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The Newark Riots occurred between July 12 and July 17, 1967. There were 159 race riots across the country, during the “Long Hot Summer of 1967”. The riots in Newark were instigated by the arrest and beating of a black taxi driver, but the tension had been building up since WWII, as returning white soldiers fled the city for the suburbs under the  Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944. The African Americans who in turn took up residence in the Central Ward faced discrimination and poverty. Then, the state cleared out much of the Central Ward to make room for UMDNJ, leaving thousands displaced.

I was seven at the time, and unaware of the reasons for the riots. I didn’t even really understand what a ‘riot’ was. I only understood that men were fighting, breaking into stores, and stealing, that Newark was a dangerous place to be; and that we did not live far from the tumult.

My parents always went away for two weeks in August, and left us with our teenage siblings, and our housekeeper Sally Jones, who came from 8:00 am – 3:00 pm on weekdays. Sally lived in Newark with her husband and children, but spent decades helping my mother raise her very large brood. In my typical unobservant fashion, I didn’t make the connection between the chaos in Newark, and my dear housekeeper living there. I was, as many seven year-olds are, only concerned about me (and by extension, my Mom, because I needed her).

As I have mentioned previously, my summers consisted of leaving the house in the morning, and heading to the pool for the day. But in the summer of 1967, Mom and Dad were worried. They didn’t feel comfortable leaving their kids alone in the house at night, with pandemonium close by. They decided to bring us with them to Cape May, NJ. They rented a house on Broadway for two weeks in August. That was the beginning of nine years of beach bliss.

I was seven that year, and as I still am, a real worrier. So my parents’ decision sat right with me in a number of ways, and the first was: we were going to run away from the turmoil. I was more than okay with that; I was relieved. That way, I didn’t have to worry about myself. Just my older siblings who stayed behind in South Orange, my friends, and when I finally thought about it, everyone who lived in Newark, including my beloved Sally.

I also approved of running away to the beach. We had been to Aunt Frances’ beach house in Beach Haven, and Aunt Betty’s house in Point Pleasant Beach. But, I had never slept over, so far as I could remember. I didn’t even know that in New Jersey, going to stay at the beach was called, “going down the shore”; but I learned that quickly.

The drive to Cape May took forever. It could have been in another country, so far as my young brain could tell. That first year, we drove down in our brand new 1967 Blue Imperial. It was big and fancy and beautiful, and I was proud that it was our family car. However, when you crammed five kids and some coolers in the backseat for a 3 hour drive, it turned into a hot, cramped, loud, sticky mess with many fights, verbal and otherwise, along the way.

In 1972, the car was replaced with the Stationwagon, complete with a suicide seat in the back, where I preferred to ride (for those who are not familiar with the dangerous vehicles of the ‘ancient to you’ past, a suicide seat was the seat in the back of the car that faced the oncoming traffic; hence it’s moniker).  However, I didn’t always get that choice. There were two reasons for this: 1. Everyone wanted to sit in the suicide seat. 2. I liked to sing my made-up songs out loud, for my family to listen to in awe. They liked to scream at me to “shut up!” When I was in the back window seat, I would stick my head out of the window like a dog and sing loudly for myself to listen in awe. I could not understand why was I the only one who knew what an amazing writer and singer I was. Everyone except me was happier with this latter arrangement.

But in 1967, as we headed out for our first shore adventure at 6:00 am on August 1st, in the brand new Imperial packed with kids and food and drink, my Mom drove as fast as a Mom on packed Parkway could drive, and didn’t stop until she reached Oyster Creek rest stop.

When we reached the rest stop, we got out and stretched our legs, ate Mommy’s coffee cake, and drank coffee milk. This was  the only place we ever stopped on the way, and it became a tradition. It wasn’t until Joe McGinniss wrote the book “Blind Faith” about Robert Marshall orchestrating the murder of his wife, Maria in September 1984 in Oyster Creek that I ever thought of the little spot with anything but heartfelt nostalgia.

