One day a neighbor child in Dallas told us that her grandmother was coming to visit. “How nice!” Mary Lou said to her. “No, it’s the other one,” she said.
Happily, I was blessed with two wonderful grandmothers, both of whom left this world far too early. Both had large families, and uncles and aunts were very much a part of my life. Both grandmothers were 100% Irish. I had special names, synonyms, for both.
Grandma Nora was born in the USA, as were both of her parents. Her family was distressed that she married a 100% German, a “Dutchman,” as my paternal grandfather was called. My term of endearment for her was “Schotzie,” German for “Sweetheart.” I was her first grandchild, and she always made me feel special, though I had a fearful respect for my grandfather, who seemed very gruff and demanding. He did very well as an executive with US Rubber Company, but probably suffered much job-related stress, as he was known as a “hatchet man,” who had to fire quite a few employees during a reorganization of the business.
When I attended half-day Kindergarten, my Uncle Jack, 11 years older than me and a student at the high school next to my grammar school, would walk me the half mile or so to their home during his lunch hour. Their house was just about midway between school and our home. Actually, he often carried me piggy-back on his shoulders, and I enjoyed grabbing unto his generous ears. I remember Mom telling me that I was responsible for the angle of Jack’s ears, and I actually believed her. Lunch with Schotzie, usually a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a glass of milk, was memorable because she paid me a lot of attention, and I lavished even more on the family pet.
Schotzie’s family had a big English Setter named Tuck. She was docile and, I thought, very intelligent. Tuck had a collar with ID tags, but was never on a leash, and she wandered the extensive woodlot in back of the house, which I also loved to explore. The town dogcatcher knew her well, as he often retrieved her after some of her travels. Tuck knew she would be scolded for wandering off, so when the dogcatcher released her in front of the house she would creep up to the front door on her belly, a funny sight indeed!
Tuck loved to swim and had an uncanny ability to smell salt water. When we drove out to our grandparents’ summer house on Long Island Sound in Groton Long Point, Connecticut, Tuck would jump out of the car a half mile before we got to the beach, and head for the nearest water. She would paddle towards our beach and be out in open water by the time we arrived there. Once she had to be rescued by a boater who found her, exhausted and clinging to a bouy, after strong tides forced her far out into the Sound.
When World War II erupted, my older uncles enlisted. Louie went off as a Navy medic, to serve in the Pacific theater; Joe became an Army Air Force officer and captained a B-25 in combat over Europe and North Africa; Jerry and Jack followed them into the service as soon as they were old enough. Thankfully, they all returned safely.
I remember diving off the fireplace mantel into Uncle Joe’s arms when I was quite small. When Joe returned from the service, he gave me his down (more properly, chicken feather) sleeping bag. It was wool-lined, full of moth holes, and weighed a ton, but I was very proud of it. One time I carried it to an overnight Boy Scout campout at Lou Fink’s cabin at Camp Tamarack in Ramapo, NJ. We had to trudge through snow that was about a foot deep. I was small for my age, and too proud to admit that I was about to die when we were only about halfway into the forest. One of the leaders relieved me of my burden, and soon was complaining “What, do you have lead in here? I’ve never seen a sleeping bag as heavy as this.”
On Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday, Schotzie would bake small cookie-like pastries, hiding little objects inside each. They were the kind of things one found as prizes in Cracker Jack boxes. Mine contained a nice ring, which I promptly put on my thumb. When I got home, mom thought the ring looked rather brilliant, and on closer inspection it proved to be a genuine diamond! It seemed that Schotzie had somehow taken it off and got it mixed up with the other trinkets. She was very happy when I returned her engagement ring.
Mail used to be delivered twice a day. We got to know the local mailmen, who seemed to keep the same routes for years. My favorite mailman was Amos, who delivered Schotzie’s mail. He was jolly, short and portly, reminding me of Lou Costello of the comedy duo Abbott and Costello.
Amos would read all the postcards before delivering them, and my uncles would always add “Hi, Amos” to their messages. Everyone knew Amos, and he seemed to know everything about everyone. Amos would often relate the contents of a postcard as he delivered the mail, saying he would save you the trouble of reading it. He was a great jokester. The first morning after Uncle Louie returned from the war, he greeted Amos as he delivered the mail, surely expecting that Amos would be delighted to see him back safe and sound. Amos did his best to not act surprised, and casually said, “Hi, Louie—you working nights now?” Of course, they both broke out in laughter and celebrated their reunion.