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.
https://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/1996/summer/irving-berlin-1.html

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

If It’s Tuesday, it Must be Belgium

The 1969 movie of the above name, detailed the adventures of a group of Americans on an 18 day whirlwind bus tour of Europe.  The hectic tour traveled so fast, and to so many places, that it was only by remembering the day of the week, that they knew what country they were in.  Susie and I have just had our own whirlwind tour, and although it wasn’t to Europe, we did travel extensively.  We call it…

Our 2022 Thanksgiving Weekend

About 9 AM on Thanksgiving morning, we loaded bags, food stuff, clothes and ourselves in the CRV and off we headed over the 9th Street bridge and out of Ocean City.  Our destination?  Sara and Gabe Smith’s home in Ellicott City, Maryland.  Sara and Gabe are our son-in-law Mike’s sister and brother-in-law, and for a number of years now, they have been kind enough to include us in their Thanksgiving plans.  Of course, last year there was no traveling to Maryland, and no big family celebration, so we were looking forward to a return to tradition!  

In addition to us, the participants were our daughter Krissi and husband Mike, Mike’s Mom and Dad, Jerry and Paula, Sara and Gabe’s teenage kids, Maddy and Ethan, Gabe’s Mom Linda and her husband Bill, Gabe’s sister Danielle and her husband Erik along with their kids Genivieve and Scarlet, and wrapping up the group, Gabe’s sister Darcy and her guy Ken.  It was a full house, and a wonderful time for all.  Susie had made her traditional Turnips, Mashed Potatoes, and Cheddar Cheese mash-up, but the real star of the meal has, and continues to be, the meat that Gabe smokes.  This year, thanks to a new pellet smoker, the traditional turkey was joined by the most delectable brisket!  

It was really a wonderful day, being a part of this big family celebration, and of course eating way to much, but hey Thanksgiving calories don’t count, right?  So there you have stop #1 on our Thanksgiving weekend!

That night, we were off down the road about 15 or 20 minutes with Krissi and Mike to Columbia, Maryland, and Jerry and Paula’s home.  They’d graciously offered us lodging for the evening and we gladly took them up on it.  Everybody got in their PJs, and we hung around until the food coma became too overwhelming, and we headed off to bed!  The next morning we were up and by 10 AM had the car packed and Susie and I, along with Krissi and Mike Mikowitz were off to our next destination….543 Main Street in New Rochelle, New York!

Over to Interstate 95, up through Maryland and then Delaware to the Delaware Memorial Bridge, to the state of New Jersey (hi home…see you soon), up the Jersey Turnpike, across the George Washington Bridge (the toll plazas still stink at the GWB), across the Hudson River, and up the New England Turnpike to New Rochelle!  Night two (It’s Friday in case you’re keeping score) we were spending in Krissi and Mike’s new condo in New Rochelle.  This was just our second visit to the place and we loved the further things they’ve done since we last saw it in May.  We also loved getting to see our Grand Cat, Marz!

Later that day, we helped Mike out by testing a couple of new vodkas that his company is representing  (Mike works for the liquor distributor, MS Walker).  I mean come on…you’ve got to help your kids, right?  Then it was out of their building, just down the street to a wonderful Mexican Restaurant and some great Margaritas and food!

After a good night’s sleep, our now seemingly domesticated daughter served us a delicious vegetable frittata accompanied by an arugula salad as a very nice Saturday brunch.   A very nice way to end our stay with two of our favorite people, because it was now day 3 of this weekend, and time for us to move on to our next stop!

Back to The New England Thruway, but south this time, across the Throgs Neck Bridge, back to a place we know very well…Long Island!  First stop, Joe’s Sicilian Bakery in Bayside, just down the street from my former family home.  We needed some friselles for our Christmas Eve Spicy Shrimp and Linguini, and Joe’s has the best!  Once the friselle’s were in hand (and a Sfogliatella for me and a little cheesecake for Susie) we traveled back to our neighborhood of 31 years, and the Hilton Homewood Suites that is literally down the road from our old Mineola Home.

