In this cause and effect world we live in, virtually everyone’s job interacts with another human being. Sometimes, however, as the receiver, it’s very obvious to you, that the person on the other end, has zero concept of the effect they have on your life. I always try to put myself in the other person’s shoes and understand how my actions affect them, but some just don’t!
Back in another life, when I was still working at WABC and commuting five days a week via the Long Island Rail Road from Mineola to Penn Station, I had a theory that nobody should be able to get a job as a conductor on the LIRR until they’d served a certain amount of time as a passenger. That theory was born from years of experience, and the realization that while most conductors did a good job of doing their job without overly affecting you as the passenger, some of them seemed to do whatever they could to annoy you! Be it doing horrible WC Field’s impressions on the PA as you were sleepily heading into the city, or waiting to collect tickets on the way home, till after most regular riders had closed their eyes for a brief “I’m done with work” nap!
So, today my rant is directed at the guys and gals from Wise, Lays, Utz, and Herrs and all the other folks that stock the chip aisle in our local grocery stores. Now, I am well aware that shelf real estate in your local grocery, be it a huge Wegmans or a small Mom and Pop neighborhood store, is a scarce commodity, and that to be effective, shelves must be fully stocked. Chips, however, unlike cookies, crackers, cereal, and other fragile items, are not manufactured in boxes or even inside plastic sleeves. They are packed at the factory in a plastic bag, (except Pringles) with their only cushioning element being air!
I am so tired of on the extreme occasion when a bag of chips enters our house, to open it, and discover that beyond 8 or 10 nice chips, the rest are broken pieces! And it is so obvious why that’s the case, if you have ever walked down the chip aisle in the store when one of the above mentioned folks are “packing” the shelves! As I said before, I know that shelf real estate is a scarce commodity, and to get the most packages of chips in their allotted space, they push, push, and push, but then the results for the poor consumer is a bag with mostly broken chips! Lots of fun with a dip…just saying!
I know it’s not a first world problem, and in this age of Covid and the associated issues, probably means next to nothing to most, but that rare bag of chips in our house is a real treat….until you open the bag! Back when we ate anything and everything, we’d taken to buying our chips at Costco. Not because the bag was the size of a small child (that was however an added incentive), but for the fact that they loaded, shipped, and displayed the chips for sale in a very well designed and bolstered carton. When you bought one of those bags, fully 90+ % of the chips were beautiful and whole. Come on guys….nobody wants to eat a handful of potato chip pieces!
Okay…rant over… please return to your regularly scheduled programing!
Ed Koch was a very colorful 4 term congressman and a 3 term Mayor of New York City. Following his time as Mayor, one of the things he did was a daily talk show on WABC, and I was his engineer. During his political life, and when he did the radio show, he loved to measure his success by asking people, “How’m I doing?” I’m going to take a page out of the Mayor’s book, and ask myself, “How’m I doing?”
On January 11th of 2021, I posted a rather long blog post entitled “Writing”, in which I detailed some of my various blogs I’d started and then let go by the wayside. I talked about my desires and my intention, and then made a promise of sorts. Here’s a quote from that blog:
“Look, I’m not one for New Year’s Resolutions, and honestly I don’t remember making one that even lasted beyond my January 2nd birthday, but I’m going to try one on for size in 2021. As we work our way through the second week of the new year, I am going to pledge that at the very minimum, I’ll publish one new blog post per week in 2021. That means a minimum of 52 posts during 2021, and hopefully many more! “
So, in Ed Koch style, it’s now time to ask the question, “How’m I doing?”
Well, since that post exactly one year ago today, and including this post, I have posted 51 blogs. So, nothing new with resolutions…I didn’t make my pledge to publish one new blog a week! I came close, but as we all know, close only counts in horseshoes!
Looking back on the year gone by, my best month was March, 2021 when I published 8 blogs, followed by April when I was responsible for 7 new blogs. The absolute worst months were October and November, when I only did 1 blog each month! There were a lot of months with two and three blogs on my list, but the only months I did indeed put up 4 new blogs were January, February, March, April, July, and December! I guess 50/50 is the best I had in 2021!
So, should I try again for 2022? I’d like to indeed, but if I do or don’t, we won’t know till January 11, 2023 when I look back at my stats! Stay tuned….
So, yesterday I started this look back at 2021 by detailing some of the things that happened in our lives during the first 6 months of the year! Here now is a look at the last 6 months of 2021!
July saw us continue our regular summer routine of going to the beach, sitting for hours a day on our front porch, and being with our friends and neighbors! Then late in the month, it was time for me to re-start something that should have been long finished, but for the pandemic! In July of 2019 I had my left knee replaced. My intention was to start the process to replace the right knee shortly after coming home from Florida in April of 2020, but then Covid showed up! Well, this postponement had taken enough time, and I was ready for pain-free knees, so off we went to Dr. Zabinski in Somers Point to get the process started!
At the very end of July, we celebrated a very special birthday with a very special neighbor! Doie Barnes lives right next door to us on Pennlyn Place, and in WWII she was a member of the Women’s Marine Corp, and on the 30th of July, she celebrated her 100th Birthday!! There was a huge ceremony at the flag raising ceremony that morning on the Ocean City Boardwalk, followed by a party at the American Legion Post! It was a special day, and we were so happy to be able to share it with this great lady!!
August saw me taking care of surgery pre-op clearances with the hospital, our medical Doctor and our Dentist, starting the vitamin regime that Dr Zabinski calls for, and even making a decision about our leased 2018 Honda CRV. Our lease was going to be up mid September, and as there were very few new cars around due to the “chip shortage,” we decided to extend the lease for 6 months! We also went to a Straight No Chaser concert at the Ocean City Music Pier with our neighbors and good friends, Patti and Meade. We’d bought these tickets way back in 2019 for a concert that had been canceled in the spring of 2020!
