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.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Jennifer...nice to meet you!

My parents were big on tradition and naming their children after family members. Some of us more than others.  I’m not so convinced some of us were especially “named after” someone or if my mother simply liked the name and referred to the person in the family who shared the name as inspiration for it. I don’t think my father really had much to do with the process, quite honestly. Dad was pretty laid back and mild mannered and as long as he didn’t hate the name, I think the final decision was up to my mother.
The Horner Children 1966

My brother, Charles Merritt Horner (born April 18, 1952) was definitely in honor of my Dad’s father, Merritt Horner. Grandad was a cool guy. And he was very fond of my mother. But who was Charles? My mother, when asked, said it was for her brother in law, Charles Burleigh Wellington, who was married to her sister, Jean. But he was always called Burleigh, so I think this was one of those instances where my mother felt she needed to justify why she chose Charles. My brother was called Chuckie for the first part of his life (and as of this writing, still sometimes is by my Aunt Jean, who is 90 years old). Later on as he got older he went by Chuck. But Merritt was a name he was proud of, and he named his second son Kyle Merritt Horner, as well as naming various businesses he owned with the Merritt moniker.

My sister, Lynnette Jean Horner (born October 9, 1953) was in honor of the two aunts. My father’s sister, Grace Lynette (called Gracelyn), and my mother’s sister, Jean. My mother had a thing about double  n’s as you’ll see when it gets down to me. Lynnette was called Lynn. Or “Nin” for the little ones who couldn’t pronounce our L’s.

Next came Robin Elizabeth Horner (born May 23, 1955). Now here is where it gets weird. When I asked my mother who Robin was named for she said it was for my father, Robert. When I asked my father who Robin was named for he said a license plate. More on that in a minute.  Elizabeth must have just sounded good with Robin because there is no family connection there. Robin is the only one of us who never had a nickname. She was Robin. Sometimes we would call her Rob, but only because we were lazy. 

So, the “famous” license plate story that my father loved to tell was that in 1955 Connecticut began offering vanity license plates. Meaning that you could order a specific name of series of letters if you wanted to pay a little extra money. My father—a car enthusiast who always owned some kind of sports car or another – decided this was for him and headed down to the DMV to pick out a license plate that said, “RLH” for his initials, Robert Loehwing Horner. The problem was, someone had already taken RLH. So my father—as only my father would think—decided that close enough was good enough. REH was available. So he took it. My sister Robin was born a few months later. Coincidentally she was named Robin Elizabeth Horner. My father thought it was quite amusing to tell people she had been named after the license plate. Some 60 years later, that REH plate registration still lives in the Horner family. In fact, I am the one who has it now on my car. My mother began with it and after she moved out of state, Robin took it over. When Robin moved out of state, it so happened that I was getting my first car. It was very important to my Dad that I take over the REH plate. I did so with much pride at the family history of it. People ask me about it all the time and what it stands for and I love to tell the silly story. So much my Dad.

My brother, Richard Potter Horner came next (born April 16, 1959). No Richards in our family, but Potter was the middle name of my mother’s father, Harold Potter Willett. I always felt kind of bad for him that he had what I thought was an embarrassing (kind of like potty) middle name, but he never thought of it like that. As an adult, once J.K Rowling, Harry Potter books came out and were such a huge success, Potter was a really cool name to have! My brother was called Ricky for ever. But he goes by the much more grown up Rick now.

My grandmother, Jenny and me.
Thanksgiving 1969. I was 4 years old. 
And then came me. The baby (born February 15, 1965). I had the honor to be named after my two grandmothers. My mother’s mother was Jeanette Matthews Shrum Willett. She was called Jenny. When exactly that began is in dispute. Some stories say it was started when my grandparents moved to Swampscott and met the neighbor across the street, and her bridge club members began calling her Jenny. But Jenny was a common nickname for Jeanette in the 1800’s and early 1900’s and her husband, Harold, had a sister named Jeanette, whom was sometimes called Jenny, so some of us think Grandad called her Jenny sometimes too. Regardless…my mother liked the name Jenny and wanted me to be called that, so she named me Jeannette. Notice the 2 n’s again. It is not the way Buba (as we grandkids called her) spelled it, but my mother liked it that way. My middle name was Grace. After my Dad’s mother, Ethel Grace Comp Horner. Grammy was always called Grace.