For 26 or 27 years, Susie and I were involved in Boy Scouting in Mineola, first Cub Pack 246, and then Boy Scout Troop 45.  Well, tonight (it’s Saturday by the way) a huge 100th Anniversary Gala celebration for Troop 45 was planned, and we wouldn’t have missed it for the world!  Chartered in 1921, Troop 45 was probably even older than that, but 1921 was the only date that could be proved, and over 300 people were scheduled to be at Mineola’s Jericho Terrace to celebrate this event.  We relaxed for a couple of hours and then showered and got into our “adult clothes” and headed over to our dear friends Pat and Steve Grosskopf’s house to pre-game.  Steve has been the Troop 45 Scoutmaster for more than 24 years, and I am proud to say that I am the one who convinced him back in the late 90s to take the position!  Steve was, of course, directing last minute activity at the catering hall, but we had a nice visit with Pat, their son Dan and his wife Michelle, and Steve’s brother Freddy and his wife Linda.  

It was a wonderful night, seeing so many old friends, young men who we knew as kids, and even middle age men we knew as kids!  Folks who were involved when we first started and folks who are still involved.  There was great fun, slide shows with old pictures, and just a feeling of pride that we were involved with a group that has ben around for 100 years and that has probably helped well over 1000 boys transition to young men! 

It was a great but late night, and we were thrilled when after 2AM we slid under the covers of the king-sized bed at the hotel!

Sunday was a relaxing morning at the hotel.  We slept in, were bad and had McDonald’s for breakfast, and vegged till early afternoon.  Then we showered, got once again dressed as adults, and headed out to Susie’s sister Barbara’s house in Huntington.  What with covid, surgeries, and the like, we hadn’t seen the Vincents (Barbara, her husband Rob, and their son and our Godson Ryan) since their Mom’s funeral in February of 2020!  A visit was long overdue, and we were happy that we were able to make it happen!  After a nice visit with them and getting to see some of the new projects they’d recently done in their house, the five of us journeyed back in time, to a place that Susie and I have loved for years, and that we have exposed so many family and friends to over the years.

32 years ago, the night we bought our 1989 Ford Taurus station wagon, Susie and I stopped in at a place we’d passed many times.  It was on Jericho Turnpike in Mineola, and it’s a place we’ve loved since that first visit…Piccolos Italian Restaurant!  The Francescini Family is more like friends to us, as we saw the two boys who run it now (Robbie and James) grow up from little kids.  Their Dad Bert is still involved and we still miss their late Mom Debbie who was a real spitfire! From my Mom’s 80th birthday party, to Susie’s Mom’s 90th, to after funeral meals for Susie’s Dad and my Mom, Graduation celebrations, and everything in-between, it was our go-to place!

The 5 of us had a wonderful meal, got to see Robbie and James, reminisce about the old days, the great meals, and the great times.  It was fun to go back in time and who says you can’t go home again??

As I write this, it’s late Monday afternoon and I’m sitting at the island in our kitchen in Ocean City.  I’m going to be honest with you, as this weekend was approaching, the two of us were a little bummed that we had so much to do and so many different places to be this weekend. Between the time we crossed the 9th Street Bridge on Thursday morning till we crossed it again this afternoon about 2 PM,  we covered 663 miles.  But now, with the weekend in the rear view mirror, we are so glad we didn’t make an excuse or beg out of one of the events we were involved in.  From our Thanksgiving in Maryland, to our evening with  our Daughter and son-in-law, to the pride we felt on Saturday to be back with our Boy Scout friends, to the love of spending some time yesterday with Susie’s sister and family, remembering experiences over the almost 45 years that I’ve been a part of their lives, to capping the weekend with a great dinner with family and our Piccolos restaurant friends, we agreed we wouldn’t change one thing!  We did agree however that life is too short, and we won’t wait as long to enjoy what we did this weekend all over again!

Hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend, filled with family, friends, love and reminders of all the things you have to be thankful for.  I know we did!

A Member of the Family

Here’s another auto themed story for you…..