As Labor Day rolled around at the beginning of September, Ocean City turned back into a small town, after 2 plus months of being a summer resort, and the quiet, calm months of our lives were back! On Tuesday, September 14th, I had my right knee replaced by Dr. Zabinski. It was very different than the left knee, as this time, due to Covid protocols, Susie dropped me off at the front door of Shore Memorial at 6:30 AM, and picked me up in the same place at 4:30 PM! I now had two prosthetic knees! The rest of the month was given over to recuperation, physical therapy, and eating all the things I couldn’t before the surgery!
By the third week of October, I was done with PT and the next week was released with a clean bill of health from Dr. Zabinski! I could again travel distances in the car, and go about my normal life, with painless knees! Also, October saw the second part of our kitchen rehab take place, when our new subway tile backsplash was installed over the new counters! Then later in the month, another key part of our rehab took place as we had new plantation shutters installed across the front of the house! October also saw a visit from Kenny and Chris, who flew up to Atlantic City from Tampa airport. They spent a week with us, before heading up to New York, and a reunion with his twin sister and her husband Mike! In case you couldn’t guess, October was a busy month for us!
Unlike last year, on November 2nd we voted in person around the corner from our house. Masks were the order of the day, but it was good to be enjoying this most basic American privilege in person! Now that I’d been cleared for travel, it was time to once again see our kids and grandkids in North Carolina, and the second week of the month we drove down to spend 4 days with our North Carolina Family! Having pretty much decided that we were going to buy our 2018 Honda CRV when the lease extension ended, we were very surprised when we got a call on November 23rd from the Honda dealer, telling us that a red 2022 CRV had just come off the truck. We went back and forth on price, and when they made us an offer we couldn’t refuse, we went over to take a look at the car. That evening, we drove our new, red 2022 Honda CRV to Charlie’s for dinner! Thanksgiving, 2020 was a lot different than Thanksgiving 2021, when we hunkered down in Ocean City with Kenny and Chris. It was the first time Kenny was home for Thanksgiving in 14 years! We went everywhere and did everything in 2021, putting 700+ miles on the brand new car! We traveled to Maryland to spend Thanksgiving with our son-in-law Mike’s family! The next day, we loaded Krissi and Mike into the new car and headed up to New Rochelle to spend the night with them! Saturday morning we headed to Long Island to participate in the big celebration for our Boy Scout Troop’s 100th Anniversary. Sunday we saw Susie sister and her family, and enjoyed a wonderful dinner at our favorite Mineola restaurant, Piccolo’s! Yes quite a whirlwind weekend and a busy month, which also included both of us getting our Moderna Covid boosters and our flu shots!
The beginning of December saw the last part of our rehab take place: the removal of our old tile floor in the dining room and kitchen, and the installation of our new laminate flooring. We love it! The second week of the month we had a brief visit from my cousin Jeanne and her husband Walt, as they made a much belated trip down to their winter residence in Barefoot Bay, Florida. Before we knew it, Christmas Eve was here, and Susie and I partook in some of our usual traditions and some new ones! We’d been alone last Christmas and were not really upset about spending the holiday alone, but our alone time was not to be for long! A Christmas surprise was in store, as our son Bill, his wife Lori and our three Grandkids traveled up from North Carolina on December 26th! We had three wonderful days with our kids and our three little ones, Layla who is 7, Henry who is 6, and Annabelle who is 2 and a 1/2! What a great treat to see them all and to spend time with the littlest D’Elias!!
So that pretty much takes care of our 2021! I know that as the year ended, a lot of people were happy to see it go, but honestly, our 2021 was so much better than 2020 that I really don’’t count us in that camp. It sucked that Betty White died on the last day of the year, but you must admit that 99 years is a pretty good run! Of course, with the Covid variant Omicron all over the place, and numbers growing, who knows what 2022 will hold for us, but life goes on and Susie and I are thankful that our whole family is doing well and just hope that continues. Susie is looking forward to it being her turn, and getting a replacement hip, but then I’m getting ahead of myself!
A year ago at this time, we were all hoping that 2021 would be better than the majority of 2020 was. We were looking forward to Covid vaccines, getting back to going out to bars and restaurants, and seeing loved ones! So, in retrospect, how was it? Let’s take a look.
January started out as it always does, with my birthday on January 2nd. This year, Susie and I celebrated my 71st trip around the sun with a much quieter celebration than my 70th had been, but we had hope for the future! It wasn’t long before we were both eligible for the Covid vaccine in New Jersey, and we made it our daily job to get appointments. Everyday we signed onto the app, and looked all over the state for appointments. With a little work, and a lot of patience, we both got an appointment for our first shots, me on Thursday, January 21st in Rio Grande, and Susie one week later on the 28th in Glassboro!
In February we continued to do take-out and take all precautions when we went shopping, and then on the 19th for me, and the 25th for Susie, we got Moderna shot #2! We were on our way!
Exactly two weeks after Susie got her second shot, on March 11th, for the first time since just before we went to Florida the end of January 2020, we ate inside at Angelo’s Restaurant in Atlantic City! We called this our “Coming Out Day” as we were now both fully vaccinated and could return to our regular Thursday hangout spot! Then on March 24th, we again were back inside at Charlie’s! It wasn’t our usual Tuesday night at the back bar with our friend Sue, but since the back bar still wasn’t open, it was the second best thing! We may have been back inside, but things were still strange at our favorite spots. No drinking or eating at the bar, masks and strict separation guides, but it was progress! March also saw the start of our kitchen renovations, with the installation of new quartz counters and a marble fireplace surround. The green was going away at 854 Pennlyn!
