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The Early Years on 84th Avenue

By December 5, 2020One Comment
Fred and John

A Family Narrative among brothers and sisters

This started in response to a request from Julia Kovatch for information about my childhood. I wrote the following text during her visit with us in Switzerland over this past Christmas holiday.

Notes by Fred’s for his grandchild Julia (Dec 2008)

(We lived in two houses. During the summer we lived in a frame bungalow that faced the Atlantic: this was the famous 271 of family history. During the school year, we lived on 84th Avenue in Richmond Hill, NY near where Remare lives now.)

271 Oceanside on far left

112-05 84th Avenue1.         Rocking horses

I recall two rocking horses. The first one was for an infant, probably me, but I remember it more as being a toy for my younger siblings, perhaps having been periodically repainted and spiffed up. The horse was just a cutout of the head and neck, and the seat, which was a plywood square surrounded by a kind of framing was supported by “legs and feet” and attached to the rocker. The second rocking horse was not really a rocking horse, but a walker. It was metal, probably tin, and if you pressed down on the stirrups the legs of the horse would move toward the center and when the stirrup was released the horse would surge forward. On the bottom of its hooves were small wheels. It was an outdoor toy. It did not go very fast, but it did move along. It must have been a gift during the Hoppalong Cassidy stage. The interest in cowboys and Indians when through several stages. There was the first costume stage. What I recall was a kind of Daniel Boone outfit complete with furry hat and double holster cap guns. The next stage involved fancier cap guns. At one point I also had a rifle. We would want to play cowboy and Indians in Forest Park, riding imaginary horses along the paths. We would also gallop through the dunes at Breezy, but I do not recall the paraphernalia at the beach. The third stage must have involved the beginning of the TV cowboys. We would watch the Long Ranger (’49-52 and 54-57) Roy Rogers (51-57) and Gene Autry regularly and these programs would fuel our imaginations for further play.

In fact, the best rocking horse was probably the imaginary ones either in Forest Park or the dunes of Breezy. Of course, riding horses was something that was exotic, unimaginable that we would actually ride a horse. This was very clearly an adult thing, and adults very different from our parents or our family did.

My only close relationship with a horse was with the work horses that would arrive each summer to shift the sand from between the bungalows. These were heavy boned, thickly hoofed, plodding animals who would be harnessed to large steel shovels that were pulled behind. The horses and handlers were able to move between the bungalows, a fairly narrow divide of perhaps three or four feet. During the winters, sand would collect between the bungalows and often rise above the level of the decks that provided access to the doors of the houses. The aim was to drag the excess sand, ladleful by ladle full, out into the back on the other side of the garbage truck tracks. We used to sit for hours watching the men work, most of them were black as I recall so this was another exoticism for the RP kids since black people did not live or even appear at Rockaway Point except for these men. I think one time, one of the men let me guide the horse in its work. The horses were certainly programmed to go through the necessary motions so my assistance was unessential. We would bring out pitchers of water for the men to drink. The work was not easy for the men or for the horses.

2.         Going into Manhattan

I dreamt last night of going to Best & Company with mother. We started at Rockefeller Center looking for Dr. Vaughan’s office. I was by myself at this point. I was fascinated by the sculpted building and the gold decorative touches. When we went to the dentist, we always visited the skating rink, even if it was not winter. It felt like you were in an urban cocoon isolated from the hustle and bustle of the city. The walls of the complex rose up from the skating rink like barriers. It was calmer and there were birds. In the winter, the skaters seemed to be cast for a part in a movie, skating about gleefully without a care in the world. I went skating there once, but I have no recollection of how old I was. We entered the building by the southern column on 5th avenue and took an elevator up to Dr. Vaughan’s office. The waiting room with its tidy furniture and chemical smell. A place of anxiety because nothing good ever happened in the dentist’s office. The workroom, what would you call it, with its barber shop type chair, enameled equipment around, in front, and above you. The tray of instruments with small jars filled with the compact, elongated cotton tubes that would get shoved uncomfortably into different parts of your mouth. We would get Novocain sometimes if we had a particularly important cavity, but there is no Novocain to deaden the painful sound of the machine. He was a nice man, Dr. Vaughan: a kind of secular priest who cared and was caring. We liked to go see him, but it was not pleasant. I was wondering in my dream, or was I awake, about how we got there. Did mother take us on the subway? Did Dad drive the car into the city? How did it work exactly?.

