The Christmas Tree is perhaps the one universal symbol of the Christmas Season, and has been the centerpiece of our Christmas celebration for all our lives. If you read my recent blog about Christmas Memories (https://rnewadventures.com/2022/12/12/christmas-in-the-city/) you may remember me saying that in our family, the tradition was that your folks put up the tree and that Santa decorated it, and that was indeed the tradition till it wasn’t, but it spawned a new tradition, making the decorating of the Christmas Tree an event. I remember back in our Jackson Heights apartment sharing the task with my best friend David, and some friends we both went to high school with. When we moved to Bayside, the tradition was expanded to include even more folks. Some were people I went to college with and others were folks I worked with. It just became another occasion and a way to celebrate the joy of the holiday season, with family and friends who were like family.
In a comment about my last post, my college friend Andy Bellenkes said “I rejoice in the memories I cherish, celebrating a Christmas or two with the D’Elias, watching your Dad put up the lights along the roof line of your house, sitting with you, your Mom and Dad (and others whose identities at the moment I cannot recall) in the living room and feeling the familial warmth and friendship that in my memories so characterized your home.” Even after Susie and I got married, we continued this tradition at my folks house.
Here’s a picture from my folk’s house in Bayside, at what was Billy’s first Christmas Tree decorating at his Grandparent’s home. An evening populated with good friends I worked with at ABC.
That baby in my arms is just born William Ryan D’Elia, who now is the father of our
three Grandkids. The little girl in front of my Mom is Melinda McGuire Geraghty,
now the Mom of two adorable little people.
As our kids got older, we also continued the tradition at our Mineola house. Some years there were friends of the kids involved, sometimes it was just family, but it was always an event. The holiday toasting flutes would be brought out, the André would be poured, and somehow the tree would always get decorated! I must admit that I am married to a lady with a sort of Christmas Tree Ornament OCD, who would often times rearrange the ornaments after they’d been placed on the tree (especially when the kids were small, and couldn’t reach that high), but we never objected! It’s a tradition of ours that started in New Hyde Park, traveled with us to Mineola, and now resides on Pennlyn Place in Ocean City!
And then there were the ornaments themselves that had become a D’Elia Family Tradition! There were a few things that came from our folks, that Susie and I remember seeing on the trees we had growing up, giving us a kind of time continuum from our childhood. Then there are ornaments that have memories attached to them from our 44 married Christmases, either from places we bought them or from events in our life. Although our tree is beautiful to us, it’s not a designer tree, with carefully curated ornaments! It’s a road map of our family, and our 44 Christmases!
So there you have it…the story of one family’s Christmas Tree, and the central part it has played in our holiday celebration!
As Susie and I sit here in Ocean City on this Christmas Eve, and look at the 44th edition of Our Family’s Christmas Tree, we think back on all our wonderful Christmas memories from Christmases past, and we reflect on the blessings of Christmas that we’ve experienced. We hope that this Christmas finds you feeling blessed, and knowing that you are loved by those in your life! Merry Christmas……
Well, it’s that time of the year, when Hallmark and almost all other networks are hot and heavy into Christmas movies. Watching them recently has made me think about Christmases way back in the 50s when I was a kid.
My Mom’s due date was just before Christmas of 1949, but apparently I had other ideas, so I missed what could have been my first Christmas, and cheated my Dad out of a tax deduction on their 1949 taxes. At 9:15 PM, on Monday, January 2nd, 1950, I was born at Physician’s Hospital in Jackson Heights, New York. It was a neighborhood hospital that has since closed, in the Queens neighborhood that my folks lived in, and that I grew up in. If it’s possible to say this in New York City, I was born in my home town. My Mom, Lilias Chalmers Sim D’Elia was 33 years old, and my Dad, Frank Vincent D’Elia was 39 years old at the time of my birth. Both of my folks were members of New York’s Metropolitan Opera Chorus, and from her stories, this was a very different time for mothers-to-be in the workforce. Being concerned about losing her job because of her pregnancy, my Mom worked every day from the time she found out she was pregnant till I showed up. In fact, Saturday, December 31st, she did both a matinee and an evening show at the Met, and less than 48 hours later, I joined the family, and made my Mom and Dad first time parents.
The story I always heard was that when my folks got married in 1947, they were lucky to get a sublet apartment from a friend in Jackson Heights, as apparently in post World War II NYC, apartments in their price range were not easy to come by. It was a 4th floor walkup apartment in one of Jackson Height’s many Garden Apartment complexes. It had been a somewhat fancy one bedroom, one bath apartment in it’s day. It even had a dining room, and looked out over what had been manicured gardens. That dining room became my bedroom, the gardens became overgrown and neglected, and the neighborhood changed, but we lived in that sublet apartment until I was 18 years old, when we moved to Bayside. Our apartment was just slightly off Roosevelt Avenue on 84th Street, so a feature of the apartment was also the #7 elevated line running by the windows! The 82nd Street stop of the #7 train was just a 2 block walk away, and my folks could be at the Met just off Times Square in Manhattan after a 20 minute ride, so it was a very convenient distance away from work for them and it was the first home I knew.
I’ve seen lots of pictures over the years, so don’t really know when I actually start remembering Christmases, but think it was probably about 1953. Our apartment in Jackson Heights was pretty good sized, but the living room also contained a baby grand piano, a big console TV/Radio/Record Player, a large mahogany dish hutch, a couch, coffee table, an armchair, and a small pump organ. I’m sure the furniture worked out better when they’d had a dining room, but my arrival had taken that out of the equation, but we always had space for a Christmas tree…a real tree
Now, you may ask, did we drive out into the country (that would have been Long Island) and cut our tree down? Well, my Dad was a product of growing up in NYC, and didn’t even get a driver’s license till after I was born, and a car was several years later, so no. In those days in Queens, you got a tree in the neighborhood, either at an establishment that had popped up in a vacant lot, or you bought one that was leaning up against the front of the A&P or Dilberts grocery stores around the corner on Roosevelt Avenue. It was just like in the movies, but our trees never came with a wooden X on the bottom! My Mom and Dad would then carry it home, up the four flights of stairs to our apartment. I don’t know where the tradition came from, but the tradition in our house when I was growing up was that your folks put the tree up, but Santa was the one who decorated it. I remember one incredible year when it seemed to be magically decorated in minutes, but I’m sure I’d probably fallen asleep, and it just seemed like minutes! Ahhh, that Santa!