Once our breakfast was done, we headed back on the road. This second leg of the trip was much shorter, and more stimulating. We were getting close to our destination. As we continued south, the sights grew more beautiful and the air was infused with a cleaniness that even we, from the small suburb of South Orange, did not experience often. I was seven, but I felt it. I saw it. I smelled it. It was…pine barrens, salt, fresh air, fresh wind. Nature. Lovely.

We reach mile 10 on the Garden State Parkway, and someone started singing “One Hundred Bottles of Beer on the Wall”, just as so many families did in the final stretch of their vacation treks. We all joined in. It was fun, and we counted all one hundred bottles by the time we reached the bridge that signaled the end of the Parkway, Exit 0, and the beginning of Cape May Township, NJ.

We crossed over the bridge and continued past the signs that said “Beach” with an arrow pointing left. We were heading to our rented home for the next two weeks. When we were arrived, it was…there is no other way to say this from a child’s view: It was exciting! We jumped out of the car, glad that our journey was finally over.

Once Daddy opened the door to our Broadway house, we all ran upstairs to claim rooms. As usual, Karen and I were in a room together. But it was okay! This was so much fun, getting to go on vacation, and not just to the South Orange Pool. We all unpacked the things we would need that day, then Mommy said, “Get in your suits, and let’s head to the beach.”

We walked three blocks down Broadway, and we were there. The Beach; the Atlantic Ocean. They called to me, and told me that I was a part of them. They had been waiting for me. And if you could see my Mom in her element in the sand and water, then you would know that seashore love is real; and hereditary.

When we returned to our rental later that afternoon, my mother went to the Acme grocery store to buy food for the night and morning. She would go big food shopping the next day in Rio Grande, where the supermarkets were. We finished unpacking and made our beds. The smell of steak rose up the steps. But when we came down, this was not steak, but minute steaks on hoagies, ala Philadelphia. Mommy obviously had made these before, but not for us. They were amazing. Another staple of our beach lives was found.

The next day, we were allowed to go out to venture, because it was Cape May in 1967, and we were even allowed to wander in South Orange next to Newark during the riots. People worried about their kids, but I didn’t know any parents who overprotected them. We all led pretty independent lives. Upon exploring, we discovered the haunted house two doors down. In retrospect, it was a badly neglected home, that many years later was purchased and completely renovated. But to us, that was a home to be feared, for surely ghosts or witches lived there. We ran past it every time we had to walk down Broadway.

The ironic thing is that two years later, we rented the house on Columbia for the month of August, for five years straight. This was the duplex where Mr. Townsend died, and they never found his will. My mother was convinced his ghost roamed the home, and following suit, so were we. I didn’t sleep the entire month of August for those five years.

But in 1967, no one but Karen and I, and maybe my Irish twin Kevin, believed there was a ghost in the ramshackle home. It didn’t even have a name.

That first seaside adventure was shorter than the ones to come, and many of the memories are cloudier than the more recent ones. But it holds a special place in my heart, because it is the time that I fell in love…with the ocean, with Cape May, with vacation!


Night of Dark Shadows” was released on August 3, 1971. It came to Cape May right after its release. I know that, because Beanie (my Best-Summer-Friend, from PA near King of Prussia, but a season-long Cape May summer resident) and I went to see it at The Beach Theater on August 28, 1971. How do I remember the date? I don’t, but history does, because it was the same night that Tropical Storm Doria hit the coast.

Every day when I got home from school, I watched the soap operas Dark Shadows and Edge of Night. Edge of Night was grown-up mean stuff. I didn’t understand it that much, but I thought Raven was so cool. Dark Shadows was another story. It was set apart by a mile from any other soap operas, or really any other television programming. Jonathan Frid, who played Barnabas Collins, was taught at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London, and earned a  Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree in Directing from the Yale School of Drama. But he didn’t want to do “Night” because after the soap opera, and the first movie, “House of Dark Shadows” (which was released the year before), he felt he would be type-cast.

