Taking Stock Part Three

Welcome to Part Three of our look back at the first six years of our retirement. Today you’ll get a great seat in the back of our car as we travel close to 10,000 miles across the United States, and enjoy the good life as we cruise on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship with Our Boys! Enjoy!!!

OUR BIG ADVENTURE – Susie and I had been talking about this trip for literally years! It was going to be the culmination of years of assembling a bucket list of places we wanted to see in the Western United States, including some incredible National Parks! In many ways, it also was the “raison d’être” for starting this, Our New Adventure blog. We were going to document our trip in words and pictures, for anyone who wanted to ride along, but also as a way for us to remember where we went, what we saw, and who we met. In that regard, we did very well, generally posting words and pictures each day, when the experiences were still fresh in our minds. From the time we traveled over the George Washington Bridge Westbound to I-80 West on Sunday, August 21, 2016, till we returned to the GWB via I-80 East on Saturday, October 22nd, a total of 63 days passed (nine full weeks) and we’d driven a total of 9,773 miles in our 2013 Hyundai Sonata Limited. During our trek across our great country, we drove through parts of 25 States, spent time in all 4 of our country’s time zones, visited 10 National Parks or National Monuments. We stayed in a cabin on the rim of the Grand Canyon where we enjoyed sunrise and sunset over the canyon. We stayed at the Yellowstone Lake Lodge in Yellowstone park, we marveled over the Badlands, became sad learning the history at the Battle of Little Big Horn Monument, and we found the carvings of the Presidents at Mount Rushmore as big a thrill to see in person as I’d always thought it would be. We rode the cog railway to the top of Pike’s Peak, saw a Rockies game at Coors Field, drove on parts of old Route 66, enjoyed the Spam Museum, set our clock by the eruption of Old Faithful, and wondered what was true about UFOs in Roswell, New Mexico. We had the Sonata’s oil changed at Terrible’s Lube in Las Vegas (our mechanic Mike on Long Island loved that name), visited many museums, big and small, including the Idaho Potato Museum, The Oregon Trail Museum, and a wonderful little local museum in a little town called Craig, Colorado! We stayed on the Riverwalk in San Antonio, Texas, had a wonderful day on the USS Lexington aircraft carrier in Corpus Christi, and even went on a two week cruise out of Galveston where we added the countries of Mexico, Honduras, and Jamaica to our list of destinations. Also, in 62 days of travel, we only had one day on which it rained all day…I’d have to say our travels we’re blessed!

Since I first read it in high school, I have always loved the John Steinbeck book Travels with Charlie, in which Mr. Steinbeck details his trip across America with his dog Charlie. Like Mr. Steinbeck’s trip, we will have memories forever of some of the things we saw, but sometimes it’s the little things you remember. Here’s a quote from our blog from Day 61 of our trip: “While sitting on the porch at Cracker Barrel in Virginia waiting for our table, we started talking to this gentleman. One thing led to another, and we discovered that we were both born in Physicians’ Hospital in Jackson Heights, NY a lifetime ago. Anyone who doesn’t believe we live in a small world, has never been out in it!” Exactly….a very small world!

I think I’m going to leave this part of the story, with this additional quote from our blog, this one on our last night on the road.

“Are we sad as I write this last Our Big Adventure post tonight at a hotel in Pennsylvania? You bet we are. We have so loved every day, have gotten such a kick out of driving the Sonata, with our New York license plates, in places like Las Vegas, or Yellowstone, or on Route 66, or last weekend in Galveston with Kenny and Chris in the back seat! Have so loved telling people what we have come to call, “Our Trip Story,” when they inquire what we are doing in Moab, Utah, or Corpus Christi, Texas, and now that’s all behind us.”

It was an incredible trip!