The first time Susie and I went to Las Vegas (well, first time since I was there as a 10 year old) was in 1999 to celebrate our 20th Wedding Anniversary. Hertz was very nice on that trip and gave us a 1999 Ford Mustang as our rental vehicle. At the time, we owned a 1986 Mustang convertible, and after driving around Vegas for a week in a brand new Mustang, the bug was in my head to think about trading our 14 year old car for a new 2000 version of the vehicle!

Back in those days, there was still a Ford dealer in Mineola, so one day in October, we went to Mineola Ford to order a 2000 Mustang convertible. I probably should have suspected something was hinky with the salesman when he wouldn’t take the ’86 Mustang in trade, but was willing to personally buy it, but we went ahead and placed an order for a Laser Red Tinted Clearcoat Mustang convertible with a charcoal cloth interior and a black convertible top.

The car was being built to order, so once the factory accepted the order, there was a couple of months wait till it was built and then shipped to the local dealer. Sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I got the call that my new BLACK Mustang had been delivered! “Black,”,I said incredulously, “I ordered a Red Mustang!” I got out my order paperwork, and there it clearly showed that I had ordered a red Mustang with a black convertible top! Somehow, when the salesman (the same one I had my doubts about) put the order in, he put Black as the car color rather than Red. When I told them I didn’t want the car, they were incredulous. They said they’d try to find another one in the pipeline, see if they could trade with another dealer, and someway make me happy. Suffice it to say they didn’t do anything, other than still try and convince me to take the black car. In fact, the day I went back to the dealership to get my deposit money back, there was the car front and center in the showroom. “Don’t you want to look at your car before you leave?” the sales manager asked. “It’s not my car!” I answered as I walked out!

I was disappointed, but as we were right in the middle of the holidays, I put thoughts of a new Mustang on the back burner, until after the new year. On January 2nd, 2000 I turned 50, and 3 days later, on January 5th, 2000, Susie and I walked into Park Inn Ford in Valley Stream to place an order. We ended up at Park Inn Ford because they were affiliated with the AAA Car Buying Service, and as a member, we were guaranteed a “no haggle price”. I had spoken to a young lady at the dealership, gotten a really good price, and had come in on the evening of the 5th to write up our order. Ford was running a Free Leather Interior promotion at the time, but as our older Mustang convertible had vinyl seats, I was well aware that an open top convertible with vinyl or leather seating surfaces was like an oven on a sunny day, so I told her I wanted the standard cloth seats. “No problem,” she said, and just deducted the price of the leather from our final price quote. I stressed that the car had to be red, and we left happy. End of story, right?

Well, not exactly. The next day at work, I received a call from the son of the owner of the dealership. It turns out that the girl I was working with was very new, and when she deducted the cost of leather from the car she was quoting me, she missed that under the Free Leather Ford promotion the cost of the leather was never added to the final price, making it a $900 mistake! He asked me if I’d be willing to split the cost of the mistake with him. If I’d go up $450, he’d subtract $450 from the price of the car. He also said that he would act as my salesman for the rest of the purchase, to make sure there were no more issues (and probably to save the cost of a sale’s commission). We talked for a few minutes, and agreed to split the cost of her mistake, and a relationship was formed.

The Mustang started our relationship with the owner and Park Inn Ford, and was the first of four cars we bought from him and Park Inn Ford…sadly the dealership is no more.

Park Inn Ford

On Friday March 31st, 2000, we picked up our nice new RED Mustang convertible, so today marks her 21st year as being a part of the family! I used to say that since we ordered the car 3 days after my 50th birthday, she was my “Mid Life Crisis” car, but now that she’s still with us, I say she went from being my “Mid Life Crisis” car to my “Retirement” car. In fact, she moved to Ocean City even before we did, getting New Jersey license plates the summer of 2016, and living here since then! When this summer rolls around, it will be the 22nd summer she has been with us, and after all, isn’t summer the real time to drive a convertible!

Happy Birthday…she can legally drink more than gas as of today!

This is her winter storage spot, till it’s summer and real top down weather!