So “Dark” was about Quentin Collins, whom I had this weird kid-crush on. Quentin becomes possessed by his ancestor in the creepy Collinwood estate. It was a scary movie for two eleven year-olds to see by themselves in 1971, but we loved it.  Tropical Storm Doria was already kicking up her heels as we left the theater, in the form of heavy rains and winds.

This was the first time that we were going to have a sleep-over at Beanie’s. Her summer  home was around the block from ours, but you could cut through the yards to save time, which we did on the way there, running the whole way. We reached her house easily, had snacks with her little sister Tink, and proceeded to go to bed, all three of us in a double bed.

I had never wondered how Tink got her nickname. I always assumed it had something to do with Tinkerbell. Cute. Even as an eleven year-old, I knew that Tink was darn cute. But it turned out that was not the origin of her nickname at all. We were all lined up in bed, all scared, because now Beanie and I had regaled her little sis with scary stories of haunted homes and possession. Tink  was in the middle of the bed. We were all finally passing out, when I felt something warm and wet, and realized how Tink received her moniker.

I thought I was going to cry. I was wet with someone else’s pee, and scared, and wanted to be home. It was late at night, and the storm was going strong with 54 mph winds. I put my clothes on, and told Beanie’s mother I was going home. She tried to deter me from leaving, but I was adamant. She did not stop me, and I slipped out the door with my wet pjs in my overnight bag, and ran as fast as I could through the backyards and the wind and the rain, frightened and crying. It took all of two minutes, but I have never forgotten that wild night. I got home, cleaned up, dried off, and read books until the sun came up, happy to be home in my own haunted Victorian, where no one peed in my bed.

I woke up the next morning to find out that Doria was not only a tropical storm, but created a F2 tornado, which caused damage throughout the county. We went for a walk to survey the damage. It wasn’t a major tornado, but cause enough chaos for me to wonder if running home the night before had been a good idea.


The movie “Ben” was released on June 23, 1972. Once again, Beanie and I went to see it in August at the Beach Theater. Ben was a movie about a rat, and the man who was the friend and leader of the rats. I don’t remember that much about the movie (sequel to the 1971 killer rat film Willard), except that it was very creepy, and that the theme song, “Ben” sounded like a love song, and was performed by Michael Jackson, who was just thirteen at the time.

When we left the theater, we went for a walk on the boardwalk. A rat ran across the boardwalk and hit my foot. I jumped about 2 feet in the air, and I think the rat did too. I wasn’t scared because it was just so damn strange. I have thought about it often throughout my life. I wonder if the rat did the same.



Ode to the Woodpecker

Ode to the Woodpecker

Each morning as I wake

The birds sing their pre-work songs

But the woodpecker clocks in early

Rat-tat-tat, Rat-tat-tatting

Piercing­ my daily preparation.

I try to mentally filter his pounding

Into white noise,

But it’s as if he knows it,­

And works to drill louder and faster.

He is a lesson in suffering irritation;

A lesson I continually must re-learn.

Is the woodpecker a blessing?

As much as any pain in the butt, yes.

If you look at it like that.

So okay woodpecker, peck away.

It’s your job,

I can live with that

As I trudge forward to my own.

I’ll see you tomorrow morning.

The Woodpecker is Gone

The woodpecker is gone.

He probably met his mate

And moved on

Because she wanted to live

Further out in the country

And raise a woodpecker family.

He must have found a job out there

Pecking at trees, and disturbing the peace.

They had to move

The commute was just too much.

Music of a Life

Teenage girl in flowered skirt

Feathered hair and feather earrings;

Ahead of her time.

No one knows that of course,

She is just weird.

Not a hippie, not a greaser.

Not into the Dead.

Just finding her way through.

Beatles as a kid, and lots of cool things.

First the Monkees, then Joni, and John Prine. Linda and Emmylou too.

Bay City Rollers? Really?

Okay, it makes her happy.

Mostly as a rebellion against her Deadhead siblings.