Mother would take us shopping to Best’s which was also located off 5th Avenue but further downtown as I recall, but perhaps I am confusing it with Macy’s which I think was/is at 34th St. In my dream the entry to the story was cathedral like. Walking up to the entry door which was on a corner was like entering the side door of a cathedral. Carved stone, dark, solemn. I am not sure that we liked going to Best’s because mother would be shopping for fancy dress clothing, not a new pair of jeans. In my dream, the awful first communion outfit came to mind with its starched Buster Brown collar. Maybe it was the discomfort factor that linked these two memories in my mind. Then there were the elevators. I still like elevators. As I recall, the Lord and Taylor elevators were the classiest. If it was Christmas time, we might pass by the FAO Swartz (5th and 58th) and stare at the windows. I am not sure that we would go in, but maybe it was part of the palliative care associated with the visit to Dr. Vaughan. I must have been rather small—4 or 5—because the figurines in my memory seem life sized.

Mother and we would arrive back home with shopping bags of stuff so we must have traveled on the subway. Difficult to remember that bit, but surprising that it has not been stored somewhere because the trip itself must have been impressive for a young child. Maybe it was just boring and tedious.

The other memorable shopping place, but at the other end of style and sophistication, was Lewis’ in Woodhaven on Jamaica Avenue. A 5 and 10. The specific memory that remains was the one time that mother let me choose my birthday present-usually it was a surprise. We went together to Lewis’ and I looked around. I was attracted to a toy that was an airport that had a plane suspended from a light wire and some sort of plastic boom, and she bought this for me. Later, it seemed like the most disappointing of all birthday presents although I remember playing with it. Airplanes and airports must have been quite novel at the time—I must have been between 8 and 10 so 1951-53. We were familiar with airports because of LaGuardia and the military airport, Floyd Bennett Field near the Marine Parkway Bridge (the one that Lindbergh flew from on his trans-Atlantic flight to Paris—not true, he flew from Roosevelt Field in Garden City), but I did not fly in an airplane until I was seventeen.

  1. Sandwiches

Childhood sandwiches were lunchbox sandwiches. We each had a lunchbox, and we ate in the school cafe everyday, but I do not remember a single thing about grammar school. I remember the cafeteria because John and I used to see sandwiches and soft drinks on bingo nights—I remember the space from that, not from eating my lunch there. Lunch sandwiches are inextricably linked with small cardboard boxes of milk at room temperature. I suppose we ate the sandwiches, but without enthusiasm. Special sandwiches were for the weekend. Flying saucers go all the way back to 271 I think. And Taylor ham—a kind of spicy ham sausage which we loved to fry. Bologna was good fried too. The sandwiches that we sold (and basically could eat as many as we wanted) established a benchmark for a great sandwich. Especially the tuna sandwiches that had almost an inch of tuna fish spread between the slices of bread. There was so much tuna fish that it would ooze out the sides, but they were great. I do not recall the other types that we sold, but the tuna and the ice cold sodas that we sold out of large garbage cans filled with ice were also terrific.

4.         Language

Even in grade school, I loved words. I enjoyed going to the Richmond Hill library. I just liked being there—an ordered, reverential bank of words. At some age, I tried to organize the books we had into a kind of home library. At the time, we had hinged, glass fronted, wooden bookcases, and it was in these that I organized the books. I think that some of these bookcases are still being used at RH. Isn’t one of them down stairs where mother displays her old pictures?

We had a very significant advantage over contemporary children because TV was never really part of our childhood experience. We did get a TV when we were still living at 84th Avenue (large cabinet with a screen that was perhaps 10×10 cm). We would always watch the same shows together after dinner. Jack Benny, Milton Berle, Lawrence Walk, Jackie Gleason and the honeymooners. There were so sports events broadcast at that time, at least none that we watched. At the beach we only had a radio that Dad and Grandpa McGinty would listen to on the front porch after dinner.