Speaking of Santa, a visit with the jolly round man was always a part of my holiday, usually at Macy’s on 34th Street, sometimes between a Met matinee and evening show. My memories are of that Toyland/Santa Village being as grand and incredible as it always looks in movies, and the toy department in Macy’s being huge. From large Lionel Train layouts, to every new toy you could think of! Of course, without the internet, we were a lot less informed than I’m sure our three Grandkids are today, but somehow, we knew about the latest from Remco, AC Gilbert, American Flyer, Lionel, or Fisher-Price, and they were always on our Christmas Lists.
One of my first Christmases, “Santa” brought me a red pedal fire engine, that I enjoyed for many years. This was also the first of the “problem” gifts I received at Christmas! Late this Christmas Eve, after my folks had done an evening performance at the Met, they opened what must have been a huge box, to assemble the truck. As my Dad put it together (probably with my Mom reading him the directions), he made an unfortunate discovery! There were only 3 wheels in the box! My Dad, ever resourceful, figuring that I should at least be able to sit in it on Christmas morning, fashioned an empty cigar box as a substitute wheel. FYI…before they went to sleep early on Christmas morning, they discovered that the missing wheel had rolled out of the box and was lodged behind the couch….Christmas was saved!
Christmas morning I found that Santa had set up a Lionel freight train under the tree, and that became a valued D’Elia Family heirloom. With a Pennsylvania Railroad steam engine (that actually puffed smoke) with coal tender, and then a box car, tanker car, gondola car, and ending in a light-up caboose, it made many passes around that tree until it eventually years later became a part of my yearly train set-up. That same little old Lionel train also made many revolutions around Susie’s and my tree in Mineola, and got to be played with by our three kids, and today it resides in North Carolina with our oldest son Bill, so the next generation of D’Elia kids can marvel at 1953 Lionel excellence!
Oh, and the presents I remember, besides that Lionel Train set. There seemed to be lots of building toys, like sets of Lincoln Logs, Tinker Toys, Erector Sets, and I remember getting them all, and building incredible edifices. There were trikes and as I got older bikes (one that I couldn’t try on Christmas Day, because Santa had gotten a defective version). There were lots of Dinky Toys, and there were accessories for my trains. One year, the hot present was a slot racing set, a Lionel version of which I found under the tree…but only one car worked Christmas morning! There were also two-way radios, a crystal radio set, and other small electronics that probably were my early entry into my life in radio, but that was as far the electronic’s industry entered into those early Christmases of my life…so different from our kids and Grandkids! One “electronic” game I remembered getting was Tudor Electric Football Game! You set up the players on the field, plugged in the cord, turned it on, and a motor vibrated the playing field, and the players “magically” moved across the field…but not necessarily in the correct direction! I remember that one year I got a kid’s version of the very popular Polaroid Camera – magic! Then there were the “toys” that might seem questionable looking back from today’s world view. Things like my AC Gilbert Chemistry Set, where if you closely followed the instructions, you could produce a test tube full of truly noxious smelling material, with an odor that took days for your mother to get out of the apartment. Or the Wood Burning Kit, that allowed a young child to use a soldering iron type of tool to burn designs into balsa wood! But the worst had to be the Lead Soldier Kit, that came with molds, little lead bars, and a little plug-in electric hot plate and pot that you used to turn the bars into molten lead, that you then poured into the molds to make the soldiers. Today, that would be a lawsuit waiting to happen!
One of my main Christmas Eve memories, that I’m sure started as a convenience for my Mom and Dad long ago, is a tradition of long standing in our family. Now remember, most Christmas Eves my Mom and Dad would be getting home after 11 PM, having just done at least one opera performance (and 2 if the Eve fell on Saturday). Sometime, before I was aware of it, they started having their own quiet time celebration as they decorated the tree, assembled gifts, and set everything up. There was some food and a drink or two as they both played Santa for me (amazing how Santa and my Mom had such similar hand writing). When I got older and got to participate, the tradition became Italian Cold Cut Sandwiches and André Champagne, before I’d scurry off to bed, to get up way too early. Eventually, the opening the presents part of Christmas became a part of that Christmas Eve celebration too, as then on Christmas morning I could get up as early as I wanted to play with my gifts, while my folks could get some shut-eye, as they probably had to do a show that night! Now, we don’t open presents on Christmas Eve, but the tradition of Italian Cold Cut Sandwiches and André was a staple of our kids growing up, was something we continued to do as they became young adults, and is still something Susie and I still do, as do the kids in their own homes! It’s something that Kenny has even tried to duplicate when he’s been away from home performing on Christmas Eve, either on National Tours or even Cruise Ships! Funny how Family Traditions sometimes get started, and then endure!
So I’ll be thinking of my folks, and the Christmases of my childhood, and all those wonderful Christmas memories as we eat our sandwiches this December 24th, and probably shedding a tear or two thinking back to when I was a kid, and when Billy, Krissi and Kenny were little too! Christmas is a time for memories, and Susie and I are very blessed to have so many wonderful ones, shared with family and friends that are like family…people that we truly love! Hope you get to bathe in your Christmas memories this year, and even make some new ones! To quote the immortal words and sentiment of Clement Moore’s classic story, The Night Before Christmas………
“Happy Christmas to All, and to All a Good Night!”
September 29th in the year 1979 was a Saturday. I know that because that afternoon, at the C.W. Post Interfaith Chapel, Susan Johnson became Susan Johnson D’Elia, and my life changed forever! The story of how we ended up there started years before, but really got guidance a little over 2 years earlier, on the afternoon of July 3rd, 1977, when both Susie and I were guests at an early July 4th party in the back yard of Mary Ann and Bill Epperhart’s house in Oyster Bay. Sue knew Mary Ann as they both worked at Glen Cove Hospital as Registered Nurses, and Bill and I had been friends since we met years earlier at WCWP, The College Radio Station of C.W. Post College. There’s that CW Post connection again!
So, to continue our story, let’s go all the way back to the fall of 1967, when as a 17 high school graduate, I started as a commuter freshman at C.W. Post College. I wasn’t a great student, and really had no idea where I was going in life, which is why in short order I was a Theater Arts major, an English Major, a Philosophy Major, and a Political Science major, before finally settling on being a Music Major. Along the way, thanks to a class I had to take, I got involved at the college radio station, and as stories like to say, “the rest is history.”
