Saturday, August 22, 2015

Stalking Michael J. Fox

As an intern at Entertainment Tonight in the summer of 1986, I had the thrill of walking on the Paramount Studio lot every day. If you read my previous post about going out for this internship, I did, indeed get it. So as I told my mother, I would be back home in 3 months. My friend, Denise, got a job in the ticket booth at Universal Studios in Studio City. My internship would be 5 days a week, Monday to Friday. It was unpaid. So I needed to get a job as well. I had experience working in nursing homes, so I applied at the most famous one I knew...The Motion Picture County Home in Woodland Hills. The place old movie stars lived.

I loved every minute about being on that lot, and explored my way around whenever I had a break or on my lunch. I liked watching the people around the lot, moving props, sets and costumes all over the place. Every lunch time I would find a bench and sit and eat my lunch somewhere on the lot so I could catch someone famous walking around.

But I didn't just want to see ANY famous person. I was on a mission to see actor Michael J. Fox. Michael was the most popular celebrity ever in the summer of 1986. His show, Family Ties, and his movie, Back to the Future had been #1 in movie theaters. I simply had to see him in person before I died, I thought. Family Ties filmed on the back lot at Paramount.

ET Segment Director (can't remember her name),
 Sophia Loren, me, and my friend Vida in the
summer of 1986.
During the internship, I was assigned to various reporters and would go out on field shoots with them, and I met some popular celebs of the time like comic Garry Shandling and actor Bruce Boxleitner. The biggest celeb I met? Sophia Loren. We drove to a bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel and her assistant greeted us at the door and invited us in. Sophia was still getting ready and had no make-up on, big round curlers in her hair and was dressed in a white blouse and dark capri pants. She was honestly the most breath taking beauty I had ever seen. Absolutely flawless skin and big beautiful eyes. She came over and hugged Jeanne Wolf, the reporter. Then she hugged the camera guy. Then she hugged ME. She was simply gorgeous and so warm and friendly. When she came out of her room 30 minutes later, all made-up and dressed for her interview, I could see the Hollywood glamour up close and personal and honestly thought she was more beautiful without the make up. She hugged me again when we were leaving, and wished me luck in school.

But I was still obsessed with Fox. Each day the other interns would take their lunch break in the Paramount commissary. They would always invite me along, but I knew I had a better chance of seeing Michael if I stayed out on my bench. None of the big actors went into the commissary.

Until that Friday in August.

I was sitting on my bench, eating an apple, when I saw the writer and creator of the Dick Van Dyke
Me with the research staff at Entertainment Tonight 1986
show, Carl Reiner, ride by me on a bicycle. Bikes and golf carts were the preferred way for people to get around the enormous lot. He was wearing jeans, a golf shirt, a sweater vest, and a white cap. I was so excited! DVD was my favorite show ever, and Carl Reiner had appeared himself on it as Alan Brady.

I ran back to Entertainment Tonight, ready to tell my friend, Vida, all about my sighting. When I stepped into the research room with my excited news, I could see it on her face.
As if she was preparing me for news about the death of a loved one, she came up to me and put her hand on my shoulder. "Jenny, Michael came into the commissary today."

I was crushed. Crushed, I say! He was there only 5 minutes or so, talking with someone else, but Vida recounted that he was literally 5 feet away from the table all the interns were at.
My fellow interns came up to me the rest of that day with their condolences. Every one knew I had been hoping to see him, and they all looked out for him for me.

My friend Denise took this photo for me while she
was working at Universal Studios. I thought it was
 the closest I would ever get to seeing him. 
As if the universe was feeling sorry for me, fate intervened the next week. Vida came in on Monday with some exciting news. She had gotten a job as a page (like an usher) at Paramount and she would be working on Family Ties this week! My dear friend had already put me and Denise on the guest list for the audience on Friday when the show taped. She was allowed 2 friends and family passes for each show. I hugged her, I was so excited.

That Friday came and Vida sat Denise and I right smack in the front row of the raised bleachers.. Before the taping, the actors would be coming out to be introduced to the audience. I was so excited Denise told me if I didn't calm down she was going to make me leave.

And out he came. Michael J. Fox. He was cute as a button. I was giddy with happiness. After the show the actors came out again for accolades. I whooped and screamed when Michael was named. He looked directly at me and nodded.

Or at least I would like to think he did.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Where did you go to school?

My time in elementary school was one of the very most happiest days of my life.  I attended John F. Kennedy school on Park Avenue in Windsor for grades K-6.  We lived on Diana Lane and I was a "walker." 

My earliest memories of Kennedy was walking with my mother up Diana Lane and meeting up with other kids and their moms and we all walked the rest of the way together. The moms would lag behind chatting while we kids walked ahead of them. It was a social time for the moms who were mostly stay-at-home moms. We'd usually run into Bobby Long and his mom first since they lived across the street. Then Ronnie Harner and his mom. They lived at the top of Diana. Robin Road was the road Diana dumped out on and my very best friend, Jayme Hannah, lived right smack in the middle of it right where Diana ended. My mom and her mom, Betsy, were especially good friends.

One of my best childhood friends, Jayme Hannah. 
About 1974. She is holding our Velvet dolls. We always 
asked for the same dolls at Christmas so we could play
together with them. 
As the school year went on the dynamic changed. Sometimes Debbie Abbey and her mom would join us. Sometimes way up on Craigs Road Eric Lazarus and his mom would be walking when we were. By first grade, believe it or not, our parents didn't walk with us anymore. We walked together. That would never happen today that a bunch of 6 year olds would be allowed to walk to school without an adult, but in 1971 it was a safe and innocent time in our neighborhood.

For kindergarten I had Miss. Dalphanie. She was so little she would almost qualify to be called a little person. She had to be only 4'6" or so. She was loving and sweet and she had a bouffant hairstyle. She also had fat feet.  I remember fat spilled over her black pumps as if they were too small. What a crazy memory.