Two People I Owe

Walter and Kathy Hemerly were another married couple that worked with my Mom and Dad, as members of New York’s Metropolitan Opera Chorus. They were a fixture of my life, probably from the day that I was born, and there are several things in my life that I owe directly to them.

Number one is Ocean City. Walter was from Philadelphia, and his family owned a summer house on the 3200 block of Asbury Avenue in Ocean City. Back in the early 50s, the Met’s season was short, and the members of the chorus collected New York State Unemployment during the summer. In the summer of 1955 when I was five years old, they finally convinced my Mom and Dad to come down to Ocean City. We stayed in a guest house right next door to Walter’s family summer house, and for the next 5 years, Ocean City was where we spent our summers. Turn the clock ahead to the first year Susie and I were married, and we once again visited Ocean City, and it seemed remarkably the same as it had when I was a kid. Jump ahead to the Summer of 1983, and our first stay in Ocean City as a family with 7 month old William Ryan, and the die was cast. Since that first visit with Billy, for each of the 37 following summers, we have spent part of or all summer in Ocean City, since 2005 in our own house, and since 2017, we’ve called it home! Thanks Kathy and Walter!

The second thing I owe them is my first car!

It was a 1955 Chevrolet BelAir 2 door sedan, in green on green. It wasn’t the car pictured, but it was exactly like this one. It had a straight six cylinder engine, a three speed manual column shift transmission (referred to as 3 on the tree), non-power brakes, non-power steering, an AM radio, white wall tires, and full wheel covers, and that was it! It cost me $50 when I bought it in the spring of 1967, but I had to drive it home from their apartment in Westchester County. I had learned to drive on my folk’s new ’66 Ford Galaxie with a V/8 engine, automatic transmission and power steering, so this was going to be a big change for me. I had never driven a stick shift, but I had watched a couple of folks drive one, and was sure I was prepared. I guess I could have done more research, but I was 17 and knew all!

So the day we are going to pick it up, we take the train up to Westchester, meet Walter and Kathy in their apartment building’s parking lot, give them the $50, put my new license plates on the car, and off we go. Okay…it’s harder to drive a stick shift than it looks….a lot harder! I drive around their neighborhood a bit to get a feeling for the car. I stall the engine multiple times, shift into the wrong gear, and have lots of trouble pulling away from stop lights. A lot of my issues had to do with that third pedal…the clutch pedal. See, my big issue was that I now had to drive the car from Westchester County to where we lived in Queens County. Westchester is part of the mainland of the United States, Queens is part of Long Island, an island off the coast of the United States. Island equals bridge, and bridge equals toll booth. You see my problem?

I cautiously get on the highway, and I’m doing fine as long as I don’t have to stop, but here comes the Whitestone Bridge to Queens and it’s toll bridge. Luckily there wasn’t a lot of traffic and I’m able to pick a toll booth with no line. I down shift and slow down, but I’m afraid to stop for fear of stalling and not being able to start the car again, so I toss the 35 cents toll (it was a long time ago) at the toll taker, and “accelerate” away from the booth and onto the bridge! Somehow, I made it home to Jackson Heights, parked the car (not easy to ease a standard transmission into backwards movement either), and knew I had my work cut out for me really learning how to drive all over again.

Over the next couple of weeks, I drove the car as much as I could and honestly, I got pretty good at the manual transmission. I attempted to “dress up” the 12 year old Chevy, even embarking on compounding the tired paint, till I realized I was compounding through the paint to the steel of the body. I settled for applying a racing stipe on the car, and getting a couple of new tires. The AM radio worked fine, and this was before the day of FM’s dominance, so I could listen to WABC, and all the other appropriate stations for a person my age!

