smile on my cherubic face.

“Just let Mom and Aunt Claire know that you’re going with us!”

“Okay, okay,” I said, on my way to Mom, who was on the porch of the rooming house. She would tell Aunt Claire.

Once Dick and I got the okay,
the four of us began our adventure.

“We’re going to the park a few blocks from here,” my sister told us.

“But that’s so boring,” we whined. There’s a much bigger and better park about a mile from here,” I said. “That would be so much more fun for Dick and me.”

“She’s right,” Dick repeated. “It’s a much better park!”

“Okay, okay,” my sister finally said, caving in once again. “But don’t complain about doing all that walking! There’s no room for you two in Mike’s carriage!”

“Very funny,” I said.

We passed the local park within a minute, and I could tell my sister wasn’t happy about bypassing this cute little park for a much bigger one a mile away.

We walked and we walked and then we walked some more! Little Mike was sleeping the whole way, and my cousin and I were holding in our frustration with the walking. If we said anything, Stephie, my sister, would just say, “I told you so!”

When we got there, Stephie stayed on the side of the park, essentially for parents and young children with baby swings and just a few pieces of equipment. Dick and I were immediately bored.

“This side of the park is too babyish for us! We’re going to the other side with the other swings and stuff for older kids!”

Then we walked away as my sister called after us to stay put. At that point Mike awoke and started crying. Dick and I just continued to the other side of the park.

When we got there, we headed for the swings, but we didn’t get too far. Out of seemingly nowhere came a gang of five kids , just a little older than we were. Immediately, they started punching us on on our faces and then anywhere they could. They kept shouting, “This is our park, not yours! Get out of here!”

We fought back as best we could, but it was five boys against a boy and a girl. The odds were obviously way against us!

And then they were gone, leaving Dick and me speechless, except for a few whimpers and with black eyes and bloody noses. When we reached my sister and Mike on the other side of the park, we were totally exhausted. We looked like a couple of retreating soldiers after a lost battle! I was crying!

All I remember was my sister screaming “Oh, my God,” and, because it was only the 1950s and mo cell phones, she led us to a pay phone booth to reach our moms so someone could pick all of us up. Thank God Mike’s little stroller could be folded up and put into the car!

I don’t remember much after that. It was a woeful tale, but I humbly learned some lessons about being obedient and not being reckless.

Most of our physical scars healed, but the emotional ones still remain to a certain extent. This tale is my only sad memory of summers spent at my grandparents’ rooming house. In a way it was the first of many reminders that life can be very unfair, and we can never be too careful!

By the way, my sister never said, “I told you so!”

Last Summer Memory From Long Ago

Monday, June 12th, 2017

Since I want to make my summer nostalgia into a trilogy, I have been sitting here watching the fabulous annual Tony Awards and wondering what I should write about! There are many memories, of course,but I am choosing only one because I want my blogs to be diverse…and I don’t want to take the chance of boring and then losing my audience!

I remember how the summer parties at my grandparents’ rooming house meant the world to me! The July 4th party was exciting since it served as a beginning of the summer festivities,and the Labor Day party, amidst the fun and good food, permeated an undefinable sadness since it symbolized in a sense the end of the summer and a return to school and work…in other words, reality! So let’s examine those parties in more detail!

Both parties had a few fabulous things in common: great food and beverages to fit every age group! Now what kind of good food are we talking about?

Now I have always loved cold cuts! We had the best pastrami, corned beef, bologna, salami and turkey, which was arranged most attractively amid the freshest rye bread I ever tasted since we know how important presentation is!

And the pickles were so sour they nearly took my breath away! And what fantastic cole slaw and potato salad! So fresh and delicious. Many times, Grandma and some of the other great cooks made their own salads! During the afternoon preparation, I would watch the ladies washing and slicing the potatoes, adding the mayonnaise and the other delicious ingredients! It was hypnotizing for me to watch them add spices and stir, stir, stir! Wow! Was that a treat!

I vaguely remember a variety of pies, cookies and cake. Of course, there had to be coffee as well!

And how could I help remembering the dancing! We always had a live band, and, as little as I was, I still found the best dance partners: my dad, my uncle and my younger cousin, Dick!

One year I was sick and had to miss the Labot Day party. I felt as though my little heart would break as I heard the music and the laughter while I was up in my room and no part of it! My parents and sister would bring up some food and a soft drink while trying to comfort me with a hug and a kiss!

Then, the day after Labor Day, most of the summer boarders would get ready to leave! There was so much packing and loading of cars! It looked a little like a desert caravan to me, but, of course we were at the beach, surrounded by the ocean on one side and the bay on the other! So maybe that’s a marred comparison! LOL.

However, even though my parents, my sister and I stayed a few days extra to help with the closing of the summer house, it still made me cry to see so many of our friends go back to the city and their real lives, so to speak. I guess I mourned the unofficial end of summer!

Memories! We humans are so blessed by God to have them! Animals live only in the present, but we can live in any time period we want through our mind’s eye! We have the ability to remember!

Build Summer Memories!