5.         My two wheeler

The blue and chrome Columbia bicycle. A present from Santa when I was 8. My first two wheeler. I do not recall what I had before the Columbia. Of course, we talked about which was better, Schwinn or Columbia—John, Brien, maybe Georgie, who else did we play with at that age. Anyway it is still gorgeous in my mind leaning against the windowed front wall on the unheated porch off the living room. Unwrapped, as all gifts from Santa were, and unseen until all the family had breakfasted, waited, and waited. There it was. For I do not know how long it stayed on the front porch because of the winter snow. Maybe I polished it. Maybe I tried to sit on it. I almost certainly thought of riding it gloriously down the street, but aside from its just being there like an addition to the manger. I have no actual recollections of my first ride. From the start did it have a rear view mirror, or did I add them later saving up my allowance money. Battery powered lights. Plastic streamers from the handle bars.  Was there a small license plate with my name on it? The bike was enormous. Its central hollowed tube bright blue and white. Chrome everywhere. Were the fenders chromed? Didn’t it have white walled tires? This would have been ’51 or ’52. A Columbia 5 star—you can find them on the WWW. With the horn build into the central tube. The light in the front and the back. The chain guard. Magnificent.

I had studied the traffic rules and signals in order to qualify for my merit badge (? I just looked up a site and there does not appear to be such a merit badge—part of the fabulous). Anyway, I had studied the rules and was going to practice them in real life. It was after lunch. A beautiful spring day. We were still living at 84th Avenue and so I would have come down 110 St and turned right at 85th Avenue to get to 111 Street. I don’t suppose that I would have ridden on Myrtle Avenue, and I don’t recall why I wanted to ride down 111th which was an old carriage road, I think you would say, with two wide lanes. Were we friends with the Finneran boys who lived on 111th between Myrtle and 86th avenue. Was I going to ride by their house to show off my bike? Anyway, I rode down 111th by the curb, but I intended to turn left onto 86th avenue at the church. I had my double rear view mirrors. I saw the car behind me, but figured that if I signaled that I would have right of way. I signaled my intention to turn left. I turned left. Right into the front fender of the car. Fell, peed, scared to death, scrambled to pick up my bike, avoided the man who was probably near to having a heart attack—can you imagine? He had seen me and slowed down, but couldn’t believe that I would actually turn in front of me. Then he hit a kid! Anyway off I scrambled embarrassed to death because my piss had darkened by chinos. Straight back home. Worrying about my bike—did I damage the fender. Worrying about how I was going to get past mother with my peed on pants. Worrying about being such an idiot to think that hand signals would be sufficient to control my world. I think mother was very discrete. I do not have any recollection of any query regarding the peed pants. If my bike was slightly scratched, I would have been grateful that my rear view mirrors had not been shattered. I used to tell this story to my students to illustrate that I too had experienced the terror of learning to live ones life within the context of other people’s lives. As I think back they enjoyed the story, but who knows really what evil lurks in the minds of students.

8.         Touch football in the street

We played touch football in front of Mike Flynn’s house on 112th just south of Myrtle. I was older when we started—probably eleven or twelve and then through high school, I suppose, but somehow I have the idea that we grew apart during secondary school because Mike went to the Christian Brothers school while we went to Xavier on 16th Street in Manhattan. Diagonally across the street lived Jack Gallagher who was older and went to Xavier and then later taught at Xavier and was responsible for fundraising. Francis still runs into him. Anyway, the touch football games with the cars parked on both sides of the street. Mike’s elderly neighbor who lived on the south side of his house with the hedged in front lawn into which our football would inevitably find its way. I remember this used to be a concern, but I don’t remember specifically way. Would she chase us off her lawn because the ball had ended up there—probably. But with no effect. Why do people bother? Anyway great fun. I am sure that we all felt that we were playing a the level of the Giants. We had favorite plays. Mike would always be ready for the desperation of the Hail Mary pass—run as fast as you can and I will throw the ball as far as I can and hope that you will catch it. Many plays involving circling back, laterals behind the line of scrimmage—sometimes two or three times for short yardage gains. We would have four to six players so who were they? Mike John Fred Jack, but then who else. I don’t remember. How can you have so much fun with people and then forget their names? Maybe Brien Keener? Maybe some other friends of Mike because he was 2-3 years older than us, was he really? He probably had different friends.