Who can complain about kindergarten? I'm quite sure I had afternoon kindergarten. It was only a half day.  I ate graham crackers and drank milk out of little red and white cartons with my friends at snack time. We had  little rug remnants we had to take our nap on. We had cubbies to put our coats and boots in.  I remember having happy feelings in that room.

Me in 1970, at my grandparent's 50th 
wedding anniversary. No more cast. 
One not so happy memory was when I had a cast on my arm during the first part of that year. My brother Rick had locked me out of the house and was teasing me from inside that I couldn't come in. I had a little temper back then, I'll have you know.  So I banged on the door. The glass storm door. You can see where this is going. My arm went flying through that window and glass and blood were everywhere. I had to have stitches. I remember being freaked out and running around the back of the house. My older brother, Chuck, who was 18, caught me and tackled me and dragged me across the street to Mrs. Long's house. She was a nurse. Mom wasn't home for some reason. I remember the hospital nurses giving me a root beer lollipop while the doctor stitched my arm up.  Then they put a soft cast on it. I'm not sure why. Maybe for the same reason they put those cones on animals so they don't pick at their wound. Who knows.

So what's that got to do with kindergarten, you are asking yourself.  At recess time I wasn't allowed to go on the swings or the monkey bars. Both were a pretty big deal to this 5 year old. I had to choose a quiet toy and play under the trees. I recall one time I chose one of those Fisher Price buses with all the round people who fit in and it had eyes on the front of the bus with a plastic string you could pull the bus along with and the eyes opened and closed. Not as fun as the monkey bars but good times!

John F. Kennedy, overall, was an extremely happy time in my life. I am still friends with kids from this school today. Facebook had a lot to do with that. But some I just kept in touch with over the years the old fashioned way. 

Having a fabulous hair day for fourth grade
photo day, despite having the 
scariest teacher on earth that year.
On my barrette was written, "Jeannette."
My first grade was with Mrs. O'Donnell. She was a sweet, grandmotherly kind of woman and I remember she had a gentle voice. Second grade was Ms. McAuliffe. She got married the summer after I had her and became Mrs. Cosma. She was tall and pretty with long dark hair and I remember her Dad and my Dad had some kind of connection with World War II. I don’t remember what. Third grade was Mrs. Rund. She got married during the school year and we were invited to her wedding…all the kids in her class! Not to the reception of course. That would have been insane. But it was the first wedding I had ever gone to. She was such a sweet teacher. She was tiny like Ms. Dalphanie.

Fourth grade was like a culture shock. Miss McCarthy. Honestly, I think this woman absolutely hated children. She looked like the Wicked Witch from the West in the Wizard of Oz.  No joke. And she was MEAN. She scared the hell out of each and every child who had her. I remember also she was sickly. So we had subs every once in a while. Which was good. We needed the break. I remember I learned my times tables with her. We had to go up to her desk individually and recite them to her. She looked bored and annoyed out of her mind. I could never get my 12s times tables right. I thought she was going to murder me because I didn’t know them. I was scared silly.  But she was having a good day and was only mildly annoyed and told me to work on them better. To this day I stink at my 12s, and I think of her almost every time. 

Mrs. Belzer, my fifth grade teacher. Apparently,  I
circled people in the class picture who I liked a lot
that year.She was my favorite teacher and taught 
me to always try to have a positive attitude. 
Fifth grade was my favorite teacher in the entire world. Mrs Belzer. Oh, how I loved her. She was young, reddish hair, round and chubby. She hugged kids every day (when it was still ok to do that). She loved to laugh. She loved all of us kids, and she made us all feel special. I was getting chubby at this point, so looking at her and seeing such a chubby woman who was so happy in life, with a loving husband, made me feel better that it would be ok if I grew up to be a chunk too. A lot of us JFK kids on Facebook found Mrs. Belzer and reconnected with her in 2014. She had just retired and worked at JFK for her entire career. We were her first class after she graduated from teaching school. 

Sixth grade was Mrs. Beauregard. She had some tendencies like Miss McCarthy so we were all kind of on edge with this one. It was difficult to go from one teacher who was so loving, to another teacher who you felt wanted you to be dead and just go away most of the time. Sometimes she could be perfectly nice and funny and friendly. But, boy…one thing would happen and someone might act up and she would just flip out. I kept my distance with this one and just did my work and kept out of trouble.

As you will read in upcoming posts, we moved after 6th grade and I had a few pretty terrible years for 7th and 8th grade. I barely passed either grade and received C’s and D’s and a few F’s.  I was bullied horribly. I don’t remember a single teacher’s name at Ellsworth School for 7th grade or Timothy Edwards School for 8th grade in South Windsor.

I don't remember a single teacher's name, that is, except one. Mr. Longo. He was the gym teacher at Ellsworth. He was a little guy. He was always kind to me despite the fact that I did absolutely everything to get out of gym class. Forged notes from my mother, forgot my gym clothes, asked to go to the nurse’s office, etc.  He would get exasperated with me, but I think on some level he knew I was dealing with a lot of stuff and just didn’t push it.

It was in gym class that I sprained my ankle. Playing basketball. Or trying to play.  I tried to shoot a basket and jumped up and when I came back down I landed funny and felt excruciating pain. See what happens when you make a fat girl to do gym class, Mr. Longo? Nothing good comes of it. 

Anyhow, he helped me to the nurse’s office and they called my mother and I remember he was really nice and came in to check on me. When my mother came to get me to bring me for x-rays, they had to get me down about 25 steps in front of Ellsworth School to Mom's car. I'll never forget Mr. Longo saying, “I can carry her down.” I was like, “What? Are you crazy? I’m twice as big as you! No way.” I was mortified to even think of him carrying me.  I clearly outweighed him and was about 4 inches taller than him! He finally gave in and probably realized it was for the better for his own health and so I hobbled down those 25 steps holding onto his shoulder and my mom brought me to the doctor. 