Saturday, June 10th, 2017

Summer is fast approaching! Start building memories now as the sultry temperatures and warm, lazy days begin to transform us into vacation mode! And don’t stop the momentum once the summer solstice finally arrives on that magical day…June 21st… richly enhanced by the fact that both my late husband, Nick, and my nephew, Al, were born on that date as well!

You know, dear readers and, hopefully friends, after having shared so many blogs together, summertime memories never die. Maybe, some others fade and/or extricate themselves from our memories, but not the ones we forged as young ones during our summer vacations. For me, those memories are as vibrant and alive as they were then! And, whether you can admit it right now or not, your memories are imbedded in your heart, too!

So I am going to tell you another true story from my youth…perhaps enriched a little by time, but still very much based upon an actual memory, which will always remain with me…and now, perhaps, with you!

This memory is of the last day of school back in the 1950s when I was just a little girl. Help me capture a special memory and see if it rekindles one of yours!

As a child, I felt excited, joyful and even special on my last day of elementary school each year because I was able to leave school a week early since my dad helped out with the running of my grandparents’ summer roominghouse. Imagine beginning summer vacation a whole week early!

I remember bringing my teacher a huge bouquet of American beauty roses straight from our family’s garden in Brooklyn. With the roses I handed her a stamped, self-addressed envelope and a note from my parents so that my report card could be sent to our summer home at Rockaway Beach. In return my teacher would smile and wish me a great summer!

Then it was over, and again, that feeling of great joy engulfed me as I skipped most of the five blocks towards my home. When I arrived, Mom and Dad were usually on the porch waiting for my sister and me to come home. Now that I was there, it would probably just be no more than a few minutes before my sister would be walking down the block.

As soon as my sister arrived, a few tears in her eyes from several poignant goodbyes to friends and teachers, the car already having been packed with all our things, “Rockaway Beach, here we come!”

How can I describe that overwhelming joy I felt as a child? Some feelings are difficult to put into words, but I will certainly try!

I could feel my heart beating a little stronger and definitely faster! I was, of course, smiling ear to ear! Probably, my face was one big smile! My rather clammy hands might have trembled a little from the excitement of the moment and my happy thoughts!

What did I think about! I visualized great beach days, where I would swim, jump with the waves and float peacefully if the water was calm.

Then I thought about seeing the fireworks on the boardwalk on Wednesday nights and then enjoying snacks from the concession stands! Maybe a hotdog on a bun with just a little sauerkraut and mustard with French fries! Or the scrumptious taste of homemade doughnuts and/or custard and ice cream!

Thoughts of holiday parties would float in my mind! The Fourth of July and Labor Day! I could picture staying up late, dancing in my fanciest dresses, eating delicious catered food and being allowed to have as many soft drinks as I wanted and, of course, desserts of all kinds from pies, cakes to puddings of different types and ice cream!

My last thought of bliss would be Playland, where my dad would take my sister, my cousins and me every summer. The rides were fantastic, as well as the Fun House and Davy Jones’ Locker. Of course, the snacks, soft drinks and cotton candy from the concessions were delicious, too! Dad was definitely our hero!

Yes, these are wonderful indelible memories of many years ago! They are intertwined with the very idea of summertime! They bring me peace when I am upset and joy when I feel down and help me to believe in a happy God Who will one day make beautiful memories like these a constant reality!

So, please, go on and build your own private, special and very happy memories!

Following the Theme of Love and Family

Thursday, June 8th, 2017

Today I will be writing one more blog on the theme of love and family…specifically children and grandchildren in my novel of historical fiction, “Escape From the Maelstrom.” I will be focusing on the need of my main female character, Karina, to have a child of her own, despite the odds against its ever happening! Will her need be fulfilled, or must Karina accept what seems to be the inevitable?

In yesterday’s blog I mentioned that Karina’s husband, Dimitri, has just died, seemingly at the hands of the Romanov regime, but we don’t know the details. Karina was in danger of being killed herself if she didn’t run away from the authorities. But she needs protection from an underground group if she is to survive, much less immigrate to America. She is placed in a rooming house in Odessa, where she gets a job as a language teacher.

Karina’s growing affection for Katya and Elena, the daughters of the family who own the rooming house where she is living while waiting for passage to America, shows her maternal side early in the novel. She befriends the girls, who ask her many questions about her prior life in Moscow. A warm and friendly relationship ensues.

Meanwhile, Karina has been given a new identity, including a different name, a bright red hair color and simpler hair style, but the spirit within her remains the same, even though even her name has been changed. It is now supposed to be Aleksandra.

Throughout her time in Odessa, Karina, aka Aleksandra, cannot help showing her kindness, compassion and love for children. Although I cannot divulge any more of the plot, time and again, she does what is asked of her and more.

It is only when a relationship develops between Karina and the father of the owners of the rooming house that she brings some unintended discord to the home of the people who have become her friends and that one special person who was chosen by the underground group to protect her and bring her to freedom.

Will Karina find real love once again and be trusted to take care of several young women who must look to her as a second mother? Will she ever have a child of her own? When you read “Escape From the Maelstrom,” you will find all the answers to these questions.