Changes in the mind and thoughts and body:

A hard rock stage, a new wave stage

Bowie, Ramones, Joe Jackson, the other Elvis, Patti Smith

Changes in the family dynamic: ALS

Her mother is dying.

She cannot stay to watch.

When twenty-one arrives, she goes

Life as an experiment in California.

Drum circles and lots of Bonnie: Raitt and Bramlett.

Roseanne and Johnny sneak in with Neil

Because it is the Mountains of Big Sur

A melting pot of transplanted Northern and Southern Easterners.

Musical influences like frenetic foggy air infused with electricity

Bouncing off the peaks and back to earth

To the conglomeration of dream seekers and dropouts

Dancing on the edge, so high over the mist

Dancing so high all the time

Deciding at last to come down off the mountains, to come down

And head to the small town of Cambria

Where 3,000 people live everyday lives

While Big Sur transients wander in and out.

Good folks, many descendants of Swiss farmers who migrated there

Many still farmers, simple and opinionated, but kind.

She finds her way to Camozzi’s Saloon,

And makes a home there

In the little apartment above

And works and plays and exists in the bar.

Her friends are musicians and DJs

And everyone there

Except those who don’t like her

Because she is ahead of her time

And tragically forever from New Jersey.

Bands play each weekend.

The scene is life itself

For all who sway together

To the beat of the new sounds

Billy Idol, Greg Kihn, Huey Lewis, Eddy Grant

Donald Fagin on the beach and late night drives.

The mornings are waiting periods for the nights.

Add cooking as a second job,

Telephone Operator for an answering service as a third.

But that is a cool job; hell, it’s all cool.

It’s Cambria, and Joni has nothing on her with Morgantown.

Walking through the pines in the eucalyptus air,

Singing out loud

No one cares

Because they are singing out loud too.

The Christians slightly push for attendance

By being very welcoming and having lovely tunes.

She walks by their churches on Sunday mornings

And for a time, her songs change to theirs.

It’s peaceful and laid back being a West Coast Christian

They eat brunch at the Moonstone in San Simeon

After they build up the Holy Spirit during service.

Soon though, she turns away from their endorphin highs

And returns to the bar and the bands

And the sweaty dancing nights.

The rockers eat brunch in town en masse

They are hungover

But champagne with strawberries makes them feel better about

Who they are

And she is one of them

She has always been one of them.

Wrong turns keep bringing her back to Jersey

To the life she never wanted to live

Running running running back to the West

Bouncing back and forth across the country for years

Between happy poverty and comforting sadness

Until her father dies

And she doesn’t bounce anymore

But becomes resigned to her East Coast fate.

Her travels have yielded a bastard

A son who calls himself a bastard and laughs

He is dragged into and through it all.

After many drugged and drunken stupors

And abusive men

She sends the boy away


She must save him from her life.

A frantic foggy mind that cannot find its way back

And fears it all may dissolve

Lost child and childhood.

But when the fog lifts

She finds her sobriety

And keeps it.

A new start to her old life.

She is no longer weary and heavy laden

And doesn’t need that scripture to find comfort

The comfort is within herself.

The inside girl returns

And she realizes she has always been there

Waiting and singing.


When the kids were little, their Uncle Joey was the manager of the Red Carpet Inn on Route 17. We used to go there almost every summer day to use the pool. It was a pool at a motel, so it wasn’t like we were living the high life, but it was pool, and that was a lot. Our town didn’t have a pool, and we couldn’t drive to the beach all the time. So it worked great for us.

Joan and I were in business school together. When I met her, I thought that she couldn’t be that smart, because she had such a street attitude. I thought, mistakenly, that people could only be street smart, or book smart, not both. Joan proved to be the only person in our class besides myself who received all ‘A’s. We were both on the President’s List every term. And we found that we got along well, and enjoyed each other’s company. Soon we were talking on the phone, visiting each’s others homes, and going places together.

