My Dad and his Family

While the usual purpose of this blog is to write about adventures that Susie and I have in our life, occasionally I may deviate from that norm, because of a subject that interests me, and that I think deserves my attention. This is one of those subjects, and will contain some family info that is probably good for my kids to know.

My Dad and our oldest son Billy

My Dad, Frank D’Elia (no, my Mom and Dad were not too clever in the naming department), was born in New York City on October 5th, 1910. He died a couple of months after his 73rd birthday, back when our first born Billy was just a year old. That would make the year 1983, meaning that my Dad has been gone for almost 37 years. That’s the end of the story. Let me go back to the beginning of not only his story, but of the D’Elia Family in America.

According to records we’ve found in Ancestry.Com , my Dad’s Father, my Grandfather, Francesco Vincenzo D’Elia was born on January 16, 1872 in Tegiano, Italy, a little mountain town about 90 miles outside of Naples. As an aside, in 1971, when I graduated college, my Mom and Dad and I traveled for 5 weeks in Europe. We flew from New York to Cologne, Germany, where we picked up a little red Ford Capri, which we drove all over for the next 5 weeks before having it shipped home. We went down one side of the Italian boot, and up the other, and when we were in Naples, we journeyed one day to Tegiano. In the summer of 1971, Tegiano was still a sleepy little mountain town, and not one that was used to seeing tourists. When we drove into town in a bright red sports car, and my blonde Mom got out of the car, we could tell that there were lots of eyes on us from behind curtains. Thankfully, my Dad spoke fluent Italian, so we went to the church and he spoke to the priest and inquired about his family. While we may have felt isolated being D’Elias in America, turns out that almost everyone in Tegiano shared our last name, even the parish priest. My Dad gave the priest whatever information he had on his father, and it was enough for him to tell which of the D’Elias he was related to, and to tell my Dad that the last of his relatives had moved to South America..or so he said. It was interesting to step back in time, because with the exception of a couple of cars, I doubt Tegiano had changed much since my Grandfather was born, almost 100 years before.

 

So, back to our story. In 1890, at the age of 18, Francesco arrived all alone by ship from Naples, Italy at Ellis Island. As was the norm in those days, he surrounded himself with other folks from his homeland, and in 1891, at the age of 19, he married Rafaela, who also had been born in Italy, but who was only 15 years old at the time of their marriage. Their family started to grow when their son Joseph was born in 1893. On August 2, 1900, at the age of 24, after giving birth to 5 children. Rafaela died. They had been married for just 9 years.

I knew the story of my Grandfather having two families, and my Dad being part of the second one, but didn’t know as many details prior to Ancestry. I also hadn’t heard of all these children, so I assume that some of the babies died shortly after their birth, as all the children from the “first family” were born in the 1800s, and were thus considerably older that those in the second family. The first born, “Joe” (born in 1893), was dead before I was born, but always was revered as the family’s “Older Brother”. He owned a taxicab, and was one of the more mobile members of the D’Elia Family in those early days. The daughter Mary, who was born in 1895, was my Aunt Mamie, a wonderful lady who lived with her husband Frank in Lynbrook when I was a kid. They were fun people, but I don’t think either of them was even 5 feet tall! They got club soda delivered in squirt bottles and always let a little kid (me) play with it! The next daughter, Rose, was born in 1897, who was my Aunt Rose who lived up in the Bronx when I was a kid. So, there were three children who were under 7 years of age when Rafaela died in 1990. The two names that I didn’t know, and assumed died in childbirth or shortly after, were Anna in 1896 and Angelina in 1900. No details, but since Angelina was born in 1900 and Rafaela died in 1900, I’m going to assume the two events were connected.

Now, let’s go back to a bit of “Family Lore” before we delve into some more facts from Ancestry. I’d always heard from my Dad and his brothers and sisters, the story about how my Grandfather married the babysitter, and started family number 2. Turns out, it’s true. My Grandmother, Anna Marino, was born in New York City on December 24, 1886. Not quite a year after the death of his first wife, my Grandfather married Anna on July 11, 1901. The story I’d always heard is that one day my Grandfather went to my Grandmother’s Catholic School and told the Mother Superior that he was there to take Anna Marino out of school. When she asked him why, he said that he’d just married her, and she had to stay home and take care of his children. If you haven’t done the math yet, let me help you. On July 11, 1901 when they got married, Anna had not yet had her 15th birthday! He was 29 and she was 14 on their wedding day!! Obviously, a different time!

Together they had eight children in the following order. Margaret (my Aunt Margie) was born in 1907, followed by Cono (my uncle Coonie) in 1908, then my Dad in 1910, followed by my Aunt Jean in 1912, Raphaela (my Aunt Ray) in 1914, Antoinette (my Aunt Nettie) in 1917, my Uncle John in 1918, and the baby of the family, my Uncle Tom in 1923. My Dad always said that he was from a family of 13, but I could never understand that, because when I added the 3 from the first family, and the 8 from the second, I got 11. Adding in the two children that there are no records available beyond their birth, we get to the number 13.

My Father was born in Manhattan, in Little Italy on October 5, 1910. At the time of his birth, his Dad was 38 and his Mom was 23. I don’t have a lot of details of those early years beyond stories I heard from my Dad. I know that he was baptized at the Roman Catholic Church of the Transfiguration on Mott Street, which today is in the heart of New York’s Chinatown, and that serves a mainly Chinese community. It has been a Catholic Church since the middle of the 19th century, calling itself the “Church of Immigrants”, and over the years has served Irish, Italian, and now Chinese populations in the area.

Over the years, I heard lots of stories from my Dad, about his growing up years. I know that my Grandfather was a Junk Man, and my Dad said he rode around with a horse and wagon picking things up. Not sure how secure an occupation that was back then, but can’t imagine the family was doing very well financially at all. I remember stories my Dad told me about his Mom having to go down to the green grocer, and buy day old produce, and soak it in cold water to bring some life back into it. I remember him telling me that he painted a huge room in the house one day with just one can of paint, that he kept extending, so the color of the room changed as he painted. The D’Elia Family’s story sounds like one typical of the Depression Era, but it apparently never stopped them from having children, as 5 more kids came into the world after my Dad!

By the 1920 Census, the D’Elias were living in Brooklyn and there were now 7 children in the family. Money continued to be tight, and after completing 8th grade, my Dad left school, and worked to help support the family. I heard stories about him selling pretzels in the park, and I know that he worked for a number of years as a clerk/messenger down in the Wall Street area. In later years, he was a wonderful tour guide for that area that he’d walk daily doing that job. This was, however, not to be his life’s work.

My Dad – Age 18

I have no idea how, and now I’m very sorry I never asked him why, but my father from a young age decided that he wanted to be an Opera Singer, not a normal expectation from someone from his neighborhood or standing in life! He started singing lessons very early with a woman who believed he had the talent to indeed be an opera singer, and she took him under her wing. Her name was Madame Novelli, and although I never met her, I heard stories about her from an early age. She really thought my Dad had something to be nurtured, and she practically adopted him, played a huge part in his life and in him becoming who he grew up to be. I don’t think I’m being overly dramatic when I say that she saved his life! I’d heard not only my Dad, but the rest of his family talk about “Madame” in reveered terms.