Back on Windsor soil, 1982, dressed as Harpo Marx for a 
high school costume party. I had good friends all throughout
high school. Left to Right, Dominique Corbett, me, 
Colleen O'Meara and Kelly Packard. I'm still in contact
with Dominique and Colleen to this day. I lost contact
with Kelly, unfortunately. 
Ninth grade we had moved back to Windsor and I went to Sage Park Junior High (now Middle School) for 9th grade.  I had lots of good teachers at Sage Park. A few of them were still there when my daughters attended there many years later. It was a happy time for me and I made Honor Roll.

I was so happy to be back in Windsor! I made friends easily there and I was excited to know that I would be seeing all my JFK friends at Windsor High School the next year for 10th grade.

Then there was Windsor High School for 10-12th grade. Today it is 9-12th. When I was in 11th grade it changed. We couldn't believe they were letting those baby 9th graders in.  I loved everything about Windsor High School and had a lot of friends and happy times.

I wasn’t in the popular group, but I knew them and got along with them. I wasn’t in the jock group (of course!), but I knew them and got along with them.  I wasn’t a loser, either (despite what my kids think!). I was in the middle. Kind of preppy, I guess. But not a nerd.  A good student. Involved with the Yearbook. Wrote for the school paper. I really got into my English and writing classes tremendously. I managed the boys track team with Jeanne Deshais (whose younger sister, Suzanne, ended up marrying my husband's brother, John). I still don't know how I got involved with that one. I think she and I liked the same boy who did track and she convinced me to help out. Managing just meant taking down stats on the clipboard, filling water bottles, starting and stopping the stop watch and just over-all helping as needed. I have no interest in anything like that, so it must have had to do with Steve Parks, who was a year ahead of me and who I totally liked. I did a lot of things outside school like going to movies with my friends, going to hockey games, sleepovers, etc. I didn't get into any trouble.  I didn’t drink or smoke. It just wasn’t for me. I just liked to laugh and hang out and watch movies and write.

Did I mention that I was never bullied again?

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Burning down the house

The title pretty much says it all. If my Dad hadn't needed water from the sink upstairs, I would have accomplished burning down the house.

The Hippie, a.k.a. my sister, Lynn
It was the December before my 6th birthday. My older sister, Lynn, was 17. She was lounging in the recliner in the family room downstairs watching TV. She was a hippie. More trouble was soon to come for her making bad decisions, but she made a particularly bad one that day when she asked this 5 year old to go upstairs to Mom's room to get Mom's lighter so she could have a cigarette. 

Mom knew she smoked. My Mom smoked like crazy so she couldn't exactly tell her not to. Dad must have known too because he was home that day.  Mom must have been at work. 

It was around Christmas time. My mom had a huge box of Christmas paper in her bedroom to wrap presents. I noticed it when I ran in like a dutiful little girl and got the lighter off of Mom's side table. I brought it to Lynn. She lit her cigarette. She told me to bring it back upstairs to Mom's table. Mom liked to have a cigarette while she was watching TV in bed at night and would be mad if her lighter was missing. 

Up I ran the two floors to Mom's room with the lighter in my hand. I started playing with it. Lighters are kind of tricky you know.  But I was a big girl and I thought it was kind of cool to see Lynn flick it and the flame appear. 

So I tried it. Couldn't light it. Kept trying. And trying. Finally I got it. This was easy.  I was going to look cool and smoke like Lynn some day, I thought to myself. Look how grown up I look.  Ooh...look at the pretty paper! I wonder if it would really burn like the tip of Lynn's cigarette? 

So I flicked the lighter and put the flame to just a wee corner of the wrapping paper. 

The house I nearly burned down. 28 Diana Lane. 
"Whoosh!" It caught fire instantaneously, and spread down the roll quickly. Then to the next roll. I stood there. Confused. What was happening? Why didn't it just stay on that one piece that I lit? I tried to blow on it to put it out. Bad idea. It just spread it down the entire box of paper. Now I was scared.

I knew I'd get a spanking if anyone found out what I had done. So I backed out of the room and closed the door. And went to my room to play. And pretended it never happened. I had no concept of the danger everyone was in. Or how fire spreads. I just figured I would deny I had anything to do with it or blame the cat when they found the burned paper. In my 5 year old mind this made perfect sense. 

Luckily, my Dad happened upon the situation. I was told later that there was some issue with the water in the kitchen and Dad just by coincidence went upstairs to my mother's bathroom to fill a pot with water.  When he opened the door, the flames were shooting up from the box near the door like a bonfire.

The arsonist. Me. Age 5
What I remember from that day was Dad yelling "Fire!" and everyone who was home was confused and disbelieving that there really was an emergency. Dad was a pretty mild mannered guy who never raised his voice. So they realized quickly this was no joke.   I was in total denial and shock. For sure I was getting spanked, was all I could think of. My Dad shouted for us to run across the street to the Long's house and he told Lynn to have them call the fire department. I think my brother Rick was home, but I think my oldest brother Chuck had moved out by then. I don't have any recollection of my sister Robin being there, but maybe she was. 

What I do recall is that Lynn saying it was all my fault. And that she had nothing to do with it. Hey, she had enough trouble she was getting into with the whole hippie thing--she needed to deflect the blame on this one. She still brings this up at holidays, believe it or not. Yep. Still all my fault.

 I started to cry when the fire engines came. I watched them come from where I was standing in front of  Bobby Long's living room window. It was quite the excitement in our quiet little neighborhood. All the neighbors came outside to find out what was going on. I had no concept of what I had done until that moment.  Mom was livid with me when she was called home and saw what had happened. What was I thinking, she said. Why did I do that, she said. Then she reamed into Lynn for trusting a 5 year old with a lighter. What was she thinking, she said. Why did she do that, she said. 

The fire was contained to the bedroom and that one wall where the box was. There were burn marks on the wall and I recall my mother having to replace the carpet due to the burn and the water damage. Luckily no one was hurt and the damage was minimal. 