One day, I invited Joan to the motel pool, and she accepted. She was supposed to meet us there at 10:00 am, but we waited for a couple of hours until she showed with her two kids, and one extra. She seemed out of breath and out of sorts, and began apologizing for the extra head. “I’m sorry, I had to take him.  He’s my neighbor. His parents had a fight, and he came to me. I just couldn’t leave him there. He won’t be a problem.”

Joan’s kids stripped off their cover ups and jumped in the pool with my children. The boy, who was about twelve years old, was sitting next to Joan while she prattled on about his parent’s bad parenting skills and shambles of a household. My heart broke a little for him.

He squirmed uncomfortably, then asked, “Can I go in the pool, too?” She scolded him. “No, you don’t have a bathing suit”, then turned to me, “He doesn’t own a bathing suit.” He was in a tee shirt and cut-off jean shorts. My heart broke a little more. “Of course he can”, I said. “He can go in in cut-offs. It’s fine.” He jumped in, and held onto the side.

The other children came over happily and welcomed another playmate to the water. They could stand in the water on the shallow side, and he soon joined them in their rollicking fun. They had water toys and smiles and laughter. The sun was shining. I was chatting with Joan about non-important things while we soaked up the rays. The boy waddled through the pool to the side,  grabbed the edge and looked up at us with shimmering eyes and a wide smile. “This is the best time I’ve ever had!”, he announced. My heart filled with joy and sorrow simultaneously for this child. I was so happy to give him a wonderful day, but so sad that THIS was ‘the best time’ that he ever had. Playing in a motel pool on the side of Route 17. I think it was his first time in a pool. At twelve.

I never saw the boy again. I don’t remember if I even ever asked Joan about him. After we graduated, Joan and I stayed friends for a while, but then our different lives let us down different paths, and as so often happens, we lost touch. I tried to find her a few times, but the most I could find online was that one of her children passed away. I was never able to reconnect.

But, I think of this boy often. I think of how lucky my kids were for a while, how lucky so many of our kids were, even though they and we didn’t know it at the time. I think of how for a brief moment, I wanted to pick this kid up and take him home. Then I lost my own way, and only wanted to make things right for me and mine. Now that I am back, I want to help that boy again…and all those boys and girls who think a day in a pool in a motel on a highway is the best time they ever had.

Christmas is for Giving

I was the second to last child, and always begging for attention. “Mommy, watch this”, “Mommy, listen to my song”, “Mommy, listen to my story”. But Mommy was always busy with her work, with her church, and theater, and politics, and all the other children. Mommy never had time to listen to my stories and songs. She never had time to watch. She never had time to answer questions, or didn’t know the answers, so pretended the questions weren’t important.

Daddy was there, but he wasn’t. And I never felt like he cared that much, at least when I was little. Mommy was out a lot at night at rehearsals and church functions and political meetings. When she wasn’t home, I felt so uneasy. I thought that if someone broke in the house, Daddy wouldn’t care enough to protect me. I needed her there. She would save me.

Much later, I finally realized that Daddy’s way of loving was to go to work and buy what we needed, and what we wanted. For a family of twelve, we were very lucky. They were thrifty, for sure. But they made sure each of their children had a childhood.

We went on vacation to a large Victorian in Cape May for the entire month of August. Daddy came the first two weekends, taking public transportation to Atlantic City, where Mommy would pick him up and bring him back on Sunday nights. He stayed at home during the week, but those weekends were nice with our Dad. He couldn’t totally relax. He did a little though, and you could tell he needed it. The last two weeks he vacationed with us. He was so much fun then! He was the Dad I always wanted him to be. The one I dreamed he would be every day! The Vacation Dad! Approachable, impulsive, smiling.  I miss that Vacation Dad.

I got new clothes three times a year; when heading Back to School, on my birthday (which conveniently is in May, so my mother could get me summer clothes and call them my presents), and for Christmas. Christmas brought garbage bags filled with clothes. It was wonderful and we always did a fashion show for each other. We would also get one or two other presents besides that.

