Tag Archives: New Jersey

Nana & Pop-pop

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nana&pop-pop2My Mom’s parents, Alice Murphy Kennedy and Robert Kennedy (yeah, I know) were a very big part of my rearing. We drove to their house in Harrison, New Jersey, every Sunday after mass to have dinner. Dinner, watch Disney, Ed Sullivan, drive back to Midland Park. Every single Sunday.

I adored my Nana Kennedy. She taught third grade in the Kearney School District, and I can remember being pretty little when she brought me into her class and I sat up on her desk like I was “show and tell.” Her kids fawned all over me, and I recall feeling pretty special.

Nana and Pop-pop had a special playroom right off of the kitchen – it was really tiny and I loved it – it had a toy chest and a little desk with crayons and construction paper. My brother Michael and I would spend hours in there while my Mom and Nana, and sometimes their next-door neighbor, Ta Baker, were gabbing in the kitchen, drinking cups of percolated coffee and smoking. Well, Ta didn’t smoke, but Mom smoked Tarringtons (I’d rather fight than switch,) and Nana smoked Salem menthols (Take a puff…it’s springtime.) Sometimes they’d have some coffeecake, or crumb-bums, as Nana used to call them. Mmmm, New Jersey, bakeries, crumb-bums. Heaven.

I think my sister Christine, who was about 9 months old, was crawling around in the playroom sometimes – she probably wasn’t being watched very well. We were busy coloring; I don’t think we were responsible for her…. And in the kitchen there was so much gossip to get caught up on, you know? Christine grew into one of the strongest, most self-reliant, independent women I’ve ever known, so maybe this baby neglect was useful in the long-run.

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“Son of a bitch, take the g.d. picture already!” “Bob, the kids….”

Pop-pop was a rather curmudgeonly character with coke-bottle glasses. He was an avid reader of history books, loved to golf, and was constantly puffing on a big, fat stogy. In his youth, he sang in a barbershop quartet. He was a terrible driver and cussed like a sailor. Despite his gruff exterior, he was a total creampuff and oh boy, when Christine was born, was he ever enamored with her! I’m sure he loved all of us, but was very taken with Christine – I think all grandparents have their special grandkids – not all of them show it like Pop-pop did. Like I said, total creampuff.

Fast forward to 1990-something. Nana and Pop-pop long gone. I was visiting my Mom and came across my Nana’s grey curly Llama coat that she wore for years – oh, it was so her. I took it out of the closet and put it on – it smelled like cigars – man, the floodgates opened. My Mom said go ahead and take it. I’ve had some work done on it – it was sort of falling apart. I’ve had it dry-cleaned I don’t know how many times, but I can’t get the cigar smell out. I’m not sure I want to.

Social Justice (Or Anger Issues)

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Feeling the inequalities from when I was just beyond toddlerhood, I fiercely demonstrated for my human rights and social justice. Once my parents were visiting their friends in South Orange, New Jersey, when I was pretty little, I must have been about four years old. They had a bunch of little boys, and we were all told to go play out in their backyard. It must have been martini time for the grown ups. I actually remember the boys telling me I couldn’t play with them because I was a girl, and I hot-headed it outta that backyard.

The cops found me walking down a street in Newark. I got to ride in the back of the squad car (the first of a few rides like that I’ve taken…) – they must have gotten a call that a little red-headed 4-year-old was having a protest march. This was years before the Newark riots, so I don’t think I started anything.

Flash forward to ten years old – we still lived in New Jersey – and there was a little strip of woods between Payne Avenue and the next street – Hill Street – the Hill Street gang being our rivals. Kenny Miller lived two doors down from us. His dad was a carpenter, and we used scraps of wood to build a two-story fort behind Kenny’s garage. It was pretty swanky, and we called it the Rinky Dink Club. It took us a couple of months to build it – I was over there every day after school, hammering away, smashing my fingers, hauling wood, cleaning stuff up, etc. We put the finishing touches on the fort, screen windows and doors, and locks. I was then unceremoniously told that I couldn’t belong to the Rinky Dink Club because I was a girl. I freaked out. The night of my “dismissal,” I went over to the fort and I ripped up the screens and did some major damage to the place. I was like some kind of hell cat. I thought about setting the fort on fire, but figured that might be excessive.

The Rinky Dink Club of Payne Avenue was all up in arms because they reckoned it was the kids from Hill Street who did the damage. It wasn’t even considered that I could have been the culprit. We were out in the street playing Kick the Can, and all the boys were plotting their revenge upon the Hill Streeters. I was thrilled and guilty at the same time.

Yeah, guilt. Catholic school girl that I was, I needed to confess in the worst way. I couldn’t stand it anymore. I told my little brother, Michael, that it was me – I did it – I ripped up the Rinky Dink Clubhouse. And he squealed on me the next day – I couldn’t believe it! I forget the exact sequence of events, but we were up in his room, and I was so outraged that I stabbed Michael in the shoulder with a pencil. He claims to still have the lead in his shoulder to this day.

Well, I confessed to all of it and had to make amends – but those guys also had to admit me into the Rinky Dink Club. I told them I didn’t want to join their Stinky Dink Club…SO THERE!