Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Family Camping-Are We Having Fun yet?

Family Camping....what a romantic idea! Bonding—building teamwork-facing challenges together–getting close to God's creation....economical... well...

Preparations for our first camping trip as a family in 1964— destination Lake George, N.Y.— were almost as exciting as the actual trip. Very characteristic of my dad, (Mr.Sawdust) we were going to do this right! One Saturday he escorted my six brothers and me to a large Army-Navy surplus store in Manhattan, a forty minute drive from our home in Upper Montclair, NJ. These stores were equivalent in the 60's to the sports outfitters of today. Each of us was fully equipped with a comfy flannel lined sleeping bag, a denim duffel bag, a compass, a whistle and a flashlight. Every purchase was multiplied nine times-the clerk was loving it! We filed out of the store wearing matching tee shirts and white sailor caps. ...Now if that wasn't a classic scene for the makings of a great family musical!
We had collapsible canvas water buckets, even a portable toilet with a curtain for the utmost privacy. All we had to do was dig the hole.
After careful consideration, figuring how much room the nine of us (..and the dog) would need for sleeping, Dad purchased a tent that would house a circus. Tents back then were not made of lightweight nylon. They were made of heavy canvas so this tent was not only huge but weighed a ton! I remember the center pole was about nine feet tall when the two hardwood poles were assembled. But not to worry—dad and the boys had built a car top carrier that was so big it would easily transport all we had purchased that day...and much more. It extended the entire length of the top of the Dodge wagon. My dad's excitement was contagious! By the time we returned home that night I felt like I had already been on vacation.
The actual camping trip turned out to be much more exciting than that trip to the city for supplies; in fact, it was far more exciting than Dad could have possibly anticipated. That "great family musical" was about to become a hair raising drama.
Dad was always proud to have the family together, crowded into the big Dodge station wagon, along with the family dog. Our basset hound, Boots accompanied us on this trip, claiming his spot behind the driver’s seat. He’d position his stubby hind legs on the edge of the back seat and drop a paw over Dad’s shoulder. Hanging his head out the window, he’d let his long, pendulous ears flap in the breeze. He would rest his head on Dad’s shoulder when the ride became wearisome.
“How many kids have you got there?” attendants would inquire curiously as we stopped for gas. “Seven! Six boys and one girl!” he’d reply. “She must be treated like a queen,” they’d inevitably respond.
It is remarkable how many times I heard that growing up. I guess it was, in fact, true. Taking my place in the middle of six boys, with the understanding that any mistreatment of the one daughter would result in an unhappy situation, made me feel like somewhat of a princess in a strong fortress. I’m sure my “special” position was resented at times, especially on nights when Dad found an interesting movie on television. I would sit up on his lap eating popcorn, slide down from time to time and run up the stairs. “Now, you boys go to bed! We’re downstairs eating popcorn.” I’d skip eagerly back down the stairs.
They loved that, I’m sure.
Yes, we were well equipped, no doubt, but totally unprepared for the violent storm that blew up and threatened to relocate our enormous tent in the middle of the night. I can still see my Dad leaning the weight of his entire body against the massive wooden center pole, in an attempt to keep it standing. The large canvas tarp that had been attached to the pole at the peak of the tent was being hoisted by the winds. Lightning flashes revealed our frightened faces as we sat clutching pots and pans to catch the dripping water.
Thoroughly exhausted from the night, we left the soggy camp site for a site-seeing drive the following morning. The day was damp and chilly and it actually felt good to be back in the crowded station wagon—dog and all. Dad still had his sailor’s cap on, pipe in his mouth, clenched securely between his teeth. He was no doubt a bit shaken by the storm, but didn’t show it. He was still ….on vacation! We drove until lunchtime. “Well, what do you say we head back to….wait a minute—I know where we are! We’ve got to stop up ahead. We’re at the Ausable Chasm!” There was that whisper of suspense in his voice.

Note: See the USA the Easy Way put out by Reader’s Digest describes the Ausable Chasm as follows:

“Here sheer walls of rock rise some 200 feet above the rushing waters of the Ausable River. A tour of the chasm includes a 3/4 mile hike on dangling suspension bridges and winding walkways, past plunging waterfalls and raging rapids, culminating in a boat ride through the swirling waters.

We received a few instructions. I was to keep the dog on his leash, Mom had my youngest brother Chris close by her side. Bruce, Jeff, little Wally and Carl were to follow Dad. We climbed carefully down some boulders, wet and slick with moss, not an easy feat for a basset hound. We could hear the deafening roar of the mighty rapids, rushing furiously due to last nights storm. Soon we could see for ourselves why Dad had made the stop.
It was breathtaking!