Grammy's passive aggressive 
charm bracelet. 
Grammy did not like the order in which I was named. She said she thought the name Jenny would bring to mind the slang term for a donkey, which was a common and, some thought, a derogatory word back then. In retrospect, we think she was just a teensy bit jealous that I was not named Grace Jeannette. Regardless, she didn’t have so much of an issue with the name Jeannette, but she refused to call me Jenny. I remember quite clearly she would call me Jenna. I even have her charm bracelet of all her grandchildren’s silver “heads” and all our names engraved on each. My “head” says Jenna. I remember it made me very mad when she called me Jenna. And I remember very clearly when they came to visit in the 1970’s and were staying at a motel on the Berlin Turnpike in Newington and we went down to see them.  I told Grammy to stop calling me Jenna. I had to be about 8 or 9 at the time.

She listened. She called me Jenny from that day on. 

So I went by Jenny for nearly everything for most of my life. It wasn't until I was an adult and had to apply for jobs, taxes, etc. that I realized how frustrating it was that people assumed my name was Jennifer. A lot. When you introduce yourself as Jenny...somehow, 30 minutes later they are referring to you as Jennifer. Not Jen. Not Jenny. Jennifer.  It's weird. Nothing against the name. It's just not mine.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

I'm in a Hollywood state of mind

As far back as I can remember I wanted to work in the movie or tv business.

Or be a drummer.

Like Karen Carpenter. She didn't just sing, ya know. Look it up.

I remember wanting to be a "camera man." I knew that I wanted to work behind the scenes in some capacity and I didn't know what any of the options were, so I thought I'd go with that one until I knew more about the business.

Then I discovered I really liked to write. I was (and am still) so much better in expressing myself in writing than with words. When I try to speak, I swear, my thoughts just get jumbled and I just can't get my meaning out. But writing comes easily and naturally to me.

I kept diaries growing up. I realized that because I liked to write that instead of a "camera-man" maybe I could be a scriptwriter. And I kept that in the back of my mind during my growing up years.

I loved television. I loved movies. I loved Hollywood anything. I wanted to be connected to it somehow. I chose Journalism as my major at Southern Connecticut State University. I didn't want to be a reporter. But I thought this would get me closer to entertainment than just majoring in English or writing.

In fact, being a Journalism major, pretty much confirmed two things:

1) I was a good writer.
2) I was not cut out to be a reporter.

I loved feature writing, though. I could tell a good story. But being a reporter meant asking people questions, butting into people's business, being a busy-body, being aloof. That wasn't me.

When it came time for me to do an internship, I did what was expected of me, though, and did an internship at Channel 8 in New Haven in the news room. My advisor, Robin Glassman, was wonderful. Because I didn't speak up for what I really wanted...this is what she steered me to.

It was a good experience, and one that I still draw upon to this day at WIN-TV. But news was definitely not my thing, nor was the pace of the news room and the tempers and ego of producers, anchors and editors. Some were great. Others not.

The Fall of my junior year Robin Glassman called me into her office to talk about what other internship I would like to do for my Senior year. I figured this was my chance. She mentioned a magazine internship, or a newspaper one. I must have looked underwhelmed. Robin knew me enough at this point that I didn't always speak up for what I wanted. She asked me if I had a chance to intern anywhere in the world, where would it be?

"Entertainment Tonight, " I answered sheepishly.

Entertainment Tonight, in 1986 had been on the air exactly 5 years and it was ground breaking television for that time. An entertainment news program. It had never been done before. They had offices in New York and Los Angeles. There was one intern from Southern who had done a summer internship in the satallite New York office the year before.