April was a banner month for us, as on the first weekend of the month, we journeyed to North Carolina to see our son and daughter-in-law, and our Grandkids for the first time since the end of January 2020! Over a year without seeing your Grandkids and being able to hug them when they are 6 and under is a long time for Grandparents! We continued our weekly visits to Charlie’s and Angelo’s, and also had a wonderful visit from our daughter Krissi and her husband Mike, for the first time since a very socially distanced visit in late August of 2020! Then towards the end of the month, we were again in North Carolina for a joint birthday party for our Granddaughter Layla (7) and her baby sister Annabelle (2)! Yes, life was returning to normal!!
Just to prove that life was in fact coming back, after we left Billy and Lori’s, we didn’t head north, but rather south to visit our son Kenny and his husband Chris in Florida and see their new apartment in downtown St. Petersburg! It was a quick trip, spending 3 days in St. Petersburg, and then one in our beloved Indian Rocks Beach before heading north again! This time, we did something we hadn’t done when we ran home from Florida in March of 2020…we stopped in Darien, Georgia to once again enjoy the best fried shrimp we’ve ever had at B&J’s Steak and Seafood!
May saw us back on Long Island for the first time in over a year, as we took care of some Doctor visits, and then spent some great time with our dear friends Pat and Steve Grosskopf! From there we were off to New Rochelle and spending a night with Krissi and Mike at their new condo that we’d yet to see! Now we’d seen all our kids, our grandkids and checked out everything that was new in their lives! Life was getting more and more on track! Of course, May in our household would not be complete without celebrating the birthday of my beloved on May 28th! Susie claims that that birthday would be the last one she would celebrate, but I don’t know about that!!
June saw the island come alive, as many of our summer visitors arrived, ready to have summer fun in a place we are lucky enough to call home 365 days of the year! June also saw us refinancing our mortgage at an incredible 2.65% for a shorter term than we had left on the original! Incredible when you think that, when we’d bought our Mineola home in 1986, we’d started with a 13 3/4% loan!! On the 13th of the month, our son Bill flew up to Philly from Wake Forest, North Carolina with his two oldest kids, 7 year old Layla and 5 year old Henry. Within a couple of hours, Dad was back on a plane headed home, and Layla and Henry were in the car with Grandma and Grandpa heading to Ocean City! For the next 5 days, we got to spoil our Grandkids, and expose them to Ocean City, exactly like their Dad and Aunt and Uncle had been, way back in the 80s! We tried to do all the things we remembered doing with our kids, so our days were spent on the beach and boardwalk, playing mini golf, eating Hose Pizza (AKA Manco & Manco Pizza), picking out taffy at Shrivers, trying everything at the 34th street playground, enjoying the rides at Wonderland, and of course, all the beach activities like digging holes, flying kites and frolicking in the water. It was a great 5 days, but wait, there’s more!!
The end of their visit coincided with Father’s day weekend, and Susie and I loaded the car with Layla, Henry and all their new purchases, and headed down to Billy and Lori’s Lake House in Gaston, North Carolina. Coming via plane were our daughter Krissi and husband Mike, and son Kenny and his husband Chris! It was a huge D’Elia/Mikowicz/Fox Family Reunion/Father’s Day Weekend on the lake, and it couldn’t have been better! Yes, the world was starting to feel normal, and here Susie and I were with our three kids, their chosen partners, and our three beautiful Grandkids!
And that’s how the first 6 months of 2021 went for the D’Elias of Ocean City. Check back tomorrow to find out how we faired during the last six months of 2021!
Today is January 6th, 2022. January 6th marks the Feast of the Epiphany, or the day that the Three Wise Men paid their visit to the Christ Child. January 6th is also known as Little Christmas, and like many across the world, it is the day in our house that the celebration of Christmas ends. After the 6th, the outside lights get turned off, and the tree and decorations get put away for another year. As today is Little Christmas, it will also be the last post on this blog having to do with our Christmas holiday.
For today’s blog, I’d like to tell a story about one of the most familiar symbols of Christmas, The Christmas Tree. According to Wikipedia, “Sources have offered a connection between the first documented Christmas trees in Alsace around 1600 and pre-Christian traditions. Tree worship was common among the pagan Europeans and survived their conversion to Christianity in the Scandinavian customs of decorating the house and barn with evergreens at the New Year to scare away the devil and of setting up a tree for the birds during Christmas time.”
Susie and I are never happier in the beginning of the Christmas season, then when we see our first Christmas Tree tied to the roof of a car, and never sadder than when we see our first undecorated, discarded Christmas Tree on the side of the road.
My story today goes back many years, to the first Christmas in 1968 after my folks and I moved from Jackson Heights to Bayside…..
I grew up in a four room, 4th floor walk-up (that means no elevator) apartment in Jackson Heights, a highly urbanized area of Queens. Jackson Heights is serviced by the very nearby #7 elevated subway line, which was literally just outside our windows. When we moved in early 1968 to a single family house in Bayside Hills, it was like we’d gone from the city to the country. Still a part of Queens county, Bayside is one of the most eastern areas of the county, and was one of the places we used to do Sunday drives to when I was a kid. On those days we said we were going on a drive to “the country,” and now we lived here!!
In Jackson Heights, when you bought a Christmas Tree, you got it from in front of the local A&P, or from a random guy set up on empty lot. In Bayside, when you bought a tree, you went to Kiel Brother’s Nursery and chose one from their section of hand-picked trees. That first Christmas Tree in December of 1968 was a beauty, and a central part of our first Christmas in our new home. It served us well before and during the Christmas season, but as we approached Little Christmas, it was time for it to go!