This great photo of the Ausable Chasm
by Bryce Koechlin, (AddVision Studios) is as I remember it!

As we stood together looking warily down into the chasm, I recall my Dad’s words, “I seriously doubt a man could fall in there and come out alive. Let’s head back.” With that, he turned to leave. Seconds later, my brother Bruce, who had been mesmerized by the water, was falling headlong down into the rapids. It was one of those moments in time when you are awakened with a jolt from a terrible dream, so relieved—but this was not a dream.
“BRUCE FELL IN!!” I screamed, straining to be heard above the water.
Without a moment’s hesitation, Dad made his way to the edge and jumped in. I could see Bruce’s arms flailing out of the water as he was tossed around and pulled under by the rapids. Within seconds, my mother made her way to the edge, jumped in and was pulled down the river as well. I grabbed as many little hands as I could and walked along the chasm, hoping to see all three, remembering all too well my Dad’s ominous words. Would they come out alive?
What a wonderful sight it was to see my Dad, sailor cap still on his head, and—I kid you not—pipe in his mouth, standing beyond the rapids in an alcove of rocks, embracing Bruce and Mom.
It was a very tearful, thankful, crowded ride back in the station wagon. Bruce cried the loudest however. Thankful, yes, he had not lost his life, but a comparable tragedy to him — he had lost his harmonica.
We sat quietly at the picnic table in the stillness of evening, humbled by the day. “Do you see this frail little mantle in this lantern?” Dad asked. We gazed in to see the delicate mantle providing the only light in the campsite. “That is how frail our life is. In one second, it can be taken away!”
We were dirty. We were tired. We were sick of being on vacation. But the following morning we filed into the nearest church we could find, just to say, “thank you” that we would all be heading home.

This picture of Boots and me was taken while swimming
in lake George-the day before the incident at the Ausable chasm.
*No wonder my teacher thought I was telling tales when I returned in the fall and turned in my “What I Did on My summer Vacation” essay....and hard to believe there would be a second family camping adventure.

Monday, March 6, 2023

The Creature

 Growing up on rural James Street in Morristown NJ, we got to know the neighborhood homes and parents like our own.  Kids in the 50's and 60's had tremendous freedom to explore the surrounding wooded area-- check in for lunch and dinner. Though we were out of sight much of the time, the neighborhood  moms kept tabs on us.  "I have eyes in the back of my head!"  Mrs.McGrady often reminded us.

We got to know each mom's 'specialty.'  Any one of the neighborhood kids would agree that Mrs. McGrady made the BEST cinnamon toast. We filed to her front door one by one early in the morning just to hear those words--"Come in and have some cinnamon toast!"  Little Scotty Engleman was so smitten by her cinnamon toast that he wanted to marry Mrs. McGrady one day.

Mrs.McGrady was also a nurse.  So all accidents; skinned knees, bee stings, bleeding cuts in need of stitches--choking children were rushed to her door.  And she was always ready.  I remember one Easter a babysitter gave me my very first home permanent while my mom was in the hospital.  It was such a disaster that my dad rushed me to her door--"Marge, can you please do something!"  I'm afraid even Mrs.McGrady could not make it better!

Mrs Engelman knew everything about nature--birds and plants and animals. Her children were named appropriately Holly,Scotty, Forrest and Heather....

If we had a question relating to anything in nature, we would go to her--and she would always be interested and have an answer.  

One hot summer afternoon I was digging in the dirt to find worms for our fishing trip back at the stream.  Nancy and Sue always wanted me to dig for the worms. They were fat and plentiful that day.  As I unearthed each one I  dropped it into a can.   I poked my shovel into the dirt once more and discovered something horrifying; so shocking that I gasped and dropped my shovel.

It was a creature--but one I had never seen before. I ran in the house to find a little box but told no one about my discovery.  There was only one person I wanted to tell.  I scooped him up into the box shuddering as I closed the lid.  Mrs.Engelman was in her yard gardening-as usual.  I ran over and got down on my knees next to where she was digging. 
"Mrs. Engelman-look what I found!"  I opened the box and her eyes widened just as mine had.
"Well...what could this be?"  she said. as perplexed as I was.
She told me she would take it inside and see what she could find out.

At that time, the only resource available for researching such things was the encyclopedia.  Mrs Engelman must have searched to no avail.  From that time on though, when we saw each other we would look at each other and nod--we had a secret--an amazing discovery.  Only time would tell what I had unearthed.

 I never did find out what this creature was--and I always wondered --UNTIL  the writing of this story!
And thanks to the internet--Google search more specifically, I finally have the answer! 
(...after 65 years!)