My friend Richard and I were spending the summer before college working at Alexanders Department Store in Rego Park, and it had become my routine to pick Richard up at 96th Street and 34th Avenue on the mornings we worked, and for the two of us to drive to and from Rego Park together. One sunny summer morning, as we were heading east along 34th Avenue, and cresting a slight hill, I was momentarily blinded by the bright sun directly in front of us, but slowly then realized that there was a car stopped in the middle of the road. I attempted to stop, but I didn’t, and hit the back end of the stopped car and pushed it for most of a block before we both stopped in front of a school yard in Corona. Turns out that in the summer of 1967, while driving a 1955 Chevy, I hit a 1951 Chevy. I will always remember the name of the driver of the car, Mr. Lemberg Nelson, and the first words he said to me as we both stepped out of the car, “Oh my neck!”

Luckily Walter had installed seat belts in the car during his ownership, so Richard and I were belted in. However, pre-shoulder belts and air bags, I hit the steering wheel with my face, right under my nose, and although I didn’t lose any teeth, I did get 8 stitches in my upper gum. Richard had a bagel in his teeth at the time of the accident, so he had a 1967 version of an air bag and got no injuries!

Unfortunately, that was the end of my 55 Chevy, as it was not worth repairing the car based on the damage and the age and value of the vehicle. I always marveled over the fact that in the summer of 1967, while driving a 1955 Chevy, I had an accident with a 1951 Chevy. A 12 year old car hitting a 16 year old car…what are the odds. Also, if you remember from earlier in my tale, I was a neophyte stick shift driver, having had less than a month’s experience driving a 3 pedal car. For the last 54 years I have never really been 100% sure, if on that fateful morning while trying to stop the car, I hit the brake pedal OR the clutch pedal, and I guess I never will.

So those are the two big things I owe to my Mom and Dad’s co-workers, Kathy and Walter Hemmerly. My first car, that lasted less than a month, and my love for Ocean City, NJ, that has lasted a lifetime! Thanks Kathy and Walter!!

Luck of the Irish

A number of years ago, the kids gave Susie and I Ancestry DNA test kits for Christmas. We dutifully followed instructions, spit into the tube, packed it all up, and sent it off. I didn’t really have any doubt what my test would find, as I knew very well that my Dad was 100% Italian and that my Mom was not only 100% Scottish, but had even been born in Scotland and had not come to America till she was 6 years old! I don’t know if they are faster today, but back in those days, there was a couple of months wait till you got the results back. When they did come back, boy was I surprised!

Yes, the Italian and the Scottish were there, but look at what else they found!! 1% European Jewish (obviously the reason for my love of Matzo), 7% Caucasus, 7% Middle East, and (drum roll please) 25% Irish!! Who knew that after all the years of having nothing more in common with Irish folk than an apostrophe in my last name, I was now 25% Irish!!

Then, just one year later, and shortly before St. Patrick’s Day, I got the following “up date” to my DNA story!

Suddenly they had re-calculated the results, and although some of my other results were similar, now they’d lumped Ireland, Scotland, and Wales in together and highlighted Scotland! Oh well, so much for me being Irish! Goodbye St. Patrick’s Day, time to get out the “Everybody is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, but Italians” sweatshirt again!

Then this year’s DNA story showed up, and guess what…now I’m 27% Irish!

That’s it, I give up! Tired of the revolving door of ethnicity, think I’ll just go back to what I’ve always known…half Italian, half Scottish!

Either way, Happy St. Patrick’s Day to everyone…please don’t turn out like those drunken kids, who cut school to go to the parade in the city, that I used to spend my trip home from work with on the Long Island Rail Road! More celebrating, less throwing up on your shoes at the curb!

Memories…the Times of Your Life

If you are of a certain age, you will surely remember the Paul Anka Kodak commercials from the 1970s. If you are of a certain age, you will also remember pictures, and the fact that Kodak advertised more than printers and printer paper back in the day. These commercials depicted the “times of your life”, with the soundtrack being Paul Anka’s song, The Times of Your Life.

That Kodak commercial, and the following advertising campaign was created in 1975, and after the considerable air play that Kodak was giving it, Anka decided to release it as a single, and, as they say, “The Rest is History!” If you don’t remember the commercial, take a look. https://www.youtube.com/embed/iqvKYfB39PI

The lyrics used in the commercials were:

“Good Morning, yesterday

You wake up and time has slipped away

And suddenly it’s hardy to find

The memories you left behind

Remember, do you remember”

In the typical commercial, this would be the soundtrack while viewing a montage of pictures from the past, including some shots of folks using very old Kodak cameras (remember them) to record these “Times of your life.” Then the spots would end with the voice over of, “Kodak Film…for the times of your life!”