When I was nine and the youngest, Karen, was seven, we both got hot curlers that were made for children. They made a lot dangerous children’s toys when we were little, like Chemistry Sets and Power Tools for kids. One year we got a popcorn popper to share. We’d load it up with kernels and oil, wait for the popping to begin, then use the lid to aim scorching hot kernels at each other. It really hurt when they made contact. Then, yeah, yeah, we ate the popcorn that was still in the popper. But the most fun was the act that could have maimed us severely.

In 1967 I was seven, and Christmas was approaching, Kathy from down the street told me that Santa wasn’t real. She had just moved to our block.  She was different from the kids at school; like she was much older than me, but she wasn’t. She was the coolest kid I had ever seen. I had no reason to doubt the validity of her declaration, but needed proof.

On Christmas Eve, our parents went to Midnight Mass as always, and we went to bed and waited for Santa. I got Karen up when I heard their car drive pull in the driveway and we looked outside. “Kathy said that Santa is Mommy and Daddy”, I told Karen, but I wasn’t too sure about it, and my five-year-old sister did not believe it. So, we poked our heads over the windowsill and watched our parents get out of the car. They walked to the trunk, and took out a bunch of garbage bags that were stuffed in there. They both slung them over their shoulders and carried them up the driveway to the front of the house. We watched them walk until we couldn’t see them anymore, then ran for bed and got under the covers, so they wouldn’t know that we knew about the bags, and that the man in the red suit was a fairy tale. Karen was crying; I had devastated her. I was worried that Mommy would hear her and come up, but she and Daddy were too busy setting up our Merry Christmas surprises. I didn’t know why it bothered Karen so much; I wasn’t that phased by the revelation. Were seven-year-olds so much more mature than five-year-olds? Or had I been suspecting for a while, anyway?

I was a very nosy child. I wanted to be a spy like Emma Peel or a detective like Honey West when I grew up, so I tended to snoop in my parent’s things. I was practicing! Having gleaned this information from my spying made me feel a little smug. And I was fine with it. The creepy tiny old guy whose stomach shook like a bowl full of jelly was not sliding down our chimney while we were sleeping. It was just my parents. And presents. The presents were still there, and they were the important thing!

But we didn’t just love the presents we got, we loved the presents we gave, too. We had a present allowance to buy presents at Sears when we were very young. “We got you paints’ was a line that was often used as a joke about not being able to keep a Christmas secret. We all laughed about it as if it was a shared memory, but I didn’t remember it. Apparently, one of my brothers told another what they had bought for him while they were still in the Sear’s store, “We got you paints.”   A few years later, our Mom started taking us younger kids and Kathy from down the street to the Job Lot in New York. Mommy loved the Job Lot. It was one of the first of the deep discount stores. Among so many other gifts, I remember buying a lot of Yardley Soap products there, and Aziza make-up. Make-up for me, because I wanted to be a grown-up forever (until I was one), and Yardley Lavender Soap for Daddy. He always used it. Yardley began making Lavender soap in the 17th century, which was way before Daddy was born, so I assume he had always used it.

When we were ten, Kathy and I decided to buy each other boxes of chocolates while in New York. We got them cheap, and got cheap presents for everyone in our families too, using the money that our Moms had given us, along with babysitting money. When we got home, we wrapped our boxes of candy, put each other’s names on our gifts, and put them under my parent’s tree. Then we went to Kathy’s house and watched the premiere of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”. We pretended to each other that we were too old for such baby shows, but secretly I loved it. I bet she did, too.

I got home two hours later, to find our presents were opened and eaten by an Irish Wolfhound. Our Irish Wolfhound. There was slobbery wrapping paper and candy cup liners everywhere. You would think after years of living in the same house that a girl of ten would know her dog had a penchant for Christmas candy. Well, all candy. Well, all food. WELL, everything he thought might be edible.

Some years were better than others in our lives, but no matter how much money we had, every Christmas was lovely. In the early years, my parents had big family parties with about 100 relatives and friends, and the adults would all drink and tell stories and sing carols and laugh and sometimes cry. It seemed like most adults smoked back then, and a barroom fog would fill the first floor while these parties carried on. Our parents didn’t smoke, but in the ‘60s so many did, and second-hand smoke was not a thing.