In 1936, my Dad’s father died at the age of 64, and was buried in the huge Catholic Calvary Cemetery (365 acres) in the Woodside section of Queens. There are two stories I remember hearing from my Dad concerning this period of the D’Elia Family’s life. Both made a lasting impression on me. The first had to do with what my Dad did after he lost his father. He was 26 years old at the time, and I’m going to assume very Italian! I say this because the story is that every day for weeks, he’d travel by bus from the family’s home in Brooklyn to visit his father’s grave. Rain or shine, nice weather or bitter winter snows, if he could get there, he went. The results? He caught pneumonia, and was very sick. I don’t know if he told me that story to point out how the older Frank thought his younger self to be foolish to have done what he did, but that’s the message I was left with, and why we’ve only been a brief handful of times to my father’s grave. In my mind, my Dad lives in my heart and my thoughts, and not in a box in a piece of ground. I can visit him any time I want…and I do!

The second story had to do with how distraught my Grandmother was at the death of her husband, and how the family needed to move out of their Brooklyn apartment and the neighborhood where everything reminded her of her late husband. In what was probably a huge move, they crossed the Brooklyn/Queens line, and rented a house just off Metropolitan Ave in Forest Hills. This was a much needed development in the family’s life, and a way to try and get out from under the grief of their father’s passing, but couldn’t have been easy, as the D’Elia Family was still in the throws of the Depression. I’m not sure what, if anything, anybody else in the family was doing, but know my Dad had some WPA work, singing on radio shows and the like, in addition to doing a little work with Madame Novelli as her “secretary”. Just as everything was settling down, another huge problem was thrown in their path. They had spent everything they could scrape together to make this move and to afford the rent on the Forest Hills house, and after a month, the landlord said they had to move out because he wanted to sell the house!

Faced with this new dilemma, my Dad took the bull by the horns, and arranged to buy the house for his family! Madame Novelli came to his aid, over representing the “work” he did for her, and making it into a full time job. It was enough to get a bank to approve a loan, and now the D’Elia Family was safe in their new home…if my Dad was able to come up with the monthly mortgage payments! In reality, my Dad, almost single handedly, dragged his Mom, several sisters, and several brothers through the tail end of the depression. It was why I have always thought of my Dad as the White Sheep of the family. But life goes on!

Late in the 1930s, my Dad auditioned for the Metropolitan Opera Chorus, and was hired as a member for the 1940/41 season at the huge sum of $75 a week. The season was short in those days, running only from late fall to early spring, but $75 a week must have felt like a fortune to him. What with the recent family home purchase in Forest Hills, NY, I’m sure that this job and it’s paycheck took a lot of pressure off him. However, the outside world entered his life in the form of a draft notice. He went down to his local draft board to try and get an extension through the end of the Met’s season, and was told by the gentleman he spoke to, “It’s you kind of jerks that wouldn’t sign up if Hitler was marching down Fifth Avenue!” I have no way of knowing if this really happened, but the way my Dad told the story, his reply was, “If Hitler is marching down Fifth Avenue, I doubt if a short fat Italian Opera singer is going to make much difference!” True or not, he got his extension, and was able to finish his first season at the Met!

My Dad backstage (the short one) preparing for a performance of This Is The Army

Knowing the way the government worked, my Dad expected he’d have a gun in his hands and be shooting at Germans in short order. I can just imagine his surprise when he was ordered to Camp Upton on Long Island and detailed to Irving Berlin’s All Soldier Show, “This is the Army.” He spent the war performing on Broadway for six months, spending six months in Hollywood making the movie of the show, and then the rest of the war traveling the world, performing for soldiers up and down the Italian peninsula, all over Africa and the Middle East, and island hoping through the Pacific. Sometimes they were in big theaters, sometimes they were close to enemy lines, performing on makeshift stages. Their mission was morale, and at the end of the war, the entire company received awards for having done much for the morale of the soldiers, sailors, and marines they’d performed for.

He was mustered out of the US Army, just in time to start rehearsals for the Met’s new season, and after 4+ years in the service, had no clothes that fit, and came to work that first day in his uniform. And that was the day he met my Mom, but then that’s a story for yet another day!

9/29/2020

On July 3rd, 1977, I met Susan Lynn Johnson at a Fourth of July Party, and that day, I learned what the phrase “Love at First Sight” really meant! I don’t know why, but I do know that I loved that young lady from the first moments we were together, and if anything, the years between then and now have only strengthened my love for her! 43 years ago, my fate was sealed, and 41 years ago today, at the CW Post Interfaith Chapel, we became one!

Thank you for 41 wonderful years, for three great kids, for the wonderful memories (even if you don’t always remember all the things I do! I know…my memory is a pain in the ass!), for the lives we’ve lived, and the lives we’ve touched over the years! Thank you for saying yes, and for being with me through all the various elements of the dream lives we have lived, because we have really lived our dreams, and that is really all about you! I would gladly do it all over again, as long as I have you at my side!

Happy Anniversary Baby, and may there be many more for us to celebrate together!!!

PS – Susie is the copy editor on this blog, but since she did not see this post before it was published, all errors in spelling, punctuation, grammar and the like, belong exclusively to the author…ME!

Quarintini

Susie and I arrived back on Pennlyn Place the afternoon of Saturday, March 14th, after making the trip from my cousin’s house in Barefoot Bay, Florida in just two days. Kenny and Chris returned from Iowa, their last weekend of work, on Monday, March 16th. Since then, for the past two plus weeks, our lives have been materially different than any other similar period, and probably much different than any other stint in any of our lives ever will be. All because of a virus, that has the unfortunate happenstance to share a name with a very popular Mexican beer! So what’s been happening??

Well, first of all, we are very fortunate to be in the position we are. Unlike so many of the folks in the world who either have to go out into the working world daily because they are deemed “indispensable”, or else are at home and no longer getting a salary because they worked in industries that were not considered “essential”, we are in the enviable situation to still have our Social Security and Pensions direct depositing into our accounts. Secondly, we live in a small beach town in one of the southern most counties in the state of New Jersey, so unlike our fellow Jersey residents, who live in the congested New York Metro area, our Corona virus numbers are low. Thirdly, we are fortunate to have “Our Boys” with us (Kenny and his husband Chris) during this stay at home time, and as Susie and I are more in the demographic that all the reports say this virus is even more dangerous for, Chris and Kenny have not let us go to the grocery store, CVS for prescriptions, or the very necessary liquor store for supplies.

So what are we doing? Well, we’ve been enjoying adult beverages and we’ve been eating!

0F068F30-AE31-425F-BB8B-1830AA5D4006

We’ve taken on some interesting jobs, that should have been done a long time ago, but we are putting the time to good use. We’re doing things like organizing the freezers in the house!

68C0ED5F-6B26-4A8D-ABEC-8B786FA286EE

We’ve been exchanging texts and photos with our daughter Krissi, who along with her husband Mike live in Astoria, NY, and who have been working from home, even if sometimes she feels she needs to dress like she’s at work to get the job done!

0348DE48-E1DC-4EBF-8AAC-265E6E12AEDB

We’ve been Face Timing with our son’s family in North Carolina, and wishing our Grand Daughter Layla a Happy Sixth Birthday!

7440E274-713B-415C-A156-11A3BBBCF53F

We’ve been playing games. We’ve done Sequence, 5000, and May I, and there is a threat of Monopoly, but we are not sure as a family if we are ready for that.