Meanwhile, the young lady I was going to make my wife 43 years ago today, knew she wanted to be a nurse practically from the moment she was born it seems. Her early life lead up to it with Candy Striper and other volunteer jobs, and working at Nursing Homes, until finally after graduating from high school, she enrolled in the Pilgrim State Hospital School of Nursing on her way to getting her RN. There was lots of hands on learning at the hospital, but for their academic classes they were bused to C.W. Post College, and there’s that connection again!
As Susie is 2 years younger than I am, after meeting we discovered that we’d both been at Post at the same time! After 4 years of college, I graduated in the Spring of 1971, while Susie graduated from the 3 year program at Pilgrim in 1972. While we’d never met, nor to the best of our knowledge had we ever seen each other, the real possibility exists that during those couple of years that we both walked on the Brookville Campus, we might have passed each other, and that was our C.W. Post connection!
So, after that July 3rd, 1977 party, Susie and I were definitely an item. I think the description “Love at First Sight” could indeed be applied to us, and it only took me getting my permanent job at ABC Radio for me to take the leap, and on Christmas Day, 1978 ask her to marry me! In case you’re wondering, she said yes, and the planning began! The first hurdle was where to get married. Susie was raised a Protestant and I a Catholic. The question was how could we honor both of our families’ history, and answer was very easy for us….The Interfaith Chapel at C.W. Post! It was a lovely building, in a beautiful setting, on the college campus we’d both traveled while in school! Connection complete!
On the afternoon of Saturday September 29, 1979, at the Interfaith Chapel, with a Catholic Priest and a Protestant Minister officiating, in front of our family and friends, we joined two lives into one, and this great adventure we’ve had the past 43 years started! My life has been blessed every single day since then, because this wonderful lady is my lover, my best friend, my teacher, really, my EVERYTHING! Thanks for saying “I Do” 43 years ago today, I thank God every night for bringing you into my life! I love you more each day, and will love you forever and here’s to another 43 years of love together!!!
HAPPY 43rd ANNIVERSARY TO THE LOVE OF MY LIFE!
FYI..unlike the usual occurrence in this blog, Susan Johnson D’Elia did zero proof reading on today’s story. Any and all mistakes are exclusively the fault of yours truly.
I first wrote this blog several years after the 9/11 Attacks, and over the past 21 years, I have revised and republished it several times. The following is my latest revision of our personal memories of that day we’d all really rather forget, when our world changed forever.
Anyone who was just about anywhere in the New York Metropolitan area on the morning of September 11, 2001, will always remember that day, and where they were. I know in our family that’s the case. My wife Sue was at work at Hampton Street School in Mineola. Our oldest son Billy was in his second year at Ithaca College, and his brother and sister, Krissi and Kenny, were sophomores at Mineola High School. I was at work at WABC Radio, 17 floors above Penn Station.
I remember it was a great looking, if uneventful, September morning. There was just a touch of fall in the air – it was one of those special kinds of days we get after the humidity of summer leaves. I was, as usual, on the 7:24 LIRR train from Mineola to Penn Station. Just before the train entered the tunnel under the East River to take us from Queens to Manhattan, we got our usual view of the Manhattan Skyline. The Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, and the Twin Towers…they were all there. As I said, a totally uneventful September morning in all respects….but that was soon to change.
Shortly after the first plane hit at 8:46 AM, word started to come into the newsroom that a plane had hit the World Trade Center’s North Tower. It was primary day in New York, and there were reporters around the city for the various TV morning shows. Almost immediately, Dick Oliver of Channel 5 went on the air from Park Row, just outside of City Hall. They weren’t the best shots, but you definitely could see the fire and damage to the tower. Everyone assumed that it was a small plane that had hit and no one could understand how someone could have missed seeing a structure as big as the World Trade Center on a beautiful, clear morning. There was speculation of a student pilot, or someone who had a heart attack – just about anything but what had really happened, which up until that point was unthinkable to most of us.
By 9 o’clock, better pictures of the damage were available on TV, including long shots of the buildings from further uptown. Just before 9:03 AM, I was standing in studio 17E next to Chief Engineer Kevin Plumb, when we noticed a plane flying into the frame of the shot. Assuming we were looking at a small plane trying to get a better view of what was happening, one of us commented, “what the heck is that plane trying to do?” At 9:03 we were shocked when we saw that plane (which we later found out was a Boeing 767) crash into the South Tower and explode in a ball of flames. At the same moment, Susie was standing in the Teacher’s Lounge of Hampton Street School, next to a good friend, Midge McInnes. When that second plane hit, Midge lost her brother who worked in the tower at just about the level the plane hit. In that moment, everyone who saw that happen live, knew that life as we had known it up until that moment was over, and that there was a brand new reality.
I remember all hell breaking loose at the station as we all went into high gear. There was an incredible amount of misinformation flying around, and frankly, open fear from some. Many tried to act professionally, but since no one knew exactly what was going on, and since we were all working 17 floors above Penn Station and a couple of blocks west of the Empire State Building, we frankly wondered if we might be in the target zone for future attacks. The next hour was a blur of news reports, discussion and speculation. Shortly after the first plane hit, our morning anchor George Weber took off downtown armed with a cell phone and a recorder. He phoned in a couple of reports about what he was seeing, but as the cell phone system overloaded, we stopped hearing from him. Then at 9:59 AM, the South Tower collapsed. Faces stared at the TV pictures, and as a group, were almost unable to fathom what we’d seen. Less than 30 minutes later the North Tower collapsed, and these twin buildings, which were so identified with the skyline of New York City, were incredibly gone, along with close to 3,000 of our fellow New Yorkers.
So many questions hit us all at once…who would do this, how did it happen, how could these two huge buildings collapse, and one that was on all our minds at WABC, where was George Weber? The news reports continued, but with all the confusion it was hard to tell what was true and what wasn’t. Were there more hijacked planes out there, and had other attacks taken place in Washington and elsewhere around the country? Getting a landline phone call was very hard; cell service was pretty non-existent, communications among families and friends was almost impossible. It was over an hour later when we heard from George. He’d walked for blocks from the WTC site and had waited on a line at a pay phone before he was finally able to check in with the station. Okay, we knew one of our friends and coworkers was alive…but what about everyone else.