CRUISING – In the course of the past six years, Susie and I have spent six weeks on cruise ships. Both Susie and I had cruised before we were a couple, and as a couple we have a history with cruising, having been several times, including a week long cruise to Bermuda on our Honeymoon back in 1979! Now, we had added incentive! Youngest child Kenny, the actor, was working as one of the lead entertainers on Royal Caribbean Cruise ships! Kenny and his now husband Chris have done 4 contracts together on Royal. First as friends, then as boyfriends, then as fiances, and finally as a married couple, and Susie and I were fortunate enough to be with them at each level! We’ve been to Bermuda with them, to Roatan Honduras, Cozumell, Mexico, Falmouth, Jamaica, Costa Maya, Mexico, and Grand Cayman in the Cayman Islands. They’ve shown us their favorite spots in each port, and given us the insider’s tips. We’ve enjoyed wonderful burritos in a little hole-in-the-wall place in Cozumel that we wouldn’t have dared enter without them, and on our next visit, spent the day at a 5 star all inclusive resort! Returned several times to see wonderful people serving incredible food and drinks at a small bar/restaurant that literally hangs over the harbor in Roatan. In Costa Maya, the boys hustled us into a cab at the port, and after driving for 10 minutes, delivered us to the National Beach Club, which was like the set of every beach front movie set in the Caribbean you have ever seen. A white sandy beach with chairs and umbrellas set in groups, palm trees, crystal blue water, hammocks attached to poles in the water, tiki hut bungalows behind the beach, and an outside tiki bar! The place was run by somebody the boys had met…a young American named Evan. Evan took our first drink order, and for the rest of the day, we were waited on hand and foot, enjoying some incredible food and drink, and treated like visiting royalty by Evan, his wife and their staff! In Grand Cayman, we avoided the tourist places, and the boys took us for a wonderful lunch, overlooking the harbor with its incredible blue water filled with cruise ships. In short, we never took an excursion at any port. We had our own personal tour guides, saw the best things in each port, and were fortunate to get to spend time with some friends the boys had made along the way!!

Over these 6 weeks of cruising we’ve met and partied with Kenny and Chris’ ship family from around the world. We’ve seen the boys perform in Saturday Night Fever, seen Chris do aerial work in a Cirque Du Soleil type show, stood and watched ship’s parades with Kenny, first with Chris as Pinocchio and then on later cruises with him as the Admiral of the Fleet commanding the parade action. We’ve met wonderful ship’s staff from all around the world and gotten close to several. We’ve taken martini classes and pasta classes, eaten beautifully prepared and served meals, and have wandered the ship’s buffet. We’ve won (and lost) money in the ships casino, seen Kenny sing on the Royal Promenade for the 70’s Night, enjoyed jazz sets, played bingo, sat and watched the brave folks on the flow rider, and just had a great time. We’ve cruised alone and with my cousin Jeanne and her husband Walt, and somehow we have befriended bar staffs from around the world! It’s been a great experience, all the more so because we were able to share it with Our Boys!

Everybody loves a Wedding, and tomorrow in Part Four, you are invited to two of them and then get to see what it’s like to take a sleeper train across America! See you then!!

Taking Stock – Part Two

Welcome back to our Taking Stock Blog – Looking back at six years of retirement. Today we return to Florida and complete the saga of two refugees from the winter, finding fun and warmth in the Sunshine state!! Enjoy!