One such party, we had a piñata right in our hallway. There was a wooden bat that we children were supposed to swing at the piñata. A wooden bat. In a house with 100 people. That was the ‘60s. We swung and swung that heavy bat, but every child missed every time. The adults took over; they were impaired and had a hard time of it also. Then came Mr. Regan’s turn. Mr. Regan was my hero. What a wonderful man. What a character! What a drunk! He began swinging wildly and everyone had to run out of the way. He gave it a huge whack, and all the candy went flying, but we had to wait a minute for him to stop swinging to run and grab it all up.

When we were older and Mommy had passed away from ALS, my father continued Christmas in in similar fashion. One year when Karen was in college, she filmed a Christmas morning, and inquired what each of us thought Christmas was all about. She came up on Daddy making coffee, and asked, “What is Christmas all about?” He spun around and shouted, “GIVING! Christmas is about giving.” Christmas was when Daddy was his very, very best. I miss my Christmas Daddy most.

I was going through “On This Day” on Facebook, and came across this private note to some friends seven years ago. I am not sure if I ever shared this story with you (this blog is getting to be the online version of spending time with your old Aunt, I think. I tell a story, you roll your eyes and sigh, “Yes Auntie, we know. You’ve told us.” If this is the case with this story, then just ignore me and go get us some drinks. I’ll have a Presbyterian.). If you haven’t heard the story of my Dad’s wake and funeral before, I hope you will stay for a few minutes and indulge me in my memories.

Tom was really down. He was not dealing well with his father’s passing. He felt his friends were giving him too much room, and he wished someone would talk to him, help him get out of his funk. I sent him this e-mail. I thought it was going to help, I hoped it was going to help him to smile a little. He wrote back. It did. Here is what I wrote:

“How can your dad’s wake and funeral make you smile, you say? Well, it makes me smile and sometimes laugh, every time I think about them.

My dad was the epitome of the cranky old man, and he didn’t like noisy children (except my son Zach, who could do no wrong in my dad’s eyes). Daddy passed away on March 7, 1994 in St. Barnabas Hospital in Livingston, NJ. I was holding his hand as he went, so I knew he was gone, but I still couldn’t believe it. I just couldn’t wrap my mind around my dad not being there. I was 34 years old when he died. That was a long time to have his constant presence…how could he be gone now? So, even at his wake, I just couldn’t grasp the reality. Until I realized, with all these people and children in the room, there was no way my dad would be sleeping soundly. When he didn’t get up and say, “You damn kids keep it down!” I finally accepted his passing.

Then we were at his funeral. My oldest brother wrote and read the Eulogy. My parents were very giving people, but they had 10 children to support. They had to be clever in order to share the wealth. So they did things to cut corners. And my brother incorporated this into his Eulogy. He talked about how Daddy could take rotten peaches and make the best ice cream and milkshakes, and rotten tomatoes and make the best stew. But, when he said, “Moldy ham…” in a church full of people, many of whom I didn’t know, well that just broke me up…into giggles! I was struck by the perversity of it! I was trying as hard as I could to suppress them. I didn’t want to appear the insolent child. At the exact same moment, the priest came by sprinkling incense on those congregated, and directly on my oldest sister, who was seated next to me. Unfortunately, she is allergic to the incense, and she started trying to muffle sneezes, so as not to make too much noise.

There we were, seated together, and both making sniffing, choking noises. I was so embarrassed, until people started patting me on the back, and saying, “It will be alright”, and I realized they thought we were crying! This made me laugh more, again at the perversity of it all, and it just sounded like I was crying louder. Of course, the thought of my Dad watching me threw a little fear into me. Daddy would have said, “Dammit, stop that laughing!”, and somehow, that made me laugh, too.

Of course, I miss my Dad more as time goes by, but I also think those incidents were really a gift, a way of laughing with my Dad.

I love you, Tom. I hope you have your precious memories to make you smile through this.