WABC’s 2001 9/11 Montage
The day dragged on, and we watched TV as they tried to figure out what had happened, and what was happening. One of the hardest tasks of the day was getting in touch with friends and family, finding out if they were okay, and assuring them that I was fine. The first response of the city was to shut down, and a lot of us wondered if we’d get home. Being above Penn Station, we kept looking down at the crowds milling around a closed Penn Station. We also kept looking a couple of blocks to the east at the Empire State Building and realizing it was once again the tallest building in New York!
Later that day, the Long Island Rail Road started running and those of us from Long Island headed downstairs, and like every other commuter that day, got on any train as long are it was leaving New York City! As the packed standing room only train came out of the tunnel into Queens, everyone looked to the south where the twin towers of the World Trade Center had been on the way in that morning, but now were replaced by smoke. It was very quiet in the train as everyone realized that those two buildings we’d seen every day on our commute into Manhattan were gone, along with all the folks who were working in them.
The days after September 11th were very strange to say the least. The fact that there were absolutely no planes in the sky made for a very eerie quiet that was very unlike the norm, especially for us living in Mineola, which could alternately be in the flight path to either LaGuardia or JFK Airports. I know that for weeks after the planes started flying again, every time one flew over I would find myself stopping and looking at it. Taking the LIRR into the city in the days after September 11th was also different. There was an uneasy quiet on the trains, that I guess came from a lot of folks who would rather be somewhere else, but who had responsibilities and had to do what they were doing. I remember not seeing people that had been regulars on our trains, and wondering if they were in the towers when they came down, or were they perhaps too scared to venture into Manhattan again. Questions I’d never have the answers to….
One thing that made the post 9/11 strangeness livable was the feeling that we were all in it together. There were American flags on houses, cars, businesses…virtually everywhere! Our Boy Scout Troop did a huge drive to get some of the supplies that the rescue workers at Ground Zero needed, and we had great response. People were friendlier to each other and more respectful…even politicians! From New York City to Washington, the political discourse had a united front. We weren’t Republicans or Democrats, Liberals or Conservatives, we were Americans. There was no finger pointing, just everyone shouldering the load and helping to move forward. If every cloud has to have a silver lining, that was September 11th’s.
Too bad that 21 years later, so many seem to have forgotten. There’s no way that anyone who lived through that day will not be thinking today about their experiences, about all the New Yorkers who are no longer with us and about how the rest of us pulled together as a team. On that day, 2,750 people lost their lives when the World Trade Center was attacked. Members of our Mineola Community were among the 455 of those victims who were fellow Long Islanders. Within the 2,750 victims that day were 415 who were emergency workers in New York City, who responded to the World Trade Center. They included 343 firefighters from the New York City Fire Department, 37 police officers with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Police Department, 23 police officers of the New York City Police Department, 8 emergency medical technicians and paramedics from private emergency medical services, 3 New York State Court Officers, 1 Patrolman from the New York Fire Patrol, and 1 Special Agent from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
For months after 9/11, there were important people in our lives that we never saw, because we had friends and neighbors who worked around the clock for months on “the pile” looking for remains of the 2,750 victims of the attack. Today, I’ll also be thinking about my friends who were involved after the towers came down. People like NYPD ESU Officer Scott Strauss who pulled the last survivor out of the rubble, or PAPD Detective Don McMahon, who’s partner sped towards the Towers from JFK airport that morning just after the first plane hit, and who was the first PAPD Officer to die that day. Donnie then spent the next 6 months at the on site morgue, working to identify remains of the victims when they were found. We’ll also be thinking today of the many Firemen we know, both NYFD and others who spent so many hours on the pile digging, without regard for their own personal safety, and sadly several we know are paying the price with their health today. We Thank God that there are so many people among us who run towards trouble as the rest of us run away! As we remember 9/11, and the days, weeks, and months afterward, we thank you for your service and for your friendship and for setting an example for the rest of us.
In the fall of 2004, our youngest son Kenny started as a freshman at the Manhattan Campus of Pace University, which was located just across from New York’s City Hall. Members of the senior class who worked orientation, told us stories of what 9/11 was like for them, just days into their freshman semester at Pace. Kenny’s 4 college years were virtually spent at Ground Zero. In his second year, he lived in an apartment just behind the heavily damaged Deutsche Bank Building. As a Junior he lived in an apartment on John Street, just up the street from the South Street Seaport. The truth is that for years after, the neighborhood was an ongoing demolition/construction site, and frankly nobody wanted to live there, which is why college students (or their parents) could afford the rent. There were so many visible reminders of that horrible day, every time we drove through the neighborhood, around detours, and looked at the remains of the destroyed buildings. Remember that in addition to the North and South Towers, other builds lost due to the attack were 7 World Trade Center, Manhattan Community College’s Fireman Hall, 5 World Trade Center, St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, Marriott World Trade Center, US Customs Building, The Deutsche Bank Building, and several others. It took years for the area to appear “normal” again.
But as we remember 9/11 today, I know we live in a better world because people like Scott and Donnie are a part of it. As we remember those who died 21 years ago, I hope we will all also remember the heroes of September 11th. Friends, neighbors, family members, and people whose names we will never know, who stepped up on that horrible day. Ordinary folks who did extrodinary things, and renewed our faith in our fellow human beings. That’s the lesson I try to take from that horrible day 21 years ago. Yes indeed, 9/11/2001 was very personal to us!
FDIII – 9/11/2015
WABC’s 2002 9/11 Montage put together for the first anniversary
Have you ever had one of those moments in your life that whatever your actions were, affected the rest of your life? Today is one of those days in the lives of Susie and myself. You see, it was 45 years ago today that Susie and I met, and I can honestly say it was love at first sight!
Back in the Summer of 1977, NABET was in the middle of a 5 and a half month strike against ABC. Rather than running the board on the 8th floor of the ABC Building for WABC and WPLJ, I was picketing 3 days a week for 3 hours at a time. Thankfully, I was a 27 year old single guy, so not going through the financial peril a lot of the older married folks were suffering through. It was a sad, kind of poor summer, but I did have lots more free time than I normally would., and that’s why I was able to accept an invitation to a Fourth of July backyard Bar-b-cue on Sunday July 3rd!