80EAF8E5-2805-4F8D-A984-0B682DA2B10E

We’ve been watching our two Dancer/Singer/Actor fellow residents trip the light fantastic in our kitchen!

Susie worked on a very difficult puzzle! It was one given to us last Christmas by our neighbors and friends Patti and Meade, and was a nautical chart of the Ocean City area! The puzzle was started on Sunday…

27B97592-3CF9-4A56-A156-D66F6F0E3FF8

Continued to work through it on Monday (look at all that blue!!)

455AE1A4-08D2-4D30-BA98-A1D705AAE2FB

And it was successfully completed on Tuesday! I’d say it was a “family project”, but honestly Chris, Kenny, and myself had just a little involvement, with the majority of work done by our Puzzle Master, Susan!

6E580C70-9BB7-4622-9334-4E58224E81FC

Did I mention we’ve been drinking?

7C671897-9BF8-4F93-85CD-EDD01DCE6148

But sometimes we also cooked! These were some stuffed mushrooms I made last weekend!

A3D61E65-6994-4F44-89F2-AD12D3571865

And sometimes we combined drinking AND eating! What an idea!

DD7D3F5C-296C-4475-B2CF-9FE043CC3A48

The boys have created beautiful cocktail hour scenes (appitizers by Chris, pretty pink drinks by Kenny!).

4EC5EFD6-AE15-46B5-8ED0-31C481F1BA4B

And the old school play book has come out too, and Susie has made some delish old school recipes like a family favorite Spinach/Rice and Meat, and yummy Chicken and Dumplings!

FD4F4C82-1C79-45D4-AA83-F652CE2559F6

We’ve also ordered in food! In an effort to help support the local restaurants that we love, we have bought gift cards to use when this is all over, and ordered take out several times during the last two weeks! We’ve enjoyed Sunday bagels from Hot Bagels and More in Somers Point, which sadly seems to have closed for the duration of the lockdown, We had a great dinner a couple of nights ago from Sal’s on Route 9 in Somers Point…lots of great food for an incredible price! But in keeping with our usual habit of you being able to find us on any given Thursday night at Angelo’s Fairmount Tavern in Atlantic City, for the past three Thursdays, we have ordered from them! For an incredibly reasonable price, we have gotten so much good food, including their incredible salads, a huge tray of an entry and another of pasta, and even wine and dessert!

Okay, so what other things have we done beside eating and drinking? Well, Son-In-Law Chris has worked with Susie and picked up knitting again! He’s knitted a couple of things and continues to work on his technique!

Speaking about the boys, they have gotten involved with Chris’ sister Michelle and her on line fitness classes! She lives out in Reno, and conducts a class at 9:15 Reno time on Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday! No way the boys could handle that, but at the 12:15 Eastern time her class starts in Ocean City, they are in it all the way! After the half hour or so of the class, they come out of the den everyday dying, but every morning of her class, they are back in it, using their cans of tomatoes or jars of pickles as weights, and enjoying the work out! They’ve even gotten our neighbors Patti and Meade involved!

Michelle’s class is every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday at 9:15 AM Pacific Time, and the link is https://zoom.us/j/428504901

Patti and Meade have also loaned the boys a couple of bikes, and they have been riding around the neighborhood, but the weather has been kind of on and off this last week, with some damp, cold, and windy days…definitely not March going out like a lamb!!

Susie and I have taken to walking around the neighborhood. We keep crossing the street when people approach to practice proper social distancing, and somedays when the wind is blowing cold off the ocean, it’s not fun, but we have to do more than sit on our butts! Today, we passed a house we’ve probably walked, biked, and driven by hundreds of times, and saw for the first time this cute lawn statue!

69C3C722-71B1-409A-8862-94D5FCBECBF0

We are also so thankful that if we have to be doing this staying-at-home thing, we live in a time when we are blessed with the most incredible digital entertainment venues of all time! Susie and I have tried to be sparing and not binge watch shows, but we’ve finished the current seasons of Grace and Frankie, The Kominsky Method. and Lost in Space, but we still have episodes to go in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and haven’t even started the Ranch or Jack Ryan! Kenny also told us that one of our favorites, Bosch, returns in a couple of weeks, so we’re looking forward to that! Then there are old movies on TCM that we’ve been recording. Today we watched the original version of The Taking of Pelham 1, 2, 3 with Walter Matthau, Robert Shaw and an incredible cast of character actors from 1974! We’re even starting some shows that were big hits, but that we’ve never watched! We are 11 episodes into the first season of Cheers…which went 11 seasons and 20+ episodes a season! Then there’s Facebook, and online news sources that we read daily. I refuse to watch TV news because I don’t need any more bad dreams than I already have!!

What else?? Well, Susie dug her craft boxes out of storage, and she’s revisiting some of the projects she’d had in the planning stages. These boxes have been in storage for several years, and honestly, she has lots there to keep her busy! If she only had a few more corks!

But, it’s not just staying home and keeping our distance from friends and neighbors, but also other things that we’re having to put on the back burner…like my second knee! When we left in January, I’d made an appointment for this next week to get the process started for my second knee. My left knee was replaced July 11th of last year, and I hoped to start the procedure next week, so that I could get my right knee done sometime in May or June. Well, that’s not happening, so I postponed the appointment to the middle of May, and honestly, that’s probably not happening either. Like so many other things in our lives that are on hold, it will wait, and I’ll start the process again when it’s more appropriate! One silver lining of that cloud…I no longer have to be under a certain weight goal by next week, so pasta, bread, and rice are back on the menu…for a little bit!

So there you have it. I don’t expect anybody to read this, and honestly wrote it more for myself. If you do get a kick out of some of the things the D’Elia/Fox shut-ins are doing to pass the time, that’s great, but if not, that’s fine too! Remember we are all in this together, and we can beat this thing! Just please be smart, follow the guidelines, keep yourself and your family safe, and be ready to live again when this crap is in our past! Love to you all from our family of shut-ins and our little beach town in South Jersey!

Life Happens

IMG_4905

One week ago today, early in the afternoon of February 25th, Susie got the phone call that she frankly expected, but that she dreaded getting. It was from Highfield Gardens Nursing Home in Great Neck, where her Mom has “lived” for the past 4 years, and it was to sadly inform her that her Mom had passed away peacefully at 1:40 that afternoon. As I said, expected, but still sad.

Susie’s Mom, Edith Sanderson Booth Johnson was born on December 26th, 1924 in Astoria, New York. She was one of two children born to Doris Ionian Thompson and John Sanderson Booth, and from all accounts, had a wonderful childhood. As a young woman during the Second World War, she worked as a secretary for some unknown US Government agency in the Woolworth Building in Lower Manhattan. It was only after the US dropped the two Atom Bombs on Japan, ending the war, that she learned that she had been working on the Manhattan Project, that developed those bombs. She was very proud of the pin and letter of commendation she received from that work, and held it as a prized possession for the rest of her life.

Shortly after the end of the war, in 1945, she married Susie’s Dad, Robert Walter Johnson. Just recently back from serving in the US Army in Italy, her Dad was married in his uniform and her Mom in a simple suit. As they told the story, they got engaged one weekend, and married the next. (Edie’s Dad wasn’t even there as he was away on a hunting trip!) That’s just the way folks did things in the aftermaths of World War II! After a honeymoon in Niagara Falls (so typical in those days), it was time to get on with their lives!