After Julia went back to Cleveland, I finally got back to my interest in researching our genealogy, and doing this prompted other memories about our grandparents which I also prepared for Julia. At the same time, I found out some interesting information about our Piderit ancestors, and particularly about several who were quite well known researchers. By a Goggle search ruler, John and Kristin have to be our current outstanding researchers so I sent them some of the results of my findings and included the following piece about our grandparents.

I have been thinking again about your school project that is due for the end of January. I have been thinking about those things that we have done together and this got me thinking of the things that I did with my grandparents when I was your age, or at least during my childhood. I thought that you, as well as your mother and your aunt Lauren, might find my stories about my grandparents interesting.

Of course, the basic fact of our relationship is that we have always lived far away from each other and, I suppose, always will. As a result, we only get to do things together once in a while, for instance baking cookies together once every four years! Or sailing Asterix on during an occasional summer visit.

As for my grandparents, we always lived fairly nearby. My father’s parents, Boppie and Grandma Piderit, lived in Woodhaven on 88th Street just ten minutes away by car from our house in Richmond Hill. My mother’s parents, Grandma and Grandpa McGinty, lived in Brooklyn on Putnam Avenue until I was about your age now, and then they moved to Richmond Hill and lived just a few blocks away from us. In addition, during the summer months, my mother’s parents lived with us in the same little, bungalow because it had been their summer house so from mid- June to the beginning of September we lived very closely with them indeed—the bungalow was quite small!

Although my father’s parents lived fairly close by, we would only see them once in awhile, usually on a big occasion such as Christmas and Easter and then the visit would be in the afternoon for a special cake that we would eat in their dining room. We would always be dressed up like for a formal occasion. We always went to their house for the visit which must have been a big bother for my mother because we were so many. I do not remember them ever visiting us in our house.

There are two things that I did with my grandfather that remind me of things that we do together. Upstairs in their house, they had a room that was like a study: there was a large desk and some upholstered furniture as well as a card table: eventually, there was a large TV in a stylish wooden cabinet—you have to remember that I did not really grow up with a TV so Boppie’s TV was a marvel although I cannot remember ever watching it.  After we had our treat (a piece of cake or cookies and juice), we would go upstairs to the study and Boppie Piderit would let us play with his wooden puzzles and other mysterious surprises that were kept in a large closet that was filled with all sorts of mysterious things. I remember one puzzle in particular which was a wooden cube, a bit like a Rubik’s cube but without the swiveling bit, that I am not sure we ever figured out. When your mom and Lauren were children, I made them wooden toys, and this idea must have been related to Boppie’s closet.

My second memory was going to Boppie’s house to have scrambled eggs for lunch—he made fantastic scrambled eggs! I remember being told that he liked to cook, but the only dish that I ever ate was the scrambled eggs. When I was your age, Boppie was about my age now, and as far as I know (but of course I did not really think about it at the time) he had always been retired ( he had been a banker like my father) although he continued to serve as the Treasurer of the New York Athletic Club in Manhattan at least while Father John and I were in high school. Boppie Piderit was responsible for getting us really good summer jobs at the NYAC—John and I both enjoyed going into work each day with my father and meeting him for the drive back to the beach house—but that is another story.

So the connection with Boppie Piderit, as you have already understood, is cooking. I remember that when I visited once, Boppie had just gotten a brand new stove. It was blue enamel and a marvel. It had shiny chrome control levers that could be removed for easy cleaning. I can still see that shiny blue stove quite clearly in my mind’s eye. Otherwise, we did not really do very much with my father’s parents.

My relationship with my mother’s parents was more varied and, I have to admit, more fun-filled. I had more of a relationship with Grandma McGinty than I did with my mother’s father. When I was very little, like Emily, Grandpa McGinty may still have been working—he worked for the New York Journal American: the newspaper no longer exists—it stopped publishing in 1966. But when I was your age, Grandpa McGinty had retired and we did many things together during the summer months at the bungalow. His pet project was trying to control the level of the sand on the right side of our bungalow. You see there was a vacant lot to our right between us and our neighbors. The wind from the ocean would blow the sand away between the houses during the winter months and, for some reason that I never really understood, Grandpa wanted to keep a level amount of sand on that side of the house. I remember spending hours with him planting beach grass along the side of the house. We would collect the beach grass from the “weeds” (the wild, unoccupied sand dunes that stretched out behind the row of bungalows), and then plant them in neat rows beside the house. Then, of course, we had the water the little tufts of grass. I hate to say that this activity never resulted in anything more than a very temporary success, but it was something that we did together.