The party was given by my friend Bill Epperhart and his wife Maryanne. I met Bill when we both worked at the CW Post College Radio Station, WCWP, and now Bill worked at WNBC. Bill’s wife Maryanne was a Registered Nurse at the Glen Cove Community Hospital, as was the the young lady I met that day, Susan Lynn Johnson, RN! Turns out that Susie had called in sick that day to attend the party, and many years later we found out from Maryanne that getting us together was the main inspiration for the party!
I’m very happy to say that it worked! We were thrown together at the party when I helped Susie light some fireworks she’d brought back from a visit to her Great Aunt in North Carolina, and as I said before, it was really Love at First Sight! The following weekend we went out on our first real date, and at the Dynasty Chinese restaurant in Roslyn, my fortune cookie said, “You Will Marry Your Current Lover and Be Happy”. 45 Years later, the fortune cookie is still correct!!
Happy Anniversary baby! I L Y J T W Y A then, now, and forever!! XO XO XO XO XO XO
When you are both working, and raising three kids, time is a very valuable commodity that you never seem to have enough of! But when you’re both retired, and your time is your own, it’s something that you have the option of using as you choose. Be it to read a book, binge watch a show on Netflix that you’ve wanted to see, or even to just sit on our front porch in the summer, and watch the drama and comedy of Pennlyn Place transpire, there’s time to do it all! Many retired folks say that they’re always so busy, they don’t know how they got things done when they were working, but we all know that is life. The job grows to fit the time allotted, and face it, there is more of that when you’re retired! That gift of time is part of every area of your retired life, and Susie and I love that we have it when we travel!
Ever since I retired in 2016, that diabolical stretch of Interstate 95 from the Delaware Memorial Bridge, to the city of Richmond, Virginia has been a part of our travels. On our our yearly trips down to the Sunshine State to enjoy a bit of summer in the winter and to now see our son Kenny and his husband Chris in St. Petersburg, it’s been there. The multiple times a year we head down to North Carolina to visit with our Son Bill, his wife Lori and our three Grandkids, 8 year old Layla, 6 year old Henry and 3 year old Annabelle, it’s been a part of our travels. That stretch of I-95 has been part of the beginning and end of every trip south out of Ocean City, and has become very familiar and also very hated!
The question always is not IF you’ll run into traffic, but rather WHERE and for HOW LONG? Will your travel schedule coordinate so that you get the EasyPass Express Lanes in Virginia going in your direction? Will I-95 or the Interstates that go around the big cities be your better choice? Where is the latest construction (because there has always been, and probably always will be, construction on I-95) that will affect your travel located? Will the way too many morons who drive badly cause a horrific accident that will shut the road you’re on down? All of these, and more, are valid questions that will affect your travel when driving this over-crowded corridor.
The absolute worst we’ve had, and the proverbial “straw that broke the camel’s back”, was a year ago, when we had Layla and Henry in the back seat of the CR-V, and we were driving down to Lori and Bill’s Lake House after having our two oldest Grandkids with us for a week in Ocean City. Their Lake house is just off I-95, shortly after you cross the border from Virginia into North Carolina, and should have taken us 6 to 7 hours at the worst. It took us closer to 10 hours, and not only did we crawl along in bumper to bumper traffic on I-95, but on several occasions the GPS routed us off I-95 to other roads where we also crawled in bumper to bumper traffic! There had to be a better way!
And luckily there was! Our son-in-law Mike’s Maryland living brother-in-law Gabe, suggested that we try US 301, which runs parallel to I-95 but to the east. We’d been routed off I-95 once onto 301 by the GPS several years ago, but until this fateful trip with Layla and Henry, had never really thought of it as a viable alternate. We’ve now done it several times and love it! When we went down to see the North Carolina Family back in May we took it and greatly appreciated the ease of the trip. When we went back to NC a couple of weeks ago, we were able to figure out how to get on 301 just after the Delaware Memorial Bridge heading south. Thanks to a conversation I had with our neighbor Meade just before we left on that trip, he pointed out that we could pick up US 301 off of Interstate 295 that runs around Richmond – they discovered that thanks to the GPS routing them off I-95 recently coming back from Florida. Doing a little old fashioned map work (remember maps), we discovered that we could get from I-85 (which we take to Lori and Bill’s in Wake Forest) to I-295 and totally avoid I-95!
Now, you may ask, “but is it as fast as going on I-95?” Well, if I-95 is running well, with no traffic, the answer is no. But realize that I-95, running through the Washington, DC corridor, is hardly ever running well with no traffic, and if you end up going the opposite way the Express Lanes in Virginia are running, it’s even worse. So the real world difference is often negligible, but either way, remember, we’ve got time! US 301 is a nice drive, with beautiful scenery,
You also get to experience some wonderful local places along the way, like Horne’s Restaurant in Port Royal, Virginia! We stopped on our way back up from North Carolina, had a late lunch (really the only meal we needed that day) consisting of a couple of great cheeseburgers, and two of the best milkshakes we’ve had since we were kids! Take a look and see if you don’t start salivating just looking at these pictures!
Oh, and if you’re interested in experimenting with US 301, here’s the directions we wrote up for us. It obviously starts and ends in Ocean City, but can also be used if you’re following I-95 or I-295 to the Delaware Memorial Bridge! Enjoy, if like us, time is on your side!
Directions to use US Rt. 301 rather than I-95 heading south of Washington, DC
1 – Atlantic City Expressway (ACE turns into Rt. 42)/ Rt. 42 to Exit 9B (Through Runnemede) and follow signs for the NJ Turnpike towards Delaware Memorial Bridge 2 -As you go over the bridge, stay to the right and exit at Rt. 13 South 3 – Take Rt. 13 to US 1 to US 301 South 4 – Route 50 will join 301 and continue on 301/50 to and over the Bay Bridge 5 – Continue on US 301 South (US 50 splits off) 6 – Around Bowling Green, Virginia, be careful to follow signs for US 301 South or you will end up on 207 and head straight to I-95 7 – Continue on US 301 South to I-295 South 8 – Exit at 9B to Route 36 towards Petersburg. 9 – Follow signs for I-85
Ten years ago, when Billy and Lori got married, Susie and Krissi, in preparation for the wedding had a manicure and a pedicure. They didn’t know it then, but that was the beginning of a tradition of long standing in our lives that came to be called “Nail Night!”