My Mom had read something about what to do with your tree when you were done with it in your house. Perhaps based on that Scandinavian tradition, she’d read that you should stick it in your backyard, and “decorate” it for the birds that had not gone south for the winter. Things like seed pods, peanut butter, suet, and other things that could give the birds stuck in the north substance when the ground was snow covered. As this was the first year in my folks 20+ years of married life that they had a backyard, I guess she was feeling “countrified” in our new home.
Only problem was that almost the day after we got the tree out of the house, it snowed…a lot! This left the D’Elia Family Christmas Tree buried deep in snow. It stayed buried for the next couple of months, as snow storms kept coming with incredible regularity. We really didn’t see it again till almost Spring thaw. By that time, my Mom had lost her desire to set the tree up, and honestly the need was probably almost non-existent. Rather than “decorate” the tree for the birds, it went out to the curb to wait for the garbage men to pick it up. Picking up trees in late December and early January is I’m sure a pretty common thing for New York City garbage men, but I always wondered what they thought that day in March when they picked up our very dead Christmas Tree!
So, on Little Christmas, as we end our Christmas celebration, Susie and I, and our whole family hope that you can keep the light and joy of the Christmas season in your life, until it’s time for Christmas, 2022! See you again, next year Christmas!
Today reminds both Susie and I why we like Florida in the winter!
The snow wasn’t a surprise…it had been predicted for several days. Our favorite local weather guy, Nor’easter Nick Pittman had been talking about, watching the various satellite tracks, and warning that it was coming since before the weekend. Yesterday when he finalized his predictions for today, he came in on the 8-12 inch snowfall totals, with the shore getting the worst of it! Nick was correct!
On the first “Work Day” of the new year, the rain change over to snow early, just before it started getting light. By 8 AM it was obvious that the snow was here, and between the snow, the cold temperatures (it’s 25 now feeling like 11 when yesterday at this time it was closer to 60), and the howling winds, it’s been a hell of a day!
Just about 2:30 this afternoon, even though it was still snowing, Susie and I bundled up and headed out to see if we could do anything. While Susie worked on the front porch and staircase, I worked clearing our side of the driveway. After Susie realized she was getting no where fast on the porch, she came down and helped me. She dug out the mailbox and cleared a path to it for the mailman. Not sure the whole Rain, Snow, Dark of Night thing exists for them anymore, but just in case! We worked outside for about 45 minutes, and then said we’d had enough.
There was a picture of Susie here too, but she refuses to let me put it on this blog!
It’s still snowing and blowing as what daylight there was today starts fading. Not sure if anything we did will still be there when the snow stops, and they say it’s going to get very cold tonight. The 2022 Honda CRV is comfortable in the garage, where she will probably stay for several days. Susie had a Doctor’s appointment for her hip replacement surgery, which she rescheduled toThursday, and canceled the cleaning ladies till later in the week. Schools in Ocean City and Somers Point are closed due to he weather. Restaurants like Charlie’s and Sal’s in Somers Point, and Yianni’s in Ocean City are closed due to the weather. We’ve got lots of food in the house, and really have no reason to leave before that Doctor’s appointment Susie’s got at 5 PM on Thursday with Dr Zabinski! Besides, we can’t find the box with our gloves, scarfs, earmuffs and other warm winter things! Thank goodness we’ve got our new, super warm Charlie’s sweatshirts that we wore under our coats! Oh, and Susie just told me it’s going to be 48 and rainy on Wednesday and then possible snow again Thursday night into Friday!
Did I tell you we REALLY like Florida in the winter??
Exactly 6 years ago, we first posted the following blog. Today, on New Year’s Eve morning, I was thinking about the first one we spent as a married couple, and think it’s a fitting time to re-visit New Year’s Eve 1979! Hope you enjoy!
In 1979, a little over three months after Susie and I tied the knot at C.W. Post’s Interfaith Chapel, it was time for our first New Year’s Eve together! As a newly married couple, we knew it had to be special. So, what did we do? Well, we attended a private party with some of our closest friends that was held in conjunction with a nationally broadcast event. It was held in a very private and intimate setting on the 8th floor of a Manhattan skyscraper that just happened to have a huge ABC logo on top of it. The truth…I had to work, as did a number of my other ABC friends, and we decided to have a bang-up holiday party on the 8th Floor of the ABC building, while on WABC, Howard Hoffman counted down the top 100 hits of 1979!! Significant others attended, as did some of our ABC friends who weren’t even scheduled to work that night – even our boss! We had a great time with great people, and didn’t leave till we saw the throngs of folks who had endured the ball drop in Times’ Square go down 53rd Street and pass the ABC Building.
There was food, booze, paper hats (courtesy of Susie and the NY Daily News), noise makers, and we were having such a good time, that when Howard’s shift ended at 10PM and we weren’t at #1 yet, he wouldn’t let the next DJ take over, and we continued the countdown. The next DJ (names will be withheld to protect the guilty) sat down and partied with us, and if the truth be told, was rather shit-faced by the time he finally got on the air. We all felt guilty about that, but luckily nothing came of his slightly inebriated air shift, and we all breathed a sigh of relief.
So sit back now, and join us in Studio 8A of the ABC Building at 1330 Avenue of the Americas, as 42 years ago Susie and I celebrated our first New Year’s Eve as husband and wife, while Howard Hoffman counts down the top 100 of 1979, brought to you by Casablanca Records and Filmworks!
Just like the 86 year “Curse of the Bambino” that the Boston Red Sox suffered through after selling Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees, I too suffered through my own curse as a kid. Unlike the Red Sox, mine did not have to do with not being able to win a World Series, while the New York Yankees dominated in the fall classic. No, mine had to do with getting Christmas presents that didn’t exactly do what they were supposed to do! I think of it as my Christmas Curse!