Bob and Edie started their lives together in Astoria, and then were one of the first families to move into Long Island’s Levittown in 1950. They were living the post World War American Dream! That dream also included children, and they welcomed their first daughter Barbara Alice in 1947, then five years later, my wife Susan Lynn, in 1952, and then 10 years after that, their younger brother Donald James in 1962. Susie’s brother was named for her Mom’s beloved younger brother, who tragically died shortly after the war, from what we’ve only recently been able to deduce would probably be called today PTSD, but which was totally unknown in the 40’s.

The family moved around Long Island after Levittown, first moving to Hempstead, then out to Bayshore with Susie’s Grandparents, and finally back to Brown Avenue in Hempstead, where they spent many years.

In 1977, the Johnson Family came into my life when I met their daughter Susie, and in 1978 when I asked her to marry me, they became my family! Susie and I were very fortunate because unlike so many married couples we hear about, we both liked our new in-laws. Susie’s Mom and Dad became my Mom and Dad, just as mine became her’s. When holidays came around, we were one big family, with her folks coming over to my folks’ house in Bayside or my Mom and Dad traveling to Hempstead for Christmas or Thanksgiving. Life was good, and it got even better when our little guys entered the picture!

Seems like between my Mom (my Dad had died when oldest son Billy was just over a year old), and Susie’s folks, a couple of our kid’s grandparents were always in our house. They were there to volunteer for babysitting for work, and especially when Susie and I wanted to have some alone time, and keep reminding ourselves that even with 3 kids, we were a couple first and always. Unfortunately, Susie and I were in Las Vegas when Susie’s Dad died in 2001. Our kids were home on Long Island, and we were 3/4 of the country away, but Susie’s brother stepped up to the plate and got our kids ready to accept that “Pop-Pop” had died!

Susie’s Mom really never wanted to continue without him, but continue she did for what turned out to be many, many years. First at the Knolls in East Meadow, where they’d moved from Hempstead, but then about 12+ years, things started to change and unravel in her life. It was a Labor Day weekend, and Susie’s sister Barbara and family were out at Montauk, and Susie and I were down in Ocean City. Only her brother Donnie was there, when she apparently suffered a heart attack. This was the beginning of Vascular Dementia, and over the next couple of years it progressed to the point she couldn’t continue to live alone. From there it went fast. She had several accidents, and honestly we thought the end was near, but she always rallied…physically, but never mentally.

76CFA8D7-5214-45C1-8C1D-C27EC825E92E

Easter of 2015…4 Generations..Susie’s Mom, Susie, her Mom’s oldest Grandchild (our son Billy) and her first Great Grand Child, Billy’s daughter Layla

Four years ago she entered the nursing home in Great Neck where her dementia only proceeded to get worse. Most visits, she didn’t even know her children. She knew she’d seen them before, but had no idea of who they were. Occasionally a name would click, but mostly she had no idea about family history. She’d forgotten her husband Bob, her Mom and Dad and brother, and frankly, some of the stories she’d tell when you visited were off the wall. It was hard for all of us who loved her to see her that way, but Susie was happy that she was well taken care of by people who actually seemed to care for her. It’s a horrible way for someone’s life to end and if it hasn’t touched your family or your circle of friends, consider yourself fortunate!

Having moved to Ocean City 2+ years ago, we didn’t get back to see her as often as when we lived in Mineola, but the last time Susie and I saw her in January was one of the best visits we’ve had in years! She was happy to see us, was upbeat, and happy to have us there. She was the one who told us to leave, and as Susie returned her to the common room on the floor, she said she was happy that we’d been there. Whether she had any idea who we were, or was just “faking” it, we’ll never know, but looking back on that visit, and how good it was, has helped Susie get through the last week!

1C1302F1-4EFD-481D-B381-D7AB5BDC6105

Mother’s Day 2015 in our Mineola Backyard..Susie’s Mom with all her kids

Christmas, 2015 with Susie’s sister Barbara and Mom’s first Great Grand Child Layla, and her 91st Birthday

When Susie got that call a week ago, we were in a rented condo in Indian Rocks Beach, on Florida’s Gulf Coast. Our son Kenny and his husband Chris were with us, planning to fly home the next day. As soon as she got the call, Susie got on the phone with her sister and brother and worked out what they thought would be an appropriate plan for her funeral. Four years ago, Susie and her sister had planned the funeral when they thought she was going to leave us then, and before her money ran out, they paid for it, so Susie also had to coordinate with the Funeral Home. Lots of phone calls in the next few hours or so after getting the original call. Then it was my turn to get online and plan our transportation back to NY for the weekend. It was decided that we’d leave our rental a day early, pack our car, and drive across the state and fly out of Ft. Lauderdale Airport, as the rest of our Florida stay was taking place on the East coast of the state. On Wednesday, we took the boys to the Tampa airport, and then proceeded to start packing up from our month’s long stay!

Susie’s Sister Barbara and her husband Rob coordinated flowers back on Long Island and made sure they got clothes for their Mom to Weigand Brothers Funeral Home in Williston Park! Thank God they were there and able to take care of those details. Our friends Pat and Steve Grosskopf offered us to stay in their home in Mineola, and for that and their friendship, we’re thankful! We packed the car Thursday night, and early on Friday morning, we drove 200 plus miles across the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, and through Alligator Alley to the Ft. Lauderdale Airport and our Delta flight back to JFK. After picking up a car at the Hertz office, we made the drive to Mineola, arriving about 7:30 at Pat and Steve’s house. A long day of travel!

Saturday morning I dropped Susie off at the Cuttin Club, and her old hairdresser Laura, who’d responded to an urgent call from Florida to help Susie with her hair. Kenny and Chris drove up from Ocean City, and had clothes for me so I didn’t have to go to a funeral in my Florida vacation clothes. They also picked up brother Bill from the Long Island Rail Road station in Mineola, as he’d just taken the Air Train from JFK after flying from North Carolina! (Another change in plans…he and his wife Lori were supposed to drive up, but our oldest Granddaughter Layla came home from school with something called Slap Cheek, (Fifth’s Disease) which promptly changed those plans). At about 1:30 on Saturday afternoon, the family started to gather at Weigand Brothers. Susie’s sister Barbara, husband Rob, and their son Ryan, her brother Donnie, Susie and I, and our kids Bill, Krissi and her husband Mike, and Kenny and his husband Chris.

It’s never easy going in for that first viewing, but everybody was very happy with how Susie’s Mom looked. Everybody said that she looked just like herself and would have been happy with her appearance. During this early period, Donnie’s ex-wife Diane showed up and was welcomed in as family. They may be divorced, but she’s always had a very good relationship with Susie’s Mom, who she called Nana. In fact, Diane was the last person to in the family to see her alive, having visited her on Saturday afternoon.

There were lots of visitors during the first session from Donnie’s Union and from his Fishing Club, and several of our former neighbors and folks from the Boy Scout Troop. There were lots of stories, and looking at pictures, and the usual talk about the shame that get-togethers like this only happen at funerals. Between sessions, the family went down the Street to TR’s for dinner, some drinks, and continuing reminisces about their Mom and the 95+ years of her life! The evening session was more of the same, and as the 9 o’clock hour approached, and it was time to say good-bye, there were tears and memories, and a mix of emotions, as well as kisses and hugs.