The other big activity was sweeping the deck and the boardwalk. This was the summer chore that John and I had to do almost every day, I think.  We probably did not mind too much except on those days when it was already very hot in the morning, but Grandpa Piderit would supervise us and make sure that we did not skip some part of the deck.

As I said, my mother’s parents moved to Richmond Hill when I was just a bit older than you. It was my grandmother who helped me with my homework—I was not the world’s greatest student in school! It started when I decided, and my parents agreed, that I would like to go to Xavier High School in Manhattan. This is a private, Jesuit school that was a military school and I think that I was fascinated with the uniform. Anyway, I had to pass an entrance test, and I was quite young (12) when I started high school (indeed, I never graduated from primary school because I went to high school early). Anyway, I would go over to Grandma McGinty’s apartment on 112th Street (just two blocks away from the 110th Street house) and she would help me prepare for this test. I probably did not enjoy this very much, but it must have helped because I was admitted to Xavier. Once I was admitted, things must have quickly gone down hill because I continued to go to her apartment several times a week to get help with my homework, especially with Latin and math, both of which required some grandmotherly support. How does this fit in with our relationship? Well, I guess that I thought that I was helping you with your school work by writing this narrative so that would be the link.

I almost forgot about telling jokes which we have come to do together. Whenever Grandpa happened to be sitting on the deck as we came up to the house after swimming, he would always ask us how the water was, and the expected answer was, inevitably, wet. I remember him telling us other jokes, but this mantra is the only one that I remember at the moment.

The last thing that I remember doing regularly with Grandpa McGinty was burying the watermelon. You have to understand that the old bungalow that I grew up in (I had left home for college when my mother and father moved to the much bigger summer house at Tioga Walk) was very small, and the kitchen, including the fridge, was radically small for so many people. So, when my Dad bought a watermelon, or corn on the cob, for all of us we would bury it in the sand. Grandpa McGinty helped supervise this. The first problem was digging a hole deep enough in the sand to keep the produce fresh. The real problem was finding the watermelon several days after we had buried it—he would place a stick to mark the spot, but sometimes the stick became displaced and then we would have to find the watermelon by trial and error. The final problem was to avoid slicing into the watermelon or the corn when we went to dig it up because then it could become all sandy on the inside. Obviously, this happened more than once.

Speaking of corn on the cob, it was Nanu’s (Barbara’s) mother who taught me how to cook fresh corn properly. Whenever we went to visit Grandmere and Grandpere during the summer with your mother and Lauren, they would have corn on the cob at least once because it was so delicious, and Grandmere know how to cook it just right so that it still tasted fresh and sweet. Your mom and Lauren will write to you about their memories of their grandparents, but visiting with them was always a big excursion because we lived about two and a half hours away from Nanu’s (Barbara’s) parents and an hour and a half from my parents. Of course, you know Ramere and Nanu’s parents, but my father died before you were born.

John responded to these recollections with some of his own and so the string had begun.

John wrote on 22 Jan 2009

As you know, you (Fred) and I went shopping with Dad every Friday evening.  Dad would have the list from Mother and we would go first to King Kullen, then to Jahn’s vegetable store, across the street.  Sometimes we would also go to the fish store, which was on the corner of 113th Street, right next to Jahn’s.  Since Dad always seemed to need something from the Brite’s hardware store (or maybe he just liked poking around the hardware store), we would also go in there on many a Friday night.  Dad usually went to two supermarkets, to take advantage of the sales.  So, after shopping in King Kullen and making other visits in that area, we would go down to the A & P, which was located on the south side of Jamaica Avenue between 104th Street and 102nd Street.

After all this Friday night shopping was completed, I recall us going over to Woodhaven to visit with Grandma and Boppie Piderit.  It would be after their dinner that we arrived, and we would usually meet up in Boppie’s study, up on the second floor.  We would stay maybe for a half-hour and then go back to Richmond Hill and unload the groceries.  At least, that is how I recall it.