The first time it happened was when I was too young to even remember, but through the years, I heard the story so much that it is ingrained in my memory as if I did remember. It might have been my second Christmas and “Santa” had gifted me a red pedal car fire truck. On Christmas Eve of that year, my folks came home from doing a show at the Met, and my Dad launched into assembling this fire truck. He opened the box, and rather than the 4 wheels it was supposed to come with, he only found three! Knowing that, at the very least I should be able to sit in the truck in the living room of our Jackson Heights apartment the next morning, after putting the rest of the truck together, he fashioned a 4th wheel our of a cigar box. Of course, with a square wheel, I couldn’t ride it, but he had made sure that at least I could sit in it! And so it started!
When you are a kid (still one in my mind), one of the most important parts of Christmas morning is being able to play with your newly delivered toys! Be it a sled, a skateboard, or an erector set, your full enjoyment is only reached the first time you are able to use the gift. Sadly, the three wheeled fire truck was not the last of my Christmas morning disappointments! There was the year I got my first two-wheeled bike. That year, an important part was missing, and all I could do was look at the pieces, as it wasn’t even assembled enough so I could sit on it! But the one that stands front and center in my mind, is the year in the 60s when I was gifted a brand new Lionel HO Scale Slot Car track with two race cars. I unpacked the box, carefully set up the track, plugged in the controllers, and was all set to enjoy some slot racing when I discovered that sadly, only one of the cars worked! Oh No!! The Christmas Curse had struck again!! I have sad memories of my friend Barry Meade and I playing with just one car, as the second one sat there and just gave us the finger!!
I tell you these sad stories as a preamble to my real story, that took place when our oldest son Billy was about 4 or 5 years old. All three of our kids have November birthdays – Billy the 3rd, and Krissi and Kenny the 20th. Back when they were small, and toys were the major items on their Wish Lists, Susie and I would make a trip to Toys R Us in October, well before the Christmas rush. We’d buy both Birthday and Christmas gifts then, so we could avoid the crazy rush that started right around Thanksgiving, and lasted right up to December 25th. That year for his birthday, Billy’s main gift was a Teddy Ruxpin talking “bear”. If you don’t recall, Teddy was an early animatronic children’s toy, who’s eyes and mouth moved in response to an audio cassette tape that you inserted into a player built in his back. One track of the cassettes was used for audio and the second was a data stream that facilitated the animation of the the doll. It was a marvel of engineering for a kid’s toy at the time, and one of the hot gifts, ads for which flooded the TV.
It was an instant hit with Billy, and he took it everywhere. When Susie’s brother Don and his wife Diane saw it on Thanksgiving, they decided to buy Billy Teddy’s companion Grubby for Christmas. By means of a supplied cable, Grubby plugged into Teddy, and when you inserted a cassette that featured both of the characters, Grubby and Teddy would interact. Incredible for the time, or so it seemed to us! Of course, without Teddy, Grubby was no more than an expensive stuffed animal, and that takes us to the crux of my story!
Just a couple of days before Christmas, Teddy stopped working. No matter what I tried, I could not get him to work, and knowing that Grubby needed Teddy to work, I saw that my Christmas Curse was about to be passed along to our son! Of course, when you are a parent, you will do anything you can to secure your children’s safety and happiness, and with memories of my childhood disappointments in mind, I made the ultimate sacrifice! I went to Toys R Us just 2 days before Christmas!
I told Susie that I was not going to let him suffer as I had as a kid, and since Toys R Us was open till midnight the week before Christmas, after he was asleep that night, I headed out to the Toys R Us near us in Carle Place. I pulled into the parking lot after 10 PM, and from the cars there, it might as well have been a Saturday afternoon. There were absolutely no shopping carts available, so I ventured into the store ready to carry out my one purchase. There were people everywhere, trying to find the perfect gift before it was time for Santa to come down the chimney. As quickly as I could get through the crowd of shoppers, I went to the spot in the store where I knew the Teddy Ruxpin display had been, praying that there were still some available. I was rewarded by seeing at least a dozen still on the shelf, and quickly grabbed one. Satisfied that the box was in good condition, and that Teddy looked complete, I cheered my good fortune, and made my way to the front of the store and the checkout counters! I didn’t get far!
This particular Toys R Us had about 20 checkout stations, and the lines for each of them snaked around the front of the store and then up the aisles. Getting on any of the lines, you were about halfway up the aisle in the middle of the store. I was resigned for a long wait! Thank God I was in my 30s, and standing a long time was doable, because believe me when I tell you, I stood a long time! As I slowly waited for my line to move, I checked out my fellow shoppers surrounding me. There were people with kids asleep in their carts, there were folks with more than one shopping cart, and the vast majority of folks had shopping carts overflowing with games, and puzzles, and dolls, and all manor of toys! Turns out that Toy R Us, just days before Christmas was as much of a nightmare to be avoided at all costs as Susie as I had always thought!
My story though, does have a happy ending! After spending hours on line (I got checked out after the doors of the store had closed at midnight), I got back to the car, and headed home. At home, we loaded new batteries in Teddy, put in a cassette and he worked! YES!! Then it was just a simple task to switch this new Teddy for the broken one and tell Billy the next morning that we’d fixed him! Two days later, at Susie’s Mom and Dad’s house on Christmas Day, Billy opened Donnie and Diane’s present, plugged Grubby into Teddy, and they both worked, and our young son was happy and none the wiser!
