Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Opening Our Grandmother's Trunk by Pat Aronica

Donna (front, center); Cathy, Leila, Pat Aronica, Mary Heilig,
family friend, Richie (middle row); Gil (back, center). c. 1948
at Uncle Fred and Aunt Betty's place in Bergen Beach, NY.
I can’t remember the year, or exactly how old I was. 

Mary (Hanna) Heilig and I had convinced Aunt Dot to let us look inside the trunk which contained our grandmother’s belongings.

Trunk shown in the Spring edition of Sear's 1906 catalog.
[Our grandmother, Mary Elizabeth [Fitzgerald] Merrill  had died of the Spanish Influenza when our parents were still young children. Her husband survived another forty-seven years, forty-seven years in which he never ceased to mourn his loss.]

I can tell you that we were sworn to secrecy. We were never ever to tell “Pup” that Aunt Dot let us look inside the trunk.  The look of shear terror on Aunt Dot’s face was enough to let us know not to breathe a word to anyone.

Dorothy aka Aunt Dot (top), Mary
[aka Lib & Pat's mother-to-be],
Gil, and Pup c. 1915 on the stoop
in Portsmouth, NH
[Pup was the name given to our grandfather when he was still a young husband and father. The name "Pup" was bestowed on him by his youngest daughter who had sat on the front porch, day after day, heralding his arrival for dinner. “Pop is home for supper.” Many times later, the call became: “Pop is home for sup…” And then: “Pop … sup.” Finally, my mother’s announcement of her father’s arrival to dinner was shortening to its final form, the name that we all came to call him: “Pup.”]

Actually there were two trunks, but we were interested in the one that contained Mary Elizabeth’s clothing.  There were high buttoned shoes, one pair obviously newer then the other.  They were still buttoned up to about where she could slip in and out easily.  A special hook or tool was with the shoes.  There were big hats, fans and gloves.  Every thing was folded and placed very carefully as if it was just packed. 

There was a blouse the color of a pale peach.  It had pin tucks all along the bodice.  These were ironed and still in place.  The sleeves were long and the neck high.  There were tiny buttons down the front.  The fabric seemed to be cotton, but almost sheer.  I do remember my mother telling us that she made most of her clothes, and she had a very strict schedule for days she did laundry, ironing and sewing.  I can just imagine the time it would take to get those pin tucks ironed just so.

I seem to recall a skirt or two, either dark blue or black.  There was some underwear, scarves, hankies … I don’t recall any beads or jewelry. 

There were aprons and housedresses. But it was that that peach blouse which made the most lasting impression. 

The shoes were fun. I tried using the hook to unbutton one of the buttons. My attempt failed. 

My  mother did say that our grandmother used flat irons that were heated on the stove and were rotated as they cooled.  It was especially hard in the summer months.  My mother also said it was their mother that taught Aunt Dot how to sew.  

I asked Mary Heilig to recall her impressions of what we found.  Of course, everything we touched had to be placed right back to where it was.  There was no time to open the other trunk.  I understand it contained books, papers, maybe pictures but my sister Mary said she got to look inside it one day, but doesn’t remember much.

Apparently, after helping Aunt Dot and Uncle Chuck to move, my brother Fred convinced them to get rid of the trunks as they were buggy and falling apart.  It’s too bad as they probably held some important papers, pictures, etc.

 © 2014, Patricia Aronica

Friday, September 12, 2014

Why Didn't We Visit?

When I first became hooked on genealogy, I quickly focused on my mother’s side of the family.  Mom's grandparents must have been an integral part of the first couple of years of my life.


My brother and I about 1947 on East 35th St.
near Flatbush Ave.
I remember walking from our apartment on Flatbush Avenue to their home on Albany Avenue in Brooklyn, N.Y. It was a perfect summer day, and I was feeling very happy. I was walking with my mother and brother. I remember I was wearing one of my prettier dresses and my perfect, white, Buster Brown shoes. We were passing a neighborhood park with a wrought iron fence. I forgot to watch my steps, and I smelled my mistake. I had stepped in dog poop, and my little white shoes were no longer perfect. I looked up at Mom, and I could tell she was very annoyed. I began to cry. This was not my first misadventure with dog poop. I had been repeatedly cautioned to watch my steps, but continued to get lost in the world around me or in my personal imaginings. And so I had erred again.  