I was reminded of this commercial campaign recently, because we are involved in a winter project to try and bring some order to the thousands of picture we have! The Christmas Gift Wrapping Table is back in the den, and we are in the midst of delving into boxes of photos that truly contain evidence of the times of our life!

As the parents of 3 kids, you can imagine that there were thousands of dollars worth of photos taken over their early years. Lots of Kodak film was bought, and lots paid to process once the pictures were taken. Unlike today, when you can instantly view what you’ve just captured, and retake if you don’t like it, back in the olden days, it was days and sometimes weeks before you knew if you got the shot you wanted, until they opened a Moto Photo, one hour developing store near us! Still you had to wait at least that hour to see if the picture was fuzzy, or if perhaps you captured a picture you never even realized was happening!

The above picture was a surprise when we got the film back from being developed. Susie had been taking some pictures of months old Krissi and Kenny, and didn’t realize she’d even taken such a great pose! This surprise picture was good enough to be featured in Twins Magazine and was the cover and the January picture of the next year’s Twins Magazine Calendar!

So as we go through our picture stock pile, there are lots of surprises. Unfortunately, not all as great as this one was! There are lots of, “What the hell did we take this picture for???” and, turning to each other, “Do you know what this is a picture of??” To be honest, as we go through them, we’re having trouble coming to terms with exactly what we are doing. One thought is to break them down by child. Another, perhaps breaking them into different families, or to just lump the obvious pics together, and make sure we separate and label the non obvious ones. Not sure exactly where this will go, but for now (at least) these are basic rules we are trying to follow:

1 – Is there anybody in the picture? If not, to the discard pile, unless its a picture of particular family significance (such as a former house, car, etc).

2 – If there are 4 or 5 of basically the same shot, pick the best one and save it.

3 – If it’s out of focus, too light or too dark, or a really crummy shot, get rid of it, no matter what it’s of!

We’ve so far come across pics from our honeymoon, from the birth of children, from vacations, school functions, pictures from our old boat (Atsa’ My Boat), holidays, trips to Ocean City and Disney World, and just about everything else you can think of. Our work table is an organized mess, with various piles of pictures that may or may not go together, or that we may not even keep!

Take a look….

One thing we are going to try and do, is something that neither Susie’s Mom nor my Mom did. Both of our Moms died at the age of 95, and we inherited a lot of pictures from them, In many cases, we have absolutely no idea of who the people in the pictures are, or where or when they were taken. Our goal is to make notes on any photos that the kids wouldn’t immediately recognize, We hope to not dump pictures like that on our kids someday!

Meanwhile, as we go through this project, we are indeed unearthing the visual proof of the “memories we left behind.” Just like in those old Kodak commercials, all these “memories” started as printed photos, and they are indeed of The Times of our Life!

Enjoy….

Remembering our friend Paula

Susie and I were very sad to learn late last Tuesday evening, that our friend Paula had died of a massive heart attack. We learned the sad news, when I read a post from another friend on Facebook just before heading to bed.

Paula was a gambler, with Video Poker being her game of choice, and that was how we met her. About 10 or 12 years ago, I asked a question at an online message board about Video Poker. Paula answered that question for me, and then we started to go back and forth as Susie and I asked other questions, and she graciously answered. She was very good at Video Poker, and anytime she made a weekend trip to Atlantic City, or a trip to Vegas, she always left with multiple “Hand Pays”. (When a single win on a slot machine or a video poker machine is $1,200 or over, it has to be reported to the IRS, so a “hand pay” involves a casino employee actually giving you your money, after they’ve filled out forms for the IRS and given you a W-2G slip.) She was very knowledgeable, and happy to share her understanding of the game.

