parenting

The Great Grandma Google

Seven years ago, I wrote an essay about the time I accidentally threw away my Great Grandmother’s cherished engagement ring in the garbage and how I luckily found it in the dump before it got sent out to sea. It was a miracle of sorts and an episode that I revisit from time to time when I think about what I would have done if I hadn’t found it. That ring conjures up so many memories of my growing up in Pittsburgh with my loving, but oh-so-domineering, Grandmother. Who would have thought that some old jewelry could do that to you?

The other morning, I was thinking about how little I knew about my Great Grandmother, the original owner of that ring. She died the year I was born and nobody really talked about her. I kind of remember my Dad telling me things like, “She wasn’t very nice” and my Mother’s recollection which was a little more descriptive: “She was ten times meaner than your Grandmother, and that’s sugar coating it.” But for the most part, she remained a mystery. My Grandmother never spoke much about her except to tell me that she was extremely smart, followed by a knowing wink. It was almost if she was letting me in on a secret, without telling me what it was.

There was one unusual thing that she did mention to me back then, but I never really followed up on that because I thought it fell into the pool of my Grandmother’s other expert exaggerations like, If you cross your eyeballs they’ll freeze, Your Dad could have been a professional tap dancer, Sit up straight or you’ll be a hunchback by the time your 20, My podiatrist is madly in love with me, and so on. But today, in this easy age of Google, I felt like this story was worth looking into.

When I was ten years old, and practicing my memorization of the Gettysburg address, my Grandmother told me that during the Civil War, her mother’s family was kicked out of Kentucky by Ulysses S. Grant because they were Jewish. Why this came to my mind now, I don’t know. Perhaps it’s all this immigration talk in the news or maybe it’s because I don’t sleep and have many early mornings to sit and think about life.

It took more than a few hours on the Internet and a couple of phone calls to Paducah, Kentucky to find out that THIS WAS TRUE!

My Great Grandmother, Bertha Livingston Newman, was born in Paducah, Kentucky on June 18th, 1877. Her father, Mangold Livingston came from Germany around 1850 and settled briefly in Smithland, Kentucky. When the railroad came to Paducah in 1850, he relocated there and set up a wholesale dry goods and fruit operation, the M. Livingston Co. (think early Costco). He married his wife, Amelia Friedberg, also from Germany, around 1861. During the Civil War, Paducah was a Union stronghold but it became the place of smuggling and illegal trading with the Confederate South. Apparently, Ulysses S. Grant was super pissed about that. Some reported that Union soldiers were the ones doing the illegal trading, but somehow the Jews got blamed for it and Ulysses S. Grant issued his infamous, anti-Semitic General Order No. 11 in 1862, which expelled all Jews from Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi. Given 24 hours to leave, Jewish families had to pack-up and head north. Bertha wasn’t born yet, but her parents and older siblings began to make their way toward Ohio. A Paducah man by the name of Cesar Kaskel, immediately traveled to Washington to meet with Abraham Lincoln and report this unconstitutional decree. Upon hearing this, Lincoln ordered Grant to revoke the order. Within a week, the Jewish families returned to Paducah and resumed their lives. My Great Grandmother was born there 12 years later. She grew up in Paducah, met her husband, Sam Newman, a businessman from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Enter the ring…hello, 1895) They relocated there (that’s where my Grandmother was born) and eventually moved to Pittsburgh in the early 1900’s, where my Great Grandfather started the Keystone Grinder & Manufacturing Company, an outfit that made gadgets, which fixed busted Railroad Tracks. Old documents, county certificates and voting registries enable you to track movements, but without primary sources or saved correspondence, it is impossible to investigate “intelligence”. All this great history and my Great Grandmother didn’t leave a trail. What made her “smart”? Why didn’t I follow up on that with my Grandmother while she was still alive? The only thing that I can surmise is that Bertha had something to do with my Great Grandfather’s successful business, but I have no way of fact checking that one. We all know that behind-the-scenes women were seldom recognized in those days. Is that what the knowing wink meant?

I have to believe it was. Bertha deserves a story.

The photo I’ve attached to this essay is Bertha’s wedding picture. To think that she was wearing the ring that I tossed in the garbage in this beautiful shot, gives me eternal chills…especially when I envision her supervising the repair of broken railroad tracks.

Living Down The “up dog”

Don’t you love it when your kids have a “favorite story” of you from back in the day that they just can’t let go? You know, the kind that can sometimes be embarrassing or revealing in ways that you wish they weren’t?

It goes without saying that being in the company of smart-ass boys can be very entertaining…especially when they are your own. My boys have taught me all kinds of stuff. Speedy ways to use the internet, good music finds, funny You Tube videos and the cultural benefits of shows like FAMILY GUY and SOUTH PARK.