2018 – On February 9th, 2018, we left from our new hometown, Ocean City, New Jersey (more on that later in this blog) and once again headed south! Two days later, we crossed from Georgia into Florida and headed west. Our purpose this trip was to explore much of the Gulf and Atlantic Coasts of the state, and even head down to Key West! The highlight of this trip for us, was that we discovered what we now consider our Florida home…Indian Rocks Beach, thanks to a wonderful stay at the Holiday Inn there, and a great bartender, now friend, named Lindsey! After 4 wonderful nights there, we headed south, then east over the Tamiami Trail, to the very end of Florida. Next stop…Key West. Two wonderful days (and incredible nights) in Key West, and then headed north again. This was our trip for discovery, because next we discovered a wonderful place called the Double Tree Resort by Hilton in Hollywood Beach, Florida! We were there only two nights but vowed we’d be back! We spent 4 great nights with my cousin Jeanne and her husband Walt in their Florida home in Barefoot Bay, and had a wonderful time. Then 5 nights using my Disney Retiree benefits at Walt Disney World. This time we splurged and spent 5 nights at the Boardwalk Hotel in a garden room, with Club Level access, at a 50% Cast Member discount! This year we were really spoiled with our private villa across from the Quiet Pool and access to the Innkeepers Club, for breakfast, lunch, dinner, drinks, and snacks, plus access to the concierge staff for anything we might need. Even with the discount it was $500 a night, but oh so enjoyable! We went briefly to the parks, took in a baseball game and watched the Braves play the Mets, but mostly enjoyed the pool and all the other things that the hotel offered! On the morning of day 6, we headed back towards I-95 and home…it was time to trade in our flip flops for a couple of months! On March 4th, day 24 of our trip, we pulled the Sonata into our garage, and were home! For our Florida trip 2018: 24 days on the road and a total of 3,241 miles driven, and just the best time visiting the Summer of 2018 early!

2019 – On Saturday, January 19th, we headed south to our son and family in North Carolina. It was time for an old fashioned (late, but old fashioned) Christmas celebration with our Southern Family! We had a great weekend with Bill, Lori and Layla and Henry and a great way to start our preview of the Summer of 2019. After leaving NC, we explored Charleston, South Carolina and Savannah, Georgia. Great sites, nice hotels, and wonderful Southern Food, but we discovered that January may not be the optimum time to visit because it was cold! Then it was time to head to our Florida home, Indian Rocks Beach on the Gulf Coast, and the two bedroom condo we’d rented on the Gulf for 3 weeks! That first week was cold, but we sat in the living room under a blanket and watched the beach, and explored “our” town. In week two, the weather was perfect and we spent lots of time on the beach or at the pool. We had family visits from my cousins Jeanne and Walt, Susie’s cousin Debbie, and even our daughter and Mike, who was no longer her boyfriend, but rather her fiancé! We loved being a part of IRB for the three weeks, exploring great restaurants and touristy things, and just spending time in the warmth! Can you say Snowbirds!! After 3 weeks in our condo, we headed to the Double Tree by Hilton Resort in Hollywood Beach, this time for four glorious nights! The only time we left was to drive to Palm Beach one night to have dinner with an old friend! From there, we went over to Barefoot Bay to return the visit to Jeanne and Walt. Three nights there before we returned to I-95 North and winter! On February 27th, 5 1/2 weeks after we’d left, we returned to Ocean City, and once again, no flip flops for a couple of months!