Late afternoon, every other Wednesday after work, my two ladies would go to see Kim at Best Nails on Second Street in Mineola and have their nails done. This continued even after we’d sold the Mineola house and made Ocean City our permanent home. When it started, Krissi was working in a cardiologist’s office by the train station in Mineola and living home. It continued as she still worked and went to CW Post for her Master’s of Public Administration degree. It was still a thing when she stopped living at home, and moved to Astoria, and she commuted via the Long Island Rail Road after she got her MPA, and started working at Weill Cornell Medical Center in Manhattan.
It just so happened that separated from Best Nails by an alley, was the St. James Restaurant. While Mom and Krissi went and had their nails done, Dad held down a seat at the St. James’s Bar and waited for the girls. When they were done, we’d all have a drink at the bar, and then get a table in the restaurant and Dad would buy dinner. In fact, the St. James and Nail Night was the place we first met Michael shortly after he and Krissi started dating (she actually left him alone with me that first night), and for the rest of the time, every Nail Night, Mike and I joined the bar crowd at St. James waiting for our girls to show!
And quite a crowd it was! There were Doctors and other staff from Winthrop hospital just down the street, there were folks stopping for a shot or two on their way home from the train station, there was Ed who was a local Judge, and as Mineola is the seat of the Nassau County Government, there were lawyers, like Glenn the real estate lawyer, who actually handled the selling of our Mineola house for us! It was an interesting mix of folks who lived and worked in the neighborhood, with lots of regulars. It was a great location, and a good bar, but the real reason that these folks gathered at the bar of the St. James was the man behind the bar, Dennis Sweeney!
Dennis had been a commodity trader on Wall Street, who just had enough. His brother owned a bar and restaurant, and Dennis had done his fair share of time behind the bar, so he knew his way around. As he told us, it was a better life, with none of the pressure and the BS of his former life. I know we were very happy he made that decision, as were the rest of the St. James regulars! When Krissi worked at that local Doctor’s office next to the Mineola Train Station, she and her co-workers would often stop in, as did her Mom and Dad on days other than Nail Night, sometimes just for a drink with Dennis! Dennis was the father of two daughters, and we knew that he would watch out for Krissi, and in fact, when Mike started hanging around with us, Dennis gave Krissi a thumbs up on her new boyfriend!
Unfortunately, after years of having the same owner, new owners bought the St. James, and things started changing. Menu items that had been popular for years were re-worked, often times missing the mark in the opinion of regulars. The new owners wanted a new “vibe” and started to mess with personnel and the atmosphere. Gradually, the place felt less like Cheers and more like a sleazy sports bar, with too many TVs and too loud music! If their intention was to chase away the regulars, they were doing a good job!
Eventually, our Nail Nights ended, as we spent more and more of our time in OC and had less and less desire to be on Long Island. Eventually we heard that Dennis had less and less desire to be behind the bar at the St. James, and he moved on. We were sad, but totally understood! The last time we were in the St. James was 3 years ago on the weekend that Krissi and Mike got married. We were doing the rounds of Mineola, and in an effort to re-create those early Nail Nights with Mike, we went back to St. James for a drink. We found that without Dennis behind the bar, the bar that you had trouble finding a seat at back in the day, was now deserted! (Don’t get me started on why people buy a popular restaurant/bar and then change things and drive away the regulars!)
So turn the clock forward to the end of May, when we ran into a former neighbor who had been a fill-in bartender at the St. James. Turns out he knew that Dennis had moved on to Leo’s in Garden City, the next town south of Mineola and just blocks away from the St, James. With this new information, Susie and I resolved to stop in and see Dennis the next time we were on Long Island, and we did exactly that!
We got two seats at the end of the bar, and there was Dennis at the other end. As he walked towards us, he realized it was us, put a big smile on his face, and we had a wonderful reunion! We talked about our respective families and what was happening in everybody’s lives, and of course, we had two Grey Gooses Vodkas…shaken, cold, served up with a twist, with the marinated ice on the side! It was great to see him again, and reconnect with an old friend! Susie and I love the relationships we have in life with bartenders, waitresses, and waiters, and we were very happy to once again see this man, who we’d literary spent hours with over the years! As always, it’s the people that make a place special, at least that’s what we think!
Downstairs in the garage at 854 Pennlyn Place in Ocean City, there is a red Ford Mustang convertible, that has been a member of our family since March 31, 2000. In fact, on March 31st of last year, on the occasion of her 21st birthday, I wrote a blog entitled A Member of the Family, that detailed our relationship, now in its 23rd summer of our family with this car. Here’s a link to that blog in case you’re interested. https://rnewadventures.com/2021/03/31/a-member-of-the-family/
She started back in 2000 as my “MID-LIFE CRISIS” car, and has morphed into my “RETIREMENT” car. When we took delivery of her, there were 3 teenagers in our family, and indeed the first accident the Mustang was in was with Krissi at the wheel. In those days, she went to the train station daily, out to dinner and church, and even on trips, like our 2 weeks in the summer to Ocean City! When she moved to Ocean City full time, and became a New Jersey resident, her life got easier. Now she was our fun second car, and many of her days were spent in the garage or out for Sunday drives. She is strictly a summer car at this point in her life, spending the winters tucked into the garage with gas stabilizer in her tank, and a trickle charger on her battery. Now that she’s in her 22nd year, she is entitled to slow down a bit and to be pampered. In fact, in the most recent year, since her servicing in May of 2021, she traveled less than 1,000 miles! I guess for a 22 year old car to have just 91,000 miles on the odometer shows how her life has slowed down in recent years.
Every spring, we wait for the weather to get better and for some “Top Down Days” so that we can enjoy this old girl! A couple of weekends ago, we thought it was a perfect night to take the Mustang down the island to Captain Bob’s on 55th Street, where we were meeting some neighbors on Susie’s Birthday! We enjoyed the drive down there in the early evening with the top down, and were happy we’d decided to use the Mustang, rather than the new Honda CR-V. However, all that changed several hours later as we headed north on the island towards our home!
