For the first 4 years of my life, my mom, my dad and I lived upstairs from my paternal grandmother (aka Nanoo) and my Aunt Mary (aka Mimi).
We lived in 3 rooms. A large old-fashioned kitchen with a big white sink like you would see in the movie A Christmas Story, a large living room with a scratchy yet pristine couch, a smaller flowered love seat that pulled out into a bed, a big reclining chair and a console colored TV. The bedroom was small with a full-size bedand a small closet. That was the only closet space in the entire apartment! Oh wait! Maybe there was one in the living room. I can’t remember.
My Nanoo in her kitchen
We had a half bath with a toilet that was so tiny, if you were an adult your knees would hit the pipe directly in front of the bowl. Showers and baths were taken downstairs at my Nanoo’s but my mother used to bathe me in the large tub adjacent to the kitchen sink.
We had no air conditioning, so we spent most of our warm evenings on the porch swing chatting with the neighbors. This is the late sixties and early seventies, when you knew your neighbors and actually spent time with them. This is before everyone got too busy to see each other face to face, before families started moving away from each other instead of living on the same block or in the same house for that matter.
Playing the organ in my Nutley kitchen
This was a time when we all gathered for Sunday dinner at 1:00 in the afternoon to enjoy a giant pot of gravy with meatballs and sausage, and a huge bowl of macaroni (not pasta) that my mom and maternal grandmother (aka Grandma) slaved over for a couple of days just to get the perfect flavor.
My dad and I were always disappointed when mom made a roast beef or some other non-macaroni Sunday dinner. It just wasn’t the same without the smell of pork and beef wafting through the house.
In the Nutley kitchen with my cousins
In the summers I swam in my Uncle Al’s pool next door. He really wasn’t my uncle but calling a neighbor or a cousin aunt or uncle to show respect was an upheld practice. My Aunt Ann (aka Tootsie) also had a pool that we would swim in. She lived on the next block up the hill from us.
My Nutley childhood is full of fond memories of people, events, smells and daily life. It was simpler time.
In 1971 we moved to the next town over. It was only a 5 minute drive but it seemed like a world away. No more running downstairs to see Nanoo and Mimi. No more running up the block to visit Aunt Tootsie. No more running across the Pipeline to visit my Tata (my Nanoo’s sister) and my 2 cousins that were my age, Bobby and David.
I was alone in Bloomfield. No friends. No family. Just mom and dad.
My Poppy (my step-grandfather – really my great-uncle) helped my dad put up a 18 foot above ground pool. It seemed like days that they were digging. My dad
In my pool
was a perfectionist. Everything had to be smooth and level. When it was done, I couldn’t wait to jump in!
I spent day and night in that pool. I was part fish. I learned how to swim underwater first (I had been swimming since I was 2) and then I gradually mastered the art of freestyle. My dad was a great swimmer who could hold his breath longer than anyone I knew. He would stay under water for what seemed like hours but was really A LOT of minutes. It was unbelievable. No one could match or beat his breath-holding expertise.
One day a neighbor down the street came over with his daughter and introduced himself as Dick and his daughter Susan. He thought that we might be the same age – and we were. Susan was my first friend and more importantly, my first BEST friend. But Susan is another story – I’ll talk about her later.
Back to my my new house…
We finally had air conditioning! Two units! We all slept downstairs until I got a little older, then we moved upstairs. Then we had 2 units downstairs – one in the
My 1st bedroom at our new house
dining room wall and one window unit in the den (once my parent’s room, then the den, now my dad’s room) and one in each of our bedroom windows’ upstairs.
We could NEVER have all 4 on at the same time or they would trip a breaker. Two at a time my father said. So during the day we had the downstairs 2 running and at night the upstairs 2.
He used to come in my room to wake me up (I was NEVER a morning person) and bitch and moan because I kept the AC so cold. He’d walk in and say, “Jesus Christ! I can see my breath in here!” I loved it cold in the summer so I could snuggle underneath the covers.
During the summer we spent most of our time in the half finished basement watching TV, eating, playing games (this is when I wasn’t in the pool). We had another kitchen in the basement and my mom did most of her cooking downstairs 1. because of the heat of the summer (even with AC) and 2. because she wanted to keep the upstairs clean.
Did I mention that my mom (and her mother) were OCD, clean-crazy Italians? ALWAYS cleaning the house. You could literally eat off my grandma’s floors – they were so clean and shiny.
We weren’t ALLOWED to use the front door. The living room was for company
Sitting in the livingroom
only. Food was definitely off-limits there. I wasn’t allowed to sit on my bed after it was made. My mother always said, “Beds are for sleeping, not for sitting.”
That about sums it up.
My bedroom floor was covered with an itchy indoor/outdoor block carpeting. It was an ugly gold and I hated stepping on it. My walls were hidden with white wood paneling and wooden beams framing my bed. My furniture was a dark, early American clunky set that was popular in the seventies. One wall had ceramic Hummel’s that my mom made but I was not allowed to put up posters or anything like that.
I loved Donny Osmond and Michael Jackson but posters of the Jackson Five or Puppy Love were out of the question. Phyllis put her foot down.
We had a half bath upstairs complete with a built-in vanity and a little faux fur covered chair. It had a big sink that I loved washing my hair in. All my makeup (when it was time for makeup), hair stuff and other toiletries were tucked away in 3 out of the 8 cabinets. I loved that part of the house!
The kitchen was an open galley-like kitchen with a wall oven and a stove top. My
Singing away in the kitchen with Grandma & Poppy
mom set up a small “ice cream table” with 2 chairs so we had someplace to eat besides the dining room – which happened to be adjacent to the kitchen.
The living room had a wall of built-in bookcases and cabinets from floor to ceiling. It housed all the books we loved to read: Reader’s Digest, how-to books, nature books, encyclopedias and all the treasures that I bought from the Weekly Reader and various book fairs we had throughout the year at school.
The curtains on the front windows were made with material from Germany or Austria that one of my dad’s bosses brought back for my mom. They were pretty, white, lace curtains covered by a heavier material drape.
The entire house was wired for sound. I mean it was ahead of its time. We had speakers in the livingroom, kitchen, basement and everywhere else – all hooked up to a stereo system complete with turntable, radio and 8 track.
It was cool!
I loved my new neighborhood and my new friends.
To be continued….
© 2012 J. H-M and CultureChoc2010.