That little boy is now 39 years old, and for the past few days we’ve had a post Christmas visit from Bill and his wife Lori, and our three Grandkids…Layla (age 7), Henry (age 6) and Annabelle (age 2 1/2), traveling up to us from their North Carolina home. The toys that our three Grandkids showed us they got from Santa this Christmas are much more sophisticated than a bear named Teddy and his friend Grubby, but thankfully due to my emergency trip to Toys R Us, Bill never had to suffer through the Christmas Curse of broken toys, and therefore did not pass it along to Layla, Henry, and Annabelle! That late December visit to Toys R Us also confirmed to Susie and I that shopping there in October was definitely the better plan, and we continued to do so until their wish list gifts started changing from toys to electronic gadgets like CD Players, Video Games, and TVs! This year, with the exception of a new shirt that was a bit too snug, I’m happy to say that I’ve been able to keep the ghosts of Christmases Past at bay, and play with everything under the tree on Christmas morning!
Ah Christmastime…As Andy Williams and many other singers tell us yearly, It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year! And it is…. This time of year is always a wonderful time to make memories, and to reflect on those memories years later. Here’s some that easily come to my mind!
Susie and I met in July of 1977, and right from our first Christmas together that December, I knew that she loved Christmas. That’s why, a year later when I had a permanent job at ABC, on Christmas Day of 1978, I managed to get her alone upstairs at my folks house in Bayside, and I asked Susie if she’d marry me, and then ran through the house, telling all that would listen, “She said yes!!!” That’s probably my best Christmas memory! Happy 43rd Anniversary of the day you said “Yes” Baby!
Unless Christmas Eve was on a Sunday, my folks always had to do at least one performance at the Metropolitan Opera. When I was small, after they’d gotten home from a show on Christmas Eve, was their time to do the tree, and set up presents and stockings. When I got older, we developed a habit of having Italian Cold Cut Sandwiches, and cheap champagne (them when I was younger, all of us as I reached my teens), while we opened Christmas presents. This made it easier for my folks to sleep in a bit on Christmas day, rather than have me wake them up at 6 AM! Because we’d started this years ago, Christmas Eve was always a day we celebrated with our version of the 7 fishes and then cold cut sandwiches at midnight. The Christmas Eve of 1979, Susie and I had only been married a couple of months, so that night, after I’d worked at WABC, we went to my folks house in Bayside for our traditional Christmas Eve. We left very late at night (really early in the morning) and headed home to our apartment in the Manorhaven section of Port Washington. Tired and wanting to be in our own house, we were happy to park in front of the small 4 apartment building we called home. The great memory of our first Christmas Eve together was not being with my folks, or the microwave oven they gave us for Christmas, but rather the fact that the front door of the building, which had never been locked and which we didn’t have a key for, was indeed locked! A great memory of our first Christmas Eve together (we eventually did get in after our banging woke up another tenant)! Christmas Eve is still an important day for our family. We no longer open presents on Christmas Eve, but we have traditions that we do every year! So for us, Christmas is a two day celebration. Christmas is the time for traditions!
Christmas of 1982 held many great memories, because our oldest Bill was less than two months old. Not that he knew what was going on, but first time Parents and Grandparents enjoyed it that year! The next year was also a great Christmas, but for entirely different reasons. My Dad suddenly died just 10 days before Christmas of 1983. It’s hard when you lose your Dad when you are 33 years old, and was sad for my Mom as they’d spent 35 Christmases as husband and wife, but now Billy was 1 year old, and had a little grasp of what Christmas was. I think the entire family concentrated on him, and while we had every reason to be sad, we weren’t, and had a great Christmas. The Miracle of Christmas?
Christmas of 1986 found us in our new home in Mineola, and our family expanded to five from three. Krissi and Kenny were born six weeks premature on November 20th, and our fervent wish was that our entire family would be together for Christmas. Krissi spent 18 days in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and Kenny spent 28 days in the NICU. Kenny had a little stocking ornament on his incubator that said, “Home for Christmas.” Our prayers were answered that year, and on Christmas morning ,our two little bundles of joy joined their older brother Billy for Christmas in our Mineola house! Our family was complete! By the way, Kenny still has that ornament!
So many wonderful memories of Christmases as the kids were growing and getting older. Memories of doing Christmas Eve dinner at my Mom’s or at our house with Susie’s folks, of having a leisurely dinner till the last minute, when suddenly the clock had run out, and we had to dash out of the house because we couldn’t be late to the kid’s Christmas Pageant at Church, and then the Service of the Carols. Then memories of coming home, of the kids getting into their jammies, and then the whole family continuing my Mom and Dad’s tradition of Italian Cold Cut Sandwiches and cheap champagne, and of watching Christmas Story and Christmas Vacation. As the kids got older, we even made it to the end of Christmas Vacation! Then they’d go to bed, and the real work started! Putting together presents that needed to be assembled, pulling Toys R Us tags off items that were going into their stockings (Santa didn’t shop at Toys R Us!), getting to bed way too late, and then getting up way too early! Of making the kids wait at the top of the stairs till Dad went down and made sure the house was all set up for Christmas morning. Then there was wrapping paper everywhere, and suddenly it was time to all get dressed so we could head to Susie’s folks or her sister Barbara’s house for Christmas, or getting the house cleaned up because the whole family was coming to our house! They were crazy, exhausting Christmases, where we operated with all together too little sleep and too much to do, but I wouldn’t change a thing about them! They are all the wonderful memories that live in your heart when you get older!
Let me leave you with one more memory that means a lot to us and our kids. The first year we were married, Susie found these leaded glass toasting flutes at Sterns Department Store. They have been a part of every one of our Christmases over the last 42 years. This year, through the magic of Ebay, I was able to find enough of them for sale that we just were able to send a set to every one of our kids and their spouses, plus have enough so that when we are all together, we will have them too! It’s our hope that this year Bill and Lori, Krissi and Mike, and Kenny and Chris will all toast Christmas the same way their Mom and Dad have for all their married life, and that they will have as great a life and memories of Christmases as we do!