And whether or not it was this day or another, I can’t quite recollect, we reached a familiar house, climbed a few steps, and Mom knocked on the door. It was opened by a woman who filled the entrance way, and she embraced each of us, smothering us with hugs and kisses. She was my Great Aunt Marie. I remember my brother trying to squeeze between Aunt Marie and the door jam, trying in vain to escape untouched past Aunt Marie’s welcoming and overpowering embraces.


Once inside, all was somber. And it was made clear that we were not to make any noise. I remember being ushered into a room with a huge bed, standing so close to it, and my eyes just reaching the top of the mattress. A very old person was propped up on pillows.  It seemed like I stood there for a long time. Eventually, we were ushered from the room, and …


That is all I can remember.


Maria Augusta (Schulze) Bals
(1866-1947)
The very old person must have been my great grandmother, Auguste (Schulze) Bals, who died not many days after my second birthday.


After that day in 1947, I don’t remember ever entering that house again, although I may have and just don’t remember. My great grandfather lived six years thereafter, and I don’t remember ever visiting him. I have wondered why I have no more memories of visiting my great-grandfather, Conrad Bals, after I was two years old. He was alive until I was 7 1/2 years old. 

I asked my mother: "Why didn't we visit your grandfather?" She always side-stepped giving an answer. Now, I will never know why. 

As the years passed, I heard mention of Aunt Marie, Uncle George and Aunt Gert, Aunt Lil, Aunt Anna, Aunt Gus and Uncle Charlie, Uncle Joe and Aunt Grace, and Uncle Pete and Aunt May. These were my Mom's aunts and uncles on the Bal's side of the family. But they were just ephemeral names in conversations around me, and never entered my life, that is, until I got the genealogy bug. And then I was driven to learn more about the BALS branch of my family. 

More to follow ... in future postings.

 © 2014, Cathy H Paris

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

REMEMBERING CHAUNCEY STREET 15.Babies by Pat Aronica


Jim and Fran with their first child, Jimmy (1951).
Jimmy was my parents's first grandchild. 
My brother, Jim, and his wife, Fran, got married and had their first child, Jimmy, when I was ten or eleven years old. I was delighted to have a child in the family who I could watch. Eighteen months later, Karen was born. Fran had to be hospitalized after only three days. The children were left with my mother until Fran was better and able to care for them. I can remember running home from school so I would get there in time to feed the baby. She was the color of peaches and cream. Just beautiful. Anna and Billy’s daughter was born a few weeks before Karen, but I didn’t get to see her very often. Anna’s mother watched her while Anna was at work.  Billy was still in the service and stationed in Germany.

Dotsy and Lou weren’t married quite a year when they had their first baby, Johnny. On their first anniversary, Dotsy and Lou went away for the weekend. They left Johnny with me (and of course, with Mom too.) I remember taking Johnny to Sunday Mass and holding him in my arms as if he belonged to me.

As time went by, there were many babies. For some reason, I thought that they should all belong to me. Could that be why I had ten of my own?

THE END

© 2013, Patricia Aronica

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

REMEMBERING CHAUNCEY STREET 14.School by Pat Aronica

Me, Mary (my cousin), and Freddy c. 1944.
I guess it is time to mention education. I started elementary school when I was four, and apparently I was not mature enough to leave my mother. On the second or third day of school, it rained. According to tradition at P.S. 137, the children were to line-up in the basement of the school. The basement was more like a cellar, and very scary place. At least, I thought so. I objected to lining-up as I was told. Push came to shove, and I kicked the teacher. My sister, Mary, was summoned to the scene. Very embarrassed, she took me home. Boy, did I get it from my mother for embarrassing Mary.

The following September, I started school again at P.S. 137, and I still didn’t do well. The result was that I was enrolled in St. Benedict’s school located at Fulton St. and Ralph Ave. The good sisters did their best, and I did graduate with a Regents diploma in 1959. Although I went to high school on a scholarship, I told Sr. Thomas Angela, I wanted to become a Nun. I said that I would have to enter the convent as a domestic since I was not smart enough to teach. She agreed with me. I never did become a Nun. I became a wife and mother instead.

© 2013, Patricia Aronica

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

REMEMBERING CHAUNCEY STREET 13.Playing by Pat Aronica

Freddy on a hot summer's day on Chauncey St. c. 1948
Chauncey St. was designated a PAL street for the summer. The street was closed to traffic. Delivery trucks, fruit men, and junkies were all diverted. The city provided camp organizers, games, craft materials, permission to use the fire hydrants, and mostly anything needed to keep the neighborhood kids busy for the summer. We had use of pick-up-sticks, jacks, art supplies, playing cards, and a shower attached to the fire hydrant. We would be outside from early mornings ‘til the street lights turned on, unless, of course, our mothers called us in for meals. On especially hot nights, we were allowed to stay out ‘til 9:00, as long as we stayed on the stoop.