We had a lot of fun that night with Bob and Karen, Chris and Denise, and our next door neighbor Doc. They all had presents for Susie and sang Happy Birthday to end the meal. As we said goodbye to all and headed out, we decided that since it had gotten a little colder and damp, we’d leave the top up on the way home. We were stopped at a red light about 4 or 5 blocks from the restaurant when our night suddenly changed! The light turned green, I stepped on the gas, and suddenly we thought there was a motorcycle in the car with us! Once I realized the noise was us, I knew that I’d blown out part of the exhaust system, and that could be expensive! We limped the rest of the way home, not wanting to give her too much gas to keep the noise at a minimum, and tucked her back in the garage. You know how life is…it’s always something!
As I’ve said, the Mustang is a fun second car, but not something that we need to get through life, and at this point, we’ve pretty much decided that the idea of dumping a lot of money into her to keep her on the road is not something we want to do. Because of this, for the past couple of years, when she goes to the garage to get her yearly service, I tell the guys to call me if she needs anything beyond her normal servicing, because there will be an amount we are not interested to spend to keep her around. So that was the basis on which I dropped her off at Best Tire on Asbury Avenue, and Susie and I waited for their findings. The next afternoon, Kyle called and told me that she had a cracked Y Pipe coming out of the engine, and that there were 4 catalytic convertors on that pipe, and that he was sure I didn’t want to go ahead with replacing the part which cost $2600! Sounded like it was the end of the road for the 2000 Mustang, but then he gave us a ray of hope. He said that he’d give me a card for a guy in Northfield who did muffler repair, and he bet that he could weld the pipe for a couple of hundred dollars!
So we picked up the Mustang and drove to Bargain Brakes and Mufflers on Tilton Road, and I explained to the guy there what my issue was, and who had sent me. He took my keys and told me they’d take a look the next day. About 2 the next afternoon, my cell phone rang and caller ID said Budget Muffler. I answered and the gentleman said, “We took the pipe down, welded it and it still leaked. So we took it down again, and welded it in another place, and it works fine now. We saved you a few dollars. How does $175 sound?” I told him it sounded great and that we’d be by within the hour to pick her up! When we picked it up, he told me that as long as we have the car, they can fix the exhaust system!
She drives great, no longer sounds like a motorcycle, and Susie says that the exhaust smell we sometimes had in the car is now gone! So, as they say, all’s well that ends well! So, I guess it’s not time to say goodbye to the old girl just yet! Win – Win all around!
This recent Memorial Day, Susie and I did something we haven’t done for years. In a very real sense, we Turned Back the Hands of Time! Let me give you a little background….
In August of 1986, Susie, Billy, and I moved to our new (to us) house at 40 Fairfield Avenue in Mineola, NY. About 3 months later, our family of 3 morphed into a family of 5 when Billy’s sister and brother Krissi and Kenny were born. For the next 31 years, we called 40 Fairfield our home and the Village of Mineola the place where we lived. When Billy was in first grade, he along with several of his school friends wanted to join Cub Scouts, so off we went to Cub Pack 246 that met at Mineola’s First Presbyterian Church. Billy’s friend John’s Dad, Andy McInnes, volunteered to be Cubmaster, and as I remembered my great experiences being a Boy Scout, I volunteered to help in anyway I could, and I became the Pack Treasurer. Starting that first year, in May of 1987, Billy and I joined Pack 246 and marched in the Mineola Memorial Day Parade. For the next 28 years, with and/or without our sons Billy and Kenny, I continued to march in that parade…first with Cub Pack 246, and eventually with Mineola’s Boy Scout Troop 45.
Whatever happened on that year’s Memorial Day Weekend, marching in Mineola’s Parade was a given. In the early years, we’d go to see fireworks at Bar Beach in the Town of North Hempstead on Friday night, and then many times head down to the Jersey Shore for Saturday and Sunday, and then head back to Long Island for the parade. Starting in 2005, when we bought the house in Ocean City, NJ our routine changed. Now instead of Fireworks on Friday, we’d head down to Ocean City, and spend the weekend at our house with our Ocean City friends! Some weekends we had kids and their friends with us, and some weekends we were alone, but every year, we’d set an alarm for 5 AM on Monday, throw clothes on, and head up the Garden State Parkway, to Long Island and our parade.
In 1998, our good friend Steve Grosskopf became the Scoutmaster of Troop 45 (I talked him into taking the job), and starting that first May, we gathered at their house and he fed the boys breakfast with the help of his wife Pat and my wife Sue. Eventually the breakfast morphed into an after-parade gathering for the Scouts and the families of the Troop at their house, and we were always there! We’d arrive home about 9 AM, I’d change into my Scout uniform, Susie would get herself ready, and we’d head over to Pat and Steve’s house for the parade. After we all headed off to the start of the parade, Susie and Pat would settle on the house’s front porch, and watch the parade pass by, yelling their support for the Boy Scout contingent!
It was a tradition of long standing, that continued through 2015! Then something changed… I retired from WABC in January of 2016, and now since I was no longer working, there was no reason not to extend our celebration of Memorial Day at the shore. It was very strange for us, that something that had been a part of our family’s life since 1987 was no longer there. It only got stranger when we sold the Mineola house in 2017, and now we really had no connection with the village! We might not have been there for the parade, but it was still a part of me, and every Memorial Day, my Facebook posts were filled with pictures of the Scouts of Troop 45 carrying flags and marching in Mineola’s parade!
So since that first May in 2016, our Memorial Day Weekends have been centered in Ocean City, but we have fondly remembered our time in Mineola, our friends in Troop 45, and years and years of parade participation. For six years that was our MO, but not this year. This year, we grabbed that clock and turned back the hands of time, proving once again that you can go home!
What is different? Well, our friend Steve Grosskopf announced that he was in his last year of being the Scoutmaster of Troop 45. 24 years of work and dedication, and of making Troop 45 one of, if not the best Boy Scout Troop on Long Island, had not been easy, but Steve had done it, and now it was time for him to pass the torch to the next generation. A couple of weeks ago, I got a crazy idea, and one day I shared it with Susie. “You know, we were there for Steve’s first parade, what do you think about being there for his last?” Susie liked the idea, and for the next week or so we batted around the idea. We really wanted to be there for our dear friends Pat and Steve, but wondered if we’d feel out of place and would we know anybody? After all, the last time we’d been there for the parade was 7 years ago in 2015! On Sunday afternoon, I sent him this text message, “Just checking in with you…How are you doing? Are you all set for the parade?” His answer to that text took away any doubt we might have had. “All good thanks! I know this will be my last one, so it is bittersweet. Wish you guys were here having cocktails on the porch.” Game On!