And here it is-with that creepy eye on the top of its head!  Meet the Cyclops Worm!

If only I could tell Mrs. Engelman!




Sunday, March 5, 2023

Five Year Old Hits the Jackpot!



That’s me in my mother’s arms—1952.  I remember many shopping trips at the 'Food Fair' during my first nine years living out on James Street in Morristown, NJ.  I grew up with six brothers, so my mom did a LOT of food shopping.  As a young child I looked forward to being given a penny  or a nickel to put in the gum ball machine on our way out of the store.  I loved bubble gum!
I remember one particular shopping trip when I was perhaps four or five—it was like a dream come true!
One of my brothers and I were bored so we walked ahead of my mom collecting little cardboard circle cutouts we found on the floor throughout the store that had come out of boxes being unloaded.   Well it suddenly occurred to me that this little circle was the size of a coin.  (I was not a naughty little girl-just curious and inventive)  While my mom was checking out the groceries I walked out and slipped the cardboard circle into the gum ball machine and turned the crank—to my utter shock and delight….the ENTIRE gum ball machine emptied out onto the floor!  Talk about a jackpot! 

I’m sure my mom was embarrassed and I’m quite sure I did not get to take my ‘winnings’ home….but it sure was fun to imagine that I did!

    Saturday, February 4, 2023

    Remember when permanents were....PERMANENT?

    Home permanents had come a long way by the 50's. But not quite far enough!
    This ad promotion from the 50's featured identical twins, with identical looking hair styles. One was done professionally, the other was done at home.

    In his role as radio announcer for the long-running mystery series, Casey, Crime Photographer, sponsored by Toni, Bill Cullen would often deliver the commercial as if he was a character in the program. He would ask his radio audience..

    "...which girl has the Toni?"

    From my one experience as a child, I don't think either one of them did!

    But before I take you back to the first time I saw my father cry— lets go back to 1909 and the day Karl Nessler's wife Katharine Laible had her very first home permanent. Her husband Karl had been working several years perfecting a method to curl hair using chemical treatments, electrical heating devices and brass rollers each weighing about two pounds. It was a complex system, using countering weights suspended from an overhead chandelier and mounted on a stand to prevent the hot rollers from touching the scalp. The process took at least six hours. History records him using a mixture of cow urine and water.
    (urban legend? Perhaps!)
    Now it's hard for me to imagine Katharine willingly subjecting herself to this process. But it is even more unbelievable that she allowed her husband to give her a
    second permanent after the first one completely burned her hair off, scalding her scalp.
    .....He didn't quite have it down the second time either–she lost all of her hair again.

    He did eventually perfect the method and his electric permanent wave machine was patented in London in 1909 and went into widespread use.

    Unlike Karl Nessler's wife, I had only one permanent as a young girl.
    By the time it was my turn, Toni had produced a product that women could use at home for $2 (compared to $15 if done professionally at a hair salon)
    The cow urine was gone-but it had its own distinct smell—not a big improvement.

    In April of 1957 my mother was in the hospital after delivering her seventh child, my brother Chris—son #6. At that time mothers were kept in the hospital for at least a week following the delivery of a baby. A live-in baby sitter was hired to help take care of the other six children at home. My Dad thought it would be nice to surprise my mom on Easter Sunday morning with a visit from all of her children. We were not allowed in the hospital, but we could stand outside on the lawn and wave up to her at her window.

    The babysitter, a very capable elderly woman, thought it would be nice to surprise my dad and give his little girl her very first home permanent. Wouldn't she look nice waving up at the window with all those curls?
    The picture was not quite as dreamy as she envisioned. When the curlers were removed my head was covered with a mass of frizz and gnarled, kinky curls. When my dad arrived home he took one look at me, covered my head with a towel and escorted me next door. Mrs. McGrady was a nurse and she could fix just about anything.

    "Marge! Can you do something?!

    "I'll try Wally! I'll try!"

    She did try. I remember standing in front of her full length mirror and watching her brush, and brush, and brush— and watching those PERMANENT curls pop right back up to where they were, springing about six inches off the top of my head.

    My dad waited outside the door. But sorry to say I looked exactly the same when I walked out.

    (ok...it's not an actual photo. There were no pictures taken of me that day)
    I'm sure I'm not the only 50's Baby Boomer who had a bad perm experience!
    We learned to do one thing when we caught a whiff of that pungent Toni solution—


    Update:  May 21, 2013
    I have never seen this photo before today.  It is a photo from that day.  I think that my Easter hat is covering the rest of the FRIZZ!