2020 – On Thursday, January 30th, we left Ocean City and headed to our son Bill and his family’s new house in Wake Forest, North Carolina! New house (they moved in just after New Years), and bigger family as baby Annabelle had joined the group the previous April! After spending the night with them, the next morning we were off to Darien, Georgia and the best fried shrimp in the world at B&J’s Steak and Seafood, a twice yearly stop! On Saturday, the 1st of February, we completed the drive to Indian Rocks Beach, and our month long stay in a beautiful 3 bedroom condo on the Gulf of Mexico at the Hamilton House. Now we were really Snowbirds!! We were joined during the month by my cousin Jeanne and her husband Walt for 4 nights, and for a week by Kenny and his husband Chris…Our Boys! We loved the feeling of being a part of IRB for the month, and cemented that feeling by every Tuesday night. Rather than being at the back bar of Charlie’s with our friend Sue as was our Tuesday routine, we spent 4 Tuesdays at the bar at Guppy’s with our new friends Taylor and Ellen. Unfortunately, in our last week there, Susie got the call that her 95 year old Mom had passed away. We left the condo a day early, drove across the state to the Ft. Lauderdale airport, and flew back to Long Island for 3 days. After the funeral, we flew back, and returned to the Double Tree Resort in Hollywood Beach, this time for six nights! Our best stay yet! Dropped the car at the valet day one, and never drove it again till we left! After 6 wonderful days of summertime temperatures spent at the pool, with daily drinks on our balcony overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway and the food and fun at the Tiki Bar, we headed up to Barefoot Bay and what we’d planned to be an extended stay. Jeanne and Walt were heading out a couple of days after we arrived for a month in Hawaii, and had offered us the use of their house while they were gone. Seemed like a great way to extend our preview of the summer of 2020 a few more weeks. Unfortunately, the day Jeanne and Walt left, Covid exploded on the scene, and when Major League Baseball, Disney World, and so much else closed down, we decided it was time to run home to Ocean City! We made the trip with just one night’s stop, missed out on our return visit for shrimp in Darien, Georgia, and bypassed another visit with our North Carolina Family! So we left Ocean City on Thursday, January 30th and returned home on Sunday, March 15th, having traveled 3,302 miles in between. Not what we expected at all, having missed out on pool time, a couple of Spring Training ball games, and my first ever visit to Cape Canaveral!

2021 – Having been fully vaccinated with both of our Covid shots, in the middle of March we started venturing out. We missed our Grandkids and their Mom and Dad in North Carolina, and on Friday, April 16th, we left for North Carolina for the second time in a couple of weeks. This time for a joint birthday party for our two favorite Granddaughters! Layla’s 7th and Annabelle’s 2nd! After having a great couple of days there, we headed back to I-95, but this time southbound…we were going to Florida!!! Our Boys now lived in Downtown St. Petersburg, Florida and we were going to visit with them for a couple of days. We used Hilton Honors points for our whole trip and only paid for one hotel. We spent 3 nights at a brand new Hilton Tru Hotel literally just down the block from the boys’ apartment. They showed us the sights of St. Pete, and frankly, it seemed like the perfect spot for them. The one hotel we paid for? Since we were just down the road from Indian Rocks Beach, we had to say Hi to our Florida home, so we paid for one night at the Holiday Inn, the place where it all started for us! The boys came and joined us and we had a great time drinking and eating at Jimmy Guana’s, and listening to live music outside in April!! Then we headed home, but this year we did stop in Darien, Georgia for our shrimp at B&J’s Steak and Seafood! Back home on Sunday, April 25th. A brief visit, but our Florida record is still intact!

2022 – No extensive visits to the Sunshine State this year, as we decided that this winter would be given over to getting Susie a new hip. That’s scheduled for March 1st, and like with my new knee, there will be travel restrictions, so who knows what will come after that!

Tomorrow in Part Three, we offer you a back seat in our 9 week trip around the United States that we call Our Big Adventure, and usher you into a balcony cabin on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship in the Caribbean! See you then!

Taking Stock – Part One

Six years ago, when I announced that I would be retiring from WABC at the end of January 2016, I was asked many times one question: “What are you going to do when you retire?” I had a glib stock answer that satisfied just about everyone…“Whatever I want,” I’d reply. However, I remember one conversation with an acquaintance that wasn’t satisfied with my stock answer, and continued to press me. “No really. What are you going to do?” he asked, like I’d made a 30 point agenda! So for him, and anybody else who may have wondered, here’s a look back at some of the things Susie and I have done the past six years! Because we’ve done a lot of “stuff” over the past six years. This will be a multi part blog, so here’s part one!

In 2016 when I retired, I joined Susie who had retired from the Mineola School District a couple of years before, because her job had turned into a nightmare of being spit on, stabbed with pencils, and the like. Telling her that I had never had any of that happen to me at ABC, we decided it was best for her to stop working while I continued a couple of more years. So when I walked out of WABC for the last time on January 29th, 2016, our life was ours to do as we pleased.