I felt a lot of guilt for that incident for a lot of years. But now it's become sort of those kooky Horner stories we tell from time to time. 

I never felt the desire to smoke as I grew up. I'm guessing this incident had something to do with it. 

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Milkshakes and Bazooka gum

Dad still took us places. We didn’t do things as a complete family anymore, but me being the youngest I didn’t have any frame of reference about that because I was too little to ever remember us doing things with both my mother and father.
About 1973. Rocking a fabulous pantsuit and posing in 
front of my Dad's VW bug. Probably on our way to Bart's.

My special place to go with Dad, usually just him and me, was Bart's. Bart's was, and is, a popular drive-in restaurant in my hometown that had been around since the 1950’s. One side of Bart's sold hot dogs, hamburgers, fries, milkshakes and other delicious drive-in kind of food. The other side was a little convenience-like store where you could get some basic food items like milk and bread. And candy. 

I loved Bart's. It was a special treat to go there for a milkshake. There were no seats at Bart's. You drove up, walked up to the counter and ate and drank right there. Or you brought it back to your car. 

I remember being so small that I used to count the wads of gum people stuck under the counter because I couldn’t see over the counter.  Dad would order his coffee milkshake. He would order a strawberry one for me. I could never finish them. They were enormous.  Dad never used a straw. They all knew Dad there and he would make small talk with the owners, Bob or Bart Dillon, while he leaned against the counter. 
Mr. Dillon. He made plenty of my
milkshakes when I was a little girl. Photo
from website. 

I would hold my milkshake and go over to the connecting double sided glass door between the restaurant and the store. The door wasn’t used, but  I liked to push my face up against it to see through a peg board that was between the two panes of glass. I thought it was a special secret that I had discovered that there was a large poster of Santa Claus they were storing between the glass panes. I liked peeking through the holes to see Santa.

After milkshakes I could usually talk Dad into going next door and getting some candy. Bazooka bubble gum. The cost was 1 cent.  Or Fireballs. Also 1 cent. I preferred the Bazooka gum because there was always a little comic wrapped around the gum. 

Carol Dillon  was wife of one of the owners and she used to work the register in the store. She had big, blond, poofy hair and pink lipstick and was always so nice to me.  She would call me sweetie. Dad used to give me some pennies and I could pick out what I wanted and pay Mrs. Dillion all by myself.

Bart's was a special place for me with good memories. It was for my Dad too. When he was very ill and in the nursing home he couldn’t eat solid food any longer. I asked him if he would like me to bring him something special. He asked for a Bart’s coffee milkshake. 

Saturday, July 18, 2015

The red chair

Grandad is his red chair in his den. Early 1970's. 
When my grandmother, Buba, died just a few months before I was married in 1988, my mother let us know that my Aunt and cousins were working on getting her house on Lewis Road in Swampscott, Massachusetts ready to be sold and that if we wanted anything we could go up and take a look. Fred and I would be getting our own house after we got married and I thought there might be some furniture, especially, that we might want to consider.

Among other things we chose was my grandfather's red leather chair from his den and a matching ottoman. It was a favorite of mine and one of the few things that reminded me of a man I really didn't know very well.

I had just turned 8 years old the summer Grandad died. His was the first wake and funeral I ever attended. At the wake, my mother wanted nothing to do with being in the same room as the open casket that Buba had going on for him, so she stood with me outside in the hallway and greeted people as they came in. I was relieved to not have to see a dead person. Score one for being the baby. At his funeral, I remember being mesmerized with the American flag presentation to my grandmother for his World War I service. She looked sad. They had been married 53 years at that point.

Harold Potter Willett about 1896
at the age of 2. Look at that outfit.
The photo above of him sitting in that red chair in his den is how I remember him. What's weird is that I also remember that glass he has next to him. My grandmother had a set of those and I remember drinking out of them.

I love looking at the photos of him growing up. My mother and aunt as well as Buba's diary provide some great stories of him.

He and his brother, John Howard, and sister, Mildred Jeanette, were raised in a very unloving family. Their mother, Fannie, was by all accounts said to have been selfish and cold.  An older brother was still-born in 1888. Harold's middle name was Potter which was his mother's maiden name.

John Howard, Jr. and Harold Willett abt 1902
The Willett family was well off. John Howard, Sr. was in the shoe selling business in Boston which was a lucrative business in the late 1890's. They had a servant. Her name was Carrie Steele, according to the 1910 census. Grandad told the story that she was a loving woman who taught him and John Howard to cook so that on her nights off they wouldn't go to bed hungry. Fannie insisted on going out to dinner on the nights Carrie was off. She had no regard whether the children ate or not.

Harold Potter Willett abt 1912
My own memories of Harold Potter Willett are fleeting and few. He had a brown mole on his cheek and on his forehead. He worked in insurance. He had a soft voice. He was tall and skinny. He always insisted when we drove in the car with him that we had to wear a seat belt. This was in the early 1970's when it wasn't the law and no one did it. I remember what a pain it was to have to do it because I was little and couldn't see out the car window as well. One time while in the car with him, a fire engine came up behind us and he pulled over to the side of the road to let them pass. I asked him why we had to do that and he told me so that the fireman could get to save the people faster. Another time, I remember walking into the kitchen and hearing him complaining about me to my grandmother that I didn't eat all my dinner. He was really mad about it, I remember. He thought I was wasteful and fussy. It hurt my feelings to hear him say that and I snuck out and cried in the upstairs bedroom. I was probably about 5 or 6.

He was actually a very nice man. I just didn't get a chance to get to know him We lived just far enough away in Connecticut that by the time I was born we only made trips up to Swampscott on special occassions. My mother adored him and was always closer to him than she was to her mother. My mother and Grandad were very similar. Neither were good students. Both liked to have fun (too much) growing up. Both were stoic and "suck it up and move forward" kind of people.