My sister, Mary, was interested in dress design, and somehow she acquired “modeling dolls.” They were similar to Barbie dolls, which we didn’t have then. When I was sick or alone, I got permission to play with these dolls. Using scraps of fabric, scarves, and ribbons, I could design all sorts of elaborate outfits for these dolls.

Patsy played Potsy
I’m sure everyone interested in games of this era has heard of stick ball, box ball, johnny on the pony, hop scotch, jump rope, street skating (with metal wheels), roller rink skating (with wooden wheels), hand ball, and on and on. We did not play hop scotch. Instead, we played a similar game called potsy. The boxes for potsy are arranged in a different configuration. To us, it was a very significant difference, like being a Dodger as opposed to being a Yankee fan.

Whenever a mother’s clothesline broke, we would rejoice. The old clothesline became a new jump rope for the kids in the neighborhood. Never mind the poor mother. Her wash lay in the dirty alleyway, and it would have to be washed again, on a wooden scrub board by very chapped hands. Jump rope was a big sport. I can still turn double-dutch, although I don’t think I could jump it anymore. 

© 2013, Patricia Aronia

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

REMEMBERING CHAUNCEY STREET 12.Swimming and Skating by Pat Aronica

I remember the blizzard of 1947, when the city was at a standstill. The mountains of snow piled along the sidewalks were this kid’s dream. I had a wooden sled. My brothers convinced me that it was far superior to the flexible flyers which the other kids had. I remember playing for hours on that sled. When our mittens got wet, we placed them on the radiators to dry. Meanwhile, we went outside with socks on our hands. This worked just fine.

Maybe once a year in the summer, we went to Coney Island. I remember my father taking us one time. Mostly my mother took us on those safaris to Coney Island. We were allowed one ride each on the Steeple Chase. Since I was too young or too afraid to go on it, or on the race horses, the cyclone, or on the slides, I got to go on the merry-go-round.


Dotsy c. 1949.
Mostly, we went to Cypress Hills’ swimming pool. We took the el train from Chauncey St. and Broadway Ave. After a couple of stops, we got off and were right by the pool. Most people didn’t know, or maybe they have forgotten, about the roller skating rink that was in the back of the pool. It was part of the same recreation facility. Once we got to the pool, if the weather looked like rain, we would opt to skate.

Swimming was my preference, but my sister, Dot, loved to skate. She was very good at skating. As time went by, she would take me skating every weekend, sometimes on both Saturday and Sunday.

Dotsy could dance on the skates and was determined to master every glide, turn, and move possible. How she put up with me, I’ll never know. I did learn a dance called the glide waltz. Once, Uncle Chuck was at the rink and was duly impressed with our performance. Of course, Dot just about carried me through the routine, so we would look good.

Lou c. 1954
After a while, Dot learned where other rinks in the area were located. We travelled to Hillside Rink and the Empire Rink. Dotsy acquired a pair of competition skates and continued perfecting routines. In time, she met the floor guard at the Empire Rink. And here, entered her future love and husband, Lou.

One summer late in the day, I got a chance to go to the pool with Billy, Anna, Mary, Joe, and maybe Freddy. I don’t remember who else went. I begged Billy to teach me how to dive. So, after a bit he told me how to curl my toes around the edge of the pool. While I was concentrating on these instructions, he took hold of my ankles, and dumped me into the pool, head first. Billy said: “Now you can dive.”

© 2013, Patricia Aronica

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

REMEMBERING CHAUNCEY STREET 11.Music by Pat Aronica

Our family c. 1945.
Our first record player was a wooden box affair, with a handle on the side. This handle was turned and turned, spinning the disk inside the box onto which a record was placed. In the box, on a pivot, there was an arm that held a playing needle. We swung the arm out and down until the needle touched the record, and then let go of the arm. The music began to play. Eventually, there were record players that used electricity to spin the records and move the arm. Years later, there were record players that held multiple records that automatically dropped down when the previous record was finished. Then came Hi Fidelity players. The sound was much improved, but they were based on the same principle as the original players. Then some genius came along and started recording music on tapes. For this to work, you had to have a tape player. Soon after that came portable, battery-operated tape players. Then came ear phones, etc. Now there are iPads and iPhones etc. But none of that existed when we lived on Chauncey St.

See and hear a hand cranked phonograph.

© 2013, Patricia Aronica