FREEDOM – One of the first changes in our life immediately after my January 29th retirement date was that we no longer had the need to travel down to Ocean City on a Friday afternoon, nor back to Mineola on a Sunday night. In fact, with the exception of our twice monthly “Nail Night” with Krissi and Mike, an occasional Doctor visit, or trips to see Susie’s Mom at the nursing home, we had little need to be in Mineola! When we did come back to Long Island, we traveled mid-week, and the same heading back to the shore.

THIS BLOG – It was also in those first days after I retired that we started this blog. We found a name, worked on the hosting logistics, came up with a design, and on February 27th, published our first blog post! Called Road Trip we detailed our relationship growing up with road trips and how they would be a huge part of “Our New Adventure.” (https://rnewadventures.com/2016/02/27/road-trip/)

FLORIDA – Then on March 4th, 2016, we left on our first road trip of our retirement…a trip to Florida! This was our first “we’re not working, so we can go now” trip, and the start of what was to become a yearly adventure of our retirement life. It included 5 days in Walt Disney World, where we happily enjoyed my Disney Retiree benefits (half price rooms, free park admission, and discounts on food and purchases) and even got written up in a Radio Newsletter back home when I talked about my Love/Hate relationship with the Walt Disney Company in our blog! We enjoyed a couple of Spring Training games, and visited with my cousins Jeanne and Walt in Barefoot Bay. Late in the afternoon of March 13th, we drove back into our Mineola driveway, making this one of the shortest of our yearly Florida adventures!

2017 – Our next road trip to Florida started on Sunday, February 26th, 2017. This was part of a journey we called at the time “Kenny and Chris head off to Los Angelos, D’Elia Family Trek,” where Susie and I, along with Kenny’s twin sister Krissi and her boyfriend Mike were going to join the boys at various stops on the East Coast as they drove Kenny’s Hyundai Santa Fe to LA! It started in Atlantic City earlier in the weekend with Krissi and Mike joining us, but then they returned to NY. On Tuesday, February 28, we arrived at the Port Orleans Resort in Walt Disney World so the boys could enjoy some of my retiree benefits for three days. The two of them walked our feet off, but we had a great time! After 3 wonderful days, we packed the cars and were off. The next stop? The Big Easy…New Orleans! The boys were doing the drive in one day, as they were meeting Krissi and Mike there, while Mom and Dad took 2 days, so the young kids could have a day without the old folks! After 2 nights in NOLA, that included great food, great drinks, and a riverboat ride where Chris asked the family if he could propose to Kenny, it was time to get Krissi and Mike to the airport and the rest of us on our way. But wait, there’s more, we were not done with the boys! Next was a trip up north a bit in the state of Louisiana to the Horseshoe Hotel and Casino in Bossier City, where we spent two more nights! The boys left the next day, to stay a couple of days with Chris’ Family in Tulsa, Oklahoma before heading to the Left Coast. The next morning we left for Ocean City, and 14 days after leaving, on Saturday, March 11th, we were at 854 Pennlyn Place. We didn’t spend as much time in Florida this year, but we sure had a lot of fun, without regard to work schedules!

And that’s the end of today’s section of our blog Taking Stock. Come back tomorrow as we complete our travels to Florida, and enjoy the warmth of summer, in the winter!

Six Years Ago Today

Six years ago today, on Friday, January 29th, 2016 I worked my last day at WABC Radio in New York City

Well over half my life had passed since that day in 1976 when I walked onto the 8th floor of the ABC Building at 1330 Avenue of the Americas. I started there as a 26 year old single guy, and retired as a 66 year old long time married Grandfather. Over those 40 years, I met and married my best friend, became a Dad 3 times, sent 3 kids off to college, saw my first son get married, became a Grandfather twice, and celebrated our 36th Wedding Anniversary with the same girl I met back in 1977 in the middle of a 5 month long NABET strike against ABC.