So yes, perhaps another day older and deeper in debt, but I wouldn’t trade any of it for all the money in the world! May you and yours have a joyous Christmas, spent with family and friends that are like family, and make new memories that will warm your heart on Christmas for years to come! Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!
On the occasion of last month’s celebration of Veterans’ Day, I posted on Facebook a couple of pictures of my Dad in World War II, performing in Irving Berlin’s all soldier show, This is the Army. I’m going to use this blog today to expand a bit on that post, and to also tell you a story that was a staple of my childhood, that today has a different ending than it did when I was a kid. Let’s start at the beginning…
My Dad, Frank Vincent D’Elia (so no…I’m not legitimately a third as I don’t have a middle name), was born on October 5th, 1910, on the lower east side of Manhattan. He was one of 13 kids in a typical big Italian family, and like many kids of his generation, never went to High School because he had to go out into the world and earn money to help support his family. My father was different from many folks in those days though, in that his chosen profession was to be an opera singer. (One of the questions I wished I’d asked my Dad when he was still with us was, “Why an Opera Singer?”) Jobs were hard enough to find, but finding a job as an opera singer was even harder.
From stories I heard growing up, like many performers, my Dad had many jobs that did not involve singing. From selling pretzels in the park to being a messenger for a Wall Street firm, to acting as “secretary” to his voice teacher, Madame Novelli, he did what he had to do! Long story short, that’s why he was very happy when he got to audition for, and then was offered a job in the chorus of the Metropolitan Opera. Meanwhile, in the rest of the world, the Germans and the Japanese were edging the world towards war and this would impact my father’s life in a very large way.
Sometime in that first year of being a member of the Met chorus, he got his draft notice! After years of struggling and scraping by while supporting his family, he was finally at the point where he had a regular job, and now the US Army was going to change all that. He went to his draft board, looking to get an extension so that he could at least complete the season before reporting for duty. Ultimately, they did give him that extension, so he finished out his first season at the Met, and then went off to the army. (If you read the blog post, My Dad and His Family then you know the whole Draft Board story, if not, here’s a link https://rnewadventures.com/2020/10/06/my-dad-and-his-family/)
After kicking around at Fort Dix for a couple of weeks, my Dad was sure that he’d be sent off to some area where his background and experience would have no use to him. That’s why he was very surprised to be assigned to Camp Upton, in Yaphank on Long Island, to audition for Irving Berlin and his all soldier show, “This is the Army.” He passed the audition and joined the cast that included Broadway actors, movie stars, musicians from famous orchestras, and one singer from the Metropolitan Opera! For most of my childhood we’d be watching a movie or TV show, and my Dad would point out one of his “army buddies” that he’d traveled the world with in the show.
After rehearsals, the show opened at New York’s Broadway Theater (the same theater that gave us Mikey Mouse’s debut in Steamboat Willie) on July 4th of 1942, and was expected to run for 4 weeks. It was such a success that the run was extended several times, and eventually it ran to the end of September of that year. Since the show was loved by so many, including Eleanor Roosevelt, who saw it 3 times and wanted her husband the President to see it too, next up for the company was a National Tour, with all ticket sales going to Army Relief. Washington was their first stop with a special Presidential Matinee scheduled at Washington’s National Theater. The day after that performance, the entire company of This is the Army was invited to the White House to meet President Roosevelt, where festivities lasted late into the night! Another story I’d heard when I was a kid! When the National Tour ended in February 1943,This is the Army had earned $2,000,000 for the Army Relief Fund.
The next stop for the TITA company was Hollywood. Warner Brothers had offered $250,000 for the film rights of the show, and like the profits from the National Tour, this was donated to the Army, and the entire company spent 6 months in Hollywood making the Warner Brothers movie, “This is the Army.” Although, for the purpose of the movie, a sub plot was added that enabled Warner Brothers to include movie stars like Ronald Reagan (the only one of the “stars” who was in the service as an Army Lieutenant), George Murphy, Alan Hale, Sr., and several others. The musical numbers from the show were still intact and the performers in those numbers were still the soldiers. A camp for the 359 members of the company was set up near the Warner Brothers lot (with heated tents built by the Warner Brothers Prop Department), and each day, the company would march from their camp to the movie studio. As well as shooting the movie, the singers, dancers, and musicians all participated in regular army drills, as befitting soldiers in the US Army.
The real reason for the making of the movie was to raise funds for Army Relief, and towards that end, it was an unqualified success. It earned $9,555,586.44, which Warner Brother’s donated to the Army Relief Fund.
After their American performances, the company was reduced to a cast of 150 men, including my Dad. Their next assignment was to be shipped off to England, and play around the country for 3 months, but prior to that, they returned to Camp Upton on Long Island to re-stage the show taking into account the reduced cast. On October 21st, the company sailed for Liverpool aboard the Monarch of Bermuda. After 10 days of very crowded conditions, sailing in the dangerous North Atlantic, their convoy reached its destination. This is the Army played in London for Royalty and for American and Allied troops, and then embarked on a tour around Great Britain. On February 6, 1944, they returned to London and performed for General Eisenhower. At this point the cast thought they had reached the end of the road, and the show would be disbanded, and they’d all be sent off to regular Army units. However, after seeing the show, General Eisenhower thought that it would be a great moral tool for his troops, and requested from Washington that the show play to Troops at the front.
General Eisenhower’s request was granted, and a week later the This is the Army Company sailed for Algiers. This was to be the the first stop on their tour that would take the company around the world, and not end till October of 1945 in Hawaii, almost 2 months after the September Japanese surrender! Rather than performing for Army Relief Drives or heads of states, now they would chase the front, and perform for the soldiers actually fighting the war! Some of the places they performed were regal, and some just a thrown together stage in the jungle, and their audiences were now groups of soldiers who had just come out of combat and who would be heading right back into it after the show.