My grandfather's red chair
in our living room 2014
I remember Grandad being sick. He had breathing problems due to mustard gas exposure in World War I and it caused issues later in his life.  He had to be on an oxygen tank. They cleared out the dining room of their home in Swampscott and set up a hospital bed in there so he didn't have to go up and down the stairs. Buba took care of him. I recall a time I was sitting in the living room and she was helping him get dressed. He was very frail at that point and he was sitting on the edge of the bed in a hospital gown. She was putting socks on him.  Grandad insisted on getting dressed every day and sitting in a chair.

He died in July of 1973 at the age of 78 in his sleep. Buba was in the living room doing some needlepoint and when she went to check on him, he was gone.

She missed him for the rest of her life. She would mention him frequently and always note his passing by saying something like, "Harold's been gone 20 years this month."

The red chair sits in my living room. Well loved by our cat, Stuart, who likes to nibble on it, unfortunately. But plans are to repair it. In the mean time, it is lovingly watched over by a photo of his wife.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Family Tree of cats

If you know the  Horners  you know that we love us some cats.  I don't, in fact, remember my life without a cat. 

I converted my husband, Fred, to love cats too...although he won't really admit it readily. Our girls all love cats in varying degrees. It's safe to say--we are cat people. 

I have had the best experience with all of my cats, and have never been without one in my entire 50 years of life. 

First there was Bootsy. She and I grew up together.  
The first cat in my family tree. Bootsy Horner.

When she was put down when I was 13 years old I cried for months afterwards. She was my most best friend.  

I had a difficult time when we moved from Windsor to South Windsor. I was bullied pretty badly. You'll read more about that in a later blog post. Bootsy would greet me at the end of each day by kissing me through the bars of the railing of the upstairs staircase. She seemed to sense I needed a friend. She never left my side. A beautiful angora Persian black and brown beauty. I still think of her. 

We're not sure what happened to her that caused her injury. What I remember is that one day she came in from being outside and she couldn't walk. She dragged herself into our downstairs bathroom and wedged herself between the wall and the toilet. We wondered if maybe she had been hit by a car. My mother was going to be bringing her to the vet later that day. I snuggled up to Bootsy before school that morning. I remember she was grooming herself. She wouldn't let anyone touch her but me. I pushed my face into her fur as she gave herself a bath. I told her I loved her. She licked me on the top of my head. 

My Dad petting Bootsy
My mother had her put down that day while I was at school. The vet recommended it because of her age. He said they could explore what was going on but the cost and recovery would probably be too much. I didn't understand. But I know my mother loved her too and wouldn't have put her down easily. All I knew was that I was inconsolable.

Bootsy was brought into the Horner family a year before I was born. She was my big "sister. " I'm told it was love at first site for both of us. My mother, who, went back to work when I was very little, liked to tell the story of how Bootsy liked to protect me from strangers.

One of the earliest jobs I remember my mother having was at The Windsor Towne House. As of 2013 it still stands in Windsor. Back then it was a place for business men who were working for long term assignments at various Hartford area businesses. I think a lot of engineers like my Dad. My mother liked to entertain. My parents were separated or divorced at this time. I don't remember which. I remember my mother would invite men and women who didn't have a place to go for Christmas to our home for Christmas dinner. My mom just didn't want people to be alone for Christmas.  I'd like to think I inherited that feeling. I open my home to all on Christmas Eve and have had many "orphans" on this night. And I love it.

But back to cats.  On those nights that mom had parties and strangers were over, Bootsy would sit at the top of the stairs and glare down at everyone . She frequently planted herself right in front of my bedroom door if strangers were over and I was asleep. Mom liked to say she was protecting me.

I don't remember how we got Munchkin. My mother called her Nadia. Everyone was enthralled
The only good photo I have of Munchkin.
She looked a lot like Boo-Boo Kitty.
with the gymnast Nadia Comaneci, who just scored a perfect 10 in the 
Olympics. The name didn't stick. Everyone else called her Munch. I remember she was a sweet thing.  She was a gray and white tabby. I never grew as close to her as I had Bootsy. But I loved her. She lived with my mother right thru the time she moved to Westfield, Massachusetts and I was in college. I don't remember how she died. For some reason I think it was diabetes. I know I was grown and my mother was close to her and they were great companions.

One of the stipulations I had when I married Fred was that I needed to have a cat right away. He was fine with it but he wasn't really a pet kind of person. He had all kinds of random pets growing up but they never stayed around for one reason or another so he never really formed that magical bond between a pet and their owner. He would soon know that incredible love!

A few weeks before we got married, my sister in law, Carol Horner, took in a stray cat. The cat, it was soon discovered, was pregnant. Fred and I had plans to move into our new house about a month after we got married, so I thought it was fate that there would be some kittens available that I could choose from to make our new house truly a home!

The kittens were born a week or so before the wedding and Fred and I went to take a look and choose one. Fred’s only condition was that we had to have a male cat. He felt female cats were moody and unfriendly (not true, of course). I didn’t care what sex we got…I just knew I needed a kitty. We chose a name in advance. Boo-Boo. Fred won’t like this story getting written down for all generations to see, but Boo was an affectionate name that I had for him early in our relationship.  

It was adorable, trust me.

Anyhow, we choose a black and brown newborn male and named him Boo-Boo. The plan was he would stay with his Mama until he was old enough to leave her which would be about the time we were moving into our new home. Carol was happy to take care of him until we were ready for him.

The wedding came, and then our 2 week honeymoon. First a week in San Diego, California and from there a cruise to Mexico. When we returned, Carol had left a message for me to call her. I was crushed to hear that little Boo Boo had died. Another one of the kittens had died as well and Carol’s theory was that because the mom was a stray, she was not healthy herself and her babies were sickly.
Our sweet Boo-Boo Kitty (1988-2008)

Carol felt so terrible that “our” kitten had died, that before we got back from our honeymoon and had found out, she went up to a farm she knew of in Stafford Springs, Connecticut that had kittens for adoption and chose one for us. He was waiting for us at her house. 