On Sunday we picked out the clothes we were going to wear, made sure our overnight “to go” bag was fully packed, and filled the car with gas. A shower before and an early bed time, and we were ready to go! The alarm woke us at 5:15 Memorial Day morning, and by 6:25 we were backing out of the garage and on our way to the Garden State Parkway! The trip back to Mineola is just under a hundred and 20 miles, and since we were on the road early, traffic was not an issue. The parade was scheduled to start at 11 AM, and we were in great shape time wise. At about 9:15, we rolled down Westbury Avenue, and parked the car around the corner from their house!
Activity was already in full parade mode as we walked up to the house, with Scouts and Adult Leaders gathering flags, and preparing for the after-parade party. As we came around the corner, and walked up to the front of their house, Steve came off the front porch, looked at us, and said, “Oh My God…what are you two doing here?!” We exchanged hugs and told him, “We were here for your first one, no way we were missing your last one!” Mission Accomplished! Pat was equally surprised when she came downstairs, but thrilled that we were going to be there for the day! She insisted that we spend the night, and we gladly agreed.
As the 11 AM hour got near, Steve and the Troop moved over to the parade starting point around the corner, and Susie, Pat, and I settled in on their front porch. Something new for me this year…for the first time since we first marched in 1987, I was going to see the parade, and what better place to see it, than Patrice and Steve Grosskopf’s front porch, a location on which the 4 of us had spent many, many enjoyable hours over the past 20 years they’ve owned the house! Promptly at 11 AM, the parade set off from Mineola’s Wilson Park, rounded the corner of Union Street and Westbury Avenue, and sailed by our front row seats! Lots of memories and lots of folks we recognized from our 31 years in Mineola, and we enjoyed all the groups from the Boy Scouts to the Mineola High School Mustang Marching Band (which all 3 of our kids were members of), and from the Mineola Fire Dept to the Portuguese Dancers and their castanets, and everybody else!
The parade route is 1.8 miles through the village, ending at Mineola’s Memorial Park for a brief service of remembrance and placing of wreaths. Steve was the MC for the event (I wrote his speech), and from all accounts it was a brief but meaningful reminder what the day was all about. Just after 12 noon, the Troop started to arrive back at the Grosskopf’s house for what has become a Troop 45 Tradition over the years, the Troop’s Memorial Day Parade after-party! The men of the Troop immediately went to work grilling hamburgers, hot dogs and bratwurst, while the boys changed out of uniforms and into proper attire for the pool and games. Troop Families showed up, and a great time was had by all!
Susie and I looked at each other several times during the afternoon, and commented about how the 7 intervening years since we’d last been in Mineola for a Memorial Day seemed to melt away, and how easy it was to fall back into old routines. A lot of the people we knew over the years are not still involved, but the folks of Troop 45 are always like family..old or new. We were welcomed back and made to feel at home, and were so glad we were there for Pat and Steve, and Steve’s last Memorial Day as Scoutmaster. All in all, it was a great plan, and worked out perfectly! As TR used to say, “BULLY!!!!”
I have been blessed to spend 44 birthdays with Susan Lynn Johnson D’Elia since the day I met her at a barbecue on July 3rd, 1977, and 42 of those birthdays since she traded a simple last name like Johnson, for an often mispronounced or misspelled one, D’Elia. We have been at each other’s side raising 3 kids, buying houses and cars, sending the 3 kids off to college, watching them get married, through work and play, adding 3 great grandkids to the family, and through us both retiring. Now I am the lucky one who gets to spend 24 hours of every day with my best friend, the love of my life, and the lady who puts me ahead of her, in everything she does. I’m sorry, but I can’t say that I was “lucky” to have her come in my life, I have always used the term “blessed” believing that some higher power ordained us to spend our life together! To me, we are a “Match Made in Heaven” and the perfect example to prove that “Love at First Sight” does indeed happen!
Last week, four of our six kids surprised her for her special birthday. On Wednesday night, after 10 o’clock, our son Kenny and his husband Chris walked into the house, having just flown up from St Pete, Florida and being picked up at the airport by our friend Sue Waniak. That was surprise number one. On Thursday night, the four of us went to Angelo’s in Atlantic City, as is our normal course of action. That was the place for surprise two, as Susie walked into the bar and saw Kenny’s twin sister Krissi sitting at the bar along with her husband Mike, who Susie thought was going to be on a business trip to Oregon! Unfortunately, our oldest son Bill and his wife Lori couldn’t join the group, as Bill, in the last months of his MBA program at the University of North Carolina was in Iceland as a part of a special class.
Let me let Susie tell you about Friday….The following is from Susie’s Facebook post….
“So…day #3 of Birthday surprises from my family! I was told to dress ”cute casual” and be ready at 11 AM today! We all made our own sandwiches and the cooler was packed! At 11AM we ventured outside to a tie-dyed van! “DaySippers!” We were off for a 6 hour adventure! First a Winery for tastings and purchases! Next to a Brewery for Beer Flights and our sandwiches. Throw in a few games of Shuffleboard and a lot of laughs! Our last stop was a Distillery for some delicious cocktails! Tonight’s dinner will be Pizza and Ice Cream for dessert….my 2 favorite foods!
It has been a fabulous surprise Birthday celebration, well planned by my loving family! I’m a Lucky Girl!😊❤️”
There were special cookies, bottles of Vodka with her picture on it, and lots of love and fun, as is only right for someone who loves her kids and their spouses as much as my Susie does!
So Susie Q, on this May 28, 2022 I’m here to tell you once again, that my life started the day I met you, so as far as I’m concerned this is your 44th Birthday! Have a great day as you remember our life together and all the fun, joy and love we’ve shared and that our 3 kids and 3 grandkids have brought us. My life is the best, mainly because you’re in it!!
ILYJTWYA now and forever baby!
PS – Frank D’Elia is totally responsible for the contents of this blog, as it was prepared, and published without the knowledge (or the proofing) of his partner in crime, and the love of his life!!