TITA Posters, The Original Cast Album, and pictures of Irving Berlin
After 2 weeks performing in North Africa, they sailed for Naples, Italy. In Naples they were billeted in the partially destroyed palace of Victor Emmanuel, and that’s where the story of The Box starts. This was not my father’s first visit to Naples. Back in the 30s, he had sailed from New York to Naples with his voice teacher Madame Novelli. Madame Novelli was originally from Naples, and they stayed with her family for several months while visiting . Among the members of the family was a young man about my Dad’s age, and the two of them became fast friends. Turn the clock ahead to 1944 and the American liberation of Naples. As soon as the “This is the Army” company got to Naples, my Dad looked for his old friends and found them living at the same address he’d visited as a young man. The war years had not been kind to his Italian friends, and my father did all he could to get them food and other supplies that they’d been without for years. One of the benefits of this was that my Dad got to eat with the family, and had home cooked Italian meals for the first time in several years. From my Dad’s stories, simple ingredients like SPAM in the right Italian hands could be turned into gourmet food, so this Italian kid from New York truly enjoyed his meals with his Italian friends!
The royal palace in Naples had been German headquarters in the city, and as such was a favorite target of the allied bombings. My Father would tell stories of sleeping in incredibly opulent surroundings with bomb blasted holes in the roof. The doors at the palace were about 10 feet tall and decorated with intricately carved and painted 4 inch by 10 inch panels. In a typical GI move, my Father pried one of these panels off the door as a souvenir. He told his friend about this and even took it with him to dinner one night to show the family. His friend said that he knew a wood carver and how would my father like it if he could get him to carve a box to match the panel, and use the panel as the lid? My Father liked that idea, and a plan was hatched. About a week later at dinner, his friend showed him the box. The wood carver had done an excellent job of matching the lid, and the carving was exquisite. All that was left was to paint the box to match the lid, and my father’s souvenir would be completed. He left them that night and promised to be back for dinner in 2 nights, and in turn, he was promised that the box would be ready for him to take. As they say, best laid plans.
On the afternoon of the second day, the “This is the Army” company was ordered to load their trucks and be ready to leave Naples within 45 minutes. The Allied forces were continuing up the Italian boot and their show was needed closer to the front lines to entertain the troops. There was no time to get to his friend’s house and no way to tell them what was happening, so that was the last of his stay in Naples, and of the carved box.
That happened in 1944 and was but a brief episode in all the escapades of the This is the Army troop, as they continued through Europe and eventually island hopped in the Pacific theater too.
So now turn the clock forward to the summer of 1971. I’ve just graduated from college and we’ve planned a 4 week trip through Europe. It starts at the Ford plant in Cologne, Germany where we picked up a new Ford Capri. We traveled through Germany, Switzerland and down one side of the Italian boot and up the other side. I very distinctly remember the day we got to Naples. After getting situated in the hotel room, my Dad went down to the lobby and found a phone book. He looked up the last name of his friend’s family and found a listing at the exact same address they’d lived at when he first met them in the 1930s. My Father placed a call and when a young lady answered, he explained who he was and asked for his friend by name. She said that he was looking for her Grandfather and that she’d get him. In a few minutes his friend, who he hadn’t seen or talked to in over 25 years, came to the phone. He couldn’t believe that this voice from his past was on the phone and was in Naples. One of the first thing he said to my Dad that day was, “Frank…I’ve got your box!”
That happened 50 years ago this past July, and was the culmination of a story I’d heard my Father tell all my life. Now his story of “The Box,” the souvenir that got away, had a new, and almost impossible to believe ending! My Dad died in 1983, but I must admit that I have continued to tell the story, and I guess keep him and his “This is the Army” stories alive. My Father was a great story teller, and after growing up on so many of these stories, and then finally seeing the movie, I’ve always felt very connected to this time in my Father’s life.
Oh…and the box? Well, for many years it resided on my Mother’s coffee table in her living room in Bayside, as it had since we returned from Europe in 1971, and it completed its trip started in 1944! When my Mom died in 2011, the box moved to our dining room hutch in our Mineola home. When Susie and I moved to Ocean City permanently, and cleaned out the Mineola house, our youngest son (Kenny…the performer and spiritual heir to my Mom and Dad’s profession) asked if he could have the box. It’s traveled around the country with him and his husband Chris, and now lives in their St. Petersburg, Florida living room. I hope it will always have a place of honor in our family, as a reminder of one of our family’s member of the Greatest Generation.
This is the Army was my Dad’s life for over three and a half years, and was how he fought the Second World War. My Dad made friends and had experiences that he talked about for the rest of his life. As well as entertaining thousands during the war, and making millions of dollars for Army Relief, This is the Army was America’s first integrated company in uniform! Up until I finally saw the movie at the Museum of Modern Art in the 70s, all I had were those stories of my Dad’s of this period of his life. Believe me, I heard lots of “This is the Army” stories growing up, but none of them was any more prominent that the story of “The Box!” His stories of This is the Army continued to be told for the rest of his life, especially every 5 years when the alumni of the company would get together for a reunion. Reunions my Dad relished going to until his death. Sadly, most of the folks that my Dad spent these years with are gone, and the reunions just a memory for those of us who heard our Dads talk about This is the Army.
Thanks Dad for your service!
One of the great sources that I had for filling in some of the TITA details was Alan Anderson’s book, “The Songwriter Goes to War.”
Here’s an excerpt from that book detailing a story my father often told about TITA in Italy – Click on the book cover below to open the passage…