So, for several months, we were “Internet Friends,” until we discovered that on one particular weekend, she would be at Harrahs in AC the same weekend Susie and I were planning on being there. At that point, she was a Seven Stars player (the highest level on Harrahs gambling rewards), and invited us to meet her and her friend Judy in the Seven Stars Lounge! The Seven Stars Lounge at Harrahs, was in the back of the High Roller slot area, and as you walked up to the door, it opened automatically. This was the pinnacle of rewards clubs, and Susie and I were like kids in a candy store, as we were ushered in and escorted to Paula’s table. Even though we’d never met, and had only exchanged messages on the internet, it was almost like we were old friends who’d not seen each other in some time. We got along wonderfully with Paula and her friend Judy. We talked, and drank (and ate shrimp the size of your fist), and gambled that night. We were no longer internet friends, but were now real friends!

We learned that Paula and her husband Jim were lawyers in Northern Jersey, and although Paula loved gambling, Jim was not a big fan. He came with her occasionally, but mostly she came with girlfriends like Judy. She loved traveling to New Orleans, Las Vegas, and Atlantic City, and enjoyed several “Girl Trips” a year. We also discovered that she and Jim had a beach house down in Cape May at the bottom of our county, so we were kind of neighbors too!

Over the years, we’d meet up with her if we were all in AC for a weekend, and on one occasion even met Jim, but our favorite Paula Story happened 7 or 8 years ago. We told her we were going to be at Harrahs in AC with our kids, and she was going to be staying at Harrahs and meeting Judy and some other friends who were staying at the Borgota. We agreed that we’d meet up if our schedules coincided. On Saturday night, our family was at the Sapphire Bar in the Eden Lounge, having a pre-dinner drink, and I texted Paula. She said she’d stop by on her way to the Borgota. When she did, we introduced her to the kids, and to our favorite AC Bartender, Ralph. Perhaps, because I was having one, Paula had Ralph make her a Grey Goose Martini. It was cold, and it was good, and it was large (Harrahs martini glasses were very big back then), and went down way too easily, so she ordered a second. About halfway through the drink, she realized that she had to get to the Borgota, where she and her girlfriends had a dinner reservation at the Old Homestead.

Later on, we heard that after her time with us at the bar, she had a hell of a night. She bounced off the wall going down the hall to get the Jitney to Borgota, didn’t remember much of dinner, and had no idea how she got back to Harrahs. Sunday morning, she woke up in her bed, still dressed as she was when we saw her before dinner, and sleeping with her Old Homestead leftovers!

Sadly, we always talked about getting together either at their house in Cape May, or ours in Ocean City. Sometimes things just never get done because you have all the time in the world…sadly, we did not.

We’re thinking about her husband Jim, and all the family and friends she leaves behind, and know that she’s up in heaven with her beloved son Ryan, making up for lost time with him. Paula, you were one of a kind, and Susie and I will always fondly remember our times with you! Hope there’s nothing but hand pays up in God’s Casino!

Five Years Ago

Continuing the blog trend from yesterday, 5 years ago today, on Friday, January 29th, 2016, I worked my last day at WABC Radio. My first paying job was at the age of about 11, when I was a “Super” in Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth, at the Cincinnati Summer Opera in the early 60s. According to a blog post I wrote in January, 2016, that was the first of seven jobs I’ve had during my life The last Non-Radio job I had, was way back in 1972, which I left to start working at WHN in NYC. (https://fdthird.wordpress.com/2016/01/19/seven-jobs/).

After 44 years working in radio, a question I was asked a lot back in 2016 was, “So what are you going to do when you retire??”. My flippant answer was, “Whatever I want to do!,” which worked for most folks, but there was the occasional hard ass who pushed it. “No, what are you really going to do? Won’t you get bored?” My answer to that was that no, I won’t get bored. I’ll be able to spend every day with my best friend, we’ll travel, I’ll read a lot, I’ll do some writing, enjoy life, and definitely try to not get up most days until after the 7:24 from Mineola to Penn Station has left the station!!!