There we met the love of our family’s life. Boo-Boo Joseph Hawran.

He was a gray tabby with white paws and a white tummy. And the most precious baby boy you have ever seen in your life. Carol chose him from the other kittens because he had such a sweet nature. We had 20 wonderful years with Boo Boo. The day we had to put him down due to cancer in his jaw was the day our hearts broke in pieces. Fred cried as hard as I did that day.

We used to joke that we had Boo Boo longer than we had our daughters. He was, in all senses of the word, spoiled rotten. He was our baby before we had babies.

Boo-Boo was incredibly smart. People smart. When he wanted to go outside, he would ring this silver bell we had hanging on our front door handle. He taught himself to do that. It was simply left there one Christmas. All of a sudden he started ringing it. People were astonished he taught himself. But we weren’t. That was Boo-Boo.

When we first moved to Hope Circle, Fred and I used to take walks after dinner. We would start up Hope Circle to Rood Avenue and I would glance back and there was Boo-Boo—trotting after us. Wanting to walk with us. Almost to the end of Hope Circle. It took us some convincing and explaining to get him to go back home. We were worried about him wandering too far away from home if he walked with us.

Many years later he could tell time. Seriously.

I worked at home doing web design. The girls were all in Oliver Ellsworth School. I would easily loose track of time while I working. But not Boo-Boo. He knew the girls would be coming home soon, and he would come into my office and meow to go out around 2:45pm. Loudly. The bell was gone at that point. And he would pace around. And bother me. Until I let him out. It took me a while to figure it out. I would glance out my office window. Every day he would trot out to the front lawn and sit and wait. Several minutes later the bus would roll up to the front of our house. Boo-Boo would stand up. The girls would get off the bus. Boo-Boo would run over to the them to greet them (and be greeted by them).

They loved it. Other kids would comment on it, “Is that your cat waiting for you?”

There were a few times over those years they were all talking with each other and would run past him accidentally on the way into the house. He would look stunned when that happened. They would always realize it and run back to love him.

Boo-Boo's usual cuteness
He loved to be outside while they were playing. Or if Fred was working in the yard. He would sit under a bush in the shade and just watch. He’d come over once in a while 
to make sure you knew he was there and get some love.

Boo-Boo always came in at bedtime. You would just call him and he would come in. No worries. Once when he was younger he was gone for a few days. I scolded him about it and it never happened again.

He was a dream because he never used a litter box. We trained him to go outside. Even in the winter.

He got the “good” seat on the couch. Boo-Boo had his favorite seat and if you were in it, he would circle around from the family room to the kitchen, back to the family room to see if you moved yet. He was polite about it. Boo-Boo was always polite, we used to joke. But by the third time he circled around and stood there looking at you—you felt guilty. And you moved somewhere else. To another seat, to the floor—wherever. And Boo-Boo would happily jump up to his seat, take a bath and go to sleep.

We have had other cats since. All just as loved and adored and worshipped. 

We don't have a lot of photos of Bow. Here he is. Can you see
the notch out of his ear on the left? (1998-2009)
Bow. He was a black and white little boy I got from my friend Denise. Michelle and he 
loved each other. He would let her hold him like a baby and she would rub his big rabbit feet. Bow Francis was his legal name. He had a wild spirit and went out for long stretches of time. But he was a sweet boy. One time he came back with the tip of his ear chewed off. He went outside one night and never came back. We think he met an untimely demise due to another animal. After Bow I never let our cats out again. I just couldn’t face losing another one.

BJ. He was a sweet tiger cat. BJ Lawrence. Our girls gave all of our cats a middle name, if you haven't noticed. He was from the CT Humane Society. But he was a nervous sort. Not at the very beginning, but definitely as he got older. It ended up he had heart problems. He used to sit on the kitchen stool all the time. He was afraid of Buddy, our next cat. Sadly, he died on our bathroom rug after a blood clot made his legs useless and his heart gave out.  He meowed during the night and I layed down with him and stroked his back as he passed away. Fred had to take him to the animal hospital for cremation. I was too sad.
Buddy Arthur Hawran, about 3 months after we took 
him home from the vet. BJ wasn't hiding on the kitchen chair yet. 
Buddy (2009-present)

Buddy came next. Buddy Arthur Hawran. We had just put Boo-Boo down a few months prior. I walked into my vet with BJ for an exam and he said in his Indian accent, “Ohhhh…you need a new kitty. This one is perfect for you. He needs a home.” I said absolutely not. My heart was still too broken over the loss of our Boo-Boo. Sara was with me. No, no, no, I said. Just take a look, he said. Well, of course, that’s all it took. Buddy snuggled right into the crook of my neck. He was a kitten that Hartford animal control found on the streets of Hartford during sub zero weather. He had an upper respiratory infection and was not ready to go home quite yet. He gave kisses to Sara. Snuggled and purred with me. I had to have him. Of course. Darn cat love. 

Stuart Ward Hawran. Thanksgiving 2014. Deciding he
wants to help set the table with me. 
Then came Stuart. We decided after BJ died that Buddy needed a playmate. So  Katie, Michelle and my niece Lisa all headed to the CT Humane Society. There we met this adorable Ginger named Stuart. So, breaking with the “B” theme of our cats, we kept his name and brought this hilarious guy into our family. His middle name? Ward. After some kid that Michelle went to school with. A kid she didn't even like much, apparently. But it suited him, anyhow.  I honestly think that next to Boo-Boo, he is the smartest cat I have ever known. He has incredible patience and a long memory. If he wants to get into something…he’s gonna figure it out. His specialty is chewing plastic bags. And headphone cords. Yeah, he's weird. But we sure love him. 

Life is sweet with cats. They are each so individual, and I know they are spoiled, loved and cherished beyond belief. Cats rule!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Wait...your parents aren't married?