The book is available at www.redleadbooks.com or by calling 1-800-834-1803.

A Memorable Theme in “Escape From the Maelstrom”

Wednesday, June 7th, 2017

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My First Book of Historical Fiction…

Wednesday, June 7th, 2017

I have written various novels that took place in the 1960s, but, since they were based upon my early life, in my heart, I didn’t consider any of them historical fiction. They just seem like modern novels to me.

But”Escape From the Maelstrom” is much different! It takes place between 1912 and 1919. No one can deny that it is really historical fiction. It required great planning, organization and research…moreso than all my other novels except my biography of the Brownings, which required a year of research and various drafts.

I wrote “Escape From the Maelstrom” because my paternal grandparents immigrated to America in the 1890s. They had lived in Odessa, Russia, where they were persecuted for their religion. In those days, when it was least expected, Cossacks would ride into small Jewish villages and plunder and kill with no compunction. My grandparents, who ironically didn’t know each other in Odessa, escaped to the United States, where they met each other in a millinery factory.

They dated for a while, I presume, because no one ever actually asked them about their courtship. I guess, as a granddaughter, I was too embarrassed and shy. Anyway, they got married and had three amazing children: my Uncle, who became a negligence lawyer; then my dad, a home delivery supervisor for a New York newspaper, and finally, my beautiful aunt, a wise and compassionate wife and mother, who also had love in her heart for her two nieces: my sister and me.

When Grandpa came here, he took an Americanized name, the original Russian name never known by any of my cousins or me. If we would have asked, of course, he would have told us. But we never did, as far as I know, so the only valid name we know is my grandmother’s maiden name.

I decided to write a fictionalized account of my grandparents’ journey since I knew only little pieces here and there of their actual journey. The story is exciting and fast-moving. The main character, Karina, is courageous, compassionate, loving and wise, just like my grandmother. Karina is my idea of what my grandmother might have been like as a young woman. She is on the run from the Romanovs, the family of Czar Nicholas, who have targeted Karina and her husband, Dimitri. When the novel begins, Dimitri has just been killed, and Karina is a young and distraught widow.

There are many themes to the story and twists and turns of plot. In the next post I will discuss some of these and thus give you a better idea of why the novel is so special to me. The book is available at www.redleadbooks.com or by calling 1-800-834-1803.

I hope you will follow my next few posts as well! Until then,

Cheryl

A Precious Memory

Monday, June 5th, 2017

Summertime brings me back to those carefree years when I was just a happy, unstressed kid, whose main concerns were having adventures with my friends and eating enough of my favorite comfort foods, including chocolate ice cream sundaes with lots of whipped cream and a few cherries on top.

And, of course, any thought of summer refreshes my memories of the breathtaking aroma of hot-from-the-oven bagels and bialys emanating from the bagel store right around the corner from my grandparents’ summer rooming house, where my parents, older sister and extended family members spent our summers in the mid-to-late 1950s in the southern part of Queens known as Rockaway Beach.

Most of my early summer memories were captured in my first published novel in 2006, entitled”The Wacky World of Winnie and Willie.” Although a few copies of this novel can still be purchased, I am thinking of reissuing a contract with the publishing company so that my book will become readily available once again. It has appealed to young people as well as mature adults who have treasured the nostalgia.

Today, since Memorial Day brought the unofficial beginning of summer, I want to rekindle the excitement of one special memory: buying those delicious bagels, not only on Sunday mornings, but every morning I was allowed to, because it was summer vacation!

Kids had more freedom during those days…maybe because life didn’t seem as dangerous and risky then as it does now. This was decades ago, and crime, although it always existed, just wasn’t as prevalent then… or didn’t seem to be !
That means my friends and I could go off on our little excursions and rarely run into any trouble. On another occasion I will tell you about an adventure that turned awry, but now, let’s get back to the bagels!

I may not have been given the privilege of buying the bagels every day, but enough times for the sensuous memories to remain an intrinsic part of me. (Warning: get your car keys ready in case you have the irresistible craving for a nice, fresh bagel or bialy and make a fast getaway!)

The moment I awoke on those gorgeous summer days, temperatures in the eighties with a sweet ocean breeze refreshing us, I could smell, not so much the roses, daisies and the geraniums, but the freshly baked bagels and bialys. As soon as my mom gave my cousin and me the money and the order, we followed the robust and delicious aroma right around the corner to the bagel store. Our appetites became almost impossible to control as we selected the types of bagels on the list: fragrant garlic, onion, sesame seed, whole wheat and “everything” bagels! It was heavenly to imagine breakfast coming soon with one of those incredible bagels doused with rich butter or cream cheese and, if my mom was in a really lenient mood, even a little coffee.

With the transaction completed, my cousin and I returned from the bagel store to the delightful, old rooming house, focusing on just breakfast and bagels! No problems of any kind on our minds! Just the warm weather, the delightful ocean breeze and the sweet thoughts of a beautiful breakfast and a day of only the kinds of adventures that children on vacation back in the ’50s could enjoy!