I really don’t care that they make fun of me behind my back because usually their teasing is REALLY funny, but they’re starting to erode my sharp-as-a-tack personal myth.

About eight years ago, while driving both of my yo-yo’s to somewhere I can’t remember, they were sitting in the back seat and started talking amongst themselves about something called “Up Dog”. I was paying attention to the road and only caught pieces of their conversation. This happened a lot back then and usually ended up with me chiming in classic mother lines like, “Watch your language”, “Keep it down” etc. What I didn’t realize at the time, was that they were setting me up for a You-Tube worthy performance. It started with backseat lines like this:

“OMG, That’s disgusting. He did what? Not the Up Dog! Nobody does the Up Dog. You’ve seen an Up Dog?” This was peppered with lots of laughter.

I peered into the rear view mirror and chimed in, “Keep it appropriate”, one of my favorite parenting lines.

“Mom, he’s talking about Up Dog again” offered one of my sons.

“What is Up Dog?” I said.

Hysterical laughter ensued.

“Seriously” I yelled over the laughter, “What is Up Dog?”

Even more laughter erupted from the backseat.

“Is this another wacky sexual thing? What the hell is Up Dog?” I screamed.

This went on for a few minutes and pushed my, we-know-something-that-you-don’t-know buttons. “Tell me, right now, dammit!” I demanded.

My boys practically wet themselves.

“We can’t”, they cried.

“OMG, What the F**K IS UP DOG” I yelled.

They were howling. Moaning. Couldn’t breathe.

“I’m stopping the car if you don’t tell me this second WHAT’S UP DOG!” and then I realized that they had pulled off the prank of the year.

OMG. I had to stop the car because I was laughing so hard.

To hear them tell it now, years later, is even funnier. And to think, I thought that I was so sharp back then.

Found My First Selfie

In the summer of 1975, as an early birthday present, my Dad bought me my first 35mm SLR camera. I remember how hard I lobbied for it (now I know where my kids get it from) and how excited I was to finally get it. It was a Canon FTb and it had the coveted 10 second timer which, back-in-the-day, allowed you to be in your own photos.

I can tell a lot from this photo and I am certain that I hadn’t yet figured out how to use that 10 second timer. I shot a few portraits of my Dad that day, but he got annoyed that I was interrupting his lawn mowing.

If you look closely, you’ll notice that the price tag is still hanging from the strap. I’m standing on my back patio, taking a photo of myself in the reflection of the sliding glass door and probably thinking, “I look so cool holding this camera!”  and there in the background, is my Dad, captured on film, trying to escape the “Just one more” pleas of yours truly.

Time Stamp Tramp

A time stamp is a sequence of characters, denoting the date and/or time at which a certain event occurred. Your computer places this on your correspondence automatically and applications, such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, do it as well, only you have to embrace a little math because their time stamps appear as time passed from the moment it was posted.

Your imagination wonders when you look at someone’s timestamp. Like when your kid goes to college and sends you an email at 3:45am asking to put more money in their flex dollars account. What’s up with that? Once those kids leave home, they may tell you nothing about their lives, but their time stamp will let you know that they’re up and doing who-knows-what. I’ve learned over the years to NOT GO THERE. Those kind of time stamps bring on ulcers.

If you’ve read some of my past blogs, you’ll note that my timestamp appears between the hours of five and six am EST. What does that say about me?

Mostly that I’m in the EXTENDED DAY program, also known as the LONG F**KING DAY program. I own that Morning Person moniker.

The best part about my early time stamps are the subsequent phone calls I get from peeps up late on the West Coast, “You’re still up?”, peeps in Europe “I could tell you were up by your post!” and my cherished, insomniac peeps in my time zone, “OMG, I can’t sleep, either”.

Sugar Babies At Bedtime

These are the kind of old snapshots that make the Throw-Back-Thursday posts worth a billion dollars.

Every picture tells a story and this one makes me laugh out loud because it is says so much about my Mom. In order to understand this photo, you have to understand the circumstances.

My Dad, may he rest in peace, was a Dentist. Candy was seldom seen in my house unless given on a special occasion. It was a rare treat. Never at bedtime because sugar would “stick to your teeth and rot your enamel”. In this photo, my brother and sister and I are freshly bathed, in our pajamas, tucked into my parents bed, watching their TV and eating SUGAR BABIES. This says one thing to me…

My Dad wasn’t home.

I can tell from our ages that my youngest brother was probably just about a couple of weeks old and down the hall in his bedroom, and…in all likelihood, wailing his ass off.

My Mom, who was a devoted candy worshiper, was most likely exhausted and probably needed us to behave, so I assume she raided her own stash and whipped out the big guns. Does that picture look like well behaved kids or not?

I am just so grateful that my Mom snapped this photo. It’s a rule breaker and an honest parenting gem.