Mom and Dad 1950, the
summer before they were married. 
I don’t know that I really ever remember my parents being married. But, then again, I didn’t really understand they were divorced either. Or what divorce meant.
No one will fess up about this, but I have always thought that I was either
            a) an “accident”
            b) a last ditch effort to save their marriage

Either way, don’t feel badly about it when you read that because, honestly, I was a very loved child by my parents, siblings, grandparents, etc. and regardless of why I was born really made no difference once I was here because I was quite the spoiled thing, I must admit.

Mom and Dad on their wedding day
October 21, 1950
I don’t remember a time my Dad wasn’t at the house. I think one of the earliest memories I do have is of him sleeping downstairs in the family room. Maybe I was about 4 or 5. I should ask my sisters about that, who are much older and were aware of what was going on.
But what I remember is that Dad came home from work every day and had dinner with us. Dinner was always 6pm every night. Sharp. Then he would sit in his chair with the Hartford Times newspaper and do the crossword puzzle. Sometimes he would come downstairs to the family room to watch tv. Sometimes he would come upstairs and watch tv with my mother and I in her bedroom. He would sit at the end of the bed in a metal folding chair. And watch TV. Sometimes he would rub Mom’s feet.  Then, at 9pm, he would go home to his own place in East Granby.

I know, weird, huh?  

There was no animosity between them for the most part. I give a lot of credit to my mother for making this divorce not seem like a divorce.  She is the one who wanted the divorce. She had not been happy for many years.  She knew my father was kind of helpless when it came to things like making himself dinner. She knew that he was kind of a loner who had a lot of acquaintances, but no close friends.  We kids were his world, Diana Lane was his world, and my mother was his world. She was as gentle about it all as she could be and let him come and go as he pleased. 

My favorite photo of my Dad and I in 1968
I remember realizing it was weird when I had a friend sleeping over one Friday night. We were playing in the living room and Dad came over and rumpled my hair and said goodnight and he walked out the door.  My friend, Jayme asked, “where is your Daddy going?” I said without missing a beat, “To his house.”  She looked at me confused. I suddenly got it that not only was I the only kid I knew who had parents who were divorced, but that we were a different kind of divorced family where everyone got along.

Now it wasn’t always roses, mind you. When my mother entertained a gentleman at the house, she would have to tell my Dad not to come over that evening for dinner. I remember she would say to him that she was “having company.” I felt badly for Dad because you could see the hurt on his face. He never quite accepted they were divorced. As much as it helped us all to have Dad still a regular part of our routine, I think it also hampered him from moving on and accepting the divorce.

I remember them having a conversation at the dinner table after us kids had left the table. They didn’t realize I was still in ear shot. Dad said he wanted to move back in and he and my mom to live as husband and wife again. Mom was gentle about it, but she said “No, Bob, that is not going to happen.”  I didn’t necessarily want them back together…it really made no difference to me...but I felt badly that my Dad was still pining after her when she had clearly moved on.

Mom came up from Florida specifically to see Dad during his last weeks. I was glad she did. I think she was glad she did. And I know my Dad was glad she did. One of the most touching things I witnessed was her feeding him  in the nursing home. It shows that when you’ve shared a life time together, with 5 children, 9 grandchildren and 1 great-grandchild together, despite a divorce--there is a love there that never completely goes away.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Loving Luta

Luta Lee Helton Shrum
We interrupt this blog about the stories of my life, to bring you snippets of the stories of those who came before me. These are memories shared with me from family members. Its important to me that these are documented. 

My great-grandfather Mark, was not only to be one of the most respected doctors in Bloomington, Indiana and then Lynn, Massachusetts, but he was also known to absolutely adore his wife, Luta. My grandmother, mother and aunt, have always told this story about how Mark fell in love with Luta.

Mark decided he wanted to be a doctor and won a county scholarship away from his best friend, Fred, to be able to attend Indiana University.

Dr, Mark Shrum
The summer before college, Mark and  Fred were sitting on a fence outside a dance hall and a very pretty, stylish girl danced by and Mark said, "There is the girl I would like to marry." Soon after he arrived in Bloomington, he was in a store when the same girl went by and he was determined to meet her. That girl was Luta Lee Helton. She lived with her Aunt and was one of the most popular girls around college. He joined Delta Tau fraternity and soon he was taking Luta to the college affairs.

For some reason, he left to go to Montana, but before he left he told his roommate, Charles Hortloff, "Take care of Luta while I'm away." Charles did such a good job of that, it was not too long after that Luta and Charles were engaged. Charles was a wealthy boy, studying to be a doctor too. 

Dr and Mrs. Mark Shrum 1942
Finally, Mark received a letter from Luta telling him of all the news around town and at the end a P.S. "by the way, Charlie and I have broken up."

It was miles to the nearest RR station and it was snowing but Mark put barrell stoves on his feet and started walking to the train. When he arrived in Bloomington, Luta was at a dance with another boy. He went to the dance, got a dance with her and asked her to marry him that night. He said he would go to her aunts and make arrangements. When Luta returned from the dance, he had a minister there waiting. 

Mark and Luta Shrum about 1904
They left for Louisville, Kentucky on the night they were married, where Mark graduated from medical school. He went on to become an Osteopathic doctor

The minister said the marriage would never last, doing it in such a rush.

He started his practice in Ellestville, Indiana. Daughter Merah was born in 1895. My grandmother, Jeanette was born 2 years later in 1897.

Mark had offers to teach in Waco, Texas or Boston. He tossed a coin and it came out for Boston.

 Once he set up a permanent practice as an osteopathic physician in Lynn, Massachusetts, it was in a wing of their house, so that he could be near Luta all the time.

They were married for 52 years until Mark's death in 1945.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

When in doubt, blame the cat

Me, Christmas 1968
I'm not going to lie. Being the baby is not such a bad deal. Sure, there are some drawbacks that I'm reminded of when my youngest, Michelle, brings up that pertain to her and I say, "Oh yeah, I remember feeling that way." But overall. It's kind of awesome.