Another night at Pat and Steve’s, a drive to JFK, and another quick Delta Flight, and we’re back in Florida. Six nights at the the Doubletree Resort in Hollywood Beach will be time to recharge and reflect on this weekend, and be thankful for a great family and for friends who are there when the need arises. Thank you all…we love you!

E74FE929-F29A-4232-8A27-952758D7D730

PS – At the funeral on Saturday, Susie’s sister Barbara gave me the the following, which she had found in her Mom’s “stuff”, that I had written to Susie’s Mom and Dad on the occasion of the their 40th Anniversary.  Interesting that Susie and I just celebrated our 40th Anniversary.  I wish I had pics of Susie’s Dad Bob to include, but I’m doing this on the road, and only have what I have!  Miss you Dad!!

D1319900-3728-4212-B574-468FB108816C

 

 

 

 

 

 

The First Christmas

No, not the one that took place in a manger in Bethlehem over 2000 years ago.  I’m talking about the one that took place in a small village on the North Shore of Long Island in the year 1979.  I’m talking about the first Christmas Susie and I spent as a married couple, in our apartment at One Firwood Road in the Manorhaven section of Port Washington!  

Back in September, we celebrated our 40th Wedding Anniversary, so this Christmas will be the 40th Anniversary of the first Christmas we spent as married people.  To back up a bit, right from the beginning of our relationship, I knew that Susie loved Christmas.  It was by far her favorite holiday, and she loved the music, the decorations, the food, and everything about it!  So, on Christmas Day, 1978, I asked her if she would spend the rest of her life with me, and be my Mrs.Clause, and she said yes!  So, with that as a background, I’m sure you can imagine how important that first Christmas was for us!

The first item of business was decorating our apartment.  One of the first purchases we made were two sets of red bells that blinked on and off in sequence, kind of like they were ringing.  These we hung in the windows  of our second floor apartment, looking out onto Firwood Road.  They were with us for years!  Of course, a tree was a very important symbol of the holiday, and I wanted to make sure ours was perfect.  It was going to be a real one, and Susie and I headed to Keil Brothers Florist on the corner of the LIE and Springfield Blvd, near my folks Bayside house.  So let’s talk about that tree.

We circled the tree lot multiple times, and looked at a lot of trees, before we found the perfect one for our first Christmas.  It was full, just tall enough, not too wide, and cost $75!  Now, that seemed like a lot back then, but I needed to make our first Christmas perfect for Susie.  As an aside, $75 in 1979 is equal to $265.71 in 2019…know any jerk that would pay $265.71 for a Christmas tree today??? So, we bought this perfect tree, had it tied to the roof of our car, and drove home to our apartment in Port Washington.  

Ginsu KnifeThen it was time to set the tree up in our living room.  We got the stand out and prepared to cut off an inch or so from the bottom of the tree, when I remembered that we were supposed to stop at my folks house in Bayside and pick up the tree saw.  We hadn’t done that!!  So what did we do?  Well, a couple of months before, we attended the NY Auto Show, and at one of the booths there, selling all manor of items, we watched a very fascinating presentation, and then bought a Ginsu Knife!  Yes, we cut off the last inch of our first Christmas tree with our newly purchased Ginsu knife!  Not only did it work (it took a long time but ultimately worked), but that very same Ginsu knife from 40 Christmases ago still resides in our utensil drawer in our Ocean City house!!  As it was our first Christmas, there were not a lot of meaningful ornaments, but we did a pretty good job decorating that first Christmas tree, placing it right in the middle of our living room’s picture window, for all of Port Washington to see.

Growing up, because of the fact that my folks both were members of New York’s Metropolitan Opera Chorus, and might be doing one or two performances on Christmas Day, Christmas Eve had a bigger presence in our household.  That first Christmas laid the groundwork for what Susie and I would do going forward in our life…Christmas Eve with my folks and Christmas day with her family.  That first Christmas Eve, we celebrated with my folks, opening presents while eating Italian cold cut sandwiches.  My folks had a friend in Minnesota who worked for Litton, and our present from my folks that first Christmas was one of the first microwave ovens we’d seen!  Smartly, we chose to leave it at my folks when we headed home late to our Port Washington apartment.  

One Firwood Road

One Firwood Road, was a small 4 unit apartment building, just across the street from Port Washington Harbor in one direction and across the street from the Empty Pockets Bar in the other.  An Asian lady owned the building, and the woman in the apartment below us was the “manager”.  She also was an interesting woman, who would bring home guys from her Saturday nights out, and we heard EVERYTHING!  Well, on this particular Christmas Eve, apparently she’d decided that the crowd at the Empty Pockets was bit rowdy, so she decided to lock the front door of the building…a lock we didn’t have a key for!  So here we were, late at night (1-2 AM) on our first Christmas Eve, after celebrating with my folks, and we were locked out of our apartment!  It was late, cold,  wet, and my new wife and I were locked out!  So what did we do???  We banged on the door and shouted till she showed up and let us in!  I’m sure we disturbed her, and her latest biker “friend,” but we were in our home, and ready for the big fat man in the red suit to show up later that morning!

That first Christmas morning came very early for us, as we wanted to have some alone time to open presents in front of our first Christmas tree, while drinking a little champagne and orange juice, before joining the rest of the family.  What we thought was going to be a special treat for us that morning, turned more into a joke.  WABC Channel 7 had a special Christmas morning showing of Susie’s all time favorite movie, White Christmas.  This was back in the day before we had multiple copies of that movie on video tape, DVD, or digitally, so this was indeed a special treat!  Unfortunately, they showed the movie in a 60 minute time block, complete with commercials.  They probably had about 45 minutes or less, to show a movie that runs over two hours.  As you can probably imagine, the movie was cut to time rather than content, and frankly made little sense to us…and we both knew the movie!  As I said, a potential special treat that turned into a joke!

And that was how Our First Christmas went!  Later that day, we joined the rest of Susie’s family, and a great day was had, and for a brand new couple, Christmas #1 was under our belts!  40 years later, there are lots more Christmas Memories mixed in, but there will only be one first, and that was ours!!  The story of our Ginsu cut Christmas Tree, being locked out, and the very different White Christmas will forever be my memory of my first Christmas with my love, and the beginning of mixing the Johnson and D’Elia Families!  

Christmas Traditions

img_1728

In my last blog, I mentioned that we lived in a Hallmark Christmas Town, and that along the way, we’d been watching a whole lot of Hallmark Christmas movies!  Frankly, we are suckers for the movies because we love this time of the year!  Right from the beginning, I knew that Susie loved Christmastime, and that she’d make the perfect Mrs. Clause, so on Christmas Day 1978, I asked Susie to marry me!  Thankfully, she said yes, and started everything for us, including a heck of a lot of our Christmas Traditions!