Robin said, "Let's get you to New York"

"No." I said firmly. "I don't want to go to New York. I want to go to California."

Entertainment Tonight
Opening credits 1981
Now, this was something that had never been done before. Southern had no collaberation with any colleges out West. No one from the Journalism department had ever done an internship at Entertainment Tonight in California before. This was before the Internet, remember. Getting information on what kind of internships, who was eligible, how to apply and how it all worked, meant calling on the phone and writing by postal mail for information.

Robin was incredible. She knew that if I was asking for it...I really wanted it. And Jenny didn't ask for anything. Ever. So she went above and beyond to help me get the information I needed. She helped me write my application. She helped me find a temporary place to live.

The challenge was that I didn't know how long I would be out there. You were required to interview in person. And it was competitive with only so many spots available, so you might not get it.

I talked my friend, Denise Madera, into going out with me. She was crazy for all things Hollywood as well. She was going to be a brand new college graduate that coming summer and she decided she would do something adventurous before she had to get a real job.

My mother was worried sick. She didn't have any money to give me but she was able to buy me a one way ticket to LA. I had about $500 in my savings account that I withdrew. Mom gave me her credit card, which was already close to being maxed out.

And off I went. Telling my poor mom that I would either be back in 3 months...or 2 weeks. I figured if I didn't get the internship, I was going to live my dream and at least SEE California.

Keep in mind, there were no cell phones in those days. My mother had to rely on me finding a pay phone and calling her collect to let her know how things were going.

So, out we flew in the summer of 1986. I had just barely turned 21. Denise was 22. We had secured a bed and breakfast in Beverly Hills (of all the kooky places) that I'm pretty sure Robin Glassman helped us find through the classified section of the Los Angeles times. We rented a car on my mother's credit card, with her permission.

What I remember about the bed and breakfast was that Denise and I didn't really understand how a B&B worked. We stayed in the wing of this woman's fancy home that had its own entrance. I don't remember it being anything spectacular, but it was fancy to us. What I remember most is that the bathroom did not have a door. We were appalled. What kind of weirdos didn't have a door on their bathroom? Denise and I ended up rigging some kind of sheet over the door way, if recall.

We couldn't understand why the woman always wanted to know when we wanted breakfast.. Denise and I were late sleepers and we didn't always want breakfast. This irritated the woman. We thought it was weird how we had to have our breakfast in the main part of the house in her dining room. It wasn't weird...we just didn't know any better. So we avoided breakfast when we could. Not really understanding it was part of what we were paying for. But the woman would leave a bowl of apples and bannans and muffins and a picture of orange juice out on the counter for us regardless. Probably thinking we were the dumbest girls who ever lived.
Paramount Studios gate

We drove to Paramount Studios for my interview. Denise stayed in the car and parked along Gower street so she could see the Hollywood sign. I walked through those historic Paramount gates.

It was the biggest thrill of my life.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Letting the cat out of the bag

So what's with a cat title for a blog on family history? Cats and genealogy. A natural pairing, I'm sure you'll agree. Ok, so not in the conventional sense of the term. But for me, I've had cats my entire 50 years of life. So when I think of my own personal history...I have to talk cats. They were/are an important part of my family tree.

I just came back from the Jamboree genealogy conference in California. I'm actually on a layover in Philadelphia waiting for my flight home as I type this. While I was at the conference I kept meeting geneabloggers. Many of whom I've read regularly. I told them I had always wanted to start a blog, but didn't know how to begin. I didn't know how interesting it would be to anyone. I didn't know if anyone would even want to read it.

"Write for yourself. If no one else reads it then you have left a digital diary for your children, " was the answer I kept getting.

I have stories that I want to share with my children in a different format than a family history book with hundreds of ancestors they may or may not care about. There will be cat stories, of course. I think this may be a good forum to do that. Some stories may surprise them. That's why I titled this post Letting the cat out of the bag.

Let's see how this goes. Let's see if I can pull different stories together from my fragmented mind. Those memories can be difficult for me to piece together sometimes.

Kind of like herding cats.