The good stuff : As the youngest of 5 kids my parents were so broken down after having stressful experiences with my hippie sister, Lynn, and my sorta lazy-but-really-just-not-motivated brother, Rick, that by the time this blond haired, blue eyed chubster came along...I was pretty much much spoiled to death. There was a 6 year age difference between my brother and I and I think my mother felt she was done having kids and then I came along, so she really enjoyed  me.

Rick and I watching TV in the family room on Diana Lane in 1973
I was a happy child and I have wonderful memories of my childhood. Truly.  I remember sharing a room with my sister, Robin. We had matching twin beds and bedspreads. She probably wasn't so thrilled to be sharing a room with her baby sister, but we got along for the most  part. Robin was TV crazy and between her and my brother Rick, I watched a lot of it. Robin also loved music. She had a Wildcat record player that she would load up with 45s and albums and listen to them all the time. The Monkees were a big deal. I loved them. Neil Diamond was another. I didn't love him. But she played a mixture of oldies from the 50's and 60's, so it was never dull. Ironic that I would go on to work at WDRC radio (known as the oldies station) years later. Robin loved that station.

I remember our bedroom walls plastered with Robin's or mine latest crush or interest. Randy Mantooth from Emergency, Davy Jones from the Monkees, Robert Conrad from Wild Wild West, The Carpenters, Donny and Marie Osmond. When I got older and scored my own room it was Shaun Cassidy, Rick Springfield and Rex Smith.

My sister, Robin's Monkee album. I still play it today!
Life on Diana Lane was carefree. I remember knowing all the neighbors and there were a lot of kids to play with. We had block  parties. We would  play for hours on the weekends or after school. Our mothers would call us for dinner by ringing a bell. Ours was mounted on our house. The mothers worked out a pattern so we knew which bell was calling us. Ours was three rings, three times.

My brother and I played a lot together during those years that he was still young enough and I was just old enough to join in. Mostly army. We had a great back yard with woods. Not the deep scary kind of woods. The kind where there was a walk path running through it with all kinds of cool places to build ground forts for the army games. I don't remember playing Cowboys and Indians ever. My brother was always  into military stuff. So he and the other boys in the neighborhood would be soldiers and go around and shoot each other with sticks, while I was an army nurse. Basically, I sat in one of the forts and waited for an injured soldier to stumble in. I would treat him with pretend medicine and use leaves to stop his pretend bleeding.

I remember we had a sandbox. I remember I was about 5 and some girl whom I have no recollection who she was but I think she must  have gone to school with me, or maybe she was the daughter of one of my mother's friends. There are pictures of she and I playing in the sandbox. I think my sister has them. Why do I remember that day? Because I was naughty that day and Robin yelled at me. I didn't want to share the sandbox toys with her and I wasn't very friendly to her for some reason. Robin was about 15 and she must have been babysitting me. My mother was working at this point and my sisters and brothers watched me a lot. I remember Robin chastised me for being rude and not sharing.

I remember my mother re-did our basement into kind of a playroom area. It was divided into rooms, with panelled walls. There were two built in toy boxes that doubled as seating with cushions on top. They were connected as one big unit against the far wall, but divided with two hinged covers. My toy box was on the left. Rick's was on the right. Everyone else was too big for toy boxes.

The washer and dryer had their own little room, as did a workshop area with all my Dad's tools, and an office for him. I don't ever remember him actually working in that office. It had a desk, but it was mostly full of model airplanes and cars that he worked on. And Civil Air Patrol stuff. The workshop area was also storage for Christmas and other things.

My 8th birthday. That's my friend Jayme Hannah next to me. 
I was confused at why there were 9 candles, but remembered we 
always added one candle "to grow on." That's our typical angel 
food cake we always had on birthdays. 
I remember we had a Halloween party for my friends down there. I must  have been 7 or 8. Again, I'm fairly sure Robin has photos. I remember it being all decorated and my friends coming.

It's funny that I don't remember celebrating many of my birthdays. I don't think we did parties. I know we had family dinner and we would have angel food cake and ice cream while everyone sang happy birthday. I know I had sleepovers, so maybe  those were connected.

I do remember one birthday party that Jodi Narkewicz was invited to. She was rich. Well, compared to everyone else, she was. We liked being friends with her because her birthday parties were always fancy or elaborate for those days. Horseback riding, I remember clearly. So, you liked inviting Jodi to your parties  because she gave you nice presents like expensive sweaters or a fun game. She was nice. Not stuck-up that I can remember. But she was not like the rest of us. Her Dad was President of a bank. Her mother always looked fancy and dressed up....even going to the grocery store.

I remember one of my favorite things when I was very little was when my mother let me eat outside on the front step. For whatever reason, I absolutely loved that. I would sit sideways on the step that was second from the top and my mother would bring me out a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a cup of milk and I would place it on the top step like it was my personal counter. Loved that.

My first cat, Bootsy. She was a beautiful Persian & Angora mix.
We were best friends
Being the baby and living a worry free life in my early childhood was pretty darn good. But, there were times it wasn't so great. I got blamed for things I didn't do. A lot. Mostly by my brother Rick. Ok, so sometimes it was justified. I was a real busy body and I was always going through everyone's private stuff. I would regularly root through my mother's drawers in her bedroom. No reason. Bored? There came a time when the age difference between Rick and I widened and I think I was just looking for stuff to do. There were a lot of boys in the neighborhood and I didn't want to play kickball or hotbox so much anymore. Jeanette Thornton, who lived across the street, was 2 years older than me and that was a big difference when you are 9 years old. My friend, Jayme Hannah, lived right up at the end of Diana Lane, but she started taking flute and swimming lessons at the Suffield Country Club, so she was around quite as much. So I was a really snoop and would get in trouble for touching stuff...sometimes unfairly. Sometimes not :)
Our cat Bootsy sure got blamed for a lot, I'll tell you that much.