Christmas Traditions, like all family traditions, are more often than, not born out of necessity.  Do you know the story about the young girl being instructed by her Mom about how to cook a leg of lamb?  Her Mom tells her to cut off the last 2 inches of the leg of lamb, and place it next to the leg.  The girl asks the Mom why, and she replies, “I don’t know, that’s just the way your Grandma always did it.”  The next time she’s with her Grandma, she asks the same question, and Grandma’s answer is, “I don’t know, that’s just the way your Great Grandma always did it.”  A couple of weeks later, she visited her Great Grandma in the Nursing Home and told her what her Mom and Grandma had told her, and asked her Great Grandma, why she cut off the last 2 inches?  Grandma’s answer, “I didn’t have a pan big enough!”  

When I was a kid, both my Mom and Dad were singers in New York’s Metropolitan Opera Chorus.  Holidays were just days on the calendar, and unless they fell on a Sunday, the Met gave a performance.  If it happened to fall on a Saturday, they gave two performances!  The last thing they needed was a little kid (me) waking them up at sunrise on Christmas morning, when they may have gone to bed at 2 AM, and probably had to work that night.  So, in our family the tradition of Christmas Eve became a bigger deal.  Once I was a little older, our Christmas celebration started as soon as my folks got home from their Christmas Eve performance.  Everybody would get into their PJs, we’d drink Andre Champagne, eat Italian cold cut sandwiches, and open presents.  On Christmas morning, I was free to get up, lay under the Christmas tree, and play with gifts, while they got to catch a couple of more hours sleep!

Whenever a family gets blended, traditions from both sides get shoehorned together, and img_1733the Christmas Traditions of that new family are born!  In the early years of our marriage, we’d celebrate with my folks on Christmas Eve, and on Christmas Day head over to Susie’s folks.  As time went on, there were new traditions born, and more blending took effect.  Somewhere along the line, probably in an effort to emulate the Italian Seven Fishes of Christmas Eve, my Mom and Dad started hosting a lobster dinner on Christmas Eve.  Within a couple of years, Susie’s folks were coming to my folks house on Christmas Eve, and my folks would join us at Susie’s folks’ house on Christmas Day.  The families were indeed blending! 

Then came the kids!  When you have three little kids, Christmas gets to be an even bigger day on the calendar, and the D’Elia Family, since Mrs. Clause happened to be the 3 kids’ Mom, was right up there with the best of them!  Christmas Eve’s at my Mom’s house in Bayside became a huge event, complete with Susie’s folks, lobsters for all, and a need to run to church, where the 3 kids could be a part of the Christmas Eve Pageant every year.  Eventually, as my Mom got older,  Christmas Eve moved to our house in Mineola, but the lobster traditions and the run to the Community Church of East Williston continued, until our 3 were too old to be a part of the pageant.  In later years, as the kids grew, and driver’s licenses were earned, a new tradition was born.  Billy, Krissi, and Kenny would head down to Jordan’s Lobster Farm in Island Park, pick up the lobsters and on the way home, stop at a local diner for breakfast.  

img_1731

It’s hard to believe, but it was 40 years ago this Christmas that Susie and I  spent our first Christmas Eve at my folks house as a married couple (we got a microwave).  Although our traditions have changed and been modified here and there, I think my late Mom and Dad would be proud that what started for them out of necessity, is still a huge part of our Christmas life!  While we kept the food traditions that were started years before with my folks, the opening of presents went traditional and landed on Christmas morning!  Dad would come down the stairs to open up the house and turn on the tree, while Mom kept the 3 little one’s at bay.  On the all clear signal, they’d come down the stairs, along with Grandma D’Elia, and everybody would take their “assigned” seats, and we were off and running!  

img_1730

Those 3 little kids that we rushed to church on Christmas Eve, and who ran down the Mineola stairs every Christmas morning, are all married adults now, with our oldest even being the Dad of his own three.  We no longer live in the same house, same county, or even the same state.  We won’t be together with all our loved ones this Christmas, but we will do our best to keep the traditions alive!

This year, Our Boys are with us for Christmas.  Kenny and his husband Chris, just back from an almost year long contract with Royal Caribbean, are spending some time with us before starting their new adventure in January.  Krissi and her husband Mike will be up in New York, as a mid-week Christmas doesn’t really lend itself to travel, and Billy is down in North Carolina with his wife Lori and our darlings Layla, Henry, and Annabelle, making their own Christmas Traditions!  Susie’s brother and sister will be home on Long Island.   So, it will fall to Susie and Me and the boys to keep the D’Elia Family traditions alive this year!

img_1732There will be lobsters this year, but rather than getting them at Jordan’s Lobster Farm on Long Island, they will come from the Fish Department at Shoprite in Somers Point.  Not sure about the boys having breakfast out…it may just be some Chinese Food from the hot bar at Shoprite!  The Italian Cold cut sandwiches, and the fried eggplant, and cheeses will be eaten at night, but not be coming from Aridito’s Italian Deli in Mineola, but rather from Shoprite’s Sandwich counter (one stop shopping!).  The cheap champagne however, still has an Andre label on the bottle, and will be drunken out of our Christmas Toasting flutes, that have been a part of every one of Susie and my Christmases!

So there you have it, some of our Christmas Traditions!  Of course, there will be tuning into Jean Sheppard’s Christmas Story on TBS all day, and the sandwiches and champagne will, as always be accompanied by National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation!  There will be a lot of time hanging in our jammies, laughing at each other, and just creating memories!  That’s what Christmas means to us!!  

Will we miss our other kids on Christmas Eve and Christmas day?  You bet we will, but that’s just the way life is.  One benefit is that it expands the Christmas holiday!  Billy and Lori and the kids will be coming here to Ocean City the day after Christmas, and we’ll get to re-live the traditions all over again!  Early in January, we will visit with Krissi and Mike in Astoria, and once again it will be Christmas!  Things change, but the spirit of those Christmases long ago live on, and I hope they always will in our kids and Grandkids!

So, from our family to your’s, Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

img_2224

Chars!!!  Bonkers!

November 10th, 2019

img_2180

Happy 244th Birthday to the United States Marine Corps! 

On November 10th, 1775, the Second Continental Congress established the Continental Marines with a decree to raise “two battalions of Marines.”  Tun Tavern, in Philadelphia is regarded as the birthplace of the Corps, as many consider it the location where the first Marines enlisted.  The Continental Marines, like the Continental Navy, was disestablished following the close of the Revolutionary War in 1783, but was re-established on July 11th of 1798 by an act signed by President John Adams.  Prior to 1921, it was that July 11th date that was celebrated as the Marine’s birthday, but in 1921 it was suggested that the original date of November 10th be declared a “Marine Holiday”.  Commandant John Lejeune created Marine Corps order #47 which ordered, that from that time forward, November 10th would be officially celebrated as the US Marine Corps Birthday!  

And how, you may ask, do I know all this?  Well, I know this because Susie and I have the honor to be living on Pennlyn Place, bookended by two good friends who are Marines!  Notice I said, “are Marines”, not were Marines.  Even though neither of them are actively serving, the tradition is once a Marine, always a Marine!   We have been fortunate to be included in the annual celebration of the Marine Corps Birthday several times, and that’s where some of this knowledge has come from.

Our immediate neighbor on our left is 98 year old Doie Barnes.  In World War II, Doie was a Sergeant in the United States Marine Corps, having told Susie that her job was to dispatch planes.  She also told Susie one time when she realized that Susie had been a Registered Nurse, that she always wanted to be a nurse, but that her Father said she had to be a secretary, and so she went to Secretarial School.    It was indeed a different time, which only to my mind makes Doie’s service in WWII more incredible!