In the last five years, Susie and I have enjoyed life in many ways, the most important being that we’ve spent the majority of every single day together! See, we’re a little weird. A long time ago we discovered, we really like being together. Be it a trip to Shoprite or Costco, a ride in the car, cooking, eating out, or whatever, if my best friend and wife is by my side, we’re happy! So, that’s the first thing the past five years have given us…the ability to be together!

On January 30th, 2016 (my first day as a retired person), I joined Susie, who had retired after the 2013 school year, from her job at Hampton Street School in Mineola. Now, truly, time was ours, to do with as we pleased, and we did! But what else you ask? Okay, let’s make a list!

First on the list, had to be something that just doesn’t get done while you are still regularly employed…Our Big Trip! For 9 weeks, from August to October, and traveling 9,773 miles, we covered our country in our Hyundai Sonata. Visiting places like Mt. Rushmore, the Grand Canyon, and so many other places that we’d always wanted to see.

Seeking the Sun…For every one of the five years since I joined Susie in retirement, we have traveled to Florida to seek a bit of a preview of the coming summer. On three of those years, we included a stay at Walt Disney World where we took advantage of my Disney Retiree free admission and discounts. The last two years, the trip included a multi- week stay in a condo we rented in what we consider our Florida home, Indian Rocks Beach. Sadly, due to the current Covid crisis we find ourselves in, there will be no Florida trip this year. No sunsets on the beach of Indian Rocks Beach, no trips to see Mickey Mouse, no visits with my cousins Jeanne and Walt in Barefoot Bay, and no preview of the Summer of 2021 for Susie and me.

We also cruised, a total of 6 weeks during the last 5 years! So many wonderful pictures, memories, and experiences.

Twin Weddings….In the past 5 years, our twins, Krissi and Kenny, joined their older brother Billy in the institution of marriage. Kenny and his husband Chris joined their lives in October of 2018 in Lake Tahoe, which included for Susie and I, a trip across the country on Amtrak’s Southwest Chief sleeper train. In June of 2019, our daughter Krissi and her husband Mike became one on the roof of their apartment building in Astoria. With the backdrop of the Manhattan skyline, I gave away our daughter, and Mike joined our family!

Of course, 2019 was also the year we added a third Grandchild, as Annabelle Lorraine D’Elia joined her sister Layla and brother Henry on April 17th! Here she is with Grandpa at Aunt Krissi’s wedding!

We also, along the way, cleaned out our house in Mineola, that had been the D’Elia Family Home since August of 1986. 31 years of life is a lot to pack up, but that we did, as we sold the house, and turned our Ocean City home into our full time residence. We were luckier than many in making the transition, as we knew exactly what we were getting into in Ocean City, having had a life here for 12 years at that point! To make it official, it was a change of driver’s licenses and car registrations to the state of New Jersey, and registering to vote!

Our Mineola house with a very young Bill D’Elia on the day we found it in early 1986

Along the way, I also had my left knee replaced! Right knee was supposed to be done by now too, but Covid has delayed that schedule!

Of course, living at the beach, there were hours spent on the sand of Pennlyn Place Beach. There were enjoyable times on our front porch, or the backyards or decks of our neighbors.

If I had to pick the most important thing that I’ve enjoyed the last 5 years, it’s having the ability to make our own schedule. We no longer are limited by the school calendar, by how much vacation I got at WABC (a lot), by the schedule of others, and by our need to be at certain places at certain times. Prior to Covid, if we wanted to get in the car on a Thursday, and drive down to visit our family in North Carolina and watch our oldest Granddaughter’s dance recital, we did. If we wanted to drive down to Maryland for the weekend and visit with our son-in-law Mike’s family, we did. If we’d had enough time without our dear friends Pat and Steve back on Long Island, a car trip up to see them was what we did. That’s one of the real reasons we are so interested in getting our Covid vaccines, because we’d love to be able to put the spontaneity back in our travel schedules once again!

So there you have it, it’s all about living the life we have chosen, that we love, and doing it whenever we want! Like I said…doing whatever we want, whenever we want! That’s our take on retirement!