Along the way, I’ve worked with some of the best radio had to offer. From the MusicRadio days, there were legends like Dan Ingram, George Michael, and Ron Lundy. On the WPLJ side, there were great folks like Tony Pigg, Pat St. John, Jim Kerr, and Jimmy Fink. When WABC went talk in 1982, I was fortunate to work with great folks like Rush Limbaugh, Bob Grant, John Gambling, plus some characters like Ed Koch, and Joy Behar. There were many great people I worked with, but if I listed them all, this would just be a blog of names!

When I started at MusicRadio 77, WABC in 1976, it was the most listened to station in the nation. It was the pinnacle of radio’s number one market, the place where everyone wanted to work, and the only radio station I wanted to work at. I grew up, and then grew old at that radio station, and the members of the WABC Family were my family, and WABC was my radio station. Over the years, Susie and I had been to countless weddings, even our good friend Rush Limbaugh’s very lavish one in Palm Beach where Elton John was the “after party” entertainment. I’d seen so many folks become parents, helped friends bury their parents, as my WABC Family helped me do twice 30 years apart, and been fortunate to meet, work with, and become friends with so many great people! How could I not think of it as my radio station?

Unfortunately, WABC was not the same radio station it had been when I was 26 years old, but then I wasn’t the same person either. 8 years before I retired, Disney/ABC had decided that radio was no longer a core business, and had sold off the ABC O&O Radio stations. I had already become a Disney/ABC Retiree when that happened, so in 2016 I was just retiring from WABC Radio not the WABC/WPLJ Engineering Department of The American Broadcasting Company I had proudly been hired by in 1976, but the folks I worked with made it special. My last week at work was full of fun events in my honor like a pizza lunch, a full blown-out retirement party at a Mexican Restaurant in NYC, and a very special lunch with the guy that planned it all…Cumulus New York President and General Manager Chad Lopez . Of course, that last week also featured a snow storm that made me 3 hours late to work, thanks to the Long Island Rail Road (FYI….there has not been one day in the last six years that I have missed that railroad!).

After my last day of work, on that Friday night, the love of my life, my best friend, partner in everything in life, and my wife, Susan Lynn D’Elia, gave me a bang-up retirement party at one of our favorite Mineola restaurants with friends, neighbors, and people I used to work with. It was a fitting end to what had been a long anticipated week, really 40 years in the making.

And that was six years ago! Hard to believe it’s been that long, but I did the math and I’m pretty sure I’m correct. It’s been a great six years, filled with relaxation, fun, and lots of wonderful new experiences – look for blogs about this in coming days called Taking Stock. I’m very proud of my years working for ABC, of the friends and experiences, but in reality it was just a means to an end. It was a way to pay for the life of our family. As great a job as it was, it was nothing compared to my job as a Husband, a Dad, a Grandfather, a Friend, a Boy Scout Leader, a Church Elder, and a Member of our Mineola Community. Seeing soccer, hockey, and softball games, Marching Band Competitions, Plays and Musicals, and being a part of my kids’ lives. Yes, it was a means to an end for me, not my life….but boy was it a great means to an end, and was Always Better Than Working For A Living!

How’m I Doing?

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….

A Look Back at 2021 – Part 2

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!

Looking Back at 2021 – Part 1

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!

First Night Back

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!!

The Birthday Girls

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!

The Christmas Curse

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!

The End!

Another Day Older, and Deeper in Debt

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!

This is the Army and the Story of the Box

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.

My Dad is the soldier on the far right

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…

Another excellent source for this period in Irving Berlin’s life, is a series of articles from the National Archives and Prologue Magazine. If you’d like to read more about this period of American History, here’s a link to the first part of the series on This is the Army.

If you’d like to see the whole scene that the picture at the beginning of this blog is taken from, here’s a link https://youtu.be/G5xKrNeqqGY

If you’d like to see the whole movie, through the magic of the Internet, here’s a link to Irving Berlin’s, This is the Army https://youtu.be/1RYHowaXdFY