At some point we no longer went to King Kullen or A & P.  Rather, there was a new supermarket on Myrtle Avenue, almost across from the Post Office, close to 115th Street.  I forget what the name of this one was, and in subsequent years it changed ownership, but it belonged to one of the larger chains.  This switch may also have been connected with the time when we went shopping.  At some point fairly early on, Dad started doing the shopping on Saturday morning, after 7:30 Mass in Holy Child.  We would head out right away about 8 am to get there early.  But I can recall going to A & P early on Saturday.  In addition, after A & P we would go to the Wonderbread (or was it Bond Bread) outlet off 102 Street at about 90 Avenue to get day-old bread, which was cheaper.  All this was Saturday morning activity.  So the change of time and change of supermarkets did not coincide.  I cannot remember how long you and I were part of the Saturday morning program at the New York Athletic Club.  It may have been for only a year or two.  But that must have occurred during the time when we were doing the shopping on Friday night, since, with shopping obligations. we would otherwise not have been available to take the train into the NYAC on Saturday morning.

Maybe because we were going shopping on Saturday morning, the routine changed, but we would no longer go over to Woodhaven and visit at 87th Street after shopping.  It may be that Dad had to get back for breakfast and get started on one of his many fix-it projects around the house.  But then I do recall that Dad would often take you, me, Mary Alanah, Juleen, and some of the others to visit Grandma and Boppie Piderit late on a Saturday afternoon.

How much all of this continued when you and I were in high school, I don’t know.  First, as we got older, on some Saturdays you and I often had the job of cleaning up after Bingo in Holy Child Auditorium.  This was a good job, since it paid $5!  We had to do this on Friday morning, and for this reason, we no longer regularly went shopping with Dad.  That’s probably when Mary Alanah and Juleen joined the shopping crew.  Also, at some point we had Xavier activities even on Saturday.

On 9 Feb 2009, John wrote:

I was at Mother’s yesterday and we were talking about you and your birthday today.  I told Eds a story about Mother which you may or may not recall.  For some reason it had come to my mind about two days ago.

What I am going to describe happened sometime when I was in high school.  I don’t recall exactly when, but I know it happened in the kitchen at 110th Street.  If I had to pick a year, it would probably 1958.

Before I describe the incident, I have to give a little background.  You, of course, remember the Lasalle (or was it LaSalle) car that had been given to Dad by Boppie Piderit.   I presume it was given to Dad around the time he and Mother got married or sometime thereafter.  In any event, this is the car we knew when we were young.  Eventually the car was replaced by a series of station wagons.  The first station wagon we got was presented to the family in an exciting way.  We were still living on 84th Avenue.  It was Christmas Day and the children had all been let into the front porch where the presents were.  Our grandparents, who were all living then, were there, as were many of the McGinty aunts and uncles.  This was a total family event and all the family had to be present so that they could enjoy the children enjoying their Christmas presents.

After we had opened all or most of our presents, we children were told that another big present was about to arrive and that we should look out the window.  When we were given the signal, a new car (actually, it was a used car) arrived and it parked in front of our house.  As I recall, it was Fr. Jack who drove the car up in front of the house.  (I presume Dad had it parked around the block and Fr. Jack just had to go get it and drive when Dad told him we were ready.)  As I recall, this was the station wagon which had actual wood on the outside.  Whether the wood was rotting at that time, I don’t know, but the wood eventually started to rot. (Once the wood started to go, another station wagon was purchased.  That was the one which was powder blue, Mother’s favorite color!)

We were all sad to see the Lasalle go, but we were also happy with the new, larger car.  Whether Dad ever tried to maneuver the station wagon into the garage on 112 Street, I don’t know.  Not too long after that we moved to 110th Street.  That move occurred in December, 1957, when I was a freshman at Xavier.  Mother was pregnant with Eds, and then he was born in January, 1958.)  At some point after we got that first station wagon, Mother learned how to drive.  As you recall, it was unusual for women to drive in those days, although Keenie was already driving.  However, Mother had to be able to get around in Richmond Hill.  So, she would drive to the stores and then also drive to Brooklyn if she had to take us to see Dr. Lombard.  Whenever we went somewhere as a family, Dad would do the driving.  Mother was not a great driver, but she never claimed to be.  She probably did not like driving that much, but she knew she had to do it.