On the other side of us, one house away, lives our good friends Patti and Meade Rudasill.  As a student at the University of Virginia, Meade was a member of the NAVY ROTC program, and applied for and was accepted for the Marine Option.  Between his Junior and Senior year of college, he went to OCS (Officer Candidate School) and also Jump School at Lakehurst Air Station.  After college, he attended Basic School, where unlike every other service, every Marine Officer goes for 6 months to learn how to be a Marine.  Then it was off to Engineer School, where he could apply his UVA Engineering Degree, but as he said to me, “It was Marine Corps specific and they hadn’t taught me about blowing up things at UVA.”  He was on active duty from 1979 to 1984, having assignments on both the East and West Coasts, and being deployed with the Marine Detachment on the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga CV-60 to the Mediterranean.  During his entire Marine carrier, he did “interesting stuff”, to quote my friend.  He rose to the rank of Captain and was selected for Major in the reserves.  After his service in the Marine Corps, he went on to have a successful business career, including being the CEO of QVC, and I know he would say that without a doubt, much of what he learned as a Marine Corps Officer helped him in his business life!  

This years celebration for our Pennlyn Place group was held at Captain Bob’s in the far South End of Ocean City.  Organized by Doie’s Son-In-Law, Doc Anderson, the group included, in addition to Susie and I, Doie and Doc, Patti and Meade, and neighbors Dale Nicholas, Barbara Kichline, and Bob Byrne.  Not exactly a traditional Marine Corps Ball (there was no dancing), but we do our best to help Doie and Meade, as Marine Order #47 orders, “commemorate the birthday of our corps by calling to mind the glories of it’s long and illustrious history.” 

One part of our celebration that is in keeping with tradition, is maintaining the cake cutting ceremony, as has been contained in the Marine Drill Manual since 1956.  To quote that manual, “By tradition, the first slice of cake is given to the oldest Marine present, who in turn hands it off to the youngest Marine present, symbolizing the old and experienced Marines passing their knowledge to the new generation of Marines.”  Doc always procures an appropriate cake, and using Meade’s sword, Doie always makes the first cut.  Then, as tradition, Doie will get the first piece of cake and pass it on to Meade, but Doie loves her sweets, so some years it’s a struggle for her to give it up, but there’s always another piece on its way!

Susie and I are proud to have these folks as friends and neighbors, and proud to be included in this annual celebration with them, and in this small way, thank them for their service!   Again, Happy 244th Birthday to the United States Marine Corps, and to all who proudly have earned the name Marine, including our two favorite Marines, Doie Barnes and Meade Rudasill!

Our Marines!

Happy Birthday Marine!!  Semper Fi!

Family Life Changes

 

When our three kids were younger, we were very lucky that our immediate family lived minutes, not hours or days away!  Susie’s Mom and Dad were in Hempstead and later East Meadow. My Mom was in Bayside. Susie’s sister and family were in Huntington, and her brother and his wife in Merrick.  We, living in Mineola, were pretty much in the geographic center of our entire family.  A 20 to 30 minute drive, got us to any of their houses, so casual drop-ins were very easy to do.  

Then there were holidays.  The hardest thing to decide about most holidays was who was going to host, and what could the rest bring.  It seemed very normal and natural, and we never really realized how lucky we were.  Our oldest son Billy reminded us of this fact of his childhood recently, but now, as the title of this piece says, family life changes!

Life has indeed changed, and Susie and I are at the center of those changes.   We were both born geographically on Long Island…Susie in Amityville, and me in Jackson Heights, in the New York City Borough of Queens.  Our entire married life, we lived in Nassau County…first Port Washington, then New Hyde Park, and from 1986 to 2017, in the same house in Mineola.  Over time, Susie retired (June of 2013), I retired (January, 2016), and then we moved out of the Mineola house (November, 2017).  We not only moved out of Mineola, we moved off Long Island and out of New York State, and made the house we’d owned at the beach in Ocean City, New Jersey since 2005 our forever home! 

Changes happened in our three children’s lives too.  First, they are all married!  Krissi and her husband Mike live in Astoria, in the NYC borough of Queens.  Krissi’s twin brother Kenny and his husband Chris have just finished  up a year long contract on Royal Caribbean’s Liberty of the Seas, but before that, they were in Los Angelos, and who knows exactly where they will end up.  Oldest son Bill and his wife Lori made the move a couple of years ago off of Long Island down to Raleigh, North Carolina, along with our Grandchildren Layla and Henry, and just bought a brand new house as their family has grown with the addition of our newest Grandchild, Annabelle, 6 months ago.  So, like many American families, our family is now spread out, and we no longer have the luxury of living 20 to 30 minutes from each other.

On a recent weekend, however, we made the effort and were rewarded by spending some family time with two thirds of our children, their spouses, and our three Grandkids!  Susie and I took the 8+ hour drive from Ocean City to Raleigh on Thursday morning.  Krissi and her husband Mike flew down from New York after work on Friday, and it was a weekend of family, fun, and babysitting!  Just the best!!

From Russia (and elsewhere) with love!

Anyone who knows us, knows that the two of us like nothing better than walking into a bar or restaurant, and feel like we are with friends.  We love that feeling you get when the person behind the bar looks up, smiles, and says “Hello Sue and Frank”!  While lots of people will constantly try new places, we love going back to places where we are known quantities, and where we can be with friends.  People like our long time bartender friend Ralph at the Eden Lounge at Harrahs AC, or Dennis, the bartender at St. James in Mineola, that we spent so many “Nail Nights” with!  Or our friend Sue Waniak, who befriended us at Charlies when she was a waitress, and has now turned into a genuine family friend, as has the rest of the Waniak clan!  We’re still doing it, like on our weekly visits to Angelo’s in AC and our favorite bartender/waiter Michael!

 

Based on our history, is there any reason to think we would have done otherwise during our recent 2 week cruise with Kenny and Chris on Royal Caribbean’s Liberty of the Seas?  Ha Ha…I don’t think so!  So this is a tale of 5 young ladies, who enhanced our cruise via their friendship!  Some on the Liberty and some off.

The R Bar

This is the 4th cruise we have taken on the Liberty of the Seas, thanks to contracts the boys have gotten to perform on the ship.  The first time was out of Bayonne, New Jersey when we sailed to Bermuda, and the next 3 cruises were out of Galveston, Texas, heading to the Western Caribbean.  To say we are familiar with the ship would be more than true, and as such, we realize that when folks board on deck 4, and want a drink, the first place they see is Boleros Bar, just next to the gangway.  However, as seasoned travelers on the Liberty, we know that just one deck up, in exactly the same place, is a nice, quieter bar called the R Bar!  This is our favorite place to hang on embarkation day till the cabins are ready.  This is our standard MO, and one we followed this year, and there we waited for my cousins Jeanne and Walt to join us, while taking advantage of our drink package!

That first day, Joey was behind the bar, and he was both welcoming and easy to be with, and so the R Bar went to the top of our list of possible hang-outs during our 14 days on the ship.  Then we met the girls!  Neither Susie nor I have a clear memory of first meeting them, but we’re pretty sure we met Irena first.