All of that is by way of background.  One day we were at dinner in the kitchen at 110th Street.  Mother had been driving the car for a while.  I cannot remember for sure when Mother started driving, but I am fairly sure she was already driving by the time we moved to 110th Street.  The reason is that I can recall her driving us back and forth from 110th Street to 84th Avenue to pick up items that were still at 84th Street.  But I am not positive about this.  Perhaps you recall better.

Maybe Mother had been driving for only a few months or maybe it had been for a year or more, but it could not have been for too long.  At dinner at 110th Street, Dad decided to help Mother reflect on what to do if something went wrong with the car.  So he said to Mother, “Mary, I want to describe to you a situation and then ask you what you would do.  Suppose you are in the car and you get a flat tire.  You pull over to the side of the road and now you have to figure out what you would do.  What do you think you would do?”  As I recall, Mother was unflummoxed by the question.  She said quickly and confidently, “Well, let me think about that.  The first thing I would do is to push all the buttons on the dashboard to see if any of that helped.”  It was probably impolite, but Dad and the older ones among us all roared.  The notion that the dashboard could have anything to do with the flat tire was a thought not many people would have.  And yet, by her tone, Mother probably thought she was proceeding fairly scientifically about this issue!  I don’t recall anything else about the incident.  I have no idea what Dad recommended to Mother, but I suspect, after her response, he must have fairly quickly signed the family up for AAA.

Fred responded on 9 Feb.

Your narrative brings to mind two other stories connected with mother, the garage at 84th avenue, and our childhoods. The first story occurred not long after the LaSalle had to be sold; as I recall, Dad had explained to us that we could not continue with the LaSalle because it had been too difficult to find replacement parts (GM stopped making the LaSalle in 1940, but “our” LaSalle was from the thirties, before 1938. It was manufactured by Cadillac and remains a highly desirable antique car. I found a photo to aid our collective memories. Of course, our LaSalle was black, but looks in my mind’s eye very much like this model.) One of the issues with the new station wagon had to do with the famous corner door and the protective bump that protected the neighbor’s garage (it is still there). While the LaSalle fitted handily into the garage, the newer station wagons always had to be maneuvered quite carefully. We were returning from a day somewhere and Mary Alanah was carrying a pot of spaghetti, which I presume was left-over from the occasion. Holding the pot very carefully, of course, she very carefully placed her right foot on the running board and shifted her weight forward. Since there was no longer any running board, she, and the spaghetti ended up on the garage floor, which if you recall was filmed with dirt and oil.

The second story has to do with mother more directly.  I do not think she will recall this story because even years ago she did not own up to it. As a surprise, Dad had brought home a lobster for dinner. Mother was not thrilled–I think that she said that she did not know how to prepare the beast. Dad explained that, quite simply, you dropped the beast in boiling water and let it cook for a few minutes. (In mother’s defense, the operation is a wee bit more complicated by the fact that you have to tie the beasty up so it does not make a terrible mess in the kitchen. We were sailing with friends some years ago in the Caribbean and had bought a lobster and had significant difficulty with the tying up bit.) Anyway, the key detain in the preparation is that the lobster had to be cooked while it was still alive. I think that this may have been the key obstacle as far as mother was concerned. It also provided the strategy. She suggested that Dad put the lobster in the famous spaghetti pot with lots of fresh water and put it in the garage until she figured out how she would prepare it. So Dad did that. Mother waited. We compulsively went out to the garage to check the lobster. Mother waited. The lobster died. Problem solved!

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  • Fred Piderit says:

    Dear Ann, Thank you for this new section about 84th Avenue. The pictures are wonderful, thank you for digging them out. You seem to have the determined researcher’s will to find these. In the first one with John and I, I cannot immediately identify our friend with the headdress–is that Brian Keener?

    I will have to print out a copy of the piece that I wrote for Julia and give it to Emily. Julia must have been about 14 when I wrote this for her.

    Still working, still with frustration, trying to track down the Shebby history.
    Fred

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