Irena is a Russian young lady in her mid 30s.  Her command of the English language wasn’t the best, but then my Russian is non existent, so no complaints here.  She soon learned our names and what our drink of choice was, and she was always very welcoming when we walked into the R Bar.  The first week, when my cousins were with us, she always wanted to know where Jeanne and Walter were if we went in alone.  Soon she wanted to know where Kenny and Chris where if we showed up without them!  During our two weeks with Irena, we learned that she had studied to be a Criminal Lawyer in Russia, and upon completion of her studies, had practiced for exactly one month, as she didn’t like being involved with people who were “trying to hurt others”.  We also found out that before she signed on the Liberty, she had almost no command of English.  

62DB0789-FB6D-4D61-91C1-FD8A20BD4C4CShe would often times squat next to our chairs and talk to us when the bar wasn’t busy.  We discovered that she had a sister and mother in Russia, and two nephews she was very proud of.  We also found out that she had a boyfriend on the ship (another bar server from the Philippines) and that she liked pocketbooks (an immediate connection with Susie…the Queen of Pocketbooks!).  We also found out that she and Shannelle were roommates!  Oh Boy…trouble!

Shannelle was another one of our R Bar friends who we got to know very well during our two weeks on the ship.  From Jamaica, Shannelle is in her first contract back from a Maternity Leave, and is the Mom of a little one year old boy named Xander.  Because of the itinerary the ship is on, she gets to see him every other week when the Liberty ports in Falmouth, Jamaica, and for this she was very happy.  She obviously loved seeing folks on the ship with young kids (especially those close to Xander’s age), and both Shannelle and Irena seemed to have a real rapport with some of the kids on the ship!  Shannelle is a young lady who knows how to have fun, and honestly, we never saw her without a big smile on her face!  She told us about her family in Jamaica, and of course about her son, and beamed all through it!  By the end of our two weeks, she was calling us Mom and Dad!  What a sweet, wonderful person, and how lucky were we to get to know her!

F7EFA9D0-2C37-4562-B0C8-60D578A63F04

The third lady at the bar was Kisa, the bar manager.  She is from Granada, and was at the end of her contract, and signed off when our two weeks were over on October 6th.  We didn’t get to know her as well as Irena and Shannelle, because she always worked the bar, but the night the girls had us join in singing Happy Birthday to her, cemented our relationship with her.  After that, there were hugs and hellos, and she worked very hard to make several special drinks for Susie! 

The last night of our two weeks on the Liberty were very sad.  We were sad to go and Irena and Shannelle were honestly sad to see us go (Kisa was sad, but since she was leaving, it was not to the same level as the other two), as we felt we were leaving friends!  

2D9610B8-F364-41AF-B319-FA237D582EDF

Just before our final hugs, Irena and Shannelle gave us a package, and told us not to open it till we were back in the room.  Two sweet young ladies that we were so happy to get to know, and become friends with!  Here’s the note they gave us…

441ACEA3-8BD5-49C0-9393-60091B2CA216

I’ve already mentioned Joey, but can’t forget Jay at the Casino Bar and Mo the first week at the Hoof and Claw, and the second week at the Schooner Bar.  All great folks that enhanced our stay on Royal’s Liberty of the Seas!

Captain Jack’s Roatan, Honduras

The forth young lady was not on the ship, but rather a “friend” from the island of Roatan, Honduras.  When we were on the cruise in 2016, the boys took us to a little shack called Captain Jack’s Ceviche Bar and Grill.  Hanging over the water, just outside the port, we had some great drinks and some very freshly cooked seafood, and loved every minute of it.  

9071EACA-64CB-4F61-A409-155C8B7EBD21

When we were back in March, the plan was to once again hit Captain Jack,s, but the boys told us that there had been improvements to the place since our last visit!  Boy, they were not kidding!!  It had doubled in size, the bar was bigger and in a new place, and it even had bathrooms!  Even better, it had a young lady holding court behind the bar named Babe, and it didn’t take us long to fall in love!!  We had a wonderful afternoon with great drinks, some delish “Babe Shots” and the best Coconut Shrimp and Conch Fritters in the world!  When we left, there were hugs and kisses all around and we told her we were looking forward to seeing her again when we returned in the end of September.

6EC3A167-668B-407C-9E77-7AB6D0EF0307

On its current itinerary, the ship visits Roatan about once a month, so the boys get to visit Babe and we get to hear stories.  On their last visit, they told her we’d be there the first week in October, and when she saw them that day, the first thing we heard from her was, “Where’s Mom and Dad??”  Both Susie and I got a bear hug that we weren’t sure was going to ever stop, and we knew immediately we were in for a glorious afternoon!  

8D2CE9F5-73D7-46D4-99D3-BC7BE71B740F

 

Her given name is Darcia Johnson, and when Susie told her that her maiden name was Johnson, Babe started calling her her “sister from another Mother!”.  We once again had a great time, again the best coconut shrimp, conch fritters, and fried plantains in the Caribbean, and many special “Babe Shots” (first a pink one, then a blue one, then a green one, then an orange one).  It was an afternoon to remember, and a Facebook friend we will always hold dear to our hearts!  Love you Babe and thanks for the hospitality!!

484BAA4A-E6D1-44D7-A2E2-154F0144E12F

Patrick’s Bar – The Strand, Galveston, Texas

The fifth young lady is someone we have heard about for years from the boys.  As I mentioned, this is the third contract they have done on the Liberty, and the second with it porting in Galveston full time.  Way back in 2016, they wandered into a bar on The Strand on one of their Sunday turn -around days to get a beer.  They got a beer, and so much more!  They met a friend!

We have heard about Sophie for over 3 years, and although we’d never met her, we felt like we knew her.  Her boyfriend Carl (a Galveston Fire Fighter) would hang out at the bar on Sundays whenever he wasn’t on shift, and the boys loved hanging with them just before they returned to the ship.  There were lots of sad eyes when their contract ended just before Christmas in 2016 and they were forced to say goodbye to Sophie!

3A9478BF-8689-4266-BD88-6EF1C6B4C821

Last February, when the boys returned to the Liberty, on one of their first Sunday turn-around days, they once again wandered into Patricks, and suddenly almost 3 years of separation faded away!  Sophie and Patrick’s was always their last stop before heading back to the Liberty for another week.  Sunday is their only day in the United States, their only day off in Texas, and there are always things to do like shopping, picking up mail, and of course having a cocktail or two.  One thing they didn’t miss was a visit with Sophie if she was working!

Susie and I tried to meet her last March when we went on the ship, but she wasn’t working the Sunday we were in port. This time she was, and we finally got to meet this lovely young lady.  She is everything Kenny and Chris told us about her, and someone who is no longer just a bartender, but someone who has become a good friend (hmmm…does that sound familiar?)!  So much so, that when the boys sign off the ship early next month, and travel back to Nevada, they are going to meet up with Sophie and Carl in Las Vegas and celebrate Kenny and Sophie’s birthdays together! So thanks Sophie for taking care of Our Boys on a lot of Sundays, and for being a good friend to our two wandering minstrels!  

So there you have it, our tale of 5 young ladies who were a big part of the enjoyment we had during and just after our two weeks on Royal Caribbean’s Liberty of the Seas!  Susie and I always love getting to know people and getting to cross that bridge from server to friend, and I suspect we will continue to make friends in bars and restaurants wherever we go.  It’s just who we are!!!